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SteveMierzejewski

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53 reviews in total 
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Deep Web (2015)
16 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
The Deeper Web, 7 June 2015
8/10

As I write about cybercrime and cyber security, I took a special interest in this film. It is far different from the usual fare. In the usual cybercrime movie, there is always the scene where the hacker-hero sits down at a keyboard, begins typing frantically away, then turns to his eagerly awaiting colleagues and says something like, "okay, we're into the Pentagon's computer network". If only life were so easy. The movie may be good in other aspects, but the hacking scenes don't usually hold up.

Documentaries on cybercrime are a bit different. Some of them are quite good, though they often come with an angle. By this I mean that they are not really trying to be objective, they are trying to make a case. In The Deep Web, it is clear early on that Alex Winter has an angle. The angle is that the deep web, the Silk Road, and Ross Ulbricht have provided a valid, honest service that does not undercut social values and, in fact, may have re-invigorated them. On the surface, this might seem like a difficult case to prove, but, to his credit, Winter does a remarkable job.

Winter portrays the deep web as a new cyber nation where anonymity, freedom, and relief from the burden of government surveillance can thrive. It is, or can be, the true libertarian utopia. Although the film is hyped as being narrated by Keanu Reeves, he actually has a limited role. This is more of a marketing ploy than anything. In fact, a significant part of the film is carried by "consultant producer" and Wired magazine writer, Andy Greenberg. Greenberg was the first person to actually interview Ulbricht when he was only known as Dread Pirate Roberts. He believes that Ulbricht was sincere in his libertarian philosophy and truly felt that an open drug market would reduce the violence that was connected to illegal drug use. You'll have to decide for yourself if Greenberg and Winter makes a good case for Ulbricht or not.

Winter does try to balance his pro-Ulbricht stance with interviews of various law enforcement officers connected to the case. There is some good and somewhat rare footage here of interviews with Ulbricht's lawyer, Joshua Dratal, Ulbricht's parents, and some of Ulbricht's friends and admirers. There are even some home movies of Ulbricht himself that show he was more than just a drug dealer looking to make quick money. The one interview lacking is the one of Ulbricht himself.

The crux of the film, at least for me, was the insinuation that Ulbricht received, to put it lightly, something less than a fair trial. He makes you wonder about two key points: the objectivity and competence of Judge Forrest and whether or not Ulbricht was railroaded. At times, Winter makes you wonder if there was not some sort of collusion between the prosecution and the judge; they just seemed to work so well together. Again, you can decide this for yourself.

If there is one weak point in this documentary, it is trying to portray Ulbricht in too positive a light. I have read his Tor chats, even the ones he released after his sentencing to show that he was not only concerned about making money. From these alone, you can see that Ulbricht is not the aw shucks, golly gee, kid next door that Winter makes him seem to be. In short, like everyone, he has his positive and negative characteristics. That said, this is a good documentary and one that should be watched.

I would recommend The Deep Web to everyone, even those who do not know much about the deep web, Ulbricht, or cybercrime. Winter makes the viewer consider the basic values that have created America and whether they have been dismantled to build something other than a free society. It could be that the Ulbricht trial was the crucible in which these fundamental American values were put to the test. Overall, The Deep Web is a first-rate documentary. Go see it. It will certainly give you a lot to think about.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Surprisingly Better than I Expected, 13 May 2015
8/10

The synopsis did not do this picture justice. I expected something with an 'embrace diversity' theme, which, to me, always seems to contradict the 'we're all equal as Americans' theme. In the end, what we end up with nowadays is the 'tolerate diversity' position. This pleasantly surprising film seems to make us look at some of the uncomfortable truths about American society through the eyes of two people who are somewhat dysfunctional within it.

Sam comes back from a long tour of duty overseas as a Marine and can't really understand the new moral standards being supported by his family and friends. Amira doesn't really fit into the American society within which she lives or the Moslem background she was raised in. As someone who has lived overseas for many years, I can attest to the fact that you can see your own society more clearly when you return to it and can be surprised by the behavior that those who live there have learned to accept as normal. The movie looks at the problems of growing class separation, the pursuit of money at all costs, and the growing acceptance of insincerity as a necessary evil.

