July 24, 2017

dunkirk-movie-preview-01_feature.jpgThough an inspirational story of true heroism against almost impossible odds, I can’t say I’ve ever been too keen to see a movie about the famous rescue at Dunkirk.  Though it’s etched in history due to its strategic importance (survival of the army meant survival of Britain and the Allies) as well as the famous Churchill speech it inspired, a film version lends itself too easily to ponderous patriotism and hokey sentimentalism.  It also seems quite boring.  I get the impression, having now seen Christopher Nolan’s depiction, that he probably felt the same way – at least, about the boring bit. Read the rest of this entry »

American Sniper

January 21, 2015

Spoilers Abound!  Beware! thumbnail_19703

On the phone with a friend some months ago I talked about being keen to see American Sniper when I found out it was in production. I remembered Chris Kyle, the much touted “deadliest sniper in US military history”, doing the rounds of some talk shows a few years back and being a particularly odious, unreflective individual. When I read about the tragic irony of his death, I thought it would make an interesting movie and, with Eastwood at the film, a Rorschach test for the politics of those who saw it. American Sniper is, for me, not a particularly good film, and though it betrays a certain Conservatism, the back-and-forth we’re getting over its politics, especially after it’s huge box office opening, suggests there’s something to the Rorschach element. There are many good and nuanced arguments available on this topic, as well as a great many that are pretty dunderheaded from both sides. Much of it comes down to the issue of the morality of art: does it have a duty to condemn? Read the rest of this entry »

The action film must be one of the hardest for anyone to justify enjoying to him or her self on a moral level.  We can talk all day long about the technique and the artistry and, in the best cases, the moral depth that create a great action film, but at the end of the day, there’s always going to be that element of thrilling to the violence.  In a fashion, the closer to a realistic depiction of violence an action movie achieves, the farther away from its purpose it gets.  If you think of the brutal physicality and sad desperation in the fistfight-cum-wrestling match of a drama like All the Pretty Horses or the bathhouse finale of Eastern Promises, or even that moment in Saving Private Ryan where Adam Goldberg’s character kills the sense of war-action heroics by pleading with the German soldier not to slowly plunge a dagger straight into his heart, the last thing you feel is “fun” or “thrill” – the reality of violence is that it is generally a sad, ugly thing that represents the absolute worst in humanity.  Therefore, the more outlandish and choreographed and lovingly filmed and edited an action scene is, the better.  Many of the good ones have more in common with a Hollywood musical number than an actual fight.  Even the recent turn towards the more guttural action, like the Bourne films or Craig-era Bond rely heavily on swift editing and choreography to keep the fast-paced excitement going so it can be punctuated by a violent knock to the stomach.  It is on the level of thrills that the action scenes in Act of Valor and The Raid: Redemption hope to deliver, but due to the circumstances of each of the films, there is a drastically different effect on the viewer. Read the rest of this entry »

Inglourious Basterds

September 10, 2009


Back in the mid-90’s, I recall a critic (possibly Ebert, but I can’t positively remember who it really was) saying that watching Pulp Fiction was to watch a kid let loose in a toy store.  The kid was, of course, the film’s co-writer and director Quentin Tarantino, and he wanted to play with everything.  It was pop art nonsense at it’s most explosive, vibrant, and shallow (and I mean that in the best way possible).  It released a slew of imitators and rip-offs, but the original excitement has never really dulled.  A critical darling for a time, Tarantino now finds himself, 15 years later, sometimes still praised, oftentimes derided.  Claims that he’s not what he used to be are based on his 21st Century output, which admittedly contains the lackluster Death Proof, and that he’s given himself over to fanboy self-indulgence.  Granted, nothing since (and including Basterds, we’re only talking about four films here, also assuming you believe Kill Bill to be two separate entities) has reached the emotional and character heights reached by Jackie Brown, his most (only?) mature film. Indulgence is certainly an issue, but Death Proof’s best moments came when he was fully embracing his exploitation B-movie love, providing a thrilling and tense finale, while Kill Bill popped with a visual inventiveness rarely seen in action films whilst also providing some fantastic Tarantino trademarked dialogue scenes.  So how does his latest opus, Inglourious Basterds, fare?  The short answer is ‘quite well, all in all.’ Read the rest of this entry »