Decades Blogathon — Empire of the Sun (1987)

Welcome back around to another week in ‘Decades.’ Lucky Number Seven may be entering into its final stretch these next few days, but it bears worth mentioning again — it’s been another really fun event for me and my wonderful co-host Mark of Three Rows Back. There were so many things to choose from — evidenced by the fact that no one claimed perhaps the most obvious choice, a certain Star Wars episode. Yet we do have another ‘Empire’ title in the mix though, and it is brought to you by Rob of MovieRob, who is returning for his third straight blogathon. His contributions have been greatly appreciated, and please do check out his site after you’ve read his piece! 

“Learned a new word today. Atom bomb. It was like the God taking a photograph. ” – Jim

Number of Times Seen – Between 5-10 times (Theater in ’87, video, cable, 24 Aug 2008 and 17 May 2017)

Brief Synopsis – A young British boy living in pre-War Shanghai must learn to fend for himself when the Japanese occupy the city.

My Take on it – I’m sure that most people will be shocked to learn that this film was the debut of Christian Bale who played the small role of Batman in a little known trilogy by Christopher Nolan.

This film has always been a favorite of mine ever since I saw it in the theater in 1987 when I was 13.

Bale is actually three weeks younger than I am, so I always find it interesting to watch him on film because I can always imagine that the character he is portraying is my age too.

This is one of Steven Spielberg’s least appreciated film despite the fact that he did an amazing job filming this movie.

The way that the film is shot gives it such an epic feel and I loved the fact that there is actually one scene which depicts the main character wearing a red blazer walking through a crowd hundreds of people all dressed in white or gray is quite reminiscent of one of his best scenes from Schindler’s List (1993) which he would make 6 years later.

The idea to keep this film’s narrative wholly from the perspective of a child is a great one because it gives us a viewpoint not usually seen in films.

I really loved the way that the story unfolds around the main character and we get to see how the war affects him and how he changes over the course of the experiences depicted here during this very turbulent time in his life.

Besides Bale, the cast is pretty good and I liked seeing John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson, Joe Pantoliano and even spotting a young Ben Stiller as a prisoner in the POW Camp, but Bale is able to carry this whole film all by himself which shows us that even at such an early stage that big things were in store for this young actor.

My favorite part of this film tho is the music which was composed by John Williams which also helps give this film an epic feel.  In addition the song ‘Suo Gan’ is among my all time favorite musical pieces in a film.

Check them both out here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NY_v93S_Xfg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TU0yI2ugvgA

Bottom Line  Excellent portrayal of the depiction of war from the perspective of a young child.  Loved the way that the story unfolds around the main character and how we get to see how he changes based on his experiences during this turbulent time of his life.  The cast is pretty good, but the fact that Christian Bale carries this film all by himself shows how much of a future he would have in the industry.  My favorite part of this film tho is the music which is spectacularly done by John Williams.  Spielberg does a great job giving this film the epic feel that it deserves.  Highly Recommended!

MovieRob’s Favorite Trivia – About almost halfway through the film, Jim is taken to Basie’s den in the internment camp and the window behind him looks suspiciously like the window the Emperor sat in front of in the Death Star (while watching the Rebel Alliance take down the shield generators on Endor) in Return of the Jedi. Basie is even seated in a chair on the left-side of the frame in one shot with Jim on the right side, lower, similar to the placement of the Emperor/Luke and Basie’s “guards” leave when Jim enters the room. Since Spielberg and Lucas are close friends, it seems evident this was a nod to Star Wars suggesting that Basie is the Emperor of the internment camp. (From IMDB)

Rating – Oscar Worthy (9/10)


Photo credits: http://www.pinterest.com

The BFG

'The BFG' movie poster

Release: Friday, July 1, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Melissa Mathison

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Great Gallywampers and fiddly tweezlesticks, I is very pleased indeed that Steven Spielberg has delivered the goodles in his very first venture into Roald Dahl‘s brilliant imagurnation. The BFG is breathtaker beautiful, and not just thanks to its scrumptioutious imagery, neither. It recalls the warminess and serenity of Brian Cosgrove’s 1989 animated adventure and ‘n fact it mighty jus’ be more endearin’ because of the live-action interplayery.

