12 Strong: Three weeks of fighting and only one reload. Nice Brad Pitt impression, though.
As I am finishing the first book in the Accursed Kings (Les Rois maudits), I came across a particularly interesting paragraph or two.
The setup is that Philip IV has just lost his advisor, the Keeper of the Seals. In the fictional account we, the reader, know that there is foul play involved. Historically, that is not evident and even within the story the assassins seem to have got away scot-free*. Upon said minister’s untimely death, the King moves quickly to seize his important papers so he can get abreast of any critical issues facing the kingdom. While reading, the King begins to see himself as others see him and, in doing so, has difficulty recognizing himself. The remarks from the letters he reads in the fictionalized scene are actually real descriptions of him that have survived to this day.
Now hold that thought.
Recently, there has been a transgender activist in the news. She(?) has been traveling around the country, visiting various legislative buildings, and holding up a sign that says ANAL SEX. Someone I know actually went up and asked her why she was doing this. She explained that she is advocating for First Amendment rights. This set off some private discussions as well as a news article** or two, all wondering about the appropriateness and effectiveness of this particular demonstration.
It is a common for recent expressions of “activism” to involve vulgarity, similar to the well-publicized wearing of “pussy hats.” Left-wing demonstrators carry signs, sometimes related to the cause and sometimes just because, with explicit language on them. “Slut” and “vagina” seem to be particular favorites. I’m sure I’ve seen others but, in general, creativity does not seem to be valued. Having seen it more than a few times, I think I have an idea of what they are trying to accomplish. There is a feeling among a segment of the left that their political opponents will lose their shit if they see certain words or phrases in writing, in public. What the endgame is beyond that, I’m not sure. I guess conservatives, driven stark raving mad by the word “slut,” will no longer be able to effectively advocate for the conservative agenda.
While this view of conservatives is apparently common, I’m not sure I can think of a single conservatives who falls into this category. An example of the yawning gap between how one sees one’s self and how others see us, despite the absolute belief that the image that we hold is the correct one.
Of course, this led me to reminisce about my own youth. When I was but a teenager, I had a girlfriend who was convinced that I was both religious and a prude. She delighted in playing me some of her favorite recordings; Ozzy and Iron Maiden, for its devil imagery, Rocky Horror Picture Show, for its explicit expressions of sexuality, and various other songs/bands which contained expletives in one form or another. I never tried very hard to dissuade her of her conception of me, but I also never quite understood from whence it came. After all, like Philip the Fair, I was familiar only with the me I grew up with.
I had a, I suppose, typical teenage boy’s fascination with the occult, despite never really getting into bands like Iron Maiden (I was a Pink Floyd guy). While I may not terribly prone to public ejaculations of using profanity, I was generally game taking in an explicitly-sexual reference. I also considered myself something of a connoisseur of the swear word.
My father, a military man, had a colorful vocabulary when provoked and, at some point in middle school, I had taken to trying out his (perhaps somewhat dated) arsenal on my fellow students. While the reception was less positive than I expected, I continued to appreciate the ability to express oneself with color all through high school. I also liked stumbling across a good round of swearing hidden in popular media; the movie Patton or the Back in Black album come to mind as particular examples.
The pious and prudish boyfriend of my young girlfriend simply bore little resemblance to my own self-perception. So it goes.
Oddly enough, that titillation that comes with finding a naughty word tucked into the every day didn’t end with my teenage years. Well into my thirties I recall the joy of finding the hidden f-bomb at the beginning of a Green Day song and my adult siblings not particularly sharing my amusement. It is a little strange and not entirely sensible. Let us just say that I am one to appreciate a good bout of cursing, particularly when done with style.
When I use a phrase like cursing with style, the first thing to come to mind might be R Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket. His portrayal of a drill instructor defines for many what boot must be like, at least for those who haven’t had the pleasure of being treated to actual drill instruction. The character’s ability to weaponize profanity is frequently quoted and will surely be for generations to come. To paraphrase Sergeant Harman (and mix up a few movies to boot); Marine Drill Instructors die. That’s what they’re there for. But the tapestry of obscenity that they weave will live forever.
Sadly, Gunnery Sergeant Ermey left this earth on April 15th of this year.
To honor his passing, I re-watched Full Metal Jacket last night. I occasionally watch clips of his performance on YouTube and even have some of his insults mixed in with my digital music, but it has been a few years since I watched the whole film. His is an outstanding performance.
He almost didn’t play the role.
I’ve read or heard the story a number of times and in a number of different ways. Ermey was brought on board with the Full Metal Jacket production as an advisor and had to convince a reluctant Stanley Kubrick to give him the part. Some of the versions of these stories conflicted with others, so I found an interview he did shortly after the film was released so as to get the details of the story straight from the horses mouth, so to say.
He was not, as I had always assumed, a newcomer to filmmaking at that time. After his release from the Marines, he went to Manila to get a college education. While trying to make ends meet, he did some acting in various Filipino television commercials. That work eventually led to several acting roles in Filipino productions and a modicum of local fame. When Ermey heard about Francis Ford Coppola and the Apocalypse Now production coming to the Philippines, he was eager to get involved. He got some of his connections in Filipino show business to get him onto the Apocalypse Now set as an extra. Apparently, because he looked the part, that got him into an impromptu speaking role as a helicopter pilot in the signature Ride of the Valkyries scene of the movie, giving Ermey his first Hollywood acting role.
When Kubrick started filming Full Metal Jacket, Ermey had already played a drill instructor, portraying Sgt. Loyce in the Hong Kong production of The Boys of Company C. That movie was also filmed in the Philippines immediately after Ermey finished working on Apocalypse Now and is similar in structure (boot camp then deployment) to Full Metal Jacket.
Some of the story that I’ve heard attached to Full Metal Jacket actually comes from Ermey’s experience on The Boys of Company C. Specifically, there was a story about his being hired as an advisor to coach the actor playing the drill instructor and that his demonstrations were so impressive that he was moved into the actual on-screen role. This experience was from the earlier movie and its director Sidney J. Furie, not Kubrick.
As with The Boys of Company C, Ermey was hired by Kubrick as a technical advisor on Full Metal Jacket. Ermey was familiar with the source material, however, and greatly desired the on-screen role of the drill instructor (Sgt. Gerheim in the novel). Part of Kubrick’s objection to Ermey in a lead role was that he didn’t think he could be mean enough, based on having seen his performance in The Boys of Company C. Anyway, he was told, the part had already been filled and a contract signed.
Several stories that aren’t true are nonetheless somewhat based in reality. One story goes that all of Hartman’s scenes are improvised, something Kubrick would never have done. Another says that he made his own audition tape, involving performing the lines while having things thrown at him, and that tape sold Kubrick. Also not true.
What really happened, as told by Ermey, was that the staging of the Paris Island scenes came at the end of filming, after the Vietnam scenes were completed. At that point, well into the project, a team (including Ermey) had to select a new group of extras to portray the background characters in the barracks. Rather than interview recruits one-by-one, Ermey decided to dress as a drill instructor and basically act out the opening scene from the movie. The reactions of the recruits were then filmed, allowing the best to be selected and hired. After the first set of “interviews,” Kubrick laughed at Ermey saying that he had told him he couldn’t audition, but he saw he found a way anyway. He had Ermey’s version of the scene sent to be transcribed so as to replace the scripts dialog with Ermey’s version. He also asked Ermey to record the other major Hartman scenes, ad-libbing the dialog, so that the script could be revised there, too. After seeing Ermey as Hartman in all those scenes, Kubrick finally gave him the part.
