Point and Shoot (2014)

untitled

Directed by: Marshall Curry

There are times when ‘Point and Shoot’ feels like a call to arms, an appeal, to twenty-something men who live comfortable safe lives to discover their manhood. I certainly felt that pang for adventure after watching the documentary, it made an itch, which has been there in recent months, a bit itchier.

Mattthew VanDyke is currently over in Iraq fighting against ISIS. Not so long ago he was an average twenty something bloke twiddling his thumbs, day dreaming about adventure. Like so many young men he lacked the ability to take action and make that happen. But one day he took action, he completed a foreign affairs course, purchased a motorbike, and went to Spain, from there Gibraltar, where he gazed across at Africa. Then he biked across North Africa and the Middle East. He made friends along the way, including some from Libya.

VanDyke miraculously completed his journey, which included stints working as a war correspondent alongside American forces in Iraq, and a chastening trip into Afghanistan. When he returned home he planned to settle down with his long term girlfriend and lead a steady life. Then the Arab Spring happened. Revolution was in the air, most notably in Libya, as the people, including the friends he made, decided to rise up against Muammar Gaddafi.

Feeling he needed to help his friends VanDyke left his family and went back to Libya, not as a filmmaker, but as a revolutionary.

What makes this story all the more unbelievable is that VanDyke suffers badly from OCD. His obsessive tendencies frequently delayed his travelling. He’d stop his bike, thinking he’d caused an accident, and drive back a couple of miles just for a peace of mind. He’d freak out when sugar got spilt on his guns and ammunition.

VanDyke’s time in Libya during the revolution is the most interesting part of the documentary. Particularly how the war is captured in the social media age. At times it seems like boys playing soldiers. The rebel army is a ramshackle band of brothers. What it does show is that most of the time modern warfare is uneventful. There’s a lot of hanging around, a lot of confusion and boredom; and I think this documentary shows that.

As for Matthew VanDyke himself, he’s a complex character and not a particularly likeable one at times, particularly how he treats his family, and goes against the advice of a senior journalist who at one stage tells him to go home. I’ve tried to avoid going into too much detail around this as I don’t want to reveal spoilers which would affect your enjoyment of the documentary, should you seek it out, but often it is the case that the most unlikeable personalities are the best documentary subjects.

‘Point and Shoot’ is a fine documentary about a flawed man who seeks adventure. When he finds adventure, he wants more and more.

– RJW

7/10

Point and Shoot on IMDB

Advertisements

Lone Survivor (2013)

lone1

Whilst filming his tongue-in-cheek, superhero-lampooning Hancock (2008), director Peter Berg discovered a book about a failed US Navy SEALs operation in Afghanistan in 2005. The book was called Lone Survivor and was written as a memoir by the titular frogman, Marcus Luttrell with help from British ghostwriter, Patrick Robinson. Berg fought tooth and nail to secure the rights for the film, even making the offensively terrible Battleship (2012) for Universal before they would agree to stump up the funds for his new passion project.

Once Lone Survivor was greenlit Berg set to work visiting the families of the deceased SEALs members and even had Luttrell move in with him for a month to help with authenticity over the script. It wasn’t only Berg paying this much attention to detail as his principal cast also spent time with the families of their respective deceased in a sort of method acting tribute.

That cast includes Marky Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, Ben Foster and Eric Bana. Balsa wood Kitsch aside, this is one hell of a register and unfortunately one that is very much wasted, the effort these guys went to in spending time with the families and training with specialists was for nought as the script allows for extremely limited characterization and all but ceases to exist from the second act onward. In fact, when we do see all the servicemen together in their mess they don’t come across too well; they bully the young recruit and the rest is all jingoism and no depth whatsoever. None of the cast really do anything other than shoot, fall and run with a fair bit of shouting peppered in between.

Berg’s usual DOP, Tobias A. Schliessler was again on hand to turn up the contrast with his blindingly glossy palette and wide-angle lenses. A good cinematographer is an underappreciated commodity in Hollywood and, though Berg and Schliessler suit each other, he’s not a good cinematographer. Well, not good if you’re trying to claim your work as drama; His style is far too sensationalist like in the war room when the bad news arrives, the camera quickly pans and spins around stern generals rushing around their glossy set as if it’s the Sky news studio.

Something that also struck me about Lone Survivor is that it bears many – and I mean “a fuckload of” – resemblances to the video game Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare. From the goodies to the baddies to the weaponry to looking through the sight to shooting a pistol while on the floor to the headshot to the helicopter guns this is EXACTLY the same experience as watching someone play COD but a lot less satisfying.