No, don’t worry, I’m not gonna speak in Dahlian tongues for the entire review. That’s just my overly dramatic way of expressing relief that The BFG turns out to be the real deal, rather than a pale imitator. The story is clumsier than you might expect with a Spielbergian production — we find as many lulls in the story as we do frobscottle-induced farts (excuse me, whizzpoppers) — but that’s merely the product of a director’s faithfulness to the source material. Spielberg otherwise hits every major note with an assured and playful touch, his knack for conjuring powerful feelings of wonder and awe giving this sweet summer diversion a personality all its own.

Indeed, The BFG is mostly a success in that it doesn’t create any new problems. It merely inherits those of its ancestor — namely, the aforementioned inconsistent and at-times sluggish pace and a few leaps of faith in logic in service of a narrative that just may well be Dahl’s strangest and most fanciful. Story concerns a young girl named Sophie (newcomer Ruby Barnhill) who is whisked away one night from Mrs. Clonkers’ Orphanage by a huge, hooded creature and to Giant Country, a wondrous place filled with beauty. Do I smell a Best Visual Effects nomination? I do, as a matter of fact: that sequence in Dream Country by the dream tree is simply mesmeric.

But Giant Country isn’t total paradise, it’s fraught with danger as well. The other giants among whom the BFG ekes out a quiet existence as a Dream Blower are much larger, meaner and they eat human beings (or, beans, rather). After learning she’s not leaving Giant Country anytime soon, Sophie encourages her big friendly giant to stand up for himself and to rid the land of these brutes, led by Jemaine Clement‘s Fleshlumpeater, once and for all. The pair seek the help of the Queen (Penelope Wilton) and her Royal Army back in the real world to do just that.

As is the case with a great many Dahl adaptations, the suspension of disbelief is a requisite and that ability serves viewers well here, especially as the fearless Sophie encourages the two worlds to collide. The performances anchoring the film are so good they allow us to overlook many a flawed concept. And there are more than a few. Spielberg’s potential new muse in Mark Rylance loses himself in the role as the titular giant and very well might have upstaged David Jason’s original voice performance that made the larger-than-life being an unforgettable creation. His spoonerisms and awkward turns of phrase were a highlight of that original as they are here as well, and once again it’s a joy watching ten-year-old Sophie trying to update and expand his childlike vocabulary.

Rylance doesn’t do it alone, though. He gets tremendous support from the young Barnhill who embraces Sophie’s wide-eyed curiosity about the strange world surrounding her with real gusto. She’s also brilliant at balancing the heartbreak of growing up without parents with a sense of maturity that makes her as well-rounded a character as you’re likely going to find with a child actor. All those years ago Sophie had already been made a strong character thanks to Amanda Root’s precociousness and intellectual curiosity, and those qualities are only bolstered by Barnhill’s live-action incarnation. Most importantly, the quasi-parental bond between the two isn’t lost in translation. The problem of loneliness is resolved with respect for Dahl’s affinity for the weird very much intact come the tear-jerking conclusion.

One of the challenges Spielberg is up against with his take on a Dahlian classic is finding an audience outside of those loyal readers and those who keep the 1989 made-for-British-television special close to their heart. The BFG is certifiably obscure material but perhaps with names attached like Spielberg and Rylance it can reach for broader audiences. This uplifting, sweet tale of bravery and dream-making certainly deserves them.

Screen Shot 2016-07-01 at 7.45.12 PM

Recommendation: The BFG, as I have suspected since the announcement was first made, represents an ideal union of director and material. The world created by Roald Dahl is practically tailor-made for one of the world’s best when it comes to imaginative, inspiring filmmaking and the end product, while not perfect, is about as good as could be expected. The performances are wonderful and if you’re tired of the summer blockbuster trend, I have to recommend The BFG. Like, immediatarily. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “Why did you take me?” / “Because I hears your lonely heart, ‘n all the secret whisperings of the world.” 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.joblo.com; http://www.imdb.com

Bridge of Spies

Release: Friday, October 16, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Matt Charman; Joel Coen; Ethan Coen

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

The Red Scare may be long since over but in Steven Spielberg’s 29th feature (!) we’re thrown right back into the thick of it as Tom Hanks is tapped to negotiate the swapping of two major (human) pawns caught in a protracted and ugly chess match of intel gathering, fear mongering and society dividing.

