Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Monsters Dark Continent and Camp X-Ray

About two years ago, Taken 2 (Liam Neeson) had a record opening weekend with $50 million (making back its entire budget in just 3 days) and, given they Benghazi September 11 attacks had just happened that week, it was no surprise that people flocked to see Taken 2; the question is, how coincidental was it that the film was released that week? It's not so much coincidence, in my opinion, as prophecy: art understands what is happening in the world, and seeks to communicate the real nature of events. With Monsters: Dark Continent, I think we are seeing the same thing with the rise of ISIS and the atrocities being committed every single day by anyone ISIS deems as an infidel. The brutality of ISIS exceeds anything I have ever heard of in my life, and these "monsters" are on a rampage with the US and rest of the West in their sites. On the other hand, it's possible the film will be depicting the US as "the monsters," that we are going places we are not wanted and our very existence is despised in the world; there are two moments in the trailer below where this might be indicated. How does this relate to the image above? First of all, the repetition of "Giant Sand Bugs" becomes a form of noise, which we have discussed many times, and we see visual and hear audio examples in the trailer below. The method of repetition is redundancy: redundancy almost becomes a form of violence--remember in The Shining when Jack Nicholson's character writes "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy,"--which is why it's often connected with brainwashing: according to Umberto Eco, ideology is "a form of message transmission whereby a dominant social class emits its message by using signs that exhibit a high degree of redundancy such that only one message is decoded among a selection of competing ones" (Wikipedia, Information Theory; a "sign" is a word, an image, a phrase, etc., something with which a particular meaning is associated). So, what we see above is a sign contained within a sign: the silhouette of the alien is a sign, and the writing inside the silhouette is another sign, suggesting that we will see the same thing within the film: a story within a story, a message, within a message. The nature of "noise" as an artistic device is meant to alert us that there are messages we aren't deciphering: if a TV broadcast keeps cutting out, so you can't catch all the words, that's a form of "noise": if there is background noise or distorted pictures, that is noise; why use that in a high-quality film? It communicates that "there is more to the message than what you are getting," and it begs the audience to "read between the lines" and try to find the pieces that are "missing" intentionally, because they are not missing, they are just hiding.
Remember Gareth Edwards?
You know, the guy who directed the surprise blockbuster of 2014, Godzilla, that Gareth Edwards? Well, before he resurrected Godzilla, he did a film in 2010 called Monsters, about some monsters who are trying to get across the Mexican border and into the US. The sequel to that film (without Edwards) has released their sequel trailer and this looks impressive, in more ways than one. Please, think of films that the following footage reminds you of, where you have seen certain looks or shots before:
I don't know which direction this film is going to take, however, there are a couple of observations we can make. First, What films have we seen that this reminds us of? Maybe The Hurt Locker (that great "war on terror" film), or Tremors, Black Hawk Down, maybe Zero Dark Thirty (the hunt for Osama Bin Laden film), what about Man Of Steel (the way General Zod's message to the world about giving up Superman was full of "noise"?) and even the yet-to-be released Interstellar, with its nostalgic clips of US missions to outer space? We could even throw in Prometheus, because of the way the monsters look and the application of "noise" as an artistic device we can even add the Tom Cruise thriller Edge Of Tomorrow, not just because of the importance of individual members of the military and the similarity with those monsters, but also because their monsters and these monsters are after the same things. So, what's the big deal about thinking of the films a trailer like this invokes?
At least threefold.
First, this is a film about the military fighting giant sand aliens in the Middle East (grin over the silliness, right?), so while it seriously looks serious and dramatic, the film makers know they need some heavy artistry to insure the quality of the film to potential quality viewers; the easiest way to do that is by staging shots that they know their potential audience has seen in other films that made lots of money and got rave reviews. The second reason to employ mimicry of previous successful films in the look and delivery of Monsters: Dark Continent is to insure the audience that the film makers, too, have seen these films, and--in this case--Monsters: Dark Continent is entering into a dialogue with those films, that they share a vocabulary that is not only artistic, but political and ideological as well. Thirdly, a film such as this wants to be impactful and to do that, it has to draw the right audience, so it's trying to identify other films that it identifies with politically--like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty--which leads us to the next question: what is the film really about?
"You don't get to feel," a character says in the trailer at 1:04 right after another man says, "Don't let your emotions control you." The giant eye of a monster looking into the building where the soldiers are hiding suggests that they are, themselves, the actual monster that is outside and "looking in" on themselves, they are meditating and that's why they say, "It's not the monsters I'm afraid of," suggesting it's themselves or what they are becoming. This is not only a familiar theme in war films--think Apocalypse Now, Platoon or Full Metal Jacket--but also in science fiction, an important aspect of the film I am apt to overlook. In sci-fy, the main characters must discover how they have become "alien" to their self and how to remedy the situation; we could see the same thing with this film. On an entirely different note, the top image comes from Monsters; Dark Continent, while the bottom image comes from Godzilla, the borrowing of staging in Monsters obviously a homage to Gareth Edwards, and a linking of the two films. One of the artistic touches I like in the trailer is the application of the monochromatic, where all the colors are so closely blended together, it's almost as if the scene is in black and white, which is fully intentional: are the issues that will be brought up in the film "black and white," or are they brightly colored? Is the film introducing rational thinking over emotions so it can rebel against logos
Aliens.
Like the word "monster," however, "alien" has a political overtone that must be clarified and we can be sure this film will do it. In Cowboys and Aliens (Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig), as you may recall, there was a little Mexican boy who clearly was not a symbol for the aliens in that film, although "illegal aliens" can be applied to Hispanics illegally crossing the American border; that film was concerned with the Nazi implications of what's happening in the country, along with the slow degrading of the US-British alliance (thanks, Obama) and those two political changes in America is what is alien to the US.
This shot in particular reminds me of Vietnam war movies.
In Monsters: Dark Continent, we have the political term "monster" (which we discussed in our last post on Dracula Untold, and the monsters referring to Stalin, Mao, Augusto Pinochet, Pol Pott, Hitler, etc., or any other revolutionary who wanted to force socialism on people by killing all those who opposed the change), but "aliens"--specifically located in the Middle East--probably refers to Sharia law and ISIS: from the Daily News in the UK (because the American media works for Obama who funds and arms ISIS): "They Started Throwing People In Holes, People Buried Alive" in mass graves, up to 500, not to mention ISIS's practice of raping all virgins so they don't go to heaven, and the slaughtering of all who are not of the same strand of Islam they themselves are (especially Christians). This is alien behavior in the US, plain and simple (the second image after this is very graphic, so please be aware, it's of a female who had acid thrown in her face). 
Monsters: Dark Continent will either make the statement that all the practitioners of Islam are monsters--because even if they aren't throwing acid in people's faces, burying innocent people alive, crucifying people, beheading people, sapping a host country's welfare system, committing pedophilia with little girls and boys, beating members of their family or threatening to blow up the US, or determined to exterminate Israel, the "peaceful" Muslims aren't speaking out against those who are, and are slowly advocating Sharia throughout the US--or the film will uphold that there are "peaceful Muslims" and we should be tolerant. The film at least touches upon this conflict because of the young Middle Eastern girl we see in the trailer (by the way, my best friend for five years, Almas, was Muslim--her father was from Pakistan and her mother from India--and her father beat her regularly, and I mean beat).
She's was getting an education, so a man threw acid in her face.
Now, let's examine another trailer so we can compare the two films. The following is for Camp X-Ray, due out in October, starring Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi, who you might recognize from A Separation, the Iraqi film which was the first from that country to win an Academy Award (given for Best Picture in a Foreign Language). I am not a fan of Kristen Stewart, however, let's see the differences between these two films:
Well, it looks as if the US took a completely innocent man, who was probably profiled, and abducted during his Islamic prayers and kept for 8 years for no reason,... what is happening in this film? The exact opposite of what we hear in the first trailer at about 1:00, "Do not let your emotions control you," is exactly what happens in Camp X-Ray, and the reason why liberals put emphasis on emotions rather than logic: people who rely on their emotions to understand a situation are far easier to control than people who are rational and rely upon critical thinking to understand decision-making (emotions aren't inherently bad, however, they have to be properly disciplined; emotions which are too disciplined might be a part of the theme of Monsters: Dark Continent).
Please note how hats and hair are symbols for our thoughts: the cap pulled down over her eyes suggests she is not being allowed to "see" what is around her ("seeing" is a metaphor for deep thought and meditation, that we are able to "see" beyond mere appearances). Her hair pulled back and tied in a bun suggests that her thoughts are disciplined and the camo gunny hat she wears indicates that she is allowed to only think what the army allows her to think. Her ears, however, seem to be unusually red, meaning they are "burning" because whatever the man in white, behind the bars, is screaming, he's screaming it about her. Maybe he's threatening to dump acid on her face?
The feel and look of Camp X-Ray is probably a direct response to Zero Dark Thirty, a film which started out strong, winning ALL the major critical awards, then there was a turn, like someone made the comment, "Why don't we see Obama in the Situation Room during the take-down of Obama?" and Mrs. Obama giving out the Award for Best Film to Argo surely makes it look suspicious that director Kathryn Bigelow, who was winning right and left, suddenly got left in the dust to Argo who made Jimmy Carter look great (by leaving out Ronald Reagan's role in the events). Anyway, we can see that Camp X-Ray, like Monsters: Dark Continent, has an agenda, and they two films share the same topic of the agenda, but different sides: Camp X-Ray suggests that it's bad to be American, and the Muslims should be allowed to do whatever they want, whereas Monsters suggests what the Muslims are doing are in-humane and this is only spreading and getting more bigger. The dramatic differences between the two films validates the cultural and political dialogue taking place in cinema and the important topics they are taking up.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner