Hey folks, Harry here with Massawyrm with his leg humping of MUNICH. I'll hopefully be making time to review that, PRODUCERS and MATCH POINT here quickly - but for now - here's Massawyrm...
Hola all. Massawyrm here. I fucking hate Amistad. No, I mean I really hate Amistad. While Jurassic Park: The Lost World easily stands as Steven Spielberg’s worst film, Amistad stands for everything that was wrong with Steven Spielberg throughout the 90’s on up to today. Every little flaw, every little tick of that film succinctly defines what happened to him as a director. You see, in the 70’s there was a dream that was Steven Spielberg. A filmmaker of uncompromised vision who set out to prove that you could make commercially viable films that were highly entertaining while also managing to be poignant, powerful and emotionally gripping. And that man made genre films. Horror films. Science fiction films. Pulp Adventure films. Each one crafted out of substance, each one remarkable. The Steven Spielberg of the 70’s and Early 80’s showed not just to be promising, but seemed to bear the weight of our entire film generations hopes on his shoulders. He was a rogue, an artistic outsider who was changing the rules. When asked about not getting an Oscar, he repeatedly answered “Well, you know Hitchcock never got an Oscar.” And despite the sheer audacity of anyone comparing themselves to Hitchcock, we let it slide, because we thought he was our Hitchcock. Our John Ford. Our Kurosawa.
And then, well, he wasn’t. Somewhere in the 80’s his films became really good but not quite the level of greatness he performed with previously. Spielberg tried his hand at epics. And the dream started to die just a little bit. Spielberg was still a dangerous filmmaker, but one that seemed to be creeping every more closely to the Hollywood mold. He wasn’t so much an outsider anymore. Then he made Hook and the wheels started to come off. A streak of sentimentality showed up that would become the hallmark of his new style. Following that, he made the commercial success that was Jurassic Park – a film I know many of you love, but angered me the very first time I saw it. For me, it glorified the very worst of Spielberg in his off days. Jurassic Park is a film that never quite knew what it wanted to be, outside of a commercial success. Like Temple of Doom before it (in which Spielberg insisted upon a scene of someone getting their heart ripped out in a kids film), Spielberg once again tried to sell a rated R movie to kids through the loophole known as PG-13. JP was a jarring mix of overly kiddish scenes and themes complete with sneezing Brontosauri that collided head on with man eating dinosaurs sucking down lawyers and dropping bloody goat legs from the sky.
But to follow that up, Spielberg set out to make the most expensive art film ever made, a personal film that he felt he had to make, and make his way. It was called Schindler’s List. And the dream died. While Schindler’s List was a really good film, Spielberg gave us the first real glimpse at what was to come – rough, abrasive films with overly sentimental endings very much unlike his early work. You see, Spielberg’s early films all had tough endings, endings that never spoiled the work, but exemplified it. Tough, emotional endings that weren’t always the easiest to watch. In Jaws, we watch as one of our heroes, the grizzled old wise man of the sea, is eaten painfully by the very beast he hunted and warned of. In E.T we’re forced to watch as two best friends are first torn apart by others and ultimately themselves as they realize they were never meant to be together. And in raiders of the Lost Ark, we watch as our hero is helpless, tied to a post and left to watch his opponents celebrate their victory over him only to end up melting into a puddle of goo. And our hero? He can only close his eyes tight and pray that he is left alive. But with Schindler’s List, we’re given the immortal “This Car! This car could have saved so many” forced sentimentality that would become the endings that Spielberg would be known for. Bad endings. Cheesy endings. Cheap endings. Endings that not only would be accused of being inaccurate, but would also tend to undersell the body of the whole work. Spielberg was no longer the dangerous outsider – but rather the symbol for the flawed system that churned out so much pap. But he got his Oscar, proving once and for all, that Spielberg was NOT our Hitchcock. Our John Ford. Our Kurosawa.
And his problem with endings drove right on through to today. Saving Private Ryan. Artificial Intelligence. Minority Report. War of the Worlds. Good movies one and all. Until their inevitable endings. In the context of Spielberg’s body of work, these films don’t even come close. Jaws is the very best Pissed of nature horror film ever made. Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. are the very best Extra Terrestrial encounter movies ever made. And Raiders of the Lost Ark is the very best adventure film ever made. To this day, no one has topped them. Can the same be said for his other films? Is Saving Private Ryan the best WWII movie ever made? Is it even in the top 10? War of the Worlds? Minority report? Are they even the best Tom Cruise movies? Is AI the best anything?
The only time Spielberg seemed to hit the nail on the head was when his films were deliberately sentimental. Film like Catch me If You Can and the Terminal are perfect – absolutely perfect. The Terminal, after all, was Spielberg making his Frank Capra film, and he actually managed to make the film that I honestly believe that if Frank Capra were alive, well and making films today, he would have made. But those aren’t the films we believed Spielberg was meant to make. Those films aren’t dangerous. Those aren’t the films of an outsider. Of a genius.