Another wasted facet of Lone Survivor is the score by Explosions in the Sky (who collaborated with Berg on Friday Night Lights [2004]). They try their best and produce a haunting, delicate soundtrack that gets lost amid crackling bullets, fizzing RPGs and rambling Afghans. Ah, while I’m on the subject of the enemy, oh dear! Their portrayal in Lone Survivor is outdated and downright obnoxious to the point it’s nasty and no producer worth their salt should be letting this past the quality check.

Well, what’s more to say? That I can only compare Lone Survivor to a video game speaks volumes about its depth as an emotional dramatization when really it’s a brash, relentless and hollow war film that tries to delude itself into thinking it cares by tacking on an ill fitting eulogy to the SEALs members who didn’t see the next sunrise. Friday Night Lights is getting further and further away mister Berg.

– Greg Foster

Lone Survivor on IMDB

Three Kings (1999)

threekings2

Directed by: David O. Russell

Ordinarily a film which features the acting talents of Ice Cube and Jamie Kennedy could swiftly be written off as some kind of god awful mean mugging , stoner extravaganza; but both actors offer something on ‘Three Kings’, the essence of what they are best at, how their limited acting repertoire is their strongest and indeed only suit – in the case of Cube, his one expression, you know, that vacant serious look, makes him a steadying presence in the company of Hollywood heavyweights George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg, and Kennedy who, as a hopeless soldier driving a dune buggy across the oil rich deserts of Iraq on a wild goose chase in the company of a feisty news reporter and her bemused cameraman, provides an additional dumb dose of light relief.

‘Three Kings’ is a light-hearted albeit pseudo-serious look at the climax of the first Gulf War. Victory was in the bag in less than a year after Operation Desert Storm, and in early 1991 the US Army contained a host of restless troops camped out in the desert who felt rather nervous about going back to the States, and adjusting back to the prospect of civilian life. In a similar spirit to ‘Jarhead’ it reveals a different kind of military experience that we have in recent years grown accustomed to from the military occupation of Afghanistan. Whereas in Afghanistan, patrolling troops have found themselves involved in tense fire fights, seen colleagues blown apart and shot by rogue fire. ‘Three Kings’ and ‘Jarhead’ present the other side of life in a warzone, as idle troops crave war stories that they can take home with them as they unravel in desert tedium.

The film opens with a cluster fuck, as Troy Barlow (played by Wahlberg) shoots dead a surrendering Iraqi soldier. His deed is celebrated by fellow troops, until the stone faced Staff Sergeant Elgin (Cube) comes along and brings the party to a close. In another tent we see Major Archie Gates (George Clooney) shagging a desperate journalist.

A treasure map that is found wedged in between the arse cheeks of another surrendering Iraqi soldier brings the three men, and a slack jawed goon called Conrad Vig (played by Spike Jonze) together. They discover that the map leads to one of Saddam’s bunkers that is rumoured to contain stolen Kuwaiti gold. Figuring they could become rich, they head off, but along the journey find themselves drawn into the post-war conflict when they abruptly decide to help Iraqi civilians who are still being oppressed by the local Republican Guard.

The film is rather unsubtle in its political message. But that doesn’t dilute what is actually being said. As the Coalition Troops, particularly the Americans, found out; the problem with winning a war, yet leaving a maniacal dictator in charge, is that when your army pulls out of the defeated country, the people will continue to suffer as the dictator attempts to reassert control of his population. The message of ‘Three Kings’ was made all the more relevant post 9/11, when US Troops returned to Iraq and in blunt terms finished the job by eliminating Saddam Hussein as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, or depending on which way you look at it, going on a pointless treasure hunt in search of non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

On set bickering between director David O. Russell and George Clooney blighted the production of ‘Three Kings’, which first established Russell’s reputation as a visionary auteur who is notoriously difficult to work with. There isn’t much evidence of tension in the film, George is a pro throughout and makes for an accomplished lead, and the film is shot artistically, including the use of authentically disorientating handheld cameras. Although the colouring of the film is odd. The bright sun embellished scenes, create a strange uneasy on the eye sheen.

Though not on the epic scale of some of the great Vietnam war films, Russell created a tight film that has a very effective anti-war message which also perfectly illustrates the consequences of violence, showing that a gunshot wound fucking hurts, and isn’t something that a movie action hero can easily walk away from.

The characters in ‘Three Kings’ are all searching for gold. For the news reporters and journalist it is the golden story, for the soldiers it is compensation for risking their lives, and a financial security against dull civilian life, for the Iraqi people it is the gold of freedom. It is all gold really, ‘Three Kings’ is a gilded classic.

