Starship Troopers (To Infinity Retrospective)

Featured

starship troopers - cinema quad movie poster (4).jpgWelcome, citizens, to the To Infinity Retrospective, a series created in preparation for Star Wars 9. On the first day of each month, a different Space Opera will be reviewed. And it is your civic duty to read them all. This month, we’ll be covering the 1997 action-satire, Starship Troopers, a film as dense with subtext as it is with blood and boobs. Would you like to know more?
Continue reading

Advertisements

Outlaw King (2018)

In 1306, after a long and bloody war against the English, Robert Du Bruce and his fellow Scottish nobles surrender to King Edward I, and swear their endless, undying allegiance to him. Of course, Robert isn’t exactly enthusiastic about this, seeing as he views Edward as his mortal enemy, but he is pragmatic, and so accepts the latter’s rule, as well as a political marriage to the English noblewoman Elizabeth de Burgh. All seems well at first, until news reaches Robert that William Wallace, a major leader in the rebellion who never surrendered, has been tortured and executed. Realizing that he must avenge the latter’s death, and gain Scotland’s independence, Robert sets about planning another campaign. In order for his plan to succeed, however, he must unite all of Scotland under one banner, and so declares himself King of Scots after, ahem, removing his chief rival for the throne. This leads to the English labeling him an outlaw, and even some of the other Scottish nobles turning on him. But Robert is determined, and continues to fight for Scotland’s independence, even when he is seen as nothing more than an Outlaw with a crown. Will he succeed? Don’t ask me. Just watch the movie. Continue reading

Overlord (2018)

It’s the eve of D-Day, and a group of paratroopers are being sent to destroy a German radio tower in France. Before they can get there, however, their plane is shot down, and only five men, Corporal Ford, and Privates Boyce, Tibbet, Chase, and Dawson are left alive. Shaken, but determined to complete their objective, the soldiers make their way to the village where the tower is located, and discover some strange, horrifying things. What things, you ask? Well, it would appear that, in the hopes of ensuring their thousand year Reich, the Nazis have been performing experiments on people to create “thousand year soldiers.” Yikes. So now, in addition to having to blow up the radio tower, it would appear that the paratroopers have to contend with undead Nazis as well. Charming. Can they do it? Well, watch the film and find out for yourself. Continue reading

Dunkirk (2017)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, And Views Are My Game.

The British Army has been driven back. All the way to the French coast. Now, if Britain is to survive the war, they must evacuate 400,000 men from the beaches at Dunkirk. And they must do so fast, because, every hour, the enemy draws closer. And every minute, another life is lost.

Dunkirk is a spectacle. It is the cinematic equivalent of a roller coaster. It’s loud, intense, it puts you on edge; but , when its over, you don’t really feel like you’ve learned or gained anything. You just feel tired. Part of this has to do with the fact that this film has very little dialogue, and no real characters. Now when I say that, I don’t mean that there are no people in this movie. There are. We actually follow three different protagonists; an RAF pilot trying to shoot down enemy aircraft, a civilian mariner trying to rescue soldiers, and a private trying to get off the beaches. But we never learn who these people are. In fact, I’ve thought back, and I don’t think we ever hear their names. There’s never a moment where the soldiers tell each other about their lives back in England, or where we get any sense of what their interests, or political views, are. They don’t have clearly-defined arcs; where, say, they start off arrogant, and end humble, and the movie itself doesn’t even have a climax, since every moment is huge and dramatic. Dunkirk is basically just 2 hours of people you don’t know anything about reacting to explosions. And that’s it.

Now, in case it sounds like I didn’t like this movie, I did. Sort of. It’s entertaining, to be sure. I was never bored while I was watching it, and there were many points where I jumped. And the acting, as you expect from a Christopher Nolan movie, is quite good. Mark Rylance, whom plays the civilian mariner trying to save soldiers, is a particular bright spot, since he’s given the most dialogue, and you know the most about him. And the dogfights that Tom Hardy’s RAF pilot gets into are definitely gripping.