When I read his obituary, one phrase that stood out a description of him as “kind and gentle soul.” Such words seem quite out-of-place for those who only know him as Sgt. Hartman and for his TV personality. But watching him in that old interview, the description clearly matches his demeanor. I guess that says something about the duality of man.
Full Metal Jacket is divided into two parts. The first half shows the main character, Private Joker (Mathew Modine), and his platoon attempting to survive boot camp under the instruction of Sergeant Hartman. The second half takes place some indeterminate time later in Vietnam. Joker is now a seasoned Marine and has been promoted to Sergeant himself. We find him acting as a combat correspondent for Stars and Stripes. The movie portrays a few days around the Tet Offensive and the reoccupation of Hue City (events distributed over about a month of real time).
For me, the first part is all Hartman/Ermey and is enjoyable to watch in that light alone. The second part is something of a mixed bag. I would have to characterize Full Metal Jacket as an anti-war film, although not your typical anti-war film. Yes it focuses on the dehumanization necessary to turn a young man into a soldier, a killer. It also portrays the American soldiers in a less than flattering light. At the same time, it also includes the slaughter of civilians by the communists, leaving the impression that for all our flaws, we Americans remain the good-guys. The soldiers themselves are generally patriotic and ready to do their duty, including being eager to kill the enemy.
I suppose, more than being anti-war, it may being trying to suggest something about the duality of man. The Jungian thing.
From a technical standpoint, a few things really bother me. The trigger discipline is for shit. Every soldier runs around with their fingers wrapped around their rifle’s trigger. It’s a good thing the guns are obviously replicas. Now, I’ve actually seen a number of Vietnam era photos with triggers inappropriately covered, but I can’t imagine anything like what we see in the film could have happened without a lot more friendly-fire deaths. Especially since (problem 2), the soldiers are constantly aiming their rifles at the backs or sides of their squad-mates. That bothers me even more. I guess I’ve been well-conditioned. The mere sight of a gun-barrel sweeping across living person gives me the heebie jeebies, and that horror occurs throughout every combat scene in the second half of the movie as well as some of the meandering around scenes. Sgt. Ermey, where are you now?
The third thing that bothered me, although it was not a all atypical for war movies pre-Saving Private Ryan, is the use of special effects for gunfire without regard to how the actual gunfire would look. Bullet strikes on flesh occur with an explosion of red paint. There are also several scenes where the platoon peppers a building with fire directed at an unidentified target. Obviously, filming did not actually involved shooting up a building. Instead, pyrotechnics would have been placed on the target to simulate it being hit. And quite a pyrotechnic show it is. The 5.56 rounds from the M-16s are apt to explode upon hitting wood, creating a fiery spectacle. Afterwards, those same rounds have left grapefruit-sized holes in the outer wall of the building. Kubrick was known for his perfectionism, and things like this just really get to me. Of course, I didn’t really think about it so much in previous viewings. Kubrick was aspiring to maximal realism but, as I said above, the bar for war movies in the 1980s was lower than it is today.
Like me, critics generally found the second part less satisfying than the first part. Their criticisms were different that those above, of course, and I can really agree with many of those complaints. A common theme was a lack of cohesion in the second half of the film. Some were concerned about the lack of a clear moral message. One must remember that Full Metal Jacket was released in a wave of late-eighties Vietnam-themed films. It was said, at the time, the enough distance had finally intervened post-war that it was a finally a suitable subject for film-making. Pronouncement like these come with expectations.
I think the key problem is trying to view the two parts of the film separately. A motif in the second half fits together with something from boot camp. Because, as we hear, being trained to be a Marine does not make you a combat veteran. You are not changed – are not born again – until you are “in the shit.” The second half of the movie is necessary to complete Joker’s training; to complete his transformation. To finally find his war face. Similarly, Animal Mother essentially is the same person as Private Pyle. Just in Animal Mother’s reality, he didn’t snap before he went to Vietnam. And so on.
Attempting scholarly analysis of Kubrick’s films spending only a few hours on a Saturday afternoon is a fool’s game. I should really read the book.
