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I *love* "That Old Feeling" and it bugs me that this effervescent
bedroom farce is not received as a classic along the lines of "It
Happened One Night" or "When Harry Met Sally." For my money, it's a
masterpiece in its genre. Comedy is a lot like music. It requires
timing, choreography, and expertise to look effortless. "That Old
Feeling" is the product of a master director Carl Reiner and it
shows in every gesture, every beat, every scene. "That Old Feeling" is
smart, witty, bubbly, bouncy, sharp and sweet from first scene to last.
"That Old Feeling" doesn't make much sense; it isn't supposed to. It's supposed to make you laugh and feel romantic and good about life, and it does. Anyone, of any age, could see this movie and feel, afterward, that they could walk out the door and stumble across the love of their life. Though I've watched this movie several times, I still laugh out loud at favorite gags.
Molly (Paula Marshall) a straight-laced twenty-something, is marrying Keith (James Denton), a ridiculously handsome politician's son. Molly's divorced parents have not seen each other for years. Lily (Bette Midler) is an actress. Dan (Dennis Farina) is a writer. They hate each other. They, in turn, are married to Alan (David Rasche) a therapist and self-help author, and Rowena (Gail O'Grady) an interior decorator. Lily is being chased by Joey (Danny Nucci) a paparazzi.
The rules of the bedroom farce genre are that a roundelay of characters must rapidly pair off in unlikely ways, their pairings interspersed with improbable plot devices and lots of slamming doors and aghast hands to faces as couplings are discovered. That's pretty much all that happens in "That Old Feeling," right up until the very last moments of the movie. It's no small feat that Reiner keeps all these juggled balls bobbing compellingly in the air.
It's all funny and sexy and smart, but it's also actually pretty deep. "That Old Feeling," like all good bedroom farces, comments on love and hate and attraction, commitment, fidelity, and adultery, and on relationship trade-offs. All of the characters in this film are likable and they are all flawed. If character X ends up with potential partner Y, she will gain in one area of her life, but lose in another. Charm v stability. Passion v consistency. Love/hate v security. The exciting unknown v the old reliable.
Every performance is terrific. Bette Midler is, well, Bette Midler. She's never been better than she is here. I often find her over-the- top but here she is just the right amount of the Divine Miss M. David Rasche, a former member of the Second City troupe, makes me laugh every time he is on screen as the therapist and self-help author. He's every bit as funny as Will Ferrell. Danny Nucci is appropriately sleazy and scruffy and he is also wonderful after his transformation via wet fingers and another man's jacket. Dennis Farina is amazingly, wonderfully hot as an arrogant, macho guy who gets what he wants by waving large bills between his fingers under the noses of hotel staff. I could go through the whole cast but suffice it to say that every performance is funny, tender, human, and expert.
One of the lovely plusses of "That Old Feeling." It depicts people over fifty having sex and enjoying it.
I watch this movie over and over because I love the signature of a master's hand in every scene. In the opening scene, a man proposes marriage to a woman. In the background, there is a bouquet of flowers. The flowers are on screen for less than a minute, but they are lit so beautifully it takes my breath away. It's that kind of meticulous attention to detail that makes a movie worth watching for me.
"Into the Woods" is one of the worst A-list-star, major-studio movies I
have ever seen. It lacks magic. It's boring and it is so inept it's
actually offensive. Performances by international stars like Meryl
Streep, Emily Blunt and Johnny Depp go kerplunk on the screen, without
motivation or artistry. The cinematography is murky and flat, as if
provided by Moe's Sporting Goods and Cinematography-To-Go.
The problem of "Into the Woods" can be summed up in one word: "meta." "Into the Woods" is an attempt to *tell* fairy tales while simultaneously making meta commentary *about* fairy tales. The film fails on both points.
Imagine someone telling you an anecdote about what happened with their day, and stopping after every line to say, "At this point, you should be feeling empathy because I have just told you a sad thing. At this point, you should be feeling exhilaration, because I have just told you a celebratory thing. At this point, you should be concluding that Obama's economic policies have failed, because I have just told you that I do not have enough money for lunch. At this point, you should be feeling frustrated, because I have just defied your expectations of how this story should end."
Think of how rapidly that storytelling style would grate on you.
"Into the Woods"'s plot is a regurgitated slop, with several fairy tales mined for their money shots and slapped together in order to make some arcane point about how fairy tales are really psychologically and socially complex documents, full of implications about sexuality, gender roles, parent-child relations, and economic inequity.
