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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with THE TILLMAN STORY and VALHALLA RISING!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a couple of films that are making their way into art houses around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…
THE TILLMAN STORY It's been too long since a documentary has made me as angry at and resentful of the powers that be (or powers that were, in this case) as THE TILLMAN STORY does. In a desperate attempt to create heroes in early days of the Iraq War, the U.S. government and military concocted a story about the death of the most famous man to enlist in the Army and fight in that war. Patrick Tillman gave up a multi-million-dollar NFL contract to fight, and did everything in his power to keep his reasons for doing so a private matter between him and his tight-knit family. But when he was killed during a skirmish (according to the sanctioned story), the Army myth-making machine saw an opportunity to turn the body of this man into a recruitment poster. Knowing that her son would never have allowed such a thing, Tillman's mother, Dannie, tirelessly embarked on a campaign to find out exactly how her son died and how far the knowledge of the nature of his death went up the government food chain. Only half of the shock of this film is the reveal about Tillman's final moments. The remainder of the shocking behavior is twofold. The first is how disinterested the media was in reporting the truth after going to extraordinary lengths to report various versions of the lie. The other part of the film that floored me was the tenacity of the Tillman family. Although Pat's parents were long divorced, they worked together with his brothers to figure out what happened. One of the most incredible elements in this story is hearing about them taking documents with redacted information (basically memos with words blacked out) and filling in the blanks by literally counting the number of spaces each censored word has and figuring out what the name or location is. I never heard of any reporter doing this, and yet the wealth of information that comes from this process is beyond damning. What's also interesting is that the film draws parallels between the Pentagon's propagandizing of the Jessica Lynch incident and what they did with Tillman's story. As the story was told Private Lynch was captured and held hostage by Iraqi forces until U.S. Special Forces moved in to save her. Turns out, she was being well tended to and protected by doctors at an Iraqi hospital. And while Lynch seemed pressured by military officials into, at first, going along with the myth, Tillman never had that choice and so it became his family's duty to carry out his final wishes and protect his legacy. Director Amir Bar-Lev has fashioned a conspiracy drama that rivals any fiction film in recent memory, and any doubt that either then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or even President Bush didn't know that stories about Tillman's death were loaded with lies is dispelled convincingly. Narrated by Josh Brolin, THE TILLMAN STORY's ultimate strength is not in exposing a familiar pattern of lies and hero building. Where the film truly succeeds is in reclaiming the life and death of Patrick Tillman for his family. Tillman's sacrifice does not belong to the nation; it belongs to this small group of extraordinary blood relations who wanted nothing more than for people to stop misrepresenting Tillman's motivations for joining the Army and for his son's death to not have been in vain. This is one of the most powerful documentaries I've seen about the Iraq War, and I've seen a lot of them. I figure I owe people like Pat Tillman at least that much. Your blood will boil, and that's okay. My feeling is that if you are fortunate enough to have the chance to see this remarkable film and you don't, you're just as much of a part of the problem as the media, the military, and the government. Consider seeing THE TILLMAN STORY part of your duty as an American.
VALHALLA RISING Danish writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn (BRONSON) and his PUSHER trilogy star Mads Mikkelsen (best know to Americans as the Bond villain in CASINO ROYALE) have re-teamed to give us one of the most blood-thirsty, head-tripping takes on the clash between a sole Viking warrior and a crew of Christian crusaders intent on going to the Holy Land to claim it in the name of Britain. First and foremost, you should know that about 50 percent of what happens in VALHALLA RISING makes little or no sense. Second, it doesn't really matter, because the stuff that remains is remarkable. Actually, the unclear stuff is remarkable as well, I just didn't comprehend it as well. Beautifully shot and masterfully composed, the film could be seen as Mikkelsen's One-Eye (because he only has one eye) representing the devil, leading these men to the murky, foggy hell. Or, it could be seen as a Jesus parable, with the mute One-Eye turning salt water into fresh, and just generally always knowing where to go with his disciples following his lead. However you interpret the goings on, I think you'll appreciate what the film accomplishes, whether it makes sense or not. The dialogue-free Mikkelsen often sits stoned faced waiting for anyone who might do him harm. He typically responds by obliterating his opponent in some of the most gruesomely violent battle scenes I've seen in some time. But when you balance scenes like that with ones like the sequence where it appears all of the crusaders are tripping balls after having something slipped into their food, you may doubt your own sanity. Hardly a pure action experience, VALHALLA RISING is a more complicated and cerebral creature than most might assume. The film is operating as both a visual feast and a mind-bending exercise in faith, deity vs. deities, and the use of bloodshed in the pursuit of religious goals--age-old themes that director Refn has found a new way to spin and present. It may feel like an endurance test for some stretches, but the payoff is sublime.
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