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72 reviews in total 
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4 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
An enigma, beautifully rendered, 26 November 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The movie takes us into the slums of Morocco and follows a young man, Hamid, as he experiences life under rather abominable conditions. He struggles to make sense of his life and to make a little money for his family. He sells oranges on the street and is harassed and driven out by thugs who want a split of his profits. He goes to work for an abusive, alcoholic mechanic while his drug dealing brother goes to jail. When not working Hamid and his friends sit around smoking dope. He like a local girl, but the chance of ever getting her are little better than zero. The entire ambiance of the slum is beautifully rendered, you feel you're really there with the dust and the heat and the feeling of hopelessness. His brother comes back from jail a changed man. He has become a Serious Muslim.

Hamid, is recruited by Muslims into their group. At first he's skeptical, but because they help him out of a serious jam, and because they represent discipline and friendship he is gradually won over to their cause. You can see clearly the attraction of these Muslim fellowships for young guys who have little hope in the slums. To this point everything is perfectly clear. You understand the Hanid's motivations. He finds a home among the strict, observant Muslims. Of course there's a lot of extremist propaganda too, served along with the camaraderie. They show videos of Osama bin Laden and jihadis training for jihad.

But at this point in the film we experience a sudden and bizarre turn of events. Well, not so surprising considering we know that such things occur too often in the real world, but bizarre and sudden in terms of the psychology of the characters. A handful, including Hamid, are chosen to become suicide bombers and they go willingly and without question to their deaths. This is of course the enigma of the suicide bomber. No other religion encourages their followers to blow themselves up for religious reasons. There is something intensely insane in the way Islam is practiced in those countries.

The young men are being asked to blow up bars and nightclubs frequented by Europeans in order to kill innocent civilians. The fact that the Europeans have nothing to do with the conditions they have to live under in the slums, or that killing them could have any practical effect on improving conditions, is never considered by either the guys who give the orders or by the selected bombers themselves. Obviously the situation of the suicide bombers is not at all like the Kamikazes, who sacrificed themselves in a battle where their deaths could make an actual difference. Perhaps these young men actually believe that they'll go to Paradise and have lots of girlfriends. Perhaps their material and cultural context is so impoverished they come to prefer life over death.

The movie does not take sides in this. It is a crazy situation for which, ultimately, there is no explanation. Without flinching or editorializing the film just shows what actually happens and it is up to up to make sense of it. Or no sense. Since it makes no sense we are left with the enigma.

Kill List (2011)
2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Violent, incomprehensible and pointless., 28 August 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I don't like movies like this because they create an alternate world but fail in the end to explain anything about it. We are treated to multiple scenes of graphic violence, as if the movie was little more than an excuse for a sort of Roman games where there is no moral center and nobody to identify with, only the thrill of the hunt and the takedown. Jay and Gal are two professional hit men. They appear to have credible home lives, but are called out by a shadowy character to perform a job: to kill several people. We don't know anything about the shadowy character or the shadowy organization he works for or the reason for the assassinations. Jay and Gal are just doing what they're told. The scenes are well played, the action and suspense are beautifully done. But to what purpose?

We are invited into a world which cannot possibly be the one we live in. It's like the imaginary dream world of a supernatural horror flick in which we have to take a huge leap of willing suspension of disbelief to enjoy. But in those movies we are prepped for the leap. In this we are supposed to be convinced of the reality of the situation by an intense and unwelcome intimacy with the hit men's emotional problems and family relations. But we have no one to root for, no sense of right or wrong. In the end we don't know any more than when we started about the who or why. This film is nothing but an exercise in nihilism and voyeuristic violence for its own sake.

People who liked this film and reviewed it here chide the negative reviewers for not understanding such a thought-provoking work of art. That's nonsense. The more you think about "Kill List" the less you understand about it.

1 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Desecration of a wonderful series, 21 August 2014

This episode is not only bad in itself but it's worse because it's a part of what was once a wonderful mystery series. It is, in fact, a desecration. I never liked Dudgeon as a replacement for John Nettles. Dudgeon is wooden and humorless. In an older Midsomer he played a surly, shifty gardener. He was perfect for that role. But even he could have made a believable detective if the writing was up to par. Unfortunately it's not, it's banal. The dialog is bland, the motives of the characters are bizarre and unbelievable and the plot is predictable and melodramatic. Midsomer is a darker, more depressing place now.

