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The Path (2016)
It's the little things
Life in the cult is organic, harmonic, healthy, self-contained, and rational. The women wear simple cotton clothes, sensible footwear, and no makeup; the men are supportive. The writers and directors are doing a good job after 3 episodes of creating a world of "Meyerists" who use tools, workshops, sessions, incantations, programs, life on a compound, gatherings, etc. to nurture their wacky beliefs in a spiritual "Ladder" to "the Garden."
But while the major characters and plot lines are convincing, someone isn't trying hard enough on those throwaway scenes in any show that reflect attention to detail and a commitment to veracity and nuance. Things get eye-rollingly overt when some Meyerists wearing emblazoned t-shirts go preaching in a park and hook 3 people in a single afternoon. We see them nudge a firm-minded young woman out of her book and into their world in a few sentences. A local reporter is virtually converted on-air after a few minutes with one of the cult leaders, whose blathering wouldn't pass the smell test with anyone over the age of 12.
When we're introduced to the FBI, we establish the setting via two agents gossiping, literally at a water cooler (woops, it's a coffee machine, but close). "Hey, did you hear? Snyder was transferred to Terrorism." "Really? Snyder was transferred to Terrorism?" "Yeah, Snyder was transferred to Terrorism." "It's too bad that Snyder was transferred to Terrorism, because Snyder isn't the brightest bulb." The directors could benefit from watching a few episodes of "The Office."
The dinner-at-my-house scene where a 15-year-old girl tries to lure a Meyerist boy with a bite of steak (Meyerists apparently being committed vegetarians) is just annoying. "Come on," the girl teases, repeatedly poking a forkful at his mouth. The mother cheerfully eggs on her rude, silly daughter, and the boy confusedly eats meat for the first time in his life. Oh, and he likes it.
What would real people do in these situations? How does life really look? When I was going to UCLA, the same Scientologist occupied the same corner on Westwood Boulevard all day every day for 8 years, and I never saw anyone buy his books on Dianetics or exchange two words with him. When you invite someone over to your house for dinner, do you find out what their dietary religious restrictions are and then serve that very thing?
There are too many examples of this sort of thing to go over here, so I'll just restate, the creators need to get on their craft and quit sacrificing psychological veracity for convenience.
2016: Obama's America (2012)
Why did Obama betray his supporters?
Contrary to my expectations, this was not a scare-fest along the lines of "The Day After Tomorrow." Instead it's kind of an egghead treatment that starts by asking, Why did Obama disappoint so many of his supporters? He was voted in by Democrats, independents, and a few disillusioned Republicans. Many of them are feeling betrayed.
I'm gay, he betrayed me. I'm Green, he betrayed me. I'm a DREAMer, he betrayed me. I want card check, he betrayed me. I want to close Gitmo, he betrayed me. I want the rich to pay higher taxes, he betrayed me. I want single-payer healthcare, he betrayed me. I wanted transparency, he betrayed me.
D'Souza replies: The reason is, these piddly Democrat-Republican squabbles are not Obama's concern.
According to D'Souza, Obama's aim is way beyond this two-party conflict that the rest of us Americans are locked in. Thanks largely to Obama's often squalid overseas upbringing and the education his parents and grandparents designed for him, he takes a much broader view of America: as a colonialist thief of other nations' natural wealth. He has essentially projected the sins of Britain onto America. The British Raj, Churchill's suppression of the Mau-Mau Rebellion, are examples of the crimes he lays at America's feet. Rapacious British = White = America. That's why he wants to level America by reducing its military power and individual Americans' standard of living. Of course this is misguided; America is itself a former British colony which expelled its overlords in a bloody revolution.
D'Souza intuits much of this from parallels to his own life; he is Indian, and he was advised by his grandfather not to go to America, where "they're white." He lived in Third World squalor, he escaped courtesy of an educational opportunity in an elite American university, he was born and graduated and married in the same years as Obama. He "gets" the whole anti-colonial mindset.
But for most of his evidence, he simply quotes Obama's own words in "Dreams from My Father" and hunts down the teachers and mentors that Obama himself credits. Frank Marshall Davis, Jeremiah Wright, some Brazilian Communist who was expelled from Brazil and found a welcoming and lucrative home at Harvard. He also learned from Bill Ayers.
D'Souza concludes from Obama's first term that he's just not that into the Democrats. He used them (along with the independents and disgusted Republicans) to get himself into power, but he's got another agenda all his own that is well beyond disagreements over who pays what tax rate and whether teenage rape victims should be forced to become mothers.
Therefore he'll adopt progressive issues where they help him and not an inch further. For instance, when he saw some of his base slipping, he did finally evolve his own, deep, personal, individual view on gays marrying -- but he also flat-out said he's not going to put any energy into it as President.
One may agree with Obama's agenda, one may not. It does overlap the liberal agenda in some areas. Indeed, there are plenty of American liberals who feel America should be taken down a peg for the good of the world. But Obama is not motivated by the same things American liberals are. He's not at heart a Democrat, or a progressive, or a liberal, or a leftist. He's more of a sort of confused anti-colonialist.
D'Souza devotes only a few minutes at the end of the movie to the world's prospects if Obama gets a second term. Just a few. Essentially, "there will be no place to hide" if Islamists expand, if American military power is significantly reduced, if our wealth is flushed. It will be bad for the world and bad for us.
8/10 because of its slightly choppy structure.
Basic Instinct 2 (2006)
At last, a review that is neither a 1 nor a 10, but a 5
Why are people "disappointed" after Basic Instinct I? Didn't anyone notice that that was a cartoon? It had silly dialogue, phony drama, unbelievable relationships and psychology. Costumes, hot girls, the crotch shot, that's what Basic Instinct I was about.
Basic Instinct II is an agglomeration of small pleasures. Unfortunately it lacks the steamy sex and lingering seduction scenes that would have made it fun to watch on a scene-by-scene basis, but I say you can still salvage a fair evening's entertainment out of this harmless film if you let yourself in on the joke.
Enjoy David Thewlis's performance as a fixated and demented cop, the grimy little investigative journalists, the murders, the scruffy, half-buttoned costumes, the vault-like sets, London's rainy streets, Sharon Stone's surprise hairdos, and David Morrissey's puffy-faced vulnerability. It's also fun and different to see a mature seductress in Sharon Stone. Don't ask for acting; what you get is mugging and mouthing off and posing, and Stone is fine at it.
I must admit that I didn't really care who was committing the murders, but I felt a bit of suspense and was mildly amused by the ending.
So all in all it was better than washing dishes or watching a DVD I've already seen a hundred times. Why not?
Okay, I swear I'm not a dreary politically correct dyke; to the contrary I'm very old-fashioned. But I still hate this movie because of its antifeminism, or at least its abusiveness towards its female subject.
We've got this frail, confused woman who's grieving for her late husband after ten years. She's got a repulsive, abusive fiancé who is your average controlling jerk in the worst of sexist tradition--but sufficiently nontraditional to cohabit with her before they're married. Way to protect your true love's virtue, prick. Then along comes some psychotic (male) kid who proceeds to prank her about the lamented dead husband. She's weakened by her family and friends. And to top it all off, the husband she adores in memory turns out to have been unfaithful! Her "recovery" finds her literally on her knees begging for forgiveness from this insensitive puke fiancé who has bullied her into a relationship despite her obvious unwillingness. She ends up a manhandled, deluded mess, with no one any better off. Even that pixie haircut--she's exposed, truncated, reduced.
Really, the director of this film hated his subject, and I think he hates women. If you want to savor the sadistic pleasure of watching some pathetic creature being pointlessly abused to insanity, this is your film.
Whose story was this, anyway?
I'm putting this in here not so much for the purposes of explaining or reviewing, but for 1) giving other haters of Guinevere a place to check in, and 2) entertaining those who love to read negative reviews of movies they know they're going to see anyway.
Poor, pathetic Harper, literally hiding in the closet at her sister's wedding, her hair mussed and her bride's-maid dress sagging off her shoulders. "You've obviously mistaken me for someone with potential," she barely manages to squeak to the wedding photographer, in one of the multitudinous lines of on-the-nose dialogue in this self-conscious, overwrought clunker.
Somehow this bright, beautiful 20-year-old has managed to get through her entire life, including four years of college, without once meeting a person who has affirmed her intelligence and her creativity, even though she's smart enough to have been accepted into Harvard Law. Similar ironies occur in real life--the beauty who thinks she's ugly, the overachiever who thinks she's not doing enough--but at some point you lose interest in a character who's either got some serious personality disorder or whose creator (the writer) imagines that weird gestures and speeches can take the place of psychology.
