Tag Archives: political

War Machine – Review

21 Jun

In 2012, a book titled The Operators by Rolling Stone editor Michael Hastings was released. It details the times that Hastings spent with General Stanley McChrystal, who was the commander of the International Security Assistance Force. Soon after Hastings published an article featuring McChrystal and his team, which featured a lot of trash talking certain high level government officials, McChrystal was pretty much forced to resign his position. Now we have another look at the story in a fictionalized, satirical account of what happened by writer/director David Michôd and his latest film War Machine. I’ve heard a lot of mixed things about this movie, so I was a little hesitant going into it, but I have to say I really had a blast with this movie, despite some of its minor storytelling set backs.

General Glen McMahon (Brad Pitt) is a man of principles, conviction, confidence, and opinions. While all of those words do perfectly describe the officer, he’s also loud mouthed, arrogant, and a buffoon. He’s also the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan at the tail end of the war. Along with his team of sycophants and cronies, McMahon has a plan to bring peace to the Middle East with the payoff being a huge boost of his ego. Of course, along the way he has to deal with bureaucrats and politicians cutting into his plans while also trying to manage relations with Afghanistan’s new president (Ben Kingsley). While formulating a plan to head into enemy territory in a major assault that will be the high point of his career, McMahon agrees to have Rolling Stone reporter Sean Cullen (Scoot McNairy) join the ranks to see the inner workings of his squad. This, along with every other bad decision of his career, will ultimately be his downfall.

The first thing that I really came to appreciate after watching War Machine is the film’s tone. It’s silly and often times over the top, but it never falls into the realm of stupidity. The dialogue has some corny jokes, but it also has some pretty whip smart moments of really good satire. While all of the humor is well and good, I was also surprised to find some depth and drama to the storytelling. I was really just looking to have some laughs with this movie but I felt a little more than that. By the end of the film, I started to analyze the character of McMahon and his intentions and the consequences of his action. There are even a few quieter moments that were actually kind of sad, and that’s an area I really wasn’t expecting the film to go based on the trailer. This isn’t just a surface level movie that exists to provide some cheap laughs. War Machine has a message and actual depth to it to support the laughs and the sillier moments in the movie.

So, War Machine is a movie with a message and it’s one that I can agree with. Unfortunately, the film’s biggest problem lies with how this message is conveyed at certain times. Throughout the movie we hear Scoot McNairy’s character doing a voice over and explaining certain things that are happening in the film or describing a character we are meeting for the first time. This helps since there are a lot of minor characters in this movie and everyone is constantly traveling around. While this helps with certain things, it also comes across as annoying more often than it should. The character of Sean Cullen is fine when he’s actually with McMahon and the other soldiers, but his voice over is so cynical and snide, while also beating the viewer on the head with the opinions being expressed in the movie. It was kind of annoying being told how I should be thinking. If the writing of the voice over was toned down just a little bit, that would have been great. I can figure out the messages and themes of movies, so I really don’t need them explained to me in this way.

One of my main draws to this movie was to see Brad Pitt in yet another role where he’s playing someone completely out of the ordinary. Pitt takes this part of McMahon and completely embodies it. From his odd posture, to his facial ticks, and even the goofy way he walks and runs, he’s perfectly believable as this character and it’s easy to forget you’re watching an actor, even if his face is so recognizable. Sir Ben Kingsley is also hilarious as the off the wall president of Afghanistan that McMahon is trying to cooperate with, even if they’re both not on the same page with each other at all. Kingsley is really hardly in this film, but most every scene has Pitt in it. Unfortunately, while everyone else around them do their jobs fine, they aren’t given a whole lot to do other than the bidding of McMahon, and while there are funny moments surrounding their characters they don’t really have too much that stands out.

At the end of it, War Machine is a pretty funny film with a memorable lead character and a sharp satirical look at America’s goings on in the Middle East. It isn’t really a heavy film, so if you’re looking for serious war and drama, look elsewhere. War Machine is packed with great satire and a tad too much cynicism for my taste. Still, as far as comedies go, it’s definitely one that’s worth a look.

Final Grade: B+

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Masquerade – Review

2 Jul

I feel like I’ve been watching a lot of South Korean movies lately. What can I say, though? They’re a country that seems to have no problem churning out great movies that unfortunately don’t seem to get the attention they deserve over here in the States. One of these movies is the 2012 film that took South Korea by storm, Masquerade. It was so well received there that it took home 15 wins at the Grand Bell Awards, a ceremony that can be described as the Academy Awards for South Korea. Unfortunately. it didn’t get much play here in America, just at the certain film festivals, but I’m going to tell you now that it deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.

Gwanghae

 

In the early 1600s, the Korean king Gwanghae (Lee Byung-hun) attempted to make peace with the Chinese Ming and Qing dynasties. Under a constant threat of assassination, the king’s advisor, Heo Gyun (Ryu Seung-ryong), finds a double that can be placed in the throne as a means of protecting the king, but only under extreme circumstances. He finds his double soon enough in the street performing jester Ha-sung (also played by Lee Byung-hun). One night, the king is poisoned and has to be rushed out of the palace with the his double being brought in under the cover of night. Ha-sung, as the king, soon is forced into learning his way around the court and meeting its many characters, but he is also exposed to the corrupt nature of many of its members. Against the wishes of Heo Gyun, Ha-sung makes it his mission to become an actual king for the people, even when he begins risking his own life.

There’s so much to love in Masquerade. On the surface, it is a beautifully shot movie with one of the most impressive and artistic production designs I’ve seen in quite a while. These Eastern costume dramas have such an elegance in the way they are shot and designed, which means even if you aren’t a huge fan of the movie as a whole, you’ll definitely have a lot to look at. There’s also a lot of great history and speculation in this movie about a time that went completely unrecorded in Korea’s history. It’s a clever idea for a movie and is executed very well. The bottom line, though, is that amidst all of the politics and intrigue, this is a movie about humanity and kindness.

lee-byung-hun

 

All of these components come together to form a movie that is almost impossible not to love. There is literally something for everyone in this movie. There’s even plenty of moments that will make you chuckle. It’s a great fish out of water kind of movie, putting a jester from the streets on the throne, but that’s kind of an old idea. What really works about this movie is that we’ve all thought about something like this. Ha-sung wants to change the court and the laws to favor the people, which is what every government should think like, ideally. Who hasn’t thought that if they were given the chance, they could do a better job than whoever was in charge? We’ve all thought that. Masquerade praises that idea, and also shows that it isn’t as easy as you may think.

My only complaint with Masquerade is that it takes forever to actually get started. The film begins with some set up, which is to be expected. It then moves on to some more set up and then FINALLY we get a little bit more set up before the actual plot begins. When they story gets started, though, it becomes impossible not to watch. Like I said before, there’s a lot of political intrigue that really immersed me in the time period, but what was more important to me was the effect that the double had on the people of the palace. He brought a huge dose of humanity to a place where it didn’t seem to exist, and seeing his actions affect the characters around him made for some really interesting scenes and arcs, some of which unfortunately end in tragedy. This is a very happy movie, but for every scene of joy there is a scene of sorrow that is equally as powerful.

Simply put, Masquerade is another gem that has come from South Korea and has remained far too under appreciated. This film is just as good, if not better, than a lot of the films that come out at the end of the year that are your typical “Oscar Baits.” Like I mentioned before, this film took away 12 Korean equivalents to the Academy Awards. That has to be some kind of a record. This may not be that easy of a film to track down, but if you can it’s pretty outstanding.