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Black Hawk Down (2001)

Longhand draft 30 March 2003, edited 25 July 2010.

Over my traditional Easter break in 2003 I fed my somewhat prodigious appetite for war movies with an armful of DVD rentals, offering some pretty spectacular ventures into mayhem served up by the Hollywood machine.

Black Hawk Down lobby card.
Lobby card.

Blackhawk Down was one of those films.  Unlike the others, though, it gave me pause.

The film fictionalises the real events surrounding a US attempt to kidnap senior advisors to local warlord and self-proclaimed Somali leader Mohamed Farah Aidid during the UN peacekeeping presence in Somalia in 1993.

On 13 October that year, 140 US soldiers abseiled from combat helicopters into the infamous Bakara Market district in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, to carry out the kidnap, which succeeded but resulted in two Black Hawk helicopters being shot down by rocket propelled grenades, and an escalating series of manoeuvres to rescue pilots and troops pinned down by murderous gunfire from thousands of Somali militia.

I remember being mesmerised back in 1993 by the TV news actuality of dead, bare-footed, shirtless American soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu by their heels at the conclusion of the action, which lasted 18 hours and resulted in 18 US fatalities, more than 70 wounded, and an unknown number of Somali casualties, said, at the end of the film, to have included more than 1000 dead.

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Election Diary 2010 – Week One

First-timers disenfranchised

Saturday, 17 July 2010

The decision to call for an election on a Saturday would be otherwise unremarkable had it not meant that new voter registrations close at 20:00 on the following Monday, almost certainly disenfranchising a swathe of first-time voters.

One must assume that the ALP party machine was aware of the consequences of its timing for calling the election, and therefore doesn’t care about these votes, or has reason to fear them. In either case, that can’t be a good sign for Gillard because that constituency is likely to share a mind-set with a larger group of already registered voters.

One might be tempted to draw the conclusion that Gillard’s centerpiece education reforms aren’t really that popular with its intended consumers – students. One might also infer that ALP strategists have decided that the election will not be fought and won education policies; a reasonable assumption, I would think.

These matters notwithstanding, the timing of an election so soon after a leadership change was probably smart. Gillard hasn’t yet had time to make mistakes in her own right as leader of the party, enjoys a substantial honeymoon boost in the ratings, and is likely to slip in popularity the longer she waits if there aren’t any major new initiatives she can deliver prior to and separate from election pork barreling.

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Disclaimer

A semi-honest flight safety card, either from, or inspired by, the film Fight Club.
A semi-honest flight safety card, either from, or inspired by, the film Fight Club.

One of my all-time personal and professional pet hates is the ubiquitous disclaimer.

Personally it affronts me by saying: ‘I’m gonna tell you this, but don’t hold me to it; it’s likely that I’m lying to you.’

Professionally it says: ‘You’re gonna pay me to tell you this, but don’t hold me accountable for it in any way; caveat emptor, buddy.’

The following is a collection of disclaimers I have come across that either particularly irked me or that had me giggling insanely to myself. Enjoy.

Read before use

This article does not reflect the thoughts or opinions of either myself, my company, my friends, or my cat. Don’t quote me on that. Don’t quote me on anything. All rights reserved. You may distribute this article freely but you may not make a profit from it. Terms are subject to change without notice. Do not remove this disclaimer under penalty of law.

Article is provided “as is” without any warranties. Reader assumes full responsibility. An equal opportunity article. No shoes, no shirt, no articles. Quantities are limited while supplies last. If any defects are discovered, do not attempt to read them yourself, but return to an authorized service center. Read at your own risk. Parental advisory – explicit lyrics. Text may contain explicit materials some readers may find objectionable, parental guidance is advised. Keep away from sunlight. Keep away from pets and small children.

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Copyright

This is a not-for-profit site, but that doesn’t mean my work is considered worthless either by me or the law.

