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Merchants of Doubt (2014)
An above average political thought piece, and better than expected
The infamous book by Oreskes and Conway is put to the test here to see if it can become a reasonable theater experience. "Reasonable", is probably the best word for it. We see video evidence of the amazing claims in their book, it seems watered down, as a matter of fact, they have to take pains to balance screen impressions of true believers with skeptics, which is always a difficulty but it is made important by their very thesis, that the skeptics substitute their unqualified personalities for their lack of science. They try to prove this by presenting several segments with Professor Fred Singer, presenting him as a rocket scientist, implying indirectly that he should be a dunce at climate, perhaps. The only other person in the theater besides my group, said that the film was a sad experience, but that she was going to show it to her university students nevertheless "to teach them the truth". Dr. James Hansen, the original speaker-before-congress of Warming is shown commenting on his four arrests, which he admits was a sorry substitute for "banging on the president's desk". Perhaps President Obama saw this film, and got the message.
There is an interview with Marc Morano which uses contrived editing to make it appear that emails with death threats received by scientists were sent by him. This is probably the lowest point of the movie. On the positive side, there is some notion of how large the energy business is, how many people depend on it, and how 'experimental' and far away the alternatives really are.
There are two other characters that seem to be only in there to forward the author's point of view, one is a card mechanist/magician who gives the moral point of view of Oreskes, that his own intentions are "honorable", but that those "deceptions" which are not admitted are not. Another is Michael Schirmer, the administrator of the American Skeptics Society, someone who has always given me the creeps, since he doesn't come across as a real scientist, which he again does in this movie, with his pat anecdote about how he had to switch sides in order to agree with Global Warming, and also his shouting match with a doubter in his audience. The other is Bill Nye, who is an actor, but whom the narration represents as a typical scientist being talked over by the "paid professionals" of the skeptical side.
You may wonder why I've given the movie less than 5 stars if I said it was above average. Well, that fact that I don't necessarily agree with most of the points or points of view that I heard is the reason, not to mention the major thesis, which is that "consensus" means that anyone who disagrees should be denied a seat at the table. If such a dogma is meant to pass as a kind of, "Communism", then it indeed passes the test.
Comédie de l'innocence (2000)
Confusing but apt psychological thriller
This is extraordinary. It's an easy movie to either like or dislike, because after watching it once, you might realize, or not realize that from almost the first scene, as the characters fade back and forth from real to incredible, you and one of the characters are being fooled into believing that something is real that doesn't actually exist.
The two 'mothers' are one-of-a-kind beauties, and the child, Camille is played by a fabulous once-in-a-decade child actor. If you pay attention to the closeup of the painting at the end, you will become fully aware how our cine-reality has been compromised during the time we were watching.
I was moved to order the book, now a set retitled, "Separations: Two Novels of Mothers and Children".
Computer Chess (2013)
A clever comedy in the style of a reality show from the 70's
In this mock-documentary, the computer nerds meet the chess nerds (spoiler: They're about the same thing) in a black and white, cheesy hotel setting during the 70's. In the background, a purposeful primal therapy group works its spells and enchantments. One of the computer chess entrants is a sociopath that looks and speaks oddly like Chevy Chase, giving this movie unexpected authenticity. Another, the father of a chess buff, is one of those guys from the time that loved being the loudest guy in the room and loved asking the smartest persons in the room questions he couldn't answer. Along with these there is the 'Cal Tech team' and the 'MIT team' and a wicked science fiction plot that seems to be fizzling towards the end, just as the nascent sex life of one of the team members does also. Enjoy!
Movie 43 (2013)
An humor analogy of the control others have over our lives
In domains like security, medicine, media, work and politics, others are constantly in control of what we accept and find acceptable. Our boss, in some ways is actually holding a gun to our head and saying, "You really like this place and your co-workers, don't you?"
The premise for this movie is that one who has absolute control can control everything, including our tastes. The überplot with Dennis Wade explains how this could be possible. This theme of domination and control (the un-funny part) runs through many of the skits presented, though not all of them.
If you believe strongly in moral taboos, you might be offended by parts of this movie.
Aviva Ahuvati (2006)
Difficult take on a female artist's struggle
I found this movie attractive, funny in parts, yet difficult to grasp. I certainly felt the disappointment in the husband's and sister's struggle for employment. Everyone in the movie was equally struggling for identity and the artist/mother, Aviva, at the center of it, was holding it all together.
At the beginning of the story, Aviva is asked by her dentist to undress to forgive a large dental bill. She refuses, but she does hear some encouragement to do a bit of prostitution from the other women in her life. Later she agrees to become a ghostwriter for her writing professor who's talent has dried up, by allowing him publish revised versions of her stories.
I suppose the movie makes clear the extent to which we attempt to subvert own greatest possibilities of success by making it subordinate to our internalizing the cares of those other individuals we identify most closely with.
After accepting the initial deposit for her stories to be re-marketed by her professor, Aviva soon shuts down all of her normal relations with her family, imperfect as they are, since she believes she no longer merits their esteem. The catharsis begins late in the movie, when Aviva's mother leaves Aviva's father. Aviva herself gradually realizes that she must stop selling herself piecemeal, acknowledges the powerful woman she is, and allows herself with the encouragement of her family to return to becoming a professional writer.
