Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Green Zone: Video Review

For more of my thoughts on The Green Zone HERE is a link to my review of Roger Ebert's review of the film

The Green Zone: Review Roundup

While the film hasn't exactly grabbed the attention of the populace, it certainly has grabbed my attention. Brought to us by Matt Damon, Paul Greengrass, and Brian Helgaland (three of my favorite people making films), my contention is that Green Zone is a liberal fantasy that revises and simplifies the historical reasons for entering the Iraq War turning Matt Damon's Chief Miller into a superhero finding out the truth.

While that's the view that I take out of the film, there are plenty other voices out there, and below are a few of the other voices that I found interesting.

Kansas City.Com: A positive review from Robert Butler

Excerpt: "The film is particularly good at capturing the disconnect of life in Baghdad’s protected Green Zone. In Saddam’s former palace, Washington interns in bikinis lounge poolside with beers, cradling automatic weapons and listening to pop music. A few blocks away American soldiers are fighting and dying.
Film Freak Central: A mixed review from Ian Pugh.

Excerpt: "Green Zone feels like a self-conscious relic of the previous decade and there's nothing to convince us of otherwise, particularly because it applies tired aesthetics to an impotent tirade about the American invasion of Iraq. At its best, the picture suggests an extraneous coda to the Greengrass-completed Bourne trilogy, without the benefit of its mystery, its forward momentum, or its looming implications."

Read more at:

Decent Films Guide: A negative review by Steven D. Graydanus

Excerpt: "Reviewing the Rob Marshall film Memoirs of a Geisha, Roger Ebert wrote, “I suspect that the more you know about Japan and movies, the less you will enjoy Memoirs of a Geisha.” This is such a useful critical rule of thumb that there ought to be a shorthand way of referring to movies fitting that description. I don’t suppose we can call them Geisha movies. No, probably not.

Still, let the reader understand when I suggest that Green Zone is a Geisha movie, in the sense that the more you know about Iraq and movies, the less you will enjoy it. I don’t know a lot about Iraq, and even I know too much for this movie."

Read More At:
There is also something else worth reading on his site regarding Green Zone

The Part-Time Critic: My takes on the film

"Does Roger Ebert Really Not Care About Truth?": I wrote an earlier review of Roger Ebert's four star review, that can be found here.

My own personal video review of Green Zone can be found here

Does Ebert Really Not Care About the Truth?

Recent release Green Zone scored a four star review from Roger Ebert today. While every man is entitled to his opinion of a film (I would never decry someone for 'feeling' a way about a film and isn't about it getting four stars), it's his shocking lack of concern for truth and even more shocking lack of objectivity that really caught my attention.

For those not in the know Green Zone is a war thriller about the early days of the Iraq War and one army chief's mission to uncover the truth about why the search for WMD's has come up empty. The film has come under fire from several places for it's fact twisting and simplifications. I have yet to see the film (will be watching it today) so I cannot comment on whether or not the allegations seem to be truthful. However, Eberts opening lines about Green Zone seem to indicate that he doesn't even care if the film is truthful or not, Ebert writes...

"Its message is that Iraq's fabled "weapons of mass destruction" did not exist, and that neocons within the administration fabricated them, lied about them and were ready to kill to cover up their deception. Is this true? I'm not here to say. It's certainly one more element in the new narrative that has gradually emerged about Iraq, the dawning realization that we went to war under false premises."