*The term scot-free has nothing to do with Scotsmen, notwithstanding jokes to the contrary. The term is one that rattled around between Old French and some Germanic languages. In England, a sceat (pronounced “shat”) was a Anglo-Saxon silver coin or, as sceatt a term for money. As variations of the term, by the Normans, began to be associated with land, a “scot” could be used to mean a tax or a fee. Thus, getting of “scot-free” means that you’ve successfully avoided paying taxes.
**It occurred to me that, essentially, asking my readers to google “ANAL SEX” would be a tad cruel. Here is a link to an article.
Season 3: Now with double the gay sex and three times the incest!
As before, it seemed to take four or five episodes for the story to get to where I wanted it to be; dealing with the historical elements (at least as far as The Borgias can be perceived as doing so). Unlike before, it only seemed to fizzle from there.
Once we hit about Episode 5, we find Cesare Borgia assuming his historical role in bringing France into the Second Italian War.
For me the high point of the season is when the French army arrives on the coast of Italy. I was impressed with the historically accurate depiction of the ships in the bay, in the background as the army gathered on shore. The style of the papal armies again show that mix of the Roman empire and the early modern that, while I don’t know how accurate it is, really appeals to me.
The war, the season, and ultimately the series ends with the siege of Caterina Sforza’s castle. Consistent with the rest of the series, no attempt to rely on the historical arc of the battle is attempted. Instead, a story of a secret cave below the walls is inserted, perhaps due to its relation to the gay sex at the beginning of the season. In the end, Caterina is captured, imprisoned in Rome, and the season comes to a screeching halt that was obviously unanticipated by the writers.
The series was suspended due to the expense of production. A backup plan involved a two hour “movie” treatment to wrap up the story, but that also did not acquire the necessary funding. In the end, the movie script became available for purchase as a e-book to give closure to fans and Showtime’s Borgias called it a day. One wonders whether the downward trajectory was due to the waning support for the series, or support was vanishing due to the perceived loss of direction. To my mind, the series comes to an end just before the payoff – the point where Cesare begins to exert political control on his own.
All the focus on the gay sex did have one payoff. I actually looked up the name Micheletto Corella to find he was actually a historical persona although, in the fashion of The Borgias, not very much like his on-screen portrayal. The series has him a shadowy rogue who meets Cesare Borgia after being hired as an assassin to kill the Borgia family. Cesare senses his quality and brings him on as his most trusted servant. We later find out he grew up (gay) in the streets of Forli, a plot element important in the final episode. While Corella’s true life is not fully documented, it is known that he was a childhood friend of Cesare and probably of a similar social status. They attended university together and certainly would have had a very different relationship with Cesare during his rise to power.
While reading this, I also read that Mario Puzo’s The Godfather was, in some ways, a contemporization of the Borgia story. Puzo explained in an interview how he saw parallels between the family of the pope and the structure of current crime families. For decades, he had considered writing an actual story based on the Borgias, but died before completing it. His girlfriend released, posthumously, the book The Family based on those notes. I am tempted to read it, but I’m very wary of books purportedly by an author but really based simply on notes that he had made.
In a little tidbit for the watchful eye, Pope Alexander is shown getting his portrait painted during several of the Season 3 episodes. Portraits of Alexander are preserved and the man looks nothing like Jeremy Irons. The painting in the show attempts to bridge that gap. We see that the painting could be of the posing Pope on one hand, and it really resembles the actual portrait of Alexander.