'Midsomer Murders' worked because of its subtle humor. Odd motives, strange methods of homicide and barely hidden passions among respectable, self-absorbed villagers were just part of the fun because the entire series was based on its dark humor, a beautifully crafted send-up. Without the humor the motives of the killer and other characters seem just convoluted and creepy. The solution looks to be pulled out of a hat since there's insufficient preparation for it in preceding scenes. The final rescue is prolongued, preposterous, and overwrought. And there's a sappy love story tacked on which is too contrived to be heart warming.

Brian True-May is gone, taken down by nasty elements of the PC thought police. His absence is sincerely felt. How much that effects the quality of recent episodes I don't know, but it can't help. This episode is practically unwatchable. Don't bother.

7 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
The Hysterical Detective, 1 August 2014

The cops in this British drama don't act like professional policemen but more like mentally deranged teenagers with anger management issues. The main character, DI Thorne (David Morrissey), is not in control of his emotions. His volatility and rage seem to infect the other members of the cast so that in total what we have here is a virtual feeding frenzy of scenery chewing. Cops yell at other cops and cops and medical doctors yell at each other. In one scene one character becomes enraged and punches another character repeatedly in the face for no reason that was apparent to me. DI Thorne seems to believe that he can communicate with a woman in a vegetative state by shouting at her. Other times he seems depressed and on the verge of suicide. The plot is senseless and contrived. Nobody appears to behave rationally. A woman doctor, when she finds out that her daughter has been kidnapped, just freaks out and starts screaming uncontrollably and Thorne freaks out too, running around like a chicken with its head cut off. So who's minding the store?

I don't generally like procedurals that feature serial killers, and especially serial killers with weird and perverted MOs, and especially serial killers who have an obsession with the primary investigator, sending him taunting messages. These are tired, boring clichés. That's my prejudice. But I must admit that genre could be done well in the right hands. This one is just awful. Don't waste your time.

Jumped the shark?, 7 June 2014

My wife and I have been great fans of this program in the past. I've seen 4 episodes in the 2013 season and they're nowhere near the quality of New Tricks' best years. The 4 episodes play on Brian being phased out of the series and try to wring as much emotion as possible from this and other situations. Sandra verbally abuses Brian unmercifully in one of these episodes, which, since we're sympathetic to Brian and his problems seems like overkill. Many scenes are played like a soap opera. There's way too much yelling and emotional exaggeration. Somehow the gentle humor of the original team is replaced with a lot of awkward moments and drawn-out tearful reflections. When we watch mysteries we're mainly interested in solving the mysteries and the personal lives of the team should add to the story, not detract from it. I'd say that the writing just isn't up to par, though I also appreciate the difficulties of creating a show with the chemistry of the original cast disrupted by changing personnel. I'd just say the show is past its prime.

Vitality (2012)
2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Being half right is not enough, 2 June 2014

"Vitality" is apparently a vehicle for a variety of alternative healers (i.e. quacks) who want to be taken for legitimate physicians. Their cover story is a sermon about the importance of exercise, diet and sufficient sleep as the basis for a healthy life. As far as that goes, that's good advice, and advice that no actual MD would be hesitant to give. A large part of our health care costs are from treating people whose lifestyles are unhealthy and sometimes very unhealthy. This is where "Vitality" gets it right. If people would start getting enough exercise, stop smoking, and drinking excessive amounts alcohol our health care costs would plummet. If this film would encourage people to live healthy lifestyles that's a good thing.

The problem comes from the stated and implied ideology that underlies the good advice: the bias against Western scientific medicine and false claims that Western medicine 'treats only the symptoms' of disease and strives to get patients hooked on pills. On the contrary, scientific, or evidence-based, medicine is focused on finding and treating the cause of illness, not treating symptoms. And no real doctor would encourage his patients to live an unhealthy lifestyle.

This documentary features interviews with a variety practitioners of superstition and magic: naturopaths, chiropractors, acupuncturists and 'natural healers'. You hear the word "allopath" used to describe regular doctors, a term invented by homeopaths and used to denigrate medical doctors. They talk about "energy fields" as being the basis of health and disease, a wooly and mystical concept that has no meaning in the real world. Those 'natural healers' promote diet and exercise as cover but in fact they see clients and presume to treat specific illnesses with what is little more than snake oil and incantations. While charging Western medicine with being about the money, alternative healers often manage to fleece their clients out of lots of it. Worthless treatments and supplements can be very expensive, often prescribed to treat imaginary illnesses such as toxic plaques in the bowels or psychosomatic infestations. What these quacks are promoting is the idea that people trained in magical systems be taken to be on an equal footing with actual doctors who went to medical school. If that ever were to happen I fear for the quality of medical care in America.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
The Terrorists Next Door, 18 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I can't believe that the competent actors in this movie agreed to play in it. It is an awful example of 'the spies next door' genre, which Hitchcock pioneered more than half a century ago. In order to explain how bad it is I have to give a few spoilers. But it is so bad I have no fear that spoilers would ruin anybody's fun. This movie isn't fun on any level.

