Sunday, March 9, 2014

Friday Night Movie Reviews: March

And we are BACK for 2014! Sure, it's not actually Friday, but Friday is just a state of mind though, right? And we're only a time machine away from a Friday at any given point, so it's totally fine. Now that I've justified my lateness, let's get on to the movies shall we?

Once again we have an eclectic mix of movie reviews coming to you from Luke, Jeff and Jacinta. Join us below the cut to see what we've been watching this month.

The Act of Killing (2012) by Luke

This documentary’s reputation of being extremely challenging and confronting admittedly frightened me away from seeing it until recently. That was my loss. In Indonesia in the 1960’s a million communists were murdered and the killers have never been punished. These men, now fifty years older and in most cases unrepentant, if not boastful, talk freely about executing up to a thousand men each, often right in the heart of the city with the explicit approval of those in power. The audacious premise of The Act of Killing is to get them to theatrically re-enact these murders in any movie style they wish. So while there are no actual acts of violence ever shown in this film (archival or otherwise) we are confronted with startling re-enactments of interrogations and executions, filtered through layers of cowboy hats, crossdressing, film noir, sweeping vistas and musical numbers. It sounds crazy, right? But it works.

At first it feels like the layer of fiction has a cushioning effect, distancing the perpetrators from the atrocities they’ve committed. It allows them to be very candid as they cast themselves at the conquering heroes. However, as we dig deeper into this lengthy study - and the participants take turns at playing the roles of both killer and victim - the results become sickeningly and surprisingly real, making everyone involved profoundly uncomfortable. Watching the results of their filming on a monitor afterwards they begin to see themselves, and their acts, through outside eyes.

The film never tries to claim that these men will ever truly understand or experience the horrors that they unleashed on their victims, but it does make some satisfying steps towards challenging their views. The Act of Killing really sticks with you, and I’m still trying to unravel its impact. A complex and thought-provoking study of the power of fiction to stab at the truth.

Predator (1987) by Jeff

Last year, you may recall that I had finished watching the canon entries in theAlien franchise. A friend of mine then said "hey, you should really watch Predator."


Listen, guys, there's a place for big, dumb action movies. I totally get it, there are some I'm into and some I'm not. Predator is actually thematically similar to Alien in the sense that you have some hired guns sent to investigate something weird and different. Instead of it being a science fictional mystery, however, it ends up being an excuse to blow things up with tremendously dumb dialogue and even dumber character choices that make the folks at Weyland look like geniuses.

I don't know if we can say there's anything redeemable about this overall. This is fundamentally Not Good. When I posted on Facebook that I was watching it, I immediately got three comments that said "GET TO DA CHOPPA," which means that the entire legacy of the film involves a poorly-delivered line in a poorly-written movie that I won't get time back for.

And to think this wasn't even the worst thing I watched recently...

Lone Survivor (2014) by Jacinta

It was always going to be hard for me to be disappointed by a movie written & directed by Peter Berg (the writer & director of Friday Night Lights), starring Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) and with music by Explosions in the Sky (who did the music for Friday Night Lights). Within the first few minutes Berg’s familiar visual style had me immediately comfortable as the light flares from the sunrise were peeking over the horizon, and the string section was singing out. That did not last long.

Based on the true story of 2005’s botched Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan, we are taken along for the ride as a mission to capture a Taliban leader goes horribly, horribly wrong. Mark Wahlberg stars as Marcus Luttrell, and the fact the movie is called ‘Lone Survivor’ and is based on a book by Marcus Luttrell should give you a fair indication of how events pan out. The harrowing and unrelenting midsection of the movie kicks into gear as the mission is compromised and the soldiers are hunted through unforgiving terrain by Taliban soldiers. After his team are slaughtered, Luttrell must fight to stay alive.

While I was deeply affected by the movie and did enjoy it, I still had some criticisms. The opening montage served to reinforce the elite nature of SEALs as the toughest soldiers going around, but as the team were taking bullet after bullet while being pinned down by gunfire, it started to seem like the re-telling was being somewhat over exaggerated. I would love for my pessimism to be proven wrong, but I don’t think even a Marine would be able to be turned into Swiss Cheese and still run across the countryside. While I don’t think it glamorised the war at all, and while I hope people are beyond NEEDING to have ‘the futility of war’ messages in combat movies, I did feel this was a little bit gung-ho Americaaaaaa in places. Not enough for me to not enjoy the film, but definitely enough for it to be noticeable. There’s something that feels slightly awkward about reflecting even a little positively about a conflict that only ended officially recently.

A very solid and enjoyable modern combat adventure, but unlikely to end up a classic of the genre.

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