The Men Who Stare at Goats
This movie belongs to a special family of films
which I call The Amityville Horror group. The primary distinguishing
characteristic of this group is that they become much more interesting if you
think they are true. One might go further and say that they are only interesting
if you think they are true.
Start with the godfather of the genre, The
Amityville Horror. It was a financial success, even a bit of a phenomenon, when
it was released because people were filled with curiosity about paranormal
occurrences which really happened. Allegedly. If the film had been released as a
straight horror film, without pre-selling its base in reality, it would have
come and gone without attracting any notice. It's not, to be honest, a very good
movie, and it's not even particularly scary, but it does raise the hair on the
back of your neck if you watch it while thinking, "Wow, this really happened."
By the way, it didn't. When subjected to investigation, the story proved to have
- Local police records show that they were not called and no officers were
dispatched to that address, contrary to claims in the book.
- Weather records show there was no snow on the ground when the mysterious
cloven hoof tracks were supposed to have appeared in the snow.
- The doorknobs destroyed by ghosts and goblins? Never replaced and in
perfect condition when the house was sold.
- The ancient tribal burial grounds upon which the house was built? Eh, not
so much. The local Native Americans called "shenanigans" on that one.
- The neighbors reported that there was absolutely nothing unusual when the
horror family lived there.
- The house is still standing. Various families have lived there in the past
thirty-some years, their lives undisturbed by anything more supernatural than
- And so forth.
Since the story wasn't really true, you may now feel free to dismiss that film as the inconsequential
twaddle that it is.
Which brings us to the point. Finally. Sort of.
This is another of those movies. It is supposed to be based on a true story,
and we enter the theater with that premise, yet we end up watch a film that
becomes ever farther-fetched. Hell, if the stuff on screen here is true,
everyone should want to see this. But it isn't. The word caption says that more
is true than we would believe, but even that is a stretch. I have no trouble
believing the true parts.
The Men Who Stare at Goats is about a real U.S. military project to develop a
breed of psychic super-soldiers who could spy from afar, become invisible at
will, and walk through walls. I kid you not. It sounds ridiculous, but there is
some logic behind it. It seems that somebody in U.S.
intelligence got wind of the fact that the Russkies were researching possible
uses of the paranormal in spying and combat. While the merits of the Soviet
project were generally doubted, the more open-minded members of the American
high command reasoned: "What if there's something to it? Can we afford to have a
world full of Commie super-spooks without God-fearin' American super-spooks to
combat them?" Well, obviously not! The Pentagon therefore took a
major general and put him in charge of creating the paranormal unit, or
whatever they called it. The real-life story behind this unit was well
documented in a book, also called "The Men Who Stare at Goats," as well as in a
three-part documentary on the BBC.
Details can be
That's the true part, and I have no trouble believing that it happened.
Military outfits engage in experiments, probably many more outlandish than that.
And it sounds like a great film, doesn't it? General Stubblebine, who believed he
personally could walk through walls, is like a real-life Doctor Strangelove. (He
is represented by a minor character in the movie, and those scenes do provide
some very entertaining moments.) The problem with the movie is that the
screenwriters apparently felt that the true story behind the creation and
development of that wacky army unit was not good enough to form the basis of a
film script, so it gets exaggerated lavishly, and the embellishments establish
an inconsistent tone. Sometimes the film seems to be skeptical of paranormal
phenomena and ridicules the credulity of the Army officers who bought into it,
but then it turns around and shows the super-soldiers actually doing the
impossible. Sometimes the squad seems to be taking a vaguely scientific and
suitably military approach toward psychic research, and at other times the group
seems to be a hippie commune. The beginning of the film is often a hilarious
look at an open-minded reporter determined to chase down some madmen in pursuit
of a story which is certain to be great whether the paranormal exists or not.
The ending of the film turns serious and becomes a whole "Chief Broom escaping
from the asylum" thing, then disintegrates further by turning away from a
healthy skepticism and suggesting that some men can walk through walls, even if
the nutty general could not. In other words, it's really two movies as different
as the thin rockabilly Elvis and the bloated Vegas Elvis.
It's a good movie in many respects. I laughed out loud at least a half-dozen
times when the film was in its early rock-and-roll stage. I smiled at the irony
of a scene where Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) has to be told what a Jedi is. And, to
be honest, I found that some of the serious part, like the Vegas Elvis, could be
kind of stirring in its own ridiculous way. The cast includes Kevin Spacey, The
Dude, George Clooney and Obi-Wan, a list which speaks for itself. I referred to
Jeff Bridges as The Dude because he is, in fact, playing The Dude Lebowski as a
Lieutenant Colonel. I'm not sure how closely that resembles reality. My guess is
approximately zero percent. On the other hand, I haven't read the book, and I
suppose stranger things have happened on this planet. Just not that many.
