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Rules of Engagement
Your June Random Movie Club Results Are In!

Tagline: A hero should never have to stand alone.

Preshow Entertainment: US FESTIVAL


We had a great crowd tonight...a few newbies, some chick from out of town...the room was vibrant and fun. And none of us had even heard of tonight's randomly selected movie, let alone seen it. Sure, okay, I must have heard of it at one point. After all, I did record it and toss it into the RMC library.

By now I'm sure you're asking yourself, "I wonder what scene Rich hates most in this movie?" Well, I'll tell you. In a few moments.

When the title first came up, I thought it was that movie with Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore, but that's LAWS OF ATTRACTION, which I'd seen and didn't care much for. So I was glad I didn't have to go through that again. Instead we were treated to a movie that was surprisingly decent (not great, but decent).

RULES OF ENGAGEMENT has an exciting opening. It's 1968 Vietnam and two platoons are engaged in two bloody battles. One platoon, led by Hodges (Tommy L. Jones) is ambushed, and the other led by Childers (Samuel Leroy Jackson) saves Hodges' life, resorting to Lt. Calley-like tactics to do so.

Lt. Childers (Samuel L. Jackson) calls orders from the rooftop
Flash forward 28 years (though, oddly, Jackson and Jones don't look that much older), and it's time for Hodges to return the favor. It's 1996, and Childers and his platoon are sent to Yemen to watch over a small demonstration at an American Embassy. But when they arrive, there's nothing small about it. They're greeted by a hostile crowd, including snipers. While evacuating the Ambassador (Ben Kingsley), his wife (the underused Anne Archer) and child (some kid actor), three American soldiers are killed, and so Colonel Childers gives the orders to "Waste those motherfathers!" (or something close to that). By the time it's over, a courtyard of Arabs lay dead. It's an horrific scene, one that Childers looks at from the roof. But the look on his face is different than that of his Captain (Blair Underwood), who has more of a look of shock. And really, why wouldn't he?

Hodges (Jones) and Childers (Jackson) in court
Childers returns to the states only to find himself being court-martialled for the 83 dead. The marines want to expedite the trial and they're hanging Childers out to dry. Not happy with just a cover-up (the massacre is on tape, which the evil National Security Advisor claims does not exist), they're also threatening the death penalty. Prosecuting the case is Biggs, a guy with piercing eyes (Guy Pearce, opting for an accent that I think may be Boston), and for his defense, Childers recruits Hodges. Not the best lawyer around, Hodges sees Childers as not just a friend and the man who saved his life, but as a scapegoat used by the marines to show the Yemenis they have punished the bad guy.

It's a good idea for a story, competently and ambitiously directed by William Friedkin (if you're a friend you can call him Billy). Friedkin doesn't use storyboards. I like that. I think so much can happen when you aren't so rigid. But ROE's weaknesses aren't the shots. Too often characters become things that we've seen a hundred times before. And nothing illustrates this more than (remember earlier when you asked me what scene I hate?) two friends, both decorated and valiant, beating each other into chopped meat (they should have both had shattered jaws, missing teeth and maybe even have died), only to stop at an unspoken mutually decided time and start laughing. This isn't DIE HARD. You can't set up real world rules and then go all cartoony on us. Shame! Perhaps credit for this egregious misfire (a court-martial is in order here as well) can be pinned on writer Stephen Gaghan, who made the ridiculous SYRIANA, a movie so many believe is a smart and important film (I suppose they're right if you confuse important with self-important). Or maybe it was in the original story by real-life senator and former Secretary of the US Navy James Webb.

Released 18 months before 9/11/01, ROE asks many tough questions; for example, in severe situations can unbreakable rules be broken? Should the NSA send Childers away for the massacre, whether he is right or wrong, so that Arab relations won't be compromised (too much)? Should the Ambassador, whose life was saved by Childers, go against him and lie on the stand? And how about his wife who knows the truth? Should she throw her husband (and family life) into the lion's den to save Childers? All great questions. Not so great are the questions ROE poses that make little to no sense, like...why Hodges? He's not a great lawyer. He says so himself. And shouldn't the trial have been all about that missing videotape? It's convenient enough that none of the marines firing on the civilians saw any weapons, but the entire accusation hinges on the missing tape. The tape can set him free.

Other impossibilities include when Hodges goes back to Yemen to investigate the scene of the massacre. He walks through the streets alone, the only American in a town raped by Americans. How did he not expect people to be angry with him? Why is it a surprise when a crowd gathers around him and chases him back to his hotel room where he splashes his face. What's worse is the very next shot finds him walking the streets again. That's not only illogical but bad judgment not just for a marine but for anyone owning a brain.

So yes, the dramatics are there, they're just buried in a movie that's a bit sloppy, getting tripped up by its distracting lighting, canted shots and unforgivable plot holes (oh yeah, and how could the government claim the Yemenis were unarmed when there were over 300 bullet holes in the embassy?). And of course, that stupid stupid stupid macho fight scene.

Speaking of which, I gotta throw a nod out to Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones. When it comes to sparring, both verbally and physically, it's like watching WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS without the rubber suits. And I love how Jackson plays Childers like a Johnee Jingo with the angry eyes of a cat. ROE was one of three Samuel Jackson movies released in 2000 (UNBREAKABLE... SHAFT. Hey, is that a gay porn film?).

Except for the "Vietnam" and "Yemen" sequences, ROE was shot by William Fraker (friends call him Billy, too), whose lengthy credits include WARGAMES and ROSEMARY'S BABY. I remember hearing that he doesn't close his other eye when looking into a viewfinder. Christ, do they even have viewfinders anymore? As I write this, Fraker is in preproduction for a movie, and here's your "wow!" moment: He's 87.

The Ambassador (Ben Kingsley)
Like I said earlier, RULES OF ENGAGEMENT isn't bad, it just doesn't even come close to other Friedkin movies like THE EXORCIST and THE FRENCH CONNECTION. But Friedkin loves this film more than anything he's ever done (his words) because it has an importance. But not for me. The "importance" often comes off ham-handed and pointed. It didn't make me think, and it should have. Part of the fault may lie in the fact that this movie was meant to have an open ending, meaning we never know if the crowd had weapons or not. Was this self-defense or another My Lai massacre (which is smartly echoed in that opening scene)? I think (but what do I know?) the movie would have worked better open-ended, but that's what happens when you listen to the results of test screenings. Apparently, the audience didn't feel fulfilled. Okay, so people want to know if the good guy was really a good guy or a bad guy. But in doing so, they excised the true power of the dilemma.

But man oh man, I sure love a tight courtroom thriller. Anyone have any suggestions?


This was a lot of fun. We watched a documentary on the opening day of 1983's US Festival. Launched by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, these were huge huge huge outdoor concerts that ran the 3 days during Labor Day weekend 1982 and Memorial Day weekend 1983.

The show we watched was a doc on the first day of the 1983 event, which was New Wave Day (each day featured a different genre, day 2 was Heavy Metal Day and Day 3 was Rock Day). In fact, two RMCers actually attended this show, though we didn't see them on TV. After all, there were 670,000 people there.

The Divinyls at the US Festival
There was Woodstock and Altamont and Monterey, but there hadn't been any large venue outdoor concerts in a long time. And with the launch of MTV around the same time, this was a huge deal. Speaking of which, original VJ Mark Goodman and Colin Hay of Men at Work reminisced in between the footage.
Dale Bozzio of Missing Persons, wearing “The Outfit”
The line-up featured INXS, The Divinyls (yes, she was wearing the outfit) and high energy sets from Oingo Boingo and The English Beat. Also on board, Missing Persons (yes, she was wearing the outfit). And although it was great seeing The Clash, the highlight of the day seemed to be The Stray Cats who not only brought Rockabilly back into the world, but Brian made all the girls here swoon. Hell, I think I may have swooned for a second there myself.

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