Most of the writing on this site is intended to stimulate thought. It would be churlish to insist on refraining from using the material the way any fair-minded adult might choose to.

Plagiarism is, for the most part, an ugly word for flattery. I don’t see any problem with anyone adapting my ideas in their own work, or in an attributed quote.

A request to reproduce my work is likely to be granted where it’s for a non-profit purpose.

Conversely, however, using any part of my work to make money has to involve me or it’s theft. This includes charities, academic or educational institutions, and clubs or associations. I often write professionally, so it’s my bread and butter. Please don’t steal from me.

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Murder, My Sweet (1945)

mms-poster

In its time the film boasted an unlikely leading man, Dick Powell, better known as a crooner in musical romances than as the hard-boiled tough guy Phillip Marlowe, so much so that the title of the film had to be changed from Farewell, My Lovely, that also being the name of a musical Powell had fronted prior to his contract with RKO.

Nevertheless, Powell gave a convincing performance as the smart-talking, slightly edgy Marlowe in this impressively atmospheric, low-budget screen adaptation of the Chandler story.

The plot is labyrinthine, leading audiences on a wild goose chase after clues that aren’t there right up to the final minutes of the narrative.

Marlowe is hired by the heavyweight-sized Moose Malloy, a recently released convict who’s more brawn than brains, to find his old flame, Velma, whom he’d lost track of while serving a stretch for an ill defined crime. Tracking her down annoys the wrong people and sees Marlowe set up for the murder of a new client, the effete Lindsay Marriott, while babysitting him on a pay-off rendezvous to retrieve a stolen opal necklace worth $100,000.

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The Killers (1946)

the-killers-poster

Officially titled Ernest Hemingway’s The Killers, the film is nevertheless more the invention of its script writers than that of the author, whose original short story, first published in 1927, does no more than suggest a killing, sketching a single scene with a couple of thugs coming to a small-town diner looking for Ole ‘Swede’ Anderson to kill ‘him for a friend. Just to oblige a friend.’

Hemingway was not yet a celebrated Nobel laureate when the film was released, but he was already known for his reportage of the Spanish Civil War and his rumoured exploits during the liberation of France. Invoking his name in the film’s title brought with it a certain cachet.

Hemingway’s story leaves the suggestion of murder hanging, offering no motives or conclusions, and not even confirming whether the killers executed the Swede as intended. He did, however, offer a compelling clue on interpreting his story when one of his thugs tells one of the story’s characters that he ‘ought to go to the movies more. The movies are fine for a bright boy like you.” To see a newsreel, perhaps, or a silver screen gangster story about events just like the one about to take place in the sleepy little town?

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Kingdom of Heaven (2005): How a culture of ignorance destroys meaning

kingdom-of-heaven-001

Following on from the success of the ‘sword and sandal’ epic Gladiator, Ridley Scott has delivered another impressive foray into historical spectacle with Kingdom of Heaven. Offering authentic scenery and sets, highly atmospheric, evocative photography by John Mathieson, and the large-scale spectacle of Jerusalem and warfare in the age of the crusades, it lives up to expectations of a visually powerful foray into the holy land of the Middle Ages.

Scriptwriter William Monahan has taken elements of authentic characters and events to present a story of an individual’s pilgrimage to seek redemption in a world scarred by the hypocrisies of religious fanatics and mercenaries gouging out their fortunes through rapine and pillage. Our protagonist might not have gained quite the redemption he sought, but he acquired instead wisdom, integrity and honour as part of his epic quest.

This review is a bifurcated foray, looking first directly at the film, in what might appear to be an overly laboured review, and then expanding on the topic of the ‘rich meaning’ that is suggested here to be the cause and justification for deeper examination than might be expected for a film of its kind. The aim is to explain a little bit about how a multi-layered, or richer than superficial meaning might be both constructed and decoded.