A middle class husband Michael (Bridges) and wife who live in a neat upscale neighborhood are befriended by a seemingly normal family from across the street. But they're not any normal family, they are right-wing militia cultists who have planned a starring role for for the unsuspecting and mentally unbalanced Michael. He is going to be the fall guy when they blow up the FBI building in Washington D.C. They also intend to take his children and turn them into little anti-government cultists as well. This movie was made before 911 and the Oklahoma City bombing was still on people's minds. At the time it was possible to imagine that there were other anti-government fanatics out there who might want to do further damage for their cause. As is usual for the genre we're given a shadowy secret organization which appears to have unlimited resources and omniscience. The plot is fanciful and preposterous. Only if Michael plays his part perfectly per the terrorist's script can the plot succeed. Bridges plays Michael as an overwrought nincompoop who falls for every trick and bait the bad guys plan for him. He is, in other words, the perfect patsy.

Raymond Chandler was once asked to write a script for "Strangers on a Train" and he observed later that writing "Strangers" was very hard because the plot was absurd you had to work very hard to make the audience believe it. Hitchcock could make his audiences believe in some pretty absurd things, in part because Hitchcock never lost his sense of humor. You always had the sense in his movies that all this intrigue and cloak and dagger was a great bit of fun, playing on the viewers paranoia, but not to be taken seriously. With Hitchcock the good guy always wins through luck and pluck and the paranoia is dispersed in the end.

But in Arlington Road the paranoia is played as if it's real. When the bad guys win in the end you wonder if the filmmakers are taking it all too seriously. Did they really want people to believe that there are militia cults out there pretending to be average citizens so they can blow up buildings and indoctrinate their neighbor's children? Bridges plays Michael as a jerk with anger control issues so we don't care about him, he is not our hero against the forces of darkness but a shill who seems to get what he deserves when he's arrested for a crime he didn't commit. There are huge holes in the plot and the cult family is one-dimensional, almost as if they were alien robots. It is impossible to imagine real people behaving the way people behave in this disaster of a film. The movie may make some susceptible people feel paranoid of their neighbors, but in the category of entertainment it's a total flop.

After 9/11 we realize that we have far more to fear from Muslim extremists than from home grown militias. The militias were a useful straw man when AR was made, but are unbelievable today. But even if the bad guys were halfway believable this is a very, very bad movie. Run away!

1 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Why was this film made?, 11 May 2014

This relatively short film is about the consequences of texting and driving and a warning for viewers to not to do it. Herzog has considerable skill in interviewing and assembling the interviews in order to make a point or create a narrative. We can see his artistry here, but we're left wondering: what is it all about, really? Both victims and perpetrators of texting and driving accidents are interviewed. Of course it's what you'd expect: descriptions of the carnage, devastated families and offenders who have to live with guilt for the rest of their lives. These are the kind of scenes that are played out in any fatal accident, no matter what the cause. And except for the particular reason for driver distraction, in this case texting, they are generic to all bad accidents. This exercise in persuasion is powerful, moving, and pointless. Why? Because anyone dumb enough to text and drive wouldn't be watching a Werner Herzog film to get pointers on driver ed. Telling a person not to text and drive is like telling him not to stick his hand in a wood chipper while it's running. You don't warn people like that about the dangers of doing something anyone with half a brain would know from the start not to do, you don't let them drive in the first place.

11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
A dark, heartless, but eye-opening film., 4 April 2014

Every American should see this film, even though I think the 'values' it expresses are downright evil. People should see it just to be warned about this disease of violence and murder that is metastasizing on our southern border. As documentary cinema it's pretty good; it follows certain characters who have an intimate involvement of the drug culture and drug trade. There is no narration, just interviews with essentially two main players: one a Mexican CSI investigator, and the other a morally ambiguous songwriter who specializes in 'narcocorridos', songs about the Mexican drug trade and the carnage that goes with it.

Narcocorridos exploit sensational stories of murder and violence, naming real events, real drug lords and real victims, and generally casting them in a heroic aura which is far better than these criminal scumbags deserve. Corridos, songs which tell stories, are a venerable tradition in Mexican folk music. Traditionally they have a sweet, lyrical quality, telling tales of Pancho Villa or the revenge of jilted lovers and the exploits of famous bandits. Of late the corrido has taken a darker turn, celebrating the nihilistic deeds and deaths of narcotraficantes and in general glorifying and promoting the culture of trafficking and murder. For this reason narcocorridos have been banned in Mexico as an incitement to violence. And, unavoidably, since the songs often name players, dates and locations the bands themselves become partisans in the drug wars and have become too often the victims of the mayhem they celebrate. The songwriter interviewed in this documentary lives in California and makes his money off the public's fascination with the horrors of the drug trade. His band features, along with the traditional instruments like tuba and accordion, a bazooka, which is shown but not, we must hope, played on stage. Gone are the bittersweet sounds of Los Alegres de Teran or even Los Cadetes de Linares and instead we have musicians with attitude. They seem to be really good musicians but their music is drowned out by the attitude.

On the other hand, we also follow a young policeman whose job is to collect forensic evidence from crime scenes after the shootouts between rival gangs. This often involves severed body parts strewn conspicuously about the neighborhood as a message to the other guys. It's an awful, thankless, job because few of the murders are solved and the corruption of the Mexican authorities is epic. He is careful, dedicated and in danger. Policemen in the northern states are killed on a regular basis. This fellow represents the best of Mexican manhood, unlike the locos you see posing with their pistols and their AKs. You get to see what he's up against. He is the real hero, but is anybody going to write a corrido about him?

The problem with the drug culture is that is isn't actually a culture, with its traditional values. It is instead the absence of values, the absence of culture, a black hole that threatens to swallow light itself. Santa Muerte is not a real saint. She is the anti-saint. Near the end we see an entire cemetery where the rich drug dealers go when they die (seldom of natural causes). Each mausoleum is like a big ornate church with domes and cupolas and there looks to be a whole city of them. And the windows are glazed with bulletproof glass. The drug culture becomes a parody of itself.

The Attack (2012)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A fictional account, 25 March 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a good film, perhaps a very good film. It held my attention and I found myself being drawn into the streets of Tel Aviv, and then into the more gritty streets of Nablus. It's beautifully photographed. We hear so much about the conflict and see grainy photos of war and tragedy but this movie gives the feeling of what it's actually like to live there.

The drama, however, is a different matter. It is so obviously fiction that we feel manipulated by a story that is artificial and made up to expound a particular point of view. That this point of view is neither partisan to the Israeli nor the Palestinian side of the conflict is a good thing, but in it's evenhandedness it seems too contrived to be believable. Amin is an Arab doctor in a Tel Aviv hospital who must treat the victims of a suicide bomber. Turns out the bomber is his loving wife who he never suspected was a terrorist. It is not believable that the wife, a Christian, would blow herself up out of sympathy for the Palestinian cause, (there have never been any Christian suicide bombers as far as I know), it is not believable that the husband would not suspect that the wife was faking her love for him all that time in order to be a sleeper agent for Muslim terrorists inside Israel. The plot is contrived to bring maximum pain and confusion to the husband so he can be a sort of existential symbol of the contradictions of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. He is a straw man, made to witness his wife's betrayal and see first hand the horrific results of her insane act merely so we can philosophize about the pity of war. Obviously, the wife was incapable of seeing that what she did could only make matters worse for the Palestinians. In fact, all the oppression the Palestinians complain so much about is a result of Israel having to defend itself against suicide bombers. This point isn't really mentioned in the movie, which is a serious oversight.

When he finally realizes that the perpetrator of this heinous act was his beautiful wife, Amin vows to find out why she did it. He goes to Nablus where he grew up and where he hopes to find clues to her motivations. Once he sets foot in Nablus we instantly feel we're in crazy town. His wife's picture is on the walls and people are praising her act. Because she is so obviously a fictional character meant to evoke a certain emotion from the audience, she cannot be said to have any real motivation. We are supposed to conclude that she felt such sympathy for the Palestinians that it deranged her, but the film lets us down because it doesn't give any emotional correlative to her state of mind. Amin meditates on a pile of rubble where a fictional massacre was said to have taken place, but there's no feeling of the impact that scene could have had on his wife. The movie is subtle and evocative, but basically false.

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