AFI #86: Platoon

It’s funny, but 25 years after seeing Platoon the first time I had the same reaction to it watching it today — why did so many people like this film? You can’t “like” it as much as you can simply experience it. It’s 120 minutes of blood, guts and confusing combat scenes with very little plot. Yes, there is the subplot of Charlie Sheen’s character Chris Taylor trying to deal with the injustice of war and the sheer lawlessness it brings. There is a little “right vs wrong” subtext during scenes like when Kevin Dillon’s character smashes in a villagers head for no reason and when members of the platoon start to rape a woman until Sheen stops them. And there is the whole bit with Tom Berenger’s character killing Willem DaFoe’s character and Charlie getting even later on. But all that was small potatoes to what I think Oliver Stone was trying to express with Platoon — war is no way to resolve a dispute.

If you want a war movie about right and wrong check out 1989’s Casualties of War with Sean Penn and Michael J. Fox. But if you want 120 minutes of feeling depressed and questioning the value of war then Platoon is for you. With Platoon Stone gives us a taste of war that the American film-going public hadn’t really seen before. Previous war films were stories of heroism and bravery, with great battles and selfless acts. No, Platoon is not that kind of war film. I believe Stone made Platoon to rub our faces in war, to show us the ugliness and to in some way make us question war as a political weapon. It was his first big movie and he deals with the issue at the top of his mind in the Vietnam War, but it was just the first of many films for Stone in which he questions the moral authority of government, corporations and politicians (Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, JFK, W., and others followed). Stone makes us think, and that’s what I did after watching Platoon again.

I don’t believe in the concept of a just war. I definitely don’t believe in the Bush Doctrine of preventative war. As I was watching Platoon I began thinking about the Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan and how Americans have learned nothing from our past failures in war. We didn’t accomplish anything in Iraq and we certainly haven’t accomplished anything in Afghanistan. War should be used only as a last resort and then only when we are attacked. I think Oliver Stone made Platoon to say just that. I suppose that in and of itself makes Platoon an important movie, though certainly not entertaining. It was tough to watch…like real life.

Next Up, something a little lighter! A Night at the Opera.

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AFI #87: 12 Angry Men

There is no denying America is obsessed with crime and punishment these days. There are tons of TV dramas on the air like Law & Order and CSI to help prove the point, but even more so we become transfixed as a nation when we get a particularly engaging event like the recent Casey Anthony trial. We’ve always been interested in law and order…crime shows have been a staple on TV since the beginning and everyone loves a good crime film.

How sure are you that Casey Anthony killed her little girl? I don’t know anyone who thought she was innocent, but the defense provided enough reasonable doubt to make the case she may not have murdered little Cailee. It seemed like a travesty of justice, but we weren’t in the room. If only…

12 Angry Men puts us in the jury room. It was made in 1957 and it serves as a great reminder today that not everything is as it seems when it comes to crime and punishment. So there is an important moral lesson in the film, but it’s also a damn fine courtroom drama with great acting and a compelling story. When the film opens, 12 jurors are walked into the jury room after the trial of a young man accused of killing his father. The jurors settle in and quickly vote to see where they stand…it is 11-1 in favor of conviction with Henry Fonda’s character as the lone holdout. Fonda’s character doesn’t make any assumptions about the case, he simply wants the jury to talk about it before sending a man to the electric chair. Then, little by little, the prosecution’s case falls apart. It’s quite enthralling really. Each juror is like someone you know. One is a hot head, another is a racist, another seems preoccupied with where he has to be rather than the fact that a life hangs on his decision. Aside from the fact it was all men, this is probably exactly how juries are today.

The drama in the room is palpable. It is a hot day and the men are sweating and tired. You can feel the heat through the screen. The whole film takes place in the jury room and you sort of feel like you’re stuck in there with them. Director Sidney Lumet did a great job of creating a mood. I really loved the first long scene in the jury room which was all done in one take with the camera panning around to each juror. Cool stuff.

I wonder if juries take their job as serious today as they did back in the day. The men on this jury worked hard to come to a verdict, and they listened to each other. Sure, there was fighting, but ultimately they all did the right thing. I like to think the Casey Anthony jury, for example, thought through all the details and evidence before coming to a verdict. I’m sure it was hard to let this woman walk, but they did what they thought was right based on the evidence and rule of law. We can bicker all we want about the result, but we weren’t in the room. That’s why 12 Angry Men is such a compelling drama.

Next Up: Platoon

Why I Watch True Blood

Last night I watched back-to-back episodes of True Blood after being on vacation for a week, and as I was sitting there watching this ridiculous HBO “drama” it occurred to me I wouldn’t have any interest whatsoever were it not for the sex. I’m not sure what that says about me other than perhaps I am willing to lower my standards for a little soft-core porn. Hey, I’ve been married nearly 20 years — I’m willing to take what I can get!

