Editorial 45: Modern Warfare (2019)

The last Call of Duty I actually wanted to play was Black Ops 2. After that, the series became an afterthought thanks to Activision pushing out a new title each year. CoD played like no other, laying the groundwork for all shooters since the very first game. 4A Games perfected the formula with Metro and shooters would not be what they are today. The latest release, Modern Warfare (2019) is the first game I bought in a long time un-ironically (had to play Ghosts just to make sure). You can tell Activision understood the need to return to normalcy after years of monotony. My only gripe is with the game’s story.

I have no problem with the inclusion of white phosphorous or the Highway of Death allegory. The gaming press before launch made a big deal about the game having WP as a Killstreak because they had nothing better to do. Yes, it is not a great weapon before or after you use it, but it is useful when you want to start a fire that wont spread or need to set off munitions. The Highway of Death allegory meant nothing overall, but the reaction to it inspired me to write this.

MW (2019) is military fiction, but it is so far outside conceivable reality it is fantasy. The word “fiction” is a misnomer because the genre is grounded in the real world. The story makes sense if you do not think about it; were I not researching Russia’s history as a military power, I would not be writing this. And before I continue, I do not have a pro-Russia bias. They make the best guns and women next to Czechs, but they have a history no normal human being could overlook. I am not going to be offended for them; they are quite skilled at doing that on their own.

Less than five years after the Soviet-Afghan War, Russia became the target of the longest insurgency in its history. The Chechen Wars were a continuation of the kind of warfare that lost them tens of thousands of men years before, but in a form no nation can afford. Chechnya is located in North Caucasia, within Russian borders, and directly south of the country’s industrial heartland. Further south is Transcaucasia, the Middle East, and Turkey, a cornucopia of would-be adversaries that could take advantage of a compromised sector if need be. There were two Chechen Wars and an insurgency that went on for about fifteen years, including a hostage situation whose outcome changed how Russia would approach terrorism.

America dealt with similar problems in Vietnam, but post-Perestroika Russia had far less time to catch up after their own Vietnam. The country was and still is somewhat Third World having been under Communism for roughly eighty years. Before then they were barely up to par with Europe or America; the Japanese were able to defeat them in 1905 and they just came on to the world stage. The deck has been stacked against Russia for about a century and only recently have they figured out how to play to their strengths.

The key to contemporary Russia’s military success is a balance of diplomacy and police action. They dealt with Chechnya by appealing to pro-Russia moderates among the secessionists while assassinating-the-shit out those they could not flip. With terrorism, no one is taken alive and hostage takers are killed through the hostages. There are stories out of Dagestan where homes are raided and suspects shot on site. Crimea was annexed while Ukraine was in the middle of political upheaval without firing a shot because the country was fearful of a localized “fascist” takeover. Russia gained a further foothold in Ukraine by assisting secessionists in Donbass, a war that continues today. And in Syria, I am willing to bet there are less than a thousand Special Forces and Air Force personnel assisting President Assad.

This tells us Russia is not willing to engage in large-scale conflict, nor could they maintain it without employing depopulation tactics like in Afghanistan, to the further detriment of their already tarnished image. In the event an insurgency or escalation seems likely, they go through diplomatic channels. In Donbass, they organized a semi-successful ceasefire with Ukraine after President Trump took a firmer stance compared to his predecessor. Chechnya was turned into a federal subject under a puppet, Ramzan Kadyrov, and I predict the Donetsk People’s Republic in Ukraine will follow suit.

I would also like to point out to certain American readers (you know who you are) that Russia’s tactics do not include nation building or destabilization. They would never and cannot rig elections for a country of our size, nor could they influence an election via memes or “hacking.” The most they would do is resort to conventional intelligence gathering and espionage, whereas Soviets were quite fond of assassination. This whole “Russia got Trump elected” horseshit was conjured by sore losers in the corporate-controlled media to stagnate our government in an investigation that led to fuck and all. If you actually believe this shit, get yourself committed.

Conventional warfare is not an option for today’s Russia. They would only take action if success was guaranteed and they could do it quickly. Back in Crimea, Russia stole the region from Ukraine in less than a year because there was so much upheaval during Euromaidan. The same can be said for Donbass, Syria, Chechnya, and Georgia.