Where to begin? Is Ebert this willfully ignorant of recent history? Let me run down the issues with just these three points:

1) Ebert says the film claims that Iraq's 'weapons of mass destruction' were fabled and never existed. It was the neoconservatives who 'invented' the evidence as a pretense for war. Without going back into the whole Iraq war discussion, let me offer this
- It wasn't 'just' American intelligence who believed in Iraq's WMD, it was all the intelligence agencies of the western world, let alone Saddam's own people who thought he had them.
- U.N. Weapons Inspectors and Teams dating back to 1991 recorded and noted that WMD's were unnaccounted for and consistently desired to monitor and search for them
- Colin Powell (no NEOCON fanatic) became convinced of the evidence
- Nearly all the major players in Congress who say the same intelligence as Bush and the other allied nations believed Saddam to have WMDs.
- Many Generals within the U.S. Army and Iraqi Army believed many WMD's were destroyed or moved before the invasion

This is not me making a case FOR the war. This is me making the case that the film deceptively oversimplifies the issue, and does so with a partisan agenda. Of course, none of these things matter, because they don't fit the narrative that Ebert and revisionist critics believe.

2) "Is this true? I'm not here to say"

Ebert runs an end around the facts of the case by claiming that it's not relevant whether the history is true or not. Seriously? This film is meant to be a commentary on what happened in Iraq right? It's meant to be based upon a non-fictional account? I would surmise that it doesn't matter to Ebert because it fits his liberal narrative. I would guess (and I am speculating) that if the film had pressed the opposite case, that the evidence was a 'slam dunk' and that we were heroes in Iraq, then fact twisting would mean a lot more to him. This is more evident by third point...

3) "It's certainly one more element in the new narrative that has gradually emerged about Iraq, the dawning realization that we went to war under false premises"
Where has Ebert been since 2003? New narrative? Gradually emerged? Dawning realization? People were claiming Bush lied as early as the spring of 2003. It's been a constant drumbeat ever since and played pivotal roles in the 2004, 2008 elections. This line alone should be enough to caution anyone desiring to take his thoughts on the war seriously.

To straighten it out, Ebert says that the film claims 'Neocons' entirely fabricated the evidence for the Iraq War leading us there under deception. It's not for him to say whether or not it's true, but it's useful because it's an element that's emerging in our realization that we went to war under false premises? So, Ebert believes we went to war under false pretenses, this is fact for him. The films' claims, no matter if they are true or not, are important because they re-affirm what Ebert already believes?

This reminds me of an anecdote that the philosopher Peter Kreeft once told his class recounting that one student claimed it was okay to make any point they wanted because even if the point was inaccurate or unfactual, it at least stirred up a worthy debate. To that, one of Kreeft's other students replied, "Your mother is a whore!". The original student became offended, but the offendee replied, "I don't know if it's true or not, but it sure is a worthy debate!"

The sad part is, Ebert does buy this simplistic scapegoat crap about the Iraq War. No one claims there wasn't major failures in the run-up to the war and after the war. There were massive intelligence failures that could be explored insightfully and fruitfully. An excellent film could be made about the immediate failures after we entered Iraq, but it wouldn't be a black and white one; at least not an honest film.

None of this matters to Ebert and I think it's a shame. There are times when historical inaccuracies can be and should be overlooked, because of the larger themes and thrust of a film. A film like JFK can be enjoyed (even though it's tough) despite it's inaccuracies, mostly because that history is behind us, and the consequences of those inaccuracies only lead to simple disagreements, heated debates, or at the most conspiracy nuts.

This isn't the same with the Iraq War. We still have thousands of soldiers fighting in the that theater, let alone in Afghanistan. So much depends upon the successful outcome in Iraq and American's ability to operate there, that getting history correct or at least allowing the room for disagreement is important.

I'm not saying that these kind of films shouldn't be made because they are disloyal or would ruin our effort, people can make whatever film they want, it's a free country. I'm also not saying that Ebert can't have this opinion. What I do want to say is that I think both are dangerous to good political discourse and have the ability to only solidify in the minds of Americans and the world half-truths and myths, only obscuring further the real problems and issues that revolve around Iraq.

My view that Ebert is cleary easy on this film because of his liberal bias is only confirmed by his opening line, "Green Zone looks at an American war in a way almost no Hollywood movie ever has: We're not the heroes, but the dupes." Only someone with blinders on couldn't see that Hollywood puts out plenty of movies like this. Not being able to see that Green Zone fits comfortably within a whole line of films critical of American's role in Iraq (let alone several of the Vietnam flicks), makes me believe Ebert has lost his sense of objectivity.

