With Trepidation, I Went To See The Film AMERICAN SNIPER

I wasn’t sure but I went to see this film anyway . . . by myself, a matinee, $8, the midtown theatre that serves wine (thought I might need some).  I have a military cognizance, and my husband not so much so.  My dad served as a US Army truck mechanic in India, drafted in 1942.  My husband’s dad had a deferment, and my husband had one also.   I have a film degree, and my husband does not.  All things considered, I felt the cultural stir about this film, and needed to check it out.  The controversy this academy-award-nominated film in six categories has generated may stem from the political right wing’s ruckus about patriotism.  Of course, that would stimulate the left wing to confront.  The political right wing may be behaving as a usurper of the film’s high value– the film is excellent.  It is long, two-and-a-half hours, and must have cost a fortune, blowing up sets, equipping so many actors with armaments, teaching actors how to be machine-gunners.  Watching credits roll, I learned that some of the filming was done in Morocco.  I can imagine that one of those Oscar nominations is for the set: the pale orange hues of a desert sandstorm, the stucco-looking structures having faint resemblance to a Tuscan landscape, the creamy American helmets capping crisp, green-streaked camouflage fabric, in contrast to dark colors of the opposing flowing apparel.  The giant white military Humvees powering through the towns stirred my heart through my screening eye.  A huge scary skull stenciled on a rotating shield atop them added a strange beauty to the shots.

One of the Oscar nominations is for best actor.  Bradley Cooper deserves it; I cannot imagine the role of Chris Kyle, legendary sharpshooter, better played.  Funnily enough, I can relate to the Chris Kyle character.  I too got narrow beliefs from my family and church.  Anyone who knows me or read my memoir knows I was steeped in Christian ethics.  I wasn’t a rodeo rider like Chris, but I am a Texas girl.  Cowboys and cowgirls were continual metaphors.  As a junior-high Eaglettes Captain, I wore white vinyl gauntlets over white gloves, and got fit and strong for marching in white boots across the Dallas football fields for half-time shows.  This is my take on the main character of AMERICAN SNIPER Chris Kyle:  he became a SEAL (Sea, Air, and Land) to express his gifts of mental strength and supremely developed physique to serve a desperate need his country had.  A quote from Coretta Scott King fits this character:  “There is a spirit, and a need, and a person at the beginning of every great human advance.  Every one of these must be right for that particular moment of history or nothing happens.”  Chris Kyle left the Texas rodeo scene as a thirty-year-old for sharpshooting in Iraq, committing spirit, mind, and body to the need.  Terrorists had penetrated his country.  They flew passenger airplanes into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.  The Chris character said that it was important to keep them out of Los Angeles, right?  You don’t want them in San Francisco or farther in, right?

THE CHRIS KYLE CHARACTER WORE A BASEBALL CAP AND PHONED HOME FROM A CELL DEVICE HE CARRIED WHILE PERFORMING SHARPSHOOTING The Chris Kyle Character Wore A Baseball Cap and Phoned Home on a Cell He Carried In closing, when we go to the movies, let’s call to mind the teaching channel that the movies provide.  We must also remember that each pair of screening eyes sees individually.  A powerful film means different things to different people.  To end this essay, instead of including the instigative quotes of the more “black & white” thinkers, I choose one from a seasoned linguist, one in his last years as writer and lecturer to university-oriented audiences of thousands, an academic renown for studying our country’s cultural wars, Noam Chomsky.  According to a January 29th article in The New York Times, Professor Chomsky was aware that Mr. Kyle noted in his memoir that he was fighting “savage, despicable evil.” Mr. Chomsky added, “We’re all tarred with the same brush . . . for largely keeping silent about official policy . . .”  He was particularly referring to the USA “global drone assassination campaign,” but not having studied this initiative, I am hesitant to close with that view.