That said, this is not a diatribe. There is no seizing of the moral high ground here. These viewpoints arise naturally and you don't ever feel like someone has an ax to grind. In fact, the characters themselves may cross, what some would consider, a moral boundary. I'm certain Amira's behavior would be frowned upon by most Moslem viewers and some Americans may question aspects of Sam's behavior. In short, both find solace in each others isolation within their own cultures. They embrace diversity at the individual level.

The acting is good and the relationships are believable, despite what the synopsis may make it seem. It is certainly a movie that will make you consider your views on culture, wealth, and honesty a little more closely. Although some scenes may be a bit contrived, for the most part, this is a film that deserves more attention and is well-worth watching.

0 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A Triumph of Form over Substance, 22 February 2015
5/10

First of all, if you are expecting to see something along the lines of the first Matrix film, forget it. Consider this more like Matrix 4. The first Matrix film was heavy on new ideas, but, as the series developed, it became more Hollywood: Lots of action, more special effects, and a basic story line. This is how I saw Jupiter Ascending.

At the beginning, the film held some promise. I liked the absurdity of Jupiter Jones (give me a break), played by Mila Kunis, discovering that she played a key role in the history of the universe. This held promise as did Channing Tatum's deadpan character, Caine Wise (yeah, I know). There were also some intriguing scientific ideas that I thought would be explored and that could lead to some interesting conclusions. Unfortunately, the movie deteriorated into a series of action scenes rife with special effects designed for the 3D viewer. I saw the movie in 2D but, as anyone who's seen 3D movies knows, certain special effects work best in 3D (things flying at the camera). In fact, you start wondering if the movie wasn't made around the 3D effects.

The story is more or less predictable. I found it difficult to accept the love story aspect as believable. The only excuse Jupiter gives for her interest in Caine is that he's not good, I'm not sure if she was commenting on his acting or not. The acting is sub-par by all involved. The number of times Jupiter is saved from death at the last second by Caine is laughable.

So, basically, what you are left with are a string of loosely connected special effects, which, to be honest, are mainly good. I saw the movie with my 12-year-old son and he liked them as well as the numerous fight scenes. I have a feeling if I asked him about the plot, he could only give me a basic idea.

Maybe we're expecting too much from the Wachowskis. It's beginning to look as if the Matrix was a one-off. Maybe the temptation of making a Hollywood blockbuster is just too strong to resist. The film will make a lot of money, kids will like it, but if you really want substance in a film, you had better look elsewhere

1 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Love is a wormhole..., 3 February 2015
9/10

...and that's a sentence that's probably never been written before.

Interstellar is not a movie for everyone. It is a long film and my guess is that many will be asleep by the end of the first hour. It is slow to develop and at times seems like a sequence of university physics lectures on black holes, cosmology, relativity, and quantum physics. Indeed, in order to proceed with the story, it is sometimes necessary to inform the viewer of why what will happen next makes some scientific sense. These lessons are shoehorned in at various points. Scientists themselves may argue over the fine points of some of the physics in the film, but, with a few exceptions, the science is good enough.

Now, from what I've just written above, you may think that I would not recommend this picture to anyone. In fact, I would recommend it to everyone. This is because Interstellar is a masterpiece. That's a shaky limb to climb out on, I realize, but even for those who do not like science, there is a payoff. If you like science fiction, you will be satisfied. If you like special effects, you will get them, and, if you like love stories, this, in some ways, is one of the greatest love stories ever written. The idea of the timelessness of love, in all its forms, underpins all the science in this story…and we're back to the wormhole.

Despite the high quality of this film, it received no Academy Award nominations for best film and only one minor nomination for best production. This, I believe, shows the shallowness of those involved in selecting these films. Intelligent films have been frequently overlooked in the past. Great films like Inception, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Matrix, Lost in Translation, and even that perennial topper of best films lists, Citizen Kane, never won best picture awards. And remember, Alfred Hitchcock never won an Academy Award for best director.