We all have our subjective bias. We all lean toward narratives that fit our current worldviews. However, isn't one the essential parts of being a cultured and learned person being able to retain objectivity and openness, especially to those things that don't seem to fit our current worldview? Ebert's contention that Green Zone is a rare breed of war film is so glaringly untrue that I wonder whether Ebert cares that he's lost his ability to see past his own worldview. Or worse, that he even knows.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Question of the Ages: Which Jackie Chan Fight is Better?

Thanks to my friend Peter Chan on a convenient trip to Hong Kong, I was able to secure a copy of Jackie Chan's Dragons Forever from 1988. The film is the last pairing between Jackie Chan and his Chinese Opera mates Sammo Hung and Yeun Biao (incredible fighters in their own right). The final fight scene is an incredible display of acrobatics and choreography by Chan and Biao, but it's the re-match fight between Jackie and Bennie "The Jet" Urquidez that gets most of the talk, and for good reason.

While I've seen the fights already on YouTube, it was great to see them for the first time on my flat screen television. However, the film has re-sparked in my mind a common debate amongst nearly all fight film fans, which of Jackie Chan's fights with Bennie "The Jet" Urquidez is greatest? His first fight with Bennie "The Jet" is found in Wheels on Meals from 1984 and was nearly immediately viewed as one of the greatest single fights of all-time. Four years later, the rematch took place in Dragons Forever.

So, I'm gonna embed both fights below and offer my commentary on each. Afterwards, I'll let you know which I think is better (they are both incredible), but I'm really interested in what you have to say. So, if you have the time, watch the clips below and let me know which fight you find to be better and why.

Jackie Chan vs. Bennie "The Jet" Urquidez #1
Wheels on Meals (1984)

Commentary: Impressive right? It's brutal, quick, and well paced. Jackie and Bennie's fights caught so much attention because they are both not only legitimate fighters but they are legitimate tough guys as well. Supposedly Jackie asked Bennie to be more aggressive than usual hoping the intensity would come across on screen and it certainly does. They are both so well matched, their fights feel real to me. My favorite elements of the fight are the playful back and forth between them as they feel each other's skills out, as well as several well placed slow motion shots and impact shots. The flip and leg sweep combo that Jackie does at 0:13 is just beautiful. The main drawback would be the length. I feel the fight could be a bit longer, as I could've watch them fight for another couple minutes or so.

Jackie Chan vs. Bennie "The Jet" Urquidez #2
Dragons Forever (1988)

Commentary: Again, the back and forth here is just incredible. Jackie gave this fight good pacing as well, as I think there are clearly three distinct acts to this fight. There's some quick acrobatics in this one, as well as that playful humor that Jackie is known for. What takes this one down a notch in my mind is the inclusion of the other fighter. He's funny and interesting, but it takes away from the one on one a bit in my mind. I also dislike the slow-motion fall Jackie takes into the boxes as the fall doesn't look at all harmful. If the other fight was short, this one is a tad shorter and it suffers because of it. It hits high gear in the second half, but a few more minutes of fight would've set this one apart.

The Verdict: I would take the fight from Wheels on Meals as the better of the two.

What do you think? Do you prefer the second one? Tell me why?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Oscar 2010 Recap

I posted them a little late, but perhaps you were able to glean from my Oscar predictions. There's always a few wild cards out there (the short category awards and sound awards are notoriously difficult to guess), but my predictions came out extremely well this year at 20/24. This should've been good enough to win your Oscar pools, and if it wasn't, then you've got a true Oscar nut in your pool, never enter again. In case you missed my predictions, here they are again

The categories I missed out on:

-Best Documentary Short
-Best Live Action Short
-Best Sound Editing
-Best Adapted Screenplay (Precious beat Up in the Air in one of the few upsets of the night)

In case your not on Facebook or don't follow me on Twitter, here is a re-cap of my tweets from the night.

