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Capone's Art-House Round-Up with THE TILLMAN STORY and VALHALLA RISING!!!

Hey, folks. Capone in Chicago here, with a couple of films that are making their way into art houses around America this week (maybe even taking up one whole screen at a multiplex near you). Do your part to support these films, or at least the good ones…
THE TILLMAN STORY It's been too long since a documentary has made me as angry at and resentful of the powers that be (or powers that were, in this case) as THE TILLMAN STORY does. In a desperate attempt to create heroes in early days of the Iraq War, the U.S. government and military concocted a story about the death of the most famous man to enlist in the Army and fight in that war. Patrick Tillman gave up a multi-million-dollar NFL contract to fight, and did everything in his power to keep his reasons for doing so a private matter between him and his tight-knit family. But when he was killed during a skirmish (according to the sanctioned story), the Army myth-making machine saw an opportunity to turn the body of this man into a recruitment poster. Knowing that her son would never have allowed such a thing, Tillman's mother, Dannie, tirelessly embarked on a campaign to find out exactly how her son died and how far the knowledge of the nature of his death went up the government food chain. Only half of the shock of this film is the reveal about Tillman's final moments. The remainder of the shocking behavior is twofold. The first is how disinterested the media was in reporting the truth after going to extraordinary lengths to report various versions of the lie. The other part of the film that floored me was the tenacity of the Tillman family. Although Pat's parents were long divorced, they worked together with his brothers to figure out what happened. One of the most incredible elements in this story is hearing about them taking documents with redacted information (basically memos with words blacked out) and filling in the blanks by literally counting the number of spaces each censored word has and figuring out what the name or location is. I never heard of any reporter doing this, and yet the wealth of information that comes from this process is beyond damning. What's also interesting is that the film draws parallels between the Pentagon's propagandizing of the Jessica Lynch incident and what they did with Tillman's story. As the story was told Private Lynch was captured and held hostage by Iraqi forces until U.S. Special Forces moved in to save her. Turns out, she was being well tended to and protected by doctors at an Iraqi hospital. And while Lynch seemed pressured by military officials into, at first, going along with the myth, Tillman never had that choice and so it became his family's duty to carry out his final wishes and protect his legacy. Director Amir Bar-Lev has fashioned a conspiracy drama that rivals any fiction film in recent memory, and any doubt that either then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld or even President Bush didn't know that stories about Tillman's death were loaded with lies is dispelled convincingly. Narrated by Josh Brolin, THE TILLMAN STORY's ultimate strength is not in exposing a familiar pattern of lies and hero building. Where the film truly succeeds is in reclaiming the life and death of Patrick Tillman for his family. Tillman's sacrifice does not belong to the nation; it belongs to this small group of extraordinary blood relations who wanted nothing more than for people to stop misrepresenting Tillman's motivations for joining the Army and for his son's death to not have been in vain. This is one of the most powerful documentaries I've seen about the Iraq War, and I've seen a lot of them. I figure I owe people like Pat Tillman at least that much. Your blood will boil, and that's okay. My feeling is that if you are fortunate enough to have the chance to see this remarkable film and you don't, you're just as much of a part of the problem as the media, the military, and the government. Consider seeing THE TILLMAN STORY part of your duty as an American.
VALHALLA RISING Danish writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn (BRONSON) and his PUSHER trilogy star Mads Mikkelsen (best know to Americans as the Bond villain in CASINO ROYALE) have re-teamed to give us one of the most blood-thirsty, head-tripping takes on the clash between a sole Viking warrior and a crew of Christian crusaders intent on going to the Holy Land to claim it in the name of Britain. First and foremost, you should know that about 50 percent of what happens in VALHALLA RISING makes little or no sense. Second, it doesn't really matter, because the stuff that remains is remarkable. Actually, the unclear stuff is remarkable as well, I just didn't comprehend it as well. Beautifully shot and masterfully composed, the film could be seen as Mikkelsen's One-Eye (because he only has one eye) representing the devil, leading these men to the murky, foggy hell. Or, it could be seen as a Jesus parable, with the mute One-Eye turning salt water into fresh, and just generally always knowing where to go with his disciples following his lead. However you interpret the goings on, I think you'll appreciate what the film accomplishes, whether it makes sense or not. The dialogue-free Mikkelsen often sits stoned faced waiting for anyone who might do him harm. He typically responds by obliterating his opponent in some of the most gruesomely violent battle scenes I've seen in some time. But when you balance scenes like that with ones like the sequence where it appears all of the crusaders are tripping balls after having something slipped into their food, you may doubt your own sanity. Hardly a pure action experience, VALHALLA RISING is a more complicated and cerebral creature than most might assume. The film is operating as both a visual feast and a mind-bending exercise in faith, deity vs. deities, and the use of bloodshed in the pursuit of religious goals--age-old themes that director Refn has found a new way to spin and present. It may feel like an endurance test for some stretches, but the payoff is sublime.
-- Capone capone@aintitcool.com Follow Me On Twitter



Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 3, 2010, 12:33 a.m. CST

    Nice!

    by Daremo

    Looking forward to Valhalla rising!

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 1:05 a.m. CST

    "...Holy Land..."

    by King_Knut

    The final scene feels like a bit of a cheap gimmick, though...

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 1:45 a.m. CST

    BlackwhiteRomance.com

    by adismith

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  • Sept. 3, 2010, 1:45 a.m. CST

    i can't watch any iraq war films

    by antonphd

    i spent two years worried that my just turned 18 year old brother in law was going to die in iraq. he finally came back with hearing damage that now disqualifies him from doing the job he hoped to get when he came out of the military. he wanted to be a cop. always wanted to be a cop. i guess i'm happy in some ways because now i won't worry for decades about finding out he died being shot in his job. but for him i am sad. his dream wiped away. all for weapons that weren't even there.

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 1:50 a.m. CST

    Viking and Crusders

    by Danger Mouse

    Pagan vikings and crusaders missed each other by many generations. More silly made up history on film. What is wrong with all the great true stories of history?

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 2:08 a.m. CST

    Great film.

    by Fortunesfool

    If you enjoy proper, well made movies as opposed to the cut and paste, edited in a blender nonsense we're largely saddled with these days. On DVD in the UK already.

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 3:27 a.m. CST

    Danger Mouse

    by BadMrWonka

    uh, nope. the movie takes place in 1000 AD. pretty early in the crusades, sure, but very plausible. there were norse explorers still doing their thing well into the 11th century.

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 4:05 a.m. CST

    The most frustrating thing

    by Chocolate_Giddyup

    is that in Tillman's story, they've reached a plateau. The film ends with a silent cry for help. Something needs to be done, but it's impossible to do because the powers-that-be are more interested in saving face than telling the truth. GOD BLESS AMERICA!

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 7 a.m. CST

    They don't want to know.

    by V'Shael

    Capone, you might already know this. But there's a certain segment of American society which simply doesn't care what really happened to Jessica Lynch or Pat Tillman. They prefer the myth, the lie, the propoganda. Anything which allows the bubble of lies they live in to persist. Anything which attempts to pierce this bubble, will be vilified, hated, and labeled with whatever is the currently most hated insult. (Socialist, Michael Moore-ish, Communist, or that old stand-by LIBRUL) <p> Films like this are only good for one thing. Telling a different segment of the audience something that they already knew, and then convincing them that "something has been done" or that "the truth has come out" and now "justice will be served." <p> The truth is, that segment of the audience is equally as deluded. You might make the distinction between "the Powers that be" and "the Powers that were" but when it comes to Pat Tillmans case, and holding the people who were responsible ACTUALLY accountable, the Powers are the Powers are the Powers, and nothing has changed or will change. <p> Try getting funding to tell *that* in a movie, and see how far you get.

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 7:32 a.m. CST

    Pat Tillman Died in Afganistan...

    by Hot_Nikks

    ...not Iraq

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 8:11 a.m. CST

    One-Eye is Odin? Odin vs. Jesus? Is that whay you're saying Capo

    by Stereotypical Evil Archer

    If so, sign me up!

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 8:32 a.m. CST

    Almost pulled the trigger on Valhalla Rising

    by Philvis

    It's been on the On Demand service for a couple weeks now, but I've been hesitant to fork out the $7.99 or $9.99 that is charged for it. After reading the review, I think I will wait for the RedBox release. Just not sure about forking out the $8 or $10 for it.

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 8:38 a.m. CST

    Wow...

    by Blue_Demon

    "This is one of the most powerful documentaries I've seen about the Iraq War, and I've seen a lot of them."<p>Better change that line,Capone. This is not about the Iraq War. This is about a man who was killed in AFGHANISTAN. I'm sure they mentioned Afghanistan once or twice in the movie. Seriously guys, if you're going to review movies, pay attention to them.

