Bob De Niro always gets invited to the best weddings. Alongside all of the countless things young brides concern themselves with in the months leading up to their marriage — what if it rains? Can Trudy and Greta get along if we sit them together? Chocolate or vanilla? — there’s incredible solace to be had in the fact that De Niro will be there, in attendance and in approval. The guy clearly loves weddings. One of his first starring roles was in Brian De Palma’s The Wedding Party and one of his most recent was The Big Wedding, followed by the pre-wedding bachelor party shenanigans of Last Vegas; jury’s out on whether those movies are any good or not (wait — jury’s back — they’re not) but still, the weddings in those movies rock. Come on: Robin Williams is the presiding priest in The Big Wedding. This could be an all-divas-on-deck Kardashian wedding or some other unfathomably incestuous socialite caucus and you’d still attend if Robin Williams was the priest. So too would De Niro, apparently.
One of the better ones is the wedding from Goodfellas, in which the goodwill wishes come in a drunken torrent and the prerequisite for inclusion on the guestlist is being named Peter, Paul, or Marie. Just look at Henry and Karen — they’re perfect together. De Niro’s here, he’s having a pretty good time. But there’s something else on his mind, maybe, like whether the salami on that antipasto platter is fresh or whether he should just go ahead and whack Morrie Kessler already. Remember how he cut loose at Steven and Angela’s wedding down in Pennsylvania? That was a blast! He almost fought that Green Beret at the bar. Then he took his clothes off and ran down the street! Really, when we all invite De Niro to our weddings, the Hammered Brawling Run-Naked-Through-the-Streets De Niro is the one we want to RSVP.
I admit: I was sold early on Sicario. Were you? There’s no shortage of seduction. Emily Blunt leads a stellar cast that includes Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro in some of the finest roles of their respective careers; Roger Deakins (blame him for this) is behind the camera, which is hardly ever wrong; and Denis Villeneuve is in the director’s chair, following up on Enemy and Prisoners with another intense thriller. Not completely onboard yet? How about a poster that recalls The Third Man?
Ah, works every time. Happily, as we sit down in the darkened theater and Sicario (a film which by the way has little to do with The Third Man) begins, it turns out the theme of seduction was at the heart of the film all along.
Rumor has it that the second season of Serial will delve into the story of Bowe Bergdahl, and that Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty scribe Mark Boal is somehow involved as he writes a new film for Kathryn Bigelow. If any shred of this is true, we’re on board.
Sam Smith’s Spectre theme song will be available for your ears the day after tomorrow (Friday 25th).
Jordan Peele — yes, the Key and Peele Jordan Peele — is apparently going to direct the horror film Get Out as his next project. Sounds hilarious.
The NYFF is well underway — stay tuned for reviews from our screenings starting this week.
I had the good fortune of meeting Sebastian Junger a few years ago in Boston as he did the press junket for his book War. From mid-2007 to mid-2008 Junger was embedded with a U.S. unit in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan with his friend and photographer Tim Hetherington, and War was one of the many pieces of journalism that resulted from that year. Another was a series of Vanity Fair dispatches collected as “Into the Valley of Death“, which is an excellent companion to War and an excellent account of that year in the Korengal. But the most affecting portrait from Junger’s tour as a war journalist might be Restrepo, the documentary he and Hetherington directed from the thousands of hours of footage they took during the year and ensuing interviews with the soldiers immediately upon their return home.
The Korengal Valley (sometimes spelled Korangal) was at the time dubbed the deadliest place in the world, an overblown-sounding moniker that is nonetheless entirely lacking exaggeration. U.S. troops in the Korengal took fire from Taliban insurgencies every single day, often engaging in five or six firefights between dawn and dusk. For soldiers on a fifteen-month deployment, that’s an unheard-of amount of action. By the time the U.S. pulled out of the Korengal in April 2010, nearly fifty American soldiers had been K.I.A. there. Seventy percent of ordinance dropped throughout Afghanistan during the course of the war was dropped here. In an interview with CNN, Junger describes the Korengal as “the Afghanistan of Afghanistan, too remote to conquer, too poor to intimidate, too autonomous to buy off.”
Around the 30-minute mark of American Sniper there’s something that’s not quite a montage, not quite a self-contained series of events, not quite comfortable in that first half-hour of the film. Sniper Chris Kyle spots an insurgent in his scope and he takes him out. A few more lone insurrectionaries crop up, and Kyle fires again. Again. Again. It sounds like a montage, but director Clint Eastwood doesn’t let it play out as such. And it’s fairly quick, cutting from one shot to the next inside the space of a minute and a half. Still, though, there’s something brutal and cold and darkly affecting about this life-of-Kyle in 90 seconds, something that almost singlehandedly elevates American Sniper to the level of a modern classic war film.
I assumed that Sniper would be a lot like The Hurt Locker, judging from the trailers and a few reviews and my admittedly vague knowledge of Chris Kyle’s story. Sniper is a lot like Hurt Locker, to be sure, but it’s not exactly in the way I expected. The similarities, really, are resigned mostly to the aesthetic — and visually, they’re so similar that you might expect Kyle to peek through his scope and spot Will James strutting down the sandy street in his EOD blast suit.
Gallipoli is arguably the feature that catapulted both Mel Gibson and Peter Weir onto the international stage. Though both the actor and the director had found success in the years prior – Weir with The Cars That Ate Paris, Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave and Gibson with Mad Max – their first collaboration would prove to bring out the best in both of them. Gallipoli spawned plenty of war films and series that would attempt to ride that wave of popularity, but to this day it still remains one of the greatest WWI films out there.
Gibson stars alongside Mark Lee, the latter of whom actually has the larger role despite Gibson’s mug being the only one plastered across the U.S. marketing materials. Lee is Archy Hamilton, hopeful young sprinter from Western Australia who continually hears of the efforts of the Australian Imperial Force on the peninsula of Gallipoli. He first crosses paths with Gibson’s Frank Dunne during a footrace, after which both men travel together to Perth in order to enlist. Their journey is long and full of joy and laughter, but it eventually takes them to the front lines at Gallipoli. Here they confront the reality of war, attempting to hold onto whatever remnants of home they can in the face of such horror.
To be sure, there are no shortage of “loss of innocence” war films. You could even argue that all war films address this in one way or another, even if it’s tangentially through a supporting character or two as in the likes of The Hurt Locker. Not only does Gallipoli get credit for being a precursor to some of the best WWI films of our era, but it’s also worth paying attention to the structuring of the film as a kind of growing, building framework on which we can hang this theme as the credits roll. First off, the focus is very much on Archy and Frank for the entirety of the movie – we only see the battlefield when they see the battlefield, and any notions we have of the war are stemmed from the opinions of the people they meet and the newspapers they read. In this sense, the war is almost a backdrop for a tale about two friends, and Gibson himself expressed as much in an interview (according to the almighty Wikipedia [so it’s gotta be true!]).