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"Son of God" is the kind of movie I'd go out of my way to warn people
NOT to see. It lacks narrative coherence, drive, and a point of view.
It is visually unappealing. I was with a friend so I could not walk out
of this movie; had I attended alone, I think I would have. I found it
physically painful to sit through this entire film. I nodded off more
The film took forever to get started, going through Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses, and it took forever to end. Most lives of Christ select one gospel's passion narrative to recreate. For example, in the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks only three brief sentences. This film had Jesus speaking endlessly from the cross and were this not so painful it would have been funny.
The movie stumbles onward after Jesus' Resurrection and his Ascension into Heaven. St John mopes on an island waiting for death and has a vision of Jesus there. That this limping, pointless coda was tacked on after the obvious climaxes of the Resurrection and the Ascension is evidence of the filmmakers' ineptitude.
The film's best feature is Diogo Morgado as Jesus. He is charismatic and appropriately mysterious. You get the sense that there is more there than meets the eye. The rest of the cast is also fine. Adrian Schiller is especially good as Caiaphas the High Priest, depicted as Jesus' nemesis.
For me the biggest problem with the film was the lack of narrative drive. I had no sense that I was watching a coherent story with a beginning, middle, and end. There is no tension, no coherence, from one scene to the next. A viewer has to come to this movie with some background on Jesus' life. Anyone without that background would be watching an incoherent muddle.
There is no point of view. Who is telling this story? Why? Again, point of view is random and fluctuating and this adds to the film's lack of a spinal column.
The film appears to have been shot with hand-held cameras. There is little variation. The constant close-ups with shaky cameras get very, very monotonous. "Son of God" is 138 minutes long. Watching randomly tossed together scenes, almost all shot with hand-held cameras, was a soporific experience.
"Son of God" is ugly and inauthentic. Jesus was a Jew and he lived his entire life in a Jewish country. Jesus and his followers should have been played by Jews or people who look Jewish. The actors playing Jesus, Peter, John, Mary the mother of Jesus, are not Jewish and don't look Jewish. For the most part the actors look like models in a Benetton ad: white liberals' idea of multiculti. There are extras who could be African or Asian. But Israel isn't a Benetton ad. Producer Roma Downey should not have cast herself as Mary, the mother of Jesus. Roma Downey is a Hollywood actress in her fifties, and she looks like it. Her face shows evidence of Botox and other products and procedures. She doesn't fit in a film full of filthy faces untouched by modern surgical procedures.
For some reason, the filmmakers decided to make everyone filthy. I have lived in traditional, pre-modern villages and people in such settings don't walk around with dirt caked on their faces. They do groom their hair. Jerusalem is plunked down in the middle of a lifeless, moonscape desert. As any resident or pilgrim can tell you, it does rain, and there is green, in Jerusalem.
In the Huffington Post, Abe Foxman of the ADL argues that "Son of God" is without anti-Semitism. I'd have to disagree. Paul Marc Davis, an actor playing a hostile Pharisee, does look Jewish and he is dressed in Jewish garb. Touches like this impressed me as treading unnecessarily close to anti-Semitism. Another such touch: Caiaphas manipulates the crowds who voted for Pilate to release Barabbas instead of Jesus. This is not recorded in the Gospels. The film depicts Nicodemus praying Kaddish over Jesus. This may have been a conciliatory touch.
If you are looking for a cinematic life of Christ, there are many better options. George Stevens' "The Greatest Story Ever Told" is gorgeous, if slow. Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" is undeniably powerful, but disturbingly violent. The PBS miniseries "From Jesus to Christ" is fascinating.
"The Lego Movie" is irritatingly frenetic, smug, and so ugly to look at
it hurt my eyes. Its message is a mess of predigested secular or Pagan
takeoffs on the Judeo-Christian tradition, not direct takeoffs, but
borrowings of borrowings. "Jokes" come fast and furious. They come so
fast you don't have time to assess whether they are funny or not.
Example: Liam Neeson voices a police officer, and he sings a few
seconds of "Danny Boy." This is supposed to be funny because Liam
Neeson is Irish. It's a joke! Get it huh huh? Get how clever it is? You
don't have to think about that, because another joke is coming down the
There's something really smug and divorced from the audience about all this joking. I can just see the writers slapping themselves on the back, congratulating themselves, "Gosh, aren't we clever?"
Morgan Freeman, whom I used to like but who has become predictably ubiquitous in his unending God roles, plays the part of God, or close enough in this secular/Pagan/superhero super derivative mash-up. He tells Emmet (truth in Hebrew; not sure if there is any intended connection) that he, Emmet, is the Messiah. Only the film uses the word "Special." Same thing. Eventually the moral of the film is revealed: if you believe in yourself, you are the Messiah, the most intelligent, powerful, interesting person on the planet. Wow, that will make for healthy and happy kids. Not. Luckily the film is incoherent enough that many kids won't even realize that that is the film's message.
In this heavy-handed movie, there's a heavy-handed, live action coda that breaks with all that has gone before. The message of the coda: suit-wearing, rules-following, heterosexual white American businessmen are the biggest menace to the planet, and we should all be more anarchic, creative and narcissistic. Wow, that's a message that Hollywood has never sent before.
Nothing that happens in the action on screen matters. It's one long chase, with Lego characters turning themselves into whatever they want at will, and flying freely. Since they can do this turn themselves into weapons or escape vehicles it doesn't really seem to matter that they are occasionally captured by a character named "Bad Cop" problems with authority much? tortured, and threatened with genocide. Yes, really. There are torture scenes in a movie meant for preschoolers. I found the torture scenes hard to watch, not because they were moving, but because they were weird and out of place. I sat there thinking, what kind of mind puts torture scenes like this in a movie for little kids?
I found the movie so ugly it was hard to look at. You are, after all, looking at computer-generated pieces of plastic. There is no sun, no light, no texture, no authentic color. Just pieces of plastic. The perfect metaphor for this film.
"Pompeii" is cheesy and okay. Just okay. The special effects are good
enough, and the cast is very good, so it could have been a much better
film than it is. Ooooh well.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje stood out for me as Atticus a noble, undefeated gladiator. I couldn't help but think that this guy should be a bigger star, and that perhaps his difficult name stood in his way. Kit Harington is charismatic and believable as Milo, a sensitive, horse- loving Celt who is forced to fight as a gladiator. He charms Cassia, a rich Roman girl (Emily Browning) and their love is believable. Kiefer Sutherland is an evil Roman Senator. Sutherland camps it up, doing a Boris Karloff imitation throughout the film. Not sure why he picked Karloff; perhaps just to see if anyone would notice. Sasha Roiz, who is from Israel, has a face, head and hair right off of a Roman mosaic, and he's good as yet another sadistic Roman officer, Sutherland's right-hand man.
This movie is obviously thrown together with little thought or heart, and it's a shame that more was not done with it. There's a scene where Milo and Cassia escape on horseback. That scene could have been classic you've got a handsome slave who faces nothing but death in the arena, a beautiful maiden being menaced by a predatory Roman senator, and a nighttime escape on a gorgeous white horse: so much to work with! Instead their escape is just plopped on screen with no artistry at all. You're watching a rehearsal, not a real movie.
Special effects include aerial views of ancient Pompeii, earthquakes, cracking villas, sinkholes, volcanic eruption, and a tsunami. These are all okay, but I bet you could see equally good footage, if not better, on televised nature documentaries. There is lots of gladiatorial combat. I'm not qualified to judge these scenes. I usually squint my eyes and grimace throughout them and I have no idea how accurate they are. Somehow the consistency with which Milo and Atticus are able to defeat many more, and better armored opponents didn't convince me.
While watching this movie I couldn't help but reflect on Cecil-B- Demille-style sword and sandal movies from the fifties and early sixties. Those movies had special effects, but they also focused on gripping storytelling, larger than life stars like Charlton Heston, Yul Brynner, and Richard Burton, and they had some larger point. Even without the CGI, those movies were often more satisfying than more recent films who sink everything in special effects and ignore more old fashioned storytelling craft.
I tried to watch PBS' "Martin Luther: PBS Empire Series" four or five
times before I could get all the way through it. It is hateful anti-
Catholic propaganda and it made me sick to my stomach.
I'm pro-choice. I'm actively gay friendly. I think I will encounter Jews and atheists in Heaven. I'm a feminist. I don't attend mass regularly. In short, I am hardly an orthodox Catholic. Even so, this documentary made me ill.
"Luther" walks the viewer through Catholic churches. As classic Catholic images appear on screen candles, chalices, stained glass horror movie music plays on the soundtrack. The viewer is shown images of a naked pope sharing bodily fluid (semen? mucus? I'm not sure) with horned Devils. Liam Neeson's authoritative voice this is the Liam Neeson who saved Jews in "Schindler's List," who rescued his daughter from slavery in "Taken," who faced off with wolves in "The Grey" Liam Neeson's authoritative voice informs the viewer that, without qualification, the Catholic Church is corrupt, exploitative, false, and evil.
The Catholic Church is described as completely divorced from the wider population of Europe. In fact Europe itself WAS the Catholic Church. Peasants were the Catholic Church. Nobility was the Catholic Church. Merchants were the Catholic Church. Protestants were the Catholic Church. Luther was a Catholic priest, John Calvin was prepared for the priesthood, and Henry VIII was a defender of the faith.
Contrary to PBS, the Catholic Church was not an alien, evil, Italian institution that had nothing to do with Europe. Protestantism began as a movement within the Catholic Church. If "the Church" condemned or supported this or that behavior, that's because pretty much everybody in Europe condemned or supported this or that behavior.
The Catholic Church is described as being all powerful. Yet Luther, who defied the Church, died of natural causes, an old man in bed. Apparently the Church was not as all powerful and oppressive as PBS insists.
PBS tells us that the Catholic Church controlled innocent Europeans through the sacraments. PBS tells us that it was a really wonderful thing when Luther "liberated" Europeans from the sacraments. Uh huh. Tell a teenage girl that she can never marry that she needs to be "liberated" from her wedding day. Absurd. Scholars like van Gennep and Victor Turner have described how rites inscribe belief and enrich lives. People want their sacraments.
PBS gets its message across, not just with Liam Neeson's narration, but with scholarly talking heads. These talking heads were the least charismatic talking heads I've ever seen. Miri Rubin was hardest to take, harder even than big-forehead-man with scary looking teeth, or receding-hair-mole-man who insisted that no one before Luther was an individual.
Rubin is excruciatingly self-dramatizing. She whispered. She raised her voice like a roller coaster. She made eyes at the interviewer. She wriggled her eyebrows. She thus, in cheap opera heroine fashion, communicated that the Catholic Church was just a big joke. Apparently Rubin focuses on anti-Semitism. An important focus. But is that all there is to say about Catholicism? It's fake and anti-Semitic.
I've traveled the world. People ask me my favorite destination. The ONE place I would return to is not the Taj Mahal, is not Jerusalem, is not the African rain forest or the desert. The ONE place I would go back to is Chartres Cathedral. Chartres Cathedral is a product of medieval Catholicism. Nothing that is mere corruption could have produced the most sublime place I have ever been.
During the Enlightenment, some wanted to obliterate Chartres Cathedral. Stone masons, forfending this abomination, argued "It would take us years to clear the rubble from the streets." Thus saving Chartres Cathedral from anti-Catholic campaigners who were blind to the sublime.
Who will save Chartres Cathedral from the bomb throwers at PBS?
Nazis quoted Luther's writing on Jews to justify their slaughters. Peasants were inspired by the Reformation to rise up against their noble exploiters. Luther knew that if the peasants had their way, his protectors would be shaken. Luther urged the nobles to "whip, choke, hang, burn, behead and torture (peasants), that they may learn to fear the powers that be A peasant is a hog, for when a hog is slaughtered it is dead, and in the same way the peasant does not think about the next life stab them secretly and openly, as they can, as one would kill a mad dog." Erasmus estimates that a hundred thousand peasants were killed, with Luther's encouragement.
The documentary does mention these aspects of Luther's career, but briefly and as if they were footnotes. Not essential. But they are essential. Luther was fond of hate speech, and spoke in the most violent and hateful way against Catholics. The wars between Protestants and Catholics that lasted for two hundred years, and the enmity that exists today, were sparked at least partly by Luther's intemperance.
Imagine this. You tune into PBS and see images of the interior of a mosque. You hear horror music, and Liam Neeson's powerful voice informs you, without any question or hesitance in his voice, that Islam is corrupt, exploitative, evil, and must be destroyed in order to save the Middle East. Would you not realize that you had entered an alternative universe?
Tell me then, why is it okay for PBS, a taxpayer funded broadcasting station, to peddle anti Catholic hatred like this?
"Bulletproof Heart" Anthony LaPaglia stars as a mob hit man, Peter
Boyle as his contractor, Matt Craven as his drooling sidekick, Mimi
Rogers as his mark.
Very stripped down movie. Only (roughly) eight people have any kind of speaking parts. Only four sets.
A noir, of course. You know when you pick up a movie like this, just from looking at the box, even if you couldn't read the blurbs, that it's a noir. He, very unsmiling, has got his black hair slicked back; sultry she is in a low-cut sequined dress; the spotlight is on his big, shiny gun.
It is a B movie. One feature that separates B movies from A's is editing. Someone needed to step in and arrest scenes that went more or less like this: "You have to kill her." "I don't want to kill her." "You have to kill her." "I don't want to kill her."
And someone needed to snip bits where the movie tells rather than shows. LaPaglia is reduced to verbally explaining that he is an amoral hit man, after the movie has already sufficiently shown that he is an amoral hit man. An A movie would have just shown him being an amoral hit man, and skipped the didactic speech explaining what the viewer has just seen.
The direction was thoroughly flatfooted. Director Malone seems to hate three-dimensional space. Actors were placed within it the way figures are placed on ancient altar triptychs. They are in the center of a rectangular frame; they occupy three quarters of the screen; and they are shown full front. Snore. And I never got a sense of any space any character occupied other than that necessary to create the rectangular frame around that rigid composition.
Having said all that, I've gotta say, this movie wrecked me. I cried. I was tremendously moved. I kept thinking of Noel Coward's famous line, "Extraordinary how potent cheap music is." There were two hit men, and I identified with and actually pitied both of them.
LaPaglia has to kill Mimi Rogers. He arrives at her apartment and a sexual game right out of a Strindberg play begins. Who has the power? Who is afraid of whom? Who is killing whom? Who is resurrecting whom? This all sucked me in. It had genuine tension. Neither overplayed, but you could see the shifts on LaPaglia's face, from amoral hit man to possible prey animal to something entirely other.
I was a bit put off by Mimi Rogers' acting at first. When she wanted to emote, her eyebrows began to jerk and quiver as if they were caterpillars being directed by an offstage wild animal trainer. But she grew on me.
She seduces him. The director did handle the intimate scenes well. If I said I came three times, would that turn this review into something other than an intellectual discussion of a movie? Not knowing the answer to that, I won't say it.
La Paglia and Rogers develop fantastic chemistry. It seems to grow, in a real way, out of their peculiar situation.
La Paglia is given a few chances to deliver the kind of witty and surprising speeches hit men deliver in gangster film noir. They are surprising, of course, because you have this totally exotic creature, a hit man, speaking about banalities we all share, like the boredom that sometimes comes with doing the same work day after day, and surprising because they offer a chance for identification with such an exotic, condemned creature, and surprising because you begin to identify, to see the world through his eyes, "Oh, yeah, if I look at it that way, being a hit man makes perfect sense!" to see how his world and your world aren't so different.
And surprising because you begin to see how his morality could be superior to that of someone who has a more conventionally valorized way of making a living Mimi Roger's psychiatrist, for example, is shown to be a real sleaze -- and even murderer -- in comparison to LaPaglia.
Rogers and La Paglia begin a dialogue on the worth of human life. And, I gotta tell ya, for all the guns and the really good sex, that's what got me. These dialogues and scenes aroused in me confrontations with my own thoughts and feelings about life, death, murder, suicide, love, the human capacity for regeneration, faith, hope, investment, what we expect / need from people we love what we need / expect from film noir a very important question !!! I don't wanna give too much away, here.
There is a genuinely, darkly funny moment when Mimi Rogers shrugs and says, "Men." You have to see the movie, and you'll know what I mean.
This is exactly the kind of movie I think of when I think of people who walk out of movies and drive me crazy by saying something like, "Hey, that was nice. Wanna go get something to eat?" and more or less abort any conversation about the movie. If a date said that to me after this movie, I'd have to be physically restrained. This is the kind of movie I'd have to talk about afterwards. Really, this may sound sacrilegious, but it's the kind of movie that leaves me with a feeling close to reverence like, after seeing it, I need to inhabit a liminal zone before I segue back into real life.
"The Monument Men" is a fun, old-fashioned, feel good movie. I walked
out of the theater inspired. The movie isn't perfect but its gifts
outweigh its flaws.
"The Monument Men" tells the story of a group of art experts recruited by the US armed forces during WW II to ensure that Europe's artistic heritage was not destroyed in the war.
Hitler had been a painter before he became fuhrer. Joseph Goebbels was a novelist. Speer was an architect. Filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl did as much to spread Nazism as many troops. Nazis didn't just mass murder human beings. They burned books and paintings. They worked very hard to destroy "decadent" art and to elevate and appropriate art they deemed worthy. Nazis plundered and stockpiled other countries' art. Just the other day, Feburary 6, 2014, art the Nazis stole from Poland was repatriated. In January, 2014, the World Jewish Congress demanded that Germany do a better job of returning art.
There's a long tradition of World War II movies about international, all-star teams of experts uniting to achieve some goal: "The Great Escape," "The Guns of Navarone," "Kelly's Heroes," "Dirty Dozen," "The Longest Day," "A Bridge Too Far." And of course George Clooney is a veteran of the "Oceans" movies.
"The Monument Men" is a little bit WW II team movie, a little bit Oceans. The team members are shown going about their day to day lives when George Clooney shows up and signs them up. The movie is based on a real project, and it plays like the best anecdotes from that project's team members. It's a series of vignettes that aren't particularly coherently connected. Some of the vignettes were not clear to me. Why was Matt Damon suddenly flying in a biplane over Paris at night? It was a pretty scene but I didn't understand how it fit into the rest of the plot. Why was the German-Jewish translator, Sam, suddenly carrying a wounded soldier into a mobile army surgical unit? Who was that soldier? Not sure.
Other vignettes are really gripping, moving, suspenseful, and/or funny. The movie won me over with its depiction of a British art expert's heroic attempt to rescue a Michelangelo Madonna from Belgium. I cried. I was inspired.
There is a funny, scary, sickening scene where a beefy German dentist hammers away at Bill Murray's teeth with a mallet and pliers while Bob Balaban makes provocative commentary about how he bets all the Germans were innocent not.
There's a powerful scene where Americans are invited to a German home for dinner, and discover that the paintings on the dining room walls are too good to be reproductions.
The movie is flawed. Its editing is choppy. It feels rushed. I got the sense that not enough time was devoted to cast members building bonds with each other. John Goodman and Jean Dujardin are meant to be tight team members, but I saw no real chemistry between them. Not nearly enough time is devoted to fleshing out the all-star cast's characters, or to simple exposition. I'd simply like to know more about everything on screen, from the Ghent altarpiece to Hitler's Nero decree. I would like to have seen the Nero decree's destruction of art placed into the context of the mass suicides at the end of the war. Hitler's suicide isn't even mentioned in "Monuments Men."
Sam, a GI, is recruited as a German translator. The average moviegoer might have no idea that Sam is Jewish. Sam says, "I'm from NORTH Newark." How many moviegoers know that North Newark was a Jewish neighborhood? Sam says that his grandfather in Germany was not allowed to enter a museum and joked about being barred because he was "too short." The real reason he was barred is that he was a Jew, but the movie never states that plainly.
I got the impression that Clooney was making his film for people with short attention spans who want the shallowest treatment possible of the subject matter. That's too bad, because with a little more tender loving care, this could have been a great movie rather than a good one.
Some popular culture and even academic retellings of WW II work to humanize, or even exculpate, Germans. "Monuments Men" does not. At first I thought that Sam would be the good German character the noble "true" German who hated the Nazis from the get-go, resisted them, and was now helping the allies defeat them. But Sam turns out to be Jewish. "Monuments Men" uses the word "German" were a more German-friendly film would be careful to use the word "Nazi," thus emphasizing that not all Germans were guilty, but merely an ideology.
"Monuments Men" is unusual among recent American films in that it unapologetically and enthusiastically celebrates Western Civilization and the Christian heritage as something that utopians in this case Nazis tried to destroy, and that good people among them Americans heroically and courageously died to preserve. This is a really remarkable message. I wonder if left-wing Clooney embraced it because he saw "Monuments Men" as being about Art, not about Western Civ or the Judeo-Christian heritage. The two artworks focused on the most the Ghent altarpiece and the Michelangelo Madonna are both overtly Christian.
"Savings Mr. Banks" is worth seeing for Emma Thompson's peerless
performance as "Mary Poppins" author PL Travers. That Thompson was not
nominated for a best actor Academy Award is a crime. Thompson's
performance is one of the most compelling and convincing performances
I've ever seen.
Thompson plays PL Travers as a witch, and I'm using the nice version of the word. You know what word I really mean. Thompson's Travers is thoroughly believable. This isn't a cartoon villainess. This isn't Cruella DaVille or Maleficent. This is a woman you could imagine having as a boss or a neighbor. You'd do everything you could to avoid her. She doesn't learn any lesson. She doesn't reveal that we are all warm and fuzzy if you just get close enough.
Some have criticized "Saving Mr. Banks" for this reason. They say that it's sexist to depict a successful woman author as being a witch. Baloney. It would be sexist to depict her as warm and cuddly. Women can be unpleasant. I know plenty of women like Travers. It isn't liberated to insist that all women are nice. Plenty of women are not nice at all.
I found Thompson's depiction of Travers to be so powerful that the rest of the film didn't measure up, for me. Part of the film takes place in 1961. Travers is in Hollywood, working with Disney studios on their film adaptation of her book "Mary Poppins." Part of the film is a series of flashbacks to Travers' childhood in Australia. In the flashbacks, Colin Farrell plays Travers' alcoholic father. The flashbacks didn't work for me. They had the feel of an afterschool special. Everyone was so good looking, especially Colin Farrell, even while suffering the health effects of alcoholism. Annie Rose Buckley, who plays the author as a child, is cherubically beautiful. The scenes depicting the alcoholic father disappointing and humiliating his daughter, and breaking her heart, did not affect me at all. They felt paint-by-numbers oh, this is the predictable scene where the little girl realizes her father is a loser.
The 1961 scenes in Hollywood worked much better. Paul Giamatti is amazing in the small part of Travers' limo driver. He brings a wallop of humanity and poignancy to his role that really swept me off my feet. The two develop a real rapport, and they could have taken up much more of the film. Jason Schwartzman and BJ Novak are also brilliant as Robert and Richard Sherman, who wrote the songs for Mary Poppins. In one scene, Travers objects to Robert Sherman's walking with a cane. The film doesn't mention this; I wish it had. Sherman was only 19 or 20 years old when he participated in the liberation of Dachau. He was shot during the war. That's why he walked with a cane.
Tom Hanks as Walt Disney didn't really work for me. Walt Disney was a totemic figure from my childhood. I remember him, in his TV appearances, as rather godlike avuncular and yet distant, impenetrable. While watching Emma Thompson as PL Travers, I got the sense that I was watching something like the real PL Travers a real, complex, human being. While watching Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, I got the sense that I was watching Tom Hanks play a sanitized version of Walt Disney. "Saving Mr. Banks" was very brave in its depiction of Travers, but very vanilla in its depiction of Walt. Giamatti as the fictional limo driver had more depth and complexity.
The movie is most valuable as a character piece. It tries to say some big things about how people live through sorrow, like Travers' childhood, and survive that sorrow by creating art about it, like "Mary Poppins." That big idea really didn't wash for me. I know it's possibly true, but that message just didn't grab me, so the movie was not a ten, but it's certainly worth viewing for Thompson's performance, for her interplay with Giamatti and the Sherman brothers as played by Schwartzman and Novak.
"Her" 2013 is so bad communicating how bad it is strains my abilities
as a reviewer. Sometimes we say, "If you've seen the trailer, you've
seen the best bits of the movie." With "Her," if you've seen the
movie's poster, you've seen the movie. "Her" consists of shots of
Joaquin Phoenix's face as he talks to "Samantha," the operating system
of his computer, and Samantha, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, responds.
Theodore (Phoenix) is a mopey guy. His marriage failed. He is lonely. He plays video games but appears to have no other interest or activity. His computer's new operating system has a sexy voice. He has a relationship with this voice. The relationship consists of him chatting with the computer about how sad and lonely he feels and how he wishes he were in love and in a relationship. Theodore reminisces about his marriage. In flashbacks, he is shown cavorting and scampering with his picture- perfect, and much younger, ex-wife as if they were the models in an ad for Viagra or feminine protection. Theodore occasionally chats with real life people, including neighbor Amy Adams, a fine actress who is criminally underused at the very least dress her in some jodhpurs! And that's it. Nothing else happens.
