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News – Runaway Film Production is the Star of this Movie

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

COMPANY TOWN

Runaway film production is the star of this movie

Runaway production

Volunteer cast and crew, including cinematographer Ed Gutentag, left, and actor Jack McGee, seated, shoot “Ordinary, Average Guys,” a short film that is part of a campaign to keep movie and TV jobs in California. (Axel Koester / For The Times / March 5, 2010)

By Richard Verrier

March 10, 2010

In a North Hollywood studio, actor Jack McGee is stripped down to his boxers, his legs duct-taped to a chair in a room draped in plastic sheets. He’s not playing his best-known role of Chief Jerry Reilly in the TV series “Rescue Me” but the unlucky owner of a nightclub, sweating profusely as a mobster and his goons threaten to cut off his legs with a chain saw.

His crime: luring the mobster’s younger brother to perform in drag because the kid couldn’t get other work in California.

The short film, “Ordinary, Average Guys,” a cross between “Goodfellas” and the “Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” doesn’t have a distributor. The cast and crew are working free, and it’s being shot over just three days. And its not-so-comic subtext — that jobs are scarce in California — isn’t likely to warm up studio executives.

That doesn’t faze industry veteran Mike Kehoe, the film’s director and co-producer. Kehoe and his colleagues hope to use the film to promote awareness about the economic consequences of so-called runaway production and build support for stronger incentives to keep filmmaking centered in Southern California.

“If we can get everybody involved and really wake people up to do something, then there’s a big chance we can help,” said Kehoe, a longtime craft service coordinator. “We have to make a statement to the politicians.”

Of course, where there’s a film, there are aspirations for a film festival to go along with it.

Kehoe and his colleagues hope the 20-minute movie will be featured in a festival they’re planning that would showcase short films that are shot in California and public-service announcements highlighting production flight.

The festival would dovetail with a campaign by a coalition of industry, labor and city officials to market the region’s film industry, which has seen a steady loss in production to other states and countries.

Kehoe said he was motivated to make the film after spending three months away from his family last summer, missing his twin sons’ birthday, while working on “Battle: Los Angeles,” a Sony Pictures movie about aliens invading L.A. that was shot in Louisiana.

“I want to make movies here because I want to be near my family, just like so many other skilled professionals,” he said.

Kehoe had no trouble finding volunteers, recruiting about 100 actors and crew members, many of them friends he’s worked with over the years, like McGee.

Cinematographer Ed Gutentag provided his services and enlisted help through a website called Shoot Movies in California (www.shootmoviesincalifornia.com).

The site evolved out of a Facebook group and claims 14,000 users, many of them below-the-line crew members hard hit by the exodus of production.

“We’re using films to get our message out,” said Gutentag, a camera operator on such films as “War of the Worlds” and “Collateral.” “And what better way to hone our craft.”

Vendors donated camera and lighting equipment, and the studio space was provided courtesy of an actors training center in North Hollywood.

Some high-level players pitched in, including sound mixer Jeff Wexler, whose credits include “Valentine’s Day,” and Tommy Harper, a unit production manager on “Alice in Wonderland,” who is a co-producer on Kehoe’s project.

“A project like this shows that we need to come together and formulate a plan of how to keep stuff in L.A. It stirs up the conversation,” Harper said.

richard.verrier@latimes.com

Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times

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Categories: NEWS STORY, PRODUCTION

The Oscar Telecast: Worse Than Ever? Gee I Think So, it Truly Sucked

Harris

Call me an eternal optimist. At this time of year, I always find myself hoping against hope for two things: that (1) somehow this will be the year that the Cubs win the World Series and (2) maybe this will be the year the producers of the Academy Awards successfully reinvent the world’s oldest awards show.

We’ll have to wait till October to see if I’m right about the Cubs, but as far as the Oscars go, it was another huge disappointment, a colossal missed opportunity. Right from the start, the producers seemed unable to re-imagine the show as something other than a glitzy, painfully earnest version of the same cobwebby variety show we’ve been watching for years. I mean, there’s far more inventiveness going on in ABC’s “Modern Family” than there was on the Oscar stage last night.

Where to start? Oh, yeah, the hosts. I love Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, but watching them trying to coax laughs out of the wheezy one-liners they were given was painful. It was a buddy comedy gone wrong, a lot like watching Tracy Morgan and  Bruce Willis flail around in “Cop Out,” hoping to make a scene work without any good material to draw on. Oscar hosts don’t do improv. They need a good script and Bruce Vilanch (and whomever else was crafting material this year) let them down. 

