Monthly Archives: February 2013

Rambo

Subtitled – Did Rambo Save Burma? We are talking here about the fourth Rambo, the one deemed so good that it didn’t need to be qualified with foolish digits denoting its place in the series, though I always thought fourth blood had a ring to it. The news this week that Burma isn’t getting on quite as well as we hoped, and appears to be spewing out starving refugees seems at first to indicate that indeed Rambo did not save Burma, but whilst I was on my high (war) horse yesterday complaining about the bloodless World War Two of War Horse, I got to thinking about realism and social responsibility, the only logical way to go with this was Rambo. Now I love this film, I love it so much that I saw it at the cinema, rented it then bought it on dvd, not just any dvd, one in a sort of bamboo jacket so it looks just like one presumes pirated dvd’s in Burma might look, only less junta-ey. Stalwarts of filmic knowledge Zoo magazine say Rambo is “the most fantastically violent film ever” they actually used the word probably, but I ignored that, because Stallone rips a guys wind pipe out. So what’s interesting about the film is that it starts with some pretty harrowing newsreel footage, immediately we are being told that this is actually trying to engage with a genuine contemporary human rights issue, so what, you might say, enough people believed that there were still American pow’s in Vietnam to say the same of that, but the thing about all the other Rambo films is that when people get shot in them bits of their bodies don’t literally fly off. What Rambo did in 2007 was mark a new level of realism for splatter effects, then use them literally non stop for an hour and a half. If it was a cold bit of marketing or not we’ll never know, but Stallone was wise enough to see that a film couldn’t be set in Burma (“Burma? But thats a war zone”) without making some sort of concession to what was going on there, and one could argue, exactly what action could he take aside from that which he did, which was ostensibly to make a film with the aim of raising awareness. We know this was his aim because he told us in a heap of interviews at the time. So although it took three more years before reform began to reshape Burma, a bumpy road which will be long and winding, it is impossible to avoid the fact that this process began with Rambo. Ok I joke, Rambo didn’t save Burma, in fact he destroyed quite a lot of it with big guns, but one thing he did so is take notice when most of the world was looking in the other direction.

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War Horse

War Horse is a great big sad, but heart warming story, it is Saving Private Ryan with a horse. It is primarily about friendship and humanity, but also I always felt that the story, especially in the book, was a way to work through a heap of things that happened in the First World War, making them less distant and incomprehensible than a history class, and introducing the idea that indeed, as the saddest parts of the film show, the War takes everything from everyone, it is an important book. I believe equally that film, as a visual medium has a role to play in depicting these parts of our history, lest we forget and so we learn, but within that there is a responsibility with the maker of a film to not belittle that memory. The crux is that the horse is ultimately not of any nationality, as an occupier of this liminal space between German, Italian and the folk of Devon it is shown both kindness and cruelty in equal measures by all those it meets on its journey through the war. So what is problematic here is what we trust young people to understand. I have not read the book in a while so I cannot comment with absolute authority on how it is translated to screen, but in what I guess comes out of the requirement for the film to be rated appropriately a number of strange things have happened. No one in the War bleeds, the only time we see a credible wound is on the horse itself, and even it escapes running through barbed wire without a drop spilled. An awful lot of people die, but the film is incredibly coy about it all. Beyond this, everyone speaks English, and those people who are not supposed to be English have accents that range from pretty incomprehensible to downright ridiculous. So why, I ask, can we trust (what I would contend is the target) audience of this film to understand the concepts it is comprised of. For instance they are asked to understand that the look on a soldiers face is the look of a man who knows he is going to die, yet who charges on anyway, or that the bravery required in war was not solely possessed by the victors, yet for some reason we cannot trust them to understand that wounds come with blood or to have the attention span to manage subtitles? It is important that we do not let the job of showing what War looks like fall to documentary alone, because documentary will not usually contain the sense of humanism that War Horse has, it would just be nice to be able to say “that is as close as we could make it with the technology we have” rather than “that is as much as we thought you could manage”, because if “as close as we could make it” will still only give us a sense of the sacrifice of the people who were there made, “as much as we thought you could manage” is never going to come even close.

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Les Diaboliques

This film ends with a nice caption card asking that you not reveal what happens to your friends, so I wont, all you need to know is that there is a terrible asshole of a guy, his wife and mistress, united under his awfulness decide to do away with him. However when the crime is complete not all goes as smoothly as planned! What is great about this is that even though everyone is being ever so serious it is all so melodramatic that you know it was all brilliant fun to make, and that really comes across on screen, there is some epic overacting going on all over the place, and I am fairly sure it is not just because it is from the fifties that every character does and says exactly what they look like they should do, the femme fatale is grossly under represented in modern cinema in my opinion! This is a worthy mystery thriller, keeps you guessing until the very last moment and leaves you feeling ever so satisfied.

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Dream House

Daniel Craig acting like he likes kids is hilarious, I imagine he acts the same way I would were I asked to pretend I had children, and I hate kids. Once you have got past the cringe worthy “fatherly moments” that the film begins with you get into some slightly weird territory here, weird in that this film isnt quite sure what its all about, there is one big jump qute early on which says you are watching something which is going to scare you, but this all falls to the wayside as we get into (very) psycological thriller territory. It is a good concept, the slightly predictable twist doesnt come at the climax of the movie, but it blows its load (yes, blows its load…) about half way through, and we then see how all the peices are put back together. Craig comes with a reputation as a trouble shooter, one of the best things about Bond is that he is always one step ahead of the game, what feels different here is that he plays the character with that same descisiveness, but here he is far from Bond. Dream House keeps you watching, but try not to think about it all too much or you’ll ruin it for yourself.

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True Crimes

This rather confusingly titled film is not the late nineties crime thriller with the same name (minus the S on the end), it is better than that. Basically this takes the time travel paradox that you can potentially go back in time and meet yourself to its exteme conclusion. The first act is genuinely quite scary, the second is a tiny bit boring because, given the nature of time, we know exactly what is going to happen, even though there are a couple of “will he, wont he” moments… but lets be clear… he will, because he did it once already. The third act is where it really gets exciting and what is great is that the logic continues to hold up, you really want everything to work out, but once you step into a time machine things tend to get rather complicated. The basic moral of the story is, do not build and operate time machines, I mean I know everyone has tried it at least once, I myself have a number of unfinished time machines knocking around, I usually cant get the parts I need, but really, when you think about it there is almost no time travel scenario where you wont at best end up at least killing someone, and at worst having awful ungratifying sex with yourself just to see how good you really are in bed. That second one doesnt happen in the film by the way… or does it…

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The White Ribbon

The White Ribbon is a difficult watch, but a worthwhile one. For a start it moves at a slothlike pace, and the dialogue is very subtle, a couple of times I was well into the next scene before it occured to me what was actually being discussed. However, it is a testiment to how well the film is cast and acted that this dialogue is also so believable. The film is set just before the first World War in a small rural village in Germany, and essentially every single person from the top to the bottom of this intensely stratified society is unhappy. This unhappiness is inescapable, it generates a tension which permeates the film and what this does very well is makes you realise that we as viewers have to deal with this tension for the length of the film, the characters live with it every day. What this tension also does is turn everyone into terrible assholes, I mean really really awful assholes, and all the folks who are not assholes are sort of asshole enablers, because they just tolerate the assholes. The fact that most of the characters have tender moments, punctuated by extreme assholery is demonstrative of their condition, it is the only way they can conceive of dealing with their problems. In the face of ubiquitous assholery the default human response is to get mad, but we are shown very early on that failing to repress this response has pretty terrible consequences, so how to release that tension? Well if your entire framework is built around dealing with your issues by acting like an asshole then it is logical that you take the persuit of assholing to the furthest extreme you can, in essence you radicalise. This is not simply an exploration of the seeds of fascism sown in a troubled pre-war German society, this is more than that, it is a timely reminder that if you place a person in a situation where they have no hope, they will cling to what ever they can find, and what ever they can find is usually not that nice at all.