Bridge of Spies, the collaborative effort of almost too many Academy Award winners (is there such a thing?) — directed by Spielberg, brought to life by Hanks and penned by the Coens in conjunction with relative unknown Matt Charman — has all the makings of another Spielberg classic. While it certainly does no harm to anyone’s reputation — to state the obvious, this is a thoroughly enjoyable picture — it falls just shy of greatness. Then again, that’s a bar set so high it becomes paradoxical: not even Spielberg can top Spielberg at his finest.

In 1957 Brooklyn, suspected Soviet spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) is arrested at his apartment and taken into custody. The American public, having been rattled by the recent Rosenberg conspiracy in which an American husband and wife had been found guilty of selling secrets to the USSR about the Americans’ development of an atomic bomb, demands Abel be sentenced to death. Insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Hanks) is called upon to represent Abel for reasons that are still bewildering to this critic. I suppose it’s enough that Donovan’s firm knows how seriously he is committed to his duties, or maybe it’s because everyone else who was asked said no. It’s not exactly clear either way, though fortunately his meteoric rise to national prominence isn’t clumsily handled.

Of course no one, not even Donovan’s family — most notably his wife Mary (Amy Ryan) — expects Donovan to seek Abel’s acquittal; the assumption is Donovan would facilitate a fair trial as a kind of courtesy to the currently most-hated man in the country. The atmosphere is such that Abel’s fate is all but a foregone conclusion, yet Donovan seeks a lighter sentence, a 30 year stretch in prison, which would all but ensure Abel’s death anyway. He finds himself at the mercy of the Supreme Court after trying to argue evidence gathered against the Soviet (whom Donovan has curiously been sympathetic to from day one) has been tainted by an invalid search warrant. He loses the case, 5-4.

Meanwhile, an American pilot by the name of Francis Powers (Austin Stowell) has been shot down over Russian soil while on a reconnaissance mission, captured, convicted and imprisoned by a somehow less empathetic government who subjects him to torture as they similarly assume him to be a spy. Following his perhaps predictable defeat, Donovan is asked to negotiate the release of Powers in exchange for Abel, putting him at even greater odds with his fellow Americans. To further complicate matters, Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), an American graduate student studying German economics in East Germany, is captured when he finds himself on the wrong side of the newly constructed Berlin Wall.

As we shift into the middle third of the film the environment becomes decidedly more chilly, and tension begins to build in earnest. What was supposed to be a simple, though by no means easy, exchange of one American for one Soviet, devolves into a circus of lies and misdirection, with Donovan receiving none of the hospitality overseas that he extended to Abel back home. It’s against a backdrop of post-World War II devastation and the bitter European winter our embattled lawyer has to have the toughest conversations yet. After much deliberation and with his patience wearing thin, he bluntly tells Wolfgang Vogel (Sebastian Koch), Donovan’s German equivalent, there will be no deal between the U.S. and the Soviets if they can’t negotiate the release of both Powers and Pryor for Abel. If there’s anything to be gained from such a hugely risky request, it’s our appreciation for why he is the man for this job — I don’t even think Hanks, the person, is quite this principled.

To reiterate, Spies isn’t vintage Spielberg and because it isn’t, it’s all too easy to dismiss as a minor entry. There’s nothing minor about a private citizen brokering this historic deal, though. There’s nothing forgettable about the way the Coens and Charman manage to create a clear dichotomy between Russian and American sentiments, even if the Coens have to censor themselves more than usual here. Spies could have been a truly dark picture, yet it understands that often violence is more potent when suggested rather than demonstrated. That’s not to say the film isn’t a sobering reminder of the state of the world in the late ’40s through the ’50s. The rampant paranoia is best captured in an early scene in which Donovan’s school-aged son is preparing for the inevitable dropping of the atomic bomb, while struggling to understand why his father is trying to protect “one of them.”

As per usual, the Spielbergian approach encompasses several different genres — historical drama, loosely-defined biopic, espionage thriller — and it’s compelling in each capacity, combining historical elements while exploring the many layers that make human beings what they are, regardless of nationality. Once more he delivers a wholesome product that’s equal parts entertaining and informative. It’s a quietly powerful picture and one well worth visiting.