A closing thought I like resembles the one I began with– if you feel an opinion heating up in you about this controversial film, go and see it.  Exercise a freedom, and do not lay aside critical mindedness; same way you treated your teachers.  Then, do what I did: write down your feelings about the character of Chris Kyle (b. 1974, d. 2013).  Mr. Kyle did not succumb to terrorists.  He did four tours and holds the record of kills among sharpshooters.  At home stateside, figuring out how to live as a husband, father, and giver of community service to veterans in hospital, he was shot dead at the hand of a disturbed veteran he had volunteered to help.  The newspaper article mentioned above addressed this irony with a ring of truth, “Are guns useful for self-defense?  Here was one of the most skillful shooters in American history holding guns, surrounded by guns, and was unable to protect himself.”  Oh, and one more from the producer, Clint Eastwood, “The biggest antiwar statement is what it does to the families left behind.”  I do not mean to present an antiwar statement, rather I mean to herald writing, and in writing, aiming small for the particular expression of meaning.

ANOTHER DISNEY BIG FILM: Saving Mr. Banks

The Disney production group has had a pretty good idea.  I wouldn’t say SAVING MR. BANKS ranks with the best films I’ve ever seen, but I can say that this movie was sublimely acted by Emma Thompson (Helen Goff, alias P. L. Travers), and Tom Hanks (Walt Disney), performing at the peak of their craft.  Paul Giamatti of the film SIDEWAYS played Ralph the limousine driver for Mrs. Travers in Los Angeles when she came to (not) sign the rights to the Mary Poppins book from London.  I liked seeing Bradley Whitford of the TV series West Wing as top team member in the collaboration between Disney Studios and Mrs. Travers.  The film was directed by John Lee Hancock and is rated PG.

This film was recommended by my brother-in-law who let on that I would be watching a story unfold about the Mary Poppins’ author’s life and some cruelties in it.  We mentioned the recommendation to two friends, and they also had a desire to catch it on the big screen, given that the “serious” “must-see” film TWELVE YEARS A SLAVE starring Chiwetel Eljiofor had left our area.  All four of us felt engaged and amused throughout the approximately two hours, and praised the work of Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks.  We had a bit of a feeling of wanting to see MARY POPPINS again on the big screen, even though the dancing penguins were flat cartoons in that old flick.  Anyone who has seen MR. POPPIINS’ PENGUINS can attest to the amazing upgrade in film technology comparing the two.

What I liked about Mrs. Travers was:  her look that fit her achievements as a famous author of inspiring children’s books, a reined-in look of thorough organization and the public reserve often thought of as “keeping up appearances.”  She had brown curls never straying far from her head, black eyeliner– no smudging, and a slightly downward-to-the-right lipliner mistake.  Her skin-toned, not-sheer hose over thin calves, and her pencil straight skirts called out, “all business and things appropriate.”  She said to her driver when she was starting to warm up to him, “You’re someone who asks a lot of questions, and you do not limit yourself.” To which he responded, “Two.”  I liked Mrs. Travers’ leadership style.  It is one I could have used as a teacher to succeed longer in my classroom career.  She knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that she would retain the rights to the production of her beloved Mary Poppins, a children’s savior popping in under a magic umbrella out of thin air.

 

 

 

Review of THE LONE RANGER (Director Gore Verbinski, 2013)

As an eight-year-old, I watched The Lone Ranger on the early, small TV screen. From the big screen, the “silver” screen, fifty-seven years later, comes Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger starring Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as John Reid, the masked man.

Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as The Lone Ranger

The reviews were right– this is a crazy pieced-together quilt of a film. It is easy to become restless watching it for its lack of a clearly told narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. But looking back on my viewing experience, I feel that this film, a comedy, contained all the humor anybody involved in the making of it could muster. Crew and actors obviously had a great time with this piece. It had plenty of scenes resembling slapstick. “Slapstick” stresses farce (satirical/patently ridiculous events) and horseplay. Believe me, with the white Spirit Horse who communicated truths to Tonto, and launched the career of lawyer John Reid as The Lone Ranger, brother and son of Texas Rangers, you will see plenty of “horseplay.” The white horse told Tonto John was back from the land of spirit and could not be killed.

"Hi ho Silver, away!"

