Friday, May 17, 2024

What I Watched in April 2024

I stumbled out of a screening of Alex Garland’s CIVIL WAR (2024) awash in a mixture of emotions. The film was much different from what I had expected. I think I assumed that it was going to be an outsider’s view of a possible future in the United States and that fueled my desire to see it. It was going to be someone from Europe looking at our benighted land of the free and examining why we're willing to tear ourselves apart because of the things that we are told to focus on instead of the things that we actually should be focusing on. In other words, I thought I was going to get a political film and was disappointed that it wasn’t what I wanted or expected. But as days went by, I began to understand what Garland had done. He has made a political film and he is commenting on the madness of our sad times but he is pointing to the underlying problem that has allowed all the others to fester and grow – a lack of journalistic ethics. And Garland does everything but wave it in our faces by his choice of main characters.
The film follows three generations of journalists on a cross country trip from NYC to Washington, D.C. for the final push of a military force into the capitol. The representative of the eldest generation has started to sense that something is wrong with their profession and that what they're doing is probably bad but he hasn’t pinpointed exactly what or why. None of them can understand that by pretending that these events they are recording are all just something they're observing that they don't have any effect on it. The importance of the Fourth Estate seems to have been completely forgotten. That well has been so poisoned that these ‘reporters’ are acting almost out of instinct instead of from conscious thought. The only conversations they have about what they are doing revolve around impressing others with their achievements. Their own aggrandizement is of most importance and to hell with what it all means. 

The side of the conflict that the reporters follow during the film’s third act is a combination of several different states including Texas and California banded together. This odd grouping points out that this is not a film that is going to draw a dark line between the two warring factions. The reasons for the war are never discussed except in indirect ways. We don't get any sense of good guys or bad guys, just soldiers. There is no way to decide which side you would defend or oppose as it's not even possible to discern what the ‘fight’ is about. Garland isn’t pointing fingers at the left or the right but at the industry that pits red ants and black ants against each other for clicks, likes, views and advertising dollars. This is about the commodification of hatred and fear and what it means to exist in that world – our world. 

CIVIL WAR is about the lack of journalistic ethics at the core of where we find ourselves in 2024 in the United States and how we are on the precipice of discarding democracy to embrace fascism. This wasn’t a collective decision made after thoughtful deliberation among intelligent people thinking about the best path forward for the good of a nation. This choice was made for money. When TV news divisions became something that had to turn a profit, we were finished but it was going to take decades for the corpse to stop twitching, and every twitch is marketable. The need to find new and interesting ways to keep eyeballs glued to their websites, televisions or phones takes precedent and if that means destroying democracy – oh well. Some of the ‘journalists’ don't care; some of them don't think they're actually doing that terrible thing; and some of them think it's a good idea, so this will continue. This film is about the end of the destruction of a nation but it shows us how it got there in this indirect way. Our national mirror became a distorted vision of the world created to hide the real reasons for actions because there was a buck to be made by shaking up the ant jar.
I suspect Garland wants you to think about how we got to this point and maybe he thought coming at the problem from an unexpected angle would be more resonant. I don’t know. But at a time when we are balanced on a knife’s edge it is good to see a brilliant creative mind point at the root cause hoping we catch his line of reasoning before his fiction becomes reality. 

The List 

OMAR KHAYYAM (1956) - 7

IMMACULATE (2024) – 7 (well done) 


THE DEVESTATOR (1984) – 4 (pretty bad but fast moving Cirio Santiago action epic)


LOS LEPERSOS Y EL SEXO (1970) – 6 (soft-core sexy version of SANTO VS THE RIDERS OF TERROR) 

SITTING PRETTY (1948) – 8 (the first of the Mr. Belvedere comedies is great) 

THE FIRST OMEN (2024) – 7 (interesting prequel/reset) 

GHOST CATCHERS (1944) – 5 (Olsen & Johnson scare up very few laughs) 

MONKEY MAN (2024) – 7  

THE BATMAN (2022) – 9 (rewatch) 

DANGEROUS TO KNOW (1938) – 7 (adaptation of an Edgar Wallace play with a strong cast)


SCALPS (1987) – 6 (Mattei makes a western that feels very 1970’s – but with very sloppy editing) 

CIVIL WAR (2024) - 8 

ARGOMAN (1967) – 6 (rewatch)

TROPIC OF CANCER (1970) – 5 (sort of a giallo set in Haiti) 

ZAMBO, KING OF THE JUNGLE (1972) – 4 (Brad Harris as a kind of modern Tarzan) 

WATCH ME WHEN I KILL (1977) – 5 (fairly dull giallo) 



PASSION (2012) – 6 (later, lesser De Palma) 

STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989) – 4 (rewatch)

WHEN A STRANGER CALLS BACK (1993) – 7 (surprisingly good sequel) 

UNDER THE SILVER LAKE (2019) – 7 (fascinating neo-noir with a twist)

HARPER (1966) – 8 (Newman as a private eye)

PORTRAIT OF JENNIE (1948) – 7 (romantic fantasy) 

A*P*E (1976) – 3 (hilariously bad giant ape film) 


No comments: