Mr. Bill George Presents

Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

You Magnificent Basterd

In Film on August 22, 2009 at 8:57 PM

Let’s get this out of the way up front: Deathproof was one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen in my life and I still have not forgiven Quentin Tarantino for putting me through it.

And please, spare me the “he was trying to do” this or that. Don’t bother telling me in what light I should view it. It was a waste of my time. Plain and simple. I don’t care if it was a throwback or homage. I don’t care if he made it slow and excruciating on purpose. It was terrible and I’ll never get that time back.

My history with Tarantino has always been checkered. I really love Reservoir Dogs.  Pulp Fiction I’m lukewarm about. Jackie Brown left no impression on me whatsoever. Kill Bill pt. 1 I loved while pt. 2 felt played. His style is often a turn off for me, but the performances in his films and his writing keep me watching.

His latest work, Inglourious Basterds, is his best film to date. I say that without a doubt in my mind. He shows the kind of top notch director he can be when he focuses… but at times he still gets in his own way.

90% of the film is a fictionalized World War II drama about a group of Jewish-American soldiers and German double agents attempting to destroy the Third Reich, and it is phenomenal.

The other 10% is Tarantino being Tarantino: Over the top musical flourishes. Absurd typefaces. Random voiceovers. Unnecessary flashes of imagery, etc. Because his presence is felt so rarely, it proves only to distract rather than enhance.

But the rest of the movie makes up for it and then some. Tarantino has always had a gift for dialogue, but in the past that dialogue has been in a context that is usually fairly entertaining (opening scene in Reservoir Dogs) or worthless (girls in Deathproof).

This time, Tarantino pairs his gift for dialogue with some real substance. The outcome is some of the most riveting exchanges I’ve seen on screen in a long time. I cannot stress this enough: Inglourious Basterds is one of the most compelling movies I’ve ever seen.

A great deal of that has to do with the fantastic performance of Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Landa. He carries the film and is one of the most interesting and watchable villains Tarantino has ever brought to the screen.

As a warning, all the parts of the film I’m raving about (and also can’t stop thinking about), are subtitled and star no name actors. While the advertisements play up the Basterds and the star power of Brad Pitt, their role is actually fairly small in the scope of the story. Don’t go into the film expecting a constant bloodbath. This is a thoughtful and methodical tale of espionage with some occasional action.

The more I relfect on it, the more I want to see Inglourious Basterds again… right now.

It is the least Tarantino-y of his films and I feel it’s his best. That may say more about my taste than anything else, but believe me when I tell you that this movie is something special.

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Crowning Moments Of Awesome

In Film, Literature, Television on August 20, 2009 at 12:44 AM

As defined by the website www.tvtropes.org, a Crowning Moment of Awesome is best described as:

“The moment when a fictional character does something for which they will be remembered forever, winning for them the eternal loyalty of fans.”

And it was at this website that I found myself escaping from my hours of boredom, looking up what I deemed to be Crowning Moments of Awesome and seeing if they were indeed cataloged by what I would declare as the most comprehensive compendium of such moments.

As I searched through the website and was reminded of the various CMOA that I have experienced throughout my years as a reader/movie-watcher/tv-gazer, I realized that these instances really make or break a movie/book/show for me. It’s these small instances of, for lack of a better word, awesomeness, that have made the works that they are a part of so memorable in my mind.

Off the top of my head one example that comes to mind is Gladiator, when Russel Crowe removes his helmet and reveals that he is still very much alive to Commodus’ dismay and declares:

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

Just re-reading this quote gave me a shiver accompanied by fleeting goose bumps. It is one of those movie moments that will stay strong in my head, even as most of the other parts of the movie fall into obscurity.

Another legendary moment is in The Princess Bride when Inigo Montoya finally faces the six-fingered man, repeating the lines, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die.” A moment that will be forever rise above other scenes, bronzed in an awesome glory.

Sometimes, however, a movie cannot elicit any memories of a CMOA. Some movies have but a few, some might have multitudes,  and some movies could be said just to be one giant CMOA coalesced from many smaller CMOA, such as the 300 holding strong against their titanic Persian foe.  After reading this article and looking through the numerous examples, I discover that a well placed CMOA is the #1 thing I look for in a movie. The first half of a movie can be shit for all I care as long as it somehow can pull a glorified CMOA from its ass, obliterating all the other detritus from memory.