One other interesting diversion. Upon entering Milan, we find Leonardo Da Vinci’s workshop abandoned when the ruling Sforza duke was forced to flee. In the workshop, we find an arquebus, which Da Vinci has outfitted with an open iron gun sight, presumably of his own invention. I am not aware that Da Vinci did work with gun sites, so that part seems entirely fabricated. He did, in fact, invent a multi-barreled cannon and a machine gun, proposed within the context of Italian Wars. One assumes this particular plot point was a lead-in to Season 4 and the introduction of a Leonardo Da Vinci character into the series. Cesare did, in fact, employ Da Vinci as an engineer in 1502 and 1503. Leonardo’s main contribution was not, however, designs for weapon systems, but rather a detailed map. Maps were rather rare at the time and a detailed map for use in planning battle tactics would indeed have been a treasure for a commander.
For all its faults, the production values of The Borgias remain high. I’m now tempted to find if anyone else could have done better. A French TV series (although filmed in English) was created concurrently with the Showtime series and shows some promise. It also ran for three seasons, but may have advanced the story further. I notice that Alexandre Dumas wrote an essay on the Borgia family, but I’m not sure if I’m ready for another Victorian read. There are some contemporary historical novels, some of which are well regarded, that may be worth a try.
Any movie that opens with the dialog “Gun’s always loaded, even if it ain’t…” and features a hand-loading scene, well, that’s going to buy it an extra star or so in my ratings.
Wind River is the third in an ex-post-facto trilogy from screen writer Taylor Sheridan, who also wrote Sicario and Come Hell or High Water. Unlike the first two, Sheridan was the director on this one. It is a solid piece of storytelling, well shot and well acted. Wind River is framed as “inspired by true events,” drawing attention, as it does, to the difficulties of law enforcement on Indian reservations.
For once, Netflix did me a favor on this one. It came up under recommendations as a DVD that would appeal to me. Based on the synopsis, it sounded a little weak… something about Fish and Game getting involved in an FBI investigation. It did not mention the writer/director connection with the other two films, both of which I’ve seen and strongly appreciated. But the old rating system, still in place for DVDs, ranked it very highly, so I had it shipped out.
The synopsis isn’t wrong, but it doesn’t capture the film at all. My first read through made it sound like a murder mystery taking place in the offices of some obscure governmental agencies. Then I began to imagine North Woods Law: Wyoming -styled action film. The pejorative of my title is a reference I’ve heard used on Fish and Game enforcement personnel who aspire to broader law enforcement jurisdiction. Fortunately, it was none of these. Had the reference to the earlier films been made explicit, I would have anticipated an atmosphere and pacing that are very much in line with the previous works.
The lead character in Wind River is a U.S. Fish and Game hunter working in Wyoming. He is responsible for removing predators when they encroach upon the population and their livestock. This identity is critical to the story in that Indian Reservations have a rather bizarre patchwork of law enforcement jurisdiction.
The theme an ambience is similar to Longmire, which I finished watching a month or two ago. The TV series often focused on the lack of jurisdiction of the county sheriff’s office on tribal reservation land, and that is part of Wind River as well. Additionally, the tribal police only have jurisdiction over their own tribe. So if the perpetrator of a crime on Indian land is non-Indian (or simply from a different tribe), the tribal police lack authority over the person and the local police lack authority over the place. The only remaining authority are the Feds. FBI or perhaps some other Federal agency involved, such as the Bureau of Land Management or, in the case presented in the movie, Fish and Game.
While, in theory, Federal jurisdiction on Federal lands is all well and good, in remote areas of the west the availability of Federal law enforcement officers (also a theme in Longmire, I might add), can often not be up to the task. For a remote wilderness, needing to ship FBI agents in from two states over probably isn’t that much of an issue. However, if that wilderness has a sizeable population in the form of an Indian reservation, a lack of on-site people who actually have jurisdiction is going to be felt.
The result is a movie that mixes social commentary, slow-burning drama, and a (welcomed) subdued action into an excellent mix. Well worth the watch. It also has me all the more excited about Sicario 2, on its way. I had wondered whether Sicario was something of a one-off, a bit of luck for a relatively unknown writer, but this guy is clearly on a roll.