The acting is better than average, but you will not be discussing the quality of the acting when you finish the film. Actually, what you should do is to watch the film again before you reach any conclusions. Anyway, that's what I did. The second time confirmed what I thought. If you look under the scientific veneer of this film, you will see something that will make this, like all great films, timeless. That's just relativity.

3 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Birdman: The Dark Night, 10 January 2015
7/10

There'a a lot to like about this movie and I understand why it has received so much attention at various film festivals. Basically, it's about a group of dysfunctional people who try to work together to put on a play. The main problem with the film is that sometimes the plot is lost in the clouds of their dysfunction. In other words, dysfunction sometimes takes center stage. On the other hand, it has some thoughtful dialogue much of which revolves around what it means to be successful. What is the true measure of success or of living a successful life? Is it that many people like you? Is it that you are praised by critics? Or is it something more ethereal, such as being loved by people we value? These and other darker, existential questions are addressed by the movie with varying degrees of success.

Although predominantly a drama there are a number of darkly (and not so darkly) humorous moments. The clash of generations, the vapid and transient nature of modern measures of fame, interpersonal relationships, and the clash of fragile egos all supply ammunition for comic relief. Towards the end of the film, people begin to appear more as symbols than as real people, which is not necessarily bad. Much in the entertainment industry is criticized and ridiculed, such as the arrogance of critics who think they can control this world with their reviews. In an attempt to show their power, they will value personal motives over the true artistic merit of a work. It seems like the writers and producers of Birdman are taking their own satiric revenge at times.

The acting throughout the film is tight and flawless. I would not be disappointed if the actors or the film win academy awards. The film addresses some big questions, which makes it more thoughtful than most films and, considering the modern zest for easily approachable box office films (something this film criticizes), may limit its appreciation by some movie-goers.

Keaton's character occasionally lapses into inner dialogues and fantasies which, though interesting in their own right, interrupt the flow of the film at times. There were also moments when I thought the film was trying too hard to appeal to modern expectations or to younger audiences, perhaps as a box office ploy. This was too bad because I thought that the film had a retro feel to it overall. That said, these shortcomings were minor.

In the end, I found it an entertaining and amusing film. So if you want a movie that's meatier than most of what's out there today, you should not be disappointed in watching Birdman.

The Interview (2014/II)
867 out of 1436 people found the following review useful:
Dumb and Dumber do The Interview, 25 December 2014
3/10

For the sake of film criticism, I will pretend that I watched the film without the political maelstrom that has raised it to a level of interest that it would otherwise never have attained.

This is the typical mass produced, lowbrow, comedy that Hollywood cranks out to appeal to 15-year-old boys. There are a few slapstick laughs in the tradition of the Three Stooges that break the monotony. I would not elevate the film to the level of a satire as that would imply that there was some intelligent thought behind it. There is not. All the humor, both physical and verbal, is completely obvious. It will not go down in history as one of the great comedies, which is probably what upset Kim Jung Un the most.

The attempts to make political observations are all based on time-worn points (people are starving, Kim is not a god). The sections that imply Kim has psychological problems may be more irritating to the regime. Most of the attempted humor deals with Kim fighting his homophobia and dealing with a father who gave him little support.

There is no need to comment on the acting as there really is none. No one will win an Oscar nomination here. The story is predictable: You can guess what will happen before you begin watching it. It's the kind of film you watch to see a few gags and, maybe, get a few laughs. They will be very few, indeed, unless you are 15 or under. However, knowing the media attention that this film has received, it is unlikely a poor review will stop anyone from watching it. Just remember, I warned you.

