Volume 4, Number 03
This Week's Reviews: Black Hawk Down.
This Week's Omissions: The Business of Strangers, The Shipping News, Snow Dogs.
Repertory Review: Talk Radio.
Capsule Reviews: How High, Out Cold.
|Black Hawk Down
BY: DAVID PERRY
In the current climate, America might seem ready for a jingoist war film. Almost everyone seems to agree that Behind Enemy Lines failed to fill the gap, thus enters an earlier-than-planned release of Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down.
Black Hawk Down was going to be Jerry Bruckheimer's 2002 release since he's already had his big Americana film this year, Pearl Harbor. But in the wake of September 11, Bruckheimer and the studio flack over at Columbia deemed Black Hawk Down ready for mass consumption by a Middle America happily waiting for some flagrant flag waving on the silver screen. Though the film is surprisingly restrained when it comes to that department, Black Hawk Down does turn out to be little more than another overblown and self-righteous Bruckheimer effort.
This is the first time that Ridley Scott has worked with the über-producer, even though you'd swear that they have been in cahoots for twenty years. Yeah, Tony Scott, Ridley's brother, was the prodigal son for Bruckheimer-Simpson Productions with hits like Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop II, Days of Thunder, Crimson Tide, and Enemy of the State. Ridley has instead made such Bruckheimer-esque films as Black Rain, G.I. Jane, White Squall, 1492: Conquest of Paradise, and Gladiator. I doubt the so-called zany feminine embodiment of the girls in Bruckheimer's Coyote Ugly would have arrived without Scott's Thelma & Louise.
Ridley Scott, unlike his brother, can have a slower side that draws into emotions of characters -- that is one of his biggest attributes, especially considering he works predominately in actions films; Bruckheimer, however, fills his productions with quick-cuts and formalized action scenes that veer on mindless impressionistic dancing. Black Hawk Down, with the marriage of these two styles, is burdened by the pull from the two sides. I mean, Scott is far from a subtle filmmaker, but he is at least smart enough to keep from using Bruckheimer's board-to-the-head storytelling.
On 3 October 1993, American forces dropped into the city of Mogadishu, Somalia, in an attempt to raid a meeting of then rebel warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid's lieutenants. The raid, meant to last only a couple hours, turned into the bloodiest moment in American military combat since Vietnam. The Somalis were ready to stop the U.S. peacekeepers to ensure the promised future of reactionary fundamentalist Aidid. His agents made sure that the impending raid was known in Mogadishu long before the first helicopter of Delta Force soldiers arrived.
That single day had more importance on the U.S. military decisions of the last presidential administration than anything since Vietnam, including the Cold War. Clinton pulled out of various armaments, including Somalia, and cutback on the military. His wariness is understandable considering the massive carnage of Mogadishu, even if it meant that he would not send American forces to stop Osama Bin Laden in 1998.
Black Hawk Down never really points fingers at anyone being at fault, and, perhaps, that is its strongest attribute. But, at the same time, the filmmakers never allow themselves to take any form of a stance. This is found-art in the most opulent form -- looking at the movie might leave some people angered at the nearby military brass (embodied by Sam Shepard's Major General William Garrison), the Washington decision makers (including President Bill Clinton, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin [who resigned in 1994], and Secretary of State Warren Christopher), or just the Somali people themselves.
Is racism running rampant in Black Hawk Down? Well, to a point, yes. In the black and white world of this film, everyone in Somalia seems to be on the side of Aidid. This, of course, was not true -- Aidid was merely one of the many warlords trying to keep control of Somalia at that time. And in the military ranks, token Gabriel Casseus plays the only minority in the pack. Not only that, but he is also left to speak Spanish to take care of some Hispanic tokenism too.
But I digress on this subject -- let the accusations of racism go to Elvis Mitchell instead of me. My problems with Black Hawk Down are far more deeply centered on the screenplay by Ken Nolan and Steven Zaillian from the Mark Bowden non-fiction novel. This is a movie that literally throws character development to the wind -- by the film's second act, it becomes clear that no character in the entire has been developed to a point that might create some dramatic tension or audience interest. Yes, we are humanly taken by carnage begat on human beings, but these are nameless faces without any real pretext. It's like a horror film that kills off only the secondary characters because the audience is hinged on the leads, just flipped around: no one in Scott's film has the audience's emotional investment and, for that reason, none of their possible demises really strike any cord beyond the automatic distaste for any death.
Black Hawk Down is a solidly made film, with fine
editing from Pietro Scalia, cinematography from Kieslowski favorite Slavomir Idziak, music
from Hans Zimmer, and direction from Scott. The movie is not a horribly made effort, even
if the end product has some of the biggest problems found in a 2001 movie. Watching Black
Hawk Down brings memories of Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line,
just without the humanism and naturalism that reflected so beautifully from those two 1998
master works. This is the MTV-generation version -- a boy's game of war, just with the
grim results made clear. Josh Hartnett and Ewan McGregor (giving what could be the worst
performance of his career) glean like Tom Cruise in Top Gun, the flag waves
clearly like Pearl Harbor, and the story fails to invest anything in its
characters like Armageddon. Only Jerry Bruckheimer could ruin the cinematic
visualization of Mogadishu.
