Poster for Civil War

Civil War

Posted on April 9, 2024 at 8:07 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for strong violent content, bloody/disturbing images, and language
Profanity: Very strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol and marijuana
Violence/ Scariness: Extensive very intense and graphic wartime violence, characters injured, tortured, killed, and executed, mass grave, disturbing and gory images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 12, 2024

Writer/director Alex Garland likes to present audiences with extinction level disaster, from the zombie apocalypse “28 Days Later” to the investigate-the-anomaly “Annihilation” and the AI-can- outsmart-us “Ex Machina.” In all of them, though, the story is not the causes or consequences of the unconquerable threats; it is us, and the way we respond to them. There is no zombie as terrifying in “28 Days Later” as the humans who betray one another.

Kirsten Dunst in Civil War
Copyright 2024 A24

“Civil War” is not about the issues or personalities that caused three states to declare war on the rest of the US. We learn in the first moments that two of the states are, in today’s politics, majority far-right Texas and Florida and far-left California (with strong opposite-leaning parts of the states), so there are no easy conclusions to draw. This movie is about the journalists covering the war by bringing cameras into the battles, being present as proxy, never making themselves part of the story by inserting themselves into even the most disturbing and potentially preventable carnage. The most important comment in the film, from a veteran war photographer to a 23-year-old newcomer is, “We record so other people ask.”

We will see, though, that other people do not seem to be asking. Both the veteran, Lee (Kirsten Dunst) and the newcomer, Jessie (Cailee Spaeny of “Priscilla”) are daughters of farmers they describe as pretending nothing is happening. Four journalists are trying to drive from the battleground in New York City to Washington D.C. to interview the President (Nick Offerman). They cannot take the highway that was the direct route because it has been destroyed. As they drive via back western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, they see shoot-outs and desolation, except for one small town that appears to be untouched by the war. It even has charming shops carrying items like party dresses no one has any more reason to buy. The store clerk explains that they prefer to pretend the war is not happening. As they leave, Lee sees that they are not in complete denial; there are snipers on the roofs.

The other two journalists are adrenalin junkie Joel (Wagner Moura, Pablo Escobar in “Narcos”), and elder statesman and mentor Sammy (the always-great Stephen McKinley Henderson of “Fences” and “Lady Bird”). If you get confused as they travel about who is on which side, that is the point. When they try to interview a soldier who is in the middle of a skirmish, he impatiently summarizes the situation as shooting and being shot at. Jesse Plemons has a brief scene as a terrifying figure who, though wearing a uniform, does not seem aligned with any side except his own sense of who is an authentic American.

Significantly, we never see anyone at a news organization receiving the images they send, much less a subscriber reading a news story. We are told that in Washington they are shooting journalists.

As Jessie points out, Lee’s career began with an image she took when she was still in college, a viral photograph of the “Antifa Massacre” (no indication of whether they were the killers or the victims). And she shares a name with legendary WWII photojournalist Lee Miller. Lee has a steely reserve, tempered with numbness, when photographing the most dire, dangerous, and disturbing situations. But she retains some empathy, even tenderness for Jessie, perhaps because she sees something of herself. She both wants to help her and protect her, understanding that she cannot do both.

Jessie insists on using an old camera, with film, not digital, perhaps a tribute to Lee Miller. She even carries a travel developing kit, keeping the fluid in a vial under her shirt so it stays warm. But Lee is there to tell the story, and Jessie is more like Joel, to feel the rush.

The final scenes, an attack on Washington DC, are horrifying. We’ve seen the iconic structures blown up in movies before, but the intensity and devastation of this film are unprecedented. This builds on the carefully chosen details we have already seen, a high school football field converted to a refugee center run by an international humanitarian aid group, a mass grave, those snipers on the roofs.

Garland’s words from a Daily Beast interview are the best conclusion to a discussion of the film: “More and more news organizations have become dominated by bias, so this is a throwback to an older form of journalism, which is reporting. Then, the film is attempting to function like a reporter. It’s about reporters, and it’s trying to be like a reporter itself.”