The direction of the show was especially awful. It felt like whenever there was a potentially dramatic moment happening on stage, Hamish Hamilton, the show’s director, managed to miss it, starting with seeing Jim Cameron’s reaction to Kathryn Bigelow winning best director. Hamilton did an especially inept job of shooting the John Hughes tribute, which felt surprisingly flat and unemotional, in large part because it was staged so awkwardly, with Hughes’ old actors (now actually starting to get old) lined up on stage like beauty contestants. And when Mo’Nique finished her full-throated supporting actress acceptance speech, Hamilton cuts away to — ouch! — Samuel L. Jackson, who had nothing to do with the movie and presumably was picked for a cutaway after someone in the booth yelled, “Find me a black person for a reaction shot!” 

As soon as Jackson was on camera, he started derisively rolling his eyes, as if to say that he thought Mo’Nique’s speech was totally over the top, forcing another awkward cutaway, since having a big-time actor being underwhelmed by an acceptance speech would clearly spoil the moment.

And when it came to spoiling the moment, nothing was worse than having Barbra Streisand present best director to Bigelow. First off, Streisand was clearly picked after the producers knew Bigelow had won as some sort of symbolic passing of the torch moment although, once again, the producers couldn’t manage to find any drama in the moment. Even worse, it was demeaning to women directors everywhere, since Streisand was clearly chosen for her star power, not her directing chops — I mean, this is the woman whose last two films were “The Mirror Has Two Faces” and “Prince of Tides,” which would put Streisand about No. 47 on the best women director’s list.

I won’t even touch the Neil Patrick Harris opening number, since others have weighed in with far better assessments, the best being from Emmy-winning TV writer-producer Ken Levine, who wrote in his blog post: “The Oscars were very elegant this year all the way up to the opening number. Then Neil Patrick Harris sang about sodomy, masturbation and prison and Hollywood’s classiest night was underway.” 

And how about that horror-movie tribute montage? First off, why horror movies? I mean, in a year when we had, for the first time ever, two sci-fi movies among the best picture candidates, why not do a sci-fi montage sequence, which would’ve far more timely? And why have two young pups introduce the horror segment (and yes, I get the “Twilight” young demo tie-in) when you could have had two great scream queens do it, like Jamie Lee Curtis and Kathy Bates, who could have offered a couple of funny anecdotes about the glories of low-budget horror filmmaking?

I could go on and on. The show had a few nice moments — Ben Stiller made me laugh, the hosts had a couple of good zingers and it was especially apt to have James Taylor play such a lovely version of John Lennon’s “In My Life” over the In Memoriam segment. And yes, Sandra Bullock’s acceptance speech was a pip, more than making up for Jeff Bridges’ interminable, Dude-like ramblings. 

I hear the early reports say the show’s ratings went up as much as 15%, but considering the presence of “Avatar,” the world’s biggest-grossing movie, that still has to be cause for some concern, since it was just a month ago that the Grammy show was up 35% over the previous year. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — what the Oscar telecast needs is real TV producers, since they actually know how to put on a TV show.

My first choice remains Tommy Schlamme and Aaron Sorkin, since they bring built-in writing and directing talent with them, but there is plenty of other savvy TV talent to choose from. It’s time the academy realized that a few patches here and some fresh paint there won’t do the trick. This is a show that needs a complete makeover.

Photo of Neil Patrick Harris (fourth from left) and Oscar dancers by Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

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Categories: AWARDS, HOLLYWOOD, NEWS STORY

Article – Defectors Say Church of Scientology Hides Abuse

They signed a contract for a billion years — in keeping with the church’s belief that Scientologists are immortal. They worked seven days a week, often on little sleep, for sporadic paychecks of $50 a week, at most.

But after 13 years and growing disillusionment, the Collbrans decided to leave the Sea Org, setting off on a Kafkaesque journey that they said required them to sign false confessions about their personal lives and their work, pay the church thousands of dollars it said they owed for courses and counseling, and accept the consequences as their parents, siblings and friends who are church members cut off all communication with them.

“Why did we work so hard for this organization,” Ms. Collbran said, “and why did it feel so wrong in the end? We just didn’t understand.”

They soon discovered others who felt the same. Searching for Web sites about Scientology that are not sponsored by the church (an activity prohibited when they were in the Sea Org), they discovered that hundreds of other Scientologists were also defecting — including high-ranking executives who had served for decades.

Fifty-six years after its founding by the science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, who died in 1986, the church is fighting off calls by former members for a Reformation. The defectors say Sea Org members were repeatedly beaten by the church’s chairman, David Miscavige, often during planning meetings; pressured to have abortions; forced to work without sleep on little pay; and held incommunicado if they wanted to leave. The church says the defectors are lying.

The defectors say that the average Scientology member, known in the church as a public, is largely unaware of the abusive environment experienced by staff members. The church works hard to cultivate public members — especially celebrities like Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Nancy Cartwright (the voice of the cartoon scoundrel Bart Simpson) — whose money keeps it running.

But recently even some celebrities have begun to abandon the church, the most prominent of whom is the director and screenwriter Paul Haggis, who won Oscars for “Million Dollar Baby” and “Crash.” Mr. Haggis had been a member for 35 years. His resignation letter, leaked to a defectors’ Web site, recounted his indignation as he came to believe that the defectors’ accusations must be true.

“These were not the claims made by ‘outsiders’ looking to dig up dirt against us,” Mr. Haggis wrote. “These accusations were made by top international executives who had devoted most of their lives to the church.”

The church has responded to the bad publicity by denying the accusations and calling attention to a worldwide building campaign that showcases its wealth and industriousness. Last year, it built or renovated opulent Scientology churches, which it calls Ideal Orgs, in Rome; Malmo, Sweden; Dallas; Nashville; and Washington. And at its base here on the Gulf Coast of Florida, it continued buying hotels and office buildings (54 in all) and constructing a 380,000-square-foot mecca that looks like a convention center.

“This is a representation of our success,” said the church’s spokesman, Tommy Davis, showing off the building’s cavernous atrium, still to be clad in Italian marble, at the climax of a daylong tour of the church’s Clearwater empire. “This is a result of our expansion. It’s pinch-yourself material.”

As for the defectors, Mr. Davis called them “apostates” and said that contrary to their claims of having left the church in protest, they were expelled.

“And since they’re removed, the church is expanding like never before,” said Mr. Davis, a second-generation Scientologist whose mother is the actress Anne Archer. “And what we see here is evidence of the fact that we’re definitely better off without them.”

‘Bridge to Total Freedom’

Scientology is an esoteric religion in which the faith is revealed gradually to those who invest their time and money to master Mr. Hubbard’s teachings. Scientologists believe that human beings are impeded by negative memories from past lives, and that by applying Mr. Hubbard’s “technology,” they can reach a state known as clear.

They may spend hundreds of hours in one-on-one “auditing” sessions, holding the slim silver-colored handles of an e-meter while an auditor asks them questions and takes notes on what they say and on the e-meter’s readings.

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Categories: BACKSTORY, NEWS STORY

Infographic: Film Industry by the Numbers

On Location: Dutch Director finds L.A. Film Crews Best in the World

Dutch

Sometimes it takes a foreigner to point out what the natives take for granted.

Just ask Hein Mevissen, director of commercials for John Doe Productions in Amsterdam.

Mevissen was hired by a Netherlands ad agency to direct a commercial for a Dutch horticultural association, De Nederlandse Tuinbouw, touting the global reach of Holland’s fruits and veggies. Apparently, Holland’s agriculture business has more to boast than just tulips.

But instead of filming the ad in northern Europe, where the commercial will be aired, Mevissen took a detour: He opted to film the bulk of the $500,000 commercial in the Los Angeles area.

Although the commercial’s star is a 40-foot beanstalk (the metaphor: Holland spreading its agricultural roots around the world) much of the commercial was shot with a California crew of about 40 people, along with 60 Los Angeles-area extras and English- and Dutch-speaking actors.

In one scene, producers converted Gigi’s Bakery and Cafe on West Temple Street into a Dutch cafe, selling healthy fruits instead of the greasy fried food typically found in Dutch snack bars. Downtown buildings were used to depict scenes set at a warehouse in Spain and a board meeting in South Korea that erupts into mayhem when the ubiquitous monster plant bursts up through their table. Even the sprawling Tejon Ranch 60 miles north of L.A. had a role, standing in for Tanzania in East Africa.

So why did Mevissen travel across the Atlantic and U.S. to film a Dutch commercial? After all, he might have saved money by shooting in Budapest, Hungary, or Hamburg, Germany, which are closer to Amsterdam and offer hefty tax breaks to boot. Although California has a new film incentive program, commercials aren’t covered by it.

