dir: Kathryn Bigelow
Torture is awesome! Who knew?!?
Obviously it’s not as wonderful to the people it happens to, but, for the rest of us, it works beautifully. It’s effective. It’s necessary. It’s entertaining. It’s awesome.
Zero Dark Thirty is less about the hunting down of Bin Laden like the dog that he was, than it is about how one woman’s, and the CIA’s, determination to do anything including torture to get him (and her capacity for overacting) are the only reasons they ever found the fucker.
First, we have to endure a lengthy justification for the torture, in the form of audio recordings of soon-to-be victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Talk about moral blackmail. The film is practically daring you to disagree that any actions taken by the US and its allies after that dread day were so utterly justifiable that you deserve to be shot out of a cannon if you think otherwise.
We meet Maya (Jessica Chastain) as she watches a torture session, with rough justice being meted out by some other CIA guy (Australia’s Own Jason Clarke). He’s really good at his work, but he doesn’t love doing it. We get the clear impression that he’s not a sadist, that he doesn’t “like” what he’s doing, but he sees the sadly necessary utility of it. Poor diddums.
He’s so good at it, though. These Al-Qaeda shmucks don’t really stand a chance against all the beatings, water-boardings, genital mockings and uses of small boxes for accommodation.
Is it torture? Is it ever. Wherefore the quibbling over the difference between torture and ‘enhanced interrogation’? Sure, our red-headed protagonist acts like she’s not a fan of these procedures, but her determination to find a link to OBL cannot be diluted or assuaged. I’m surprised they don’t have a scene where she twists a guy’s nuts in her steely grip herself, instead of delegating. Sometimes these things require a personal touch.
These scenes are hard to watch, for me. It’s not because I put myself into the positions of either the torturer or the tortured, or empathise with their struggles with conscience or with the trauma that’s dissolving their psyches. I watch stuff like this and wonder what it says about a nation and its allies that they condone and justify it, grudgingly or otherwise.
My main objection would seem to be; isn’t it the kind of thing the dreaded and hated Other would seem to be most keen on, and not Us? If We are doing stuff as ugly and dehumanising as this existential, abstract enemy seems to do without qualms, where’s the moral superiority? Where’s the goodness, the humanity, the acknowledgement that that ends don’t justify means? I thought we’d left this utilitarian shit back in the 19th Century, along with the corsets, cholera and leeches.
To the flick’s credit it at least acknowledges that all that’s happening is wrong. It shows us so-called ‘black sites’ and tells us they’re black sites. It doesn’t explain what a black site is to an uninformed viewer, but, hell, it’s not hard to figure out.
They’re conducting their gentle fact finding missions in places and in countries where torture is commonplace and not frowned upon, in fact it’s celebrated and applauded. It gives them the plausible deniability to say that they’re not breaking American laws on American soil.
Just, you know, they’re also saying fuck you Geneva Convention and all that.
dirs: Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh
Act of Valor, presumably, refers to a specific act of conspicuous bravery above and beyond the usual, everyday bravery people exhibit. The heroes on display here, we would guess, commit these acts on a second-to-second basis. They live and breathe valour, as they are warriors of the highest calibre dealing out and embracing death for the protection of all good people everywhere. Well, at least of good Americans everywhere.
The only act of valour on our part is the potential willingness to hand money over for what is essentially a curious recruiting product meant to remind us of nothing else so much as USA! USA! USA!
People have shelled money out, though, a lot of money. This movie has more than made its money back already. And yet you’d not call most of what happens here a movie, per se.
It’s more like a very serious training video, one with a great deal of verisimilitude (I’m guessing, because I’ve never been a Navy SEAL myself as yet, though, you never know, there’s always time). It’s also very mindful of the aesthetics of first person shooters (computer games where the field of view is first person, and a weapon is ever present as you ‘walk’ through a three-dimensional environment), replicating the visual image continuously, to make the audience feel not like they’re there themselves, but that they’re playing the game they’re watching.
