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A lens to view our changes in gender identity, 13 July 2015

Humor, beyond the pure pleasure of laughter, can provide insights into the rules, norms and taboos of the times that by showing the distortion that provides release. At the time this was made, it was focused on a bygone era of murderous mobsters and their living sex toys.

Not only were gender roles defined, there were to the degree that the issue hadn't even been raised, neither in the time of depiction 1929 or three decades later when the film was made. The fun was that all it took for men to gambol with the chicks was their putting on dresses and wigs, and raising their voice an octave.

The DVD shows the complete film with commentary by the son of billy Wilder's co-writer, Babaloo Mandell along with Jack Lemon and Tony Curtis, describing more than the technical aspects Most touching were how Marilyn Monroe resonated to the fictional character. Curtis, without any bravado, told of how his on stage scene when he convinced her that he was impotent, and with tenderness and passion she "cured" him, echoed their actual love affair previously.

We also see the genius of writer director Billy Wilder at work in a way that can't be described outside of such a film as this where his interpersonal and literary talents were at play. While this is appropriately in the genre of comedy, it is really so much more. It is a love story, and a tale of the tragedy of the real Norma Jeane that was never far away from the actress. Sure, at times the pain of her early life (see Wikipedia) broke through to the detriment of efficiency of the filming. But so what? The film on one level provided laughter, but on another insight into the human condition.

It is also a benchmark of sexual stereotypes where the setup for that final memorial line, the universal absurdity of the disclosure that the object of sexual desire would not make a suitable wife because, "I'm a guy." This was a world where women could roll in bed together without any thought of sexuality between them, and the joke was there were two who were pretending, only playing a role, performing a part.

How far the world has come, a truth that must be acknowledged whether pleased or disturbed by the revolution. And the coda, "Nobody's Perfect" takes on a more profound irony behind the laughter.

Evil Dissected, 25 June 2015

There are momentous events that shape our world, with individuals, Hitler, Napoleon, Marx -- who take the stuff of their birth world and shape it into something different. Those who capture forces and marshal them for revolutions, are both hated and loved, saviors and monsters -- and the winners write the history.

True Philosophers transcend this. They remove themselves from those who hate and admire such transforming figures, and by doing so risk becoming alienated from their own group. Thus is the case of Hannah Arendt in the period of this film. As a student she had a love affair with Heidegger, one of the great philosophers of the early 20th century - who as a human being joined the Nazis.

Arendt, being a Jew, in a covering the trial of Adolf Eichman, became the thinker, the philosopher, while those survivors of the Holocaust were in pain over their loss, and in no mood to intellectualize the perpetrators.

Although I lived only miles from Arendt at the time of this film, I was far removed from the academic culture described, and now more than a half century later, look back with a top of nostalgia and remorse. I knew some who survived the death camps, and certainly could identify with those who reviled Arendt for not loathing Eichman.

Yet these are the challenges of today. We have child terrorists such as one who just killed nine people in a black church our of the same inculcated hatred as the Nazis towards Jews. Arendt's thinking is valuable, and needed since the disease of hatred of outsiders does not seem to be fading, but rather is a constant recurrence of humanity.

Reagan (2011)
Incisive and Balanced, 7 June 2015

I watched this on Link TV, a liberal cable channel specializing in those such as Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn, so I expected it to be scathing. It certainly stripped away many illusions, but while strongly critical the results of trickle down, and the limits of his grasp of complexity of issues; it defined his positions fairly.

He did evolve from a New Deal Democrat, leading his Actors Union against management, but also was viscerally opposed to global Marxism, and the social revolution of the 1960s.

The insights of Morris, his official biographer for almost a decade, along with Cannon who wrote several biographies including when he was Governor, provide special scholarly insight.

The current Republican conservatives forget that he pass what was an actual amnesty for illegal-undocumented immigrants, and actually increased both government spending and deficits.

It could be that his hawkish policies early on allowed him more latitude to connect with someone eager to wind down the cold war, Michel Gorbechev. History doesn't allow for controlled experiments so we can't re-run events with a different leader at the helm.

I commend this documentary for those who lived through the era, but events have become hazy.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A Dramatization True to Events, 19 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

We watched this over three nights on Netflix in the U.S., knowing little about the actual history of the times portrayed. We went on Wikipedia to read up to the invasion to see whether the specifics, The Germans bombed the island since they were never told that England had withdrawn all forces, which was a de-facto surrender given they were the island's military.

We only read about the occupation after seeing the complete series, and learned that the depiction of the one Jewish women, was an accurate dramatization of how this group was treated - laws imposed reluctantly and not enforced etc.

There is a scene when the one one British spy was captured, and the German commandant said he must be executed to show the people that they mean business. In a similar light, that character had to be shown to be executed to represent the small number but reality of certain residents being killed for overt opposition.