Man for Himself and God Against All
Glengarry Glen Ross
BY: DAVID PERRY
Anyone that has ever listened to the ramblings of a very political talk radio host knows the amount of hatred that can spread in one evening. They create anger and regret that you can cut with a knife. Why do people call if they are going to be ridiculed? Perhaps, it's the cheapest form of sadism -- they can call in, get their dirty laundry on the air, have the host deride them, and feel the pain.
This was the world that Alan Berg lived in. Berg is, perhaps, a modern-day martyr to the First Amendment. On his Denver radio show, he happily told people off and, even more happily, spoke his true feelings. He was a flaming liberal and shouted this out to the heavens, spoke unkindly of various conservatives, and began attacking right-wing groups. The most extreme groups took this poorly and finally, after harassing an important official, Berg was shot to death in his driveway.
Berg is the most noticeable person to compare the fictional Barry Champlaign of Oliver Stone's Talk Radio. They are both aggressive, they are both verbose, they are both acerbic. Eric Bogosian, who portrayed Champlaign on stage before bringing the character to film, studied Los Angeles' talk radio host Tom Leykis and credited Stephen Singular's novel Talked to Death: The Life and Murder of Alan Berg -- the origins are quite apparent in his realization of Champlaign on screen.
Oliver Stone's film follows a couple nights in Champlaign's show and documents his transgression of cockiness to fear as he begins to receive death threats beyond the normal ones that come from listeners calling in. As a brown package sits on his desk, a caller asks him to open it and shares the way he made a bomb, all the while remarking that he can see Champlaign from where he is (which is not hard, the radio station Champlaign is located at is amongst the assortment of towers in downtown Houston).
During all these calls, many of which are about as surreal as a David Lynch film, Champlaign's emotions are shown in his demeanor and actions with the crew even though his voice remains about the same for the listening audience. There are many things on his plate right now -- not only are there death threats, but also the show is about to go national thanks to the continued work of his station manager Dan (Baldwin). Stone also chooses to recreate some of Champlaign's past and the bumpy road that has brought him to this point in his career.
Stone perfectly pitches this film with the audacity that it deserves. Oliver Stone, especially in his early years, was a master of tone, creating levels in each moment that transcend what could have otherwise been just another ho-hum moment in a movie. This could have been Stone's thesis movie -- it has ambition and artistic integrity. I remember fondly the years before Stone changed his style to the sometimes uncomfortably flashy direction that he takes on now. This was the film that really let me know that he was more than another director who made a great film from personal experiences and could not do anything abstract. Talk Radio is not like Platoon, but shares a commonality. They are both films that look deeply into an abyss of despair and do not attempt to justify itself with resolution.
Eric Bogosian does something here that does not seem possible based upon any of his work before and since -- he is actually engaging. The next time I saw Bogosian after Talk Radio was in the one-man stage production of Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll, where I was appalled at how uninterested I was in what he had to say mainly because of they way he tried to impart it. With Barry Champlaign, Bogosian does not seem as cocky once his foundation has been hit from under him. You really feel the emotions coming straight from his face. My guess is that there was a great deal of coaching from Stone involved to get just the right reactions out of Bogosian. Since I did not see his original stage production of this, I cannot comment, but I doubt that there was near as much realism in his performance then.
Talk Radio has never really been heralded by many,
perhaps because it too often rings true. Some years later, Howard Stern would become a
huge hit in the same vein. But Stern is more there for the shock than the flagrant truth.
When Champlaign, or his forerunner Berg, would take on a radical, he would throw their
words right back in their face to show hypocrisy. Stern, on the other hand, would assault
them with fart noises and references to women with large breasts. I guess Stern read the
book about Alan Berg and saw Talk Radio: he's playing it safe.
Capsule Reviews: Since things are backlogged and there happens to be two spots in this week's lineup, I have decided to use capsule reviews for How High and Out Cold (plus, they were not viewed in a theatre). Though, as I said in the last capsule review column, these would be better suited if they were called "Flippant Remarks."
(Dir: Jesse Dylan, Starring Method Man, Redman, Obba Babatundé, Mike Epps, Anna Maria Horsford, Fred Willard, Jeffrey Jones, Hector Elizondo, Lark Voorhies, and Chuck Davis)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Two black pot smokers make their way into Harvard because
the university is looking for more diversity -- How High sufficiently makes Legally
Blonde look like a Preston Sturges masterpiece. Rappers Method Man and Redman show
the regular skill of most singers-come-actors, making the wait for those upcoming Mandy
Moore and Brittany Spears vehicles seem all the more concerning.
(Dir: Brendan and Emmett Malloy, Starring Jason London, Lee Majors, A.J. Cook, Willie Garson, Caroline Dhavernas, Derek Hamilton, Adam Harrington, David Denman, and David Koechner)
BY: DAVID PERRY
Out Cold, a marriage of Ski Patrol and Ski
School, serves as nothing more than a retrogressive salute to late 1980's hormonally
challenged sports comedies. The collection of odd relationships between even odder
characters produces nary a laugh and the even outtakes reel feels contrived.
|BUY THIS FILM'S
|BUY THIS FILM'S