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The writers, the producers, the actors, nor the actors probably intended that one word to be the defining feature of the film, but that is what it is. Envy. As much as they wanted to create a rich fabric, a tapestry of social commentary of the current state of political affairs, they failed.
Though they dress it up with stock themes from left wing fantasies, the plot is simplistic. In about 140 years from now, the Earth has fallen into ruin. Why that happened is not explained, simply that Earth is now polluted, diseased, and overpopulated. As this degradation occurs, the rich and successful flee the planet and build a habitat in the sky, an "Elysium" a variety of heaven from Greek Myth.
One can hardly blame them, since what they have left behind has become an admixture of the Road Warrior movies and the Gaza Strip. The story never quite explains what happens to most of the planet since the scenes only occur in southern California. That is of course offset by plot lines involving heartless and Machiavellian politicians, mindless robots, a faceless profit driven corporation, and a protective nativism (if one can call a space habitat refuge a native home).
Among the many parallels between this fiction of the future and the facts of the present, the denizens of this earth have little inclination to better, to improve, their own places, but would rather look to a place others have built in the sky, or look over the walls, and try and get there any way they can. Perhaps they believe it is easier to climb in through a window to illegally live in someone else's mansion than to build one's own home.
The Company You Keep (2012)
To Forgive American Terrorists
This is a story, fictional of course, though based on factual events, about American terrorists from the early 1970's who set bombs and killed people for a variety of radical reasons. The fiction part of the movie is that it doesn't quite take into account the reality of the murderous reality of the actual terrorists.
Robert Redford, Susan Sarandon, and evidently many of the rest of the cast, don't seem to be concerned about the truth of the matters that occurred at that time. Death, destruction, bombs, violence. The facile, and self-important illusions they decided upon, are never considered.
Foolishness abounds, and the terrorists are very self forgiving as they go about their lives after they have decided they hate the nation they thrive in.
The Ghost Writer (2010)
Bad, spoiler too
Anyone who has heard, which are few I would suppose, of this movie knows that it's about a nonentity, so much so that the character doesn't seem to have a name, who is hired to complete the autobiography of a former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
I don't think this is a spoiler, since others have amply described this particular plot twist, but I will say nevertheless, that this might be something one might consider such: Spoiler The former PM is then accused of "war crimes." Which seem to be simply his willingness when in power to turning over suspected terrorists to the CIA for "torture." And the nonentity ghost writer, writing as a replacement for his previous writer who has died in a boating accident, is left with questions.
Not much else happens in this movie, unless you are entertained by bizarre CIA fantasy conspiracy theories and hatred for the USA.
I have one of my one: The director, Roman Polanski, can't set one foot on American territory because he will be promptly arrested and put in jail. Why? Because he's a child molesting rapist, self-confessed as such, of a 13-year old girl. Evidently European nations take a much less serious view of such actions so he can roam freely from France to Switzerland.
With that in mind, it seems a touch ironic, or blackened ironic, that Polanski has the bad guy former Prime Minister of the UK stuck in the US because he can't go anywhere else (except places like North Korea) because those countries have signed the International Criminal Court treaty, while the US has not. And he might be charged with "war crimes" in those countries. While in the US he is safe.
Essential Killing (2010)
An old story that says nothing and poorly done.
To avoid spoilers, avoid this review: This film has some positive aspects, there parts of it that are quite nice to look at, snow, trees, mountains, some grass.
Otherwise it's pretty much nonsense.
The characters are without much consequence, the main, the escaped Taliban terrorist, says nothing, and basically just grunts most of the time, all the while killing various people (including a dog).
The story is timeless of course, some guy being chased by some other guys. Other than that, it's inane.
There's no real dialogue, since there isn't any real dialogue. Just a lot of strange wandering through the snow of a Talib trying to go somewhere that he doesn't know where. Maybe that's existentialist. The only people who say anything are angry Americans or some Polish guys who also get killed by this guy. And he seems to be the one that is the sympathetic one.