Coming off of Netflix this week is a Norwegian TV mini-series, The Heavy Water War (originally Kampen om tungtvannet). The six episode series is a dramatization of the Nazi nuclear program, the Norwegian Deuterium Oxide factory that supplied it, and the British operation to disable the program. It is in the appropriate language for the scene and characters which means, variously, English, Norwegian, German, and Danish.
Once again, this is a series pushed onto me by Netflix (using their old rating system), which I ignored until they threatened to remove it from streaming (and it is not available from them on DVD). Once again, I am pleased that I was pushed over the edge. This series was well worth the time.
The story starts before the war and gives the background of the German atomic program and the use of heavy water, which they purchased from Norway’s Norsk Hydro. A single production facility, at the Vemork Hydro-electric plant, was responsible for all the world’s heavy water. As war began, the Allies were aware of Germany’s use of it in their program and, via the French, secured all of the Norwegian stock to prevent delivery. Once Germany took Norway by invasion, they had direct and unimpeded access to the production.
The heart of the story, and most of the episodes, covers the commando raids run out of Scotland to disable the production through sabotage. After an initial failure to insert British commandos, a second successful raid was conducted by entirely Norwegians.
What I really appreciate about this series is the production value. The props and costumes seem well researched, and the quality is excellent – particularly for made-for-television. The actors match (at least for the most part, I didn’t look them up one-by-one), in language and nationality, the characters that they portray. This adds another level of fidelity. When an American begins shouting about bombing the factory, I know they’re using a real American by the accent. Similarly the Norwegian who “grew up in America” has the right accent.
I wasn’t watching every aspect of the firearms usage, but they appeared to make some extra effort in that regard as well. When the commandos prepare to use their pistols, the hammer is actually back – a detail neglected in many Hollywood usages of single-action pistols. Firearms run out of ammo and otherwise seems realistic when used. The range of weapons used also seems to have been researched. In actuality, the use of Thompson submachine guns by the successful raid was an important part of the plan. The saboteurs left a Tommy gun behind to demonstrate that it was a British-executed attack, not the work of locals – thus attempting to avoid reprisals.
Similarly, those characters that are living through depredation genuinely look pretty haggard. I don’t think the actors actually starved themselves for the roll, but a little bit of beard and makeup can go a long way. There have been too many series where the lead characters can be in the wilderness for weeks or months, and still have perfect hair and makeup.
Oddly enough, the scenes sneaking into the factory gave me some Medal of Honor flashback moments. I guess its the combination of the German guard houses and their unique paint schemes, which I only recall from within the video game. It may also have something to do with the similarity of the mission to the final Medal of Honor:Allied Assault mission. I also had a nice James Bond flashback. A dramatic scene has one of the Norwegians fleeing the site of their hideout on skis, at which point he is pursued by a squad of skiing Germans. Where James Bond did (and many a production would be tempted to do) have active shootouts and stunt jumps punctuating the chases, this one is portrayed in what to me seems like a very realistic manner. For the shootout portion, the German and the Norwegian actually stop, struggle to dislodge their pistols from their winter overclothes, and then somewhat-awkwardly exchange fire.
As nearly always is the case with a historical drama, details have been changed to serve the story. In several cases non-historical characters play a major role and details of the events have been tweaked. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on where you stand, I don’t know enough about these historical events to realize what I was missing. I was able to enjoy the story and accept it as it was told.
The story set viewing records when it was aired on Norwegian television in 2015. Sadly, it will never get that level of viewing in this country. I’m glad I managed to catch it as I could.
Counter-intuitively, to be a worthwhile historical drama, a film can actually be significantly lacking in historical accuracy. Much like in gaming, one occasionally is reminded that we are talking about a “drama” not a “documentary.” In order to be successful, it must have a good story, good execution, etc. A successful historical drama that happens to get the details wrong often serves as a springboard to get people interested in the “real story.”