There's no narrative drive, no need to see what will happen next. The plot elements were just thrown in the air and allowed to fall to the ground in a random fashion. There is no main character to root for. There's no goal to be achieved and celebrate or mourn for. None of the actors can register a breath of conviction because there's nothing happening that anyone could care about. When the movie feels over, it suddenly lurches on for twenty more minutes.
The music and songs do not deserve to be called either "music" or "songs." Is Stephen Sondheim the first fully deaf man ever to make a career as a composer and lyricist? Does he compose his music and lyrics by throwing darts at a piano and a thesaurus? I saw Rodgers and Hammerstein's magical "Cinderella" when I was around five years old. I have not seen it since. I can still sing some of the songs, they touched me that deeply, especially "In my own little corner," which captures the heart and soul of every little girl who ever felt alone and escaped on dreams to a better world.
I couldn't begin to recapitulate a single one of the songs from "Into the Woods" and I saw it just a few days ago, except for the line "Children will listen." All I remember is: "Children will listen blah blah blah." Actually, since it's Stephen Sondheim, it's more like "Chil' dren will LISten blah blah BLIIIH." With the "BLIIIH" on a minor key.
There's a scene where two dueling handsome princes sing a competitive song: I'm more handsome than you; I am suffering more than you are suffering romantically. It's a great concept accompanied by a lousy song and even worse execution. Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, both talented stars, are directed to move without grace or charm, and they do all this in leather clothing in a waterfall. The entire time you are thinking, "Wow, that water is really gonna ruin that leather."
Fairy tales are magic. Fairy tales do make important points about gender roles, socioeconomic inequities, and parent-child-relations. Fairy tales are deep. If you want to immerse yourself in those points, read scholars like Bruno Bettleheim, Alan Dundes and Bengt Holbek. Ripping the innards out of a fairy tale and tossing those innards about randomly kills the tale. All you get is inert fairy tale innards. "Into the Woods" isn't sophisticated or intelligent, as it desperately wants to be. It isn't saying big, thoughtful things about fairy tales. It's just a big, meandering, amateurish misfire created by people who really aren't as sophisticated as they think they are.
War movies are not my genre of choice. I am a romantic comedy fan.
"American Sniper" is such an excellently made film that it demanded my
full attention and earned my esteem. This is a violent, bloody, war
movie with a sad ending. The film is so expertly made I left the
theater exhilarated. Such is the power of art.
It is astounding that this film was made by a director, Clint Eastwood, who is in his eighties. "American Sniper" is fast-paced, gripping, suspenseful, and the most truly contemporary film I've seen in a while. It addresses what we are all thinking about: the West's confrontation with violent Islamists. The film feels as if it was peeled out of our brains during our nightmares. There is no elegiac feeling here. No nostalgia, no backward glances. It is all now, now, now, now, with the forward motion of a locomotive at full tilt. With "American Sniper," Clint Eastwood has outdone himself and set the bar very high.
Bradley Cooper is flawless. His commitment is one hundred percent. This is a performance for the ages.
"American Sniper" tells the true story of Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in US military history. The film depicts him as having been taught to hunt by his father. His father also taught him that there are three kinds of people in the world: wolves, sheep, and shepherds. It is the shepherd's job to defend the sheep from the wolves. Kyle became a rodeo bucking bronco rider.
After terrorist attacks, he decided to join the military to defend his country. He was sent to Iraq, where he did four tours of duty. He covered soldiers moving into urban combat zones in cities like Fallujah. He would lie on rooftops, survey surrounding areas, and shoot at suspicious characters, including women and children assigned to bomb troops. Interspersed with his tours in Iraq, Kyle married his wife and fathered two children. After his return to the US, Kyle aided returned veterans who suffered from PTSD.
"American Sniper" follows this story in a completely straightforward, unadorned fashion. You can't help but think of other war films when watching "American Sniper." The flamboyant operatics of "The Deer Hunter," the heavy-handed, manipulative, almost propagandistic politics of "Coming Home," the graphic combat of "Saving Private Ryan." "American Sniper"'s style is almost no style. The movie simply meticulously recreates what Kyle did and saw. There is a scene where American soldiers raid the headquarters of The Butcher of Fallujah. There are shelves on which human body parts, including at least one severed head, are stored. The camera does not linger on this hideous and telling sight. The moviegoer sees these body parts for only as long as the soldiers running through the headquarters sees them.