My favorite CMOA of all time would have to be the end of the last episode from the anime series “Cowboy Bebop” (one of the few anime shows that I can stand to watch). The character “Spike Spiegel,” whom has illustrated various amounts of badassery throughout the series and has become one of my top 5 fictional characters, ends the series with such an amazing “bang” that I will never tire of watching the episode again and again. I do not want to divulge what specifically it is that he does due to the nominal chance of ruining it for someone who might plan to watch it someday, but I can say that it is indeed a Crowning Moment of Awesome. Read the rest of this entry »

District 9 Sleeps Alone

In Film on August 18, 2009 at 2:36 AM

I like to go into my movies fresh. I mean really fresh. I’ll watch a teaser for something, if there is one, or the first 30 seconds of a full trailer. If I’m watching the trailer online, I’ll simply stop it once I get the idea. If I’m watching the trailer in the theater, I’ll actually close my eyes after a certain point and do my best to ignore the sound.

Neill Blomkamp’s directorial debut District 9 was no exception. I watched the initial teaser trailer and went on a media blackout from then on. But I tell ya, that teaser stuck with me.

It didn’t depict exactly what the movie would be like, but it conveyed the premise and my imagination did the rest. Now I’ve seen the actual film and I’m having trouble reconciling what I saw on the screen and what I saw in my head.

I can’t help but judge this movie two separate ways. It succeeds in terms of execution but also fails by limiting itself to being a pedestrian action flick.

[ENTERING SPOILER TERRITORY]

The film begins by getting the audience up to speed, documentary style, with the events of the past twenty years. An alien mothership has been hovering over Johannesburg and the aliens that occupied it now live in a contained slum known as District 9.

All of this is great, great stuff. The effects are fantastic, the story is gripping, and faux-documentary is always a winning style choice if you ask me (Death of a President anyone?). It begins to scratch the surface of all the sociological questions raised by these visitors… Then we start to follow around one alien affairs officer who begins to mutate into an alien.

Enter 30 straight minutes of running, hiding and screaming. (Lots and lots of screaming.)

Then, in the third act, our protagonist teams up with an alien in a sequence reminiscent of Aliens vs. Predator. Yes, this movie reminded me of AVP. (That’s never a good thing.) Together they proceed to run and gun. And gun and run.

Is it entertaining? For sure. Well done? Absolutely. Original? Eh, not particularly. Unforgettable? Hardly.

I suppose my overall gripe is with the filmmakers’ content selection. I found myself much more interested in the complexities of the mass relocation of a hostile alien race than in a pencil pusher going through a Fly-esque transformation. The vision they present to us in the beginning is worldwide in scope and its ramifications are on a macro scale. But by the end of the picture we find ourselves following a guy and his alien buddy trying to reclaim a MacGuffin.

Speaking of the finale, did I miss something or did it not seem to make much sense? So the ship’s fuel also has the interesting property of causing genetic mutation in humans? And is the fuel just for the drop-ship or the mothership or both? Did he need all that fuel just to fire up the tractor beam (which apparently is all that was really required)? Did he really just fall to his knees and give a ‘go on without me’ speech?

And so I stand before you a conflicted man. I love action as much as the next guy but some more depth would have been appreciated. Lord knows I’m not asking for an intergalactic Crash here, I just want some more effort put into the plotting of the second half. Read the rest of this entry »

G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra

In Film on August 13, 2009 at 12:11 AM

Stephen Sommers’ end of summer blockbuster G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was my first experience with the G.I. Joe franchise… ever.

Yes, it’s true. Growing up I never saw the show, I never owned the toy, I never so much as touched any Joe paraphernalia. It was not a conscience decision by any means. It’s not as though I actively avoided it. It just never became a part of my pop-culture lexicon for whatever reason.

So going into this film I was a blank slate. After I heard it used in the film I distinctly recognized the line, “Knowing if half the battle.” But otherwise, any and all inside jokes or references were lost on me.