The beautiful, bright girl proves utterly vulnerable to the seducements of the wedding photographer: an older, less-promising, often insolent, and lecherous man who says things to her like "You can do it" and "You must learn to detest the bourgeoisie." Oh, I don't remember if he actually said *those* things, but his utterances are so much hogwash that only an impression of nonsense remains. Harper is introduced to . . . coffee houses! She listens to . . . jazz! Someone actually asks her about her ideas for the first ever time in her whole entire life! To go back to the biographical thing, how did this girl ever get the liberal arts education required to enter Harvard Law without someone at least once eliciting her opinion on something? And probably admiring it? Without ever having a lively conversation with intellectual and creative types? Without ever laughing? Without going through that whole fascinating-older-man thing about ten times? Without getting a glimpse outside the world she came from?
Unlikely, weird scenes get slapped on, one after the other, without any progress in character or conflict. She throws herself on him hungrily. She moves in. He insults her, she runs away, she insults him and then comes back, they insult each other and reunite. When he's at his lowest, she goes into a frenzy of taking his picture, presumably off a roll of film with about 200 exposures on it. Then she gets him into focus and relents with a whimper.
Ultimately, the photog turns out to be every bit as bad as he promises, and perhaps a little better since he's principled enough to send her away when it's at the point where the relationship can do nothing but drag her down. Fast-forward to so many years later and she's giving him the last and only thing she can: her best wishes for a good death. The scene drags on and on, and ends with his dissolution into heavenly white light. Why? Whose story was this? "He was the worst man I ever met. Or the best man I ever met." This ham-fisted summary, I suppose, is supposed to be a specimen of brilliant, tortured, complex ambiguity. To me, it's a failure to make a stand, an excuse for the writer to dump a truckload of contradictions into a character then sneak away without explaining any of it. And why end with him? Again I ask, whose story was this?
Audrey Wells, you're a fraud.
My Date with Drew (2004)
For once, "reality" isn't a dirty word
For once--a person-sized movie. For once, a movie about the rest of us--not about hard-boiled cops stalking the sadistic killers of strippers, or epic heroes who felled mighty empires with their swords and their passions. With virtually no money, no job, no direct connections, no fame, none of the boodle that we normally associate with success and celebrity, Brian Herzlinger pours faith, trust, goodwill, humor, and endless exuberance to the pursuit of his dream: getting a date with his lifelong crush, Drew Barrymore.
Real people, real emotions, a real dream, a real roller-coaster, a genuine piece of uplifting advice delivered straight to you at the end of the story. You'll care more about the ups and downs of Brian's quest for one afternoon of perfect happiness than you EVER will about whether Orli kills Brad Pitt in Kingdom of Heaven, or whether Angelina Knightley snogs a snake in The Legend of King Alexander, or who wins in Catdevil when Sharon Stone and Ben Affleck duke it out.
Go see this if for no other reason than that you'll feel like Christmas afterward. Everyone was wearing a mighty grin as they walked out of this movie, and Brian and Jon were swamped by wellwishers. Brian decided to go for everything he could in life when a friend of his, Tony Vasquez, to whose memory the film is dedicated, was killed suddenly at the age of 22.
Hollywood, please read: LOOKS AREN'T ENOUGH
Good luck identifying with this brooding guy with no identifiable day job but an extremely swell apartment in New York who's trying to avoid hell since his suicide attempt at 15 which was brought on by his confinement in an insane asylum because his parents didn't get his ability to see supernatural beings and who personally knows archangels and chats with Satan in a white suit and who seemingly lives on cigarettes and is now helping a gorgeous NYPD detective to find out whether her sister really did commit suicide and go to hell and whether she was also in touch with demons. Oh, and a shabby Mexican is making his way northward with the spear that stabbed Jesus on the cross. I dunno, just not your universal human predicament for me.
I'm already imagining the director's commentary on the film's appearance when the DVD is released. "We wanted to achieve a very spare, yet threatening look, very futuristic and grim. So we dressed people in black and white, and we showed hell as being very red in color. There's a demon right there, yup. Oh, that demon was designed by Milford Berman, he's a real genius." Movies with these ridiculous stakes--WILL mankind survive?--have no suspense anyway; I mean, the mere fact that I'm sitting in a theater in Los Angeles surrounded by other people pretty much serves as a spoiler. As for Constantine's stakes--WILL he go to eternal damnation?--I'd rather see a human being avoid hell on general principles, but that's all that carried me along in this film.
You'll hear about Rachel Weisz, and she serves as well as Maria Bello or Natalie Portman or Liv Tyler or Claire Forlani or any host of interchangeable medium-hotties would have.