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mostly McNamara, but just enough Morris to make it a masterpiece
People who watch Errol Morris' Fog of War will be left with a lot to think about. There are a number of parallels to be drawn between what Americans faced during the Vietnam War era and what Americans face now with middle-east conflicts. Morris has directed several controversial documentaries, but Fog of War is very different. He allows the subject of the documentary, Robert McNamara, to remain the focus of the film from beginning to end. Fog of War is very stylish but the artistic features don't take away from the social and political commentary. Instead, they add to it and make the film more enjoyable. This is an important film and while McNamara deserves most the credit for its success, Morris presented the content of this film in a way that made it both provocative and entertaining.
When Morris had an opportunity to interview Robert McNamara, he had no idea what was about to happen. Morris was making a film about Vietnam, not McNamara specifically. However, what was intended to be a 20 minute interview turned into a several hour candid conversation. This interview turned conversation became the backbone of Fog of War. It is obvious that something like guilt has been bugging McNamara and for whatever reason, Morris brought it out.
As a former secretary of defense for John F. Kennedy and then Lyndon Johnson, McNamara was one of the most important figures from the Vietnam War, in charge of things like bombing campaigns and overall military strategy. Before that, McNamara was a brain behind figuring out how to kill lots of people in World War II. At one point, McNamara says directly to the camera, ' we were behaving as war criminals. What makes it moral if you win but immoral if you lose?' He's making a point about the way the U.S. and allied forces bombed the hell out of Japan, sending hundreds of thousands to fiery graves, mostly civilians.
Morris uses what he calls the 'Interrotron', a device which allows the subject, here it's McNamara, to look directly into the camera and see the interviewer, here that's Morris. To the audience, it seems like McNamara is looking right at us, which makes it seem even more confessional than it already is. At certain times in Fog of War, McNamara seems so happy that he has an opportunity to talk about his experiences, but at other times, he seems like he's so defensive about his reputation. All of that seems to have something to do with the way Errol Morris asks questions. Morris is friendly but asks pointed questions that McNamara has a tough time avoiding.
Probably the most important moment of Fog of War is when McNamara talks about mankind and its inability to learn from history. He seems very pessimistic but has moments where he seems to think people can learn from the past. It's easy to think about Donald Rumsfeld and wonder what sort of conversations he might have with McNamara. Another great moment in Fog of War is when McNamara gets to meet a general from the Vietnamese army, one of McNamara's adversaries from 30 years ago. It's then where we see that McNamara still doesn't accept much responsibility for what he did during the Vietnam War. He thinks of himself as just being an employee working for the president.
Fog of War makes people think about a lot, but that's because of Robert McNamara more than Errol Morris. This was McNamara's film and Morris just happened to hold the camera in place when he probably felt like cringing or even laughing at times. During his famous acceptance speech for Fog of War, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary, Morris reminded the worldwide audience to be careful, because the United States seems to be making the same mistakes it made during the Vietnam War. That's up to the audience to decide, but Fog of War definitely makes everybody think about that.
As unique a film as America has ever produced.
Wes Anderson is not a simple person, yet he directs films about simple people whose quirky personalities create somewhat complicated stories. Sort of...Well as you can tell, describing a Wes Anderson picture is a perplexing task.
Rushmore is a story about a 15 year old scatter-brained jack-of-all-trades named Max (played by newcomer Jason Schwartzman). Max is given scholarship to a prestigious prep school following the success of a stageplay he writes while in the 2nd grade. Life thereafter is not easy for Max for his IQ is not quite average, yet he dreams big. One day Max befriends a wealthy booster named Herman. Bill Murray's portrayal of this character was Oscar-worthy. He wishes he had a son like Max and makes his malcontent with his own children obvious throughout the picture. Ultimately, Max and Herman fall in love with one of Max's teachers, Mrs. Cross, and what ensues is one of the most charming and unique love triangles ever filmed.
With Rushmore, subtlety is everywhere: cinematography, scene composition, dialogue, and of course acting. What makes this film so wonderful is the manner in which the audience can find faults with all the characters yet they're so richly developed that you still embrace them. There is no over-the-top conflict between characters in Rushmore. In one pivotal scene Max and Mrs. Cross exchange sentiments that they've never met a person quite like the other. I've never quite seen a film like Rushmore.
If there is one minor critique of Rushmore, it would be that Anderson seems to be intentionally unconventional with scene transition, which was more annoying than artistic.
All considered, I still consider this gem a splendid 10/10.
*psssst* Make sure you see "Bottle Rocket" too!
Successful for genre, but then again...
My approach to Seven was one of low expectations. Based on the stylistic opening credits, I was expecting to be assaulted with low-angle extreme closeup murky cinematography designed to capitalize on human reflex. American film has been thwarted with bad technique in the suspense/mystery genre. Instead of style and creativity, many directors have opted for the ole standby of loud unexpected noises/music followed by the alerting appearance of the villain. Snore...However, such is not the case with David Fincher's Seven. The style of Seven is fairly straightforward for the first seventy minutes of the film: What you see is what you get. Unapologetically grotesque images from the crime scenes of a serial murder and a flood of rain in a dingy, dirty-textured metropolitan city. The plot is nothing we haven't seen before, but it was plenty enough to keep you interested in learning about the murderer. However, the main characters could not have been more contrived. Morgan Freeman's character, Detective Summerset, was catatonic to the point of being convincingly dull. The writer went for the starkest contrast with the character Detective Mills (Brad Pitt) by giving him the playground mentality of hockey player turned homicide detective. The results were destructive to the film's effect. In the end, Mills and Summerset do their best to ruin the audience's interest in their involvement. Gwynneth Paltrow would receive mention if her character weren't a mere fixture within a plot. The characters just didn't help this film at all. It was one of those all too often cases where the actors look the part but the part is badly written =( However, much to the credit of the production designer and cinematographer, the mood of this film was still very effective. There was however one other regrettable inconsistency: For the first seventy minutes or so of the film, the audience forcably endures the foul, wet and lonely darkness of the city environment only to have the rug pulled out in the closing moments when the setting changes to a sun-bleached desert scape. Hmmm...7 out of 10?