It's a movie with excellent moments, even great moments, and yet the
complete package seems like an OK movie with a great movie deep inside, crying
to be released.
The nudity is minimal.
Just some hippies hanging around in hot tubs. On the other hand, the film's
nudity percentage was quite high, since those are just about the only women
anywhere in the story. (Apparently hot-tubbing with hippies was a necessary part
of The Dude's research into alternative mind-sets.)
(There is also some male nudity: long-distance butt shots from George Clooney
Catch the deluxe
version of Other Crap in real time, with all the bells and whistles,
8 1/2 Women
Plummer film clips. Samples below.
I have a love/hate relationship with the movies of the eccentric
auteur, Peter Greenaway.
Although his plotting is almost irrelevant and his concepts are so
eccentric as to defy summarization, I have found some of his movies
charming, quirky, intellectually engaging, and aesthetically brilliant.
I think Pillow Book is an aesthetic marvel, although I have to admit
the purity of my aesthetic appreciation was rarely polluted by any
comprehension of what the hell was going on. I think Drowning by Numbers
is a masterpiece of eccentric art and puzzle construction, smarter and
artier than, but comparable to, TV's "The Prisoner." I think "A Zed and
Two Noughts" is one of the best examples of "moving pictures" as art - a
true moving painting, although is stranger than strange.
As for Prospero's Books - well, it is unusual and quite a feast for
the senses, although Elya reminded me that it was the most pretentious
thing she's ever seen. And this from a woman who has seen all of
Tarkovsky's movies. I mean - more pretentious than "Nostalghia"? That's
pretty friggin' pretentious. Maybe she has a point, but I also thought
the film was a stunner in a lot of ways. But on the other hand,
Greenaway's eccentricities can be irritating and boring and
uncomfortable to watch. "The Draughtsman's Contract" could be the single
most boring movie I've ever seen.
"Eight and a Half Women" is not that dry, but doesn't have enough of
Greenaway's strengths, to offset the fact that it is too deeply
rutted in his personal eccentricity, intellectual aloofness, film theory
and artistic theory. It starts out with the death of a beloved wife,
after which the sole son consoles his stiff banker dad by having sex
with him. So right away you know this ain't gonna be a Touchstone Pic.
Then, together, they assemble a mansion full of concubines to fill up
their grieving lives. A sub-plot about the bank's foreclosing on a
Japanese businessman gives Greenaway an excuse to indulge his
fascination with Japanese art, aesthetic design, and flower arrangement.
Not just Japanese. Italian as well. There are at least two tributes to
Fellini's "8 1/2": in the title, obviously, and in the fact that the
father and son watch that Fellini classic twice.
The movie has some striking visual composition, and a truly excellent
performance from the older man, John Standing. It also has some
interesting discussions about filmmaking, the engineering marvel of the
penis, Kabuki theater and various other subjects that you won't find
discussed in the next Bruce Willis movie. For example, one Japanese
woman wants to become a female impersonator so she can be more feminine
- because the female impersonators in Kabuki are trained in every nuance
I'll be honest. I try to support individualistic filmmakers like
Greenaway, because I admire solitary and unique geniuses and their
disregard for the copycat formulae of Hollywood. We need such people,
and who else but Greenaway could even conceive of making such a movie as
this? I really wanted to like this movie.
But in the last analysis, I really wanted it to end.
Sorry, Peter. I promise to watch "Drowning by Numbers" again as
This is, per the IMDb ratings, is tied for the dishonor of being
Greenaway's worst feature length non-documentary:
- (7.44) - The Falls
- (7.20) - The Tulse
Luper Suitcases, Part 2: Vaux to the Sea (2004)
- (7.19) - The Cook
the Thief His Wife & Her Lover (1989)
- (7.18) - The
Draughtsman's Contract (1982)
- (7.17) - A Zed & Two
- (6.78) - Drowning by
- (6.74) - The Tulse
Luper Suitcases, Part 3: From Sark to the Finish (2003)
- (6.71) - The Tulse
Luper Suitcases, Part 1: The Moab Story (2003)
- (6.69) - A Life in
- (6.64) -
- (6.58) - The Belly
of an Architect (1987)
- (6.58) - Prospero's
- (6.49) - The Pillow
- (6.09) - The Baby of
- (5.60) - 8 ½ Women
- (5.60) - The Death
of a Composer: Rosa, a Horse Drama (1999)
Nine Miles Down
Johnny's comments: Nine Miles Down is about a security officer who
goes to check an isolated scientific station and finds nothing, until
a women comes running out of the horizon. She wants to leave because
everyone else is dead, but he wants to investigate. Big mistake.
Fairly good idea, but doesn't completely hold and gets bogged down
with tricky visual effects. And the ending is quite shocking which is
a nice change.
Kate Nauta film clips. (Collages
The beautiful Argentine model Zaira
Chelsey Parks in Drop Dead Rock