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August movie roundup

During the short periods of being home in August, I made a bit of an effort to reduce my PVR queue. Except, it not a queue in the normal sense of the word. At any given time, I have fifteen-to-twenty movies recorded off my satellite TV in the past that I want to eventually get to watching. When I find a chance to do that, I pick a movie from the list in a fairly arbitrary fashion, adhering to neither FIFO nor LIFO methodology. Some of the titles may be languishing on the back-burner for quite some time because of that. But since movies that I thus record and watch are not recent releases, I am not too concerned about waiting another month or five before finally getting to them.

Anyway, the brief reviews of the following: Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Blade Runner, For Your Consideration, Hoodwinked, as well as one recent release, Sex and The City (and no, I did not watch that one on my own!).

Let’s start with the classics.

I’ve seen bits and pieces of Platoon over the years, but never watched the movie in its entirety. I will not dispute the common wisdom that it is a powerful indictment of the horrors of an unnecessary war. But having been raised on the Soviet movies about the Great Patriotic War, I am not truly jolted by the depiction of atrocities, even though I am not used to seeing “good guys” commit said atrocities. Nor do I get a clear answer to the question of what makes a particular soldier go over the deep end when others manage to keep shreds of their humanity; there is not enough character development to conclude anything beyond the obvious “assholes will always be assholes”. In short, as with many other movies that have been “classics” for many years, lacking a first-hand impression of the impact of the movie at the time of its release, I find it slightly disappointing.

Full Metal Jacket disappointed me on a bigger scale. Its “boot camp” half was sufficiently vivid and distressing, on the strength of R. Lee Ermey’s performance. But the outcome felt wrong. Private Joker seemingly went through the ordeal unscathed, when I had every expectation that he would become a hardened asshole. We saw enough shots of brooding Private Pile to expect him to finally go off his rocker, but that it happened after he had made it through the boot camp was somehow unfounded… And then the second half of the movie was an altogether separate story, linked to the first only by the presence of Joker and a later re-appearance of his erstwhile boot camp mate Cowboy. It depicted the bewildered, often incompetent, disaffected, both macho and frightened, even anarchic state of the troops in Vietnam quite well. It was short on “us perpetrating wrongs” stuff and contained reasonable bits of simple heroic behavior. It closed with a notion of being humane to your enemies, even when said enemy – a Vietcong sniper, and a young girl at that, – just killed several of your platoon-mates. Yet, for all that, I did not feel that it contained a powerful image or a powerful message. Again, it must be the lack of appreciation of the movie’s impact at the time of its release. That, and dozens of Soviet movies about WWII.

I know that my friend Jason counts Blade Runner among his favorites (he most recently reaffirmed it here). After watching the movie for the very first time, I sadly admit that I’ll be among those who do not think highly of it. It was simply too dark and gloomy for my taste. I guess the moral of the story was supposed to be that androids were people and all they wanted to do was to escape from their short lives of slavery to the humankind and to find a way to live long and happy lives. But when that proved to be impossible, nothing in the movie prepared me for Roy Batty suddenly stopping being a deranged inhuman fighter and sparing Deckard’s life before peacefully dying.

The depiction of 2019 L.A. was consistently depressing, which to me was the main positive about the movie. I’d like to be able to judge it according to its pioneering impact and its influence on future sci-fi cinema, but I lack proper context for that. And aside from the emphatically dystopian future, what I saw was a dull law-enforcement flick with a lot of accidental storytelling that I struggled to maintain an interest in.

A much lighter fare was For Your Consideration. A satire on many things Hollywood, it provided enough of amusement while steering clear of being openly silly. There is a number of good individual performances, and I especially liked Harry Shearer’s “always smile for the camera” portrayal of a serial loser.

I also watched animated Hoodwinked, which was thoroughly enjoyable. The dialogues and voice-overs were top-notch and the whodunit take on the ageless story was hilarious at intervals. The CGI animation, for some reason, looked a bit outdated to me, but then I don’t recall what computer animation was supposed to look like in an age as distantly in the past as 2006.

