Sunday, June 01, 2008

Movie Reviews

You guys may think I review movies because I'm a movie buff and love watching movies. You'd be partially correct. I actually get more of a kick in finding topical, social and political relevance out of movies, mainstream or not. I just use the excuse of writing a review as a reason for me to highlight something specific. For that reason, I'll give short shrift to the review of the first movie I saw Saturday, at the theater, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but will give a more in-depth review of the movie watched last night on DVD, Charlie Wilson's War.

I'm not purposely disparaging Indiana Jones ... it's just that it's not meant to be saying anything momentous. It's a modern retelling of serial B-movies of the 30's and is meant as pure entertainment. It works a lot of the time. Where it fails is when you can tell George Lucas has had too much influence. By his choice, the entire movie would have been shot in front of a green screen. Director Spielberg would eschew any special effects if it was his choice. In the first 3 movies, he mostly won those arguments. Here, it looks like Lucas may have won his share.

At first, starting to watch the movie, I thought the premise was utterly ridiculous. I won't say what the premise is, as that will give it away. But then I thought about it: Lost Ark was about there being an Ark of the Covenant and it having supernatural powers; Temple of Doom was about drinking blood and becoming a zombie: Last Crusade was about there being a Holy Grail and it giving you eternal life. So ... never mind about this movie having a ridiculous premise. It's no further out there than any of them.

I thought Harrison Ford was good and it was good to see Karen Allen back from the first movie. Cate Blanchett as a dominatrix ... errr, I mean Russian scientist, was humorous, perhaps unintentionally so. Shia Lebouf was adequate.

All in all, it was entertaining. Nothing terrible, nothing great but a fun enough Saturday afternoon flick. Grade: C

For some not so delicate reviews (but a lot funnier than mine), see:

Dear George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg from Laura at Sarchasm

Why I Hate George Lucas More than Ever from Donna

Where Did You Dig Up that Old Fossil? from Wunelle

Charlie Wilson's War is in the spirit of movies (and series) like M*A*S*H that were ostensibly about one thing but really about another. In M*A*S*H's case, it was set during the Korean War but really was an allegory about the Vietnam War and war in general. In the case of Charlie Wilson's War, it is set during the Afghanistan-Soviet war of the 80's, but it is really making statements on our current excursions into Iraq and Afghanistan. As the title says, it's mostly about Charlie Wilson (from IMDb):

Charles Nesbitt Wilson, a.k.a. Charlie Wilson,(born June 1, 1933) is a former United States naval officer and former Democratic United States Representative from the 2nd congressional district in Texas.

He is best known for leading Congress into supporting the largest-ever CIA covert operation, which supplied the Afghan mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan ... after the Communist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan took over during the Afghan Civil War and asked the Soviet Union to help suppress resistance from the Islamist Mujahideen.

It can be argued that this support and the resulting victory by the Mujahideen over the Soviets were major contributors to the end of the Cold War. It can also be argued (and Charlie Wilson himself has said this) that the resulting power vacuum in Afghanistan after the war and our unwillingness to help with the rebuilding ultimately led to the rise of people like Osama Bin Laden and the Sept. 11 attacks.

When the following points are brought up during the movie, there's no doubting that they are aimed at our current Iraq war:

- The error of putting people in country who don't speak the language and who don't understand the different factions involved
- No follow-up or post-war plan

People like Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, the Heritage Foundation and Project for the New American Century think war is like a game of Risk. These are not play countries. These are not pieces on a board. There is a real human cost in deaths and refugess that most people have no clue about. They talking about "creating a democracy" in the Middle East, but at what cost?

With all these heady topics, you would think this movie would be depressing or boring. Thanks to all involved, it is neither. It's illuminating without being preachy.

The casting in the movie is great. Tom Hanks captures the good-natured and fun-loving intelligence of the real Charlie Wilson perfectly. Philip Seymour Hoffman in the role of CIA operative Gust Avrakotos is, as usual, fantastic. I finally saw Capote a month or so ago. The man is a chameleon and is absolutely one of this generation's best actors.

I liked Julia Roberts in the role of conservative Texas socialite Joanne Herring. The direction by legendary director Mike Nichols and writing by Aaron Sorkin (A Few Good Men, West Wing) make this movie entertaining and, surprisingly, funny. Who knew covert wars could be funny? Grade: A


wunelle said...

I've been curious about this. Yours seems a level take on the film.

Tom Hanks can never be underestimated, and I agree that Philip Seymour Hoffman is a rare bird. What a career he's had.

I haven't gone to see it since my tank of political misery is quite full, especially when I feel quite unable to empty the tank.

But I'll keep it on the list.

Laura said...

I liked Charlie Wilson's war a lot. I think the star power and "comedic" marketing got people into the theaters who wouldn't go see a political film - and that maybe they learned something. A lot of people still don't realize that our current situation is tied to our involvement in the covert war in Afghanistan and that part of that was fueled by religious zealots on both sides (Christians who saw Soviets as Godless Commies and Muslims who saw Soviets as Godless occupiers) and how that ultimately fueled the "holy warrior" movement.

I also like where they left the story. WIth Wilson trying to get post war funding and Gust forshadowing the crazies moving into the South.

Sadie Lou said...

I haven't watched a movie with Julia Roberts in it since--Oh, I dunno--That one with Brad Pitt & George Clooney? Oceans 12?
Can't stand that woman. She smiles like she is thinking "My very face lights up a room"
Ugh. Barf.
Moving on...
Indiana Jones was embarrassing. There were so many moments where I started slouching in my seat wondering what the HELL George Lucas was thinking. That scene in the jungle--with those CGI monkeys? Spare me! I think the kid is a wonderful actor--He's pretty easy on the eyes too.
But that's about it for me.
I liked all the other Indiana movies 10 times better than this one.