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Gone Girl (2014)
43 out of 77 people found the following review useful:
Cheap, Contrived, Exploitative, 6 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Gone Girl" is a contrived, exploitative, pretentious film that aims for the middlebrow audience and hits its mark. The filmmakers insert – no pun intended – a sex scene every ten minutes or so, and alternate those with buckets-of-blood scenes of violence, and utterly predictable flashlight searches for clues of a Nancy Drew level of sophistication. If you want to see someone stabbed to death while climaxing during sex and bleed out like an upside down pig, this is the film for you.

The dialogue is pseudo-clever. Example: a man compliments a woman seated at a table full of strangers by informing her that she has a "world-class vagina." She smiles girlishly.

The film is capped up with a plot twist so implausible it blasted me right out of the movie onto the moons of Jupiter by the author's straining, sweating, thuddingly manipulative hand. And then the movie piles on the single most unbelievable ending I have ever seen.

There are movie surprises that rearrange the furniture inside your head and make you shout, "Oh! Of course! How could I not have seen that? Now everything makes so much more sense!" The best such surprise is in the film "Sixth Sense." "Gone Girl" surprises you by showing how desperate a writer can get.

Warning: The rest of this review will reveal the ending of "Gone Girl." If you don't want to know the ending of "Gone Girl," stop reading now.

Nick (Ben Affleck) is married to Amy (Rosamund Pike). They live in Missouri, the show me state. Amy disappears and Nick is under suspicion. Did he kill her?

So, now, you are thinking that "Gone Girl" will explore the interesting question we all ask when beautiful young women disappear and their husbands are suspected of murder. Those questions are: How could a loving marriage go so wrong? How could a marriage look perfect on the outside and be rotten on the inside? How could a loving husband murder his own wife? Does our 24/7 media coverage encourage us to form lynch mobs? Forget it. "Gone Girl" explores none of this.

Nick had cheated on Amy with one of his students. Hurt, Amy faked her own disappearance. Amy is incredibly beautiful, the star of a series of children's books, a sexual Tantric master, a psychopath, and a criminal mastermind. Heck, the filmmakers may as well just added invisibility, flight, and the ability to conjugate Polish verbs at will to Amy's list of superpowers. She is that unbelievable.

Amy just wants to hurt Nick, because he hurt her. So she flawlessly fakes her own murder. Amy seeks shelter from Desi, an old boyfriend, Neal Patrick Harris, whom she had accused of stalking her. Desi makes Amy his virtual prisoner in his lake house. He, too, is a criminal mastermind, psychopath, and Tantric sex master, and his lake house is carefully designed to prevent Amy from escaping from their hot sex, good food, and discussions of opera and philosophy. You had no idea Missouri was this interesting, did you? You'll never call it "flyover country" again, will you?

Amy stabs Desi when he is climaxing during their hot sex. Buckets of blood gush out of him. The director wants you to see all this – this is what you bought your ticket for, is it not? Certainly not for intelligence or heart.

Amy returns to Nick. No one bothers to indict Amy for Desi's murder, because she is incredibly beautiful, famous, and a criminal mastermind. And because the plot of this movie holds together like a wet Kleenex. Nick knows that Amy is a murderer and that she attempted to frame him for her murder and only returned after that went wrong. Nick hates and fears Amy. And Nick stays with Amy, as her husband. The End.

I think the author of "Gone Girl" was trying to use flamboyantly exaggerated premises to comment on a few themes: none of us can fully understand what keeps marriages together, women are terribly hurt by infidelity, beautiful women can use manipulation and sex to get what they want in life.

All of these themes are genuinely interesting, and good art inspired by them is compelling. I kept thinking of "The Country Girl," a brilliant treatment of a complex marriage that outsiders don't understand. TV coverage of the Laci Peterson murder was ten times more watchable, interesting, and educational than the idiotic "Gone Girl" could ever hope to be. "Body Heat" was a hundred times better as a depiction of a hot blond wrapping a big, dumb, handsome guy around her finger. And "Body Heat"'s plot twist leaves "Gone Girl" in the dust.