There are no White House scenes, no Pentagon scenes, almost no scenes of reporters commenting on the war. There are no lingering shots of gas stations hint hint petroleum caused this war! One soldier does begin to question; he dies. Kyle attends his funeral. A mourner begins to read a document questioning the wisdom of the Iraq war; she cannot finish. The three-volley gun salute drowns her out.
The movie soundtrack begins with an ominous male voice intoning "Allahu akbar." Characters who are obviously Arab and Muslim are shown doing very bad things, including one very brief but disturbing scene of a man torturing a child to death in a hideously inventive way, in front of the child's father. American soldiers are shown being dedicated and trying to avoid civilian deaths.
Politically correct moviegoers will decide that what is missing from this movie is the heavy hand of an interpreter reaching in and telling you that the war was a mistake, that it was all about petroleum, that the American soldiers were all racists, that the Arabs were merely attempting to defend their homeland from invaders, that truly evil men like the Butcher of Fallujah were the products of failed US foreign policy.
I found "American Sniper"'s minimalism to be an incredibly courageous and innovative stylistic choice. Eastwood must know that every moviegoer enters the theater with his or her own opinion about the Iraq War, about the West v Islam, about terror. We know that Fallujah is now under ISIS control. We know that another war looms.
This isn't the viewer's movie. It isn't the politician's movie. It is Chris Kyle's movie. The movie veers wildly from scenes of incredible tension and horror in Iraq. Kyle goes on leave and is back in the US. Suddenly the biggest issue is getting a collie to behave at a family barbecue in Texas. Kyle sits in front of an empty TV screen, reliving Iraqi battles. The film delivers no lecture about PTSD. It just lives Kyle's PTSD with him.
"American Sniper" is a gripping, suspenseful, involving, virtuosic film. I am glad it is getting the Academy-Award nominations and record-setting box office and audience it deserves.
"Ida" 2013 directed by Paweł Pawlikowski, is a brief (80 minutes)
black-and-white, two-character movie. It is very quiet; you barely need
to read the subtitles to follow the slender plot. It is so slow- moving
that three times while watching it I suspected that technical
difficulties had stopped the film. No; the actor and scene were merely
all but frozen. This almost anorexic film takes on huge, sweeping
issues: Polish-Jewish relations, Christian-Jewish relations, identity,
the Holocaust, guilt, karma, Communist oppression of Poles, and the
Catholic vow of chastity for nuns. Reviewers have blessed "Ida" with
glowing reviews, insisting that this minimalist film makes big points
through allusion and suggestion.
I doubt this. I think most viewers who don't know a heck of a lot about Poland will be baffled and bored by this movie. I think sometimes less is not more but really is less. I think "Ida" would have been a better film with a more tightly focused and more developed screenplay. Words can lead to misunderstanding but words are what we've got to work with. "Too many notes!" a cinematic emperor criticized a Mozart work. "Ida" suffers from "too few words."
In spite of its heavy subject matter, what struck me most about "Ida," and what I will most remember, is its visual beauty. "Ida" is shot in black and white, and it takes place in undistinguished Polish settings in the depth of winter. You see snow-covered fields, corner bars, dingy buildings with cracked plaster. The careful composition of each shot, and the cinematographers' lovely handling of different gradations of light and shadow, transform otherwise dreary locales into works of art.
"Ida" is about a teenage girl in Poland in the 1960s. She has spent her entire life in convent, and she is about to take her final vows. Her mother superior orders her to meet, for the first time, with Wanda Gruz, her sole living relative. Ida does so, and Wanda informs Ida that she is Jewish. Wanda and Ida travel to the village where their Jewish family hid from the Nazis in a barn. Ida's parents and brother were murdered. Wanda and Ida travel to their grave. This new information causes Ida to reassess her commitment to becoming a nun.
Agata Trzebuchowska plays Ida. Press accounts claim she is not a professional actress. She is given very little to say or do. The camera spends much time gazing at her youth and beauty. A male director ogling a gorgeous young amateur the director's "discovery" whom he does not allow to speak, act or develop as something other than an artistic composition distracted and offended me. Enough already with females as marionettes of male geniuses.
