Welcome to my movie blog, containing reviews and articles. I've been writing since 2004 - with a short break during 2009.

Alpha Mike Foxtrot

I adore The A-Team - was quite obsessed with it for a patch last year, but was ultimately frustrated by how repetitive and unimaginative the plotting was. Evil greedy capitalists screwing over decent folk and bribing the local sherrif? Again?

So the film was a must see, and ignoring a few misgivings, I cannot remember such a few hoursof unabashed happiness. Ever. I laughed all the way through: from the daft opening, with the characters getting Tarantinian freeze frames with their names, to B.A. having "PITY" and "FOOL" tattooed on his knuckles, to Face being the guy to understand their sleazy nemesis and explaining it all with a shell game.

They made exactly the right choice on the tone - trimmed out some of the camp, made the violence feel less cartoonish, but still remained gleefully daft. The director was quoted in Empire with this fabulous soundbite:

"Look, if you don't like the idea of a tank falling out of the sky and shooting at a plane, then this movie's not going to be for you. But I think if you don't like the idea of a tank falling out of the sky, then you fundamentally have a fucking problem with cinema."
Getting that tone right was the chief thing I had been previously concerned about, and I'm still impressed that they managed to keep it all raw and realistic. And to fly a tank at the same time. The actors were all perfect (I loved Lynch!), the script was very good - it just would have been nice if they had enunciated better. I missed quite a lot of the banter because the accents just would not stick in my head. And some of the action sequences needed to be a little clearer too - I couldn't always keep track of who was shooting at what. Everything you would want was there: drugging B.A. to get him on aircraft, rigging up weapons from stuff they have lying about.

It was also a deeply problematic film. Looking back on what I've typed, I've dedicated more time to griping than squeeing: decidedly not how I feel. Damn the politics - it was awesome. Tank. Plane. But there's only so much you can say about having fun...the following section is basically deeply spoilerific, but surely this doesn't matter considering what we have under discussion.

One of the more interesting twists was that B.A. got very zen in prison, and came out refusing to kill. Now I thought this was really cool - it neatly mirrored Mr T's conversion to religion and by giving him a proper character arc, transformed him into the most interesting of the bunch. It also tallied with my headcanon: despite the ludicrous amount of firearms, I think there are only six onscreen deaths in four seasons, suggesting that they were trying to avoid killing as far as possible. Whether this is legal or moral is never explained. He quotes Gandhi, and explains multiple times that he is not comfortable killing. Hannibal - who is cooler than this - quotes some Gandhi back:
"It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence."
And tells him he needs to discover "something worth fighting for". When they later repeat this fuzzy terminology, and he says "Yes, I've found it" - it's never really defined what "it" is. "Peer pressure", as far as I can tell. Peer pressure and guilt tripping, and I was rather disappointed. Hannibal isn't really that manipulative; B.A. can still be a cool hero and not kill people - in fact, seeing how keen he is to protect kids in the original, I figure he'd be pretty disappointed.

In truth, I probably shouldn't have been looking to the A-Team for positive messages about violence. It has always been about heroic veteran vigilantes. But in my own head, I had partly reclaimed it as part of the "post-Nam counter cultural dropout thingie". In the show, we never see them as soldiers except in some misty past none of them talk about - their missions are always Robin Hood style mercy missions to ordinary folks. The show's stance on the army is therefore more ambiguous - they are obviously patriots, obviously proud of their fellow men. But the impression I had was like the Democracy Village banner: "We Support The Soliders; We Do Not Support The War". And to my mind, perhaps all the heroism was maybe a sort of atonement - their own mad manifestation of PTSD. Face in particular has never seemed like a violent man to me - someone who fights to get out of situations, and would really rather retire, but can't give up his friends or the jazz.

This is my personal slant, and it's only just occured to me how personal. We all enjoy fiction on our own terms, but I thought I was giving the story some depth. Actually I was just making it palatable. Would I be able to enjoy The A-Team TV if the characters were portrayed as pro-war, pro-that war in particular? As it stands, the army theme is window dressing - the characters are apolitical, the messages neutral. Maybe not with the same vigour, or in the same way.

The movie makes the right choice in its structure - it shows the team's first mission in a pre-title-sequence, then shows them blundering into the crime-they-did-not-commit and the film is concerned with them trying to discover who set them up. It was also correct to update the story to the modern day. But juxtaposing the nu-Team with a real war cannot be anything but a political statement, and implicit approval - one scene with Hannibal chatting enthusiastically with happy locals left a particularly sour taste. When they rescue a village under threat from greedy developers, it's an obvious case of good verses nasty. But given the information that they have completed "80 successful missions" in Iraq is...also not cool, because war isn't that clear cut but about following orders. Some were probably of a philanthropic nature, but they can't all have been unless you accept the Iraq war as a Good Thing.

The film is very certain: these are army men. They want to clear their names and be restored to their ranks. They even wait for permission to break out of jail. Probably better characterisation than the show's, but still problematic. It left me with a far stronger impression of people I would not want to spend any time with. That's why I loved B.A. more than I ever have before (I'm normally a Hannibal girl), and was deeply disappointed with the resolution of that arc. It also undermines, say, Hannibal's decision not to shoot a villain in cold blood earlier on.

Summer blockbuster - definitely asking too much. And I'm not going to think about whether the depiction of women was good, bad, questionable, or indifferent, because the answer cannot be good and for now I don't care. Most awesome afternoon ever!


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