Ben Affleck's broad shoulders and chest look really good here. His acting is vapid, absent, and clueless, appropriate to the part of a man manipulated by a woman. Rosamund Pike's performance as a human who could never actually exist is good. Basically, she's playing a Star Trek space alien, and she does it well. The excellent Tyler Perry is wasted.

41 out of 66 people found the following review useful:
If You Don't Cry While Watching This Movie I Don't Want to Know You, 8 July 2014

If you don't cry while watching "America: Imagine the World Without Her," I don't want to know you. "America: Imagine the World Without Her" is a slickly produced and entertaining documentary that attempts to fill a need in the US for a counter to hegemonic anti-American voices on the left in academia and media. It's a sober, responsible, and fact-based documentary, not at all sensationalistic or exaggerated. If anything, it is more low-key than it should be. It could have used more fireworks.

"America" features dramatic reenactments of historic personages and events. In this respect it is more like a feature film and less like a documentary. Much of the time you are not watching talking heads; you are watching fully costumed actors and fully realized sets. In the opening scenes, General George Washington is killed by the British. No, that never happened; that's the whole point. Imagine if the colonists lost the Revolutionary War. Other reenactments include the landing of Columbus' ships, life on a Southern plantation, Lincoln's assassination, Madame CJ Walker giving a speech, and Hillary Clinton working in a soup kitchen.

D'Souza opens with interviews with prominent anti-American spokespeople, including Charmaine Whiteface who wishes America did not exist, Prof. Michael Eric Dyson, a race baiter, and Prof. Ward Churchill, who advanced his own career and enjoyed many privileges and perquisites by falsely claiming Native American ancestry. Churchill is especially grotesque, arguing that he would like to nuke America.

D'Souza includes clips of Howard Zinn, Bill Ayers and Elizabeth Warren, yet another professor who advanced her own career by falsely claiming Native American ancestry. The anti-American voices outline the indictment: American stole land from Native Americans, enslaved Africans, colonized the world, and destroys its own people with capitalism.

D'Souza then responds to these charges. He points out that conquest was not unique to the conquistadors, that disease, not genocide, killed most Native Americans, and that similar population crashes occurred in Europe when the plague entered Europe from Asia. Slavery was not unique to the US. The US is unique in fighting a war to end slavery. Capitalism uplifts more people than any other system, while communism causes famines and shortages.

D'Souza veers from his own main thrust when he devotes a lot of time to identifying Hillary Clinton as a disciple of Saul Alinsky. Alinsky didn't start anti-Americanism. His book "Rules for Radicals" is an excellent primer in non-violent change. Demonizing Saul Alinsky is a dead-end.

I wish "America" were on the curricula of every student in America. It's a stirring corrective to the anti-American venom students are typically force-fed.

0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Juicy, Schmaltzy Biopic with a Fake NJ Accent, 8 July 2014

"Jersey Boys" is a sudsy, juicy, schmaltzy music biopic with a fake New Jersey accent. I'm from New Jersey and nobody here talks like that. The movie is fun and heartwarming but I liked it and didn't love it.

John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli is the heart and soul of the movie. Early in the film the film focuses on Tommy DeVito (Vincent Piazza). DeVito is more of a small time hood than a musician and this part of the film plays like a goofy Mafia movie. Tommy wants to give a new band member one left shoe, telling him that he will be able to give him a right shoe later. Tommy gets these shoes by pilfering from transported goods.

There is a scene of Italian-American parents eating spaghetti and that feels clichéd. I grew up among New Jersey Italians and this aspect of the movie, to me, felt more as if it were inspired by Clint Eastwood watching films about Italians from New Jersey rather than his actually attempting to depict real people.

