American Sniper – Little More than a Missed Opportunity

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 11.55.53 AMI suppose I should not be surprised here. The Interwebs are all abuzz over Clint Eastwood’s latest effort at war drama, American Sniper. This film offers the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, America’s most lethal crack shot, who saw several tours in the Middle East, and was killed stateside in 2013 by a disturbed Army veteran he was trying to help.

Discourse, if one can call it that, concerning this film has distilled to a troubling reflection of the political polarization in this country. Those who lean right claim that the film honors the greatest American hero since Audie Murphy – a true flag-raising inspiration. Those who lean left say the film celebrates a racist war-mongering sociopath.

Internet pundits have reduced American Sniper to a political football, and yet none have stopped to consider that this is really a crappy film – no matter what your political affiliations.

Kyle, as portrayed in American Sniper, is nearly emotionless and almost entirely one-dimensional. Eastwood misses a golden opportunity to unpack the psychological and emotional roller coaster that combat veterans surely experience, both in the field and back home. Eastwood attempts an artistic evaluation of the human experience in war and gives us a flat monotone. Based on the film alone – do we empathize with, reject, celebrate, or feel remorse for Kyle? Not really. All (or nearly all) of the emotion stirred by American Sniper is incidental to the film’s story itself, not to mention its main character – the hullabaloo is a post screening layer of punditry applied only because many feel the need to take sides on a divisive topic and a war fraught with controversy.

There are plenty of films that offer nuanced and beautifully staged depictions of humanity faced with the grim realities of combat: The Thin Red Line, Full Metal Jacket, and The Hurt Locker come immediately to mind – and there are many others. But American Sniper, politics aside, falls disappointingly short.

With compliments,

Keith

 

Flags…Blowin’ in the Wind

I spend a lot of time scouring the Internet looking for interesting things to discuss. For example, Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, writes on reflections of the South, memory, and the racial legacies of yes, you guessed it, the Civil War. You can expect a post about her work coming up in the near future…just as soon as I have had a closer look at her poetry.

But my point today is meant to be a service for all of those in cyberspace who identify the various Confederate flags incorrectly. Many refer to the “Stars and Bars” when they actually mean something else, and this practice is something of a pet peeve of mine…I know, it’s the little things. But anyway, in an altruistic spirit of education, I offer the flags…and their proper names. (PS – the title of this post is an obscure reference that has nothing to do with Confederate flags but everything to do with an 80s pop band from Santa Barbara – guess who they are and get a shout out).

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First Confederate National Flag aka “The Stars and Bars”

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Army of Northern Virginia Battle Flag
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Second National Confederate Flag aka “The Stainless Banner”

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Third National Confederate Flag (note stain)

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Confederate Navy Jack

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Confederate flag of significance from Appomattox (sorry…I just couldn’t help myself.

 

 

So there you are – a test will commence shortly.

With compliments,

Keith

Possible Scenarios for Future Point of Honor Episodes

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 7.43.48 PMNow that you have all seen the pilot of Point of Honor (and my review) you are most certainly waiting on the edge of your seats to see what’s coming next – that is, should the series be picked up for additional episodes. Just in case the producers have not thought ahead and drawn up plans for future shows I will offer the wisdom and knowledge of years of work as a nineteenth-century Americanist and suggest some possible scenarios. Now mind you, I am no screenwriter – but I think these ideas will dovetail well with the pilot and capture the imaginations of a nation of viewers.

Episode One: The Point of Honor Free Darkey Sing-a-Long.

It’s late summer, 1861 in Lynchburg and the former slaves from the Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 3.26.16 PMPoint of Honor plantation have pooled their generous wages to host a harvest-time soiree honoring the noblesse oblige of their former masters. And what a gala event! Robert E. Lee (Fabio), also a slave-holding Virginia abolitionist, is in town investigating reports of an individual Union soldier lurking about the Lynchburg countryside and takes time away from his general stuff to stop by the plantation and kick off the party. After a flirtatious and daring Virginia Reel with former slave Abby, the Confederate chieftain wades into the crowd of freedmen and leads the first song. All clasp hands and enthusiastically join in except for Lorelei Rhodes, who despite being married to a Yankee, devilishly plots with former overseer Cutler to re-enslave everyone.

Meanwhile…John Rhodes and his drunk (though charming) brother lead a four-man Confederate artillery raid on Boston, Massachusetts where they encounter a host of Brahmin Yankee officers, all of whom having once been John’s West Point roommates. After a brief skirmish, where the drunk brother is rendered a quadruple amputee (the wounds are not mortal) at the hands of each Brahmin simultaneously, the Rhodes boys are captured. Though disappointed by his brother’s unfortunate dismemberment, John is relieved when he is treated to punch and lectures on transcendentalism.  Later, in their cell, the boys receive a letter from their tougher-than-nails sister, pistol packin’ Estella Rhodes, where they hear the news of the plantation fete. Overjoyed, John and his drunk, armless, and legless brother sing an in absentia duet of Go Down Moses as the credits roll.

Stay tuned for future developments…

Keith

Straight to the Point

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 10.56.45 AMWell my friends, I did not think it possible, but something incredible has happened. Gods and Generals has been surpassed as the dumbest Civil War drama in the history of entertainment. And the Conspirator – a picture so horrible that it nearly (nearly) defies words – has moved to a close third, though it closes ranks with Gods from time to time depending on my mood.

Of course, I am speaking of the recent Amazon television pilot, Point of Honor. To be fair, judging by the iPhone quality cinematography, the show was made on the cheap, and so I will not criticize Point for its lack of sweeping epicness. And…I will give the writers due props for noting that slavery was the central issue of secession and ultimately, what the Confederacy was fighting to maintain. And…there are actually black people in the show, with lines and everything. But my praise ends there.

Point of Honor is absolutely ridiculous in every other respect. For one, the show’s protagonist, one John Rhodes, is a Lynchburg, Virginia slave-owning abolitionist (that’s right, friends) West Point cadet who inexplicably frees all his slaves after news of Fort Sumter and then proceeds to join the Confederacy to defend…something (we are not told what). I suppose he is defending honor (hey….).

Confused? Don’t worry…there’s more. Rhodes’s best friend and West Point compatriot, Robert Sumner – who, not incidentally, is married to Rhodes’s sister, Lorelei (not kidding), hatches a brilliant plan to proceed to Lynchburg – deep, deep in the heart of Virginia – with a contingent of twelve (12!) cavalrymen and his sadistic West Point commandant, where they will proceed to attempt to capture a railroad. How Union cavalry, all twelve of them, managed to get to Lynchburg undetected in 1861 is beyond me.

But they do, which means…John, his drunk (though charming) brother, the Rhodes family patriarch, and a couple of dashing neighbors mount up and ride out to meet the foe to defend – Point of Honor (get it?). In the melee, papa Rhodes, in a daring one-man charge (you can’t make this up),  is shot dead by the sadistic commandant who is teaching a US cavalryman how to fire a musket – I guess that particular cavalryman was out sick on musket training day.

Bummer for the Rhodes family. With all this whoop-dee-do going on: friends and in-laws, neighbors, emancipated slaves, distraught family members – all fighting each other, Christmas dinner will be pretty awkward at the plantation big house. I can only imagine where the plot will go next, should the show be picked up.

Naturally, there is more to this show than Blue-Gray hijinks. The women of Point of Honor offer a compelling counter to the swashbuckling machismo of their men-folk, especially if you are a fan of bodice-ripping Harlequin Romance novels. I suppose the writers were trying to conjure strength-in-the-face-of-adversity steel magnolia types for a twenty-first century audience, but what we get are nineteenth-century “ladies” who say and wear things that would make Belle Watling blush.

There’s more to talk about. But why bother? I think you get where I am coming from on this one. And, in case you are wondering, I absolutely recommend watching Point of Honor (HERE – it’s free). In fact, I think it should become a cult classic – like Showgirls or something. Maybe we should come up with a drinking game and throw Point of Honor themed parties.

Who’s in?

Keith