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Everyone seems to be mad at this movie because everyone who talks about
it comes to it with a strong opinion about Julian Assange, and they
wanted the film to depict him as a savior or a monster. I didn't have
those preconceptions and I enjoyed the film from the opening title
sequence. That sequence depicts hands carving hieroglyphics in Ancient
Egypt, illuminated manuscripts, the first printing press, newspapers,
computers the myriad ways humans communicate. It's a title sequence
Frank Capra would love.
I found "The Fifth Estate" intriguing, fun, and moving. Benedict Cumberbatch is very good as Assange. The movie wants you to be impressed by him at first, but slowly to see his feet of clay, and Cumberbatch does that job. Daniel Bruhl plays Daniel Domscheit Berg, Assange's partner. Bruhl expresses disappointed hero worship very well. Assange is invited to Berg's home for dinner, and he disrespects Berg's polite parents. That intimate, believable scene makes you hate Assange in a way that his secret-releasing shenanigans might not.
"The Fifth Estate" struggles, as all computer-related films do, to depict life on a computer. It creates a fake office with the sky as ceiling where Assange's "volunteers" work. Assange describes his submission process at Wikileaks and pages appear on screen. These visual flourishes are fun.
The movie is interesting and fast-moving but not very deep. There are very big questions at play here and "The Fifth Estate" does not engage them deeply. Laura Linney plays Sarah, an American agent whose contact, Tarek, is endangered by Assange's revelations. There is some tension as Tarek flees Libya. Will he get out before Assange outs him, or will he and his family be captured and perhaps tortured by their oppressive government?
Perhaps if "The Fifth Estate" had been more art than docudrama it could have gone deeper. Imagine a conversation between Sarah and Assange. One could argue for the importance, both strategic and humanitarian, of state secrets, and the other could argue against. Other questions aren't secrets inevitable? Accept it: there is stuff you are simply never going to know.
And, in the end, what difference did Assange make? The US is still in Afghanistan. Guantanamo still operates. People will pay more attention to Miley Cyrus twerking than to documents about torture in a Third World nation. Someone said once of the Cambodian genocide that no one will ever read all the documents the Khmer Rouge amassed. No one cares enough to do so.
Laura Linney is every bit the actor that Benedict Cumberbatch is. I'd love to have heard these two characters have this conversation.
"Captain Phillips" is an excellent action-adventure film. It is
riveting, suspenseful, exciting, and very well-made. There are no off
moments; no built-in "bathroom breaks." Somali pirates capturing an
American ship off the Horn of Africa is a timely and fraught topic.
The film's verisimilitude is so powerful at times I really did drift into thinking that I was watching a documentary. There's a lot of money up on the screen: cargo vessels, beat-up pirate skiffs, ports, open ocean, Navy warships. Even so it was the performances and the pacing that kept my eyes glued to the screen. I found every last character so well played and gripping, right down to the medic who appears toward the end, that I wondered if Director Paul Greenglass had not hired real corpsmen, or real pirates.
Sound is used masterfully. Loud, pulsing music suddenly stops at key moments. Yeah, it's an old trick, but it works especially well here.
This is the kind of film I am grateful to have seen in a theater, and I am eager to recommend to friends. Even though action-adventure is not my genre, I'd re-watch this film, and that is high praise.
This film is so consistently excellent that one must ask why it doesn't raise to the level of a ten-out-of-ten star film. "Captain Phillips" touches on some of the biggest issues of our times: the collision between the First World and the Third World, poverty in Africa, jihad. "Captain Phillips" assiduously avoids addressing any of these issues.
From this film, viewers would never know that the millions of dollars in ship ransom that pirates claim goes to al-Shabaab, the terrorist group that attacked a mall in Kenya. Muse (Barkhad Abdi) offers rationalizations for piracy: Western nations stole Somalia's fish, and piracy is the "tax" for that. Pirates made millions of dollars through piracy. Those millions were not pocketed by the pirates themselves, who work for others. No reference is made to Somalis, in 1993, dragging an American soldier through Mogadishu's streets. Americans were attempting to help Somalis after a famine.
Phillips does mention that his ship, waylaid by pirates, was carrying food aid for hungry Africans.
None of this is gone into in any detail in the script, and it could have been.
Rather, the First World - Third World clash, and the clash of civilizations and religions is communicated solely through images, and, in the absence of a complex script, the images speak very loudly.
Somalia is depicted as a dusty, dry, hellhole. Somalis are depicted as chaotic, unproductive, violent, angry, greedy, and lawless. Somalis are dressed in discarded Western clothing and plastic sandals, or simply barefoot. They live in huts. They only things they possess that give them any power is the guns that they got from Westerners. Somalis hold life cheaply and are ready to kill and die.
Americans are depicted as orderly, disciplined, skilled, courageous, and productive. Americans devote massive amounts of money to saving one life.
When the Somali pirates manage to get their ladder against the Maersk Alabama, the image suggests the pirates as invasive parasites attempting to assault a larger, more successful organism. Whereas the Westerners have built a civilization that creates ships and commerce, the Somalis have created only violence, chaos and greed. They must take guns that they themselves can't manufacture and invade more productive peoples in order to survive. It's an ugly picture, and I can completely understand if Somalis are enraged by this film.
Andrew O'Hehir, Salon's film critic, apparently was enraged by the film, and he lambasted it. It was distressing to O'Hehir to watch "corn-fed, gym-toned" Americans struggle against "malnourished" Africans. That the thin Africans were holding guns to the heads of the Americans did not disturb him. O'Hehir calls the film "unpleasant and uncomfortable." He hated watching American military rescue an American hostage. What a sick dude, you want to say. But his view is all too common.
I greatly enjoyed this movie. It could have been an all-time classic if the script had offered some insight into the issues the images depicted.
"Prisoners" 2013 Fine Performances, Evocative Direction, Screwball
I wanted to see "Prisoners" after I saw the trailer. Alas, the trailer contains all the best parts of the movie. Suburban parents celebrating Thanksgiving slowly come to realize that their two daughters are missing. The trailer featured quiet, dark scenes of increasing menace and despair, shot in realistic, autumnal, suburban settings. The trailer promised big, big stars: Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello as one set of parents and Viola Davis and Terence Howard as the other, Jake Gyllenhaal as the police detective, Paul Dano as the suspect and Melissa Leo as the suspect's adoptive parent. The trailer promised an intelligent thriller that would interrogate how far an ethical person could go in attempting to rescue his daughter from an abductor. The trailer also seemed to suggest an examination of how law enforcement responds, for better or worse, in child abduction cases.
The first twenty minutes of "Prisoners" delivered what I'd hoped for based on the trailer, but I was hyper-aware that I was watching scene after scene I'd already seen in the trailer.
Around the time that an unlikely body was found in an unlikely spot, and a fist met a face several times more than was necessary to make any point, but certainly enough times to satisfy a film-goer's sick, sadistic bloodlust, the movie went off the rails for me, abandoned all its seriousness and intelligence, and became sensational gore and commercial pap. I was so let down I wanted to leave the theater, but I stayed because I'd roped two friends into seeing this with me.
"Prisoners" is a whodunit so there's a limit to what I can say without revealing any spoilers. I can say this. Jake Gyllenhaal powerfully performs a dedicated police detective. Hugh Jackman exercises his neck veins a lot, and his American accent is wobbly but okay. Terence Howard, Viola Davis, and Maria Bello are given criminally little to do. Viola Davis has one of the most interesting scenes in the movie. This scene is only a minute or two long and it is not developed at all. That is a shame because the scene is the moral crux of the film. And the film does nothing with it; the filmmakers went with implausible sensationalism and sadism rather than substance. Paul Dano, as the suspect, and Melissa Leo, as his adoptive mother, both give powerhouse performances in very challenging roles.
Denis Villeneuve's direction is flawless. He avoids explosive stunts and theatrics with his camera. His moves are slow and quiet, even while filming ugly violence. I'd like to see his work on a better script.
There are many attempts to make the movie deeper than it is. There are many scenes initially shot through dirty glass. "Through a glass darkly" is a line from the Bible. Ooo big symbolism. Wow. There are many crosses, including one hanging from the rearview mirror in Keller Hugh Jackman's truck. Wow. Heavy. I just may think something no, I'd rather watch snakes. Oh, yes. There are snakes. Some understand Satan as taking snake form in Genesis. Heavy. Profound! Yeah, not really. Just bizarrely implausible. There are strange character names. Hugh Jackman's first name is "Keller" which brings to mind the blind and deaf Helen Keller, or maybe the word "Killer." Jake Gyllenhaal is Detective Loki. Loki is the trickster God of Norse mythology. This is all pretty high school.
There are two scenes and one character treatment in this film that I found completely implausible. The two scenes are essential to the plot. I can't describe these two scenes but I can say that one is utterly implausible because of surveillance. The action of the film takes place within hours and days of a child abduction. Not only police, but also media and neighbors would be keeping an eagle eye on all suspects. Another scene is implausible because it demands that we forget everything we've been told about a key character. One character treatment is unbelievable to me because a very unlikely character is depicted as being as heroic, in his way, as John McCain. Not plausible. I also found the final resolution of the crime to be something that would only occur in a writer's imagination, and the ending to be pointlessly cute.
Again, the opening scenes of the dawning awareness that a child has been abducted are powerful, but the film totally lost me with its comic book sensationalism, sadism, and I have to say it stupidity.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Blue Jasmine"'s ineptitude angered and offended me. Moviegoers deserve
better than this amateurish botch. This review reveals key plot points.
Don't read this review if you don't want to know what happens. Let's
face it, though, not a lot happens in "Blue Jasmine." What does happen
on screen is devoid of artistic truth, verisimilitude, insight or
Jasmine (Cate Blanchett) is the beautiful widow of Hal Francis, a Bernie-Madoff like corrupt wheeler-dealer. The FBI has caught up with Hal and arrested him. He commits suicide in prison. Jasmine travels from NYC to San Francisco to live with her sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins). Ginger used to be married to Augie (Andrew Dice Clay) but Ginger is currently involved with Chili (Bobby Cannavale.)
Jasmine tries to make a go of it. There is some tension as she is living in her sister's apartment. Jasmine gets a job, meets a man, and studies interior decorating. Things go badly and the movie ends exactly as it begins: with Jasmine talking to herself.
And that's it. That's the entire waste-of-your-time movie.
The premise is tremendous: how the wife of a Bernie-Madoff style wheeler dealer copes with her sudden stratospheric loss of income and prestige. Does she sink or swim? Is she redeemed or doomed? "Blue Jasmine" does nothing with those fascinating questions. Things are at the end of the movie exactly as they were at the beginning.
Woody Allen wrote a lifeless, inept script.
Allen tosses one potential plot element into the film after another: the aforementioned loss of money and status, mental illness, abusive relationships, adultery, prescription drugs, class relations, sister relationships, adoption, step parenting, sexual harassment at the workplace. Then Allen does absolutely nothing with any of these.
We see Hal kissing women not his wife. We see Augie talking to Hal about money. We see working class people drinking beer and watching sports on TV. None of this goes anywhere. It's all just aborted, disjointed scenes with zero verisimilitude; hollow scenes that arouse not one whit of care or involvement. I didn't believe anything in this movie. Every character's dialogue sounds so similar that I was painfully aware that it was not real people's speech, but words written by Woody Allen. Events occur with no believability.
Jasmine drops a dime on Hal as soon as he tells her that he wants to leave her for another woman. A con artist of Hal's magnitude would not do something so naïve as to tell his wife, who knows of his financial misdeeds, that he is going to dump her. She would obviously get revenge the only way she can by immediately phoning the FBI.
Ginger is a two dimensional character. No reason is given for her to do anything she does, including taking in Jasmine. Jasmine had been rude to her earlier in the film, and Ginger is not a particularly nice person. The movie takes pains to tell us that Jasmine and Ginger were adopted, and this information serves no point whatsoever. There's no reason for Ginger to have two men: Augie and Chili are virtually the same character. Jasmine has a step son; there's no reason for him not to be her real son.
The movie tells us that Jasmine is on edge, alone and without resources. The movie lies; in other scenes, the movie tells us that Jasmine is utterly irresistible to men. Every man she meets wants to make love to her, date her, and marry her. Surely one of Hal's friends, as soon as Hal went to prison, would have scooped up luscious Jasmine, and Jasmine would have accepted.
The movie tells us that Jasmine is the kind of resourceful woman who can be born poor and marry one of the richest men in the country. How did that change and how did Jasmine become a pathetic basket case? It's just not believable.
A diplomat proposes marriage to Jasmine after dating her for about fifteen minutes. Not believable. Then he immediately cancels the engagement because Jasmine is not what he had thought. Also not believable.
It's impossible to care about any of the characters in the film, from the smarmy dentist to the diplomat who proposes to Jasmine, not just because none of them are nice or even rational people, but because they are boring, two dimensional, and lifeless.
Cate Blanchett's performance is excellent. I did get sick of the tic Allen had her, or allowed her, to perform over and over: shaking Xanax tablets out of a brown prescription bottle into her hand and swallowing them down, followed by a swig of vodka. This gesture was repeated so many times it became stale. Yes, yes, we get it Jasmine is a nervous wreck.
This movie bugs me because it is so amazingly badly made. The most basic manual on how to construct a plot or develop a character would have steered Allen away from the choices he made. I'm angry that reviewers gave his mess a thumb's up. It's troubling that there are gifted scriptwriters out there who can't get produced while Allen's big name lures filmgoers.
There's a scene about halfway through Lee Daniel's "The Butler" that is
African-American White House butler Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker) asks his boss, Mr. Warner, for equal pay for African American staff. They are paid less than white staff, he complains. The audience has been watching Cecil Gaines for a while now, and we know he is an admirable man. He certainly deserves equal pay.
Warner tells Gaines that if he is not happy with his salary, he can go work someplace else.
Gaines is trapped in an invisible prison of white supremacy, and he knows it. Whitaker's face shows all the agony of that moment. He quietly leaves Warner's office.
Forest Whitaker is utterly brilliant in this scene, as he is in the rest of this choppy, heavy-handed, misguided film.
That scene is worth the entire rest of the film "The Butler." That scene has everything the rest of the film lacks: subtlety, intelligence, and faith in its audience.
Otherwise, "The Butler" is Civil Rights for Dummies plus an overload of stunt casting.
"The Butler" tells the story of Cecil Gaines, an African American White House butler. The movie tells us it wants us to pay attention to this humble, working class man. The movie depicts none other than Martin Luther King Jr, right before his assassination, delivering a speech on the importance of domestic workers.
But the movie belies its own message. "The Butler" doesn't have faith in its audience. It believes that we won't pay attention to this humble, admirable butler. So the film dumps one big Hollywood star and tabloid celebrity after another in small roles, and the film beats us over the head with a dumbed-down, sensationalized, hate-whitey version of Civil Rights.
Stunt casting: Mariah Carey is on screen for about two minutes as Cecil's mother, and Vanessa Redgrave is on screen for about three minutes as his first employer. The casting of the presidents Cecil worked for is flagrantly weird. It's as if the movie wants to set the audience abuzz over why this or that actor was chosen. John Cusak as Richard Nixon? Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan?? Robin Williams as Dwight Eisenhower??? Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan???? Did the people who cast this film take any of it seriously? James Marsden, though, is fine as JFK.
Oprah Winfrey plays Cecil's wife, Gloria. Oprah gives a fine performance. The problem is, she is Oprah Winfrey, and her presence as a celebrity never left my mind as I was watching her. Rather than being moved by the plot, my mind wandered. I thought about her recent public scandals, the Swiss purse incident, and calling Trayvon Martin a modern Emmet Till. I thought about her boyfriend Steadman. I wondered why he has never married Oprah. Again, Oprah's performance was spot on, but the script was not compelling enough to allow me willing suspension of disbelief.
The film's dumbed down version of Civil Rights is aesthetically and historically criminal. In the first five minutes of the movie, the film depicts two African Americans lynched together beside an American flag. They remain on screen for quite a while. The film returns to the image. A black woman is raped by a white man. Again, weird casting: Alex Pettyfer, one of the most handsome men in the world, is the rapist. Why? Then a black man is killed. The n word is tossed around liberally. Crosses are scary the Klan burns one and attacks a freedom rider bus. The film eventually states, in so many words, that America was a "concentration camp" for African Americans for hundreds of years, worse than what the Nazis did to the Jews.
All the whites on screen are rich and powerful. All the blacks, including the Black Panthers, are good, innocent, humble, hard-working, harmless. The Civil Rights movement is all but exclusively black.
This just isn't true. Comparing the Holocaust to slavery and Jim Crow isn't accurate. The Black Panthers did some very bad things, including to their own members. Thousands were lynched, not millions, thousands of those lynched were white. The largest mass lynching in America was of Italian immigrants; Leo Frank was lynched for being a Jew.
African Americans made up roughly ten percent of the population; had whites not been part of the Civil Rights Movement, African Americans could never have achieved what they did. The film insists that the Civil Rights Movement was inspired by a "brown man," Gandhi. But in fact Gandhi was inspired by Tolstoy, Thoreau, Christ, and the Bhagavad Gita. The film alludes briefly to Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, but does not name them. The film refers to these Jewish Civil Rights martyrs only to cynically dismiss their sacrifice. Americans only care about dead whites, the film says. If that were true, the Civil Rights Struggle would not have achieved what it did. Jim Zwerg, a white man, endured a horrible beating on one freedom ride because he, like many Civil Rights heroes, was inspired by the Judeo-Christian tradition.
I've lived in the Indian Subcontinent, where the religiously mandated caste system, for millennia, has doomed Untouchables to lives in Hell. I lived in Africa, where the slave trade still flourishes. From a world perspective, the United States is not remarkable because it had slavery and Jim Crow. From a world perspective, the United States is remarkable because it produced the Abolitionists, John Brown, martyrs like Goodman and Schwerner and Viola Liuzzo and heroes like Jim Zwerg and Rabbi Heschel. "The Butler" presents an unbelievable conundrum a country populated exclusively by evil, rich white supremacists somehow magically changed in 2008 and elected an African American president and presto changeo everything was better for black people.
"Elysium" is a dull sermon about Obamacare and open borders in the
guise of a so-so Sci-fi flic. The didactic aspect of the film is so
heavy- handed it takes you right out of the movie, out of the willing
suspension of disbelief. It doesn't help that "Elysium" lacks the
arresting characters, clever plotting, or wowee special effects that
break science fiction films out beyond the genre's die-hard fans.
It's 2154 in a dystopic Los Angeles. LA is ugly and garbage-strewn, in a futuristic way. Almost everyone in LA is Hispanic or at least speaks Spanish. Max (Matt Damon), a bald and tattooed ex-con trying to go straight, is forced into taking on a high-risk crime for Spider (Wagner Moura), a crime lord. Max has to travel to Elysium, a space station where rich white Americans live in beauty and luxury, unlike the cursed denizens of earth, who are mostly Hispanic and live in garbage strewn slums and can't get adequate medical care. Elysium has med-beds. If you lie down on a med-bed, no matter what your ailment is, the med-bed will cure you.
Spider is plotting to breach Elysium's security and take it over, thus making med-beds and Elysium's breathtaking beauty available to all. He faces formidable foes.
Jodie Foster is the white, blonde Elysium antagonist. She is trying to protect Elysium from the Hispanic immigrants and sick people in search of health care who are attempting to enter. Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley, a South African actor, is her evil tool. There is no attempt to explain why someone with such a pronounced South African accent lives in LA. In any case, Copley's performance of an enthusiastic sadist is the best thing about the film.
There is a lot of chasing. Men put on metallic costumes that give them special powers. There are your usual hyped up guns and there are also some knives and swords. A lot of this feels like expedient cheating, as it always does in fantasy movies. There are special devices that detect runaways. Max is able to elude these super smart devices by hiding under pigs. The movie never explains, as these movies never explain, the rules of such gadgetry. If a character needs to get away to advance the plot, some trick will help him to get away.
I live in a non-futuristic, garbage-strewn slum. We have had liberal, Democratic government for generations. See Detroit. We've been hearing the same message for generations, the same message "Elysium" sends: "It's us versus them. We are human; they are cold and cruel. They live lives of perfect bliss. Their health problems are all taken care of. They only way for us to achieve anything is to take what they have."
This message, even in a grade C sci-fi flick, is toxic. Liberals do not help us, the poor, by telling us that we have nothing of value in ourselves, that it is only through taking what the rich have that we can have lives of value. Poor people do not benefit by discounting what they have and living lives of passive, deluded envy, focusing on what the rich have rather than focusing on their own skills and blessings, and cultivating their own opportunities.
If the Earthlings of "Elysium" succeeded in their goal, it wouldn't end there. It would end as the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Iranian Revolution and others ended: with terror, torture, rape, chaos, and "meet the new boss; same as the old boss." The real revolution starts when we look within and outside ourselves with love.
"The Conjuring" did scare me, but twenty minutes after I left the
theater, I'd momentarily forgotten that I'd just seen it. While I was
watching it I got a little bored and some scenes tempted me to laugh.
If you've seen 1963's "The Haunting," 1973's "The Exorcist" and 1944's
"The Uninvited" you've seen three much better films from which "The
Conjuring" gets its bag of tricks.
Probably any clever film student could make something like this movie. We all know the basic ingredients: a large, old house in an isolated setting. The house should be attractive but something about it makes it ugly. It's in New England. It's autumn: cold winds blow skittering dead leaves. An innocent family moves into the house. The family is generic, without too many details; they are All-American and the audience can identify with them. They do normal things like go to the beach and watch "The Brady Bunch."
Their new home contains many dark and dusty nooks and crannies. There are antique curios that look a bit menacing.
Suddenly, during a quiet night, a strange noise is heard. For some reason, no one in this family ever switches on normal lighting. Rather, they use weak flashlights or match flames.
An innocent child arises from bed in a long white nightgown. She moves slowly, slowly, slowly, down a dark hall to investigate the noise. The scene is very quiet, very long, and very repetitive. You know that eventually the innocent child is going to come across something unusual: a vision of a hanged person, the reflection of a ghost in a mirror, or something truly terrifying, an IRS man there to conduct an audit.
You know that at the same moment that the defenseless family member sees the unusual thing, the previously silent scene will burst with sudden, loud, and oppressive noise. The sudden vision and noise will startle you, and you will be scared. What you paid the ticket price for. Oh, and the family dog dies, birds act weird, and mom is bruising easily.
At first, of course, everyone in the house writes off these events as mere chance. Everyone is rational and is not tempted to believe in the supernatural. Eventually someone in the family levitates or clocks stop or people feel cold or something. Just like in "The Haunting," there are loud banging noises. Just as in "The Uninvited," a family member is possessed by the dark energies of the house, and there is the ghost of a bad mother and a not-so-bad mother. Just as in "The Exorcist," there will be an exorcism.
So the team of experts is brought in. They speak some ancient language like Latin and possess arcane knowledge. I won't tell you any more because that would reveal the end of the movie to you, but I bet you can guess.
I'll just say that at one point, the satanic shenanigans in the house reach fever pitch. Satan is beating the stuffing out of these poor fools. Any sane person would immediately evacuate. At that point a paranormal investigator, Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) says, "Leaving the house won't help because the dark spirits have attached themselves to you." OH COME ON. Vera Farmiga may as well have said, "You can't leave now because there's still forty-five minutes to go in the movie."
Vera Farmiga is a scintillating actress. She electrifies every scene she is in. Patrick Wilson is perfect as her husband; they have great chemistry. The movie wastes them, though. The filmmakers don't seem to realize that Farmiga's human depth and complexity are the best thing the movie has going for it, and utilizing that human power would have made their film a classic, rather than just another "Boo!" movie.
"The Excorsist," "The Haunting" and "The Uninvited" are all scary but they are also deep. They present big themes. "The Conjuring" avoids big themes. One character tries to kill another, and it's the kind of killing that makes your skin crawl. The movie makes no attempt to plumb these murky waters.
"The Conjuring" misrepresents evil and Catholicism. When the Warrens arrive at the haunted house, Lorraine has a rosary strung from her wrist. Ed Warren places little wooden crucifixes around the house. In the exorcism scene, Latin is spoken. This isn't true spirituality; it's fetishism the belief that objects and rituals possess supernatural power. They do not. Only God has power. I am a Catholic, I pray the rosary, and I believe in Satan. The force that defies Satan is not an object, a rosary, it is rather faith in God.
"Aimee and Jaguar" depicts a Lesbian Jew living in WW II Germany who
falls in love with an ostensibly straight Nazi. What an exciting
premise! I was so let down. There was all this capital S !Stuff! up on
the screen that I was supposed to have been moved by. I was less moved
while watching this histrionic opera than while watching many a low-key
An example: the scene where Lilly, the German Nazi, and Felice, the Jewish Lesbian, first make love. Lilly kept shaking. She's very pale (Aryan, doncha know). And watching her shake and shake and shake and shake in a way meant to be erotic, and watching her pale, waxy skin, all I kept thinking was, "Geez, she looks like someone in the final phase of malaria."
There were naked and shadowed unmentionable gynecological bits in that scene, and lots of highly charged social/erotic elements, and it carried zero erotic charge, for me.
The movie was too long. It added a pre-plot intro and a post-plot coda that offered nothing. Scenes went on too long. I found myself counting the breaths between lines, the number of times people repeated the same sentence over and over.
The movie works to make Lilly a slob and a hoyden. Lilly meets one of her lovers while wearing stockings and wool socks and a sloppy slip but the movie makes the point that even homeless Jewish Lesbians can look soignee in wartime Berlin. Lilly yells at her kids; she sleeps around. She isn't very bright. She isn't especially pretty, either. Okay, so ... why did Felice risk her life to connect with this Nazi? Just for her blonde, Aryan locks? For the cheap thrill? No, the movie wants this to be a BIG love story, a Scarlett and Rhett of Nazism. Um, nope.
The movie works really hard not to let the viewer know exactly what's going on. I didn't find this thrilling. I didn't feel, "Gee, I'd better figure this out fast," I found it boring and alienating. I didn't feel that underneath the movie's surface confusion and incomprehensibility "Why is she pushing her away? Who is this character? Why doesn't he suspect Felice's true identity?" that there was a comprehensible and full world I just needed to get to know. Rather, I felt that the movie's incomprehensibility was a sloppy, amateurish effort to be casual, while not really creating a coherent world. I just found it to be a very amateurish, utterly cold, badly put together movie. and that is such a shame. This could have been big.
I can't help but think of go ahead, hate me Steven Spielberg. Spielberg knows how to use a camera to communicate humanity, while handling similarly huge, titillating themes against big historical backdrops. The brief scene in which Robert Shaw in "Jaws" talks about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, or Tom Hanks talking about being a teacher in "Saving Private Ryan" convey more humanity than Lilly does during the entire movie.
"Aimee and Jaguar" is full of scenes of Aktors Akting as if they are Brave or full of Joi de Vivre or Deeply In Love but I didn't see a single human being brave or expressing joi de vivre or loving.
There was one scene of "Aimee and Jaguar" that worked wonderfully for me. A Jewish Lesbian has been homeless and hungry. She goes to a Nazi club and begins to wash her undies out in the sink of the Ladies' Room, while complaining about sleeping in public buildings. A Nazi matron comes in and, contemptuously, sells ration coupons to the Jewish woman. The Nazi matron only saw the Jew to the extent that she could profit by selling a coupla ration coupons. Nazi Germany does have its parallels to contemporary life.
"My Son the Fanatic," writer Hanif Kureishi and director Udayan
Prasad's 1997 film about Farid, an English-born Pakistani boy who
becomes a devout Muslim who firebombs a brothel, is a train wreck. Its
art is shoddy and its politics are repugnant. But Om Puri as Parvez,
the taxi- driver father of the fanatic son, gives a performance that is
solid gold. Rachel Griffiths, as a prostitute, is brilliant.
Parvez (Om Puri) is a taxi driver in a depressed English mill town. He befriends Bettina (Griffiths) a prostitute. He works for a monstrous German sex tourist named S---t. Parvez's son, Farid, is engaged to the lovely Madeline Fingerhut, daughter of the chief of police. Farid breaks off his engagement and becomes the Muslim "fanatic" of the title. Parvez tries to stop his son's fanaticism. He also enters into an affair with Bettina, the prostitute, who loves him.
"My Son the Fanatic" struggles to combine several disparate themes and subplots. It is never successful because it never probes deeply enough into any of its material. The film ends ambiguously; the viewer has no idea how any of the story strands will resolve themselves.
The two most powerful features of the film, the only real reason to see the film, are Om Puri and Rachel Griffiths. They are very different and they are both powerhouses. Om Puri feels like a beating heart. He is totally believable, irresistibly lovable, and charismatic. Puri had smallpox when he was two and his face is cratered. These scars just make you stare at him all the more.
Rachel Griffiths is perfect as Bettina, the stereotypical "hooker with a heart of gold." She's smart, and she's in pain.
In spite of their age and culture differences, Parvez and Bettina's love is completely believable and poignant. It's clear that Parvez's wife Minoo is not providing him with passion, respect, or either emotional or physical intimacy. She calls him a "useless idiot," and at one point it appears she may leave him to go back to Pakistan. While Parvez resists his son's fanaticism, Minoo supports it.
You really want to know can a man fall in love with a prostitute? Parvez's friend Fizzy reminds him cruelly that Bettina has been penetrated by thousands of men. Could Parvez ever get over that? Could Parvez and Minoo separate in a way that worked for them both and spared them both great pain? Could Bettina settle down with one man? Could the couple survive the disdain of respectable people? Again, the chemistry between Parvez and Bettina is so compelling you really want the film to attempt to answer any of these questions. In fact, it answers none. Sadly, Parvez and Bettina are merely Hanif Kureishi's little wind-up toys. He has zero respect or affection for his own characters. Kureishi created Parvez and Bettina just to make his own, repugnant, political point. They are agitprop.