Parents should know that this movie includes intense and disturbing wartime violence with many characters injured and killed, some torture, murder, and many graphic and disturbing images including dead bodies and a mass grave). Characters use very strong language, smoke marijuana, and drink alcohol.

Family discussion: Should journalists ever intervene in the situations they are covering? What journalists do you trust and why? How are Sammy, Lee, Joel, and Jessie different in their reasons and approaches?

If you like this, try: Garland’s other films and “The Year of Living Dangerously”

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The Beguiled

Posted on June 22, 2017 at 5:22 pm

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
MPAA Rating: Rated R for some sexuality
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Some alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: War (off-screen), injuries, murder
Diversity Issues: Gender issues
Date Released to Theaters: June 23, 2017

Copyright 2017 Parmount

Writer/director Sofia Coppola has taken a 1971 Clint Eastwood movie about a wounded but manipulative Civil War soldier cared for and disruptive of the staff and students of a small girls’ school and reframed it as a story about the staff and students of a small girls’ school who care for and are disrupted by a wounded Civil War soldier. It is not so much telling the story of the spider and the fly from the perspective of the fly; it is more like telling the story with the women as the spider.

From her first film, “The Virgin Suicides,” through “Marie Antoinette,” “The Bling Ring,” “Lost in Translation,” and “Somewhere,” Sofia Coppola has been transfixed by stories of slender, ethereal young women who are a bit lost in a world created by powerful but inadequate men, and she has done her best to transfix the audience as well. Her next project, “La Traviata,” the story of a consumptive courtesan who turns out to be more noble than the man she loves, is certain to fit this pattern as well.

It is impossible to consider this latest work, a remake of a film directed by and starring two of the most testosteronic filmmakers in movie history, without that context. And that context is increasingly repetitive, with each iteration revealing not only the limits of the individual film but also the lacunae of the previous ones as well. What once seemed intriguing, mysterious, and thoughtful now appears, when the work is viewed as a whole, as superficial. It turns out that what was omitted was not because it was subtle and deep but because she had nothing more to say. While this film touches on issues of war (and warring emotions), it eliminates the slave character played in the first film by Mae Mercer, because there is really no way to do that relationship justice and any attempt to do so would throw the rest of the story off balance.

It is a pity, because she is just so good with the externals. The settings, costumes, music, and performances in her films are always superb, which makes the dispiriting emptiness even more disappointing.

Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) runs a small boarding school for girls, a retreat precariously close to Civil War battles being fought nearby. When one of the girls is out gathering mushrooms in the woods, she discovers a wounded Union soldier, John McBurney (Colin Farrell) and she brings him back to the school for treatment. Miss Farnsworth is not pleased, but she cannot turn him away. She treats him and tries to keep his presence as a male and an enemy combatant from disrupting the students and her co-teacher, Edwina Dabney (Kirsten Dunst). But he is a novelty and a distraction especially for those who long, perhaps unaware how much, for male attention.

McBurney has a gift for making each female in the house feel that he is what they most want him to be, from the teenager (Elle Fanning) to the widow (Dunst). “I’m grateful to be your prisoner,” he says. At first, he is gracious, unassuming, and charming. But he becomes a more ominous presence, dividing and disrupting the women until they take drastic action.

Kidman and Dunst are outstanding, representing two very different reactions to the intruder. It is precisely presented, even beguiling, but Coppola needs to move on or go deeper.

Parents should know that this film contains peril and violence including war (mostly offscreen), a wounded soldier, an accident, amateur surgery, mutilation, and murder, as well as sexual references and a situation, alcohol, and some strong language.

Family discussion: How did McBurney assess the vulnerabilities of each of the women and girls? How does this version reflect our era in differing from the original?

If you like this, try: the original version with Clint Eastwood

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Based on a book Drama Horror Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Remake War

Upside Down

Posted on March 14, 2013 at 10:48 pm

 Argentinean writer-director Juan Solanas has created a work of bracingly singular imagination that is sheer visual pleasure, with some mind-bending ideas and a deeply romantic sensibility.