Which brings me to Amistad. I fucking hate Amistad. And no, not just because it was boring as hell, or because of that stupid CG boat scene or even that the film repeats itself unnecessarily by showing us the same trial twice. I hate that fucking ending. Not only is it overly sentimental and cheesy as all hell – but it proves that Amistad actually isn’t about what it should have been about. Amistad was about a triumph over slavery - about coming through the dark time in our past and seeing reason. Of course, by trying to make another uplifting film that would try to garner him another Oscar, Spielberg entirely missed the point of the film. You see, even at the time, many historians challenged the film and just how much Spielberg softballed it. Cinque (Djimon Hounsou’s character), as it turns out, did in fact return to Africa to find his wife and child gone. And having learned so much about the American legal system and the rights of slave owners, ending up dying a very wealthy slave trader who sold out his own countrymen. He was the anti-Schindler. And THAT’S what Amistad SHOULD have been about. It should have been about the darkness of the human soul and the corruption of our own folly. Cinque became a product of his time – but does Spielberg show us that or does he let the British triumphantly cannon a slave port? No. Spielberg failed, and as a filmmaker he’s become more of a successful footnote in film history than he has become of the of the true masters. A greatly celebrated footnote (by the media) to be sure, but a footnote none the less. A man who started great, but kind of trailed off at the end.
Which brings us to the whole reason you sat down to read this review in the first place. Munich. Munich is where everything changes. To talk about Munich without tying it into Spielberg’s career as a whole is doing both a great disservice to the film and to Spielberg himself. Because Munich is the single most important film Steven Spielberg has ever made. It is an important, little talked about piece of history that deserves discussion. It is important as it was the catalyst for everything we’re dealing with politically in Middle East today, and thus is extremely relevant even today, over thirty years later. And it is important because, at least for almost 3 brief hours, it signals the return of the young Steven Spielberg – the 1970’s Steven Spielberg – the dangerous Steven Spielberg. Munich is everything Amistad should have been but wasn’t – everything Schindler’s List should have been but wasn’t – everything Saving Private Ryan should have been but wasn’t. It is the film many of us have been waiting a quarter century for. Well, the wait is over. Steven Spielberg is back – and this time, he’s gonna piss a lot of people off.
You know, here at AICN we use the word “balls” a lot. If something is brazen, audacious, lionhearted and yet lofty, we simply use the acronym B.A.L.L.s and leave the audience reading our work to think we’re fixated upon the size of a filmmaker’s genitals. And maybe we are. But we’ve tossed that phrase around a lot this year, as for some reason, this is the year Hollywood whipped them out. This has been a magnificent year of bold, fearless filmmaking like nothing the world has seen since the 70’s. And the leader of the pack this year, the film that is the most unafraid, the film with the biggest, hairiest pair, is far and away Munich. Spielberg takes the single most incendiary theme of our times, tells a true story of terrorism and the state sanctioned terrorist response to the crime in question – and then ultimately refuses to pick a side. He refuses to make any single faction the bad guy. Rather than simply taking the easy road and celebrate one side while villainizing another, especially when those who would be villainized could be done so very easily, he steps back and tells a story that ultimately says “Look – Israel is…complicated.” Sure, it might SOUND politically correct in concept, but it’s not.
I don’t think I’m going to surprise or offend anyone by referring to Steven Spielberg as the United States most prominent, influential and powerful Jew. He is. If there’s anyone in this country who has carried the banner of his heritage, the Holocaust and the plight of the modern Jew, it is Steven Spielberg. So, upon hearing that he’s directed a film about the Israeli response to the 1972 murders of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic Team by the Palestinian terrorist organization Black September, one could easily figure out exactly what kind of story Spielberg would choose to tell. And yet, you’d be wrong. Because this is not an issue that one can easily take the middle ground on, primarily because both sides of this conflict do not acknowledge that any middle ground exists. Instead, this is a film that will piss off the extremists of both sides of this conflict, because this is a film very much about the terror based murders of Palestinian activists by Jews after a more than proportional response by the Israeli military (which is something that the Palestinians are bound to find more than a little glorifying) and yet Spielberg is very careful to not only show the Palestinians as sympathetic but to NOT ACTUALLY EVER RECOGNIZE THE SOVERIGNTY OF ISRAEL. That’s right. You read that correctly. Steven Spielberg, this nations most powerful Jew, has made a film that actually brings up questions about whether Israel should exist at all. And Israeli’s and Jews the world over are REALLY going to hate that. Because if there’s one thing you do not do in this day and age, one thing you dare not whisper or hint at, it’s the notion that maybe Israel shouldn’t be there, and that maybe the Palestinians have a point. Now don’t get me wrong, he definitely presents both sides. This isn’t a film about questioning Israel’s existence – but it’s there. And it is presented in all of its complicated glory.
To add fuel to the fire, Spielberg has churned out one of the bloodiest, sexual, most explicit and exploitive films of the year. This movie is blood and breasts, butts and bush, to the extent that it is clear that this is not a film for middle-America. This is a film that would send the far right into fits – that is if they didn’t love Israel so much. This is a film that makes many of the other blood splattered, sex filled forays released thus far this year seem tame by comparison. It is, at heart, a genre film – a crime film specifically – that packs all the wallop of old school, high minded Spielberg. This is not the Spielberg that made Schindler’s List, a filmmaker telling a story of compassion and triumph of the human will. No. This is the Spielberg that wants to immerse us in a symphony of violence to show us the very futility of violence. The futility of revenge. It is a film very much about the destruction of the human spirit, not the celebration of it.
And as I said – it’s a crime film. The bulk of the film consists of finding a terrorist, setting up the killing of the terrorist, then murdering the terrorist, followed immediately by finding another terrorist. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. But each segment is different enough that it never feels like it is repeating itself, and the character development and scenes of discussion that occur in between are so riveting that they break up what could be a monotonous series of search and destroy missions.
And it is absolutely masterful. I can easily say that this is the single greatest, most important film Spielberg has ever made. Thoroughly entertaining, gritty, realistic and sometimes just downright mean – this is an explosive piece of cinema that leaves a broken, battered audience in its wake. It hits hard, and doesn’t pull a single punch. And when the credits rolled on my pack screening, I didn’t hear a word, not a peep. The audience was dead cold silent. Everyone was processing what the fuck they’d just watched. It certainly wasn’t a Steven Spielberg film, it couldn’t have been. But it was. And it fucked with them. It fucked with all of us.
Despite the spectacle of violence, despite the raw sexual content, despite the taut thriller pace it maintains for so long, this isn’t a film to be “enjoyed.” It’s not a film in which you walk out talking about the badass that is Eric Bana’s Avner, or to talk about the some of the spectacular kills or how hot the Swedish Assassin was. That stuff is all there. But you won’t want to talk about it. Not at first. First you have to process, you have to contemplate, you have to drink it all in and put it all together in your head. To say that this is a heavy film is an understatement. It is the single, heaviest film Spielberg has ever undertaken – and this is a guy who made a Holocaust film.
And yet there is a point in the film when the film should end – or at least, when you think it should end. The Amistad moment. It’s a moment of bittersweet joy, a moment of celebration and sorrow. Avner hugs his wife and you can almost feel the credits at the bottom of the screen trying to force their way up. But Speilberg isn’t done, his story isn’t over. He won’t let those credits roll, because Avner still has things to pay for, Avner still has dark times to go through. And frankly, that’s the part that is going to be off-putting to most audiences. But it is the most important part of the film. It is the part that drives home the effect of violence on the psyche, the part that tells the true story of a man broken by his own achievements and troubled by his own failures. It is the part where a man who has achieved a quiet notoriety, the man who would be called a hero, has to suffer for his heroism. And as hard as it is to watch, everything that the film is all about, everything that you end up thinking about on your way out, is fully realized in that denouement. It is exactly what Spielberg should have done with Amistad but didn’t. It is the unhappy ending that doesn’t cheat the audience of a single, god damned thing.
Munich is everything it should be. It is this year’s Passion of the Christ. It is an epic film that will be discussed for years. Some will scream that it glorifies violence. Others will scream that it goes too far or doesn’t go far enough with their own values or beliefs. Other will simply call it overrated, whether they bothered to watch it or not. But they will talk about it.
Personally, I hope the current buzz against Munich is right. I hope it doesn’t garner Oscar nods. It is simply too good a movie to be saddled with that. My Steven Spielberg isn’t a man celebrated for his genius, he’s a man celebrated for his mediocrity – a man gifted with praise for cheating the audience. His great films, his truly epic works of genius – they stand alone unrewarded, watched time and time again and spoken of in reverence. Munich will stand among them, if not above them.
This is a film, and now a filmmaker, I have no qualms about discussing in the league with the likes of Hitchcock, Ford and Kurosawa. With Kubrick. With Fellini. With Wilder. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the greatest films ever made and one of the most important films of our time. It is a film so good that even those that don’t like it will have to talk about how good it is. They’ll say it simply wasn’t for them or that it was too violent or that “Spielberg has it all wrong.” But it’s an honest film, a gutsy film and yes, the best thing he’s ever done.
This is the Steven Spielberg that I hope sticks around for a while. If he wants to make his Terminal’s and Catch Me If You Can’s, then great. Steven’s a sentimental guy, let him make his sweet sentimental movies every now and again. But when he’s being serious, when he’s tackling dark material, dear God in heaven, please let this be the Steven Spielberg that tackles it. Because this Steven Spielberg is a fucking genius. He’s the filmmaker we’ve always dreamed he could be. Here’s to hoping he’s back for good.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em. I know I will.
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