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568 reviews in total 
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Targeting (2014)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Intense, riveting and...well, stunning in some ways, 14 September 2015

This is a brilliant movie with an amazing performance by Tajana Prka who plays a shell shocked (old terminology) woman soldier suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The direction by Tarique Qayumi is tight, intense, and focused if somewhat unrealistic in spots. (I'll get to that below.) The film does something that no other film that I have seen even come close to doing, and that is make us feel the sheer depths of the PTSD affliction. Mattie is traumatized to the extent that she is no longer really human. She cares nothing for anything but her obsession. She cares not for her daughter, not for her loving and patient husband, not even for herself. It is a portrayal of madness, obsession and what seeing and doing horrible things can do to a human being.

The acting was superior overall. Even the bit players did a good job. I noticed nary a false note. Even the little girl (played affectingly by Brooke J. Ferrell) was excellent. When the entire cast or most of it is very good you can be sure that the director is one of the main reasons. I don't know how Tajana Prka, who plays Mattie Ridgeway, would do in a sitcom (nor do I care) but I cannot recall a more intense and utterly believable performance in such a demanding role. Charlize Theron's role in the film Monster (2003) comes to mind or, going way back, I recall Susan Hayward's Oscar-winning performance in I Want to Live (1958). Yes, Prka is that good.

The entire story is heart-wrenching for just about everybody involved. I suspect one of the reasons some people did not like the film or could not watch it, is because it is so tragic for not only Mattie, her husband and her daughter, and of course for her target (Baktoosh Nuri / Khalid Attaqi, played with creditable realism and balance by Bobby Naderi) but also for the bad guys who are exploiting him. Also probably not agreeable to a popular audience is the fact that there is nothing heroic here, just a terrible tragedy that is entirely real thanks to the madness of the wars in the Middle East. Still another reason some people did not like this movie is because some people don't like the idea of PTSD, believing that it is unmanly or fake. The singular thing this movie presents is the fact that PTSD is not fake, and to see a woman suffer from it to the point of becoming less than human is a very effective way to drive home that point. Some other people (chicken hawks, I might guess who like to imagine themselves big masculine war heroes on their living room couches) will not like the way the feminine/masculine roles are reversed here. James O'Shea, who does a nice job as Mattie's ever patient and loving husband, ends up doing the mother's job while Mattie madly pursues her obsession. The role reversal almost works as a parody of the world of a PTSD family, which is probably why some viewers thought that this was a parody. No, this is not a parody. This is a brutal depiction of one of the bitter fruits of war. There is nothing light-hearted about it.

Yes, I can find flaws with this, mostly in how miraculously she is able to follow this guy and especially how she got out of the hotel room without being noticed. I just happen to know what it is like to try to follow someone by yourself without being noticed. It ain't easy. The way the movie is filmed would never work. She would be spotted early on, especially under the circumstances of the life the target is living. And he would be paranoid to the gills after somebody let the air out of his automobile tire--actually, way before that.

This movie is especially relevant and important because there are so many people in this country who were happy to cheer our soldiers off to war but who are reluctant to take responsibility for what war did to them.

Incidentally, I also like the way the film shows just how absurd and ineffective torture can be.

--Dennis Littrell, author of the movie reviews book, "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote"

Idiocracy (2006)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Outrageous but prescient?, 1 September 2013

This is played for laughs, but the idea that people are getting dumber is actually highly plausible. Studies have shown (or so I've been told) that domestic animals are not as bright as the wild kind. And guess what? We domesticate ourselves, or rather our culture does.

Recently there was a story in the news about a study that showed that the brains of obese people are 16 years older than the brains of people of normal weight (these were people in their seventies). Furthermore the brains of the obese had about eight percent less mass than the brains of people of normal weight. Merely "fat" people had half the deficiency. So when director Mike Judge depicts all those fat and dumb people in the future, he may be on to some serious prognosticating.

As for the film itself, well, it is strangely compelling. This future world of idiots with everything falling apart seems almost real. It should be emphasized that all science fiction about the future is of necessity an extrapolation from the present. In fact, the real power of futuristic tales is what they tell us about the present. Idiocracy is no exception. The dumbed-down, couch-potato, dimly-aware creatures shown in the film are us! (Present company excepted of course.) Unfortunately Idiocracy is a sort of one trick pony. The central joke wears a little thin toward the middle of the film and the concocted story collapses into the merely silly. There are some good laughs along the way, such as crop failures due to using a kind of Gatorade on the crops called Brawndo instead of water.

—Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Absolutely gorgeous and very interesting, 1 September 2013

The quality of the camera work and the incredible diversity of marine and shore life seen in this BBC video is world class, mostly in the same league as "Planet Earth" (2006) and in some ways better. The sheer profusion of life in the reef with the explosive dazzle of color and the graceful dance and sway of the sea creatures is mesmerizing.

The presentation by Monty Hall who narrates and stars is not the best however. His underwater vocals are garbled and his presence in some places is artificial and forced. He does look the part however, healthy and macho, and he even lives up to his namesake with a bit of slapstick when he gets sand thrown sharply in his face from a green turtle covering her clutch of eggs.

The DVD is 185 minutes long and I hardly noticed the time flying by until I got to the final sixty minutes or so. Here the focus is mostly on the green turtles that lay their eggs in the sands of Raine Island in the reef's Queensland National Park. This part of the show may be a bit unsettling for some viewers especially when some of the turtles can't get back to the sea and die in the hot sun or when the tiger sharks rip apart their corpses when they are later washed out to sea. It is also not fun to watch the baby turtles scrambling over the sand to the ocean only to be snapped up, desperately wriggling in the beak of a Rufous Night Heron.

The video also shows us a bit of the life ashore near the reef including some footage of the mangrove swamps; and there's some history of the reef and how the reef affects the Australian mainland. There are many surprises including tiny pink sea horses a centimeter long, a shrimp and a fish living symbiotically together, and sea snakes that live in the anus of sea cucumbers.

I'm looking forward to watching this again...well except for the last part about the green turtles.

—Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"

GasLand (2010)
2 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
ExxonMobil and Halliburton will hate this and try to ignore it, 1 September 2013

This is a Michael Moore kind of documentary, that is, before he became rich and famous. There's all the down home kind of people being featured and they're fighting, in this case, Big Gas, which means ExxonMobil, Halliburton and various and sundry others. I really don't know enough about the situation to pass judgment on the central accusation of the film, namely that hydraulic fracturing causes long-lasting environmental damage and the poisoning of water supplies. The fact that film maker Josh Fox shows several homes with water that can be set afire at the kitchen sink tap is however a bit disconcerting to say the least.

The problem seems to be that the methods used for fracturing employ a number of chemicals that are carcinogenic and, most significantly, there is no way to control the spread of those chemicals to areas around the wells including into the atmosphere. It's clear to me that there is not one executive at ExxonMobil or Halliburton that would want any hydraulic fracturing done anywhere near his home. Not in my backyard or across the street or even several football fields away is the how just about everybody feels about this technique for getting oil and gas economically out rock/shale formations.

But there is a lot of money to be made and there is the argument that using such techniques can alleviate our dependence on foreign oil. The amount of natural gas and oil that can be fractured out of the rocks in the United States is enormous with some estimates claiming the supply is over a hundred years at current energy consumption levels. But Josh Fox's point is, at what cost? What personal and environment cost? What this film pinpoints is another example of how the economic interests of a few large corporations trump the lives of countless number of people and how the real environmental and human costs of production are dumped onto the public, especially the public that is our children and our grandchildren to come. The sad fact is that energy is relatively cheap today because the real cost of that energy is being given to coming generations to pay in a kind of Ponzi scheme. Since ExxonMobil, Halliburton, et al., have a shareholder horizon of the next quarter's earnings numbers, it is impossible for them and their execs to give a flying you-know-what about tomorrow's children or the world they will face. The future can take care of itself is the position that they are embracing. Meanwhile they personally are not polluted directly or inconvenienced or made cancerous since they live far, far away from the effects of hydraulic fracturing, and presumably with all the money they are making they can provide for their children and grandchildren to continue to live where they are (relatively) safe from the pollutants that are being expelled.

