Green with Fury

The Green Berets (1968)

The Green Berets (1968)

Colonel Mike Kirby (John Wayne) arrives in South Vietnam to lead a group of Special Forces while embedded journalist George Beckworth (David Janssen) reports on the conflict. Through a series of skirmishes with the Viet Cong, the film attempts to demonstrate the heroism and honor of American soldiers.

I liked George Takei as Captain Nim, a former Viet Minh Officer who joins the American effort against the communists, and David Janssen, fresh off his career defining work in The Fugitive, is very good as the idealistic reporter. The incident with the orphan, Ham Chuck, is a heavy-handed but fair exploration of the human costs of war.

Unfortunately, this long film too slavishly followed the outdated formula of Wayne’s previous films The Alamo (1960) and The Longest Day (1962), and contemporary critical reaction was not kind. Roger Ebert gave it 0 stars and included it among his most hated films. Fifty years later, its defense of American involvement of Vietnam is more quaint than offensive, but it’s still not a very good movie.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) has come a long way since the initial film in the series, which felt like Death Wish (1974) on steroids. The second film upped the apocalyptic imagery but maintained a gritty realism. The third film abandoned realism in favor of campy 1980s over indulgence.

This is a hybrid between the two extremes. The spectacle of the Thunderdome grounded in grime and dirt, like Lawrence of Arabia (1962) on acid.

The impressive spectacle masks the film’s serious issues. Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has an instantly iconic look, but the character is flat and made the transition from barely surviving to rebellion leader in record time. How long has she been content to eke out an existence under Immortan Joe’s brutal rule until she suddenly remembered her heritage and set out to take the Five Wives to safety?

Immortan Joe, the film’s villain and Mad Max’s version of The Governor, is easily the most fascinating character in the film, and I wish the film had given us more of him.

Max, Furiosa, the Five Wives, Joe, and Nux, are all looking for a place to call home in a world where home no longer exists. If the film had focused on the psychological struggle of its characters as they adjusted to their new reality, it could have been something special, but, instead, the characters are excuses to pass the time until the next action set piece. I liked the action; I liked the endless car chases; I also like chocolate, but I don’t eat chocolate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Exhilarating action, and creative post-apocalyptic imagery make this hollow, soulless film an enjoyable, but unsatisfying experience.

Best of the 1900s

The Fat and the Lean Wrestling Match (1900)

In the early days of cinema, while the rest of the world’s filmmakers were acting more or less like amateur documentarians, Georges Méliès was pushing the boundaries and capabilities of his craft to explore what a camera could do.

His background as a magician fueled an interest in how a camera could be used to trick an audience. As a result, his films are more interesting than the simple slice of life films of the Lumiére brothers and Edison Studios.

Méliès’s pervasive sense of humor and energy still radiates one hundred and fifteen years later in less than ten minute bursts, prefiguring Vine and YouTube. Four generations later we’ve come full circle.

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