The year 2008 featured two films about revolutionaries in protest, with Steven Soderbergh’s CHE and Steve McQueen’s HUNGER, based on Che Guevara and Bobby Sands respectively. Both films were ambitious in their own right, taking historical figures and using their lives, not for conventional biopic storytelling and to question their places in history, but as pretexts about the experiences and ideals of their respective times. The films weren’t so much about why, but about the how; interpretations about the images and politics left to the viewer based on emotionalism as much as the idealism; as if to live them is to further understand them. Uli Edel’s DER BAADER MEINHOF KOMPLEX, a 2008 German film that retells the early years of the West German terrorist group Red Army Faction (RAF) at the time of the German student movement to the German Autumn (Deutscher Herbst) in 1977, doesn’t attempt to do what Soderbergh and McQueen did. Edel’s choices are sometimes superior, but other times painfully inferior.

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THE HURT LOCKER: The Old, Wild East

Kathryn Bigelow’s THE HURT LOCKER is a rather impressive feature that re-imagines the Iraq War sub-genre as a Western genre film, with celebrated cowboys dressed as admired soldiers, the Middle East cities used as Old West towns. Bigelow tries to reinvent this modern war film by flirting with the realism of the Iraq War and the Wild West mythologies, blurring the film’s identification between them in the intent to create a picture that contains both veracity and romanticism; the shake-cam filmmaking with the adrenaline situations of a ranger in the middle of the deserted town. No interests in politics, nor a moral righteousness about war. “War is a drug” is the film’s popular quote; it isn’t written as a political argument, but as an observation of a culture that celebrates violence.

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IN THE LOOP: The Bush Era Exploitation of Language

Armando Iannucci’s IN THE LOOP is an immensely comical, incredibly quotable film whose hilarious moments and characters are bound to remain in your head like the images of big, fat rabbits dressed in human clothing on a fucking David Lynch film. Following the footsteps of past satires like Stanley Kubrick’s DR. STRANGELOVE and Rob Reiner’s SPINAL TAP, which both went to become emblematical for their respective generations, Iannucci’s film is identifiable with this period’s technocracy, Rovian politics and half-thought rhetoric, where American and British politicians are at the mercy of their staff’s cellphones and the media’s coverage of their most diminutive words. In the climate of 21st-century politics and war times, it focuses on the chaos of postmodernism, and it is as laughable as it is serious.

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PUBLIC ENEMIES: Watching Our Real Dreams

The best moments in Michael Mann’s latest film, PUBLIC ENEMIES, based on legendary criminal John Dillinger (Johnny Depp), come around the last act: Dillinger, under disguise, is inspired while watching himself as the great criminal that he is on a number of photos in a Police Department, and then in the theater watching MANHATTAN MELODRAMA, a film with a resonance to Dillinger’s mode of life. It is a wonderful outside perspective, almost as if the character has stepped out of the frames. In a variety of ways, it is emblematical of Mann’s films: characters whose macho lives are idealizations made into realization; a microcosm for a filmmaker whose digital shooting is all about simulation over illustration. Dillinger, as the film as a whole, are not groundbreaking archivements for Mann, but still work as symbols on his career. That cinema is an avenue not just to see dreams, but that under the right properties, also live them.

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THE INSIDER: The Mann Who Knows About Film

In Michael Mann’s THE INSIDER, we start blindfolded and ingoing into a foreign road. It epitomizes much of the rest of the film: blindfolded characters who can’t watch their surroundings, but the surroundings watch them, like Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe) in his house; or entering into a series of territories, like Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) does in trying to present his story to different men of the media. We’re in the era of access, and it runs both ways: we inform about others, and others inform about us. It is a film that explores the exposure of people, their information and the numerous avenues to spotlight it, for better or worse. This in a series of subplots and real-life characters that offer Mann the best material he could hope to find on a magazine article in Vanity Fair.

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HEAT: Empathies of Badasses

In Michael Mann’s HEAT, crimes and personal relationship/friendships are one and the same. The title and word “heat” is defined by a connection or nearness to someone else, whether it is a detective or a lover; the two are almost identical. There are as numerous crime sequences as there are romantic ones; they fight wives as they fight cops/criminals in the streets, but they can’t escape from either of them. Indeed, HEAT is part macho man western and part romantic melodrama, both an attractive piece of manliness entertainment and a touching, even if overdramatic, film. But how well does this action film deals with with the non-action, the romance and the melodrama of it, is what elevates it as much as it sometimes decreases it.

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McG’s TERMINATOR SALVATION is a good action film that doesn’t have much else outside the actual action. Thematically, the franchise has long relied on action sequences as a symbol for the characters, with the coldness of the machines’ killings traced back to the numbness of their creators and what it says of them; the counter-productive technophobia that we have and how its growth declines our own lives, with the constant use of mechanic tools – from guns to robots – slowly overwhelming the men. Indirectly, Cameron’s films make the people seem like the bad guys, with the machines as evidence of what is sometimes their failure: the loss of their ability to feel, and thus care about each other, as they kill themselves over time. TERMINATOR SALVATION continues this theme rather well, with Connor (Christian Bale) and the rest of the humans acting as the killing machines while they chase Marcus (Sam Worthington), blurring their differences with the robots while they’re at it. But once the violence stops, so does the competence to manifest this theme – or anything, for that matter. Continue reading