– RJW
8/10

Three Kings on IMDB
Buy Three Kings [DVD] [1999]

Six Stages of Hell – ‘The Stars Collection’ Part 2: All the Queen’s Men (2001)

allthequeens

Directed by: Stefan Ruzowitzky

The second side of disc one is ‘All the Queen’s Men’ starring Matt LeBlanc. It feels odd to have a double sided DVD; it almost takes me back to my early nineties cassette days when I played side A of a 2 Unlimited album and then flip over to side B only to find the tape gets chewed up. One thing I’ve always admired about physical media is that there is an interaction with the product, and that often the product is faulty. This side didn’t play straight away, so I had to take it out, rub it a bit with a glasses cleaning cloth and stick it back into the DVD player. It luckily worked second time around.

‘All the Queen’s Men’ should appeal to me, because I am interested in the Second World War, and have a perverse fascination with transvestites. It took some genius to combine them both, and that man was David Schneider, the deviant looking comedy actor from ‘The Day Today’ and ‘I’m Alan Partridge’. Schneider’s idea is unique enough to work, and in the right hands it might have. But the main problem is that Matt LeBlanc was cast as the leading man.

mattdrag

We open with Matt LeBlanc, and given that he is best known for playing a failed actor in a long running sitcom, to see him prancing around with his perfect hair, and cheeky smile, it takes a little while to take him seriously as a hard-nosed Special Forces soldier. He’s behind enemy lines, wearing a German officer’s uniform; he steals an enigma machine, commandeers a tank and flees with a whole squadron of Nazi’s chasing after him. One enterprising Kraut jumps into a tank, and LeBlanc and the German indulge in a tank chase across a idyllic field.

Thankfully the Brits are able to intercept LeBlanc and force him to hand over the enigma machine. Believing it to be a typewriter and given they don’t keep hold of German property; they destroy it and throw LeBlanc into an Allied military prison. LeBlanc spends some time whilst incarcerated rolling around in the mud, learning the basics of rugby. He looks likely to spend the rest of the war imprisoned.

Partly similar to act one of ‘The Dirty Dozen’, (LeBlanc’s character was not going to be hanged, but he did bite the finger of a British officer) LeBlanc is given the chance by Major Aitken to skip porridge and take part in a special mission to infiltrate a factory where the enigma machines are manufactured, this factory is staffed by women. Ever the ladies’ man, LeBlanc quips “And where would I be inserted?”

A motley team is assembled to join LeBlanc, which includes a naïve brainbox called Johnno who is multi-lingual and adept at cracking codes, a cowardly pen pusher named Hartley and Parker (Eddie Izzard) a transvestite cabaret singer. The Major tells Parker “I want you to turn these men into women”. The group, clad in the finest 1940’s woman’s fashion, parachute deep into Nazi Germany and search frantically for the enigma factory.

mattdrag2

Had David Schneider passed this idea onto Quentin Tarantino when he was brainstorming for ‘Inglorious Basterds’ then we might have had a more subversive movie. Instead it is a passable afternoon romp, but nothing more than that. Matt LeBlanc is not an inspiring lead, and is somewhat cursed by being forever stuck in our memories as ‘Joey’. It’s weird, you get the impression that LeBlanc would only dress up as a dame if throughout the film the audience is reminded that he isn’t really a queer. Hence the inclusion of a love interest, a librarian called Romy, who seems to be some kind of resistance member, yet we’re never quite sure why she risks life and limb to help the four Allied drag queens. It’s also interesting to note that this film was distributed by Strand Releasing, a company that has put out numerous LGBT titles. Then there is the problem with a Major in the British army going to all that trouble in the first place to send a mouthy American on a suicide mission. Why not just let him rot in jail?

Director Stefan Ruzowitzky went back to the Second World War and won an Academy Award for 2007’s ‘The Counterfeiters’. But ‘All the Queen’s Men’ will remain a stone cold flop on his record, earning just under twenty three thousand dollars at the American Box Office. LeBlanc has since redeemed himself in TV land playing himself on ‘Episodes’, and one can only hope he never returns to film.

– RJW
5/10

All the Queen’s Men on IMDB
Buy All The Queen’s Men [2001] [DVD]

The Keep (1983)

I’ve been immersing myself in the higher end of the film world for a while, thanks to Sight and Sound magazine’s list of the ten greatest films of all time, and all the other films voted for by critics and directors, so it’s nice to look through my shelves and go “ah yes, that film about Nazis being attacked by something supernatural, you shall soothe my fevered brow”.

