A Classic Game of Chess
Review of WarGames screened at SIFF
Written by Teen Editorial Staff member Daphne Bunker
WarGames (1983) is an epic blockbuster with military drama, ominous robot voices, and the looming shadow of apocalypse. The film follows Seattle high schooler David Lightman (Matthew Broderick) after he stumbles upon a classified military program on his bedroom computer, thinking it to be simply the government’s backlog of strategy-oriented video games. Out of some combination of boredom and obsession, he and his girlfriend Jennifer (Ally Sheedy), set out to break into the program and play the games. In doing so, they unwittingly ignite the threat of nuclear war.
WarGames’s greatest achievement is that, against all odds, it maintains a sense of balance. Broderick and Sheedy lead the cast with fun, believable performances as two high schoolers way out of their depth, and the script is coolly even-handed, remaining practical in its outlandishness. The production feels almost invisible in its realism, with straightforward costumes and settings to match the mundanity of David and Jennifer’s lives and the utilitarianism of the military locations.
The grounded foundation allows the film to delight in its most sci-fi moments. Arthur B. Rubinstein’s score blares into existence when the action demands it, the humming of bulky machinery reverberates with visceral dread, and it builds itself to confront timeless themes of technology and war. And, though the movie never takes any true risks with its pacifism, WarGames’s stance isn’t lukewarm either. It asserts that pacifism is an inevitable, almost mathematical, necessity, through a story that’s fun yet practical, inconceivable yet grounded, imaginative yet classic.
Illie the Chicken
Review of Men of Deeds from the Romanian Film Festival at Northwest Film Forum
Written by TeenTix New Guardian Sayaan Nagpal
Men of Deeds, directed by Paul Negoescu, takes viewers on a serene journey through the hills of the Romanian countryside, only for the destination to be nothing but the bitter backwash of cowardice. The film follows an alcoholic Romanian police officer, Illie (Iulian Postelnicu), who is looking forward to a relaxing life on his newly bought orchard until he discovers the mayor and pastor of his town are the criminals responsible for the murder of an innocent man.
At its core, Men of Deeds is a character study that focuses on Illie's embodiment of a pathetic attitude of passivity, a flaw in all humans. As he recognizes the atrocities committed by the mayor and pastor, he continues to shove their actions under a rug by refraining from any formal investigation and allowing the mayor and pastor to harass the wife of the murdered men. Only when another murder takes place does Illie realize his silence was a sin.
Postelnicu's acting drives home a central idea of cowardice in Men of Deeds. His body language as Illie enters a state of dysregulation as the movie progresses, inviting the audience to physically feel uncomfortable with Illie's self-hatred. Illie has a whole-body reaction to the slightest incidents fueled by hate, disgust, and cowardice, like when he screams and threatens to harm a family who illegally collected cherries in his orchard. Negoescu's commitment to cowardice appears throughout the continued use of a chicken as a motif, seen in the opening shots of the pastoral Romanian hills down to the final scenes. Referencing slang that refers to someone as a chicken to call them a coward; we’re reminded Illie is constantly being a chicken, he is among his kind.
Men of Deeds boldly holds both Illie accountable for his cowardice-influenced compliance, and the men in power, who abuse their influence for personal gain. Illie’s commitment to the men in power reflects the continued manipulation used by people in power to keep everyday people in line. Even though Illie is aware, he refuses to act. He refuses to make a change. He refuses for his future, ironically cut short by the people he defended.