By Mark Metcalf Special to Published Nov 08, 2008 at 10:15 AM
Bayside resident Mark Metcalf is an actor who has worked in movies, TV and on the stage. He is best known for his work in "Animal House," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Seinfeld." In addition to his work on screen, Metcalf is involved with the Milwaukee International Film Festival, First Stage Children's Theater and a number of other projects, including the comedy Web site, He also finds time to write about movies for

Bayside resident Mark Metcalf is an actor who has worked in movies, TV and on the stage. He is best known for his work in "Animal House," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Seinfeld."

In addition to his work on screen, Metcalf is involved with the Milwaukee International Film Festival, First Stage Children's Theater and a number of other projects.

He also finds time to write about movies for This week, Metcalf weighs in on "Eagle Eye" and "Three Kings."

EAGLE EYE (2008)

This film is obviously derived from so many other movies it is dizzying. "2001: A Space Odyssey," "North By Northwest," "The Man Who Knew Too Much," a few other Hitchcock films, and one about mistaken identity that goes back to Shakespeare.

A computer takes over and runs, not just a space ship, but also everything electronic in the United States. Think about it: that's everything. On the way home, I thought I was getting messages from the signs on Interstate 43. There you go, that's another homage: to "LA Story."

A man, who is apparently innocent of everything except sloth gets caught up in a massive plan to kill the President and everyone else in succession to the big job, and at some point he finds himself running through a cornfield in, well it's Indiana, not Iowa, but the homage to "North By Northwest" is apparent.

When the time and place for the assassination is the floor of the U.S. Senate -- not Albert Hall, but a theatre nonetheless -- during the State of the Union address, at the exact moment that a specific note is played in the National Anthem and the hero must somehow stop it from happening, the echoes of
"The Man Who Knew Too Much" are obvious. The child in "Eagle Eye" has not been kidnapped but he is the pivotal reason for the hero being there, as in "TMWKTM."

An innocent man has no knowledge of how he has become involved, and the fate of the world will be determined by his actions. That is a highly recognizable plot synopsis. D.J. Caruso uses the technology available today, the pacing made popular by Paul Greengrass and the kind of editing you see in so many Hollywood movies to tell the story again with the twist this time being that the "intelligent designer" of this apparently total manipulation of the universe is a computer who functions with the ruthlessness of a true fundamentalist when it applies a strict meaning to the US Constitution.

The action sequences are straight out of a video game. Visually, they are better. Structurally, it is PlayStation 3 to the max. Since everything is manipulated by the all-powerful electronic eye of the computer, one gets a very clear feeling of being a pawn in a violent game against a machine that seemingly cannot lose and will go on until someone pulls the plug on the darn computer. (They actually try that, but it doesn't work.)

I felt exactly the way I feel when I'm playing "Asteroids" or even "Ms. Pac Man" -- the world is going to come to an end if I can't stop these little electronic blips from dropping little electronic bombs and making little electronic explosions all around me. I guess it's a little pathetic to get that involved in a video game.

Shia LeBeouf does what a movie star is supposed to do. He makes it all seem real enough so that you care about him and you get sucked in and begin to believe the story. You may have to have a little paranoia left over from the ‘70's and ‘80's, to really fall for this one.

Although there are a lot of films out lately that pre-suppose a force far greater, far more powerful and intelligent, than we are, manipulating and controlling our fate. And in most of those films, our fate is pretty dismal. Sometimes, the fate is disease. Sometimes, it is climate change -- nature taking back the planet -- even an asteroid in a film from several years ago, and there are always aliens out there and they almost always appear to be malevolent.

But, we are always at risk in popular literature. At risk and not in control of our own destinies. In our particular culture, if there isn't a superhero, there will be an ordinary human being who is to be able to take an extraordinary beating and keep on kicking. One who is able to drive like Steve McQueen, and survive shattering car wrecks and explosions by the skin of his or her perfect teeth, and this person, embodying all of our hopes and dreams and fantasies of ourselves, carries us to safety and subdues whatever overwhelming forces are set on our destruction and the American way of life survives.


David O. Russell's movie "Three Kings" starts when the war in Iraq, the first war in Iraq, the Gulf War, President Bush Senior's war, the 1991 war, the fast war, the one that we definitely won, when that war ends.

That's when "Three Kings" starts. So there are all kinds of rules of engagement that take effect. "When can we shoot?" "Who can we shoot?" "If we shoot, can they shoot back?" The enemy doesn't always wear a uniform, and the friendlies sometimes do. And the media, oh the media, they go anywhere they want as long as they can get a vehicle and a driver, and sometimes they can get a vehicle when no one, no military personnel anyway, can.

It was a complicated war and it was a simple war. As one soldier says, they were trained to kill people but they hardly got the chance. They were liberating a country, but they had to stop before they were finished. They were to encourage the natives to liberate themselves, but they couldn't help. They were supposed to be leaving.

The three kings of the title refers to four soldiers who break a lot of the rules of engagement. They set out to get rich off the spoils of war, but end up doing the right thing and helping the people who get hurt the most in war: the people in the middle, the ones who didn't ask for it, whose lives are totally disrupted by it, quite often ended by it, the ones without weapons, without recourse and without faith, finally, in their fellow man.

One is a Major who seems to know what he is doing. That would be George Clooney. One a Staff Sergeant, who also knows what he is doing as long as someone is there to give him an order. That is Ice Cube. And two are grunts, one who can't wait to get home to his newborn child, the other who doesn't want to leave because he hasn't really gotten to use all that training they gave him. Mark Wahlberg and Spike Jonze, respectively. That's Spike Jonze, the director of the great "Being John Malkovich."

Like dogs chasing a car, they go after the "Kuwaiti gold." Gold bullion that was stolen by the Iraqis and is hidden in a bunker somewhere in the desert. It's a lot of gold -- $23 million worth, or at least that's how much they are able to get their hands on.

How they expect to get that much weight out of the country doesn't occur to them. Luckily, amongst the piles of stuff the Iraqis have stolen from Kuwait are a bunch of suitcases. And there a quite a few refugees who they can pay to carry for them.

The movie has the energy of the music of the time. The rhythms in the editing and the storytelling are greatly influenced by music videos. The details are very realistic. There's a scene where the men are celebrating the end of the war and they are drinking bottles of mouthwash. Apparently they would have their loved ones send them vodka with blue food coloring in mouthwash bottles because of the Islamic banning of alcohol.

It's a war movie that doesn't like war, but celebrates the soldiers. It finds the chain of command somewhat silly and wasteful, but the individual soldier, some of them anyway, even the ones with a criminal intent, are able to recognize and do the right thing when necessary. They might even be heroes, as close as we can realistically get in confusing, complicated times. And it was, and is, a confusing, complicated war.


Mark Metcalf Special to

Mark Metcalf is an actor and owner of Libby Montana restaurant in Mequon. Still active in Milwaukee theater, he's best known for his roles as Neidermeyer in "Animal House" and as The Maestro on "Seinfeld."

Originally from New Jersey, Metcalf now lives in Bayside.