Coming of Netflix just in time for the holiday weekend is The Last Samurai (2003), staring Tom Cruise as an ancient Japanese warrior. No, that’s not right is it? But I recall reading reviews at the time the movie came out that seemed to take offense at just that – why does it have to be an American, played by Cruise, that stars in a story of Japan?
It is a familiar structure in film an story to introduce the situation via an outside who, like the reader, must learn the “lay of the land” as the story progresses. That character may be the central one of the story, the person the audience identifies with, or it may just be a minor edition to whom the main characters are forced to explain the situation that everyone but the outside (and the reader/viewer) understands. Particular in Western writings about foreign cultures, this provides an excellent means to introduce new ways of life through a work of fiction.
In The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise plays an American army veteran who is hired by the Japanese Emperor Meiji to aid in modernizing the Japanese military. He quickly learns that Japan is in the midst of a revolt by one of the the emperor’s advisor and prominent Samurai (the titular last one, presumably) who is resisting the rush towards modernization. After having the imperial forces rushed into battle, unprepared, Cruise is captured by said Samurai and, while captive, comes to appreciate the culture of his erstwhile enemy.
Historically, the film has a tenuous grasp on reality. Said “last Samurai” is based on the person of Saigō Takamori, who lead the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877 (probably half a year or so later then events described in the movie). Cruise’s character is based, in part, on Frenchman Jules Brunet, who had similar experiences, but a decade earlier in the Boshun War which restored the Emperor to the throne. While bits and pieces of the story are drawn from history, then, the narrative takes place in what is pretty much a fantasy world. One can either see this as a butchering of history, or as an admirable way of removing the possibility of stepping on historical toes while telling a fictional story.
While the film was criticized for being America-centric, it also draws valid criticism from the other direction. Hints of capitalism replacing feudalism are held up in the movie as obvious targets of disdain. The U.S. military is shown to be interested in helping the Japanese Imperial Army because it would result in arms contracts going forward. The government official who seems to be in charge of the purse is also the owner of a new cross-country railroad and the revolution puts his investment at risk. Thus the “war” is really for his own, personal enrichment. Bringing in the modern themes of a paradise lost to technology represents a poke in the eye to history, and seemingly for the sole purpose of preaching, rather than just the telling of a good yarn. In reality, the revolts in Japan had far more to do with political power than cultural change. In particular, the attribution to the Samurai as the guardians of traditionalism (outside the fuedal power structure) is misplaced. In the Boshun War, it was the supporters of the emperor who were resisting the influence of the West. In the Satsuma Rebellion, the “Samurai” did not restrict themselves to traditional Japanese weapons as the movie portrayed, but used muskets and cannon as their budget afforded them.
At the end of it all, I can still enjoy most of the movie despite its faults. It works fairly well as a “period drama.” The costumes and scenery are well done – and not just for the traditional Japanese attire. I also enjoyed the Imperial Japanese costumes and the portrayal of the technological revolution in Japan. I do wonder about the outfitting of the Japanese with Civil War surplus rifles; 1861 Springfields and 1853 Enfields. Are we to assume that the U.S. dumped a bunch of now-obsolete muzzle-loading rifled muskets onto the Japanese? Perhaps that is implied. When Cruise returns to Tokyo, the imperial soldiers are now armed with bolt-action Mausers – another odd choice for an American contract. Sources state the imperial army was actually armed with the British-made Snider-Enfield, which was a conversion of the 1853 Enfield to fire a cartridge. The 1853 muzzle-loading Enfield was one of the more common arms of the Samurai.
Oddly enough, a contemporary incarnation of Cruise used a Snider-Enfield at the beginning of the movie Far and Away, but that’s neither here nor there.
Perhaps tellingly, the film was more popular in Japan than in the United States, with box office receipts in Japan actually exceeding the domestic take. In Japan, the film received generally positive reviews and was praised for its use of Japanese actors and the obvious research that went into the historical detail.