 

To be fair, the poster was never going to have the words “incoherent mess” on it

There’s a bunch of Nazis, led by Jurgen Prochnow, who have been told to guard a village way up in the Carpathian Mountains. They potter about for a bit and set up their base inside the spooky-looking keep, but are told by the keep’s caretaker to not mess with the tons of metal crosses that are embedded into the walls everywhere. Even though they look like silver, the Nazis are assured they’re made of pewter and are worthless, and are probably given some “hey, you might let out the ancient evil spirit if you do that” speech. I was too busy listening to maybe the least appropriate soundtrack of all time, a jaunty bit of synth from Tangerine Dream (who I saw many moons ago in Liverpool, cheers to my old mate Matt). I think deliberately anachronistic music can work in film, but this just doesn’t, and it becomes so bad that you keep expecting them to reveal they’re people from the 80s who’ve gone to a World War 2 theme park. Anyway, I’m wandering away from the plot here, such as it is.

 

An untrustworthy Nazi (if you could ever imagine such a thing) decides, one night while on watch (the first night? The thousandth? It’s a bit difficult to tell) to check the metal the crosses are made out of, and thinks it’s silver, so gets his mate to pull one out. This reveals a passageway further into the keep…one of them crawls down it, and we get one of the film’s few truly arresting images – what looks like an underground cave, miles and miles wide and high, with more crosses and unusual-looking gravestones.

 

Then…whoops!! the thing they warned would be released, is released, accompanied by the light show from a Tangerine Dream show of the period, aka some hilariously naff-looking special effects. The guy who was doing the exploring gets turned into a pile of goo, and the force sets about killing off the Nazis (yay!)

 

I shall try not to spoil too much of it for you. Oh okay, I’ll spoil some more. When the light is released, Scott Glenn is activated. We’ve not seen him up to this point, but we fans of cinema like this know that when someone’s eyes glow a weird colour and they suddenly start moving, they’re linked to the bad thing which just happened, usually in some supervisory capacity. He then heads off for the Keep, as do NAZI REINFORCEMENTS, led by Gabriel Byrne in his earlier, hungrier days. They’re the black-shirted fellows – the SS? And are way more evil than Prochnow and his lot. It’s revealed later that Prochnow would have fought on the side of the anti-fascists in the Spanish Civil War, although why he then signed up to fight for the Nazis a few years later is a conundrum which was left on the cutting room floor.

 

So, we’ve got two lots of Nazis, a mysterious supernatural killing machine, some villagers, Scott Glenn’s on his way, and we then get the last two pieces of the puzzle. Some writing appears on the wall, so Byrne finds out the only person who can translate it is a professor who’s been taken to a ghetto somewhere, being Jewish and all. He gets the professor and his daughter out, and it turns out to be a cut-price Sean Young and…Ian McKellen! He’d perhaps had a bash on the head before filming this, as he’d completely forgotten how to act. Turns out he’s not really a professor, just that one of the villagers wanted to save a few of his friends from being killed for their religion. Good work that fella!

 

The film, never particularly good, interesting or coherent, now just stops making any sense whatsoever. The supernatural force is revealed to be…well, my guess was the Golem, the creature of Jewish myth, and the word is uttered during the film, but it seems much more powerful and less discriminatory in its murdering ways. Anyway, it has a power totem which it needs taking out of the Keep so it can get on with the business of killing Nazis, and it asks McKellen for some help, not before doing some magic which makes him a younger man again (the only comment he gets for being obviously 30 years younger is “this place seems to agree with you”). Glenn shacks up with McKellen’s daughter for no reason, after knowing her for about 30 seconds, and I could have lived my whole life without seeing a Scott Glenn love scene. The monster turns up the power dial on its killing, and we’re set for a showdown, of sorts, where Glenn tries to stop McKellen from removing the talisman.

 

“I’m the way God made me, sir”

So, is it any good? No, of course not. The clever money (well, other reviewers) is on the last half of the film being heavily cut by the studio, which makes none of what happens in that climax make any sense. I don’t think there’s much which could have made this film better, though – the acting is pretty bad, the special effects are poor, the music is terrible, and there’s the sense through the entire film that any attempts to make it historically authentic were to be avoided at all costs.

 

For a director like Michael Mann (who has done many good films) and a cast like that to make a film this rotten, though, something must have gone wrong, somewhere. I think more of a sense of the passing of time and its effect on the Nazis would have helped, as would less dry ice and laser-style special effects…keeping the main monster shrouded in smoke til the last possible second would have helped too, I reckon. Oh, you know what else would have helped? If the Nazis had just gone “well, looks like this Keep is a pretty bad place. I know, let’s set up a camp in the village which is right next door, and not just let ourselves get picked off”. But such logic is not for the residents of films such as this.

 

Rating: 1 golem out of 5

 

PS: I don’t know if modern Nazis have a google alert on uses of the word. If they do, and it brings them here, please, the lot of you, kiss my spotty multicultural ass.

 

The Keep on IMDB
Buy The Keep [1983]