Recommendation: Reliably strong work from Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg makes Bridge of Spies an unexpectedly warm and enjoyable outing. Though not quite top-shelf stuff, this Cold War-set thriller should please fans of either camp and American/European history buffs. Perhaps its biggest shortcoming (maybe it’s more of a disappointment than a flat-out failure) is that the Coen brothers’ signature quirky, dark humor gets lost in the shuffle here. There’s comedy to be found, sure, but this doesn’t really feel like a product of their writing. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 141 mins.

Quoted: “The next mistake our governments make could be the last one.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Jurassic World

Release: Friday, June 12, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Colin Trevorrow; Rick Jaffa; Amanda Silver; Derek Connolly

Directed by: Colin Trevorrow

This movie makes me nostalgic for the days of Jurassic Park III and The Lost World. Jurassic World has nothing new to offer, and is more comfortable hugging close to its parent than wandering off on its own and exploring the world it is a part of.

I recognize that I may be one of an endangered few who appreciated the sequels, but at this point I don’t really care. As the story expanded to other islands, sure, the law of diminishing returns certainly applied but I always had time for that weird Spinosaurus, dueling T-Rexes, and William H. Macy’s mustachioed, panic-stricken face as he watched members of his group being torn apart by hungry dinos. What I don’t have time for is a carbon copy of a vastly superior thriller, and Chris Pratt’s irritating ubiquitousness.

I was originally going to make a point about how surprising it is that nary a trace of Colin Trevorrow’s style can be found here, but then I had to remind myself this project is the antithesis of his 2012 feature film debut. Blockbusters rarely allow a director the time or space or whatever you want to call it to inject their personality. Or maybe Joss Whedon should’ve been called upon to helm this creature feature. Somehow he’s had to handle a baker’s dozen of key characters across two different superhero movies and still managed to breathe some of his comic relief into them. Then again, there are costs to making such decisions.

In the case of Jurassic World, Trevorrow is afraid to try. There’s a genetically modified dinosaur (because bringing a species back to life after 60+ million years of extinction isn’t spectacle enough) called the I-don’t-give-a-shit-asaurus because the story takes place at some point well after the titular amusement park has been established à la John Hammond’s vision. Park attendance has stagnated in recent years and corporate policy demands a new gimmick. Apparently raptors are now passé. To put my childish cynicism aside for a second, the Indominus rex is a pretty wicked creation, but it represents the only true distinguishable element this fourth prehistoric picture has on offer.

Park operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is the new John Hammond. Pratt’s Owen Grady is a more grizzled, affable Alan Grant minus the degree in paleontology. He may not be good at identifying fossils but he’s got a way with raptors. It’s unnerving and weird and puts raptors just that much lower on the food chain. Unlike what Jurassic Park exhorted, humans can in fact control everything they create in Jurassic World. Claire has two nephews coming to visit her. Zach (Nick Robinson) is the new Lex. He’s got less personality than Alan Grant has tolerance for children. The younger nephew is Gray (Ty Simpkins) and is very excited to be in the park. We are as well, but the script feels the need to beat the concept over our heads at the same time. Jurassic World mimics the same miserable parenting roles, with Claire unable to devote time to her nephews and choosing to name a useless nobody as their temporary guardian.

Similarities extend even to grander themes of corporate greed and excess. Trevorrow claims the Indominus rex personifies (dinosaurifies?) our demand for entertainment on bigger scales with more extravagant budgets. It’s not a point I can argue against. This dinosaur, the catalyst for chaos, lives, eats and breathes humanity’s “worst tendencies.” It’s a killing machine, a vastly more intelligent reptile than anything else in the park; hell, it can apparently evade thermal detection and fake its own escape. We’ve been here before, though. If corporate greed and excess is some new concept, what was the purpose of setting up (and later destroying in spectacular fashion) all that Hammond had dreamt up all those years ago on Isla Nublar? What did that test site represent, merely a wealthy senior citizen’s benevolent fascination with the Jurassic era? Hardly. Hammond said it himself: spare no expense.

Jurassic World plays out on its own terms every now and then. The park looks fantastic and the fact that it has actually been realized is a feat of CGI and great location scouting falling into perfect sync. I’d pay to go to this place and get the crap scared out of me by a feeding Mosasaurus, a lizard that makes a great white shark look like a minnow. And that’s another thing Trevorrow’s work has going for it — size. Everything is bigger but not necessarily more bombastic. In a particularly engaging showdown at the end — the only time where Jurassic World cuts loose, delivering on its promise of offering pure, unadulterated summer fun — we’re treated to a battle wherein a kind of sizing chart of some of the largest creatures to ever roam the earth is put on display. The climactic fight puts even the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex in perspective.

This long-anticipated sequel is difficult to endure for many reasons, but chief among them has to be just how closely it hews to the formula that made a power outage more than just an inconvenience. Jurassic World is of course allowed to revere what has come before; it should. But it does it so much it becomes the overexcited freshman at the mixer who feels it’s an obligation to drink the seniors under the table, only to end up consuming too much and causing a scene. Your older peers may admire your spirit but they also can’t ignore the fact you now smell of vomit. You’re trying too hard to impress. Just be yourself damn it.

Recommendation: As someone who decidedly hated this film, I don’t think I can give an accurate recommendation here. I suspect I’m in the overwhelming minority by saying this film is my least favorite of the series. It has no new ideas and no distinctive personality. I didn’t buy tickets for an award-winning piece of high brow cinema here but I expected Jurassic World to have some life. Fans of the series, no matter how devoted or casual, are seeing this no matter what I say. Good riddance to this one.

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 124 mins.

Quoted: “‘Monster’ is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Saving Private Ryan (1998)

new-tbt-logo

In trying to keep with a theme for this month’s batch of TBT’s, I have failed. 😦 I kind of put myself in a bad spot by opening the month (and the year) with Arnie’s disastrous adventure involving Armageddon in End of Days, a film I didn’t really feel comfortable with “associating” with any others as it’s just so poorly made. Unless I wanted a month of movies that fell well below their potentials I would have to go with some randoms for January. With that in mind, it’s time to get down to brass tacks and explore 

Today’s food for thought: Saving Private Ryan.

saving-private-ryan

Storming Normandy since: July 24, 1998

[DVD]

Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus is one of those films you can recall precisely where you were when you first watched it. For me, that was crammed into a small bedroom in Columbus, Ohio on a road trip me and a high school friend took in the fall of 2003. He had suggested watching it since he had never seen it, and up until that point I hadn’t been overly enthusiastic over putting myself through something I had heard was so grisly violent. Finally, on the last night of being in town, we slipped the disc into the DVD player.

I’m not sure how many I’m talking to here when I say that if you are anything like I was, reluctant, you have good reason to be if you have yet to experience Saving Private Ryan, particularly the opening half hour. More akin to a form of psychological boot camp designed to test viewers’ resolve than just another confronting scene of blood and gore, the infamous D-Day invasion of Normandy beach cements the film as essential viewing. The reality of war has never manifested as a nightmare so uniquely absurd, what with bodies being engulfed in walls of fire only to emerge as liquefied flesh.

Grenades rendering the very unlucky without a face.

That boy crying out for his mama.

Good thing film can’t tap into our sense of smell and taste; although there comes a point where the blood becomes so much its coppery taste is palpable. It’s also ironic: while wartime violence is something no one should ever witness, this harrowing sequence is history no one can afford to ignore.

After I had made it through this part and the room had righted itself again — I sometimes get the feeling the room is turning sideways whenever I get very uncomfortable in my seat — I felt uplifted, as though I had just achieved something. At the same time I felt callousness as I had this sense that whatever would pass by my eyes next would not be as severe as . . . well, that. There would be continued loss of life and likely there’d be other confronting passages — goodbye, Medic Wade (Giovanni Ribisi) — but I knew even then that Spielberg had crafted something unique once Tom Hanks and his band of brothers gained the hill and bunkers and managed to regroup.

Saving Private Ryan is a title that explains itself but for the sake of coloring the picture: Private James Ryan (Matt Damon) is unaware that his three other brothers have all been killed in battle over the last week, and it is now up to Hanks’ Captain Miller and his company (which is comprised of several names that would later become major players in the entertainment biz, including Vin Diesel) to track him down and ensure his safe return to the States. There’s a tension that somewhat dissipates once we’re off the beach, a transition some have misconstrued as the film losing its strength. That may be true, but only insofar as the opening scenes possess a power that no film can really maintain. Spielberg wasn’t setting out to be masochistic in his choices, nor did he have intentions of frustrating those expecting the bloodletting to continue for two full hours uninterrupted. In his orchestration of the D-Day landing, yes we suffer. And audiences suffer a lot in this sweeping chronicle, but not for nothing.