How a Taliban managed to get to trying to escape in Poland is an odd concept. Not that it's bad, I suppose. The film lacks story, lacks point, lacks really anything except a grunting protagonist not doing much of anything, except getting lucky a few times during his dubious journey (the Americans take mercy on him, the travel vehicle turns over, letting him escape, being able to fall into a Polish river and escape from tracking dogs, not being shot by a standing number of guns, the list goes on and on, and it get sort of boring).
Not a good movie.
Game Change (2012)
An agenda with a movie attached
While the movie is obviously designed to attack Sarah Palin, exaggerating every mistake or misstep, which happens in every campaign, and ignoring every part about how she energized an otherwise flagging McCain campaign.
Instead, the people who come off worst are the McCain campaign staff, in particular Nicolle Wallace who appears to be a remarkably foolish person, without much grasp of real politics. Hopefully she was smeared as badly as Palin was, but it seems clear that she was supposed to be the "good guy" dealing with an ignorant fool (Palin). If one watches carefully, the opposite, in this movie, is apparent.
Beautiful, Leonine, and ultimately, simplistic, and foolish
I don't know how anyone can criticize this movie in terms of technology, let's give credit where credit is merited. Much detail is given thought in forests and creatures and the alien world and such. Though, really not that much in an original way, not really. More just a click and another click on a computer. And ripping off old movies about the west from the late 60's through the 90's.
Absent the technology (which will fade in it's impressiveness in time), the question is what quality of movie is it?
In fact it's idiotic. Beyond so. Without question.
E.g. When has an arrow been able to penetrate a bullet proof vest? Not that I know of in the twenty first century, who knows about the other side of the planet, but, really? Or why does an ostensibly ruthless colonizing people (horrible humans) been unable to destroy a primitive culture for profit reason (one plot line in the movie). Reeks of Ewoks.
It's basically an old style American Indian movie. Very much the same as "Dances with Wolves" with Kevin Costner. An Army guy (here being a Marine) meets natives and finds them to be one with nature and all that stuff. It's just dressed up here with cool special effects and very interesting conceptual context.
The context has mostly been done before. Flying lizard type things that are ridden like horses or birds for that matter.
The native folks who are seemingly at one with the earth -- see any movie about American Indians, obnoxious corporate guy in search of minerals... the list goes on and on.
The "Dances with Wolves" similarity is striking: Except the American Indians are blue, very tall, not very smart, look very much like cats; otherwise very similar in speak, attitude, and weird. Very little clothing, but also very little in way of understanding their culture. Much like modern American movies of the same sort (including, oddly, "Dances with Wolves).
Upon reviewing, there are elements of other American movies, with American troops overseas (on Earth that is), as in Vietnam -- the war machines of the obviously American colonizers (or miners, or exploiters, or whatever particular one fancies in some political fantasy) are extremely similar, a century in the future or more, as they are in the 1960's in Vietnam, or the 1990's and 2000's in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There is a reminiscence of Apocalypse Now, but not the brilliance of that film, but in the end, (Spoiler -- spoiler -- this is not a PLOT spoiler but a CONCEPT spoiler) ...
... enjoying the defeat of American Marines is hard to understand by an alien species, especially in the first part of the 21st Century of this world.
The seemingly American military (in all but name) has technology of the future that isn't even close to the technology of today, and one might suspect if there is technology to move to another planet, it might improve or at least stay the same. Not so here. The battle between the "people" of the indigenous planet and the military of the "Sky People") is laughable.
The movie is a simple one, not really much original.
I won't give away spoilers, except to say, "you've got to be kidding" me moments." So ridiculous as to merit not just an eye roll but a wretch.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
violent, silly, stupid
I think it takes a great talent to make the viciousness of the Nazis to seem like the good guys in a movie. Yet Quentin Tarantino manages to do it.