But I have to say, as an ambassador of the series, Rise of Cobra did an admirable job. I now find myself much more interested in the story and its characters. And I certainly will watch the plethora of sequels that will stem from this opening act.

The story followed the loose outline I would expect from an action figure based film: bad guy wants to take over world, good guys must prevent it from happening. Any semblance of depth comes from the characters in the elite G.I. Joe unit and their histories/connections.

Other than the occasional flashback to break up the action and fill in the gaps, the film barrels full speed ahead at all times. It also has a distinct beginning, middle and end, all while laying down a foundation for future installments.

What I’m trying to say is: G.I. Joe knows exactly what it is and what it wants to do, and it does it well. It excels at being an entertaining action film. It succeeds everywhere that Transformers 2 failed.

I’m not saying it’s perfect. Some of the flashbacks are a bit hammy and the humor is at times forced. And they never seem to take into account all the civilians that presumably lose their lives during all of the breathtaking action sequences…

After the abysmal Transformers 2, Rise of Cobra redeems the movie based on a show based on a toy genre. Check it out if you are looking for some mindless entertainment.

Oh, and if you see it and don’t like it, you’re probably a communist.

I Love America.

Clint Eastwood Ruined My Life

In Film on July 20, 2009 at 8:26 PM

America lost (yet another) icon recently in the form of Mr. Walter Cronkite, who passed away just a few days ago. The legendary anchorman of the CBS Evening News was considered the “most trusted man in America.” I grew up watching clips of his show and hearing about him through my parents and through references within popular culture. I very much admired and looked up to this man.

So when I saw a tribute special yesterday on CBS, I cried on at least three separate occasions. And sitting alone in my apartment wiping away my tears caused me to reflect. When did this start happening to me?

There was a time in my life when I had never cried at a movie or TV show or documentary or anything. No form of media had made me cry. And I prided myself on that fact. It made me feel more together and I actually bragged about it. “Nothing has ever made me cry,” I’d say. But I’ve changed dramatically since then. So I thought to myself: when did this happen? How?

Answer: Clint Eastwood‘s Academy Award Winning drama, Million Dollar Baby.

Yes, I can pinpoint the exact film that did it to me. Something happened to me in that theater back in 2004. A switch was flipped. And it’s one that can never be turned off.

I sat in that theater, literally sobbing, trying to hold the tears back as much as possible to save face in front of my sister and father. They may have been crying as well, I don’t know. I didn’t have the courage to turn and look for fear they’d see me in my horrific state.

For some reason it was that film alone that caused me to finally internalize trauma that I see on the screen and make it my own. And ever since then, frankly, I’ve been a mess.

Now, I bawl at almost anything. There are certain things that are guaranteed to do it though: 9/11. JFK assassination. Moments of heroism and self-sacrifice (especially during WWII). Underdogs overcoming unthinkable odds. Great speeches (especially listening to MLK). Anything tragic or unjust. If somebody else starts to break down while talking about something, I’ll break down with them.

[I still am unaffected in general by pure romance. A couple finally getting together at the end of a movie after all they’ve been through – nothing. I’m happy for them and all, but it doesn’t bring it out of me.]

What I’m wondering is if this has happened to anyone else. Shouldn’t emotional maturation be more gradual? I had an instant transformation that I can pinpoint with certainty. Is that weird? Am I alone? Share your experiences in the comments and please speak freely.

Million Dollar Baby Poster

The Case Against Fantasies

In Film on July 18, 2009 at 8:53 AM

In my previous post I fully admitted I have a bias against the fantasy genre, which I would explain later. Well, here we are and I believe I owe you all an explanation. (Keep in mind that I in no way am arrogant enough to pretend I know every single fantasy text in existence or have seen every movie in history. I’m basing my knowledge purely on what I’ve seen and what most frequently appears in popular culture.)

At the very root of my prejudice is a major, internal factor: I don’t find fantasies interesting. Keep in mind this is not something I have control over. For the same reason I don’t like the taste of tomatoes or cringe when I hear certain sounds, whenever I see a movie involving wizards or talking animals or magical potions my brain sends me a signal asking, “is there anything else on?”