We are told by Adam (Jim Sturgess) that throughout the universe, there is only one solar system with “dual gravity.”  He lives in the “down” side of mirror-image parallel worlds.  Interaction between the two worlds is strictly forbidden, with the exception of a tightly controlled transfer of energy by a vast, soulless, and predatory corporation.  The laws of physics in this world also impose a barrier.  Matter from one side quickly heats up and burns when it is placed in the other.  People carry their gravitational pull with them, so that anyone who visits the other side will give themselves away by floating back toward their home turf.

Adam was orphaned following an industrial accident.  His only family is his Aunt Becky, who sends him into the mountains to gather a very rare pink bee pollen that stands out in the wintry gray and blue of the bleached-out color scheme.  On the highest peak, he glimpses a girl named Eden Moore (Kirsten Dunst) in the mountains of the up world.  They are close enough to talk to each other.  Within a few years, they are in love.  He pulls her down on a rope and with her back up against a protruding crag to keep her from floating back up, they kiss.

But they are tracked down and she is badly hurt trying to escape.  Ten years later, Adam learns that Eden has survived the accident and works for the corporation.  He has to find her again.  But it turns out the totalitarian regime and gravitational barriers are not their biggest obstacles.

Solanas has created two worlds of vast and stunningly intricate detail.  Identical desks extend endlessly across both floor and ceiling in cavernous offices.  Eden likes to drink upside-down cocktails, blue liquid served in a stem-up glass and slurped from below.  And the consequences of reverse gravity are imaginatively (if not always consistently) explored.  Adam remembers to use hairspray to help him pass as a top world resident, to make sure that his hair won’t hang the wrong way (up instead of down) when he goes to see Eden.  But when he hides out in the men’s room, he does not think about the fact that his pee will hit the ceiling, not the urinal.  His early experiments to help him pass for an “up” have a limited time span that adds a Cinderella quality to the story.

Timothy Spall provides zesty comic relief as Adam’s “up” world colleague and Dunst and Sturgess have a swoon-worthy chemistry that makes the story feel, well, grounded.  The daring originality of Solanas’ vision more than makes up for some narrative lags and makes this one of the most promising debuts in recent memory.

Parents should know that this film includes peril, chases, and some violence, including shooting, with some characters injured.  There is a fire and there are references to sad deaths and a brief image of hanging.  A character smokes cigars and some drink cocktails and there is brief potty humor.

Family discussion: What kind of government is in place in this movie?  Why is there income disparity between the two worlds?

If you like this, try: “Looper” and “Solaris”

 

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Date movie Fantasy Romance Science-Fiction

Female Critics Discuss Actress Nudity

Posted on November 29, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Three new films feature nude scenes with three young actresses not thought of as bombshells or sex symbols.  Kristen Stewart shows a bit of PG-13-rated skin in the latest”Twilight” movie, but in the R-rated “Melancholia” and the NC-17-rated “Shame” Kirsten Dunst and Carey Mulligan show full frontal nudity.  The scenes where they appear naked are not intended to be erotic but to make a statement about character and the storyline.  On Reel Women, critic Thelma Adams and some of her female colleagues discuss the meaning of nude scenes in the context of the films and as a career move.  Adams is perceptive and insightful:

Why does Mulligan, an Oscar nominee for An Education, feel compelled to take it off, all off? Partially, it would seem, to shed that chilly BBC debutante image: Look, it’s a Bennet sister out of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice without the empire-waist period gown to hide behind!

But nudity is only brave, really brave, in context. There has to be a characterization that stands or falls, has a reason for being, outside of the nudity….

Revealing nudity, or concealing it, works best if it’s integral to the story. Nothing seems faker than a moment of soft-lit Playboy nudity in an otherwise gritty, realistic movie. Nakedness should peel back pretense, not encourage it. And it shouldn’t throw the audience, gaping, out of the narrative. That’s the case for both Dunst and Stewart in their respective films, but not for Mulligan.

 

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