TV Executive: “Let’s make a show for all those gun nuts out there. We’ll have lots of shooting and some technical details about guns. They’ll eat it up, and the advertising revenue will just roll in.”
Jr. TV Executive: “Won’t that mean we’ll have to do a lot of extra research about guns?”
TV Executive: “Naaah. Those gun nuts are stupid. They’ll never know the difference.”
I’m normally a fan of Mel Gibson’s movies. And Hacksaw Ridge is, while a bit formulaic, still largely successful as an example of the war-hero genre that has served Mr. Gibson well.
The real miracle in this film is not the real-life miracle; the survival under artillery fire of Medal-of-Honor recipient Desmond Doss while he rescued 75 wounded from behind enemy lines. To me, it is how those men fought on, through day and night, and never ran out of ammunition. In particular the “Sargent” character, played by Vince Vaughn, fights off the Japanese with his MP3 (aka Grease Gun), never running low on ammo. As a matter of fact, I don’t recall a single reload from anyone. I did notice a 1911 lock back at some point and that, sadly, resulted in its user’s quick death.
The incidents of firearms silliness are legion, but only one made me quite literally wince in pain. “Teach,” the well-read-soldier archetype, charges from his trench firing a Browning M1919 from a loose, off-hand stance, gripping the barrel to direct his fire. For you non-gun geeks, the M1919 is a tripod-mounted, belt-fed machine gun firing 30-06. The Spielberg/Hanks mini-series The Pacific actually used the consequences of grabbing a medium machine gun by the barrel as a plot point (hint, Medal of Honor winner John Basilone wrecks his hands in the process).
Looking at the overall story, part of the difficulty in making sense of the action is my “small world” problem. The battle in which Doss earned his Medal of Honor occurred over the course of three weeks. In the film, it is three days. And while the commanding colonel says that “several battalions” were lost in the fighting, we focus on the action of a particular company, which is represented by roughly a platoon-sized group of men. If one imagines the battlefield solely as portrayed on screen, much of the subsequent action becomes impossible.
All that aside, Doss’ son has praised the movie for its fidelity to Doss’ story, and I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt in this respect. I also like Vince Vaughn as an actor, so again, I try not to be completely negative on this production. It has its moments, but there are movies these days that are working hard to get the technical details right, and I think Mel could have risen to this occasion.
One other thing struck me while watching the portrayals of combat; the hyper-realism that is popular in war movies these days. I predict that a few years from now, this is going to be what gives today’s movies that “dated” look from the two-thousand-teens.
Continuing on with my expiration-based consumption of Netflix, I watched Elite Squad: The Enemy Within last night.
I probably wouldn’t have watched it if I had known that, in the original Portuguese, it is called Tropa de Elite 2 – O Inimigo Agora é Outro. Meaning, I was watching it without the benefit of watching Elite Squad 1. In fact, the director considers it to the be third part of a trilogy, starting with the documentary Bus 174.
The three films are critiques of the government’s actions which help to create and sustain poverty. Having not seen the first two, I’m left to take the third one on its own.Ostensibly, the film is action/crime thriller, narrated by the commander of the “Elite Squad,” a SWAT-like force called the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE). His view is from the anti-drug, pro-law-and-order perspective and the enemy, he states from the outset, is the leftist agitators and politicians who enable the drug dealers.
In many ways, I was reminded of an article about Robocop that I had just read. While the BOPE’s members and tactics are played straight, the politicians and other corrupt officials are played humorously. Elite Squad is a lot more transparent, however, and it didn’t take me too long to see that the movie’s perspective differed from that that of the narrator. It may have been even a faster transition had I already seen the original Elite Squad.
The film was immensely popular in Brazil and has been critically acclaimed here in the U.S. However, for the American (norte) viewer, without the context in Brazilian politics, it probably doesn’t have the depth and complexity that made it so popular at home. It is still and entertaining and funny action movie.
Possibly on par with Robocop.