I wish there had been more focus on ethnicity in the movie. How did it feel to four Italian guys from New Jersey with Mafia ties and criminal records to become number one musicians? There is a scene where a producer tells them, "Come back when you are black" and slams the door in their faces. In another scene, Frankie's soon-to-be wife advises him on spelling his last name in a way that will lead to success. Yes, he should shorten his name, but he should be sure to end it in a vowel, because Italian last names must end in a vowel, unlike WASP last names. In still another scene she ridicules him as a WOP from NJ who never finished high school. There are hints of what it meant to be Italian in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, but the movie doesn't flesh out this aspect of the story.

The movie really came alive for me through Frankie's relationship with his daughter Francine, and his taking the reins after Tommy DeVito's shenanigans cause too much trouble for the group. John Lloyd Young as Frankie Valli is poignant. He is physically small, as is Frankie Valli in real life, and he plays Valli as a relatively quiet guy, while Tommy is played as more flamboyant. It's rewarding to watch Valli come into his own.

Christopher Walken is simply wonderful as Gyp DeCarlo, a member of the Genovese crime family whom Valli identifies as a father figure. In real life, Gyp DeCarlo was a loanshark and murderer. The film romanticizes him.

For a movie that depicts the rise of a pop group, "Jersey Boys" doesn't pay as much attention as it might to music. The early part of the movie focuses more on petty crime, and later it's more about the dynamics of the band member's petty squabbles with each other and the women in their lives.

I wish more attention had been paid to doo-wap and other social and musical influences. The Four Seasons era, from the 1950s to the 1970s, is one of the most creatively fertile times in American pop music. None of that is addressed in any serious way. And I wish there had been more start-to-finish musical numbers, rather than song snips.

All in all, though, I really liked this movie. It's the kind of movie that makes you want to go home and google this or that strand of the story to see if the film is true to life. Apparently, yes, "Jersey Boys" is a very accurate bio-pic.

Worthy of Attention; The "Other Victims" Are Rarely Covered, 25 May 2014

"Forget Us Not" is an award-winning, seventy-minute documentary presenting the experiences of what are referred to as Nazism's "other victims." History's focus is on the six million Jews the Nazis murdered because Nazism's focus was on Jews.

But it is a tragedy, and a great lie, that too many people have no idea that Nazism also targeted non-Jews. When I speak about the Holocaust, I ask audiences, "What group did the Nazis mass murder first and last, even after they surrendered to the Allies?"

No one has yet been able to answer that question. The answer is handicapped Germans. If you are surprised, you don't understand Nazism. A good first step would be viewing "Forget Us Not."

Ron Perlman provides sonorous narration. Archival black and white film clips are interspersed throughout, including one brief, insufferable shot of Nazis laughing. Lieutenant Commander Jack H. Taylor, "the first Navy Seal," testifies to the horrors of Mauthausen. What music there is is excellent.

Most of "Forget Us Not" consists of four living survivors telling their own stories. Wilhelm Heckman's story is told via voice-over narration and photographs. Heckman was a musician and alleged to be a homosexual; he was interned in Mauthausen.

Robert Wagemann is the most articulate interviewee. Before his birth, his mother was imprisoned for distributing Jehovah's Witness pamphlets. His mother's obstetrician was Jewish, and thanks to Nazi policies, he disappeared. Wagemann was a breach birth, and his mother had only a midwife for help. Wagemann's hip was injured.

When Wagemann was five years old, he was ordered to report for a physical. His mother overheard a doctor saying that he'd break for lunch, come back, and murder Wagemann. Nazi Aktion T4 was designed to eliminate defective people. Wagemann's mother grabbed her son and rushed to the exit. A nun blocked their escape; Wagemann's mother was insistent. She took her naked son to a riverbank and dressed him in the privacy of the reeds.