But I have to say that this is not a great documentary. Its budget is obviously quite a bit short of what some other film makers can afford, yet Josh Fox makes his point very well and does a great public service in calling to our attention the dangers associated with hydraulic fracturing. I notice that there is a lot of advertising on television paid for by e.g., ExxonMobil that is trying to make this kind of natural gas and oil production as sweet as Tupelo honey with smiley faces and fields of flowers and greenery in the background. It's nice to see a counter to that, even if the film's budget is probably a fraction of the cost of one ExxonMobil commercial.

It is gratifying to note that the positive reviews for this movie greatly outnumber the negative ones. It's clear that the industry's attack team has taken a pass on this one, hoping, I guess that it will go away from lack of interest. Take a look and see why this issue is not likely to go away; in fact I predict another more powerful film to come, which WILL be viciously attacked. Stay tuned.

--Dennis Littrell, author of the movie review book, "Cut to the Chaise Lounge of I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!"

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A film biography of futurist Ray Kurzweil, 19 July 2013

I'm somewhat familiar with the work of futurist Ray Kurzweil having read and reviewed his book The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence (1999). He has since written several other books. He's won a lot of prizes and several honorary doctorates. He's a brilliant and original man.

As this documentary film makes clear, he is also a man afraid of dying and a man who very much misses his father and dreams of somehow bringing his father back to "life." Yes, quotation marks around "life." Kurzweil thinks that it will someday be possible to down load our brains onto some kind of software and in such form we will live forever.

I probably should read some more Kurzweil because I am sure he has an answer to my main critique of this fantastic idea, which can be illustrated by this consideration: Suppose your brain is downloaded. Which of you is you? The one in the software whose experiences are virtual or the one in the flesh and blood whose experiences are very human-like with all the ups and downs? The lives that can be downloaded onto software will be interesting, incredible really, but only to other people.

Another thing to ask when thinking about this is "How do you program a computer to feel pain? Or joy for that matter. Human beings are evolved beings that are subject to pleasure and pain. Software and AI machines not only don't feel any pain, they couldn't even if they wanted to. They can be programmed to act as though they feel pain but that is all. It is not even clear how animals came to develop the pleasure/pain reward/punishment system. What came first the mechanism to deliver pain or the ability to recognize the experience as pain? Nobody knows.

I wonder if Kurzweil realizes that death is part of life. Without death biological creatures such as us would experience an unbearable stasis and would of course die anyway eventually through accident, suicide, nearby supernova, etc. And as machines without biological urgings we would have no reason to go on living unless the urge is programmed into us by biological creatures. Machines don't care whether they are "alive" or dead. They are not afraid of the plug being pulled.

Naturally he has his critics other than me. And in this film director Robert Barry Ptolemy introduces a few and lets them have their say. The give and take is interesting. But what I think most people who are familiar with Kurzweil's work will find interesting is the portrait of the very human man himself.

The film begins with Kurzweil's appearance on TV's "I've Got a Secret" when he was 17-years-old and ends with his latest invention, a device that reads text aloud for the blind, and his ideas for new inventions using nanobots. In between we learn of his open heart surgery and his overriding idea that the singularity is near and that we will be able to comprehend the world of the singularity only if we are augmented with artificial intelligence. In other words we will become cyborgs, part biological creatures and part machine.

In this last prediction I think Kurzweil is right. We will meld with our machines—that is, if we don't send ourselves back to the Stone Age first.

Kurzweil gets the last say. He asks "Does God exist?" His very clever answer: "I would say not yet." —Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Enormously affecting; deeply human, 4 July 2013

I may be getting too sentimental in my old age but this film was so touching that I actually cried through quite a bit of it. What I found so touching was how essentially good almost all the characters were.

The central character Jacob Pederson (Mads Mikkelsen) despite a nearly constant scowl on his face or a look of deep concern and perhaps worry is a man who really cares about right and wrong and other people. This is a sharp change from his misspent youth when all he cared about were...well what many of us cared about, having a good time. Now he runs an orphanage in Mumbai.

