The Fog of War

review gatekeepers

In a moment of almost chilling candor in the latter half of The Gatekeepers, Ami Ayalon invokes the concept of the “Banality of Evil,” perhaps without intending the full symbolic weight of such a reference. The former director of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, from 1996 to 2000 uses these words to explain how after enough time on the job, the killing of large numbers of people loses its psychological burden. Hannah Arendt meant something a bit different when she coined it in 1963 as a subtitle of her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Yet one cannot deny the potency of a director of Shin Bet using a term to describe his own organization that was originally used to explain the motivation of a Nazi convicted and hanged by Israel for crimes against humanity. Ayalon’s interpretation of Shin Bet’s history, however, is not the only one to emerge. Abraham Shalom, director of the agency from 1981 to 1986, muddies the waters by explaining that there was simply “no strategy, only tactics.” Shin Bet operated without needing to think about morality, he argues, because the focus was on counter-terrorism rather than a peace process with the Palestinians. The politicians, Prime Ministers in particular, were responsible for quandaries. He and his successors, on the other hand, should be blamed for their technical mistakes but not for the ethical problems inherent in many of their failures. Whether this is true, or simply a hollow rhetorical defense, […]

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Last week, filmmaker Joe Berlinger tweeted about a review of West of Memphis at DocGeeks in which the writer wrote, “I’ve never had the time or the energy to watch all 3 Paradise Lost films and, having seen West of Memphis, I’m glad I never bothered to.” As the co-director of the Paradise Lost trilogy, Berlinger had a right to be annoyed with that opening line and not just because West of Memphis probably wouldn’t exist without Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky‘s coverage of the West Memphis 3 cases over the last 20 years. If there’s one thing we as film critics and/or fans should be good at it’s considering the distinction of individual works and the independent perspectives that go into their storytelling craft. With more and more documentaries being made it’s understandable that multiple films will tackle the same specific story. Sometimes they will seem like competitors, and sometimes, as in the case of this year’s two AIDS treatment docs, How to Survive a Plague and United in Anger, they’re actually linked through overlapping producers. Another new film, which just won a Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 DOC NYC documentary film festival and also recently received the Best Documentary Feature award at the Austin Film Festival, is one of the greatest examples of why it’s a wonderful thing that so many docs are being produced, even if some appear to be redundant on the surface. Titled Informant, this film tackles the exact same incident already covered by the […]

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In honor of the Fourth of July, we are republishing this article from January 2011, as we feel it to be an appropriate act of patriotism. We will now allow you to return to watching Independence Day for the third time. We know that you’re doing it… Aleric, one of our favorite comment providers on the site, tossed out an interesting theory the other day regarding the state of auspiciously pro-American movies being put out by Hollywood over the past ten years. Specifically, that there was a noticeable lack of them in the face of films that criticize. It’s an interesting idea, and like most trends, it’s unclear exactly how bold a trend it is. It’s true that those looking for the World War II levels of Americana from Hollywood are out in the cold. There are probably a dozen reasons for that. Levels of pro-American movie production have never been higher than that era, but it was also a wildly different time for movie making in general (no matter what the subject matter). Still, Rob Hunter and Cole Abaius were charged with the seemingly difficult task of finding movies that celebrated the United States that came out of Hollywood in the past ten years. It’s an oddly specific list, but it’s also a very good list of movies that demand to be seen (whether you agree they’re patriotic or not). Plus, they don’t celebrate any particular political party. They celebrate the highest ideals of the country. Overt flag waving […]

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Culture Warrior

We often don’t think of commercials as having authorship, at least not in the same way we think of movies. Commercials are created by advertising companies, by focus groups, by strategists; not by “artists.” But while the purpose of a 30-second ad may on the surface differ from the motive of a feature length film (though not always), both are media assembled through a particular economy of storytelling devices and are made often by a collaborative company of individuals. But commercials don’t often contain credit sequences, and thus the phenomenology of its making is cloaked and the personalities who made it unconsidered. The focus is on the product being sold, not the creative team selling it. So it can be surprising to find out that well-respected, top-tier, artistic filmmakers often direct commercials. Sure, many filmmakers regularly make commercials as a more lucrative and less time-consuming alternative to feature filmmaking, and there are many visual artists who have honed an ability to express their personality in various media forms, but a surprising number of supposedly cinema-specific auteurs make commercials, despite a lack of apparent monetary need or professional benefit. This subject came to my attention recently because of a series of articles on Slate last week by David Haglund about the oeuvre of the Coen brothers that included the filmmaking duo’s commercials in considering their larger cinematic contribution. It’s an interesting way to view a filmmaker’s career, for it forces you to look for their identifying traits and revisited themes via […]

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