"Thought the opening was a conplete waste of time on the Oscars. Martin and Baldwin are about 50/50 hit and miss"

"Baldwin and Martin are tripping on some basic stand up essentials like decent transitions"
"I love that the Oscars are playing nearly thirty second clips of all the acting categories. Lovin it"
"Why have two Oscar hosts if Neil Patrick Harris gets the big opening?"

"The Oscars are settling in and the two host system seems even less needed. Very slow pace to the show."
"Nearly one hour in and only four awards!"
"What a cliff hanger! I wondrr who will take the visual effects Oscar?"
"Wow. That short doc award was just all kinds of wierd and awkward"
"Didnt see that Precious win for writing. Apparently neither did the writer"
"Dont turn off the Oscars...theres a Horror film tribute coming up!!! Call your friends!"
"That paranormal activity parody was great. Glimpse of what the opening couldve been"

"One wonders if James Cameron is making all his Oscar winning co workers call him a genius or some variation in speeches"
"Is Jennifer Lopez wearing bubble wrap?"
"Now that was some CLASSY dancing!!" (During the Original Score Breakdancing Moment)

"Wow. Is anyone else depressed after seeing those documentary clips?"
"Are these introductory speeches for the best acting categories not the most narcissistic moments of a narcissistic event"
"15 minutes for Best Actor?! Please just end it"

"Wow. You think Hanks was trying to hurry through that?"
"Maybe my least favorite Oscars since I started really watching in 2004"

Final Thoughts:

If you follow me at all then you know that I considered 2009 to be a sub-par year for film and while there are some bright spots in the nominees for me (Inglorious Basterds & An Education), I found the 10 Best Picture nominees to be unusually mediocre and average. I'm not an Avatar guy or a Hurt Locker guy (heck none of my top five was even nominated), so it was already an awards show without any real rooting interest.

I've been following the Oscars in earnest since 2004, and this has to be my least favorite show since then. While Martin and Baldwin had some good moments (the Paranormal Activity and snuggie moments were very good), they were also awkward and just plain unfunny at times. The show struggled to get started, probably since they actually had three different starts to the show (the actors all standing together, the Neil Patrick Harris routine and the hosts themselves), and it just seemed to be sluggish. It lacked the presentation and unified theme of last years Oscars, and really lacked the edge that hosts like Stewart or Rock brought to the show.

For an already narcissistic show, I just found this one to be especially self-congratulatory (the three minute love notes to the best actor and actress nominees didn't help). Add on top of that the generally obnoxious storylines of the evening, "Will the Ex-Wife or the White Husband get the Oscar?" "Will this be the first female or the first black director to win?", and I just didn't care for much of what was going on. For a better take on those storylines check out this article.

As always though, it's fun to watch and to guess for the most part. It's even better when you get to do that with a group of friends, which I did. The pictures below are from our own Oscar party. Enjoy. Feel free to comment.

(Peter stands next to our Projected Oscar telecast!)

(The telecast and our Official Oscar Leaderboard)

(Peter updating the leaderboard throughout the night)

(Erica and Gary scurrying to finish their ballots before the start of the show)

(Per tradition we assign a food item to each Best Picture nominee. This year, given the ten nominees, our food amounts grew considerably)

(Blue Kool-Aid, because people be drinkin' it on this film!)

(Because they owned a Taco Bell franchise)

(The aliens in the film were called prawns, or something close to it, and shrimps are a bit like prawns. Okay, its a stretch, we know.)

(Apples go with Education right?)

(The soldiers drank CapriSuns)

(You just have to have it with milk)

(GUTHRIES!!! And we didn't steal it)

(Jewish cookies)

(Russell feeds Kevin the chocolate)

(Cause they give peanuts on airplanes)

(The Final Board and Standings)

2 Minute Video Review: Alice in Wonderland

Overall Grade: C

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts