Oh those movies.

*Ha ha, didn’t even have time to read my comics for the day.

*Quick Queries Dept: Anyone out there buying their Ultimate Marvel books in trade format only? And if so, are you annoyed that Marvel decided to reprint Ultimate Fantastic Four Annual #1 in both the Ultimate Fantastic Four Vol. 4 trade and the Ultimate Annuals Vol. 1 collection? Serious question - it seems like an odd choice on Marvel’s part to me.

*I did see a recent film.



Boy oh boy can Steven Spielberg not end a movie these days. I don’t know - maybe I’ve just gotten oversensitive to thematic hand-holding in big (and bigish) money films but gosh, by the end of this thing I already knew the movie was supposed to be taken partially as an allegory for America’s War on Terror - that was pretty much crystal clear from the (excellently mounted) opening refrain of characters glued to round-the-clock television coverage of a deadly attack, to the constant ruminations on the cyclical nature of violence, to the gnawing uncertainty as to the reliability of intelligence, to the inability of the squad to capture the ‘big’ baddie, to the refrain of new terrorists taking the place of those killed, to the images of clawing paranoia in NYC. I got it, and I got it good. It was fine.

But good gravy Steven, if you’re going to do all that and then end the film with a shot of the Twin Towers, I mean, just re-title the film It’s An Allegory Folks! and devote the closing title cards to explaining the connections and then have the ushers walk up and down the aisles selling $1 guidebooks like it’s a 1945 sex education roadshow. At least then I’ll be distracted enough by all the hawking that I won’t want to put my head through the back of the seat in front of me while the director’s credit pops up.

I don’t know. It’s just one step too far for me. The movie was obviously ending and there was a nice wide shot of the city and I was literally thinking to myself “Don’t go for the Towers shot, not the Towers, not the Towers…” and there they were. Exclamation point! I also think my mood was pretty soured by this ridiculous scene about fifteen or so minutes prior, where Spielberg intercuts star Eric Bana’s increasingly furious lovemaking to his wife with shots of the concluding 1972 massacre at the airport, complete with climax being reached as automatic weapons riddle people with bullets. I know it’s meant to demonstrate how Bana can’t return to civilian life, how the events of that day forever haunt even his most tender moments, but all the spit and blood and sweat flying, not to mention the (apparently industry-wide mandatory) ethereal voices on the soundtrack - it’s a truly jaw-dropping miscalculation of a scene, and it’s unfortunately set up as the last ‘big’ moment of the film. The work cannot recover from that, though there’s fortunately not much of it left.

And despite the above three paragraphs, I actually did like Munich on the whole; it’s better than War of the Worlds (in that it starts going downhill at a much later moment), if we want to compare Spielberg’s two 9/11-influenced films of the year, one poised for summer blockbusting, the other eyeing awards. A lot of the film’s effectiveness comes from the fact that, whatever his faults may be, Spielberg is still a superior visual craftsman (aided, as usual, by Janusz Kaminski behind the camera), an inspired director of action and suspense, and eminently sensitive to the effect his set pieces will have on an audience. Noted Close Encounters of the Third Kind performer François Truffaut once said that no war movie can be truly anti-war, since the camera automatically aestheticizes its subject; this isn’t quite a war movie, since the ‘war’ here is underground, but Spielberg is canny to the power his gory gunfire combat and nail-biting bombing scenes hold. He wants us to get excited, caught up in the adventure, just as the Bana-led five-man crew (sent out to assassinate 11 men believed to have taken part in orchestrating the 1972 Olympic killings) get their adrenaline maxed out time and again. They celebrate after their early missions. They try to make jokes, and keep themselves primed.

But soon paranoia has taken over, and Spielberg does a great job of roping the audience into that feeling too. What with all the double-crossing, suspected spies, and general death and antsy antics, soon the audience is expecting hidden explosives and sudden killing at any time, just as the characters do (and yet, once again Spielberg’s weakness sometimes crops up - there’s a great scene with Bana having what’s very nearly a nervous breakdown ripping his hotel room apart looking for hidden explosives, but then the scene is closed with a thudding obvious visual evocation of an earlier line, the paranoid man sleeping in his closet to avoid bombs under his bed). Thus, we physically appreciate the downsides of the characters’ actions, the notion all the more powerful for our own thrills taken from earlier missions.

And I don’t want to say that Spielberg is simply beyond subtlety - be sure to take notice of how the team, in some small or large way, always foul up their missions, at least according to the earliest orders given to Bana. On that note, there’s a nice sense of progression to the film, as the team starts out chasing targets with great precision, but then moving beyond the list to replacements for their targets, eventually just going off onto private missions of vengeance. I appreciated that not all of the plot threads are tied up (we really have to wonder about the family ‘Papa’ is running - yet more strained Spielberg familial bonds, by the way). Good use of cooking as a metaphor for the soul. And hey, that metaphor is even skillfully, quietly evoked by that final verbal offer for the breaking of bread. That’s not just good, it’s great. I really liked that.

But then, that shot. That closing shot. Yeah. You’ll notice I’m talking mainly about subtext here, not the patent Israel/Palestine focus of the film itself. But that’s because, well, the allegory of this thing keeps showing up again and again, then underlined, then put in boldface. How can I not ignore it, since that’s where much of this violence breeds violence rhetoric seems to be headed? It covers one level, and it covers the next. Don’t get me wrong, Munich has some great filmmaking behind it - it’s probably worth seeing. I just wish it was more consistent, that it didn’t stop pulling the audience along only to make them trip over the sheer blunt force of the conclusion to the damn thing. Flawed, but something.