Centurion vs The Eagle

One of the things Hollywood likes to do at times is to make several movies on the same subject and release the two {or three} which are basically about the same themes. “Country” and “Places in the Heart” were very similar films released in almost the same year. Two Wyatt Earp/Doc Holliday movies were done at the same time-the endless stream of Batman and Superman comics-all run together. They are about to release two stories of “Snow White”, one with Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen, one with Charlize Theron. In 2010 they chose the heartwarming story of the lost Ninth legion of Rome. The two films were “Centurion”-critics rated this one the better of the two, and “The Eagle” with Channing Tatum. Personally, I thought “The Eagle” was the better of the two for several reasons. “Centurion” was overtly violent in spots where it was pointless and needless to exhibit gore. When a corpse has no head, do we need to see more blood gushing from the body? I think not. The culprit, I suspect, is the world of gaming videos that show violence as a part of a game and it rises to the level of a cartoon. I would add this on the subject of violence in film. When grizzled, elderly, World War II veterans gather together, they don’t want to talk about the gore that was on the battlefield. Sometimes understatement works best. When Hitchcock made “Psycho” he understood the chilling effect of blood circling a drain to underscore the horror of the violent murder of Janet Leigh in a shower. “Centurion” also featured a chase sequence that, at first, vaguely reminded me of the classic chase from, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. The tag line for the movie poster from “Butch Cassidy” was, “Who are these guys?” and they used a paraphrase of this same dialogue in the new film. A vague reference or subtle homage is expected. But I knew they wouldn’t end the chase by having the group jump off the cliff. That would be too much. But not, it seems, for the makers of “Centurion”. By damn if they didn’t end the chase with a leap off of a mountain cliff. That means that the last gasp of original thought has left the building for the makers of this movie. Recently, “The Grey” used a similarly too-close for-comfort sequence from another film. This was so close in detail to the moving episode in “Sometimes a Great Notion” where Paul Newman attempts to keep a man from drowning and fails that I couldn’t help but wonder if they would be fined for lifting material so blatantly from the original storyline. Where is the line drawn in films when the sequences begin to look more than vaguely familiar? Just askin’

Why I’m not going to see "The Hunger Games"

Why I have no desire to see this film: I won’t go see “The Hunger Games”. I’m glad people, especially young people are reading about a post-apocalyptic world. They should be the ones to discuss the consequences of our actions as a government. They should be thinking and talking about reasons we need to stop and think about the consequences of our actions as a nation, and as moral and ethical human beings. Perhaps they will change the culture we live in for the better. The book “1984” was the Orwellian vision of a totalitarian future. I’m reminded also of the infamous “War of the Worlds” broadcast that had some nervous folks out in the streets fearing a real alien invasion. But the movie that “Hunger Games” brings to mind for me is “Spartacus”. The climactic end scene was a fight to the death between the characters played by Tony Curtis and Kirk Douglas. It underscored one of the main themes, which was that Greater love hath no man for another than to sacrifice his own life. The twist, if you will, was that the two friends who loved each other as brothers were slated to fight each other to the death. The winner would be crucified so the “loser” actually is the one who wins the fight and kills his beloved friend, thus sparing him from the pain and torture that will inevitably be inflicted on the winner. The brutality that was Rome is a recurring theme of Spartacus. But it is man’s nature to be brutal and violent that is an unspoken theme, as it gives us the metaphor in Spartacus for the sacrifice which Christians see in Jesus Christ. There are films that use violence to make a point about man’s inhumanity to man that are greatly effective. But in this age, I do wonder when enough is going to be enough. Spartacus was made in 1960. The film was about the Roman Gladiators, who were killing machines created to satisfy the public’s love of gore and violence. The Gladiators would fight to the death and were surrounded by cheering mobs. In “Spartacus”, the same horrific death that Rome inflicted on Jesus Christ is given to Spartacus. The barbaric nature of crucifixion is a constant reminder throughout the film of the violent brutality that lies in each of us and makes up the darker parts of our human nature. This reminder seems to be a theme of “The Hunger Games”. The violence is something we are immune to and we are accepting of it and we watch as jaded spectators watched the Gladiators. Such is the consequences of creating a world of video gaming, perhaps? One good point to make in this film’s favor: This IS a fictional movie. And like novels, films are representations sometimes depicting small segments of the human condition. So Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings and The Hunger Games are one part entertainment, one part protest and one part morality tale interwoven into an entertaining story. That explanation for the popularity of this film I can live with. Because I would posit that a certain man from Avon could fall into that category. I would bet that William Shakespeare, were he alive today would be out there on the cutting edge. In his own words he put it best, “The Play’s the Thing.” Thoughts on violence and the world of video gaming: One of the main differences in action films that were made twenty years ago and ones made in the twenty-first century is the amount of violence that is not only expected, but expected to be graphic. The concern is that there will be a kind of benign acceptance of pain and suffering taken to the extreme level. To convey the horrors of war and of death, sometimes less is more. Hitchcock proved it in ‘Psycho” with the shower scene and in ‘Torn Curtain” where Paul Newman has to kill a man with the help of a young peasant woman by using nothing more than his hands and the two of them manage to asphyxiate the Russian after a tortuous struggle. Hitchcock wanted to illustrate that it’s not easy to take a life. Another chillingly effective death struggle was seen in “Saving Private Ryan” where the two men fight to the death and it takes on the aura of a sexual encounter as the German slowly plunges the knife in to the chest while telling his victim to be quiet and accept the inevitable. Hopefully, there may be a pendulum swing back to the era of using film to illustrate actions without graphic violence and large amounts of blood and gore. **One other aspect covered in “The Hunger Games” is the public’s insatiable appetite for entertainment. Again, we are reminded of Rome and the Gladiator contests. I suppose if people are watching inordinately large amounts of cooking or exercise shows to the exclusion of all else-or staying on Facebook for more than eight hours-there is a real danger of losing focus and balance in your life. Personally, I don’t watch “Dancing with the Stars” or “American Idol”. But some of my best friends do and they are wonderful people with full and engaged lives. As boring as it may seem, moderation is the key to all things. So…people, especially young people, seem to be worried about a post-apocalyptic world. So do we all-and hope and wish and fervently pray that it will not come to pass. There are those who work every day to stem the tide of apathy and bigotry and hatred and ignorance that leads us to a path of destruction. I,for one, worry that I’m not doing enough to prevent Armageddon every day of my life. But then again, the point may be that there is hope yet for a generation that has role models willing to sacrifice themselves for others, as is the case with the heroine in “The Hunger Games”.

21 Jump Street-Capsule Review

Channing Tatum-star of both “21 Jump Street” and “The Eagle” is an up-and-comer along the lines of Keanu Reeves, who also showed us a new breed of actor that specialized in looking confused and dumb, sweet and “hunky” all at the same time. (It’s not just me-the best line in “The Matrix” comes from someone saying to Keanu: “You’re not too bright, are you?” The movie has gotten pretty good reviews-actually well over-rated reviews as one person wrote, “This is what a re-make Should look like!” This is at times an amusing film, but it’s not a great film. The characters/action tends to jump around and there’s very little character development. There are some amusing sequences, but they are surprisingly short. In other words, you can definitely “wait for video” on this one….

The Artist: Capsule Review for 6 Degrees of Film

The Artist is playing this weekend at Tampa Theatre. This review was originally published on 6 Degrees of Film in 2012. Here’s the updated version:

THe Artist T Theatre

One of the best sequences in “The Artist”, the Academy-Award winning black & white silent film, is the one where sound is used. That’s not to say that films without sound are not worth seeing. Some of the most moving sequences ever filmed have been moments that have no sound. Liam Neeson had the role in “Suspect” where he plays a mute, and it was apparent early on that he was the only one in a cast that included Cher with real acting chops. In “There Will be Blood” one of the most creative sequences in this dark look into the psyche of a self-made 19th Century robber baron was the opening of the film where Daniel Day-Lewis doesn’t speak for a good ten minutes into the film. In The Artist the scene where the very successful and extremely egotistical star dismisses the viewing of the “talkies” as a fad finds him waking up in a cold sweat in the night after he dreams of hearing sound on film where none had been before. That is perhaps one of the more creative moments in the film. This film stands really as a series of vignettes, a kind of homage to the way that early films were made.

They were short one-reelers and like the one and two-reelers, you could find the plot of this film written out on a half page of notebook paper. Boy meets girl, they fall in love; conflict ensues; they overcome obstacles to be together; the Denouement-Finis-The End.

That really is a short history of the movies encapsulated in this film. The power of silent film has been lost on so many generations that have missed out on much that was conveyed through film in the silent era, Actor and Comic Bill Murray recently spoke of watching a DW Griffith silent film in France that was totally riveting. It seems the French have a higher appreciation of the silent medium in general. I don’t believe that just everyone would simply fall in love with this movie. That is conveyed in the box office numbers, which show this film to be probably the least viewed of any Academy Award winner in recent years. It is not an action flick or a comedy or a chick flick. It is a film about film in the sense that it conveys some messages about the appreciation of a medium-silent film- that is not in existence save for a few random viewings on select cable channels. This is the nature of show business and this film is unique in that there are less than six degrees of association to arrive at the beginning history of film. It serves as a perfect example for anyone interested in the history of film, and it’s definitely a must see for those playing the game of “Six Degrees of Film!”

The Grey-Capsule Review

My first impression of this film is, “Surely they have shots of wolves living in the wild they could insert in this film? Why do the wolves look so fake?” The person I was sitting with thought the same. In this day and age, with this type of film here’s a tip: use the stock footage and edit it in with the “Automatron” wolf. This is NOT a “feel-good” type of movie. One other bone to pick: one plot point makes little sense. These people risk their lives to climb over a ravine to get away from the wolves. The wolves are territorial, but there should have been something to make us understand why the wolves are still after them. My thoughts were, “Really…still…with the wolves?” I mean, you expect us to believe the wolves also climbed over the gorge? They just cannot shake these particular wolves. If it were sharks, you can understand it. But wolves should just be one of the major dangers you might face after surviving an Arctic plane crash…These wolves are the Jaws of the Arctic-never relenting, never giving up. Liam Neeson is a great actor. There is one scene in particular, early in the film, where he calmly tells someone they are going to die. That is the point where he can emote to the extent that Clint Eastwood and John Wayne never could. Here is the “go-to” guy for action films of the age and he also happens to be a great actor. Nothing about the film in the latter half gives us pause to see him exercise his “chops”. I would recommend this to anyone who likes Liam Neeson films. A lot. This is not an action-adventure movie in the “Die Hard/Terminator” mold. This is more of a Jack London/Joseph Conrad tale. You see Man v Man; Man v Nature; Man V Himself and Man v Animal. All of the main storylines are rolled into one fairly predictable, fairly dark story. Don’t go see this if you’re looking for a light, upbeat escapist film. It’s not. One other point of privilege to note: there is a drowning sequence late in the film that could have come straight out of the Paul Newman/Henry Fonda film, “Sometimes a Great Notion” from 1971. Just sayin’