Saving Private Ryan

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I have a admiration/cringe relationship with Steven Spielberg. On the one hand, I consider him a master storyteller, a genius of his craft, a man that was born to sit behind a movie camera, and has worked his way up to become one of the finest cinema directors the medium has ever seen.
On the other hand, however, is all that cheese. I still recall my double eye roll at one of the final scenes of Bridge of Spies, when the Tom Hanks character sees some children climbing on top of a fence, and the picture segues into German citizens trying to escape from East Berlin.

The same is true of Saving Private Ryan. You get the inspired Spielberg, shooting his actors in a dimly lit church in the middle of the night,  sharing childhood stories, and it is beautiful to behold. And you also get a moving coda from an old veteran, meant to stir emotion into the hearts of viewers.

I think the reason I find Schindler’s List and Munich to be stronger films overall is because Spielberg is not trying to move you to tears. That is very rare, but since he lets us bask into the humanity of the story and the characters-those two previously mentioned movies have plenty scenes like the church one, but none like the cemetery confession-, we feel much more connected to everything that happens on screen.
And when the tears are not forced, the emotion feels better.
It feels, in the words of one character here, earned.

B+

Wonder Woman

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What could have been the most insightful moment into the very nature of superheroes since that thrilling final scene in The Dark Knight occurs in the final act of Wonder Woman, when Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) realizes that evil carries on despite her executing the main baddie.

I say could have because the movie flirts with a very interesting idea that ultimately falls flat: superheroes are not just different from humans because they are stronger, but because they believe goodness can eventually overcome evil. If heroes did not believe in such a lofty ideal they would not be superheroes to begin with. Superheroes exist to achieve and aspire to heights us mere mortals cannot. That is why they punch Hitler in the face and stop a nuclear bomb at the last minute. They serve as inspiration into who we should strive to be.

The moment Diana Prince learns that the people she is trying to save are the same ones that take glee in annihilating their neighbor should be painful. It should illustrate that perhaps humanity is not worth saving after all. But that superheroes, because they are so much better than that, can see past our flaws and into the other side of our nature: the one that loves, laughs and finds the horrors of wars repugnant. Unfortunately it does not (settling for another slo-mo CGI trope ridden extravaganza), but the effort, like the heroine herself, is still noble.

B-

Munich

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The tragedy of Steven Spielberg’s masterful Munich resides in the hearts of men. A Jew and a Palestinian are arguing about the necessity of armed conflict between its people in order for goodness to come out of it, when the Palestinian declares something along the lines of “In the end, it will all work out. It took Jews thousands of years to get a home, it will be the same for Palestine.” Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana) shoots down his reasoning.

Later in the movie, before Avner and his crew embark on a train ride to Holland, Avner turns to one of his men, who is displaying increasing signs of reluctance at all the killings they are doing, and says “Eventually, it will all end. What we are doing will be worth it.” But it is not only that Avner has turned into a version of the Palestinians he’s fighting against, or that the Palestinians have turned into the Jews they try to emancipate from; that would be too shallow a read, and Spielberg is too much a genius to leave it at that. The scene displays the incapacity for empathy that characters in the movie possess.

During the opening sequence, there is a perfect cut which delineates this idea. When the news broadcasts that all the Israeli hostages are alive, the action moves to the wives and families of the athletes, cheering with relief; the action then moves to a living room where the wives and families of the terrorists are gathered, which mourn the death of their loved ones once the news broadcast the death of all of them.

“This is what’s missing in the world”, Steven Spielberg tells us in that brief scene. “There is no peace at the end of this because the human heart doesn’t cut back and forth between both sides and realize that all of us weep”

A+

Good Kill

good killThe thing about cinema is that it can be more than pure entertainment. Done right, it serves as a powerful commentary on the social, political or economical state of any particular country or situation. In some cases, cinema is powerful enough to actually bring about change.

I think this is what Andrew Niccol tried to do in Good Kill, a movie that features a sermon about the evils of drone warfare in every other scene.
This is American Sniper for pilots.

C

Testament of Youth

testament of youthAlicia Vikander is such a gifted performer that she does not even have to shed a tear for me to start doing so.
Thoroughly mournful from fade in to fade out, Testament of Youth is not so much about war, as it is about a young woman’s resilience in the face of a cruel and cosmic joke.
And Vikander absolutely shines.

The film opens on a close-up of her face, and you can see pain on every muscle of it right away.
It’s pretty clear from the outset, as we are introduced to her brother (Taron Egerton), friend (Colin Morgan) and lover (Kit Harrington), that this will be a story of loss.
And while the first 30 minutes might almost convince you otherwise, as we are presented with some incredibly romantic moments and alluring photography, once the War begins, Alicia Vikander gives such a haunting performance that it proves almost impossible not to cry alongside her.

You are moved not only by her plight, but at the knowledge that it wasn’t only her alone who had her soul ripped apart by war.
During one of the final scenes, set after the conflict has ended, Brittain offers a rousing plea for peace.
“The only way”, she says, “is if we forgive our enemies.”

But we never seem to get that right, forgiveness.
And so as it was in her time, is in ours, and will undoubtedly be for future generations, the madness carries on.
What testament of sadness.

B+

`71

71This is a different kind of war film.
There are no bomb runs, or tank showdowns.
In fact, Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) rarely fires his gun, let alone utter a word.

What we see, however, is that war is not only tragic, but avoidable.
It is a game between men who long ago got rid of their scruples, and everyone else, like Gary, is trapped in it, just trying to do their best to survive.

B