In American military fiction there has always been the “great enemy” trope among others. Russia is the cunning main villain, Arabs are terrorists, Africans are warlords while Afrikaners are mercenaries, South Americans are drug lords or despots, and American politicians are corrupt middlemen. These tropes defined military fiction from years’ past with some reoccurring today in one form or another. They are extremes based in reality that seem outlandish, but make sense when you keep in mind it is still fiction.

In the first Modern Warfare Russia was a mutual ally dealing with internal strife. The second game made them the enemy after an ultra-nationalist regime takes over and launches a sneak attack on America’s east coast, followed by an invasion of Europe in the third game. The first was perfect military fiction whereas the last two skirted by because it was able to justify Russia’s aggression. The HBO show Chernobyl put it best when it referred to Russia as a country “obsessed with not being humiliated.” The incredible “No Russian” mission in MW2 was the catalyst for the invasion because that mission was seemingly carried out by Americans as it was engineered to be by the real antagonist.

Contemporary Russia is similar to Imperial Japan. It is modern, but cannot sustain a long-term, large-scale war with another superpower. Had Japan not attacked Pearl Harbor, they could have taken over China and been on par with America in a matter of decades. After Pearl Harbor, however, they ran rampant through the Pacific for six months before we pushed them all the way back to the Home Islands. In MW2 and 3 the invasion lasted about a week or two before the East Coast was liberated. It was also probably the same in Europe where only major cities were occupied, but I played that one days after it came out and never again.

The first three Modern Warfare games had stories that worked within the confines of military fiction, but the latest reboot makes almost zero sense considering the current state of Russia. Logic was likely sacrificed to push the story’s allegory for the Syrian Civil War and to play on the “Russia Scare” currently consuming a number of mentally ill Americans. MW (2019) suffers the same problem as Bright where it was more interested in saying something instead of thinking about its own world. I am pretty sure the writers had a cursory understanding of military fiction from movies and Tom Clancy books, but did not bother to understand what made them work.

The overarching set-up of the story is Russia has been occupying a small country the size of New Jersey called Urzikstan in the northeastern corner of Turkey. The war has lasted 20 years with a strong insurgent movement that has resulted in routine reprisals with neither side making much headway. In the middle of it all emerged a terrorist group called Al-Qatala that stages a brutal attack on London in the second mission. However, AQ was a red haring being used by rogue Urzik insurgents to get back at the leader of the occupation, General Barkov.

Pretty standard stuff when you do not think about it. When you do, the whole enterprise collapses in on itself. As an allegory for the Syrian Civil War it kind of makes sense. For one thing, it is said Urzikstan is in a civil war with AQ at odds with the insurgents (one coded as ISIS and the other YPG), but the Russian occupation is pushed as the primary antagonistic force that is doing the most damage. AQ was well defined as the Islamic Extremist allegory with the best missions featuring them as the enemy.

The story has a strong anti-chemical weapons theme where Russia uses them on the Urziks and later vice-versa. To the writers of MW (2019): ever heard of the Geneva Convention? The Soviets were quite brutal to the Afghanis, but they were not dumb enough to use chems and I doubt any nation, big or small, would use them today. However, I see what you were trying to do considering Assad’s alleged use in Syria. Yeah, he got a few angry letters from the UN, but President Trump made sure he got a proper punishment after taking office… allegedly.

Furthermore, it is strange that Russia would bother occupying a country like Urzikstan given its size and political situation. It would have made more sense and fit the allegory if Barkov was working with either the insurgents or a third element like a pro-government force. It seems all there is are AQ and insurgents. On top of that, there is no reason why Russia would go to the trouble of wasting twenty years trying to control a country via anti-partisan tactics in a comprising part of the world.

Urzikstan is situated along the Black Sea (practically owned by Russia), directly south of Georgia (almost Russia), and a neighbor to Turkey (who hates Russia). That country and Transcaucasia as a whole serves as a buffer zone to the Middle East. Were they closer, it would open up the Russia to attack from Western powers that are entrenched throughout the region. Is there some resource in Urzikstan they are desperate enough to exploit that they resort to total war? Do they want to install a puppet regime to increase their sphere of influence? I have no idea because it seems to me the game is more concerned about saying something profound instead of explaining itself.