After the bunkers the narrative distinctly shifts gears, for we move behind enemy lines with Miller et al as they forge ahead through wastelands created by aerial bombings and the crushing weight of Nazi tanks and troops. We escape pervasive, shocking violence but move into a realm that’s arguably more disturbing; the aftermath of war upon civilization. The mission proper gets underway and we move through towns that now bare more of a resemblance to the surface of the moon than anything on Earth, searching for a needle in a gigantic, blood-soaked haystack. Spielberg scatters all kinds of present danger across a steadily sprawling map. From hair-raising sniper shoot-outs to savage hand-to-hand combat in abandoned homes the brutality of war manifests itself in far more personal ways.

The violence doesn’t go away because you . . . excuse me, I . . . wanted it to. Because you want the room to stop spinning like crazy. Because you feel ill. All of these things are symptoms of a person who either watches films too seriously (probably true) or effects of a director whose vision refuses to be compromised. The notion that something has been banned in several countries based on realistic depictions of wartime violence and not because it features a lot of graphic sex scenes necessarily places the film on a short list of extremely disturbing films that are remarkably without great controversy. Rightfully so. Steven Spielberg’s film, though difficult to watch and of the variety that’s good to watch once and be done with, is a cinematic landmark, and quite possibly the standard to which all war films are going to forever be held. Even the ones that have preceded it.

Not that any of this was my immediate impression having randomly thrown this on on a crappy tube-TV in Ohio. It would take me years to comprehend the depravity of its violence, and for me to appreciate how hard it is for a filmmaker to recreate such atrocities with such an unflinching eye, an urgency to tell it like it is.

Who remembers Bryan Cranston in this movie? I don't. I hope I am not alone.

Who remembers Bryan Cranston in this movie? I don’t. I hope I am not alone.

5-0Recommendation: Far from comfortable, Saving Private Ryan is compulsory viewing. An extraordinary achievement in practical special effects and committed storytelling. A powerful vision of the sheer scale and desperation of the D-Day invasion (thanks goes to Mr. Alan Turing for his helping Britain decipher the German Enigma code so they’d know where to invade and when). An altogether unforgettable experience. For all these reasons and quite a few more, you should commit yourself to this film if you have not already. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 169 mins.

TBTrivia: In the German-dubbed version of the movie, one of the actors, himself a German veteran of the Normandy invasion, couldn’t deal with the emotional realism of the film and dropped out and had to be replaced.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.moviezmag.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Munich (2005)

new-tbt-logo

And finally we come to the closing ceremonies of the Olympic theme TBT this February. Thank you all for joining in on the fun, and I hope you have enjoyed the spirit of competitive action for the last couple of weeks. Which TBT was your favorite event? Your least? Any surprises? With one entry left to go for today, maybe it’s this one. Despite it not having anything to do with the Winter Olympics, this last installment still touches on the Summer Games, and in a way that no other film has before. Personally, I think I discovered my favorite film of the Olympic TBTs and am very glad I didn’t go with my original choice. 

Today’s food for thought: Munich. 

munich

Release: My Birthday, 2005 🙂

[Netflix]

May there never be another like the Games of the XX Olympiad in Munich, Germany.

Really, the nation has never had the best of luck when it comes time for them to play host to this global stage of sports competition, since the 1936 Summer Games took place in Berlin during the height of the Nazi regime. Nearly four decades later and the Olympic flame is yet again doused by the murky waters of political tension when two Israeli competitors are murdered and another nine are taken hostage only to be killed later as well. Instead of being known as the Summer Games in Munich, the far more popular term thrown around when referring to the event sadly has become quite simply ‘the Munich Massacre.’

Steven Spielberg was keen on limiting the focus of the better part of the film’s three hours on the Games themselves, instead opting for an increasingly disturbing and suspenseful journey to find the men responsible for the attacks. A counter-terrorist unit was assembled in an effort to eliminate 11 names still at large (a number that would later increase to roughly 20-30) — needles in an impossibly deep haystack. The covert mission, codenamed Operation Wrath of God, was authorized by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir (here portrayed by Lynn Cohen) in order to make a statement that the world would not allow for these acts of terrorism to go unpunished. Vengeful retaliation was the name of the game, and arrest warrants simply would not do.