Mr. Turner (2014)
28 out of 55 people found the following review useful:
An Attractive Dull and Plodding Spectacle, 9 December 2014
4/10

The only thing wrong with this movie was that it had actors in it. Had this been shown without them, we would be treated to some beautifully arranged scenes and scenery. As it is, however, we see the rodent-like Timothy Spall grunting lifelessly along with no particular purpose for 2.5 hours. Even when he speaks, his dialect is so incomprehensible that the Americans I watched it with thought he was speaking Dutch. Indeed, if you are American, you will most definitely need English subtitles. But then again, the characters really had nothing important to say anyway, so why bother. It is one of those movies that you know the main character is eventually going to die, and you hope it happens as soon as possible, preferably, before you do.

Mike Leigh has made some great films, but this certainly isn't one of them. The problem for me is that Turner is one of my favorite artists. I had hoped to get some insights into his character. What I got were vignettes: short, loosely connected historic anecdotes pasted clumsily together in a hopeless effort to make a film. I really had little idea of what motivated Turner or why any women would have the least interest in him.

So if you want to spend 2.5 hours looking at some beautifully reconstructed scenes depicting life in the early 19th Century and see some of Turner's works, this might be for you. However, if you want to watch a movie, you'll have to go somewhere else.

7 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
That Awkward Moment: Admitting I Actually Watched This Film, 28 April 2014
2/10

Well, that was a waste of time, and I won't spend any more time than necessary writing a review of this poorly written, poorly produced, and poorly acted movie. My first question is: What ever happened to clever humor? Every so-called joke is sex-based. People cannot even have a conversation unless it is based on something sexual (Oh, sorry, there is also some bathroom humor to break the monotony). These are 12-year-olds in thirty-year-old bodies. For some reason that defies all explanation, girls are attracted to these losers...but, then again, likes often attract likes. What's worse is that, towards the end, the director has the audacity to expect us to suddenly take this nonsense seriously. But, by this time, the only thing the viewers are taking seriously is a suicide attempt. I watched this so you don't have to. Don't waste your time on this one. Work on your compost pile. It will be far more enjoyable.

Labor Day (2013)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Labor Day Works, 20 April 2014
8/10

The cynic in me can understand why some people may not like this film. There are just too many unbelievable coincidences. Besides, Josh Brolin's character is too much of a Christ figure. He seems to save everyone who comes into contact with him. But, despite all his positive qualities, he is ultimately crucified, disappears, and then is resurrected. And can romance really survive such an ordeal? Yet, putting cynicism aside, I have to say that I found the film enjoyable and even inspiring. The acting was good throughout. Normally, I have an aversion to child actors. They are either irritatingly cute or smart-mouthed. However, I must say that Gattlin Griffith did not produce this reaction in me. I think he played it pretty straight and was quite believable. Kate Winslet seems to have an affinity for these psychologically-damaged women roles and pulls it off as usual. Josh Brolin is steady.

At some point in any film, you have to suspend what you know about the real world, the evils of life, and the conniving ways of the people in it and trust in the possibility that there may be some good left in this battered world. You can choose either way to look at this film but I would suggest watching it without cynicism to see its real merits because, even in real life, good sometimes triumphs over evil.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A good, serious story, NOT a romantic comedy, 23 January 2014
7/10

I don't know who classified this as a romantic comedy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because of this classification, I almost didn't bother watching it at all. A comedy about sex addiction? I figured it would be an excuse to loosely tie together sex scenes, as was done in 'Wolf of Wall Street'. I really didn't want to go through that charade again. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

Okay, that said, there are a few non-explicit sex scenes that I certainly wouldn't want my 11-year-old son to watch. But these scenes are not gratuitous as they were in 'Wolf' and there really were not that many. The story came first, and the actors bought into it. Good work by all concerned. I worried somewhat when I heard that Pink (Alecia Moore)was in it, but she held up well and did not distract us with poor acting as some other pop stars have done (like Rihanna in 'Battleship').

The relationships between the people are the most captivating aspect of the film. All of the characters have their own specific problems to deal with. All of them struggle and all of them need help. In short, the relationships are real and believable. This film deserves to get more attention than it has.

Is it a date movie? Well, only if you and your date like more psychological films? Is there romance? Yes, but not in the tradition of most romcoms. If you find these two features as positive attributes of a good film, then, by all means, watch 'Thank You For Sharing'.


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