All of these shortcomings could have been justified had MW (2019) made General Barkov divorced from Russia. In the game he appears pretty well off with a large estate in Moldova and chemical plant in Georgia. He does not even wear the RusFed flag on his uniform, nor do his troops. Like Zakhaev from the first MW, he could be a warlord with connections who decided to lead a conquest of Urzikstan like Slavic Caesar. Maybe you end up working with Russia to help put him down because he is making everyone look bad. Sure, you are essentially repeating the first game by appealing to logic, but with the added allegory to current events, people would have looked the other way.

Modern Warfare (2019) is still a video game and no one will give that much a shit about the story unless they are not focused on the game element. Other than Metro Exodus, there is no better shooter on the market right now. The feeling of going through missions and doing what we have been doing since the very first Call of Duty has never felt better. I could not recommend picking it up enough. I just wish the same effort applied to the gameplay was put toward the story.

Binge Review 10: The Boys

Let me get this out of the way before we begin: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was great and you do not need me to explain why you should see it.

***

Writer Garth Ennis is Mark Millar with artistic integrity. Not only has he written the best Punisher books to date, he has the uncanny ability to take intense, childishly edgy material, and play it totally straight. His books hinge on serious, but are so absurd and ridiculous they border on humorous. Ennis obviously writes to have fun and does not let that get in the way of telling a great story… except Crossed.

I was pretty young when I heard about The Boys and never picked it up because I thought it was going to be more try-hard crap like Crossed. As I got older and absorbed more of Ennis’s work I grew to appreciate what he does, but Boys did not enter my mind again until I saw it was coming to Amazon Prime. I also heard the producers of Preacher were in charge, a great show if you want to fall asleep. Needless to say I was more than a little skeptical going in.

From the start Boys captures the tone of Ennis’s writing with a heroic sequence of the show’s Justice League analogue called the Seven punctuated by a scene the protagonist’s girlfriend getting accidently obliterated by the team’s Flash equivalent. After that we switch perspectives to an up-incoming heroin called Starlight who is asked to perform oral sex on the Seven’s Aquaman analogue in order to join.

It does not get much better after that.

Boys imagines what the world would be like if superheroes were real. Not unlike how film studios handle comic book characters today, superheroes or supes as they are called in the show are corporatized assets in a multi-million dollar industry of not only (staged) crime fighting, but also movie deals, PR stunts, and sponsorships. The show also explores the psyche of the supes and gives them very human flaws. The Wonder Woman analogue is a jaded aging alcoholic. The invisible supe is a voyeuristic pervert that hangs out in bathrooms fully naked. The Superman analogue has a messiah complex and a laundry list of other issues that are bound to get worse from season to season.

The supes are only half the show with the titular Boys the main focus. We follow Hughie, a normal guy that worked at an electronics store before Butcher, an independent contractor that used to punish or kill supes for the government, recruits him following the evisceration of his girlfriend. As the pair gets deeper into a conspiracy involving the Seven and their corporate overlords, former members rejoin the Boys to help unravel the mystery. As teams go they have a good dynamic where everyone is screwed up in some way and hates each other, but they get along when it comes to taking down supes.

Unlike typical Ennis stories, the violence of the show is toned down significantly. I looked up some choice panels from Boys and there was no way even half of that was going to make it to screen. What we get is enough that it maintains the tone without too much gratuity. Sure people are lazed in half, guns melted onto criminals’ hands, and supes are blown up into bloody chunks, but it happens in short bursts about once per episode.

Where the show falters is in character progression. Boys does a good job of setting up their personalities, but they develop faster than they should for the sake of pacing. A good handful of the characters have layers of complexity that needed time to simmer and grow from episode to episode. One in particular shows his true colors rather quickly and ruins an otherwise satisfying pay off for future seasons. The whole of the season was front loaded with all this baggage unwittingly dumped on the audience for seemingly no reason. Had the show left more in the dark or set up a better cliffhanger that does not ruin the more important mystery, it would have been satisfying.

With streaming services everywhere these days, there is so much content in the open that it is impossible to judge what is worth watching. About 90% of what is available is the same crap you find on cable. The Boys is the exception as it deconstructs the superhero genre in a time when entertainment media is utterly saturated in them. May not be the most intellectual, but the show is a good start in the right direction. If you have Amazon Prime, it is worth looking into if you have eight hours to spare.

Punisher Comics Review 6

Season two of Daredevil herald the coming of a new incarnation of Frank Castle, the Punisher, played by Jon Bernthal. The character has his own series on Netflix and it remains to be seen if Bernthal can keep up the momentum. Since my blog’s inception I have used it to examine the character and express my fandom, but I never talked about the comics that inspired me. And so, I will dedicate a new series to covering my favorite Punisher stories.