The weak dollar, which makes filming here relatively cheaper, was a factor, Mevissen said. But so was the diversity of locations, good weather and experienced crews.

“I shot a few times in L.A., and it has the very best professionals here and the best crews in the world,” he said.

Nicholas Simon, the producer of the commercial, added: “Where else can you find the breadth of locations that you have here?”

Such testimonials are music to the ears of local film promoters, who are developing a plan to market the area's film industry. There has been an uptick in activity because the economy is improving and overall production is increasing, but the long-term trend has shown Los Angeles losing market share to other areas.

Southern California’s share of all commercial production fell to 48% in 2008 from 54% in 2007, with projects increasingly migrating to other states such as New Mexico, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, according to a recent report from the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers. Data for 2009 are not yet available.

For his part, Mevissen says he’s already planning to shoot his next commercial — his client won’t let him divulge what it is —  in Southern California.  “You can always go someplace cheaper, but I don’t think it’s always better,” he said. “When you shoot in L.A., everything goes really smooth.”

For Angelenos, such praise could only come from a foreigner.

— Richard Verrier

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Panavision Cameras Being Taken Over by Creditors – One More Sign of How Bad Production is in Hollywood

HOLLYWOOD

By Richard Verrier

March 2, 2010

Ronald O. Perelman is handing over Panavision Inc., the debt-laden camera rental company that is suffering from a steep downturn in movie and TV production, to its creditors.

Perelman’s holding company, MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc., has reached an agreement in principle with a group of creditors — including Cerberus Capital Management, the former owner of Chrysler — for the billionaire investor to give up his controlling stake in the camera maker that has been a fixture on movie sets for decades, according to people familiar with the matter.

The financial restructuring would cut Panavision’s debt by $140 million and give it an additional $40 million in new financing. After the deal, Perelman would no longer have any equity in the company.

“This will ultimately benefit Panavision by reducing its debt load and providing fresh capital for growth,” said a person close to the situation who requested anonymity.

Panavision had been seeking to refinance $285 million in loans that mature in March 2011 in the face of a severe slowdown in camera and equipment rentals for feature films and commercials.

Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Panavision’s corporate debt rating last September, citing “weak liquidity” and concerns about the state of its core camera business. The restructuring would extend the maturity on the loans to 2014.

Perelman, best known for his controlling stake in cosmetics giant Revlon Inc., took control of the company in 1998 in a complex deal that saddled Panavision with nearly $500 million in debt.

Three years later, the financier attempted to have another company he controlled, M&F Worldwide Corp., buy his 83% stake. But minority M&F stockholders opposed the move, fearing that it would dilute the value of their shares.

Like prop houses and other companies in the Hollywood supply chain, Panavision has been hammered by the sharp drop in production that began during the 2008 Hollywood writers strike and the subsequent standoff between the major studios and the Screen Actors Guild. Then just as Hollywood began to regroup after the strike, the recession hit, leading studios to make fewer movies and advertisers to cut back on making commercials, slackening demand for filmmaking equipment.

People close to Panavision say camera and lens orders for feature films, which account for most of the company’s revenue, fell about 15% last year. The company’s annual revenue for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009, was about $260 million, according to Moody’s. The privately held company does not disclose its finances, but one person with knowledge of the company’s finances said it still generated an operating profit.

Panavision, which employs 1,200 people, including 300 in Woodland Hills, manufactures cameras, lenses and accessories, but it doesn’t sell them. Instead, the company leases them to studios as well as film and TV production companies through a network of distributors.

Although Panavision remains the market leader, it faces mounting competition from upstart rivals such as Red Digital Cinema, a company that makes low-cost digital cameras.

The pressure to improve results has led to a series of management shake-ups.

Last year, Perelman ousted Bob Beitcher, who had been chief executive since 2003, after the two sparred over how to turn the business around.

Beitcher, in turn, was succeeded by Billy Campbell, a former president of Discovery Networks. But Campbell was on the job for just a couple of months before Perelman replaced him in June with the current CEO, William C. Bevins, a longtime associate of Perelman’s.

A former chief financial officer for Turner Broadcasting System Inc., Bevins also previously ran New World Communications Group Inc. and Marvel Entertainment Group Inc.

Bevins is expected to remain at the helm of the company.