Wagemann said his goal was to communicate to young people living in the West how fortunate they are, and what kind of freedom they have. "Tolerance and conscience is the most important thing," he says. "To fight racism and hate you have to have tolerance. You have to look upon the next person as your human brother and human sister. You have to help him when he is in need...if you cut yourself what comes out is red. If he cuts himself, it's the same color."

Ceija Stojka was an Austrian-Romani survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen- Belsen. Her family was Catholic. Her interview offers the most graphic details of horror. She describes the death of her little brother Ossi from typhus, dead bodies of babies rolling out of trains when the doors were opened, and her attempt to match decapitated heads to appropriate bodies when she came upon an "insanely large" pile of corpses.

Natalia Orloff-Klauer was Ukrainian. Her parents were rounded up and used by the Nazis as slave laborers. Her experience was one of slow starvation and hideous conditions. Her mother became ill, never recovered, and died shortly after the war. Later, Orloff-Klauer survived the firebombing of Dresden. Even rescue presented nightmares; survivors had to be stripped naked, shaved, deloused, and paraded for inspection. After the war she lived in a damaged railway car. The Grace Presbyterian Church of Wichita, Kansas sponsored the surviving members of her family and made it possible for her to come to the US.

Veronika Young was a Polish slave laborer. Her interview was the least satisfying. Young repeatedly stated that she did not remember key details, including the name of the town she was born in. She said things like "It was horrible." I wish the filmmaker had found a more articulate and authoritative Polish survivor. There are certainly all too many Polish survivors of Nazi atrocities. After Jews and Gypsies/Rom, Poles were the most persecuted national group under the Nazis. The Poles' role in WW II was key, and better understanding of what the Nazis did to Poles would help the viewer.

Filmmaker Heather E. Connell's previous work addressed orphans in Cambodia. Her humanitarian approach is clear. Connell devotes the final twenty minutes of the film to the founding of the United Nations, to mention of other genocides, and to each survivor's exhortations to the audience. Realize how lucky you are, survivors insist to young viewers. Be tolerant. Take care of each other. Never again.

The "other victims" are often ignored for ideological reasons. I know students who have been lead to believe by Christophobic scholars and media that Nazism was a Christian phenomenon; in fact, Nazism vowed to destroy Christianity and Dachau was known as Germany's largest monastery, because of all the clergy interned there.

Nazism was inspired by atheism, scientism, Darwinism, and neo-Paganism. Attention to Nazism's "other victims" can clarify ideological propaganda.

"Forget Us Not" doesn't provide enough information to the viewer to understand how each group of victims differed. Yes, Nazis killed Ukrainians, but it's important to remember that Ukrainians, at first, were significant in their level of collaboration and genocidal killings of Poles. Jehovah's Witnesses were concentration camp inmates, but they were accorded relatively preferential treatment.

"Three million Polish citizens marked with the letter P met their deaths in the camps," the film states. Three million Polish non-Jews did not die in concentration camps. Young says she was in Saarbrucken concentration camp and Orloff-Klauer says she was in Bibigan concentration camp; I cannot find either in lists of the camps. Otherwise, though, for its intimate portraits of "other victims," this film is recommended.

Noah (2014)
12 out of 28 people found the following review useful:
An Atheist's Badass God, 30 March 2014

The storyteller telling the Noah story faces this serious challenge: how to make the protagonist sympathetic. This is a bigger challenge than explaining the logistics: How one man and his family were able to build an ark capacious enough to accommodate all species on earth and sturdy enough to withstand a flood; how rain could fall hard enough to flood the entire planet; how to feed all those creatures and eliminate their waste products. I've worked with animals and mucking out five stalls every morning was, well, Herculean.

No, the bigger challenge is how to get the audience to sympathize with God, the real protagonist of the story (Noah is just God's tool). The God of the Noah story is all too much like the Pagan divinities of ancient Greece: petulant, fickle, and not all that bright. God creates mankind and loves mankind, but then God turns on mankind, eager to wipe out mankind. God preserves some humans, but among the humans God preserves is Ham, who is accused of "seeing his father naked," which some take to mean that he humiliated, castrated, or perhaps sodomized Noah. In other words, the remnant this God saved is not any better than the masses God drowned. Duh.

I was looking forward to Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" not only for the special effects flood and animals, but also because I wanted to see how Aronofsky would justify his God.

What would be the great evil that Aronofsky would attribute to humanity? Why did we deserve to be wiped out? If this were Cecil B. DeMille, our sin would certainly be sex. Sex sells tickets and entertains audiences. A swaggering, bare chested Yul Brynner married to the very hot Anne Baxter deserved God's smiting!

Aronofsky assigns a much more prosaic sin to humanity: environmental destruction. Noah, Aronfsky's hero, subsists on lichens. This is ridiculous; no one gets to be as beefy as Russell Crowe by eating lichens only. (Jennifer Connelly, Noah's wife, is quite thin and I can believe that she eats nothing but lichens.) The rest of mankind hunts animals, eats meat and mines minerals. Also humans chop down a lot of trees.

Tubal Cain, the king of the bad humans, is a miner. There is a scene where Noah walks through a blasted wasteland of tree stumps. Think of that the next time you use toilet paper, made from trees!!! Also, humans are shown eating flesh ripped from a living animal. People also engage in much violence, and there is a smudgy rape scene. The sin that gets the most attention, though, is environmental destruction.

"Noah"'s greatest strength, for me, was its seriousness. The God of "Noah" is a badass God who gets very, very angry and takes no prisoners. He is a mythic, superhero God who supplies his chosen with "Watchers," giants made out of stone who have glowing, fiery eyes. Darren Aronofsky is a self-described atheist, but he has put a Godzilla divinity on screen. This God is not New Age. He is not touchy feely. He is not singing Kumbaya. There is such a thing as sin, and if you sin, Godzilla's foot squashes you.

The angry God and sin part of "Noah" surprised me and gripped me. The scenes of humans clinging to rocks and howling as they drowned were powerful and frightening. I would not bring a small child to this movie.

The rest of the movie was only so-so. The special effects were meh. The animals are all CGI; Aronofsky has said that he does not believe in working with real animals, presumably because it discomfits the animals. A lover of good animal footage would get much more enjoyment out of watching any given animal video on youtube than from "Noah." The flood was okay. The stone giant Watchers were interesting at first but quickly became semi-comical. The second half of the movie revolves around a couple of non-Biblical subplots – a stowaway on the ark, and Noah becoming obsessed with killing someone – and those did not grab my interest.

30 out of 76 people found the following review useful:
Christophobia on Campus; Disappointing, 25 March 2014

Christophobia on campus is all too real. I have attended faculty meetings that open with professors making the most egregious comments mocking Christian students. I have helped students who were harassed and bullied by professors once they made their identities as Christians known. I know of cases where hiring committees did look askance at applicants after discovering that they were Christian. I have seen hostile professors mock not just Christians, but also devout Muslims for belief in God. I have heard reports of devout Jews also being openly ridiculed in university settings.

"God's Not Dead" was a profound let-down. Christophobia on campus is a real problem, and it deserves better treatment than this ham-fisted, simple-minded, sadistically triumphalist film.

"God's Not Dead" opens provocatively. Josh (Shane Harper) a college freshman, takes a class with a professor (Kevin Sorbo) who requires his students to write "God is dead" on a piece of paper. Josh refuses to do so. He and the professor square off. The professor challenges Josh to convince his fellow students of God's existence. Harper and Sorbo are both good in their roles. The film's premise is excellent. The film does almost nothing with it.