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 9:38 a.m. CST

    A "Viking" in the crusades is actually plausible

    by Beowulf316

    We say that the “Viking age” ended in 1066 only because at that time Norse warrior stopped raiding other countries, but much of Viking age culture continued unchanged in Scandinavia and there were still many Norse warriors around and distinguishing them from their Viking age ancestors would be pretty much impossible. They looked and acted the same for many generations, they were just no longer raiding Europeans for cash anymore. And a great deal of them turned to mercenary life. The Varangian guard was working Constantinople as early as the 900’s and continued to rake in new recruits from Scandinavia and England for hundreds of years. There were actually a great deal of Norsemen, Christian and pagan alike, fighting in the crusades.

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 10:20 a.m. CST

    by Omar B

    Tillman's death was such a tragedy, I've been a fan of his since he was in college. There was a good interview with one of his fellow soldiers on Jim Rome Is Burning yesterday, very enlightening. Valhalla Rising was cool too.

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 10:44 a.m. CST

    "Pagan vikings and crusaders missed each other by many generatio

    by buggerbugger

    The Normans were originally Vikings who conquered parts of northern France. After conquering England in 1066, many of these 'Northmen' - including Duke Robert of Normandy, the eldest son of William the Conqueror - joined the First Crusade in 1096.

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 11:36 a.m. CST

    Valhalla Rising Sweetness!

    by azguki

    Like a perfect storm of Terrance Malick and David Lynch. Loved it. Mads Mikkelsen will get so much work after this. The best silent-badass performance since Takeshi Kitano in Fireworks(who actually cheated and spoke a couple times).

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 11:45 a.m. CST

    Valhalla Rising is terrible!

    by nightmute

    I saw this months ago, and I was hyped for it. I gave it every chance to impress or just plain entertain, but Jesus, it is the most boring film I've ever seen. Nothing happens. There is none of the big-scale action you would expect or demand in a film called Valhalla Rising, which sounds like an epic Braveheart-with-Vikings kind of film--there are one or two hand to hand combat scenes, over in an instant, and the so-called gore is just a few animal intestines tossed on the ground to no effect whatsoever, and a sprinkling of CGI blood. It's just about this silent viking and a few Scottish actors walking about. The stupidest part is when they end up in the New World, which looks exactly like Scotland--because it was filmed entirely there, on the moors. They wander about a bit, go a bit nuts, then wander about a bit more. It tries to be a sophisticated, important, meaningful drama, but my God, it would test the patience of a plank of wood. I've seen paint dry faster. And I'm somebody who likes a film to take it's time. But there is no plot, no characterization, no action, no point at all, so it becomes unwatchable. It's like a really bad student film. Do not waste your money on this.

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 11:47 a.m. CST

    Sounds like The Tillman Story...

    by Marshal_Lannes

    ...pretty much follows the same beats as Jon Krakauer's book 'Where Men Find Glory' on the same subject. Excellent read, and yes, it will make you angry at the government and the U.S. Army- no matter your political stripe.

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 4:36 p.m. CST

    Valhalla Rising is terrible

    by LandWaster

    Well spoken Nightmute. I came into this expecting a good thought-provoking and interesting viking film and instead got a bunch of dudes wandering around the countryside and staring off into space or at each other. Sure the film looks pretty but there is zero emotion or acting, just a little gruesome violence thrown in to keep people watching. Even Mads Mkikelsen does absolutely nothing except keep the same angry glare the entire film. This was just plain disappointing

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 11:27 p.m. CST

    Jon Krakauer did a book already....

    by KGB3317

    on Pat Tillman called Where Men Win Glory. It was an absolutely engaging read (as are all Krakauer books). Jon had access to all of Pat's journals & had Pat's wife help out with the story. You'd be surprised how close Jessica Lynch's story & Pat's actually were (Pat was on the "Lynch Rescue Mission", among other similarities). This book also goes into the friendly fire incidents that have been covered up. Movie sounds good, but the book puts everything into context. A sad story, but a story that needed to be told.

  • Sept. 3, 2010, 11:30 p.m. CST

    and I should

    by KGB3317

    say that Marshall_Lanes has already mentioned the book above. No other book or movie has actaul journal excerpts from Pat's journals (his views on war, society, etc.)

  • Sept. 4, 2010, 7:47 a.m. CST

    Just watched Valhalla

    by mojoman69

    aside from the initial fight scenes, pretty boring. and the silent profile shots are swiped from old Ingmar Bergman films like Hour of the Wolf. What a pretentious piece of crap.

  • Sept. 5, 2010, 11:38 a.m. CST

    One-Eye is Odin.

    by Hesiod2k7

    The king of the Norse dieties. It's not hard to understand.

  • Sept. 6, 2010, 4:12 p.m. CST

    Valhalla Rising is great

    by rosky

    unless you need to be told what to think and feel about your movies.