But when you strip all that away–all the dogfights, and explosions, and Mark Rylance–what you’re left with is a very hollow movie. I understand that the lack of characterization and character development was a deliberate choice, since, in the real world, you don’t take a break during a battle to tell people about your significant other back home, but realism doesn’t always work in drama. If movie dialogue was exactly like actual conversation, it would be duller than paint drying, since there’d be a lot of repetition, very little conflict, and every third word would be “uh,” or “um.” Similarly, having the audience of your movie not know anything about the characters they’re supposed to be following creates a disconnect between observer and observed. I didn’t know who any of the soldiers on the beaches were. Not just because I didn’t know their names, or anything about them, but because they were all pretty generic-looking white dudes with Brown hair. As such, I didn’t care what happened to them. Hell, there were a few points when I got confused, because I thought one of the characters I was watching had died earlier. Are we just supposed to sympathize with them because they’re British? Because, let me tell you, I knew exactly as much about the Germans as I did about them, and they’re supposed to be the bad guys. That’s not good. Some reviews I’ve read have praised this film for not being “sentimental,” and not “manipulating our emotions” with speeches and a touching score. But what’s wrong with that? Saving Private Ryan, one of the greatest war films ever made, has just as intense action as Dunkirk does, but it actually has scenes where we hear the characters talk, and we get to know them. Matt Damon’s speech about the last night he spent with his brothers is one of my favorite monologues in film. And why are we so opposed to sentimentality? What’s wrong with caring about the people we’re watching? It’s human to empathize. It’s natural to care. Why have we gotten to a point in our pop culture where being earnest in our emotions is a bad thing? It’s not. It’s actually quite a good thing. Ah well.

Guys, I can’t say that I liked Dunkirk, but I can’t say that I didn’t like it either. It’s definitely entertaining, and the acting is good. But the lack of dialogue, and discernible characters to latch onto, made it extremely difficult for me to care. Make of this what you will.

Full Metal Jacket (1987)

Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The name, And Views Are My game.

It’s 1968, and a group of Marine recruits are being prepped for Vietnam. They are led by Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, who ruthlessly pushes them to be the “best killers” possible. One of these recruits, Leonard Lawrence, nicknamed “Gomer Pyle” by Hartman, cannot keep up with the others, and is repeatedly punished and hazed. This leads to him losing his sanity, and to some rather tragic events on the night of their graduation. But this is only the beginning, as the rest of the Marines, including Sergeant’s Joker and Cowboy, are shipped off to South Vietnam, where they find the horrors of war waiting for them.

Full Metal Jacket is widely considered a classic, and contains some of the most recognizable lines in film history. If you’ve ever wondered where “me love you long time” comes from, here’s your answer. And yet, for all the hype, for all the praise people like to heap on it, I’d never actually seen the movie until today, and most people my age I’ve talked to haven’t either. Part of this is due to the fact that we live in a world of review aggregators, where we accept that something is a classic because a bunch of people online tell us that it is. For this reason, I decided to give Full Metal Jacket a look, and find out for myself if it was actually any good.

Well, having actually seen Full Metal Jacket, I can safely say that it’s reputation isn’t wholly without merit. There are some absolutely gorgeous shots in this film, and the production design is amazing. This, coupled with a stand out performance by R Lee Ermey as Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, make the first half of this film extremely watchable. It’s unfortunate, therefore, that the second, and much longer, half isn’t nearly as good. Whereas the first half follows traditional dramatic structure, with characters changing, and scenes and stakes building up to a climax, the second half meanders about without much purpose. We get a bunch of pointless scenes that never get brought up again, like the soldiers talking to reporters, bidding on a prostitute, and mocking a dead VC. And whereas the first half is very clearly anti-war, the second half is much more ideologically muddled, with the protagonist, Joker, actually saying that he is “happy,” after killing a child. And even though I know that this film was made back in the 80s, and there was a lot of racism in the Vietnam War, I was truly put off by how many times the words “gook” and “zipperhead” were used in this movie. I don’t think the characters in this film ever referred to Vietnamese people as Vietnamese. It was always one of the two aforementioned racial slurs. And while the film doesn’t shy away from mocking other races, with many of the black characters getting called the n word, the latter group are at least given names, and dialogue that isn’t in broken English. The Vietnamese are completely dehumanized in this picture, and it really made me, an Asian American viewer, uncomfortable.

So, overall, I think that the first half of Full Metal Jacket is very well crafted, but that the second half is uneven, and tonally inconsistent. If you haven’t seen it yet, you probably should, just because it’s an iconic movie. But go in knowing that the second half meanders, and that there are a LOT of racial slurs used throughout.