Agata Kulesza plays Wanda Gruz, Ida's aunt. Wanda was a judge under Communism. Wanda participated in the persecution of Polish anti-Nazi fighters in the post-war era. Wanda is based on the real life Helena Wolińska-Brus. Wolinska-Brus participated in the Stalinist persecution of genuine heroes who had fought the Nazis and aided Jews. She was a monster.
The Wanda Gruz of "Ida" is not a monster. She is the most fascinating and memorable character in the film. She is the one burning ember in an otherwise inert, black-and-white landscape of monosyllabic Polish peasants and the boring Miss Goody Twoshoes, Ida. Wanda is complex. She is a highly tormented character who drinks, smokes, is sexy and sexually promiscuous, and reveals her superior intelligence through her sarcasm. In the scene where Wanda and Ida are brought to their relatives' graves by a morally compromised Polish peasant, Wanda reveals deep grief. You cannot help but like Wanda.
In a movie that touches on WW II and the Holocaust, I was sickened by how sympathetic Wanda was. Would Pawlikowski have been able to get away with placing a likable Nazi at the center of such a film? If not, then why did he place a sexy and lovable Stalinist murderess at the center of his film? Answer: Because Stalinist murder does not carry the same taint as Nazi murder. Problem: the millions tortured and murdered in the name of Communism are just as dead as the millions murdered in the name of Nazism.
There are volumes of history and hours of debate transcripts behind the issues that "Ida" touches on. Most filmgoers will have no idea of any of this and much of the film will pass right over their heads. Reviews on the International Movie Database reveal this. Sincere and intelligent filmgoers were unmoved and befuddled by "Ida." Key pieces of information are never articulated: Poland was occupied by Nazis. Nazis persecuted and murdered Polish Catholics as well as Jews. Some Poles betrayed Jews. Some Poles were heroic and saved Jews. Many Poles were neither heroic nor villainous. Everyone was afraid for his or her life. A thousand years of history preceded the Nazi era, and every word and gesture has history behind it. There are no easy answers.
"Ida" falls into predictable traps. Its Jewish character, Wanda, is fascinating and verbal, worldly and morally compromised. Its Catholic character is pure, but boring and simpleminded. These stereotypes are trite and unworthy of any serious film.
Towards the end of the film, one major character leaves the movie and the other character is left to pursue an underdeveloped and aborted subplot that serves no end except to add extra minutes to the runtime.
Film-fan me loved "The Imitation Game." The me who knows something
about World War II felt that "The Imitation Game" was a bit of an
Aesthetically "The Imitation Game" is like a hundred other movies about British people dressed in attractive but muted woolens who march about speaking about God and country and occasionally dropping their civilized masks and giving play to their violence or their lust. We've seen all this before: the vintage clothing, the vintage cars, the vintage architecture, the golden lamplight on vintage interiors. We've seen it on Masterpiece Theater and Merchant Ivory and Jane Austen films and Downtown Abbey which I've never watched but which I feel as if I have watched.
"The Imitation Game" is also like a lot of bio pics.
"The Imitation Game" treats very complicated subject matter: the breaking of an unbreakable code. I wanted the movie to tell me something about this topic that I didn't already know. The film just puts an enigma machine on a table and has a bunch of smart characters stare at it and announce that it can produce one hundred fifty followed by eighteen zeroes variations. Okay, but how? Give me something technical. The movie never trusts its audience, or its own storytelling skills, enough even to scratch the surface of the nuts and bolts of code-breaking.
Benedict Cumberbatch gives a fine performance as the film's version of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who helped to decode Germany's Enigma during WW II. In the film, Turing displays symptoms of Asperger's. He doesn't get jokes and he has few friends. Everyone is mean to him. He lives an isolated life with only one significant human companion, his school chum Christopher. Turing is awkward and superior with his fellow codebreakers, and they hate him. He is light years more advanced than they. If only they could appreciate his brilliance! Turing is regarded with suspicion by his superiors. They almost arrest him. They break into and search his home. Again, this all feels hackneyed.
Enter Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). Joan is a gifted code-breaker. Like Turing, she too faces difficulties because of others' ignorance and prejudice. People don't realize that a woman can be a worthy code- breaker and they keep her back and put her down.
Joan encourages Turing to overcome his Asperger's symptoms and to befriend his coworkers. He does so.
A casual comment by a secretary, that each German message ends with the words "Heil Hitler," leads Turing to have the Aha moment that breaks Enigma. His jubilation is short-lived. He realizes that he can't rescue an English ship because if he does so, the Germans will realize that the English have broken their code. Turing devises a mathematical method to determine when to use information gathered from breaking the code, and when not to.