However, this hasn’t been the case is every instance and some films have been compelling enough to break through this barrier. Namely, Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I still consider that film, the first in the trilogy, to be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, the second film is a bore and the third falls victim to my biggest criticism of the genre: anything goes.

Put simply, a fantasy author has too much power. They can write any absurdity they want and if, God forbid, I try to raise a logistical concern or address a plothole, I am immediately lambasted with, “it’s fantasy Bill. Relax!” Which is tantamount to the old saying, “it’s just a movie!”

But that doesn’t cut it for me. A writer should create the characters and set up the story but once it is underway it should feel as though it resolves itself naturally. The better the writer, the more it seems to flow. The worse the writer, the more you can feel their hand involved, manually arranging and forcing plot developments. And no where is this more apparent than the fantasy genre.

I have two perfect examples that put me in a rage every time I consider them (warning, these do include LOTR and HP spoilers):

First, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It’s the second to last (if I remember correctly) battle. The evil army is destroying the good guys. I mean really beating the hell out of them. They are outnumbered to the point of lunacy as the camera flies over the CGI battlefield, showing there is no possible way our heroes can win this battle.

Which is now a problem for our screenwriters. They have written themselves into a corner. The bad guys are about to win, but the good guys have to pull out a victory for the story’s sake. Luckily, this is fantasy, so anything goes.

Out of nowhere (fine, out of one brief scene penciled in earlier to cover themselves) comes an invincible army of ghost pirates! Convenient! Do these extra hands on deck help turn the momentum of the battle? No, they simply win the battle… immediately.

Because they are ghosts, of course, these pirates cannot be struck down by conventional weapons, but luckily for our heroes, they can still strike their enemies. Allowing them to flow over the battlefield like a giant, ectoplasmic tidal wave and single handedly win the battle instantaneously.

It was the single cheapest moment I’ve ever witnessed in the history of film. It forever tainted the series for me. My blood boils when I think of the audacity of the screenwriter playing God like that. But I can’t argue because, “it’s fantasy Bill. Relax!”

(Whether it is explained in more depth in the novel is beside the point because the film needs to be able to stand alone as a product for all those like me who simply watched the LOTR series.)

Another prime example of an author making his or her presence all too clear comes courtesy of the final novel in the Harry Potter series: The Deathly Hallows. This complaint is not specific to fantasies, it is more regarding bad writing in general, but this type of bad writing seems to crop up more in fantasies than anywhere else.

Much like the above example, it has to do with the author creating his or her own plot turning event out of convenience rather than natural story progression.

It occurs in the middle of The Deathly Hallows. Our leads are on the run, apparating every day to random sections of different woods all over the world. To reiterate, every day they are in a new part of a new forest that could be anywhere in the world and is totally at random in order to hide.

… And the story ends.

The book is essentially over. There is no where else to go. Nothing else to do. The characters have no leads, no direction, no forward momentum.

Obviously Rowling has made a mistake and now has to write herself out of it. But, hey, it’s fantasy so anything goes. One night the characters happen to appear in a particular part of a particular forest where a group of people happen to be. And these people happen to have information regarding what’s going on at Hogwarts and they happen to say it out loud and happen to give our heroes something to go off of for the rest of the novel.

That one scene, made purely of forced coincidence, is the fulcrum point of the entire novel and essentially the entire series. I’m sorry, but I refuse to accept that. I cannot let that pass by saying, “oh ok, that works.” My anger towards this event knows no bound. This appearance of the author as the hand of God is far too blatant to be ignored.

Another factor that doesn’t help fantasies in general is the fact that the main ambassadors for the genre, the most visible moneymakers, are some of the worst movies in recorded history. I cannot summarize just how much I hated The Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass and Eragon.

To sum it up, on one level, my dislike for the genre stems purely from the subject matter. On another it is based on the actions of the writer and could actually occur in any book or film. It just happens to occur more often in fantasies and because it uses that moniker, ‘fantasy,’ people give it a pass. But not me.

And you may note that I love superhero movies and science fiction and ask, “are those not fantasy?” No, they are not. There is a distinction. That distinction being that they still occur within the real world and that world has rules (as Morpheus says).

Superman is a fantastical character but he exists in the real world. He is the one anomaly in his otherwise normal surroundings. Science fiction is similar. The idea of bringing dinosaurs back to life is fantasy but it’s based on very real science. As opposed to fantasies where the entire world is created and controlled by the author.

Anybody out there agree? I know plenty of people probably disagree. Sound off in the comments section below!

Harry Potter And The Blah, Blah, Blah

In Film on July 15, 2009 at 3:26 PM

So this movie taught me a little something about myself: I have become completely and utterly apathetic towards this franchise. I read all the books. I’ve seen all the movies. And still nothing has occurred in any of them that has ever made me say, “wow, I have got to read/see that again.”

There are two main reasons for this. One is my bias against the fantasy genre in general (the focus of a soon to come post in which all will be explained, I assure you). The other is my tendency to cling obsessively to a subject, only to abandon it all together after. And I guess I’ve reached a point in my life where I have moved on from Harry Potter.

When the final book was set to come out (which was an atrocity, by the way) I read all the previous ones in sequence in order to catch up. But the minute I put down the trainwreck that was The Deathly Hallows, I immediately began losing interest in everything I had just invested so much time into.

Sure, I held on long to enough to be excited for the fourth (and even fifth) film, but that goodwill has waned. And going into the sixth, I was simply going through the motions.

Don’t get me wrong, I in no way actively disliked this film. In fact, I enjoyed it and chuckled at a number of moments (the humor was well-played and Alan Rickman is mesmorizing as usual) but I was never excited.

To be perfectly honest: I felt no passion whatsoever. And it seemed to me like the director didn’t either. The film rolled along not because there was a worthwhile story to tell, but because the movie had to be made.

Which makes sense, putting this film on the same level as the book it represents: It’s all set up. Its entire purpose is to build to the eventual finale. And it fulfills that purpose. It’s just not a very fruitful endeavor when put on the big screen for 2+ hours in the hope of entertaining the masses.

So back to the reason you’re here. What did I think of Warner Bros.’ new release Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince? Well, I sincerely thought it was good.

That’s all I can say. It is what it is. If you’ve seen the others you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into and you already know how you are going to feel about it. No surprises here.

IN OTHER NEWS:

Entourage has returned to HBO for its sixth season. I enjoyed the premiere because it gave us a chance to see the boys together again after all this time. But the series is definitely spinning its wheels. The seasons are becoming very cyclical. Something really has to happen this season that fundamentally changes the dynamic of the show and Vince’s career. Just showing his rise and fall and cheap rise again at the end of each season is not enough. (And yes, having Martin Scorsese call at random when all hope seemed lost, was very cheap.)

– After only two episodes I already expect great things from the new show that now precedes EntourageHung. Definitely worth a watch. (It is available OnDemand to those who already have HBO but may have missed it.)

– Quick reminder: Wipeout remains the best show on television. Period.

Odds And Ends #1

In Film, Technology on July 2, 2009 at 12:08 AM

Alright, so I tacked a #1 at the end of the title of this post because I imagine this will happen again: I don’t have any one thing to discuss at length at the moment, but there are a number of subjects stirring around in my mind. So I’ll just blurt them out in no particular order.

PUBLIC ENEMIES – I just got home from seeing Michael Mann‘s latest film, Public Enemies. It stars two of the finest actors working today: Johnny Depp and Christian Bale. Together they recreate the cat and mouse game between famous depression-era outlaw John Dillinger and investigator Melvin Purvis.

Mann maintains his usual style, using almost all handheld cameras to give the film a more real and gritty feel as well as putting plenty of emphasis on the frenetic and riveting gunplay. But as engaging as the action is, it is spread out across ~2.5 hours of fairly thin plotting. The story of Dillinger is an interesting one but it is done in such a matter-of-fact way that it can be underwhelming. And the unconvincing love story doesn’t help move things along.

At the end of the day it is a solid piece of filmmaking but it could have used more upbeat pacing and 15-20 minutes could have been shed easily. Which would have made for a much more enjoyable viewing experience.

THE CORPORATE TREE – A contributor and friend to TIAW has officially launched his own site! At TheCorporateTree.com you’ll find insights into the business world courtesy of the founder’s own business philosophy and those of his contributors. As well as a bevy of links to interesting articles and enterprises on the web. It has just launched and will continue to grow over time so head on over to get in on the ground level and follow him on Twitter. Good luck TCT!