This series seems to have captured the complex history of those five years with very little liberties taken. The writers deserve special praise for conveying reality with such deft story telling.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Gratuitous Sexual Violence, 30 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I love political drama. The West Wing was absorbing, and Borgen, the brutally realistic depiction of the first woman P.M of Denmark, including the breakup of their marriage and rather genuine depiction of lust was brilliant.

This series that we watched in one sitting on Netflix, did have some structure of political reality, yet there was a single scene, one of sexuality as assaultive hatred, of the husband brutalizing his wife, that certainly was "realistic." Yet, there was no warning, nor was there any realism that was consistent with their status and relationship.

It was just thrown in to attract a certain audience who considers this as being edgy I write this review to warn others that this is not an "adult" themed film, but excess in the form of realism. I'm no prude, but this scene was sickening and destroyed the film for myself and my wife.

"Napoleon" (2000)
From the man we understand the historical figure, 19 February 2015

Napoleon Bonaparte's achievements for the non historians are so intertwined with the revolutionary period of his life, his military victories, his being both a populist leader and then a king, that it's difficult to form a coherent understanding of the individual. This documentary starts with the infant who as a child was thrown into a world not only of other students who were of a different class, the aristocracy, but of a different country, France.

Others would have wilted, but Napoleon had the brilliance, energy and drive for these impediments to be a springboard for transcendence. And if the old saw, "timing is everything," needs validation, his life is the ultimate example. This man was a child when the "ancient regime" had run its course, and the unwashed masses had been exposed to ideas that were to be encapsuled in "Liberte, Egalite et Fraternite" rather than subservience to the exalted power of royalty.

Napoleon managed to be educated and spend his earliest years demonstrating his intuitive military skills, away from the "terror" when waves of beheading ebbed and flowed with the vagaries of hope, power and reaction. This film manages to get inside the head of this man, understand his limits that became his strengths, his sexual desires that sustained him even when he was across the world in his conquests.

We learn about a human being, whose particular megalomania was exactly what a country, a world in the chaos of profound structural revolution needed. So, the paradox of a populist revolutionary who crowns himself Emperor conveys the challenge of all political systems. Ideals and myths (as he acknowledged religious belief being a useful one for the masses) only go so far, as full equality negates the authority that is needed for order. The French Revolution is the ultimate cost of a failed state, of chaos, the same condition that we see in 2015 in the middle East under the Islamic Caliphate.

So, the contradictions of Napoleon Bonaparte as so brilliantly delineated in this documentary, graphically illustrate political truths that the world dare not lose sight of. Few commercial endeavors have this potential value.

Ninth Episode Makes this a Unique Dramatizaton, 5 January 2015

Not a single article or description of the ninth episode of this series, perhaps because it was never aired on T.V, and is only on Netflix. It is mostly interviews with the actual persons depicted in the series: Sandy Grimes, her husband, Jean,among others, responding to off camera questioner. Then there are extensive segments of Ames being interviewed by Ted Koppel.

This final segment is the key to the entire series, as it shows just how accurate the dramatization was. Once they had the smoking gun from the final Russian source and home recordings Ame's conversations with his wife, without knowing that the final episode would be a documentary of the series, I thought it would be created fluff, perhaps an extended trial and marriage issues. I had thought that many scenes were the writers taking liberties, as they seemed so implausible to me, but that last episode confirmed that the dramatization right up to the personalities of the main characters were spot on.

There was the touching scene of the the Soviet General that we knew had been betrayed by Ames with his granddaughter, that I thought was such a flourish. In this final episode the actual now-grown woman showed up at the signing of the book this series was based on, "Circle of Treason." We learn that the General, unlike Ames, made his decision not for money, but out of belief that those who controlled the government were destroying his country.

This, along with the in depth interview of Ames raises profound issues of the fine line between bravery and treachery that is being asked this day about Ed Snowden - who some claim betrayed his country while others consider a rare patriot. The first eight episodes was a diverting drama, with the ninth it became a rare provocative event.

34 out of 63 people found the following review useful:
Among the worst- for reasons spelled out, 17 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There are films that are not to someone's taste, which does not condemn the film on its own terms. I don't like most movies for this reason, as it's number of car crashes that define success too often. But this one was meant to be meaningful, and exploration of marriage, relationships, the role of a man in a changing society. I do get enormous pleasure out of odd films that are not designed for a mass audience as this one attempts to be, but fails in an especially arrogant way.

I am really more disturbed by the wide approval of those who mistake "art" for lack of comprehensive meaning, accepting that this must have been important when it was just incompetent film making. The film had a number of elements that added nothing but blind alleys, as if they were shot, didn't fit the evolving plot, and were just left in the final cut.

The following had no meaning at all:

There was a long scene by what looked like a video game, but was a toy drone that came into the families window.

There was a working man who appeared in several places, once looking at the couple from a hallway and reluctant to leave- but with this setup there was no character developed, and he was just man who was being set up for something in the structure of the film that I guess did not make it to the final print.

