Patton (1970)

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Is this America enough for you?

Okay, I’m going to be perfectly honest:  I only half-watched this movie.  I’ve certainly done that before in this project, where I play poker on my phone or fold laundry or something while the movie plays in the background.  I figure, whatever, it’s not like I’m writing a proper review or something, so if it doesn’t grab me, then I might as well do something useful with my time.  But Patton was another thing entirely.  I definitely sat through the whole three hours, but I can’t say I gained anything from it.

If you want to actually learn something about World War II, I’d recommend reading a book.  If you’d prefer to watch a bunch of explosions and see a guy who’s kind of an asshole depicted as a hero, you can watch this film – or, really, just about any war movie from the past fifty years.

Now, I’m the first to admit that I struggle to follow movies with large casts of hard-to-distinguish characters or films that attempt to dramatize a swath of real-life events.  Though I’ve read quite a bit about WWII in my time, I didn’t know much about Patton’s role in the war.  This movie didn’t clarify a lot, except that his big “claim to fame” was that he mocked soldiers he believed weren’t courageous enough in battle, which almost cost him any lasting glory.  The film chose to overlook entirely his expressed views on Jews and blacks (spoiler alert:  not positive).

I don’t often mention topical issues in conjunction with my Oscar project, but I couldn’t help seeing the parallels here between Patton’s near-fatal mistake and Trump.  Patton slapped a soldier in hospital for “battle fatigue” – the era’s euphemism for what we now think of as PTSD – because he considered it to be cowardice.  Apparently, soldiers are meant to be mindless killing machines in his world.  Fortunately, instead of ruining his career, it merely redirected his command to Operation Fortitude, the phantom army at Dover that was meant as a diversion from the real invasion at Normandy.  Most of this I learned from Wikipedia rather than the movie.

There were a couple of interesting moments that sparked my attention.  At one point, someone says, “I shaved very closely in anticipation of being smacked by you,” which sounded startlingly familiar.  I should have guessed it, considering my memory for quotes is limited to those scenes I’ve seen many times.  Turns out, it was used on Battlestar Galactica, when Tom Zarek encounters Laura Roslin in a moment of political rivalry.  Apparently, the writers of BSG really loved this movie, because another line features prominently, as well.  Patton makes an off-hand comment about needing soldiers who are razors, once again echoed in a storyline on BSG.  Admiral Caine apparently has a crossover kinship with General Patton.  Imagine the fanfiction.

My attention to this film project has been flagging a bit recently, probably in part because I have a fair number of films like this to get through that don’t inspire me much.  That’s okay; I’m in the home stretch, and there’s definitely a trilogy or two of movies that I can look forward to binge-watching in the near future.


Theme:  General

First Time Watching?  Yup

Final Verdict:  Not as funny as Patton Oswalt


Braveheart (1995)

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Ah, here we have another one of those long-ass historical epics the Oscars folks seem to love so much.  And here’s Mel Gibson, before he went off on his anti-Semitic rants.  At least there were no Jews in medieval Scotland (or were there?!).

There seems to be a formula for this kind of film, the larger-than-life hero biopic.  Find a man (it’s always a man), give him an origin story that drives him (revenge).  Then pair him with a wacky sidekick for comic relief – most likely someone who’s bigger and dumber and less attractive than our hero.  Brush past the boring political drama and go straight to the fights, and don’t skimp on the limb-chopping.  In the end, the hero makes a sacrifice, but it’s all worth it, for the good of his people.  The only thing we were missing here was the training montage, set to bagpipe music.

After the movie, I looked up some background on the film’s reception (okay, I’ll admit it: it was during the movie – honestly, how many times do you need to watch horses get spears thrust through their torsos?).  Apparently, there were a few historical inaccuracies, starting with the fact that kilts were not worn in Scotland until two centuries after the events of the film.  Many of the characters were depicted inaccurately as well, either chronologically (like Princess Isabella, who hopefully would not have coupled with Wallace at two years of age) or geographically.

To be honest, though, the inaccuracies don’t bother me that much, so long as we can all recognize that a movie is designed for a specific purpose – entertainment.  We apparently don’t know much about the life of William Wallace today, but I’m guessing that we would find it pretty boring, or worse, more brutal than heroic.  That’s the thing about heroes:  they’re really more inspiring the less you know about them as humans.

Braveheart is less about the actual political events of Scotland in 1300, and more about the symbolic power of a figure of independence to an audience in the late 20th century.  We like the idea of a group of people fighting for their freedom – as long as it’s a nice, recognizably white and Christian people, people with real principles we can understand.

If I sound at all bitter about this movie, it’s only because I’m irritated that I spent a perfectly good Friday night watching it, when I could have been re-watching Sherlock for the fifth time or darning my socks or something.  I found Braveheart incredibly boring, which is partly due to my own movie preferences.  I don’t like movies that involve a lot of different characters to keep track of, and this movie had more bearded warriors than The Hobbit.

As I gather more Best Picture films under my belt, I’m starting to get a sense of the preferences of each decade.  The nineties definitely seem to be the era of the Serious Epic of a Man Finding Himself.  No, wait, that’s every decade.

Interestingly enough, I watched this movie way back in January (and wrote the rest of this blog), but never had the chance to post it until now.  I remember being burned out early on the massive epics at that point, so it’s nice to see that not every movie was like that.  Just about half of them.


Theme:  General

First Time Watching?  Yes (in January)

Final Verdict:  Don’t look under the kilt