The main claim to fame of this flick is not that the footage of fire fights and such are real, but that the people performing them, or that are taking part in high altitude parachute jumps, or stealthily using mini-submarines to infiltrate locations are real Navy SEALs. These Real Navy SEALs act the way you’d expect Real Navy SEALs to act: fine in full combat gear with a weapon in their hands, but at a grunting loss when they have to get through dialogue that would make a Gascoigne cheesemaker wince with the sheer cheesiness of the dialogue.
dir: Anthony Hemingway
It’s a story that’s been told a few times, but one that bears repeating, and that is clearly deserving of a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars range. Also, the story of the Tuskegee Airmen deserves all the attention George Lucas, his money, and his film technology can bring to the experience, surely.
After all, don’t African American actors deserve, at long last, to repeat all the corn, cheese and clichés of the Hollywood war movies of yesteryear they were so unfairly segregated from? Aren’t they due their dues by now, at long last, in this enlightened age?
Red Tails, in case you didn’t know and probably don’t care, is a story about African American pilots during World War II. It is a story George Lucas wanted to tell for decades, apparently, because of his deep connection to the subject matter(?) Look, I don’t know his real reasons, because who knows why he really does half of the stuff he does, as opposed to his publicly stated reasons. Does anyone on the planet really understand why it meant so much to him that Han Solo shooting Greedo first had to be expunged from the official record, despite the fact that we all saw it happen?
No, we don’t. When you’re that powerful, have more money than Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, and can make whatever you want, other people don’t have to understand your desire to shape reality to your whims, they just have to cut you a check and say “Yes, George.”
I remember seeing Lucas on The Daily Show talking about this film, and about how he had great difficulty getting studios to pony up cash for it, because they couldn’t imagine audiences wanting to see a film with so many African American actors in it. So he funded it himself. I don’t know if that’s true or not, because you can never tell with George, but if that was the reason it took so long to come to fruition, well, George got his wish in the end, and he also got to make a flick with aircraft getting into dogfights and blowing shit up without requiring Anakin Skywalker getting in on the act and fucking things up.
dir: Ralph Fiennes
Speaking of Shakespeare, as I was in that recent review for Anonymous: damn, he really wrote, whoever it was, a lot of plays, thirty-eight in fact. I mean, that’s prolific. And, as with any prolific authors, they’ve got stuff no-one wants to know about, Kenneth Brannagh doesn’t want to direct, and Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t want to star in.
So it’s left up to Ralph Fiennes, still smarting from his goofy brother Joseph Fiennes getting to play the Bard in Shakespeare in Love, to direct and star in Coriolanus.
They used to think it was based on someone who really existed, and something that really happened, but it probably didn’t. That doesn’t stop a Fiennes, though, does it? And it hardly matters for the purposes of whether we’re entertained or not.
It’s set in somewhat ‘modern’ times, though the empire depicted is the Roman one, so all the references are old timey. I’ve also heard, though it’s not obvious from watching it, Fiennes’ intention was to make it look like the Balkans in the 90s, when European unity (and contemporary genocide) was at its finest.
The Coriolanus of the title is the main character, a Roman general who, until recently, was known only as Caius Marcius. He is really good at soldiery and ordering troops around. He's even better at killing the enemy. When Rome's enemies rear their ugly but still compelling heads, Caius will be there to crush them, and crush them good.
This isn't enough for some people, though. The common people of Rome, the plebians, they are not that enamoured of this chap, who some find haughty and too proud. In fact, they downright hate him for not handing out grain, like they want, just because they've got nothing to eat.
Goddamn starving freeloaders. Don't they know that conservative economic policies haven't been invented yet to justify their starvation by claiming that the free market deems them not worthy of living, and that the grain will better serve the wealthy if it stays locked up and eventually rots in granaries? Selfish, selfish people. They're so selfish that they agitate, threaten, protest and demonstrate against this prince amongst men, this lion amongst meerkats. Against all counsel, he goes out to tell them just what he thinks of them.
It’s not much of a stretch to say that Spielbergo gets to make whatever films he wants in ways that most other directors couldn’t dream of.
It’s not his skills as a director that I’m referring to; it’s the fact that he’s Spielbergo: the most successful director in the medium and in the industry thus far in the last 110 years. He's someone who makes any movie with the understanding that the payment for his services is 30% of the gross box office earned by whatever film he puts out there.
Few people have that level of clout. Peter Jackson is the only other one I know of. Let’s not get bogged down into the merits of such a system, since all I wanted to point out, which, in retrospect, is pretty obvious, is that he gets to make whatever flick he wants to make in whatever way he wants to.
So if he wants to make a flick set during World War I about a lucky horse and the boy from Devon who loves him, and all the people whose lives are touched by the horse as he makes his journey through that despicable war, well, that’s what he does.
And that’s what the pretty literal title refers to: War Horse is about a horse that goes to war. How’s that for subtlety?
dir: Kathryn Bigelow
There hasn’t really yet been an overwhelmingly great film set during and about the current Iraqi adventure. The ones I recall that at least have war footage of brave marines and army grunts fighting the cowardly Iraqi civilian menace, being Home of the Brave, Stop-Loss, um, the Transformers flicks, In the Valley of Elah, The Kingdom (yes, I know it’s set in Saudi Arabia) um, and that’s about it. None of these really worked. If you’re a war booster, or chickenhawk, they failed because they weren’t gung-ho enough, and were all focussed on issues like post-traumatic-stress disorders and feeling bad about killing civilians, instead of being all rah-rah patriotic, manly and superheroically heroic. You know, like Rambo.
The documentaries have fared a bit better, but until now, Iraq War II has been poorly represented in the feature film category. The Hurt Locker, by one of America’s only well known mainstream female directors, corrects the imbalance, and is both a good film and a good war film. It’s not great, because it has a quarter of the flick that doesn’t really cohere (I would say being the third quarter of a two hour flick), and the very end is at odds with the beginning and the end, but it's still pretty damn good.
Despite the mixed opinions regarding the other flicks, and the reasons for their failures, what this gets right is the focus on the actual day to day activities of a bomb disposal unit that’s recently lost its main guy (played briefly by Australia’s Own Guy Pearce). Their new guy is very different in both manner and attitude from their recently departed one, and this leads to confusion, yelling, hurt feelings, and an explosive shitload of tension. These guys, after all, are tasked with defusing unexploded ordinance and the far more pernicious and deadly IEDs that insurgents resourcefully cobble together with the intention of killing their occupying overlords and masters.
The Iraq depicted is more the current sullen, brooding and only occasionally explosive war theatre of the last couple of years, as opposed to the insurgents fighting in the streets and mosques of Fallujah pre-Surge and pre- the Mahdi Army melting back into the shadows to bide their time era. As the film opens, a three man team is going out to deal with a bomb. Actually, they send a robot out first, which just goes to show that all those sci-fi films where the robots rise up against the humans are perfectly justified, since they’re treated as lower than immigrants. It’s a well-oiled machine of a team, with a very tight set of procedures and protocols, all focussed on both getting the job done and on maximising the safety of the team’s members.
dir: Quentin Tarantino
Look, it’s a Tarantino film. If you don’t know by now what that means, then you should probably skip this review, and this film.
Otherwise, be prepared to wallow in the geek hipsterism and pedantic cinephilia of a man-child who made the jump from obsessive fan to filmmaker to our collective eternal delight / regret. Tarantino has only ever made films about films, and this is no different.
Inglourious Basterds is not a remake of the shoddy Italian flick of similar name, nor is it the Dirty Dozen rip-off I’d heard so much about. In fact, you’d think from the trailers and promos that this was a rip-roaring action flick about a team of Jewish American soldiers striking fear into the hearts and scalps of the Nazis during World War II.
It’s nothing like that. The Basterds and their exploits take up a miniscule amount of screen time in a film that is certainly not a war film. This flick is far more about the thrill of revenge and the power of cinema.
It’s no coincidence that Leni Reifenstahl is namedropped so many times, nor the exodus of Jewish-German directors from the Fatherland over to Hollywood prior to the war, or the fact that a cinema plays such a key role in the story, or that Goebbels, the Reich’s Minister for Propaganda, gets so much screen time. Nor is it coincidental that silver nitrate film stock burns 3 times faster than paper, and that it is mentioned early in the film. Foreshadowing, or geeky displays of trivial pursuit? Which do you think, knowledgeable patron of the cinematic arts?
dir: John Woo
I’m a bit confused. There’s a film called Red Cliffs that’s playing in the cinemas at the moment, which is meant to be an amalgam of two movies John Woo finished last year. But I don’t know if what I watched is what cinemagoers got to see, since I saw something around five hours long.