Perelman’s Hollywood holdings also include Deluxe Entertainment Services Group Inc., a provider of production and post-production services, which is not affected by the financial restructuring.

richard.verrier@

latimes.com

Copyright � 2010, The Los Angeles Times

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War Movies and the Oscars: It's always Hell

March 1, 2010 |  5:51 pm
Patton

If “The Hurt Locker” wins the Oscar for best picture Sunday night — and at this stage, the race is really down to either “Avatar” or the Kathryn Bigelow-directed film about bomb disposal experts in Iraq — it will be the first war film to earn the academy’s top honor in nearly 25 years. In the past 40 years, only three bona fide war films have won the top Oscar — 1970’s “Patton,”  1978’s “The Deer Hunter”  and 1986’s “Platoon.” 

But what intrigued me, after taking the time to watch the films again recently, was this: What do the movies tell us about our attitude toward war — and about ourselves as a country? And why did they win the Oscar, often against especially stiff competition? First off, and it’s a big first, they were all big hits. In terms of adjusted for inflation grosses, which is the best way to provide a modern-day perspective on their domestic numbers, “Patton” grossed $306 million, “Platoon” $282.9 million and “The Deer Hunter” $162.6 million. If “The Hurt Locker” wins best picture, it could be the lowest-grossing winner in recent memory, having only made $12.7 million in the U.S. so far.

Pattonposter

In other words, not only were audiences eager to see a complex portrayal of a World War II warrior at the height of the Vietnam War, but they were just as willing to embrace two very dark, disturbing portraits of the Vietnam quagmire in the years following the end of that war. Even though “The Hurt Locker” offers a taut, compelling portrait of life during wartime in Iraq, it has largely been ignored by American audiences, who’ve turned their backs on every cinematic effort to capture the drama of the Iraq conflict.

For me, the most fascinating thing about all the past Oscar winners is that they unerringly capture our modern-day ambivalence toward war. Although the film wasn’t released until 1970, “Patton” was written by Francis Coppola in 1965 at a time when he was broke and couldn’t get any of his personal projects made. The film’s producer was looking for a screenwriter with a military background. He must have struck out, since Coppola’s only military association was military school. As Coppola later admitted: “My only military background was playing tuba in a military academy band.” But Coppola (who shares script credit with Edmund North, who did some rewrites on the project) had a savvy take on Patton, imagining him as a medieval knight living in the wrong century.

In fact, Patton, who looks especially bigger than life in the hands of George C. Scott, was a classic American archetype: the brilliant tactician and motivator of men whose obsessive need to win eventually undermined nearly all of his impressive accomplishments. He’s the military equivalent of the great college coaches, be it Bobby Knight in basketball or Woody Hayes in football, who were often worshiped by their players but whose self-destructive flaws derailed their careers. (It’s hardly a coincidence that Knight, whose nickname was “The General,” first made his name as the basketball coach at Army.)

You could argue that “Patton,” which was directed by Franklin Schaffner, was a hit because its audiences saw the movie they wanted to see. Antiwar moviegoers could view Patton as a vain, egomaniacal blowhard who risked the lives of his men to achieve his own ends, while pro-war moviegoers could see Patton as an inspirational hero, unwilling to leave war to meddling bureaucrats. Perhaps he was both. Even though he lived for war (as he says in the film, “I love it, God help me, I do love it, I love it more than my life”), Patton’s contempt for authority probably earned him some respect from the counterculture crowd, a contempt that George C. Scott carried over to the Oscars. Refusing to accept his lead actor award, Scott dismissed the Academy Awards as a “two-hour meat parade” that was “barbarous and innately corrupt.”

It’s pretty obvious that 1970-era moviegoers, depressed by the dreary daily news accounts from Vietnam, were delighted to watch a movie about a simpler war, a war that could actually be won. “Patton” was Richard Nixon’s favorite movie — he watched it repeatedly, including the night before he authorized the controversial invasion of Cambodia. 

Hunter.DeNiro

There’s no evidence that Nixon ever watched “The Deer Hunter,” the bleak, troubling three-hour Michael Cimino-directed epic that won five Oscars, including best picture, which was handed out — in the irony of all ironies — by John Wayne. Like many of the war movies that followed it, in particular “Platoon” and “The Hurt Locker,” “The Deer Hunter” was a story about male camaraderie. The movie takes great pains to establish that its leading characters, played by Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken and John Savage, are blue-collar pals from a small steel town in Pennsylvania. 

