A Week In Film #218: Welcome to 2013 (try again)

QPR: The Four Year Plan title screen

QPR: The Four Year Plan
Fascinating old-style documentary – fly-on-the-wall, no voiceover – following the fortunes of Queen’s Park Rangers football club after a motley band of Formula 1 billionaires and others buy it. In essence, a bunch of rich pricks act prickishly, with the coaches, footballers and the fans the subject of their fickle decisions.

Taistelu Näsilinnasta 1918 title screen

Taistelu Näsilinnasta 1918
It’s straight on to business in this tale of the Finnish Civil War. A platoon of Civil Guard militia penetrates into the besieged, Red-held city of Tampere, to assault and then hold their enemy’s headquarters. A shitload of people die.

Whilst it’s from the perspective of the ‘Whites’ (who were to win this bitter battle with the social democrats and socialists of the ‘Red’ side), it’s not sugar-coated – defeated foes are summarily executed, civilians who happen into their path are shot without compunction. An oft-told story, but one framed around a little-known conflict.

Saving Private Ryan title screen

Saving Private Ryan
Not the best war movie ever made, but neither is it the worst. Some excellently staged scenes. Spielberg knows how best to represent the familiar, and how to emotionally manipulate an audience.

The Untouchables title screen

The Untouchables
Brian De Palma directing, David Mamet scripting, Robert De Niro barnstorming, Kevin Costner murmuring, Ennio Morricone scoring. The Potemkin Steps relocated to Union Station, the cavalry charge on the Canadian border, stalker-cam through Sean Connery’s apartment, Frank Nitti’s sneer. “Hey mister, you forgot your bag!” “I do not approve of your methods!” “Teamwork!” Good stuff. A movie, not a historical document.

Act Of Valor title screen

Act Of Valor
Ohh-emm-gee. Okay, so I went into it knowing it was a piece of sabre-rattling propaganda (the whole ‘REAL NAVY SEALS APPEARING AS NAVY SEALS’ gimmick is something of a giveaway), but I was expecting something a little more sophisticated than cackling drugs kingpins teaming up with mad-eyed, scarfaced Chechen jihadists to take on Uncle Sam. An awful lot of civilians seem to get killed in the crossfire with nary a comment as well.

Aside from the one-dimensional Ladybird Book Of Liberty-meets-My Struggle Part 2: The War Against Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys aspects to the plot, you’d think the action side of it would be outstanding at least: but it’s not. Everything has been done before, better. It’s a regurgitated cocktail of The Expendables (but without any irony or cynicism), the Behind Enemy Lines sequels, the Sniper franchise, pretty much Chuck Norris’s entire oeuvre.

There was one memorable snatch of a scene early on that got me thinking that it might be, at least, a halfway-enjoyable spectacle: when the CIA officer is kidnapped and there’s a reverse-POV shot of her being rolled in carpet with a smooth segue into her being carried down some steps – there was an almost Hitchcockian visuality to it. But that was truly the exception – everything else is straight from Modern Military Heroics Film Shots 101 (night vision; sniper scopes; overhead imaging via a drone) or out of The A-Z Of War Film Memes (‘Hey guys, I’m going to be a dad!’; leaping onto a grenade to save his comrades-in-arms; the families getting together before the mission).

Perhaps most jarring of all is the narrated letter to the dead SEAL’s an-yet unborn son of which uses ‘inspiring words’ attributed to Tecumseh, Shawnee leader of a Native American Confederacy which was a sort of early nineteenth century al-Qaida, waging war against the United States. As well as lots of guff used to lionise the fighting man, there’s also the line “although a single twig may break, a bundle of twigs is strong”. Whilst it is by no means an metaphor restricted to the Italian Fascist movement, did the filmmakers really not think that would be a primary allusion for audiences?

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