Now, there are films that are epic in length, others epic in scope, and still others are epic in terms of the boredom they inspire in audiences. ‘Epic’, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily synonymous with ‘good’. Some things are great the bigger they are, and I’ll leave it up to your personal preferences to imagine which ones, but tumours, debts, jail sentences and divorce settlements don’t necessarily improve with increased length, width or girth.
dir: Peter Chan and Wai Man Yip
I never thought that Jet Li, at this advanced stage of his career, could surprise me in a positive way. No-one in this world, regardless or sometimes because of their age, stops finding ways to surprise me negatively. But I was surprised here by Jet Li’s dramatic chops, which hasn’t occurred once in the twenty years I’ve been watching his flicks.
He’s always been a tremendous fighter onscreen, and good enough playing his usual, stoic, heroic roles in the wuxia (martial arts) flicks. But he’s often been quite terrible whenever he tries to do anything dramatic or comedic or tragic or acting in general.
This lack of acting ability has never stood in the way of his career, because his arse-kicking ability is so incredibly amazing. Amongst his peers he’s par for the course, but with age comes, if not wisdom, at least an appreciation for looking like you have the emotions and stuff the director is telling you to have.
Right from the start it’s obvious that this is a very different film for Jet Li. He’s in his forties, and still looks amazing fucking people up, but he’s been doing this stuff since he was a kid. He wants to do more dramatic work, less fighting, but they won’t let him play Hamlet, the cruel masters of Chinese-Hong Kong cinema that they are. Bastards.
The compromise is to have him play Qing-Yun, a forlorn general during the twilight of the Qing Dynasty (during the reign of fearsome Empress Dowager Cixi), when China is riven by civil war as the Taiping rebels rebel all over the place. The general has emotions and stuff, all of which Li’s tired face is better able to convey these days, I guess just because he’s finally lost that perpetual babyface look of his. Still hope for you after all, Leonardo DiCaprio.
dir: Zack Snyder
It’s history as the backstory for a deliciously violent computer game. Games with a solid backstory
are always more enjoyable; it makes the slashing and dismemberment all the more entertaining and meaningful.
See, there was a Battle of Thermopylae. And there were 300 Spartans who fought and died in
battle against a much larger army of Persians. But I doubt any of it looked as pretty as this.
The Spartans, proudly led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), are incredibly handsome and ridiculously
buff. They are noble, strong, resolutely heterosexual, fearless and fabulous in their leather codpieces.
The Persians are sexually ambiguous, freakish, have tattoos and multiple piercings, and are inhuman
dir: Volker Schlöndorff
The Tin Drum has to be one of the weirdest conventional-seeming flicks about World War II that I’ve ever seen. You start off thinking it’s a depiction of life under the rise and subsequent defeat of the Nazis, but, really, it’s a catalogue of bizarreness from the mind of acclaimed author Günther Grass.
He’s the same acclaimed author who it was recently revealed had been a member of the SS-Waffen. In his youth, apparently. I don’t think they mean a few weeks ago. At least I hope not.
Regardless, that being the case, I guess the guy was uniquely qualified to write a story set during the heyday of the Reich. But what a strange story…
Birth scenes in flicks are often difficult to handle, but this flick has to have one of the oddest I’ve ever had the displeasure to see. The child who plays the main character for the entirety of the film, who was 11 at the time, plays a newborn infant as well. With vernix and blood plastering his hair down as he is pulled through the womb, he reveals that the reason he decides not to go back in is because his mother promises to buy him a tin drum when he is three.
dir: John Milius
What a strange film. It looks like a weird, right wing treatise on the dangers of ignoring the threat of Communism prior to the actual fall of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union, but even accepting that, its kitsch value is through the roof.
Avowed right wing paragon John Milius, who wrote the script on such legendary endeavours as Conan the Barbarian and Apocalypse Now, decided that only he could do his paranoid “epic” justice by directing it himself.
And he’s probably right. Anyone else would have been uncomfortable with making a film with such terrible acting performances from the main characters. But, I guess, thinking as a screenwriter, all Milius wanted was for them to say the precious words that he’d written.
Let’s not overstate this or glide over it: much of the acting by the main players is comically bad. Uproariously bad. Showgirls bad. But, for reasons I can only put down to the seriousness of the subject matter and a nostalgic glow courtesy of the early 80s, it doesn’t sink the film. Far from it.
Red Dawn is the distillation of the worst case scenario right-wing gun strokers imagined possible in the 80s: Middle America invaded by the Soviets and the combined armies of Cuban – Central American tinpot communist dictatorships. But where do they invade? Is it New York, Washington, California, Kalamazoo? Somewhere that would make sense strategically, tactically or sentimentally?
dir: Ed Zwick
Well, well, well, a film with Tom Cruise in it is a joy to review, surely. The review practically writes itself: "Flashes teeth a few dozen times, flicks his hair around, acts all good an' noble, show's over, nothing to see here".
Well, not quite. You see, in this film, Tom Cruise has a beard.
That's got to be a whole other level of acting right there. I can't remember another film where he's sported a real beard (which is why Born on the Forth of July doesn't count, that beard was as fake as a
pornstar's breasts). You can see his commitment to such a role by his decision to grow some facial hair. In fact, this film is a delight for people interested in facial hair. Of course it's not about facial hair explicitly, but, you know, subtext and all that.
What this film does have is wonderful locations, a formulaic script, and great big dollops of man-love. Not the sweaty, hairy, prison-inspired, Queer as Folk kind, but the brotherly "I can cry because you're dying and no-one's going to think I'm gay" kind of love. It's the kind of man-love that makes men consistently call The Shawshank Redemption one of their favourite films of all time. Here in Australia, whenever footballers are interviewed and asked what their favourite film is, 9 times out of 10 it's the bloody Shawshank Redemption. Men. Big Manly Men. Having relationships with other men untainted by the presence or existence of women. Rousing stuff.
Cruise gives what is for him something of a subdued performance for most of the film's duration. There aren't many sequences where he screams at the top of his lungs. He does have one of those scenes where he makes his face go all red and makes the veins stick out in his forehead, he loves doing that. But all in all he does okay in the film by not doing too much. For a man tortured by his conscience, though we hear about it many times, at least we don't have to watch him overact about it ad infinitum.
dir: Wolfgang Petersen
I could lie and say that I went into the cinema expecting this film to be a biography of Troy. Not the city, but the animated actor from The Simpsons. Troy McClure. You might remember him from such educational films as ‘Lead Paint: Delicious But Deadly’, ‘Firecrackers: the Silent Killer’ and ‘Man versus Nature: The Road to Victory’. Alas, I was to be disappointed…
I’m positive the day Gladiator made a tonne of money, someone greenlit this flick. Hack screenwriters who’d been pushing crappy sword and sandal scripts for years to the talentless hacks that control the purse strings in Hollywood finally thought ‘Our time has come.’ I’m surprised there haven’t been more of them already. Who doesn’t want to see big beefy men whacking each other with swords and the like? It’s legitimised wrestling without the chairs or the midgets. People don’t have to feel embarrassed about liking it. Well, most people, at least.
Though I’ve always said any film can be improved with midgets. Especially midget prostitutes. Anyway, Troy doesn’t have any midget prostitutes. It tries to include almost everything else but CGI midget prostitutes, because it has a bazillion dollar budget, expensive stars in the cast, and a near three-hour running time. Still, it feels oddly underdone, as if the real story is somehow missing. How a three-hour film can feel incomplete should be a mystery to anyone except the producers of this decidedly hit and miss affair.
dir: Ridley Scott
Finally, Hollywood has caught up with mobile phone technology. Now we are privy to the birth of a new age. The typewriter is dead. The clunky desktop computer is for squares and losers. Give us movies like Kingdom of Heaven. We're ready, and we're gagging for it. Just look at the way we're dressed.
Now we can watch films whose entire dialogue was compiled between two or more people sending each other text messages on their mobiles. How else does one explain the fact that no-one says more than ten words in any given sentence in this film? It's surreal. Even people in the Australian outback have longer conversations than this, laconic as they're supposed to be.
Nothing better represents this new risk-aversion to too much dialogue than Orlando Bloom's heartening equivalent of the St Crispin's Day speech from Henry the V, where he ends up yelling at the defenders of Jerusalem to "Come On! Come On!" to get them fired up. Um, isn't that what tennis player and Mensa candidate Lleyton Hewitt does to fire himself up during matches? Shakespeare, Kenneth Brannagh and Helena Bonham Carter should be rolling in their graves.
dir: Christian Carion
I would not have thought a war film set during the Great War could bring me to tears. I would not have thought a war film could possess such gentle humour, genuine humanism and have such an uplifting message.