Finally, Sex and The City. Natasha is an unabashed fan of the erstwhile HBO series and a proud owner of every single episode on DVD. Me – I liked the show, too. Jason recently blogged on the subject of “guilty pleasures”, so were I not in agreement with him that the phrase is devoid of meaning, I would hide behind naming the original show one of such pleasures of mine. There is something about seeing beautiful people live the good life and get in and out of amorous and humorous circumstances that appeals to me. Unreal sense of fashion notwithstanding.

We watched the movie together upon our return home. It contained enough of sitcom material and sexual undertones – as well as pictorials – to satisfy both the devout and the casual fan. When the story started to be largely about Carry’s broken heart and gradual recovery from the shock of the aborted wedding, it became a bit tedious, but levity eventually returned to the narration, while not exactly reaching new heights. All in all, it is not a bad movie, but I suppose it may be hard for a non-fan to enjoy.

That was it for August. With the European football season in full swing and the NFL season starting tonight, I wonder how many opportunities for movie-watching I am going to find in the near future. The PVR queue may start growing further…


  1. jason

    Ilya, I’m sorry that once again I seem to have led you astray with my recommendations. I guess it’s starting to look like our tastes are quite dissimilar.

    Personally I find Blade Runner to be very life affirming. What I take away from it isn’t merely that the replicants want their freedom but that they are more human than the “real” humans we see around them. They’re the only ones in the film that seem to experience deep emotions; all the regular people we encounter, including Deckard, are closed off or decadent in some way, but the child-like replicants show their feelings openly: their love for one another, their yearning, their fear, and their anger. And when Batty spares Deckard’s life, he isn’t just inexplicably regaining his senses: he’s exercising compassion and empathy, which the movie has built up as the defining characteristic of humanity, but the one thing we’ve seen lacking in all the human characters. Deckard, on the other hand, would surely have killed Batty if he’d been able.

    There are some — including the film’s director, Ridley Scott — who believe Deckard is a replicant himself. I reject that reading. I think the film makes much more sense and is more moving if we read him as an ordinary, closed-off human who learns a lesson through his hunting of the replicants. He learns — or relearns — compassion from Batty’s example.

    I mentioned the replicants are child-like. They’re more than that, though — they are literally humanity’s children, our creations, and I don’t think it’s coincidental that they teach the “grown-up” Deckard something about himself, just as being an actual parent forces you to see things about yourself you never realized (or so my friends who are parents tell me). In this sense, Blade Runner is about the effect of having children, and how much more life-affirming can you get?

    And of course there are those fabulous lines are the preciousness of life — “all these moments will be lost… like tears in the rain” and “it’s too bad she won’t live… but who does?” These are yet another way of saying “carpe diem.”

    That’s why I like the movie, anyhow. Well, those reasons plus the flying cars. You gotta love flying cars. πŸ™‚

  2. Ilya

    Jason, I understand the idea and the intent. It’s just that to me, Batty’s compassion in the end is entirely unfounded. Actually, of the five replicants that we see in the movie, only Rachael’s character is developed enough, somewhat unfairly aided by a jolting experience of a realization that she is not who she thought she was.

    Zhora we see very little of, and only in a context of trying to escape from a deathly pursuer; that her behavior is entirely human does not really contrast with the notion of humans losing their ability to feel emotions. Deckard also runs from Batty in the end, and he appears sufficiently disturbed at that to suggest fear.

    Pris in a couple of instances appears as a frightened child. Her apparent lack of emotional maturity helps explain how she allows Deckard to reach for his gun – she was a child at play, he was fighting for his life. But that’s just it: A little child’s emotions are reactions to and defenses from the big and scary world; they are unrestrained. Saying that a child’s emotional display teaches us how to feel is a bit of a stretch for me. Beyond that, Pris evokes sympathy akin to what you’d feel for any lost child and hardly anything else.

    Leon in the beginning is an unnerved and incoherent person who eventually flames into a rage and kills his human interrogator. Later on, Leon appears collected and fairly unemotional in the presence of Batty, which reinforces my first impression that he was pretending in the opening sequence in order to outsmart his vis-a-vis. After witnessing Zhora’s death at the hands of Deckard, something approximating dismay registers on Leon’s face, but when he attacks Deckard afterward, I cannot say whether it is a simple case of “let’s-kill-the-bastard-before-he-gets-us” or whether there is a shred of personal vendetta in it. There’s not enough material present to support the latter notion.

    As fas as Batty, he first appears as a quintessential “evil genius”, with calm and measured – and altogether sinister – demeanor and a clearly established single-mindedness about his goal. That his goal is not evil paints his behavior in a whole different light, of course. When he finally realizes that his goal is unattainable – which means approaching end of his life – his emotional reaction in killing Tyrell is well-founded by his resentment of his “father” and his despair that the quest was for naught. Killing Sebastian as well, though, can be attributed to either continuing rage or further resentment towards the inventor who contributed to his birth or a simple criminal thought of not leaving witnesses… In any case, it puts Batty back into unsympathetic figure column.

    Beyond that, his only discernible emotion before the end is his affection for Pris, which, unfortunately, to me looked like an affection one has for a toy – not love, but pleasure with having it, capable of turning to grief when it is lost. I get a feeling that he’d be trying to kill Deckard regardless of whether Pris remained alive or not; a desire for revenge is not the driver here. Batty turns into a maniacal pursuer for a while, making an effort to keep himself alive so that the chase can continue. And then, when he all but wins, he just stops, lets Deckard live and lets himself die. Is the sight of a human barely hanging from the roof a hundred yards high so powerful that it helps a man-child, intent on killing his adversary, discover compassion and empathy? I don’t think I can buy that. The outcome is reaffirming and even kind in its own way, but it is not properly founded in the preceding events.

    Against that, the notion of humans being less real than androids is primarily conveyed through the faceless crunch of bodies and the overall dullness of the dystopian L.A. Of the three sizable human characters, only Deckard can be counted to “represent” the human race in this emotional comparison. Tyrell is formulaicly a slightly unsavoury and quirky tycoon; Sebastian apparently has lived with an incurable decease for years, which certainly would colour anyone’s emotional profile. Deckard, to me, is not overly closed off – I suppose a grizzled bad-ass cop has seen enough in his life to be somewhat emotionally numbed. I have no doubt that he would kill Batty were the situations reversed; but since Batty did enough to establish himself as a “bad guy”, that would have been a natural outcome of a cop flick.

    I can’t believe I wrote a whole dissertation in response here. The bottom line is – I do not disagree with your analysis and your perception of the movie. The intent is clear. The execution in establishing that is what left me cold.

    I love the flying cars… Except, of course, that I first saw Doc’s DeLorean some twenty years ago. Knowing that Blade Runner was before Back to the Future does little to adjust that perception πŸ™‚

  3. jason

    Well, I’ve begun and abandoned three distinct dissertations of my own, about my own take on Batty’s change of heart in the end and how I don’t think it’s as simplistic as merely seeing a human in peril, how I see the film as symbolic of humanity’s quest for meaning in face of a limited lifespan and an apparently indifferent god (with Tyrell, literally the creator in this case, as God and the replicants as humanity), and how much of (and how beautifully) I believe the human experience is captured in a few key lines of dialogue (some of which I quoted in my first comment)… but ultimately, if you didn’t care for the execution of the movie — i.e., if it just didn’t work for you — then I guess that’s really about all there is to be said. For whatever reason, the film works for me. Mileage varies… πŸ™‚

  4. Ilya

    I’m certain I’ll give it another shot at some point, Jason. Our discussions often leave me feeling as if I might have pre-judged the movie too early and missed things because of that.

  5. Brian Greenberg

    As an outside observer who has (still) not seen the movie, I feel the need to point out that any movie that can instantly spin off a 1,500 word discussion has, for the most part, done it’s job.

    On a mostly unrelated note: Ilya – not sure if you care of not, but that “Shelfari” gadget on your site is the one & only reason I can’t read your blog on my blackberry as I travel home from work. Not that you’re catering to the blackberry crowd, but FYI…

    Jason’s blog, I read on the train all the time… πŸ˜‰

  6. Ilya

    I’ll look into that, Brian. I doubt I have anyone else reading me on Blackberry, but we pride ourselves on doing what’s right for the customer.

    Sorry, what? πŸ™‚

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