GDGT LAUNCH – More news about a site launch. This time from the guys who brought you engadget. Their new site, gdgt.com, is one of those things that I wish I thought of. It’s a community driven site for gadget lovers where you set up your profile, including a list of all the gadgets you own, and then read up on tech news, review products, connect with people with the same stuff, troubleshoot etc. It’s pretty genius and I, for one, have already signed up. Check it out.

THE RAVEN – Isn’t The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, like, the greatest poem ever? Tell me I’m not alone on this one. I recently read it yet again and it’s just so good that I felt like sharing it. Especially after being on a literary kick from my last post. I’ll leave you with a taste, enjoy:

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,’ said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you’ – here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!’
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,’ said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!’

(It’s so good that you can’t not read it out loud. Am I right?)

The More Things Transform, The More They Stay The Same

In Film on June 24, 2009 at 11:04 PM

Hey, remember the first Transformers movie? Yea? I just saved you ten bucks! You no longer need to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

This sequel to the 2007 summer blockbuster is beat-for-beat the same as the original… minus the novelty, spontaneity or excitement that comes with a new franchise. It is two and a half hours of same old, same old. AKA Michael Bay being Michael Bay. Which, when working with something new and exciting like alien robots that transform into American made motor vehicles, is fine. But that was 2007 and this is now. I need something a little more fresh.

So how does he attempt to liven things up? For starters, introduce a new element to the story in the first minute and leave us in the dark about for the next 149 minutes. Not only that, but also toss in a bone headed authority figure character written with a level of unrealism not seen since the chief of police in Die Hard.

And, for good measure, two new “comic relief” autobots make their debut and in the process set back race relations in this country 50 years. I’m sorry, but the very existence of Mudflap and Skids is an affront to humanity itself. Anyone who laughed at their appearance, antics or dialogue should be ashamed of themselves. And all the people responsible for writing them into the script, giving them a voice, digitally rendering them or letting them appear in the final film should face jail time.

There were so many damn things in this movie that actually caused a physical, adverse reaction in my body. The biggest being the noise level. I still have a pounding headache from the decibel level in that theater as I type this. As for the script itself I cannot count the number of times I rolled my eyes, put my head in my hands or smacked my forehead.

I could go on but I’m sick of sitting here seething over this atrocity. The more I think about it, the more anger I feel. (Oh! And I didn’t even get into the ridiculousness of all the subplots like going to college, capturing a decepticon or revisiting John Turturro’s character! AHH! Memories rushing back! Make it stop!)

BOTTOM LINE: Long on spectacle, short on spectacular.

In Other Movie News:

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences, in all of their glorious wisdom, has decided to expand the field of Best Picture nominees from 5 to 10 starting this year. You can find their official press release on the matter HERE.

I, for one, am relieved. That show was already running pretty short. Thank God we’ll have more clips to show and nominees to read off in order to fill all that air time.

One more quick note: I recently saw a commercial for the next Harry Potter. Now I know I read the book two or three summers ago, but I think it’s a bad sign when I don’t recognize a single thing from the ad. Either this movie is going to take some huge liberties with the material or I really need to work on better retaining what I read.

‘Saving’ June 6, 1944

In Film on June 5, 2009 at 7:07 PM

Well, it’s (just about) June 6th.

On this day 65 years ago the allied expeditionary force led by General Dwight Eisenhower landed on the beaches of Normandy in France and proceeded to overtake the German fortified coastline and open a passageway that would lead the allies to ultimate victory in the European theater of World War II… in other words: we pwned the Nazis.

Known as D-Day, this event has come to symbolize the allied efforts in Europe during WWII and has been dissected, reproduced and romanticized in every possible form of media. It is especially spotlighted in the opening sequence of one of Steven Spielberg’s greatest accomplishments: Saving Private Ryan (1998).

America’s premiere director brought that battle to the screen with such brutal honesty it led to veterans walking out of the theater, not being able to handle what felt like actually reliving the war. It was that powerful.

The entire film is an undisputed masterpiece. The cinema had never seen a war movie quite like it before, and any that have come after are considered clones. This is the original.

So on this anniversary of D-Day, I’d like to take the time to discuss what I consider one of the best films ever made by asking myself a question and then proceeding to provide multiple answers. Enjoy:

Q: So, just how good is Saving Private Ryan?

A1: Well, Saving Private Ryan is so good…

… that the FCC doesn’t even censor it. After the movie aired, unedited, on Veteran’s day, the FCC got complaints about it and had to rule on whether the ABC affiliates who aired it had broke indecency standards by doing so. The complaints they cite include:

Following the November 11, 2004, broadcast, the Commission received the complaints, alleging that the aired film contains indecent or otherwise actionable material. The Complainants generally cite, among other things, film dialogue containing expletives including: “fuck,” and variations thereof; “shit,” “bullshit,” and variations thereof; “bastard,” and “hell.” In addition, the Complainants cite the presence in the film of other allegedly offensive language, such as “Jesus,” and “God damn.” They also object to the film’s graphic depiction of wartime violence. Accordingly, the Complainants argue that the ABC Network Stations should be sanctioned for airing material that violates federal indecency and profanity restrictions.

Know how the FCC responded?

The subject matter of the film, the portrayal of a mission to save the last surviving son of an Iowa farm family, involves events that occurred during World War II. As stated in the introduction to the broadcast, in relating this story, the motion picture realistically depicts the fierce combat during the Normandy invasion, including, according to a veteran who participated in and witnessed these events, “things that no one should ever have to see.” Essential to the ability of the filmmaker to convey to viewers the extraordinary conditions in which the soldiers conducted themselves with courage and skill are the reactions of these ordinary Americans to the barbaric situations in which they were placed. The expletives uttered by these men as these events unfold realistically reflect the soldiers’ strong human reactions to, and, often, revulsion at, those unspeakable conditions and the peril in which they find themselves. Thus, in context, the dialogue, including the complained-of material, is neither gratuitous nor in any way intended or used to pander, titillate or shock. Indeed, it is integral to the film’s objective of conveying the horrors of war through the eyes of these soldiers, ordinary Americans placed in extraordinary situations. Deleting all of such language or inserting milder language or bleeping sounds into the film would have altered the nature of the artistic work and diminished the power, realism and immediacy of the film experience for viewers. In short, the vulgar language here was not gratuitous and could not have been deleted without materially altering the broadcast.

And another member of the committee added:

This film is a critically acclaimed artwork that tells a gritty story one of bloody battles and supreme heroism. The horror of war and the enormous personal sacrifice it draws on cannot be painted in airy pastels. The true colors are muddy brown and fire red and any accurate depiction of this significant historical tale could not be told properly without bringing that sense to the screen. It is for these reasons that the FCC has previously declined to rule this film indecent.

If you didn’t feel like reading all of that (which you should, it’s fascinating) I’ll translate: “This movie is too good to change or censor.”

You think they make these exceptions for The Thin Red Line? or Platoon? No. And you wanna know why? They aren’t as good. Period.

A2: Saving Private Ryan is so good…

…that it always runs virtually commercial free. This has a lot to do with the previous answer. The movie is just too good to cut up and sell ad space during. It would be inappropriate to stop in the middle of this depiction of heroism only to try and sell some Volkswagens.

A3: Saving Private Ryan is so good…

… that every video game about World War II that came out after blatantly rips it off. And there are not a small number of them. Let’s list just a few, shall we? Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (and every other MoH), Every Call of Duty (except 4), Day of Defeat, Company of Heroes, Brothers in Arms, Battlefield 1942, et al.

A4: Saving Private Ryan is so good…

… that when you remind people it didn’t win Best Picture, they stare at you incredulously. Spielberg got Best Director, true, but the film itself did not go home with the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences‘ biggest prize. And what did, you ask?

Shakespeare in Love

Nope, not kidding you. That really happened. It still baffles me to the point where all I can do now is try to laugh about it. But it is hard to laugh about such a travesty.

So, if you haven’t seen it in a while, I urge you to go back and watch SPR on this anniversary of D-Day and give thanks to the brave men and women depicted on screen fighting for the lives we now live.