* * *

The Slavers (2005)
Garth Ennis
Leandro Fernandez

If you were to compare Frank Castle to a movie slasher, Michael Myers is a perfect match. They are both shapeless entities with a singular drive, operating on instinct to get what they want. Where they differ is Frank has a defined moral compass, but remains an emotionless automaton. Nicky Cavella came close to getting a tangible emotional reaction out of Castle, but pissing on the corpses of his family was not enough. What came next would ultimately do the job in one of the darkest Punisher stories ever written.

Scan

Lining up his crosshairs on a Balkan crime boss Frank prepares to do what he does best when someone tries to steal his kill. A lone woman nearly kills the boss before fleeing the scene. The boss sends his boys to get her, leaving him alone for Castle to perforate from his rooftop perch. Tracking the woman Frank contemplates abandoning her before the boys catch her and drop their pants. Castle makes quick work of them, saving the woman from humiliation.

Scan copy

On his way out the woman begs for help, but Frank wants to stay out of it until she mentions a baby. The next day the woman wakes up in Castle’s subterranean home where she tells her story. Her name is Viorica and she lived in a village in Moldova before she was kidnapped and forced into prostitution. After enduring months of abuse and selling her body to multiple men on a daily basis, she was sent to America as a part of a larger operation run by a Romanian father/son team and a woman named Vera.

After the move Viorica gave birth to a baby named Anna, but she was only allowed to see her if she worked hard. Desperate to escape with her child, Viorica ran away and met a social worker named Jen Cooke, who was building a case against the Slavers. One day, when Jen leaves the baby in what she assumed was a safe place she gets an email from Vera meant for Viorica.

Scan copy 2

A dead baby is more than enough motivation for Frank to rip and tear. All he needs is a who, what, and where. While telling her story, Viorica laid out the details of the operation. The Slavers have middlemen to attract clients before sending them to discreet locations where the girls are held. One of the middlemen was the boss Castle deep-sixed beforehand, leading him to the man’s club for answers. Wiping out the remaining gangsters, Frank interrogates the boss’s replacement, and gets an address.

Posing as a driver for a pair of clients leaving the house, Frank pulls over the van and makes them an offer. He wants the clients to tell him everything and then to lie to the house guards about losing their wallets once they drove back. The clients oblige until a cop shows up, siren blaring. Intent on sparing the officer Castle puts the fear of God into him before fleeing, the cop’s arrival no doubt spooking the Slavers.

While trying to get information on a new house location, Frank butchers random pimps until he realizes they do not know anything. He later tracks down Jen Cooke to get something more and she gives it up without protest.

Scan copy 3

Tiberiu and Cristu Bulat ran a militia of foreign fighters during the Bosnian War. As they massacred whole villages, the militia took the young women, and killed the rest. Castle assumes once stability returned to the region, the sex trade would be difficult to maintain without NATO intervening. So, the Bulats took their operation underground and moved west. Frank realizes trying to get more information from veterans of the Yugoslav Wars would take extreme measures and plans accordingly.

Following up on a potential location from one of Jen’s rescues, Castle heads into rural New York in search of a house on a lake. Watching from a distance he spies a squad of heavily armed men enter the house, Cristu among them. Knowing they were ready for him, Frank knew to come at dinnertime, and spike their stew with a knockout drug. Soon the whole house goes to sleep and he gives each of the men a twelve-gauge face-lift. The only man to survive was Cristu because Frank needed answers. What followed is one of the most disturbing pages in comics.

 

Scan copy 4

Having gotten what he needed Castle makes his way back to the house when he notices Tiberiu and a dozen men had arrived. Apparently, the father came to kill the son over a business dispute. Frank takes the smart route and hides under the cabin’s dock, hoping to given them the slip. Without a second thought he decides to go loud and gives the closest man a 45-caliber castration. Frank opens fire topside until he realizes he is not fighting street trash. The Slavers are real soldiers with more than a decade of experience. As Tiberiu gives orders the soldiers overwhelm Castle, forcing him to dive into the lake.

After returning to the city he meets Jen at a diner with two off-duty cops, Russ and Miller. They came to her after learning Jen was under surveillance by a Detective Westin, a known shitbag. Russ and Miller eventually reveal Westin is on the take from the Slavers. The cops agree to help, but on the condition that the Detective lives. Frank agrees and moves to pull apart the remains of the operation.

Making his way to a business office Frank confronts Vera, the brains of the Slavers. Plunking her two guards he throws Vera face-first into the window of a secluded room. The glass does not break, giving Frank enough time to reveal how much he knows after dissecting Cristu. He throws her again and again, slowly turning her face into a bloody pulp, while looting filing cabinets for information on Westin. With his final throw the window pops out its frame and Vera plummets to the street.

Scan copy 5

Vera’s files give Frank the address of the last house and a possible location for Tiberiu. After setting up an explosive under the manhole by the curb of the house he waits across the street for the old man’s arrival. Triggering the bomb after making a positive ID Frank charges inside. He chases Tiberiu to the top floor where he uses a girl as a shield, knife to her throat. The old man eggs him on and Castle knows he is at a disadvantage with a scattergun. Out of options he settles for a gamble and calls Tiberiu a coward in Romanian. The old man tosses the girl aside and charges Frank before Tiberiu takes a knee to the face.

Later, with Tiberiu chained to a chair, Castle brings in Detective Westin to make a deal, threatening him with Vera’s file. Frank offers to surrender the file if Westin delivers a package to the Bulat’s contacts back home and acquires Visa’s for the rescued girls. Westin asks what package before Frank turns on a video camera and douses Tiberiu in gasoline. Sparking a flame from a flip-lighter Castle looks into the camera and says “Don’t come back here,” before tossing the lighter.

Scan copy 6

The Slavers is Taken if it were a horror movie and actually good. It shines a light on the darkest criminal enterprise in the world and makes sure you see every detail. While acts of sexual assault are not shown on the page, the description and implication thanks to Ennis’s unparalleled storytelling makes you feel all sorts of uncomfortable. Unlike the usual story arcs, trafficking and slavery is very real, and having the Punisher in the middle of it was surreal to say the least. Instead of cartoonish gangsters and run-of-the-mill thugs, Castle is faced with real monsters that make their money on sexual violence.

If you cannot stomach sexual assault and/or violence against women, stay far away from this book. For Punisher fans, get ready for Frank’s most visceral and disturbing story yet.

Movie Review: Ready Player One

I remain of the opinion that nostalgia is creative poison. It certainly has a place in the creative process, but the constant celebration and veneration of the past leads to artistic stagnation. I get it; the 80s were awesome unless you had AIDS or a mental illness. Ronny Reagan was in office, all the best movies were coming out, and pop music was tolerable. However, the more you dwell on the past, the less you grow and evolve. Like Deadpool and Robot Chicken the joke gets old really, really fast. There is no better tool for inspiration than nostalgia, but if you use it as a crutch for creativity, you are not creating a damn thing.

When I first heard about the book Ready Player One (RPO), it sounded like a perfect nightmare, and that was before I found out Will Wheaton was apparently a character. Seriously, the guy is more hated than Voyager and Discovery combined, and that is not taking into account his opinion of gun owners. That alone kept me light-years away from the story, more so as I learned about the narrative over time. I resigned myself to ignore the film adaptation until I heard Steven Spielberg was directing. After that, there was nothing that could keep me from buying a ticket.

The story of RPO is Willy Wonka meets Tron. There is this massively multiplayer online world called the Oasis that everyone plays and they are competing to find a set of three keys to gain control of the world and the fortune of its creator Halliday, played by Mark Rylance. The clues to complete the challenges and acquire the keys are in Halliday’s past and Wade, played by Tye Sheridan, has been searching for the solutions for five years. At the same time, the IOI Corporation is sending its employees into the Oasis with the goal of capitalizing on the game’s economic and societal value.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover RPO was not a laborious cringe-fest like the book. The celebration of nostalgia is there in many forms, but in ways that work for the story. Character avatars, props, and background elements play a role in the narrative. Everyone is obsessed with the past because they do not like the present and the story is more or less about how Halliday kept himself grounded in the past. Because he was incapable of interacting with others he created a world built on the foundation of nostalgia to interact with like-minded individuals. All the references are in service to this idea and do not weigh down narrative as pointless window dressing.

