Sunday Film Roundup (10/2/2016)


The past week was not especially great, but not a complete disaster.  Here’s the damage, spelled out.

Guerreros (Warriors) (2002)

Director:  Daniel Calparsoro

(Spanish, with English subtitles)

The setting here is Kosovo in 2000.  A platoon of Spanish troops with an interpreter is sent into the battle-zone to help people out, but of course everyone hates them and little gets done.  We have the standard war-film clichés here:  the inexperienced lieutenant, the surly sergeants, the vague mission that makes everyone grouchy, and for good measure, a few female soldiers thrown into the mix.  The final result is not that impressive, and it’s not really because of the political correctness elements.

I had a hard time getting around the fact that this movie plays absolute havoc with history.  It shows KFOR troops being attacked by pretty much everyone:  KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) and Serb paramilitaries are presented as implacable enemies of the poor Spanish, who are cut off from home and left to fend for themselves.  Even allowing for artistic license, a director should at least try to adhere close to the historical record.

But maybe it’s just me.  I’m willing to accept the movie’s premises as psychological truths, but even with that done, Guerreros still has problems.  Plot lines are initiated and lead nowhere, the dialogue is artificial, and the stink of pacifism infects the whole.  On the other hand, there are some expertly shot action scenes.  Director Calparsoro has talent, and I hope he puts it to better use in future projects.

8mm (1999)

Director:  Joel Schumacher

I really shouldn’t be praising this film, but I will anyway.  Every so often, Nicolas Cage will find himself a role that really teases out his special qualities he brings to the screen:  that mixture of eager innocence and borderline ineptitude.  It doesn’t often happen, but when it does, the results are impressive.  8mm is one of those films.

Cage is a private investigator hired by a rich old lady to find out more about the origin of a sicko snuff film she found among her late husband’s personal effects.  The premise is preposterous, of course, but it does have the advantage of setting Cage up to serve as our own private tour-guide as he descends further and further into the demented world of extreme pornography.

What makes this movie work is the participation of the supporting actors.  Without them, this thing would be one big mess.  Joaquim Phoenix shines (as usual) in the role of Cage’s friend, guide, and confidant; and the late, great James Gandolfini plays the kind of low-level perverted scumbag  that only he knows how to bring to life.  Their performances make us overlook the obvious plot contrivances and holes.  The end result is not a timeless classic, but something very entertaining and worth watching.

The Conversation (1974)

Director:  Francis Ford Coppola

I saw it again this past week.  It has lost none of its freshness, relevance, and chilling commentary on contemporary social issues.  In fact, the reason I’m including it in this week’s film roundup is because I think viewers should see this movie as a “companion-piece” to Oliver Stone’s newly released Snowden.

The plot:  a nervous, inhibited surveillance expert (Gene Hackman) is hired by a sinister corporation to track the movements and conversations of a furtive couple.  Slowly, he begins to suspect that they may be getting set up for a murder.  Around these bare bones of a plot, director Coppola manages to weave an allegory on contemporary thought control that seems even more relevant now than when this movie was released in 1974.  In fact, Coppola was so far ahead of the curve on this one that each scene in the movie feels like a snapshot from today’s headlines.  There is a palpable feeling of dread and claustrophobia that hangs over the characters that is difficult to describe, yet captures perfectly the mood of the era.  See it.