Tag Archives: war movies

TIFF18: Peterloo

2018 doesn’t need this movie. Arguably, the whole world at large doesn’t need another movie about angry white men emancipating themselves from tyranny while – without a trace of irony – refusing to bring anyone else along with them.

Director Mike Leigh, himself an old white man, clearly believes every florid word uttered by his forefathers is precious. Why else allow for so many agonizing extended speeches, spit-shoutingly reproduced at full length? Peterloo feels less like a movie and more like a scrap book that speechifying white men made as an ode to themselves. Not that there aren’t any women at all – someone needs to pour the water when all that edifying leaves the men cotton-mouthed.peterloo_0HERO

Peterloo is about that time in England’s history, after Napoleon is defeated at Waterloo, when nothing seems to have improved for its people. In fact, the poor are getting poorer, thanks to bread taxes, crop shortages, and insufficient wages. And not content to merely get richer, the rich oppress their countrymen, sentencing an old woman to whipping for being “loose and idle”, a man exiled to Australia for being too good at gambling, and another to the gallows for stealing a coat when he had none.

Though the people are starving and can hardly stand upright after a day’s back-breaking labour, the Reformers organize their best orators to rally the people toward rights and representation. Parliament is not only afraid to lose even an iota of power, they’re downright enraged that anyone should feel so entitled. So they make lengthy, impassioned speeches too. Mike Leigh throws in a scene of the women getting in on the action too, clearly meant to reassure us that the egregious sexism isn’t nearly so bad as we’re thinking, but in fact accomplishes just the opposite. The women’s meeting is full of illiterates and in-fighting. That can’t have been an exclusively female problem but that’s the way Mike remembers it.

I suppose Peterloo is technically well-made (though the opening Waterloo battle scene looks especially unconvincing – old wagon wheels and bugles just weren’t meant to be captured in such crisp detail). I have to believe this is why TIFF has invited so many more female and minority critics this year: so we can call crap when we see it. Of course, I’m going to keep it classy, unlike a male critic in Venice this year who called the festival’s only female director a whore when he didn’t like her movie.

Standing in line to pick up my press credentials, the guy in front of me told the guy behind me (both were bearded middle-aged white men, it probably goes without saying) that last year’s must-see film for him was the Louis C.K. one, with no embarrassment or chagrin. This is why diversity in criticism is important. While plenty of white male critics also manage to be human beings, many do not. And the obsolescent opinions are always the loudest, as this movie admirably (and unintentionally) proves. Loud and wrong, on the shitty side of history.

Advertisements

12 Strong

In the days immediately following 9/11, George Bush believed that Osama Bin Laden was being hid by the Taliban in Afghanistan. He demanded that Afghanistan hand him over, which they refused to do without concrete proof that he was responsible. So because everybody’s blood was up and something had to be done, they declared war. 12 Strong is about the first 12 guys who were sent over there on a special mission that they apparently did well, and quickly, only no one ever gave them the thumbs up about it because it was classified so they got no credit. This movie is their reward, but not a very good one. I would have preferred a sundae or an iguana or that new sunblock that has glitter in it. Instead what we got is yet another war movie, one that does little to add anything new to the conversation or the genre, one that feels derivative of other work and repetitive even within itself. It’s kind of long and boring and just not very good, other than the acting. Since that’s all the review I think this movie deserves, I will now attempt to act it out for you (minus anything graphic, or racist, hopefully) so that you don’t have to sit through it yourself. Of course, you still have my permission to watch it you wish. Or if you must. Or you can watch it without my permission, as may already have done (sorry I’m so late. I really did drag my feet on this one AND MY INSTINCT WAS CORRECT!) – frankly, you guys have done an excellent job of watching movies without my hand-holding, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever really congratulated you about that.

oVG43Je

When I told Sean I’d watched 12 Strong, he asked “The one with the horses?” Yes, yes it is.

apes riding horses.gif

But not that one. Although, if you have a good memory, you know that apes on horses really freak me out. This movie just has soldiers on horses because there weren’t any Jeeps in Afghanistan. Don’t quote me on that. I just made it up, but it does explain the horses.

Chris Hemsworth plays the main soldier guy, who is just moving into a new home when the first plane hits the towers. Sad moment. Cannot make fun of that.

Good job casting the right Hemsworth, and even better, casting that Hemsworth’s wife to play his wife.  I just had to google Elsa Pataky because she had an accent in the movie but it sure wasn’t American or Australian, and yup, turns out she’s Spanish, so that checks out. I clearly don’t know her from much else besides having married into the Hemsworth clan, and she’s clearly too busy pushing out blonde surfer babies to do much acting, other than the Fast & Furious franchise, which I will politely look the other way on.

arton3062

This is the real Hemsworth family, not the movie one. I’m 95% sure.

So being a proud American and a keen soldier, Hemsworth volunteers to do whatever is necessary, and so do Michael Shannon and Michael Pena.

awwvtq1.gif

Once they’re over there, William Fichtner tells them they’re going to fight alongside the Northern Alliance leader, Dostum. I know the titles implies that there are 12 guys but I’ve only named 3 actors, so here’s the deal: the 12 get split into 2 groups, the brave and good and movie-worthy group goes to battle, and the other group stays behind in a fortified camp and they are just as important as the alpha group guys, just as good, even if they don’t really do anything. So Hemsworth’s group is a pack of 6, and they just focus on the most handsome 3, which just makes good sense.

f4bb65aff528377ab777c53e804bd3d5

Do I look like the kind of man who gets left behind at base camp?

Anyway, then there’s like 2 hours of fighting.

Wbooo.gif

Well, no, okay, it wasn’t a dance battle. If there was a dance battle, do you think I’d be dissing this movie? No, there were your standard guns, guns, bullets, guns, rockets, explosions, guns, bullets, guns. The typical war boner stuff.

pop_pop_1.gif

Then an Afghani man drives a very hard sheep bargain

Baby-sheep-GIF.gif

The transaction was not cute in any way and upon reflection, I cannot for one bloody second remember why Michael Pena wanted a sheep so goddamned bad. Anyway, there was at least one truly horrific scene that I can’t make light about, and Dostum and Chris Hemsworth get all buddy-buddy when Dostum talks about his dead family. But then he gets enraged because some other American contingent is back his rival, so he abandons them, feeling betrayed.

tenor (1).gif

But then he comes back! And there’s more fighting.

tenor.gif

And an email from Donald Rumsfeld, being a dick (is that redundant?). Michael Shannon gets what is described as a “sucking chest wound” and they all act surprised that someone could get hurt out here (no sense of irony for all the Afghans who have visibly been blown to bits). Don’t worry, Michael Shannon definitely survives because he’s already fighting the next war, which is against books.

michael-shannon-sorority-letter

Fahrenheit 451, starring Michael Shannon and Micheal B. Jordan, airs on HBO May 19th.

 

 

 

Then there’s some slow-motion explosions (did Michael Bay make a directing cameo?) and some very heroic music and other American propaganda bullshit.

1471199654_591

 

2012-12-20-d5-Ron20Swanso.e174e.gif

 

0f5429e5a29b6987e83a81b09e4cf025.gif

 

1VZnsd6.gif

image.gif

256332

And then they all shake hands and touch peckers and go home, because JOB DONE. This movie has embarrassingly zero hindsight and very little perspective. This little top-secret mission comprised the first 23 days of the war in Afghanistan, and they really dropped some bombs and shook some shit up, but guess what? That war is ONGOING. As in, the longest war in United States history. But never mind that. Let’s focus on those first triumphant 3 weeks and let our chests swell with pride.

The end.

Last Flag Flying

Doc shows up in his old pal Sal’s bar, unannounced. They haven’t seen each other since they served together in Vietnam. The trio isn’t complete until they pick up Mueller, now a reverend, and only then does Doc confess the true nature of their journey. Doc’s son has just died in Iraq, and they’re on a mission to bring his flag-draped body home.

The kid’s getting a hero’s burial but Doc learns that the circumstances of his son’s death were a little less than heroic – nothing against his kid, just the same tragic junk that the government would prefer to mislabel  – and it’s tearing him apart. So instead of leaving his son’s body in government hands, he resolves to hijack the coffin and he and his buds travel across the country to bring him home.

324633-last-flag-flying-la-derniere-tournee-gagnez-vos-places-2But you may recall that these old guys (Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston, Laurence Fishburne) were also marines, and they have their own tragic story that they tiptoe around and unravel slowly. And butting these two wars together, it’s rough; it may be 30 years later, but the senselessness feels eerily similar.

Richard Linklater puts together a really tough movie. It kind of flew under the radar when released so I didn’t have great expectations for Last Flag Flying, but in fact it does a pretty good job handling conflicting themes between grief, friendship, patriotism, service, and sacrifice. While it may suffer somewhat from the shifts in tone from levity to the more somber, it has a really incredible cast that brings warmth and real humanity to what is an otherwise fairly standard script.

Steve Carell: wow. We’ve seen him be extraordinary before, between Foxcatcher and Freeheld and Battle of the Sexes and more besides, there’ more to Carell than just a funny guy. He maneuvers between similar chords and discordant ones like this is some kind of masterclass in acting and fucking Laurence Fishburne has front row seats. And that’s no kind of knock against Carell’s costars, who really make this a tight little dramedy.  Bonding happens during acts of bravery, but also, apparently, in unheroic moments. Men make war, and war makes men. It’s dark, could stand to be darker, but that’s the stuff that works the best, and is deeply moving to watch.

The Zookeeper’s Wife

On Saturday we brought our sweet little nephews to the Capital Fair, where we watched a stunt dog show, rode rides, played games on the Midway, and visited a petting zoo where the kids and I hand-fed llamas. On Monday I watched a llama get shot, point blank.

Do not confuse The Zookeeper’s Wife with We Bought A Zoo. This is no light-hearted tale. It’s about real-life couple Antonina and Jan Zabinski, who used their posts at the Warsaw Zoo to save hundreds of Jews during the German invasion. Of course I’ve read both The a6oYy417yHHP01DGIDZUeEzH7JFZookeeper’s Wife, and We Bought A Zoo, and more recently I was reading another book about a woman who led an underground railroad of sorts to smuggle Jewish children out of the ghetto, wherein the zookeeper’s wife was specifically mentioned. It was an especially brutal place to be during the war. Terrible, unspeakable things happened every day, and it’s kind of a miracle to see\hear these stories about ordinary people who couldn’t live with what was happening, so they didn’t [it’s sort of awful that these words sound very applicable even today].

Glimmers of light do not eliminate all the darkness. The Zookeeper’s Wife is not an easy watch. The film makes the stakes clear, yes for the zookeepers taking enormous risks themselves (they would surely die if discovered), but especially for the people they are helping, who would otherwise be dead – or worse.

Jessica Chastain as the zookeeper’s wife is of course fantastic. There’s no CGI used int he film; those are real lion cubs she’s cuddling, with not a shred of hesitancy. Fitting, I suppose, when she’s sitting in the middle of a war where much scarier things are happening on the streets. WW2-era films always inspire a bout of siderodromophobia in me (the fear of trains).

This movie gets some things right, and some things wrong. In the end, I think it’s just not terrible enough, which I realize is a weird thing to say. What I mean is: it doesn’t have the power to haunt you the way Schindler’s List did (does). It feels a little cold, without the emotional gravitas you’d expect. I expected to cry. What does it mean that I didn’t? Perhaps what this movie needed was a meaningful connection to just one victim. Heroics are all well and good, but they’re only important because they’re necessary. Heroes are only half the equation: both must be compelling.

Dunkirk

We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

-Winston Churchill, June 1940

Has anyone ever been better than Winston Churchill at giving motivational speeches?  He had a way of rising to the occasion and here, the stakes had never been higher.   This speech was given immediately after the British and their Allies had been run out of France by the invading Germans.  Victory over the Nazis was not on the horizokinopoisk.run and must have seemed impossible at the time.  That’s more or less what Churchill said, after all: he is not describing a plan to win.  He is describing a last-ditch effort to survive when the Nazis try to conquer Britain after they finish in France, and a cry for help to the New World to save the day in that bleak scenario (Canada was, of course, already part of the Allied forces at the time, but the U.S. would not be until Pearl Harbor).

The devastating outcome of the Battle of Dunkirk gave good reason for Churchill’s pessimism.  It is a fascinating historical event because it was a loss that could well have broken the Allies, but instead, it galvanized them, particularly in the way that the British survived: hundreds of civilian vessels sailed from Britain to France to help rescue over 300,000 Allied soldiers from the Nazis.

Time and time again, Christopher Nolan has proven himself to be as adept a director as Churchill was a speaker.  Tonally, Nolan’s Dunkirk captures what must have been the prevailing mood on the ground, at sea, and in the air as the Battle of Dunkirk was fought.  Nolan makes an inspired structural choice by intertwining three different stories over three different time periods, and as only Nolan can do, effectively explains a complex structure using only three small titlecards at the very beginning.  Dunkirk is reminiscent of The Prestige in that way – in both, Nolan always provides enough cues so the viewer knows exactly where a particular scene fits into the overall timeline and story, even as he tells the story in a complex, non-linear fashion.

With Dunkirk, Nolan has outdone himself.   Given how consistently great he has been throughout his career, it is incredible to think that he has gotten better, but that is clearly the case.  Dunkirk is absolutely masterful filmmaking from start to finish.  Above all else, Nolan’s film captures the essence of Dunkirk and gives us a true sense of the anguish of war, the desire to survive, and the fear of the unknown that soldiers must deal with constantly.  In particular, I am reminded of the scenes featuring Tom Hardy’s RAF pilot, all of which inserted me into the battle and truly made me feel how claustrophobic a Spitfire’s cramped cockpit would be, and how difficult it would be to spot, identify, and track an enemy fighter, let alone shoot it down.