Two other timelines are intertwined with the WW II timeline. We are shown Turing's schooldays. He interacts with Christopher, his schoolboy crush and only friend. Christopher departs from his life and Turing is heartbroken. The headmaster of the school is cold in breaking this news to young Turing. Poor little Turing must bear this hard news all by himself.
In the other timeline, also interwoven randomly into the WW II timeline, Turing is interrogated in the early 1950s for "gross indecency" homosexuality. Turing undergoes chemical castration. This affects his ability to think. He can't even do a simple crossword puzzle in the newspaper. He is a broken man. The film insists that his death was a suicide. Some, including Turing's mother, are not so sure of that.
I was moved by the film. The scenes of little schoolboy Turing are very poignant; it's always hard to watch children suffer. Cumberbatch is a very competent actor and he plays intellectual intelligence well, which is a rare accomplishment. Not many actors could look as smart as Cumberbatch does. He is convincing as someone with Asperger's.
The me who knows and cares something about accuracy in a film "based on a true story" about WW II was very disappointed with this movie.
"The Imitation Game" erases the significant contribution of Polish war heroes and Polish mathematicians to the breaking of Enigma. Like Turing, the Poles were also cruelly and ignominiously betrayed by the very Brits they helped: from Churchill consciously lying about who committed the Katyn massacre to Churchill handing the Poles to Stalin at Yalta to Brits like Stephen Fry insisting that Polish Catholics caused the Holocaust.
It was ideologically convenient for Brits to shaft the Poles, and the Brits did exactly that. "The Imitation Game" erases the Poles because the film wants Turing to be a lone genius and a lone, martyred homosexual. As it happens, during WW II, there were plenty of opportunities for heroism and martyrdom; Turing did not monopolize the supply.
Turing was treated kindly by the headmaster around the Christopher incident, and Turing remained in contact with Christopher's family. Turing proposed to Joan Clarke because he liked her he even told her he loved her not to keep her in the code-breaking program. He tried to re-start their relationship years later. Turing could be funny and charming in real life. Etc.
The filmmakers wanted to create an image of Turing as an isolated genius, unappreciated by anyone, and persecuted because of his homosexuality. In fact Turing was part of a team of other geniuses, and he was open about being gay. I wish the film had been able to tell us more about how a relatively privileged man had been so ill-treated. His working class lover was not chemically castrated, for example. "The Imitation Game," though, is not really interested in probing complex facts, or in saying anything new.
You don't go into "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" expecting
great art. You expect a few laughs and some moments of wonder as you
witness museum displays magically come to life. The first "Night at the
Museum" disappointed me. The second, "Night at the Museum: Battle of
the Smithsonian" surprised me with how much better it was than the
first. Amy Adams was wonderful as Amelia Earhart in that film.
This new, third installment, "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" was only okay, but it wasn't horrible, either. I really, really wish it had been a bit better. It's one of Robin Williams' and Mickey Rooney's last movies. Both died this year. Robin Williams does look visibly tired and sad.
One of my favorite stars makes an unbilled cameo appearance, but it is more awkward than special. Dick Van Dyke, who is a national treasure, is in the film, but only for a few minutes, and he isn't given much to do. Ditto Ben Kingsley as a pharaoh. If I were a director, I'd want to milk Sir Ben Kingsley as a pharaoh for all it was worth. Not here. Dan Stevens, formerly of Downton Abbey, is charismatic and impressive as Sir Lancelot, but his character is demoted from good guy to bad guy, and his face is disfigured, in a way that feels envious. It's as if the movie is punishing him for being a tall, gorgeous, heroic white male. Museum night guard Ben Stiller's relationship with his now teenage son is emphasized, and it doesn't feel real at all.
My two favorite scenes involved Luke Wilson as a miniature cowboy and Steve Coogan as a miniature Roman soldier. In one scene these tiny people try to comment on a youtube cat video. In another scene they are saved at the last minute from an exploding volcano.
In terms of plot or special effects magic, "Secret of the Tomb" doesn't offer anything that you can't get from the two previous films. There are no moments where you say, "Wow, I am really glad that they made this movie, so that we could see *this.*"
Even so, I mildly enjoyed the movie. If you are looking for a mindless, family-friendly good time, "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb" may serve your needs.
*** 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.
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
"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.
"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.
"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.
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