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War, before and after

Military matters in this week's new movie releases: Kong, Land of Mine, Ottoman Lieutenant

Surprise, surprise, Samuel L. Jackson is the best thing about Kong: Skull Island.
Surprise, surprise, Samuel L. Jackson is the best thing about Kong: Skull Island.
Movie

Kong: Skull Island *

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The latest <em>Kong</em> borrows at least a couple of pages from the script of the latest <em>Godzilla</em> (unsurprising, since Max Borenstein co-wrote both) — notably, the jacking up of the big ape’s size to truly gargantuan (though he does seem to grow and shrink a bit according to the demands of the scene), and the pitting of monster against monster, with people mostly serving as not-so-innocent bystanders. Plus the notion of monster as humanity’s benevolent protector, in spite of that status as not-so-innocent. The results are similarly middling. These critters are cuddly gods, demanding no sacrifice and forgiving all sins — though sometimes after a flare-up of temper. It’s fun to watch them in action, but on the human side, the film is clumsily written, over-cast and underacted, with only frustrated soldier Samuel L. Jackson striking the right tone of crazy amid the chaos. (John Goodman sounds bored as an intrepid scientist, while Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston are reduced to tight-shirted eye candy as a combat photographer and secretly sensitive tracker, respectively.) Besides the godlike gorilla, the real star seems to be ‘70’s technology, as director Jordan Vogt-Roberts lavishes loving attention on slide projectors, walkie-talkies, reel-to-reel players, manually adjusted cameras, and bucket-of-bolts transportation. Just don’t ask yourself who is holding the Super 8 during the final scene.

Find showtimes

Starting with the end, then: both Kong: Skull Island and Land of Mine take place in the aftermath of war. Kong is set just as America is pulling out of Vietnam, leaving Sergeant Sam Jackson without a sense of purpose or an enemy upon which to focus his frustrated fury. Cue the monster ape on an unexplored island!

Surprise, surprise, Jackson is the best thing about the film. (As for Kong himself, I preferred the Peter Jackson iteration, if only because he really moved and looked like an oversized gorilla, as opposed to long-armed, lumpen giant we have here). If only we could have stuck with his story instead of the battle with a finalist the dumbest-looking baddie in cinema history. (“Hey, remember how James Cameron added extra legs to the animals in Avatar and everyone thought that was cool? Well, we're gonna do the same thing, except we're gonna add...by subtracting!”)

Movie

Land of Mine <em>(Under Sandet)</em> ***

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Writer-director Martin Zandlivet’s terse, tense, and terrific post-WWII film establishes two of its three strengths immediately. First, star Roland Møller as Danish sergeant Carl Rasmussen, his eyes radiating barely controlled emotion from their deep and hooded recesses as he drives his Jeep alongside a column of defeated German soldiers. Second, its theme of coming to grips with the enemy’s humanity after years spent suffering his depredations and seeking his violent destruction. Rasmussen spots a trudging German clutching a Danish flag, and after seizing it and berating the wretch, he beats him savagely. The sergeant’s assignment is to oversee a detail of German prisoners as they work to clear a section of Denmark’s west coast of 45,000 German land mines. (It’s tempting to curse the director as he brings his camera in close on a shaking hand as it lifts a sand-crusted detonator free with a sickening jerk. How can you look? How can you look away?) The complication: the prisoners are barely more than children — the painfully young recruits heaved up during the Third Reich’s death spasms. They’re brave, resigned, and even hopeful, but their youth is inescapable, and Rasmussen can’t help noticing that when they’re hurt, they call out for Mom. The strain is terrible, and even respites are haunted by the explosive remnants of a war that has ended but isn’t anywhere close to being over.

Find showtimes

Moving on, or moving back in time at least, we come to Land of Mine, set just after the end of World War II. Again we have an angry, embittered soldier at the heart of things, but instead of going up against a monster, he must oversee a team of children as they clear a beach of land mines in artisan fashion. Which is to say, by hand, using only a steel locator rod and their own trembling fingers. After last week's Logan, I'm tempted to start looking at these men-learning-to-be-dads movies as a trend. Anyway, it was very good, if more than a little harrowing.

Movie

Ottoman Lieutenant **

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Hyped as “the first movie to explore the eastern front of World War I,” this revisionist slice of Turkish propaganda wisely hides beneath the cloak of old Hollywood melodrama. Alas, the part of the iron-willed Christian nurse cried out for more charisma than Hera Hilmar’s dead-inside voiceovers could provide. So waterish is her performance that it’s hard to believe two men — Josh Hartnett as an American doctor who heads up a remote clinic in the Ottoman Empire and Michiel Huisman as the titular Muslim officer — covet her affections. Deathless dialogue — “This is no place for a woman,” “Just because I wear a uniform and carry a gun doesn’t make me a killer,” “She wanted to change the world and the world changed her” — found me laughing in the unlikeliest of places. Still, the action scenes are well-handled by old pro Joseph Ruben (<em>The Pom-Pom Girls, The Stepfather</em>) who has been absent from the scene for too long.

Find showtimes

Moving still further back, and also to the days before a war instead of the days after, we find Scott's review of The Ottoman Lieutenant. From the days when the Ottoman Empire was a thing. How does a “revisionist slice of Turkish propaganda” garner two stars? By hiding “beneath the cloak of old Hollywood melodrama.” Clever tactic, Lieutenant.

And then there are the more private wars, the kind in which two ladies fight, recover, and then fight again, and recover. You know, like Catfight. The cycle of violence and all that. And speaking of cats, Scott didn't much care for the “feature length alternative to a YouTube kitty video” that was Kedi.

Opening but as yet unreviewed due to technical difficulties with the space/time continuum: Lovesong and Wolves at the Digital Gym.

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Surprise, surprise, Samuel L. Jackson is the best thing about Kong: Skull Island.
Surprise, surprise, Samuel L. Jackson is the best thing about Kong: Skull Island.
Movie

Kong: Skull Island *

thumbnail

The latest <em>Kong</em> borrows at least a couple of pages from the script of the latest <em>Godzilla</em> (unsurprising, since Max Borenstein co-wrote both) — notably, the jacking up of the big ape’s size to truly gargantuan (though he does seem to grow and shrink a bit according to the demands of the scene), and the pitting of monster against monster, with people mostly serving as not-so-innocent bystanders. Plus the notion of monster as humanity’s benevolent protector, in spite of that status as not-so-innocent. The results are similarly middling. These critters are cuddly gods, demanding no sacrifice and forgiving all sins — though sometimes after a flare-up of temper. It’s fun to watch them in action, but on the human side, the film is clumsily written, over-cast and underacted, with only frustrated soldier Samuel L. Jackson striking the right tone of crazy amid the chaos. (John Goodman sounds bored as an intrepid scientist, while Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston are reduced to tight-shirted eye candy as a combat photographer and secretly sensitive tracker, respectively.) Besides the godlike gorilla, the real star seems to be ‘70’s technology, as director Jordan Vogt-Roberts lavishes loving attention on slide projectors, walkie-talkies, reel-to-reel players, manually adjusted cameras, and bucket-of-bolts transportation. Just don’t ask yourself who is holding the Super 8 during the final scene.

Find showtimes

Starting with the end, then: both Kong: Skull Island and Land of Mine take place in the aftermath of war. Kong is set just as America is pulling out of Vietnam, leaving Sergeant Sam Jackson without a sense of purpose or an enemy upon which to focus his frustrated fury. Cue the monster ape on an unexplored island!

Surprise, surprise, Jackson is the best thing about the film. (As for Kong himself, I preferred the Peter Jackson iteration, if only because he really moved and looked like an oversized gorilla, as opposed to long-armed, lumpen giant we have here). If only we could have stuck with his story instead of the battle with a finalist the dumbest-looking baddie in cinema history. (“Hey, remember how James Cameron added extra legs to the animals in Avatar and everyone thought that was cool? Well, we're gonna do the same thing, except we're gonna add...by subtracting!”)

Movie

Land of Mine <em>(Under Sandet)</em> ***

thumbnail

Writer-director Martin Zandlivet’s terse, tense, and terrific post-WWII film establishes two of its three strengths immediately. First, star Roland Møller as Danish sergeant Carl Rasmussen, his eyes radiating barely controlled emotion from their deep and hooded recesses as he drives his Jeep alongside a column of defeated German soldiers. Second, its theme of coming to grips with the enemy’s humanity after years spent suffering his depredations and seeking his violent destruction. Rasmussen spots a trudging German clutching a Danish flag, and after seizing it and berating the wretch, he beats him savagely. The sergeant’s assignment is to oversee a detail of German prisoners as they work to clear a section of Denmark’s west coast of 45,000 German land mines. (It’s tempting to curse the director as he brings his camera in close on a shaking hand as it lifts a sand-crusted detonator free with a sickening jerk. How can you look? How can you look away?) The complication: the prisoners are barely more than children — the painfully young recruits heaved up during the Third Reich’s death spasms. They’re brave, resigned, and even hopeful, but their youth is inescapable, and Rasmussen can’t help noticing that when they’re hurt, they call out for Mom. The strain is terrible, and even respites are haunted by the explosive remnants of a war that has ended but isn’t anywhere close to being over.

Find showtimes

Moving on, or moving back in time at least, we come to Land of Mine, set just after the end of World War II. Again we have an angry, embittered soldier at the heart of things, but instead of going up against a monster, he must oversee a team of children as they clear a beach of land mines in artisan fashion. Which is to say, by hand, using only a steel locator rod and their own trembling fingers. After last week's Logan, I'm tempted to start looking at these men-learning-to-be-dads movies as a trend. Anyway, it was very good, if more than a little harrowing.

Movie

Ottoman Lieutenant **

thumbnail

Hyped as “the first movie to explore the eastern front of World War I,” this revisionist slice of Turkish propaganda wisely hides beneath the cloak of old Hollywood melodrama. Alas, the part of the iron-willed Christian nurse cried out for more charisma than Hera Hilmar’s dead-inside voiceovers could provide. So waterish is her performance that it’s hard to believe two men — Josh Hartnett as an American doctor who heads up a remote clinic in the Ottoman Empire and Michiel Huisman as the titular Muslim officer — covet her affections. Deathless dialogue — “This is no place for a woman,” “Just because I wear a uniform and carry a gun doesn’t make me a killer,” “She wanted to change the world and the world changed her” — found me laughing in the unlikeliest of places. Still, the action scenes are well-handled by old pro Joseph Ruben (<em>The Pom-Pom Girls, The Stepfather</em>) who has been absent from the scene for too long.

Find showtimes

Moving still further back, and also to the days before a war instead of the days after, we find Scott's review of The Ottoman Lieutenant. From the days when the Ottoman Empire was a thing. How does a “revisionist slice of Turkish propaganda” garner two stars? By hiding “beneath the cloak of old Hollywood melodrama.” Clever tactic, Lieutenant.

And then there are the more private wars, the kind in which two ladies fight, recover, and then fight again, and recover. You know, like Catfight. The cycle of violence and all that. And speaking of cats, Scott didn't much care for the “feature length alternative to a YouTube kitty video” that was Kedi.

Opening but as yet unreviewed due to technical difficulties with the space/time continuum: Lovesong and Wolves at the Digital Gym.

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