For the viewer, this is a vital, visceral, and draining experience.  Dunkirk is a 106 minute movie that feels like it’s four hours long (which Nolan would take as a high praise, I think, if he ever read this review).  From start to finish, it is tense, it is devastating, it is awful and it is brilliant.  Dunkirk is filmmaking at its finest and a fitting tribute to one of the defining events of the 20th century.

 

 

Megan Leavey

megan leaveyWar is hell, but returning from war is really rough too.  As we’ve realized the devastating effects of PTSD and how severely it has affected an entire generation of American soldiers, war movies have more frequently shown us the human effects of conflict.  In my view, that is a welcome and long overdue change.  I was somewhat apprehensive going into Megan Leavey, because I feared that it would try to glorify or justify the invasion of Iraq.  That’s a non-starter for me because there was no legal basis for the invasion or occupation, and no glory to be had over there.  You will never convince me that it was a good idea for the U.S.A. (and not just them) to send hundreds of thousands of troops to a no-win situation in the Middle East.  Many of those troops didn’t come back and those that did were never the same.

Megan Leavey (the movie) is the story of one of those troops.  Megan Leavey (the person) is a former marine who was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and 2006.  Leavey’s experience in Iraq must have been the most stressful tour of duty imaginable, because Leavey toured Iraq with a partner: a bomb-sniffing dog named Rex.  Leavey and Rex went “in front of the front lines” to sweep for bombs and weapons intended to kill the troops supporting the new Iraqi government.

real megan leavey

The real Megan Leavey and Rex.

The Iraq we see in Megan Leavey feels authentic.  Much of Iraq was (and still is) a war zone, an awful place for a soldier to be, and a worse place for civilians to be.  Whatever their reason for joining the armed forces (and for Leavey her reason is to escape upstate New York), the American soldiers deployed there were largely good people with good intentions.  We can judge their leaders for numerous bad decisions and questionable motivations, but the fact remains that the soldiers on the ground were doing their best while in harm’s way and on edge because the threats they faced were not obvious.  It was not just buried bombs, though that was the prime threat to Leavey and Rex.  Most of Iraq’s residents did not (and do not) support terrorism, insurgency, or Saddam Hussein.  But a few of them did, and they weren’t wearing name tags, so for an American soldier, every single person not wearing the same uniform as you might be planning to kill you.

Whatever your political views on the war, it should be obvious how bad a situation it was to be an American soldier in Iraq, and in fact politics often get in the way by dehumanizing the situation.  With the knowledge we have today, you can (and should) be against the invasion and occupation of Iraq while also sympathizing with the troops who suffered through that insanity.   Megan Leavey chooses to remain neutral on the political side and focus not just on the war but also on the aftermath, in service of Leavey’s (and Rex’s) story.  The result is a compelling tale that is broader than Iraq, and Kate Mara’s performance really conveys the anguish that returning soldiers suffer through, whether they’re humans or dogs.  It’s a very focused movie and more of a tribute to the bond that forms between us and our dogs than a true war movie.  I really enjoyed it.

 

War Machine

This movie intends to satirize the American war in Afghanistan and I suppose it manages to land a few punches, but it’s so cartoonish the film gets bled of any real bite. Brad Pitt plays ‘Obama’s General’, 4-star Glen McMahon (a placeholder for Stanley McChrystal), the guy brought in to win a war his own country started, so of course when things to go to shit, he gets a disproportionate amount of the blame.

War Machine reminds us that war is won by men, but it’s the men in suits who run this MV5BMjQzMzUzNzY3Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDA5ODI0MjI@._V1_CR0,59,640,360_AL_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_war, not men in uniform. Politicians run things but don’t bother to check in with the men on the ground, who are operating on the basis of “counter-insurgency”, a losing proposition each and every time. The soldiers can’t distinguish between the enemy and the people they’re trying to protect. The war is a clusterfuck but so is this lazy attempt at satire.

It looks like it was filmed with a $400 budget and the same can-do American spirit that kept sending more troops to an unwinnable war (at two hours, it’s much too long to have said so little, and not long enough to have left any impression). The voice-over is straight out of a Lifetime movie (it’s meant to be the Rolling Stone journalist who got poor McMahon fired in the end – an unnecessary and cheesy device). And Brad Pitt is doing an awful voice like he’s trying to convince you it’s not really him. It feels like a gross miscalculation on Pitt’s part: the weird growl, the caricature-ish squint, it’s all a little too much to make the General feel flesh and blood.

The script isn’t smart enough and the film offers no insight. And even though it’s a mess, it makes 2009 look kind of quaint compared to 2017, which is the most depressing sin of all.