They go off to war seeing it as their patriotic duty, but when they return — if they return at all — they are shattered by the experience. Audiences flocked to see the film and most critics raved about what David Thomson calls “the overall notion of a blinded, battered American self-belief struggling to move forward.” It is telling that “The Deer Hunter” earned its best picture by defeating “Coming Home,” another critically lauded film about Vietnam. But whereas “Coming Home” was clearly an antiwar film, populated with antiwar activists like Jane Fonda and Jon Voight, “The Deer Hunter,” like “Patton,” offered a far more ambiguous view of the war.

The film’s terrifying Russian-roulette scenes, which played a big part in making the movie a cultural sensation, were a perfect symbol for the nihilism and bitter sense of futility that the country felt about the war. (They were also hugely controversial, since it’s unclear if the Vietnamese, who are portrayed in the film as wild-eyed sadists, ever used such a practice.) But the film also played into the country’s deep-seated patriotism, having its characters reunited at the end for a solemn rendition of “God Bless America.”

Platoon

Oliver Stone is far less sentimental about war in his “Platoon.” Made on a shoestring budget after the script was turned down by every studio in town, the film was a big winner at the Oscars in part because it had a great awards season hook: It was the first Vietnam movie made by someone who actually fought in the war himself. The movie is clearly autobiographical, with Charlie Sheen playing the young, vaguely idealistic
Stone, who served in the 25th Infantry Division, earning a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart long before he started racking up Oscars.

The movie represents Stone’s own ambivalent attitude toward war — he admires the blue-collar infantry grunts for their grit and valor but goes out of his way to underline their wary skepticism toward the war itself. Most of the soldiers are just trying to survive — they look at Sheen, who like Stone himself is a volunteer, not a draftee, as a lunatic idealist. Early in the film, Sheen explains that he shed his college deferment and volunteered because “I figured, why should the poor kids go off to war and the rich kids get away with it?”

One of the African American soldiers, raising an eyebrow, says dryly, “What we got here is an idealist,” quickly adding, “You gotta be rich in the first place to think like that.” “Platoon” is full of similar class consciousness, but what makes it different from other Vietnam movies is that it focuses on the divisiveness of the conflict. No one in “Deer Hunter” questions the war — they’re simply maimed or destroyed by it. In “Platoon,” the most elemental conflict isn’t between the U.S. and the North Vietnamese, it’s between the soldiers themselves, who are just as conflicted about the conflict as their countrymen back home.

The film’s tension comes between the yin and yang of its two most charismatic actors — Willem Dafoe, who plays the maverick, quasi-pacifist hero, and Tom Berenger as a ruthless pragmatist  (a Patton-esque character unbound by any old Army restraints) who ends up killing his most feared adversary — not a member of the Viet Cong but a member of his own platoon. It is a film that oozes with disillusionment, but perhaps that’s what helped make it such a hit. In the mid-1980s, if “Top Gun” represented an appealing fantasy about the visceral excitement of war, it was “Platoon” that captured the caustic reality.

As David Halberstam, who’d made his name as a Vietnam correspondent and one of the war’s earliest critics, put it: “I find it inconceivable that someone who had not been to Vietnam could see this movie and not sense its authenticity and immediately understand why the war was unwinnable.”   

You could probably say much the same thing about “The Hurt Locker,” which captures both the individual acts of bravery as well as the overall futility of the war in Iraq. No matter how you look at it, in the world of Hollywood movies, war is hell, where every stirring act of heroism or grace under fire is undercut by a pervasive feeling of isolation, dehumanization and pessimism. Even “Patton,” set in the one war that was actually won, ends on a bleak note, with the grand warrior as a lonely old man, walking his dog.

In John Wayne’s day (even though he ducked out of the fighting himself), war movies served as an inspiration, both for the men in battle as well as the folks rooting them on back home. It was a simpler time, when it wasn’t so hard to separate good from evil, the right cause from the wrong one. But when today’s Hollywood takes a shot at capturing war on screen, the moral lines are less distinct. Audiences see, up close and personal, the unerring brutality of conflict. In every film, the mood is pretty much the same — even when it’s time to sing “God Bless America,” despite the prideful lyrics, it is a serenade full of sorrow. 

 Photo of George C. Scott in “Patton” from 20th Century Fox; Robert De Niro in “Deer Hunter” from MCA/ Universal; Charlie Sheen (left) and Keith David in “Platoon” from Orion Pictures

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