Instead, through choppily edited scenes, it juggles several strands of subplots. A Muslim college girl converts to Christianity and her father reacts with hostility and heartbreak. An American minister wishes he were in Africa, but learns, through a providentially malfunctioning car, that life here in the US presents important challenges. A reporter having an affair with a callous, selfish man gets some bad news about her health. An elderly woman has Alzheimer's. Her daughter is involved with … the arrogant, atheist university professor. Two Duck Dynasty TV stars appear; this celebrity scene took me out of the movie completely. There is a concert with a Christian rock band called the Newsboys.

The duel between the frightened but determined college student and the arrogant professor was the most promising plot thread. It could have made a great, great movie. Instead the script fritters this contest away. It is never developed.

For me the most moving scene from the various subplots was also one of the most obvious and ham-handed. In a darkened room, a woman who is otherwise rendered senseless by Alzheimer's suddenly delivers a powerful sermon about how Satan can keep people trapped in comfortable prison cells.

Commentators have blasted the movie for depicting a Muslim father reacting with hostility to his daughter's conversion to Christianity. In fact Marco Khan depicts the father with great sensitivity. He obviously loves his daughter and he wants to protect her from negative influences. When he learns of her conversion, he is practically in tears. This is a complex and human character, not a hateful stereotype.

I won't reveal the end of the movie here, except to report that it is shameless. The movie handles the atheist professor shamelessly. This ending portrays God as much more shallow than he could ever be.

"God's Not Dead" struck me as a film that reflects some of the, to me, less attractive features of modern American Evangelical Protestantism. I reflected on Catholic films that, I think, handled issues of faith in deeper, more complex, more human ways. I'm thinking of pop movies like "Going My Way" and "Bells of Saint Mary's," blockbusters like "Sound of Music" and Fred Zinnemann's 1959 classic, "The Nun's Story."

These films show all the ups and downs, the pimples and pockmarks, the real-life roadblocks, mazes, and dark nights of the soul of a life of faith. In "Bells of Saint Mary's," a pacifist nun teaches a bullied boy how to box. In "Sound of Music" faith goes up against lust and Nazism. In "The Nun's Story" the atheist, Dr. Fortunati, is an ally of a person of faith. In "God's Not Dead," all the Christians are purely good, and all the non-Christians are close to being purely bad. In "God's Not Dead," it seems all you have to do is say, "God is good all the time" and presto changeo, even cars obey God's will to make your life better, and everything ends up as a triumphant sing-along.

0 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
As Aunt Tetka Might Have Said, "Smutna ale Krasna", 21 March 2014

My Aunt Tetka lived most of her 101 years in Bayonne, New Jersey but she never learned to speak English well at all. Who needed The New York Times, Kennedy's inauguration speech, or William Shakespeare? Aunt Tetka could sing all one hundred verses of Slovak folksongs.

Visiting Aunt Tetka was a trip to another world, a world she took with her when she (finally!) died. There were many curtains. The air was inside her home was as thick as soup. It smelled sweet, like Uncle Strecko's pipe smoke, and pungent, of cabbage, onions, and ham. There were sepia photographs of grim faced men with serious mustaches and women in embroidered babushkas, oil paintings of peasant huts and high mountains, figurines of goose girls, brass ornaments incised with pagan sun symbols and a graphic crucified Christ. Aunt Tetka consumed only pastries, sprinkled with powdered sugar, served on handmade doilies. Five minutes into Wes Anderson 2014 film "The Grand Budapest Hotel," I was weeping. Anderson took me back to Aunt Tetka.

Mitteleuropa means "Central Europe" in German. Mitteleuropa has had many meanings, some of them frightening, geopolitical, and military. The friendlier Mitteleuropa references musics, languages, cuisines, colors and attitudes of Central Europe, an area stretching roughly from Germany to Ukraine, from the Baltics to the Balkans, a region sharing slivovice, zither and cimbalom, Gypsies, irony, pastry, sentiment, Catholicism, Judaism Orthodoxy, empire and cataclysm. Given recent news events, Mitteleuropa is much in the news: today we speak again of Cossacks, Crimea, and empire.

