Film Review: The Wall (dir by Doug Liman)

The Wall tells a very simple story.

Opening with a title card that informs us that “President Bush has declared victory,” The Wall takes place in Iraq in 2007.  Two soldiers — a sniper named Matthews (John Cena) and a spotter named Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) — have responded to a call for help that came from a pipeline construction site.  When they arrive, they see only dead contractors.  Matthews and Isaac spend a day watching the site, finally determining that it is safe to investigate.

Of course, as soon as Matthews approaches the site, shots ring out as a sniper opens fire on him.  Matthews falls while Isaac finds himself trapped behind a crumbling wall, shot in the right knee and slowly bleeding out.  As Isaac tends to his wound and tries to determine whether Matthews is alive or dead, his radio comes to life.  The voice, on the other end, initially claims to be an American soldier but Isaac eventually figures out that the voice actually belongs to the man who just shot him.  The sniper is an Iraqi who calls himself Juba.  He may or may not be a legendary and feared sniper that Matthews and Isaac were discussing mere minutes before being attacked.

And that’s pretty much the entire film right there.  For 81 minutes, Isaac tries not to die while Juba alternates between taunting him and demanding to know why he and the American forces have yet to leave Iraq.  Isaac claims that America is rebuilding Iraq.  Juba claims that the wall that Isaac is hiding behind used to be a part of a school.  Isaac tells Juba to fuck off.  Juba replies, “We are not so different, you and me,” revealing that, if nothing else, Al Qaeda snipers apparently appreciate a good cliché.  If anything, it reminded me a bit of The Shallows, except Blake Lively was now a soldier and the shark refused to stop talking.

I have to admit that I have mixed feelings about The Wall.

On the one hand, it’s a very well-made film.  Visually, the film captures the deadly heat of the desert and it makes good use of its limited setting.  It’s far more watchable than any movie that exclusively takes place behind a crumbling wall has any right to be.  From what I’ve read, it appears that The Wall‘s depiction of both combat and dying is fairly accurate and the film does a good job of putting you in Isaac’s boots, forcing you to try to desperately figure out where Juba could be hiding.

Also, Aaron Taylor-Johnson actually gives a good performance.  Since, with a few notable exceptions, Aaron Taylor-Johnon usually bores me to tears, I was shocked to see how good of a performance he gave as the country-accented Isaac.  It’s especially impressive since he’s on screen for almost the entire film.  It was hard for me to believe that the same actor who was so unbearably dull in Savages was suddenly so watchable in The Wall.  However, he definitely was.

And yet, The Wall is also one of the most thoroughly unpleasant films that I’ve ever sat through.  Admittedly, that’s probably the way it should be.  War films shouldn’t be pleasant and I don’t think anyone could ever accuse The Wall of romanticizing combat.  At the same time, the film itself doesn’t seem to be quite sure what it wants to say about war.  Juba and Isaac do briefly debate America’s role in the Middle East but their discussion has all the depth of a twitter fight between Bernie Sanders supporter and a Donald Trump voter.  Neither Isaac nor Juba are particularly deep thinkers.  They’re both fighting and potentially dying for the benefit of others.  Maybe that’s the point.  The problem is that the film itself doesn’t seem to be quite sure.

The Wall is one of those films where I respect the craftsmanship behind it while, at the same time, having no desire to ever sit through it again.

A Movie A Day #248: Flinch (1994, directed by George Erschbamer)

Harry (Judd Nelson) is a law student who has failed the bar exam three times.  Daphne (Gina Gershon) is an aspiring actress who has an unfaithful boyfriend.  With neither of them making much headway in their chosen careers, they end up working as living mannequins in a department store display window.  If they flinch even the least little bit, they will lose their jobs.  At first, it does not seem that there is much of a romantic future for Harry and Daphne.  But when Daphne breaks up with her boyfriend, Harry invites her to join him in breaking into the store after hours and partying.  But while Harry and Daphne are celebrating, they witness a crazed artist (Nick Mancuso) strangling one of his models.

If the name of the director, George Erschbamer, seems familiar, you may be familiar with the Snake Eater films that he made with Lorenzo Lamas.  Fortunately, Flinch is far superior to Snake Eater III.  Starting out like a romantic comedy before turning into a thriller, Flinch is actually one of the better direct-to-video Judd Nelson films to come out in the 90s.  Of course, considering that the competition comes from Entangled and Conflict of Interest, Flinch doesn’t have that high of a bar to clear.  Though the thriller aspect is predictable, The first half of the movie, which is almost entirely Gershon and Nelson trying to talk to each other without anyone noticing their lips moving, is actually enjoyable.  Gina Gershon is as sexy as ever and she brings out the best in Judd Nelson, who is almost likable in this movie.

Still, there is one thing that could have improved Flinch.  Like almost any other Judd Nelson film, it really could have used a Burt Reynolds cameo.

Right, Burt?

Sweet Land of Liberty: Alfred Hitchcock’s SABOTEUR (Universal 1942)

cracked rear viewer

The Master of Suspense puts the pedal to the metal once again in SABOTEUR, another “double chase” spy thriller that doesn’t get the attention some of Alfred Hitchcock’s other films do, but should. I’ve always enjoyed the performance of Robert Cummings as the “ordinary man caught in an extraordinary situation”; his naturally laid-back, easygoing charm makes him perfect playing Barry Kane, accused of sabotaging a wartime aircraft plant and killing his best friend in the process, who winds up on a cross-country chase alongside reluctant heroine Priscilla Lane . SABOTEUR is certainly an  important film in Hitchcock’s body of work for one important reason: it’s the director’s first film for Universal Pictures, a studio he’d have a long and profitable association with, and where he’d later create some of his finest movies.

SABOTEUR is in many respects a loose remake of Hitchcock’s THE 39 STEPS , transplanted to America and…

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Music Video of the Day: Frontier Psychiatrist by The Avalanches (2000, dir. Geoff McFetridge)

Like so many music videos, Frontier Psychiatrist has multiple versions. There’s the well-known one that’s been talked about so much that I no longer feel special for noticing the use of the song from a Silvana Mangano movie–she’s best-known for the film, Bitter Rice (1949). And then there’s this version. If for some reason, it is no longer up, then you can follow this link to see it.

It’s a more realistic interpretation since we are seeing events from the outside. You could argue that the other video takes place in this kid’s head. This one is what is happening in the real world. Or at least as real as a world can be that has a mother holding up a book with this cover…

and pages like these in it:

While this video did help me to understand a storyline for the song, it has a problem I can’t get past.

One of the things that makes the well-known video so great, is the tight connection between the audio samples and their visual recreations. It’s a visualization of the way everything from a John Waters film to instructional tapes were combined by having those things performed on one big stage. The storyline is the journey through the components of the song.

Here, the audio and visuals do sync-up on occasion, but there is still such a disconnect that it’s off-putting. Perhaps I’m spoiled by the only version I knew of before I sat down to write this post. I keep expecting movement and cuts at each audio sample, and it doesn’t happen.

I wouldn’t say it’s a bad version though. The parts with the kid who plays Dexter are good.

The kid makes this video. He turns something fun, into something disturbing. On the other hand, I’m not sure I like thinking of Jeremy by Pearl Jam while I’m listening to Frontier Psychiatrist by The Avalanches.

I’m up in the air about this one. Watch it, and make up your own mind about it. Rorschach tests or Turtle-Man? You decide. Enjoy!