While Jacob is the central character the most interesting character and the one with the biggest heart is the very rich Jorgen Lennart Hannson (Rolf Lassgard). Jacob has gone to Denmark to convince Jorgen to support his orphanage. It isn't clear that Jorgen will do so. He has choices for charity. But when Jorgen invites Jacob to his daughter's elaborate wedding, things change.

I won't say any more about the plot since it is such an interesting and surprising plot. What I will say is that when Jorgen learns who Jacob really is in relationship to his family (and vice-versa!) he does something so caring, so surprising and so correct and so magnanimous that it will warm the cockles of the coldest heart and bring to tears the most cynical of viewers.

And then we are back to Jacob and how he deals with what Jorgen has concocted. And he too does the right thing even though it completely changes his life and costs him something dear to his heart..

I wish I could be more concrete. But see the film and I think you'll agree that this is the kind of movie that will make you feel good about people. It's a shame that it's rated "R." Perhaps if you have a tweener or even a bright 10-year-old you can watch it together. And you can talk about it. It is a great relationship film, and a great film for teaching young people about the real choices in life that can come up The acting was excellent. Mikkelsen brought the strength of character and a justified pride to the role of Jacob while Lassgard was warm and real and smart as Jorgen. Both Sidse Babett Knudsen, who played Jorgen's wife, and Stine Fischer Christensen, who played the bride, were intense and so vivid I felt I could touch them. (The intense close-ups on the eyes and faces—and I mean intense—made the actors almost leap off the screen.) But most of my praise must go to Susanne Bier who wrote the story and directed and to Anders Thomas Jensen who wrote the screenplay. The story and the movie are simply brilliant.

—Dennis Littrell, author of the movie review collection, "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!"

3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Definitely worth viewing, 4 July 2013

Director Kip Pastor talks to a lot of people in the organic food business including those passionate about organics to those skeptical of the value of organic foods. He shows us how fast and large the industry has grown and he shows us why.

He shows us that people are concerned about their health and they want to eat right. But most people have no idea what "organic" means. The rules for being organic are arcane even mysterious and yes they do spray. But what they spray is apparently less toxic than what Big Agriculture sprays.

One of the things I learned is that there are levels of being organic both in terms of size (small organic farms are being gobbled up by the big guys) and in terms of just how "pure" the farmers are. I also learned that the label "organic," even the green and white "USDA organic," on a food does not guarantee that the food is better than something conventionally produced. However I think organic is on average superior, and this video supports that belief. And that is basically (and vaguely) what some of the people Pastor interviewed thought. More nutritional? Maybe. Maybe not. Safer? I would say very likely.

How boring or interesting is this video to the average viewer? Probably only so-so. To someone clearly interested in knowing what organic is all about? Interesting. Should you as a home ed teacher show this to your class? Yes.

—Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"

King Corn (2007)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Low key but very revealing and interesting, 30 June 2013

In this interesting and informative documentary two young men, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, return from the east coast to the Iowa farm country of their ancestors in order to find out what it is like to be a corn farmer in America. Their plan is to plant an acre of corn and follow that corn to market and see what happens. They want to know what life is like for the farmers and they want to know how the corn is processed and eventually consumed. What they find out is mixed.

They learn about the high yields that are possible today with the variety of corn that dominates corn production in this country. This plant has the property of being able to grow close to others of its kind, thereby increasing the number of plants per acre. This is good no doubt. However this variety of corn while ideal for the making of high fructose corn syrup and ethanol is lower in other nutrients such as protein and oil. For my perspective this too is okay. If that is what sells, the farmer really doesn't have much choice.

But what is disturbing about the corn farming and processing business are the subsidies that go to big agriculture and the consolidation that has taken place turning small farms into huge farms. Monoculture is a disease of the land. If more small farmers were able to make a living planting different varieties of crops people would eat better and healthier.

Cheney and Ellis also learn that much of the corn is used to fatten cattle. The natural diet of cattle is grass. Fattening them with nothing but corn makes them sick, but not sick enough to die before being slaughtered for the market.