The only problem is Halliday’s story is a subplot. The challenges bring to light his character, but not enough is explored. The most we get is he has a one giant regret and acknowledges his personal shortcomings. There is also backstory of Halliday forcing his only friend out of the company and we do not get any more information beyond characters talking about it. That is where RPO caught my interest and it went nowhere. Exploring Halliday’s character would have given the film more meaning beyond little hints of what it is trying to say.

The rest of the movie is standard Spielberg stuff. You have the hero down on his luck, the comical super villain, and all the schmaltz that has come to characterize his work since Third Kind. You cannot deny his films are fun and RPO is a relative delight to watch. I say relative because it does not feel very fun all throughout.

The opening race challenge is a perfect example. It should have been exciting, but the lack of score drained the life from the scene. Intense visuals can only get you so far. It is not just a lack of score, but also a lack of soul. All this cool stuff is happening on screen and I did not feel anything. Maybe it is just me and my hatred for nostalgia, but there was a moment at the climax that should have made me happy beyond comprehension and I felt nothing. All this cool stuff on screen and it amounts to things happening.

It should be noted that the special effects and animation are well done. Motion capture can be difficult to translate given how humans do not move at 24 frames a second. My one gripe is the visual style makes everything and everyone look the same. It can be difficult to tell characters apart because they look like the same humanoid with different physical features. The art styles that define certain characters in their respective titles were ignored outright and you could not tell them apart. Tracer is not supposed to look like Chun-Li, neither is Jim Raynor and Master Chief. It would have been visually interesting if they looked like they do elsewhere.

So, Ready Player One is difficult to recommend. Though I struggled to find the emotional value of the film, I did not hate the experience. It was cool seeing characters I recognized crammed into one movie and it was not a nostalgia cringe-fest like the latter seasons of Robot Chicken or Pixels (God help us). It all comes down to the fact that Spielberg makes some of the most watchable films out there, even if they are boring or horrifying. If you have a free weekend and Annihilation is not playing anymore, get yourself a ticket.

Muh book:

http://a.co/0KBwIxA

Editorial 30: Difficult Question

I have come to realize that what I say in writing has negative connotations.  Regardless of intent or context, there is always the possibility someone will be offended.  As a consequence, what I say creates a persona that does not reflect who I am.  When you are trying to gain a following, it is important to understand how people see you.  And because no one ever gives me feedback, I am forced to ask outright:

Based on what have you read (hopefully), who do you think I am, regardless if you know me or not, and what do you think I believe when it comes to religion, politics, etc?

Please be as honest as you can.  I will take anything I can get.

Movie Review: Free Fire

This week I was faced with a bit of a conundrum. The Promise and Free Fire were coming out at the same time and I was interested in seeing both. Obviously, if you want to maintain a budget, seeing two movies in a single week is a terrible idea. I was forced to choose between the two based on limited information. Free Fire is Ben Wheatley’s follow up to High Rise about a shootout in a warehouse. Promise is about the Armenian Genocide, a subject that gets very little attention in film.

Both stand on their own merits, but there can be only one. The subject matter of Promise is important when it comes to understanding history. Genocide is bad and the more we acknowledge and study atrocities of the past the less likely we will commit them in the future. The movie is banking on its subject, while the premise falls to the wayside. Not unlike Titanic and Pearl Harbor, Promise is a romance set against a tragedy. On the trailer alone I knew what was going to happen.

Look, the Armenian Genocide was terrible, but I do not need a film about it to know it was terrible. The fact it involved the Armenians and Turks is inconsequential because no matter which way you look at it, mass murder and/or ethnic cleansing is awful by default and must be prevented. The played-out premise did not help the movie’s chances either. The only people who should see Promise are those interested in learning about a historical event and Cenk Uygur, founder of The Young Turks. And since I am already familiar with the Armenian Genocide, that title has more offensive subtext than Cenk’s fat buffalo ass. For those reasons, I chose to see Free Fire instead.

When a group of IRA terrorists attempt to buy rifles from a Rhodesian gunrunner, the two sides start shooting at each other over a misunderstanding. Trapped in a warehouse, they try to kill each other through the night until there is only one left standing.

Free Fire was fantastic. The acting was exceptional, writing tight and funny, and the action set pieces inventive. It is not the Second Coming, but in a world of remakes and reboots, I will take anything that is original and pretty good over total garbage. Ben Wheatley returns to his small-scale roots with the bulk of the story taking place in one location. The cinematography is more personal with hand-held shots that stay close to the characters crawling through dirt and debris. It was also a breath of fresh air seeing real blanks used in real gun and squibs that are not digital.