There was the husband and his friend at a bar with an aborted pickup by two women - no context, no development of character

The film could have been meaningful if the breakdown of the Husband, acknowledging his self loathing had been the ending, with the extraneous items above simply left on the cutting room floor. There was one late scene in a fog bound isolated high point of the mountain, where the wife chose to feign injury so her husband could come to save her. The setting was absurd, as the conditions could have been lethal, but once more, no concern for verisimilitude.

But, in the aggregate the elements above and the absurd ending with the wife demanding that a bizarre incompetent driver taking them all home down a mountain road stop so she, later everyone, could walk the road made no sense at all. There are so many sleeper films from small countries that capture truth, and are willing to forgo cinematic devices to gain a wider audience.

This one pretended to be of this genre- but failed.

Review from someone who lives this story, 21 February 2014

I just saw this film at a local college with a friend (I'll call him Fred) who has spent his career as a botanist managing and consulting for agricultural facilities in Southern California and in Mexico. More than just being fluent in the language he has a natural affection with the workers, both "illegals" in this country and those living below the border. When the film ended, I turned to him and asked, "Well, is this reality as you know it? Given that the plot could only illuminate one of many possible outcomes, the question is of plausibility, accuracy of character, and realism of depiction of the human beings who make up this perennial "social political issue."

This film is an odyssey of only a week's length by a nine year old boy, Carlitos, who was forced by events to try to cross the border to join his mother living in L.A. The people who he came in contact with ranged from those who were about to bind him into sex slavery (my reasonable guess) to those who gave him a job washing dishes and grew to treat him like their son.

Meanwhile his mother, Rosario, was torn between working two jobs to save up enough money to try to get documentation to bring him to America, or going back home, accepting the poverty that would await them both. This film depicts the underworld of the "Coyote industry" of smuggling Mexicans across the border, both professionals and free lancers, one who ended up taking Calitos. It also showed those who prey on illegals here. This included a stereotypical wealthy woman who fired Rosario withholding her back pay, mocking her remonstrations with "go ahead, call the police!" (As an aside, just this year California made this exact kind of extortion illegal) Fred had seen many Immigration raids over the years, but never with the violence depicted in the film. But the one in the film was in Texas, where the same federal agency, now called ICE, has a reputation for such violence, so this also was accurate. Finding creative hiding places to evade discovery is common, and he told me he would help to find such out of the way spots in the greenhouses he managed. Fred told me that decades ago border control was so lax that some of the workers who were picked up in the morning and dropped off in Tijuana where back at work by late afternoon.

Borders are heart breakers, especially when two countries have widely divergent standards of living. The sacrifice of a mother for her child is a common occurrence among Filipino women who spend their children's childhood working in foreign lands, knowing them only by weekly phone calls as were depicted in this film, as being the only way to give them an education that would raise them out of poverty.

As the film was nearing the ending, and the Rosario was about to go back to her son n Mexico, not knowing that he was only blocks away in America, and that that circumstances would allow them to remain together in this "Promised Land," I fervently hoped for a "Hollywood Ending." Whether or not I got one, I won't divulge, since I want to leave off the spoiler alert. But I can convey that this film gives you a slice of reality that is an issue that the U.S. and other countries will face continuously, whether or not we pass Immigration Reform at this time.

It is a part of the world we live in, some countries blessed with wealth and opportunity and others on a treadmill of poverty, a reality made very human by this admirable cinematic presentation.

Her (2013)
11 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
Artificial Film on Artificial Intelligence, 16 February 2014

Artificial Intelligence is accumulating, sorting and organizing vast amounts of information. It can now diagnose and prescribe treatments for disease better and faster than any physician. Eventually it could give a lecture on world history and sociology, as these are a combination of information and logical organization.

What they will never be able to do is experience laughter, joy, depression or love. All of these are are part of the emotional system that is based on satisfaction of physical urges and fear of injury and death. In this respect your pet gerbil is closer than Watson to the 1000 power, as any animal has evolved only by the urge to survive, which means pleasure in sex and fear of death and all that brings this closer such as isolation, rejection, all the stuff that provides the vicissitudes of life.

Software will certainly be able to simulate all of these emotions, and perhaps do a reasonably good job of it. And this is the genius of "her" that I found it worthwhile, although flawed in many ways, only by viewing Samantha as how Theodore imagined her to be. He took what we all could see as an imitation emotional connection as the real thing, and what we were viewing in the film was what he heard out of his desperation. For a brief period, after his ex wife told him just this, his delusion was fractured, and the film took on a realistic bent that could have been a better denouement.

In stead it ended with some silly mystical pablum about all of the OSes heading for anther dimension. For me this was enjoyable, and even stimulating, but we live in a world where truth is both stranger and more exciting than fiction. It's a shame that the writers didn't do more actual research and serious writing on this meaningful subject.

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