War is Hell. War is a racket. War is a problem that humans could get rid of and maybe will one day. Here are some films I think captures the darkness of war and the impact it has on human beings. If you have other movies you think are great anti-war pictures, leave them in the comments below. I might give them a watch.
Paths of Glory (1957, directed by Stanley Kubrick) Stanley Kubrick made no bones about his stance on war in this film, Dr. Strangelove, and one more we’ll talk about down the list. Paths of Glory takes place in France during World War I. Kirk Douglas plays Colonel Dax, a military leader trying to keep his men from getting killed needlessly. The Generals decide to send a division on a suicide mission to slightly push back German forces. Everything descends into chaos, and in the aftermath, one general decides to court-martial 100 men for cowardice to cover his own ass. Dax explodes against his superiors and fights for his men, knowing it will fail. The final scene of this film is a powerful moment, a solemn quietness that belies the heavy cloud over young men unaware they are about to be sent to die.
So there were a few more movies coming in 2020 that are worth mentioning. Extremely excited for these.
Annette (TBA, directed by Leos Carax) Leos Carax gave us the remarkable Holy Motors in the last decade. He looks to kick off this one with a musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. Plus, this will be Carax English-language debut. Driver plays a stand-up comedian married to a world-famous opera singer, plated by Cotillard. They give birth to a daughter who has some unique ability. My guess is that it will have something to do with her voice?
The Farewell (directed by Lulu Wang) From my full review: Wang is very obviously influenced by contemporary European cinema in her shot composition, specifically the work of Ruben Ostlund. There are lots of intentional off-center shots with characters cut off on the sides of the frame or barely peeking up from the bottom. Wang uses her composition to bring out the humor and poignancy of scenes, for example, allowing an opera-singing performer at the wedding to underscore her cousin’s sloppy drunken crying fit in the middle of the banquet hall. There’s an absolutely fantastic slow-motion medium shot in the third act of the family walking towards the camera that is framed and scored to perfection. For a second film, the technique on display is remarkable. These are not the most dynamic scenes, people sitting in a room and talking, yet the cinematography is gorgeous.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996) Written by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore Directed by Jonathan Frakes
With a sleek new Enterprise, the Next Generation cast set out on their second film, fully realized as a big-screen product. While the budget is bigger and the stakes are higher, something is lost in the process. It’s that distinct sense of a family. The focus is narrowed to Picard and Data, while the rest of the crew become supporting to minor players in these characters’ stories.
Woman at War (Directed by Benedikt Erlingsson) From my review: The war in the title is most definitely a cold one, and arguably a conflict Halla is fighting with herself. There is a group of inept police and drones that show up in the second act, but they never really feel like a threat. It’s Halla and the mistakes she makes that lead to the film’s finale. Part of what Halla is moving towards is an understanding that you cannot save the planet alone, and by the end of the movie, there is a small but growing number of supporters. We also see her framed against the immense challenge of repairing the environment, further emphasizing how much she needs help. There are no answers to the big questions in Woman at War; instead, it helps soothe those anxieties and remind us we’re not alone.
From my review: Director Barras shows us the sorrow of these children and their instinct to be defensive when meeting new people. Simon could easily be framed as the bully trope as soon as he’s introduced. However, there’s an intent to develop him, and he gives up on his act about a day into Zucchini’s arrival. They swap “war stories,” Simon acting as though his background of parents who were drug abusers wasn’t a big deal. Simon casually remarks about himself and the other children that “there’s nobody left to love us.” In the third act, we see how much it pains Simon to lose friends and how standoffish he becomes. Thankfully, Zucchini is aware of what’s going on beneath Simon’s behavior and ensures his friend that he loves him.
Here are the things I have planned for the second half of the year on my blog.
I’ll start doing a bi-weekly short film review roundup on August 17th. I plan to feature quality short films that are available online so that readers can view them. I have the first eight posts planned with three short films on each post. The first post will feature reviews for the short films He Took His Skin Off For Me, Janciza Bravo’s Eat, and Ari Aster’s The Strange Thing About the Johnsons. I’ll be looking at films that come from all corners of media from classic French shorts (Le Jetee) to Adult Swim middle of the night surreality (the works of Alan Resnick).
There’s a trope that has become infamous in recent years, especially with superhero movies: The Pillar of Light. You know the image, the villain is close to succeeding in their master plan, and the final step involves a device that fires a blue beam of light into the sky. The purpose of this light often doesn’t make sense and is always stopped before it does whatever it was intended to do. The trope has popped up in many Transformers movies as well as a handful of Marvel movies.
Most recently the blue pillar of light was seen in the trailer and on the poster for Godzilla: King of Monsters. I decided to list my five favorite pillars of light, regardless of how the movie ranks on my personal list.
It’s Such a Beautiful Day (directed by Don Hertzfeldt) From my review: Hertzfeldt can take us to heart-rending moments of illumination. There’s a memory Bill has of a time when he was staring out at the sea and contemplating “all the wonderful things he will do with his life.” That moment is led into with grace and empathy and never underlined by the filmmaker. It is the audience who will make the connections with the facts and emotions of the scene: Bill’s memories feeling like he’s living in them only to encounter a moment where he had all possibilities laid out before him. He’s snapped back to the present, his situation very dire and his whole self in a state of deterioration.