They also learn (if they hadn't already known it) that corn is in an amazing number of the processed foods in the supermarkets and is the basis of McDonald happy meals. In other words king corn is instrumental in fostering and abetting the obesity epidemic.

The documentary is fascinating because it shows the exact details of how planting, weeding (chemically), fertilizing, harvesting and marketing of the corn is done. There are conversations with farmers and others and the famous food writer Michael Pollan makes an appearance.

This is not a documentary that is going to please the corn industry, but it is not a polemic either. I thought it was fair and accurate as far as I know. I am on the side of more diversified farming organically, but I know that feeding the seven plus billion people on this planet isn't possible without mass agricultural methods such as seen in this video. The fact that our government insists on subsidizing a relatively unhealthy diet based on genetically modified corn and soy is the main culprit. If there were subsidies for farmers to plant a wider variety of crops using organic methods that would improve our diet and allow for sustainable agriculture. The problem with this is we would need a larger percent of the population to farm.

—Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"

2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
A pure bore, 30 June 2013

I watched this with some fascination waiting for something to happened. Nothing did. Since it stars Roman Polanski and Gerard Depardieu I stayed with it until the very end. The ending is a bit of a surprise. At first I didn't realize what had happened, but my subconscious mind worked on it and at three o'clock in the morning I woke up and realized what had happened. Consequently much of the mystery and confusion (in my mind) about the film was cleared up.

However my guess is that "Une pura formalita" will be for most viewers a very boring movie. Typical of many French films it is full of talk, talk and more talk like a Romer flick. Only difference is there is no sex and no female characters. In a way it's a guy kind of film like a war movie but without the action.

Polanski plays a police inspector. Call him Leonardo. Depardieu plays Onoff a famous writer who is suspected of murder. Polanski interrogates Depardieu. That's ninety percent of the film. There are some flashed-backed, indistinct scenes and some other police persons, in particular a young policeman pounding an old manual typewriter as the two leads talk. That's about it. Depardieu's character can't remember things. Polanski's character who, as it happens, is a big fan of Onoff nonetheless suspects that Onoff is lying.

There's a storm and a blackout and incessant rain. The old country police station leaks. Candles all about in the semi-darkness. Water drips down into bowls and cups. Still nothing happens. Finally we have the surprise ending. I say "surprise ending" rather than "trick ending" because it was foreshadowed and I should have seen it coming.

—Dennis Littrell, author of the film review collection, "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote"

10 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
Not perfect, 23 June 2013

The problem with the conclusion that this documentary comes to is it won't work! If all of humanity—seven billion strong and increasing—ate the "natural" quasi-Paleolithic diet that the scientists in this film find "perfect"...well they won't because with present technology it is impossible for the planet to feed that many people that high on the hog. Raising the necessary number of cows, pigs, chickens, etc. requires more land and fresh water than is available. It's as simple as that.

The second problem involves a "what is, is right" kind of fuzzy thinking. The fact that our ancestors ate a lot more meat than they did grains does not mean that sort of diet is best. They ate that way because they had no choice.

The third problem is that the kind of meat hunters and gatherers ate was a bit different from the fat-laden, choice cuts of meat eaten today. It was lean and grass-fed. And a lot of it wasn't meat at all. It was fish, shellfish, clams, mussels and insects.

Aside from these three very important points the documentary is not bad. The film makes it clear that it is the modern diet of processed foods that is responsible for the obesity epidemic in the developed world. And yes the paleo-primal, hunter-gatherer diet is superior to the junk food that is shoved in our faces on TV, over the Internet, on billboards and at fast food restaurants.

And yes meat- and fish-eating turned upright-walking dull-witted apes into hominids. Without high-quality foods we could not have grown our big brains. But that was then. This is now, and what is needed is a balanced diet of whole foods with plenty of fruits and vegetables, some carbs, some high protein foods, and oils from the trees: e.g., olives, avocados, coconuts, etc.

—Dennis Littrell, author of "The World Is Not as We Think It Is"

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