My wife is going through a vampire stage so I got stuck watching this show early on in the first season. I didn’t want to watch it at first, but as soon as I saw Anna Paquin strutting around in her Daisy Dukes and mounting vampire Bill Compton I was hooked. I could care less about the storyline…I just enjoy the constant sexual innuendo, sexy women and, well, the hot and steamy vampire sex! All the women on this show are hot, from sultry red-headed teen vampire Jessica to bi-curious waitress Tara to the former queen of Louisiana Sophie-Anne (played by the very sexy Evan Rachel Wood). But all the hot babes take a backseat to Paquin’s Sookie Stackhouse.

Apparently Sookie is a faerie and emits a scent that is intoxicating to vampires. I can’t smell anything through my television screen, but my sense of sight is not lost on Paquin. When did the little girl from The Piano become so hot? She may have won an Oscar at 11, but she’s steaming up my plasma screen at 29. And it doesn’t hurt to know that she is apparently sexually liberated in real life as well, as she came out of the closet as bi-sexual recently even though she is married to co-star Stephen Moyer. Hot damn!

Everyone is having hot sex in this show and because it’s on HBO we get to see just enough skin to whet the appetite. True Blood has man on woman, woman on woman, man on man, woman on vampire, man on vampire, male vampire on male vampire and female vampire on female vampire. Last night a bunch of female werepanthers gang-banged Sookie’s brother Jason. It’s a veritable orgy of fantasy sex.

The best thing about watching True Blood is that my wife introduced me to it and we watch it together, so it’s officially sanctioned soft-core porn! Not sure why she let’s me watch this with her but still turns the channel when a Victoria’s Secret commercial comes on, but I’m not complaining. All I can say is thank god for Alan Ball and HBO!

Will Sweden-based Spotify be iTunes’ Waterloo?

Lost in all the hype this week about Google Plus was perhaps the biggest news in the music industry since Dylan went electric — the Swedish are coming, the Swedish are coming! Online music service Spotify announced it is coming to the U.S. after several years of false alarms and rumors.

So what? Why all the hype? Well, several music services (Rhapsody, MOG, Pandora,  iTunes Cloud) have threatened to change the way we buy and listen to music, but none have the success rate of Spotify. In Europe, Spofity has more than 10 million users and a million paying subscribers. That’s a huge user base and from what I’ve read its both comprehensive and easy to use. If the pricing structure rumors are true…and they probably are…for $10 per month American users will be able to listen to  “any track, any time, anywhere.” As my 13-year-old son says: “nobody buys music anymore dad!” If he’s right…and I believe he is…I won’t be buying music anymore, but rather I’ll be buying the right to listen to whatever I want wherever I want and at only $10 per month that’s a hell of a deal.

The news media has been all over this story this week, and many of them are warning us not to assume Spotify will change everything. But it already has. Plenty of my friends have jumped into Rhapsody and I’ve stayed on the sidelines. Spotify comes with something Rhapsody doesn’t have — customer loyalty and brand appeal. Spotify is cool. Wired compares the service to “a magical version of iTunes in which you’ve already bought every song in the world.

If you’re like me you’ve always bought the music you want. I have hundreds of CDs gathering dust, and even some casette tapes in neat carrying cases tucked away in my closet. And with the switch to digital music I still buy music when I find something I like. It’s natural for my generation to want to own the music. But with Spotify comes the tipping point for the subscription model. Why store CDs or even gigs of digital music on an external hard drive anymore? What’s the point? The music is in the cloud and it will always be in the cloud…the question becomes not whether to buy the new Eddie Vedder album, but rather which service to listen to it on. With Spotify you can stream the album on your computer, on your iPhone, on your iPad…in your car, at the gym, at work. It’s always there and you can listen on any platform. It is truly like having a Tower Records in your pocket.

Owning music is so last century.

AFI #88: Bringing Up Baby

I was looking forward to finally seeing Bringing Up Baby as I had never seen it and Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn also star in one of my all-time favorite movies, The Philadelphia Story. About the best I can say about Bringing Up Baby is that it was good practice for The Philadelphia Story which came out just two years later. They weren’t kidding when they classified Bringing Up Baby as a screwball comedy.

Bringing Up Baby is the story of a mild-mannered museum scientist who accidentally gets mixed up with a nut job who of course he eventually falls in love with. This is, after all, 1938 Hollywood. I suppose some of the dialogue was witty, but for the most part the film was just dumb. There is a pet leopard and batty constable and a psychologist who thinks everyone is wacky because he only hears part of the story. A dog steals a dinosaur bone and they accidentally let a vicious leopard escape and they fall in lakes and burn socks over a campfire and…well…utter silliness all around. It’s sort of like a really bad Three Stooges film.

The film apparently did quite awful at the box office and thankfully didn’t get nominated for an awards. Hepburn was quite off really, though Grant did play the dunce really well. I can’t explain why this film made the AFI list any more than I can explain why anyone would want a pet leopard named baby.

Next Up: 12 Angry Men