And that is all I am going to say.

I do not want to tell you anything except to buy a ticket as soon as possible. I always try to promote original works and it is not often that they are actually good. Though not entirely without flaw, Free Fire was great and it is not based on anything. The more we see films that are wholly original, the more they will become relevant in the future. If you want a good laugh and contribute to the cause of originality, look no further.

Movie Review: Silence

Despite the bad reviews, I had originally planned to see Underworld: Blood Wars for review this week. I was going to share the pain with a friend until our plans fell through. Then I thought about doing an Editorial on “Fuck You, It’s January” before I discovered Silence was coming out on Thursday. Between seeing what amounts to a live-action version of Hellsing Ultimate (seriously, watch that instead of Underworld), writing about an entire month dedicated to studios taking out their trash, or a new Martin Scorsese film, the choice was obvious. Does Silence add to his already impressive filmography or is Scorsese too old to direct?

After finding out their mentor had committed apostasy while on mission, Jesuits Rodrigues and Garupe, played by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, travel to Japan for answers. When they arrive, they and the local Catholic population are forced underground to escape persecution by the government.

Movies about Edo Era Japan are few and far between. The period is full of good material with warring families, samurai as a social class, and the rise of the yakuza in the wake of the Tokugawa Shogunate’s oppression. Remember 47 Ronin? That fantasy movie was based off a real event where a bunch of pissed-off warriors kill a guy and then themselves because it was not ada-uchi, a form a legally sanctioned vengeance. Then there is Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, 13 Assassins, Sword of the Stranger, and Samurai Champloo, each one taking place in the Edo Era.

Another aspect of the period that does not get enough coverage is the banning of Christianity. I understand why the Tokugawa were so brutal, being fervent isolationists and having dealt with a recent religious uprising. On top of that, it is impossible to deny how imposing beliefs onto other cultures is fundamentally wrong. However, it is important to acknowledge the darker side of history. Every nation is guilty of atrocities in one form or another. Japan is no different; they do not call it the Rape of Nanking because it was pleasant. While I do not care if a culture is in denial about their past (Germany), I think the more we know about ourselves the better.

While the oppression of the Christians is on full display, it is not the focus or a vehicle to shame the Japanese. You can look at it that way if you want to complain about something, but I feel the point of the violence in Silence is to examine the concept of belief. Without giving anything away, the story is the Crucifixion. Rodrigues is Jesus, Japanese officials the Romans, and there is a Judas equivalent that I will not spoil. The film uses these parallels to ask if the willingness to die for a faith is equal to wanting to live for it.

In the movie and history, suspected Japanese Christians were made to step on an image of Christ called a fumie. The characters undergo the process, but are executed anyway because Rodrigues refuses to trample the image. He has to prove his faith is so strong he will give it up to save innocents. The other side of the situation is the Japanese are trying to prove that foreign idols do not have meaning in their land. They reluctantly torture their own to force missionaries to understand that spreading a false faith is utterly pointless because they do not care. What is truth in Portugal is deception in Japan.

I hope that makes sense because I saw Silence yesterday and it requires a second viewing to fully understand. You can see it as a simple martyr movie like The Passion or Hacksaw Ridge, trying to convert the audience through sympathy. That being said, the film goes out of its way to avoid gratuity. The violence is presented as just naked force used against others. You are also not told which side to follow and given both perspectives. The Portuguese want to spread Christianity because they think they are right and the Japanese do not want any part of it because it is incompatible with their culture.

Getting to the point of the movie is a chore of epic proportions. Unlike most of Scorsese’s works, you will feel every second of the 180-minute runtime. Casino and Wolf of Wall Street were three hours and you can watch them without complaint. This is because Silence does not feel like a Scorsese film. The shot composition, editing, and score feel like they are from a different person entirely. There is a distinct personal quality where he had a lot of respect for the concept and the material being a Catholic himself. It is very similar to when Spielberg helmed Schindler’s List, a major departure from his previous work at the time. As a personal project, I admire Silence all the more, but it is a tough sit, even for a Scorsese fan like myself.

If you are also a fan, odds are you have already seen it. If you are not, seeing a Scorsese film, in theaters, while he is still making movies at the age of 74, is a requirement for anyone who can. Be ready for quite a challenge to endure.