So a squad of assassins (known as Mossad) led by Avner (Eric Bana) and including sharpshooters Steve (Daniel Craig), Carl (Ciarán Hinds), and Hans (Hanns Zischler) and bomb-maker/diffuser Robert (Mathieu Kassovitz) were tasked with carrying out the highly risky mission, unforeseen challenges and implications lurking around every corner. Perhaps the greatest threat of all that loomed over each and every one of them, though, was the psychological aspect to the activities they would be engaging in over the course of several years. In Spielberg’s masterful recreation of this extraordinary mission, it is Bana’s Avner who suffers this the most. When he finally returns to his wife and newborn daughter, he is overwhelmed with paranoia, traumatized by the things he had seen, and generally unable to separate his personal and professional lives anymore.

This is of course to suggest that the film is broken up into three well-defined phases — the first of which sets the stage for the dramatics forthcoming by bloodily depicting the initial hostage situation in Munich; the second focuses on the Mossad mission itself and the subsequent fall-out and finally the last half hour or so of the film spends its time on the lingering, long-term effects of the Olympic Games on Germany and Israel in equal measure, simultaneously addressing the covert operation’s impacts on its key players. Bana is spectacular in selling the latter.

Grief-stricken by being separated from his family for so long, he is also plagued with horrible nightmares of the terrorist acts and of a much larger-scale vision of what his actions say about his political and religious affiliations. As a German-born Jew, Avner is a complex and morally conflicted lead role who bears the brunt of the film’s emotional component. He may have been the Dr. Banner/The Hulk at one point, but this is a substantially dramatic role that he makes entirely his own. The rest of the supporting characters form quite the entertaining repartee, with Daniel Craig’s Steve often playing the comic relief in a film that’s reticent to take its subject matter lightheartedly.

Though he’d be quick to brush it aside because he is none other than Mr. Steven Spielberg and quite acclimated to receiving praise (and so he should be), much credit still should be bestowed upon this legendary director for balancing the humorous and dramatic aspects throughout. Without touching up what is essentially a horror story with some sense of humor, the tragic and disturbing nature of the contents would be suffocating and difficult to plod through. It’s tough enough as it is.

Munich is, with the obvious exception of Saving Private Ryan, Spielberg’s bloodiest and darkest epic. It also features a level of social and political complexity that might be unmatched by any of his other works. Spielberg is, for lack of a better word, a thoughtful director, evidenced by his unwillingness to draw specific conclusions about the conflict that arose in the midst of these Olympic Games. He paints a horrifying picture of a world gone mad as it pertains to the Israeli-Palestinian disagreement. He doesn’t afford a great deal of dignity to the assassins trying to avenge the deaths of the Olympic athletes, nor does he much care to judge the opposition, either. He walks a tightrope that had to have been intensely difficult to cross, and while the film did spark controversy, Spielberg ultimately managed to strike a balance between Hollywood drama and real-world drama. Without a doubt that would be a very tough challenge to face, something perhaps any other director might not have been able to handle with such aplomb.

What happened in Munich is, in a word, dismaying. Since the events occurred in 1972 there has been no shortage of terrorist activity across the globe, and there’s been no sign of these disturbances slowing down or lessening in their intensity or frequency. We occupy shared space, something that may sound like a simple concept but is inherently not. This isn’t a game of Sims wherein every action is mostly harmless and bears no consequence. People are animals. This isn’t what the movie tried to tell us, but it is a notion I have not only had for some time, but one that has been cemented by an experience like this one.

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4-5Recommendation: Often uncomfortable viewing, Munich‘s existence is also important. Perhaps even essential. Incredibly well-crafted and visually arresting, the scope and depth of the material will most likely appeal to more politically-minded viewers, though it is in no way an elitist film. I encourage anyone who wants to watch a thoroughly engaging film who has yet to see Spielberg’s near-masterpiece to devote some time out of their day to this one. It may even be a new favorite Spielberg film for yours truly. Whatever that may mean to you.

Rated: R

Running Time: 164 mins.

Quoted: “We inhabit a world of intersecting secrecies, living and dying at the places where these secrecies meet. This is what we accept.”

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Photo credits: http://www.imfdb.org; http://www.imdb.com