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The Maltese Falcon (1941)

Maltese-Falcon-Poster-001

This film owes more to the conventions of stage performance than to the still developing craft of film-making, relying heavily on static indoor dialogue, though there are innovative crossovers, such as the seven-minute, single-take scene showing Bogart and Gutman ‘walk ‘n’ talk’ through four sets.

It was an incredible camera setup. We rehearsed two days. The camera followed Greenstreet and Bogart from one room into another, then down a long hallway and finally into a living room; there the camera moved up and down in what is referred to as a boom-up and boom-down shot, then panned from left to right and back to Bogart’s drunken face; the next pan shot was to Greenstreet’s massive stomach from Bogart’s point of view. … One miss and we had to begin all over again.

— Meta Wilde, Huston’s longtime script supervisor.

Cinematographer Arthur Edesons’s low-angle work,is unobtrusive if you don’t look for it, and can summon the vague discomfort of a claustrophobia not quite realised in framing ceilings and walls as containers. More obvious are his exaggerated shots of Greenstreet’s already considerable girth, and the barred shadows or patterns he used in various places to resemble the steel cage of a jail cell. The visualisation bears watching with the sound off just for its own sake.

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Insomnia, dead of night, and film noir

This essay has been superseded in my thinking about film noir by my more recent critiques, especially the ones on Crossfire, Dark Passage, and especially Key Largo. I haven’t yet been able to spend the time to make a better effort of this piece, and it will remain here until I can.

Tinted photograph of Dashiell Hammett, an originator of the 'hard-boiled' genre of crime fiction, ca early 1930s.
Tinted photograph of Dashiell Hammett, an originator of the ‘hard-boiled’ genre of crime fiction, ca early 1930s.

Insomnia, I have discovered, can be put to good use if exploited the right way. Long hours of still darkness in which there is little to do but read, write, and … watch old films.

Some recent sleepless nights have been devoted to watching old American black and white films, each one proclaimed rather crassly as a ‘film noir classic’ on cheaply designed DVD jackets.

I became intrigued by the concept of a ‘black’ or ‘dark cinema’ and I broadened my ‘portfolio’ to include other films from the 1930s to the 1950s for which no such claims were made. Nevertheless, I came across a tangible but hard-to-describe common thread that linked a whole batch of these films by something other than genre, directors, actors or plot similarities.

One of the elements of this common thread was that many of these old films, though mostly devoid of special effects, colour or grand spectacle, were simply better than their contemporary successors. Somehow the stories seemed more meaningful, the visualisations more sophisticated, and the impact of the cinematography more powerful.

Another dynamic was that I thought I was beginning to get a somewhat deeper understanding of the psychology not only of the artists who made these films, but also of the imagined audiences they ‘spoke’ to with their art.

Underlying my thoughts on these dynamics was a deliberate search for common elements and patterns that I could apprehend as this elusive category of film noir.

That investigation was not as simple as it might have seemed, and ended up in a fairly personal survey of the films reviewed here.

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Inglorious Basterds (2009)

On finally seeing the film I felt disappointed, almost cheated, that Tarantino had managed to attract so much publicity with such a minor film. In fact, it isn’t so much a film as a series of admittedly carefully observed but ultimately quite meaningless vignettes loosely strung together (the word ‘plot’ isn’t quite appropriate) by the characters Shosanna Dreyfus (Laurent) and Lt Aldo Raine (Pitt).

The disjointed, episodic narrative is just bizarre enough to be based on truth, as is suggested in the credits of the film, but features the kind of seemingly nonsensical dialogues that are pure Tarantino.

It is the story of a young Jew, Shosanna, who escaped execution at the hands of the murderous SS Colonel Landa (Waltz) and manages to organise a far-fetched mass assassination of the entire Nazi hierarchy in her cinema in Paris. This plot-line intersects with another about an allied plan to do the same using a bunch of Jewish commandos notorious for scalping their Nazi enemies, and led by the red-neck hillbilly Lt Raine (Pitt).

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