“Silver,” Mount of the Masked Man

Johnny Depp, of Edward Scissorhands, Whatever Happened to Gilbert Grape, Pirates of the Caribbean, Chocolate, Nick of Time, and much more, must have had a great time in the role of Tonto. And Armie Hammer must have as well in the role of Lone Ranger. Their vibe was terrific as partners, both reluctant heroes. If not for “Spirit Horse’s” ability to discern a man, a good man, come back from the other side of existence (satire), neither would have had his job of riding for justice and fighting for law and order in the Wild West. Their attempts take place in the early part of the 1900s when railroad barons dreamed of an iron-horse empire. Moreover, the precious metal silver, transported in trainloads of nuggets, is a character in this film. “Silver,” as we who watched the show in the 1950s know, is the horse’s name, given the white Spirit Horse at the end of the film. Comanches and US Cavalry fight in this film. Tonto is long ago an outcast Comanche, a boy who made a fatal error and caused great destruction to his tribe. The raven-carcass headpiece he wears, quite dead (more satire), signifies “spirit.” Tonto feeds it corn kernels. I didn’t get this during the screening, but I came home and wrote down themes, one regarding the raven-carcass headpiece, and now I understand:

A person must feed his/her spirit. At times, the spirit may appear to be dead. Jerk its head up. With consistent feeding, the spirit does cover your thinking.

What follows are a number of other themes that erupted as I continued to think about how  such a crazy piece of work could get produced. Thus, you could say I came a bit late to the fan club of the producers’ and director Verbinski’s THE LONE RANGER of 2013.

Themes Treated in the Movie– Even an Indian tribe can term one of its own a mental case. (The Comanches ousted Tonto and laugh at him.)

If someone chooses a partner for self-gain, the choosing partner behaves loyally, looking after the chosen mate. (Tonto has no hope of survival but for the Spirit Man he teams up with.)

Trading objects can solve worry and alleviate uncertainty between two individuals. (Tonto believes this down to his marrow and never fails to give back when he takes, even while holding on under a moving train.)

Nature out of balance can produce cannibalistic rabbits, that same kind of bad, murdering gunslinger, and a cursed silver nugget. (Attack scene by rabbits, and human eating human organ, thankfully off screen)

Truth and justice are more often than not traded for empire building. (Outlaws, those of good spirit, do better for the world than corrupted big-wigs.)

A woman with a big gun determined to shoot straight, living in community with gunslingers, may have lost a leg in the process. (She saved the day with just the right angle on her shooting leg.)

A woman can love two brothers, and timing determines which one she marries. (A tiny touch of romance is included, and the lady is a gentle mother of a young boy.)

A young boy does not know what to do if receiving conflicting instructions (while pointing a gun). To shed increasing tension and avoid a catastrophic wrong choice, he turns and cries out to mama. The child did some good acting.

 

A Dead Raven On His Head and Black Streaks Drawn Down Cheeks Reminded Tonto of His Catastrophic Decision He Made As a Boy

Stuck in my mind is the strange beginning of this film. We meet a lovely brown-eyed boy dressed in a white hat and black mask. In sharp contrast, he, alone, spectating among the exhibits of a museum of natural history, meets a hugely wrinkled, ancient-looking Indian in a diorama. The diorama is titled “The Noble Savage.” This unexpected approach to the story of the Lone Ranger (you understand the old Indian better at the end), contributes to the montage effect of this film’s style, separate scenes cut apart and strung like diverse  beads on a strand of wire.

In addition, the tough-to-look-at early characters in the first filmic images are bad, bad  gunslingers with greasy complexions, tarter-tainted teeth, sliced and scarred upper lip, long, unruly scruff, filthy-looking heads of hair, and flasks of whiskey. Later, a couple of them seem to be transvestites. I don’t really get this, so I guess it was one of the many jollies or increasing ironies the producers enjoyed in the making of this pieced-together quilt of a long film (about two and a half hours).

In closing, THE LONE RANGER may have every joke that everyone involved in the work thought of, a definite overplaying of humor. An example is Tonto wearing a birdcage over his crow headpiece to protect against the cat that has gone missing. Tonto is departing from the saloon girl’s salon. She has a noteworthy leg, an ivory, rifle-shooting leg with scrimshaw work all over it. Her leg is excruciatingly sexy to soldiers in the cavalry who do not know about the rifle inside. They want to touch her leg. Did I explain the strangeness? Can you see how this is one of the craziest movies you will ever see? No wonder movie-goers held back on this one, based on critical review. I wonder . . . would I be able to make it through a second screening? I loved the Dolby sound. I can hear the trumpet call and galloping strands of “The William Tell Overture” as a great-looking guy in a form-fitting black leather mask atop an amazing white horse ride down the desert slope . . . “Da da dum, da da dum, da da dum dum dum . . .”