How can the worst and most stupid character in a movie be played by Brad Pitt, engaging in his idiocy, and the best played by an erudite educated Nazi who is far more interesting than all the grotesque anti-Nazis? That certainly takes some talent. When you are rooting for the Nazis -- the movie may have a problem. And this movie has a problem. As funny as it is, and there are some other sort of references they make that are sort of funny, but it's sort of stupid when it just comes down to it. I wish there were a better adjective to use, but stupid is all that really comes to mind.
Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)
I will just say in case "SPOILERS WITHIN" -- it's hard to describe the documentary without describing it in some detail, so I'd urge anyone to see it before reading anything about it. Go in open minded. So beware of SPOILERS.
I would only say this movie is unfortunate insofar as Michael Moore made it. There is an extremely important message or rather perhaps story behind it. As to how the economy became what it is, or was, in late 2008 through (now) 2010.
Michael Moore is so left wing, some of the things he's troweling out are untrue or mangled versions of the truth. But there are some very true things going on here as well. It's unfortunate because one can dismiss this documentary as junk left-wing Michael Moore trash, and it's understandable since Michael Moore has made so much of that sort of trash.
This is sort of different. An interesting part is that it's entirely bipartisan in its criticism of the financial sector. Blistering criticism to be sure. He attacks Democrats as well as Republicans -- Robert Rubin, Christopher Dodd, the Clinton Administration, and it goes on. Of course the very far left folks like Dennis Kucinich, Bernie Sander (self described Democratic Socialist) and Marcy Kaptur come off quite nicely, but that is to be expected in a Moore movie. He even manages to crowbar in a reference to the Iraq war from 2002 -- a stretch to say the least.
At one point, among his clownish behavior, Michael Moore prompts Marcy Kaptur into agreeing with his characterization of the TARP bill as a "financial coup d'etat." Which is sort of stupid. Even if you are against the TARP bailout, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan votes, it's not that.
When a movie characterizes events in such extreme terms, the real truth may be overlooked because the extremity is so easy to dismiss. Hence the unfortunate part. To be fair, Moore didn't just follow the rather inane tactic of "blame Bush first, last, and always, for anything and everything." A tactic which over time will become clear that it as silly as it is. He points fingers all over the place, many well placed, though his conclusions are not so well placed.
It really is too bad, that this very important story of the meltdown of the U.S. economy related to sub-prime and Alt-A mortgages, and the practices of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and other financial institutions, is being told by Moore, who very much likes himself so much, it gets in the way of telling it.
Having just seen it, I don't think he even mentions mortgage-backed securities (MBS), an extremely important part of the story.
There's a weepy part when a family can't repay the loan they made on their house so it was foreclosed upon. A distressingly common thing happening in 2009 and 2010. But it lacks the basic understanding that banks don't want houses, they want people to pay their mortgages on loans that they were given. And I hate banks to be quite frank, but it's true.
VERY MUCH A SPOILER: Almost at the end, Michael Moore says one of the most stupid things I've ever heard in a movie: "Capitalism is an evil, and you cannot regulate evil." The very system of economics that allowed him to make this unfortunate movie.
No End in Sight (2007)
Mixed -- but ultimately one sided.
I have a lot of opinions on this work, so I will start out with SPOILERS WITHIN. Hard to have a spoiler when most of what this documentary is just a retread of things anyone who's literate has read before. Having been made in 2007, in 2010, the end is clearly in sight, so it lacks critical information.
There's a saying about World War I and World War II, "Same war, different chapters." (Churchill?) The First and Second Persian Gulf War, in my view, can be said of the same. This documentary doesn't really address that, which is okay, but it pretends to.
In the very first part of the movie it gives a "history" of the Iraq Conflict. It starts with Hussein as a dictator attacking Iran. Which is fine, but woefully insufficient. If they wanted to have a serious history, they should have at least gone back to the end of the First World War, when the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, who controlled the territory that is now Iraq, had lost and the Allies, notably the British, tried to figure out what to do with it.