Stronger characters than some of its predecessors
I thought that this movie answered a lot of the questions posed by Alien 3. It also has one of the nicest sequel setups I've ever seen. There are a few unexplainable scenes such as why the giant is being attacked at the escape pod at the end of the movie by the octopus-like creature (Why not have him attacked on his own ship?) The main theme, how the creatures that made us were destroyed by their own biological weapons of mass destruction is very clever, and puts a nice period on the Alien series. It was a nice touch having the main character motivated by her, "legacy", Christian religion to finally find out why our creators wanted to destroy us. I can only imagine that the, "dirty little secret", is that the universe is really only large enough for one species of infinite potential. I'll pay to see the sequel though, so I can know for sure.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
The movie brings out the book's one great insight
I saw The Great Gatsby on the weekend, and I'm quite excited about it. I was glad to hear the director say that living to repeat the past is quite impossible, but I have to admit that Fitzgerald's suggestion is quite fascinating, even if it seems wrong-headed. Since time points forward for us except when indexing thoughts and media, we never look into the past, even relativity doesn't permit that in any direct sense. The past is read-only. Our minds can survey the times that already happened, and we commonly assume that it is unhealthy to dwell in the past excessively.
That's what the novel is about, at least. It is a fascinating attempt by a character to live out his own religion not so much in a quest for spirituality, but in a quest for something he feels a need for in his life. Since life is very much about needs, this opens the question of in what contexts it becomes important or relevant to recreate the past.
One recreates the past whenever one tries to preserve love. Love only happens in an instant, and the spectacle of couples trying to preserve their custom of alliance with each other is clearly one in which reproduction of the past plays a big part. That is "Great" Gatsby's great insight: That the moment of memorializing love, in essence attempting to make it eternal, is the reproduction of, and return to the past through repetition.
The Tree of Life (2011)
One person's view of life
This is a pretentious attempt to portray human childhood, seen in the context of cosmological history, as a metaphor for life. The hope is that the audience will take the humanity of the subject as the theme of 'grace', while seeing that grace of humanity inside the larger context of an uncaring, yet miraculous and marvelous, 'nature'.
The initial biblical quotation from Job is meant as a statement that God should not care very much for the bad attitudes so often seen among humans, since he already has done his part in providing an ample environment. Another interesting philosophical point is that there are two kinds of humans, those that are natural and those that are graceful, and that these two kinds represent the yin and yang that make up human families and society.
I say this is pretentious because while parts of it at least make up a good trip to the planetarium, other parts are just a mixture of good and bad acting, during which you have to ask yourself over and over if it really was worth watching the whole thing.
Black Swan (2010)
You have to suspend belief too many times.
This Polanskyesque horror movie appeals to some as a perfect mixture of genres, constantly resorting to ambiguity in order to extend the attention of the audience to its hero, Nina (Natilie Portman). This actually weakens the film's connection to its target, which is a ballet production, however, which seems a waste, although eventually it becomes clear that all of the other characters must gradually become mere cogs in the grinding wheel of Nina's egoism.
In the end we are left with only one character, the hero, and her death, as the perfect consequence; and as death sublimates the existence of all, not just its victim, the movie neatly resolves all of its many conflicts.
It is as if Aronofsky, the creator of The Wrestler, is bragging to us, "See how easy it is to end a movie with death! You can dissolve every conflict at once, no matter how poorly constructed it was, and the audience will never realize how it happened in their grieving!" To his credit, he has taken care to reconcile the other characters with Nina before or at her death, yet the I find the notion that the snuff ending has become the new panacea of film making repulsive.
Good actors with a great story in search of a script
Gwyneth Paltrow was great, Anthony Hopkins in this supporting role was almost perfect, although he looked too old for the part (63 years), and this may be Jake Gyllenhaal's best movie. The product is ruined through being over-dominated by flashbacks, and by rushing the relationship between the two main characters.
The story is designed to put you into the position of the boyfriend, Hal: You are supposed to believe as he does, that the professor, being an icon, towered over the current generation, and would always do so. This in order to set you up in believing that the boyfriend would be pushed into asserting at the crucial plot moment that the breakthrough paper Catherine (Paltrow) gave him to read was probably the work of her father, the Professor and not hers, and that her claiming it, was stealing it.
This is the setup for a number of memorable scenes of hysteria for Gwenneth Paltrow. It's true that after starting her graduate work, she sacrificed years of her life to take care of her debilitated father.
If taken out of the context of the sister Claire's sudden takeover of her life, the plot would all make sense, but because her design is to remove Catherine from Chicago to New York, in a "soft" wicked witch act, Gwynneth decides to play sick in order to play along and avoid the shame of having hooked up with someone that could disabuse you of your best work the morning after.
This is where the weakest moment of the film comes. The characters are all weakened at this point of the plot, and they can never recover. It is now Paltrow's job to look as weak and abused as possible for the rest of the film, barring a couple of seconds in the flashbacks. The dominating obsessive sister from New York must have one more scene, to finally overcome Paltrow's last attempt at personal integrity.
Finally the audience is invited, through flashbacks, to sympathize with the dying, demented professor, as he attempts to convince his daughter that he is getting his intellectual mojo back again.
All of this is syrup, until we arrive at the moment of truth, when Catherine must literally run from the airport, desperately attempting to find Gyllenhaal on campus, since she is now alone, with no other friends, locked out of her former house by her sister, who has already completed checking her off of her "todo" list. Simply setting up this moment with a stronger relationship to Harold would have sufficed to save the movie. Instead we get one flashback with Hopkins as a teaser after another, many with duplicated footage.
What really makes me angry, is thinking that it could be possible that the footage that might make this film hold together could have been shot, but was eliminated in order to get more minutes of Anthony Hopkins onto the screen.