And I was right. This flick hasn’t got ANY of that shit.
Just kidding, it has some of that and more in sheer coruscating abundance.
For all my enjoyment of the film, don’t get all confused and assume it’s the flick of the year. It’s pretty simplistic, sentimental and should have been in desperate search of a better ending. But for all its faults (and unbelievable aspects), it is still a strong film saying something many of us can understand: most soldiers from different countries don’t really like killing each other that much.
They don’t get a lot out of it, and it’s murder on your laundry.
But someone benefits from war, and it’s never the guys at the front. And someone must be ‘inspiring’ these people to go to war, for whatever noble or ignoble reasons.
This is most chillingly asserted at film’s beginning, where we watch three children, one after the other, recite propaganda poems from the era in their respective languages advocating the absolute extermination of their enemy down to the women and children. And why the hell not…
dir: Sam Mendes
This is a film about war without an actual war in it. It’s akin to make a porno without having sex in it.
There are movies like that. On cable, Showtime (channel 3), on Friday nights, plays these flicks which I am guessing are American pornos. I don’t actually know for sure, because the films have most of the nudity and all of the sex cut out of them. It begs the question as to why anyone would then want to watch them, considering the main attraction is now absent. It’s not for the scripts and the acting, which are teeth-grindingly bad. You wouldn’t watch a football game on the jumping box, the pictocube, I mean the telly, if they cut all the actual football out of it. And the sex as well.
Jarhead’s point is to give us a window into the experiences of a young marine trained and amped up for war, alongside his equally hyper macho brothers in arms, prior to the first Gulf War. It starts with scenes those of us who routinely watch war films would be familiar with (boot camp, having superior officers hurl abuse at newbies, small acts of rebellion against authority), but doesn’t have the general payoff that you get from the other flicks (trial by fire in wartime conflict, personal cowardice and courage, blowing people’s heads off).
But here most of the characters, especially the main one (the film is based on the autobiographical novel by Anthony Swafford), are eternally frustrated. They get none of the action, catharsis, release that they’ve been promised. Poised to fight, charged up to kill Iraqis by the bushel, the first Iraq war is as much of a gyp for them as it was for a whole host of other people: Americans, Iraqis, Kuwaitis, Eskimos).
dir: Alister Grierson
For most countries, the most powerful and enduring myths they possess have to do with war. Australia is no different. I’m not using the term ‘myth’ in the pejorative sense, but in the sense that mythologising aspects of history is part of the formation of a nation’s identity.
dir: Clint Eastwood
The curious thing about Flags of our Fathers is that it isn't really a war film. I think a lot of people were expecting Clint Eastwood to give us his version of (at least) the first forty minutes of Saving Private Ryan, only this time at Iwo Jima against the Japanese in World War II. Instead, Eastwood focuses the flick on three men who played a part in the raising of a flag on Mt Suribachi, which has become one of the defining images of the war.
These three men are brought back from the Pacific theatre and sent around the United States to raise money for the war effort. The government is nearly bankrupt and needs to get money from the public in the form of war bonds to keep war production going. They don't know, like we do, that the war will end soon. So, to the men there is the real fear that not playing their part will lead to the US losing the war.
The part they are expected to play is that of war heroes in the public limelight, but, as they keep pointing out, all they did was raise a flag. Each of the men thinks long and hard about some other guy who was with them on the island more deserving of the title 'hero', who is now dead.
In different ways and to different degrees, the men exhibit what we would call today 'survivor guilt'. It's an interesting idea, but the flick keeps repeating its message again and again until you start to wonder if the projector is stuck in a loop.
dir: Clint Eastwood
Eastwood capped off his epic filmmaking adventure about the Battle of Iwo Jima with this here sensitive, thoughtful engaging and sad portrayal of the battle from the Japanese side of things that managed to be everything Flags of Our Fathers wasn’t.