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Gangs Of New York

Officially this film is about half an hour shorter than the last lord of the rings, but in reality it is the longest film ever, it feels slightly longer than the average life span of a human, give or take 160 minutes. That aside, this film has some excellent hair acting. This is where an actors hair represents their character so well it can almost be seen as contributing as much as the actor themselves to the role. Specifically Day Lewis’ hair is so awful that the extra layer of depth it adds to his character makes it worthy of an academy award, I believe there is a line of shampoo products called hair academy, I may approach them with a proposal for the hair academy awards.

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Micmacs

Micmacs made me feel a little strange. Its a nice film, the good guys put an end to the dealings of heartless arms manufacturers without resorting to mindlessly using their own weapons against them. Allegorically we could see this whole film as saying “you can win without killing, violence is for those who lack the intelligence to think of better ways to overcome”, but I don’t really think that is the point, it could also be saying “weapons are terrible, and so are those who make them”. Equally we can see this film as about friendship, unity and family, and the strength we can derive from those things. Why this film makes me feel a little strange is that whilst all these things are jolly nice, none of them is particularly well resolved. Ultimately the plan the good guys hatch leaves a number of people (albeit bad people) dead. Not their fault entirely, but dead none the less. There is a definate sense that the guys who make the weapons need to be linked to the use of their weapons very explicitly, at one point one of them declares “a wounded soldier costs more to his army than a dead one”, death and injury seen in purely financial terms marks the speaker as particularly cruel, but did he really need to be, he after all made the land mine which killed the heros father, is this trying to tell me arms manufactuers are all bad, or just the ones who are assholes along wirh it? Beyond this, the beginning of the film gets to me a little, our hero is invited to join a “family” of misfits, yet what qualifies him is never enunciated, why is he chosen out of the many we see in a line for soup, maybe the fact that he could die any second from the bullet lodged in his brain means he is special, but why do we need to be special to be part of a family? As I said, this is a nice film, it makes you smile and feel good when things come right, but it could have been so much more if everything had just been a little more considered. As the characters are charicatures as are the issues.

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Attack the Block

I am a huge fan of Adam and Joe, so when I found out that Joe had been missing from the airwaves because he was off making a feature film I was very excited, though a little sad that the old six music radio show was not about any longer. As a concept it was great, a bunch of city kids dealing with the alien invasion in their own special way, and I really did enjoy it, but the issue is that the laughs that come at the start sort of begin to fade towards the end as the novelty of alien Vs city kids is enveloped by the actual need to get the aliens killed. I guess it is a testiment to the director that he gives us this, there is no cop out ending where they are killed by water or the common cold, but I came to this movie with laughs in mind, and sadly I didnt get quite enough of them. Actually this film has some prescient points to make about inner city life and the generation of kids it depicts, it doesnt make them the object of satire, they are depicted almost lovingly, and I guess had I come to the film without a preconception of its director I would have bought into this a lot more … however I secretly wished for feature length “Toytrain Spotting”.

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Vanishing Point

This film entirely informed my taste in cars. I love big square noisy cars. Why would you even want to buy a car which was small and economical, let alone electric, dont the people who make electric cars realise that electric motors make no noise! This film for me is as much about how it looks than anything else, that huge American landscape is a character. To be honest not a great deal happens in Vanishing Point, and I cannot pin down exactly what it is trying to say. I think its something about being free, following your heart and living whilst you are still alive, but it might be deeper than that, it could also be about the kindness of strangers in the face of adversity or escape from repressive society. What ever it is about its a good (if slightly plot anemic) story which will take you on a journey with it, and not since have I seen a car on screen that has looked or sounded quite so good.

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