The movie is inert. It sits on the screen like a boring houseguest who won't leave and who refuses to do anything excitingly offensive enough for his host to phone the police and have him thrown out. Nothing funny or challenging or profound or original or intriguing or witty or daring is said or done. There's no development of the idea. The movie's end could just as well have been the movie's middle or even its beginning. There is so much inept nothing up on the screen I'm astounded that this movie was even released. It genuinely frightens me that the scriptwriter and the director are convinced that they created something worthy of viewers' time. Hubris at this level should be actionable in a court of law.
There is one thing and one thing only in "Her" that shows some creativity, intelligence and originality and sparks some interest. "Her" is meant to be set in the not-too-distant future. Casey Storm, "Her"'s costume designer, avoids the temptation to create futuristic costumes such as are found in Flash Gordon, Star Trek, or Star Wars. No one wears wings or anything metallic. Everyone dresses as if they shop at Salvation Army and purchase the most drab, frumpy clothes available. Collars are narrow. Pants are high-waisted. Color combinations are soporific. Theodore wears a lot of pumpkin orange. The clothes are just bad enough to be entirely believable as a fashion trend.
"Lone Survivor" is a brutal, graphic, combat movie. It depicts US Navy
SEALs fighting against Taliban in Afghanistan in 2007. It is based on
Marcus Luttrell's book of the same title. There is very little plot.
The movie opens with scenes of Navy SEALs undergoing rigorous training.
Trainees are shown lying down under oncoming ocean waves, being dunked
in water so that they cannot breathe, doing pushups, etc.
After this brief segment, the film sets up each SEAL team member. They are shown to be lovable guys who have families back home whom they cherish and who cherish them. One SEAL wants to buy his fiancée an Arabian horse. Another is concerned about his wife's redecorating in a color called "honeydew." Given Marcus Luttrell's fame and the title of the movie, most people will know how this movie ends. That knowledge gives these scenes that much more poignancy, but also a sense of the director manipulating the audience. We know what's coming, and we know why the director included these scenes.
The SEALs are assigned to assassinate Taliban commander Ahmad Shah. They are shown with all their gear, penetrating a steep mountain covered with pines and strewn with boulders. They see their target, and are ready to carry out their mission. They are discovered by three Afghan goat herders. They consider killing the goat herders, but Luttrell advises against it. If they kill the goat herders, they will be condemned on CNN as bestial Americans who assassinate Afghan civilians. Immediately after the soldiers release the goat herders, the goat herders inform the Taliban of their location. They Taliban quickly surround, outnumber, and begin firing on the four SEALs.
The firefight is depicted in graphic, brutal, realistic images. A SEAL is shown aiming his weapon, firing, and a Taliban's turbaned head explodes into a squirting fountain of red liquid. Bullets penetrate flesh and blood and gore ooze out. This gunfight is lengthy and tense. I have to ask how it will affect viewers. Will viewers want to get a gun and make someone's head explode? Yes, our media is saturated with violence. Is that a good thing? Have we given up even asking this question?
The film never addresses the larger questions at play, and by not addressing them, they become all the louder. What are we doing in Afghanistan? How do we win in Afghanistan? Are we wasting the lives of fine, patriotic Americans and other allied men and women in uniform? Not to mention the polio workers, doctors and other aid workers the Taliban murders in Afghanistan?
How about the rules of engagement? If we are at war in Afghanistan, then why aren't we acting as if we are at war? Should the goat herders not have been immediately killed, thus possibly saving many soldiers' lives and leading to a successful mission the death or capture of Ahmad Shah? If soldiers are forced to conduct a war while wearing kid gloves, how can they be expected to win? What if we had imposed these rules of engagement on our soldiers during WW II? Would they have been able to win that war? Would the swastika not still be flying in Europe as we engaged in endless talks with our "partners for peace"?
Again, none of this is discussed in the film, making the discussion all the louder inside the viewer's head. In fact there was some controversy when CNN's Jake Tapper asked Marcus Luttrell about the "Senseless" deaths depicted in the film. Marcus Luttrell asserted that no, the deaths depicted in the film were not senseless. Americans are asking this, though. What are we doing in Afghanistan?
I've always been fascinated by Benazir Bhutto. It's hard not to be. She
was certainly stunningly beautiful. But it's more than that with
Bhutto. She was a woman who was elected prime minister of an officially
Islamic nation. You could read her calculating intelligence and her
steely determination on her exquisitely beautiful face. You can also
read there the great tragedy that stalked her family, and her nation.