Letters from Iwo Jima follows a group of Japanese soldiers stationed on the pestilential island led by General Kuribayashi (Ken Watanabe), who know that their chance of winning is nil, and their only purpose is twofold: to delay the inevitable invasion of Japan by American forces, and to die honourably in battle (or die trying).
As such, considering the easy knowledge of the outcome, considering as well the fact that the earlier film focussed on the iconic shot of the flag raising by American forces, this isn’t a triumphant exercise in pro-war jingoism (then again, neither was Flags).
In contrast to another ‘war’ film I reviewed recently, being 300, which focussed on the exploits of some doomed but really hot guys in a battle they couldn’t win, Letters does not treat the battle like it’s a foundation myth of Japanese tenacity and martial prowess. It treats it, by looking at the experiences of some of the soldiers we spend time with, as a horrible time in a horrible conflict that ends in oblivion for most of the participants.
As well as with Kuribayashi, we spend some time getting to know some of the other guys, like the horse-mad Baron Nishi (Tsuyoshi Ihara) who is a close friend of Kuribayashi’s, and the cowardly but genuine Saigo (Kazunari Ninomiya), who seems to profoundly lack that kamikaze spirit we heard so much about. Saigo is a baker by trade, and never really puts himself in a situation where killing Americans is an option. All he wants is to get home to his lovely little wife Hanako, who he keeps writing letters to which are unlikely to ever get through.
dir: Ken Loach
This is a beautifully made film about one of the most troublesome times in Irish history: the 1920s, being the start of the so-called Troubles. Made with a deft, sure hand by avowed socialist director Ken Loach, it personalises the conflict without ever degenerating into weak melodrama.
It reminds me most, especially in the bits where the IRA members are arguing, of Loach’s earlier film Land and Freedom about the Spanish Civil War. In this case the actors are professionals, and the story is more tightly scripted.
dir: Tony Bill
I guess it seemed like prime time for a World War I war movie right about now. War flicks about WWII are a bit played out, no-one wants to watch contemporary ones to be reminded of the hell the world is presently for many people. Why not go back in time to an era where American involvement in a war was considered a good thing? Who are YOU to say no?
dir: Steven Soderbergh
Experiments are cool, aren’t they? I used to look forward to The Curiousity Show on the telly when I was a wee tacker, as the weird guy with the moustache and the other weird guy with the beard performed all those experiments you get to see as a kid: adding this to that to make it gush out all over the place, toothpicks in potatoes, constructing working nuclear devices out of papier mache, paper clips and mum’s pantyhose.
dir: Irwin Winkler
It’s hard to know why exactly they made this particular film. I don’t mean films about soldiers coming home from wars, or films about the current Adventure in the Middle East. I mean, I can’t fathom why they made this particularly crappy film.
If they wanted to honour the nobility and sacrifice of US service men and women, then they should have crafted a story where the characters weren’t just the embodiments of singular clichés. If they wanted to portray the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder, maybe they should have spent some time actually finding out what it was. If they wanted to make a statement about the war, as in whether it should be ongoing or not, and whether the ungrateful Iraqis should be more worshipful of their masters’ gentle attempts at nation building, then perhaps they could spent some time with them.
dir: Paul Verhoeven
Sure, Paul Verhoeven has directed a few decent flicks in his long career, but Starship Troopers, Total Recall and Robocop were a long time ago. And they were sci-fi films.
When you think of what directors you’d hire to direct a flick about the exploits of a Dutch Jewish woman fighting with the Resistance against the Nazis just before the end of World War II, you don’t think of Verhoeven.
This is, after all, the guy who gave us the gift of Sharon Stone’s vagina in Basic Instinct, the invisible rapist fantasy of Hollow Man, and the crime against acting and humanity that is Showgirls. Showgirls is, in terms of how it treats its female characters, and the English language, the stripper version of Battlefield: Earth. That great British director Michael Powell’s career virtually ended after he made the reviled but masterful Peeping Tom in the early 60s, and yet Verhoeven continued to be allowed to make films after Showgirls, is proof positive that there is no higher power or justice in the universe. Because no metaphysical system could allow for such evil to go unpunished.
But, in truth, we live in a universe where Karma is only in reality the name of a porn star, and I’m not sure if what she gives or gets comes around or goes around, but I’m pretty sure she isn’t a system based on the cosmic apportionment of justice.