What ultimately happened was the creation of a makeshift nation, somehow named Iraq, with all kinds of disparate religious, ethnic, tribal, clan allegiances all at odds with each other in the same country. And that a minority religious group (the Islamic Sunnis) dominated everyone else (hinted at but not really explored).
This mess of a country was held together by Hussein, ultimately, as a brutal dictator -- which is sort of addressed, but the makers of the documentary are much more interested in attacking the Bush Administration and its interest in getting rid of him and his genocidal tendencies. And it somehow make mention that the U.S. gave Hussein economic support in his war against Iran, which is hardly supported since he was getting tons of money and loans from the Kuwaitis and Saudis to buy weapons from the Soviets and the French. And also ignores the basic view of he U.S. government explicitly stated by Henry Kissinger (in private sector at the time) "It's too bad they can't both lose." Certainly the one thing the documentary gets right, I think many people agree, is the lack of planning for a post-Second Persian Gulf War. And an enormous repercussion from that lack of planning, and the decisions that followed.
But then, it ridicules President Bush for avoiding military service in Vietnam by joining the National Guard (ironically a significant presence in the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan). Of course they fail to mention that Woodrow Wilson (WWI) and FDR (WWII) had never served in the military, and hardly in combat, and Abraham Lincoln (Civil War) had only had a cursory service in a skirmish against some Indians. All three wartime presidents.
Perhaps the most trenchant and important part of the movie is the identification of three mistakes that were made by the post-war controller of Iraq -- Paul Bremer. Stopping an interim Iraqi government, de-baathification, and disbanding the security forces of Iraq (the last being the most egregious). A similarly accurate observation is the lack of post-war American forces ability to control all the munitions that were all around Iraq -- again, I think something that is commonly agreed on.
Then again there are some blatant falsehoods, or perhaps inexcusable ignorance. One that is very clear: "Only one in eight Humvees in Iraq had adequate armor." Humvees were never supposed to be armored vehicles. Anyone who know anything about the U.S. military knows that the Humvee was a replacement for the Jeep. Only some of them were equipped with armor from the beginning. Humvees were just a vehicle to move around in, not to fight in with armor. There is no question that shortsightedness led to casualties because no one realized that the humvees would be vulnerable to insurgent attack. MRAPs, the more blast resistant vehicles were far too late in coming.
These are just some basic observations about the documentary -- it highlights the transgressions, such as they might have been, by the U.S. military, but it fundamentally avoids, or omits the question: What was life like before Hussein being deposed, or life afterward? It mentions nothing of the repression on a day to day basis before Americans came. It mentions nothing of the opening of the society -- internet, freedoms, day to day ability to move around, or even avoiding the sociopaths that were Hussein's sons.
And even more so, when the American run prison was to be turned over to the the Iraqis, the prisoners therein implored the Americans to take them with them. There were communications to people that if soldiers came to their door, before answering, make sure there was an American soldier with them to be careful.
And even now, as Americans are leaving the country, now Iraqis are lamenting the exit.
I think someone should ask -- whether it was worth it or not, that's a very good question -- but in 2010, do Iraqis or Americans, or anyone else, really want a vicious dictator like Hussein back again? This documentary seems to leave that question open.
12 Angry Men (1957)
great movie, but ...
I can't add much to the laudatory admiration for this movie -- I share it. A wonderful example of bare, minimal drama, based on plot and acting and characters. I think it was almost without exception a wonderfully performed movie -- Henry Fonda, Jack Klugman, all the jurors.
Here comes the only thing I think I disagree about with others who think as I do that this is a wonderful movie. I think they were wrong.
It may very well be an aside as to what the jurors were really talking about, but to me, it was very important. And Henry Fonda made, again to me, some pretty poor arguments that were to overcome the evidence that was pretty indicative that the boy did in fact kill his father.
Just as an objective look at the arguments being made, beyond the wonderful drama, the boy was guilty from all facts that were presented. Perhaps that may be the only flaw, but a fundamental one, in this very exceptional movie.