There aren't many American films that encapsulate the feel of Mitteleuropa. "The Third Man" comes to mind, with its famous zither score. There's the original Bela Lugosi "Dracula" and "Fiddler on the Roof." Most of these films emphasize the dark side of the region, and that's too bad. Mitteleuropa has a rich tradition of joy and humor. It's remarkable that Anderson, an all-American filmmaker produced "The Grand Budapest Hotel."

When watching this film, I really wondered how much of it the audience would understand. GBH so tenderly reflects the peculiar history and experience of Mitteleuropa. For example, the movie is told as a reminiscence by a writer remembering an encounter from his youth with another person who retells the life story of yet another person. Why this "as told to as told to" feature? Why not just present the narrative directly?

The "as told to as told to" feature adds to the feeling of a lost world, of the antique, of a word-of-mouth story that is not reflected accurately in official histories. If you read the official histories of Mitteleuropa in the 20th century, you read of battles and massacres. If you know the people from Mitteleuropa, you encounter warmth and humanity and fate and humor and hair's breadth escapes and moments of generosity and grace that never made it into official histories. If you hadn't gone to that one déclassé health spa in the Zubrowkian Alps, you never would have met that one person, and never learned the story of Monsieur Gustav, and the tiny nation of Zubrowka would always be a mystery to you.

The opening scenes, in rapid succession, show the Grand Budapest Hotel under communism, and then in its glory days, under something like the Hapsburg Empire. These very brief juxtapositions are brilliant. They really capture what those of us who traveled to Mitteleuropa saw under the Soviet system, even the creepy green paint.

Monsieur Gustav is a concierge and gigolo. While training a new lobby boy, Zero, Gustav becomes entangled in a family scandal, a heist, and a prison break. There is a war in the background. For all its silliness, the movie brings M Gustav to life. Ralph Fiennes MUST receive an Academy Award nomination, and he really ought to win. He plays his part completely straight. His deadpan delivery of funny lines and his commitment to M Gustav brings this parody character in a wacky film to complete life. You love Gustav. You admire him. He moves you. You care about his fate.

Tony Revolori is very good as Zero Mustafa, Gustav's protégée. His relationship with Gustav is adorable.

The movie moves at a surprisingly brisk pace. The film itself may be looking back with nostalgia, but it is an action film. There is a genuinely exciting chase scene on skis.

GBH doesn't attempt to honor the horrors that took place in Mitteleuropa in the 20th century. The Holocaust is just one of these horrors; there was also the Holodomor, the mass migration of starving peasants to the US, battle casualties, and too many other atrocities to mention. There are scenes where characters speak of being displaced and on the run, of families massacred. The viewer knows what Anderson is referencing. At one point the GBH is taken over by evil forces whose insignia, a design close to a swastika, appears on banners draped all over the hotel, in the same way that a swastika was draped over the von Trapp home in "Sound of Music."

Anderson's answer to this evil is M. Gustav: be kind, be a friend, and be quietly clever. Make connections with other humans. Do favors, and rely on favors. This focus on the ordinary gestures of good hearted people in the face of enormous evil is deeply touching.

I wish there had been more women in this film. Saoirse Ronan is the one female part of note, and she speaks in an Irish accent as sharp as a blade that totally took me out of the film. Her screen presence is cold and not fitting. I wish there had been more peasants, and more outside scenes. Mitteleuropa was built on peasantry and GBH needed at least one buxom earth goddess binding sheaves of wheat or milking a cow.

Son of God (2014)
65 out of 136 people found the following review useful:
Sloppy and Dull. Not Recommended., 1 March 2014

"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 than once.

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.

43 out of 75 people found the following review useful:
Irritatingly Frenetic and Ugly to Look At, 23 February 2014

"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 chute.

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 (2014/I)
52 out of 88 people found the following review useful:
Cheesy. Okay. *Just* Okay., 23 February 2014

"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.

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