Bhutto also gave off an air of idealism. Bhutto believed in something bigger than herself, something for which she was willing to sacrifice her life. Sacrifice she did Bhutto endured prison, and returned to Pakistan from exile knowing the nation she loved so much would probably kill her. It did. But there's great complexity in Bhutto's life, as well. She did some things that were not at all admirable. Her own niece accuses her of murder.
The talking heads in this documentary compare the Bhutto family saga to a Shakespearean plot or a Greek tragedy. It's actually more high opera. Benazir Bhutto was a great beauty who renounced a personal life so she could pursue politics. She realized she would need a man to get over in a Muslim country, so she submitted to an arranged marriage with a very handsome playboy polo player. Bhutto stated publicly that were she not a woman politician in a Muslim country, she would not have submitted to an arranged marriage. Muslim norms prevented her from meeting a man she might fall in love with on her own. As in an opera, she fell in love with the husband her mother picked out for her. Some say he betrayed her by accepting graft; others say this is a political smear.
"Bhutto" the documentary certainly presents the drama of Bhutto's life. Talking heads include her personal friends, her husband, her children, her sister, and her niece. Her friends speak of Bhutto in the most glowing of terms. Exactly because this is the realm of politics, one cannot take anything that anyone on screen says at face value. One thing I wish this documentary had offered was a reliable navigator, an authoritative voice helping me to sort politically expedient comments from solid facts.
The film does provide contradictory voices on the question of corruption. A New York Times reporter insists on the accuracy of the Times' charges of the Bhutto family's corruption. Bhutto's friend insists that her lifestyle was not that of someone with the alleged unlimited funds. Another friend points out that Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto's husband, was kept in prison but never convicted.
There's a lot of tragic and regrettable history up on the screen. Pakistan gets a nuclear bomb, fights wars with Bangladesh and India, supports the Taliban, hosts Osama bin Laden. The Bhutto family is depleted by one assassination after another. Benazir keeps trying to get and keep power in Pakistan. Her friends insist that this is so she can build schools, end polio, and provide clean water. Bhutto had other noble goals. She wanted to avenge her father's assassination. She stated that "Democracy is the best revenge." She wanted to serve as a liberatory example to women and girls while maintaining a public, feminine, nurturing face. She wanted to reconcile Islam and the West, to prove that Islam and democracy are compatible.
The documentary does not linger on horrific aspects of the Bhutto legacy. The Bhuttos, father and daughter, made sure Pakistan developed nuclear weapons and shared that technology with North Korea. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was president of Pakistan during the war with Bangladesh, a war that included massive human rights violations so severe some labeled them "genocide." Bhutto declared Ahmadis "non-Muslims." There was deadly persecution of Ahmadis in 1974, under Bhutto. Benazir Bhutto recognized the Taliban in Afghanistan. She didn't repeal the hudood ordinances.
Pakistan has lots of problems, problems the United States didn't cause. The talking heads in "Bhutto" insist that America's eagerness to stem the spread of communism screwed up Pakistan. But the US was involved in Poland during the Cold War, and Poland did not turn into a country where any prominent person, from Benazir Bhutto to a schoolgirl who just wants to learn to read Malala Yousafzai risks assassination.
America didn't cause the huge gap in literacy in Pakistan between women and men. It doesn't promote child marriage or hatred of Ahmadis and Christians. Benazir Bhutto tried to open schools and end polio. Pakistan's schools are now "ghosts" that take government funds and education no one. Polio workers are shot by Muslims who insist that the polio vaccine is an American plot to sterilize Muslims.
Concerned observers often point out that India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh were all created at the same time from the same raw material: the former British subcontinental empire. India is doing relatively well. Pakistan is floundering. Why? One possible explanation frequently offered by geopolitical observers. Pakistan was founded as an Islamic state. Bhutto is shown taking the oath of office; she must swear that she is a Muslim in order to do so. Maybe Pakistan would be better off if it had not been founded on Islam. Maybe Pakistan would be better off if it were a secular state.
Maybe Benazir Bhutto, for all her intelligence, was on a doomed mission. Maybe Pakistan as it exists today is not reformable. Maybe it would take an Ataturk, a Mao, or an Ann Coulter (invade their countries, kill their leaders, convert them) to make Pakistan a place where democratically elected leaders who improve their citizens' lives can peacefully hand over power to a succession of other democratically elected leaders, all of whom die peacefully in their sleep.
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