With the exception of Madeline Fingerhut, who is on screen for about 120 seconds, every last Westerner the innocent Muslims encounter is a racist, a prostitute, or a monster. The thrust of "My Son the Fanatic" is this. Innocent, decent Pakistani Muslims immigrate to England and are confronted by orgies, naked women selling their bodies in the streets, racism, violence, and booze. The film is graphic and disgusting. There are gratuitous scenes of Bettina being used by her johns. The German sex tourist S is depicted abusing men and women and hosting orgies. There is no logic in this; this man is shown to be ridiculously wealthy. A sex tourist with that kind of money would not travel to some grim northern English mill town.
S-, the German sex tourist for whom Parvez works, is named after feces. He is utterly disgusting. There are graphic scenes of his exploitation of Bettina. Later, she is shown with bruises from his beatings. He also beats Parvez. When Parvez goes out, he is cruelly mocked by an English comedian. There is no other English life depicted in "My Son the Fanatic." Not a single English person is kind to children or animals. The English are all violent, sexually perverse, racist scum. Farid becomes a fanatic after Madeline's father is rude to him. "You are the only pig I've ever wanted to eat," Farid tells his future father-in-law. All this graphic perversion is thrust into the viewer's face to emphasize: innocent, decent Muslims are forced by Western ugliness to become terrorists.
Okay, let's rejoin planet Earth, shall we? On May 21, 2013, the BBC reported on 54 separate child sex slave rings in England run by Pakistani men. The descriptions of the activities of these gangs are nightmarish. Western Civilization did not corrupt these men; their corruption was already installed. And as for the charge that racism forces otherwise innocent men to become fanatics; please see Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarneav, two beloved, funded, coddled, immigrants who arrived in the US as "refugees." The refuge the US gave these men was used by them to murder innocents.
The London Times named Hanif Kureishi one of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945." Given the shoddiness of the plotting and characterization of "My Son the Fanatic," and its skewed politics, one has to wonder why.
I was watching the beginning of "Drive" on DVD and I was bored. "Drive"
is very slow moving. I wondered what I was missing; the film had gotten
rave reviews. I paused the DVD and read a few internet comments. One
reviewer wrote, "Skip the first fifty minutes. It's boring. Fast
forward to the end with all the interesting killings."
"Drive" is a nihilistic, sadistic, nasty little film. There are graphic scenes of one man stomping another man to death. The victim's skull is depicted as having the fragility of an eggshell; his brains have the squishy consistency of chocolate pudding. A man places a nail into the forehead of an intended victim and threatens to hammer the nail. A man makes to shake another man's hand and pulls the man forward and slashes his arm open. There are also more conventional stabbings and shootings. I'm used to images of gore; my facebook friends tend to post the latest stoning, decapitation, or bombing videos. What sickened me about "Drive" was realizing that Hollywood executives cooked up all this nihilistic sadism as a moneymaking form of entertainment.
Ryan Gosling plays The Man with No Name. He drives getaway cars for violent criminals. He develops a crush on Irene (Carey Mulligan) his neighbor. Her husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) has just gotten out of prison. Gosling offers to drive Standard in a heist. There are some Jewish gangsters, Ron Perlman and Albert Brooks.
None of this is particularly believable or involving. I never forgot that most characters are actors. Oh, there's Albert Brooks, who usually plays a narcissistic whiner, who is now playing an atypical bad guy role. Oh, there's Ron Perlman, who was in Beauty and the Beast. Oh, there's Carey Mulligan, who just played Daisy in "The Great Gatsby." Oh, there's Bryan Cranston, from "Breaking Bad."
It's impossible to believe that Mulligan and Isaac are married, or that Mulligan belongs in this movie at all. She looks like a dewy buttercup; Isaac looks like he could play Satan with no makeup. Mulligan totally lacks that Gloria Grahame feel of a true film noir heroine beautiful, shopworn, tragic.
The film moves very slowly. There is virtually no dialogue between Gosling and Carey Mulligan. The viewer has no idea why this woman breaks into Gosling's heart. You have no idea who Gosling is. He comes across as being too stupid or too smart; too amoral or too ethical; he's just not believable. None of the characters are likable. This film could have had any number of endings, with everybody dead or everybody alive or the lovers united or the lovers apart, the money in the bank or the money in the backseat of the car. I just did not care. The film seems to exist only to satisfy that sad, creepy demographic of fans who pay to see "interesting killings."
"Drive" gets more than one star for Gosling's performance. He is a brilliant actor who can do anything. I just wish he would not waste his gifts on drek like this.
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