The Coming War on China (2016)

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John Pilger’s The Coming War on China is an ominous examination of the war games between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

Pilger is a venerable Australian journalist who has made 60 documentaries about an impressive range of sociopolitical subjects such as the Vietnam War, the Cambodian genocide, Indigenous Australians and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He is often critical of Western foreign policy, but The Coming War on China is a largely even-handed documentary that will enlighten and perhaps challenge your position on Sino-American relations.

It opens with footage of a devastated Hiroshima and war-torn Vietnam while the pomp and circumstance of the Star Spangled Banner plays in stark contrast. This clear contradiction is a harbinger of what’s to come; both countries are criticised, but the United States’ transgressions are given particular emphasis (well, I’d argue that Hiroshima was not a transgression).

After the brief, foreboding title sequence, we are shown a montage of news clips reporting China’s militarisation of islands in the South China Sea, which is punctuated by some Fox News foghorn saying “we, the US, have to be much more aggressive in dealing with the Chinese government!” One suspects that this pundit is ignorant of the United States’ “pivot to Asia” policy, which is drastically increasing US presence in the Asia-Pacific region.

To continue reading, please follow the link to Vulture Hound: http://vulturehound.co.uk/2016/12/compelling-enlightening-damning-stuff-the-coming-war-on-china-documentary-review/

Baraka (1992)

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I can’t see how someone couldn’t like this film.

A bold statement certainly, however Baraka has an immense beauty that is surely universal in appeal. It is a documentary that’s without  narrative or narration, it captures a veritable plethora of imagery that reminds us that Earth is indeed a baraka, which is Arabic and Hebrew for ‘blessing’.

Any attempt to derive meaning or identify connection becomes merely incidental as you’re presented with the hypnotic scenery that Ron Fricke and his team have captured; it must have been difficult for them to cut their glorious footage down to 97 minutes. The film traverses verdant jungles, epic mountain ranges, sweeping temple complexes, arid deserts,  imposing cityscapes and haunting landmarks of evil such as Auschwitz and the Cambodian S-21 prison. Its human subjects are of all colours and creeds, with much of the film focusing on those who are less fortunate and sometimes utterly destitute. It is a sensational and occasionally disturbing cross-section of the planet’s landscapes, cultures and history.

The stunning wide shots and time lapses are scored with heady ambient music by Michael Stearns. His music is a cacophony of tribal chants, chimes and drums that’s vital in creating Baraka’s truly sensory immersion. My favourite piece is Baraka Theme, its broad, sonorous notes create a vast scope that perfectly accompanies the boundless panoramas.

There are so many moments I could talk about, I could throw effusive adjectives at almost every frame, however I feel mere words can’t do it justice. Baraka is a purely cinematic experience that’s somewhat futile to describe.

However, one memorable sequence I will mention is the factory processing of chicks that’s interspersed with the frenetic pace of Tokyo railway commuters; it is fascinating and ultimately quite unpleasant as the birds’ destiny in battery cages is revealed after having their beaks burnt. The camera offers insights into an array of factories, showcasing their subjects’ perfectly rehearsed skills in computer hardware assembly, textiles and poultry.

It is a film that demands to be shown on good equipment, a film that serves as a benchmark for one’s TV or projector. Apparently, it was the first film to receive an 8K transfer, what an awesome experience that must be, most likely better than real life!

When Baraka sadly finishes, you eventually move your eyes away from the screen for the first time in 97 minutes and realise that you’ve been dead still the whole time as you check your watch, surprised to see that many hours haven’t passed. It is a triumph that the moving image alone can achieve such engrossment.

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Good Morning, Vietnam (1987)

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A predictable, dull film that’s merely a vehicle for Williams’s tediously overbearing comedy.

There’s a great Family Guy cutaway gag in which Peter Griffin and Robin Williams are sitting on a sofa as Peter names topics such as religion and politics for Williams to comment on. Williams does so with his trademark brand of insufferable overbearing comedy, which is filling any amount of time with incessant, frenetic rambling. Peter responds simply with an exasperated sigh before leaving for a five minute break, which prompts Williams to start yet another barrage of supposedly funny noises.

I felt much like Peter Griffin whilst watching Good Morning Vietnam. It reaffirmed my opinion that Williams was not the ‘tragicomic genius’ that so many purported him to be. Williams was much better as a straight actor.

Read a short synopsis of Vietnam and you’ll know exactly what it’s all about: the loveable family favourite Robin Williams being kooky and charming the troops but clashing with straight-laced, humourless authority figures. It’s completely predictable and completely trite. They also throw in a love interest for good measure in the form of Trinh (Chintara Sukapatana), a wholly lifeless woman whom Williams refuses to stop pestering.

Williams is never funny during his radio broadcasts, but the film repeatedly tells us otherwise, showing us scores of characters struggling to hold back their tears of laughter. So many of the supporting actors, whether they’re random troops or studio operators, were just diegetic canned laughter rather than proper characters.

Make no mistake, Robin Williams isn’t playing Adrian Cronauer, he’s playing Robin Williams at his most loud and rambling. Williams is repeatedly characterised as the loveable clown who brings the people together, it’s rather nauseating. No matter how hard the film tries, it cannot convince me that he’s either funny or charming, it only succeeds in making him very irritating. Despite this, there are some moments that raised a smile, such as the language class scenes in which he focuses on New York City street talk rather than the artificial, staid sentences of the textbooks.

Williams’s flatly developed adversaries Lt. Steven Hauk (Bruno Kirby) and Sgt. Major Dickinson (J.T. Walsh) are the typical officious military men. They develop a resentment towards him that’s so instantaneous that it’s contrived and unbelievable; they’re just narrative functions that try and make you feel sorry for Williams, the sweet crazy cookie. Both characters aggressively impose their superior ranks on Williams and the other men, reminding me of the great Machiavelli quote – ‘It is not titles that make men illustrious, but men who make titles illustrious.’  Quite frankly, the quote is wasted on a trivial, tiresomely annoying film like this.

It sometimes attempts to be a drama or ‘dramedy’ with moments of perfunctory war moralising, but ultimately Good Morning Vietnam is preoccupied with indulging Robin Williams rather than achieving anything approaching credible commentary or pathos.

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