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Extremely realistic depiction of Germany in 1930's
I saw this movie at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and it received a strong response and one of the best films at the festival. It is an intense drama of a little known incident, outside of Germany, that was the first assassination attempt on Hitler's life in Munich in 1939 just after World War II broke out. I think this film really captures what it must have been like to live in Germany during the period when Hitler first came to power right up until the start of the Second World War. Georg Elser is the centerpiece of this movie and it starts with his failed attempt to kill Hitler and then through a series of flashbacks reviews the past eight years of his life while he is being interrogated by the local Munich police as well as the far more brutal Gestapo. Georg is portrayed as a bit of a womanizer and a talented amateur musician with a knack for putting a bomb together. He is so talented in his deadly work that the Gestapo has a hard time believing he did this attack entirely alone. The brutality of the Gestapo is hard to watch, but no more so than many other films depicting the German secret police. The acting, as well as the cinematography, and story line is first rate and among the top for this genre. The film is very meticulous in getting the costuming just right, so you get the chilling affect of watching young German boys and girls in their Nazi costumes what could pass for Boy Scout and Girl Scout uniforms were it not for the Nazi swastika. As you watch this movie, you realize how easily the German people came to be totally under the control of the Nazi's via fear of reprisal for not acting in allegiance to Hitler. The citizenry stood by as their friends and neighbors who stood up to the Nazi's were severely punished. We have all seen versions of this in other World War II movies but this film really captures the feeling and I can't emphasize that too much. Georg Elser should have gotten a lot more praised for his heroic actions and not been in obscurity for so long. Maybe this movie will finally give him the recognition long overdue.
All the Way (2016)
Tour De Force for Bryan Cranston
Bryan Cranston brings Lyndon Johnson to life in this absorbing real life drama focusing on 1964 when LBJ not only got a major civil rights bill passed, but set the stage for the 1965 voting rights act and the war on poverty. Cranston's portrayal is uncanny, and turns this made for HBO movie into a quasi-documentary. Cranston carries this movie and makes it one of the best television events of the year. The rest of the cast is excellent too but in some cases, the actors don't look enough like the characters they are playing: Hubert Humphery and Martin Luther King Jr., come to mind. The storyline is fairly well known to anyone who follows politics and U.S. history, but the behind the scene's maneuvering to get a very major bill passed makes for great story telling and LBJ was one of the great story tellers. The stories told by LBJ are the glue that holds this movie together. His poor upbringing gave him the resolve to do something about helping the poor once he got into office. And of course he saw first hand in his home state of Texas, the massive racism that prevented blacks from taking their rightful place in American society. No doubt LBJ could have been a candidate for Mt. Rushmore were it not for Vietnam which is explored in the movie but not in-depth. That should be a sequel. Melissa Leo is wonderful as Lady Bird Johnson, and Frank Langella is excellent as Senator Richard Russell. This is a must see movie. Cranston will be picking up more awards.
Relevant in this Election
Somehow, conservatives have awoke from their slumber and become aware that we have severe economic problems in this country and the American middle class has seen their economic power erode while the "masters of the universe" just become richer and richer and exert more power and money to ensure that legislation is written that will continue to benefit the 1%. Donald Trump acknowledges this in his stump speeches while Bernie Sanders has made it a cornerstone of his campaign. Clinton tries to avoid the subject lest her opponents bring up Goldman Sach's yet again. Choamsky puts the intellectual underpinnings on why the American Dream is fast becoming a nightmare. His ten principles are pretty easy to understand as he invokes the Founding Fathers and Adam Smith to buttress his intellectual arguments that income inequality in the U.S. is not only a problem but a huge problem that not only affects us in the pocketbook but undermines our democratic processes that have stood us so well over the last 200+ years. We have a professional class in the U.S. that has become immune to the globalization issues facing blue collar workers and both political parties have turned a blind eye to helping American's who have borne the brunt of trade policies that benefit corporate America at the expense of working people. Also the constant drumbeat of the elites against labor unions in our country, an organizing group that once had immense power to protect American wages. In the new "sharing" economy there are vicious fights to keep the sharing workforce from unionizing. Also massive attacks mounted against public sector workers including teachers because they belong to a union. These attacks are not random events but carefully orchestrated events with an end in mind: the continued growth of the 1% that even Adam Smith warned us about. The big fear among the enormously wealthy is that the majority of American's will get too much democracy and start pushing for rights that have long been denied them. They rely on law enforcement and even the military if necessary to protect their property rights and right to govern or manipulate the legislators who supposedly represent their constituents but in reality only represent the interests of the !%. Chomsky lays this all out in his documentary. You may not agree with everything he lays out, but he makes an awful lot of common sense. Many American's are finally waking up to this reality. Watch this documentary and it will provide a good insight into how this country arrived at this economic state.
Excellent history of an ugly time
Trumbo is an absorbing drama based on the actual events surrounding the U.S. Congress House Un-American Activities Committee holding hearings to grill suspected Communists in the movie industry. Dalton Trumbo was one of those compelled to testify before Congress and the story evolves around his personal and family hardships, including spending one year in jail for contempt of Congress. Other important people called to testify were Humphrey Bogard, Lucille Ball, Larry Parks, Edward G. Robinson, Frank Sinatra, and Albert Maltz. Some of those called, were actual members of the Communist Party USA, but in that era, it was not deemed to be un-American, but more pro-worker and pro-union rights. It was just being a Communist that was of concern, but being a labor agitator. Hollywood at the time, and still is, very liberal, but there were significant conservative hardliners in the industry, including John Wayne and Hedda Hopper who founded a group to essentially blackball anyone in the industry who was suspected of being a Communist. The screenplay did justice to the great writer Dalton Trumbo and what makes the movie so engrossing is the dialogue between Trumbo and his attackers. Recreating the 1940's and 1950's was masterfully done with period cars, costumes, and mannerisms. Byran Cranston is excellent in the role of Trumbo and deserves his Oscar nomination for best actor. Helen Mirren is also excellent as Hopper. My only criticism of Trumbo is it jumps right in to 1947 when the anti-Communist hysteria was getting started, rather than backing up a few years to establish that Trumbo was one of the great movie screenplay writers of his era and very pro-American. He wrote the script for "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" in 1944. Watching the movie you get a good grounding in conservative attitudes at the time, using actual documentary film of Ronald Reagan, Gregory Peck, and John Wayne. We also get reintroduced to the anti- Communist Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy. The movie does cover some tactical blunders by the blacklist ten legal team and some unfortunate circumstances that undermined their cause. In later years, citizens brought to the House Committee learned to use the 5th Amendment to refuse to testify, something the blacklisted ten never thought of. This is an excellent movie about a very dark period in our history and a wake-up call for some of what is going on today with the fear mongering by members of Congress, and the media.
Where to Invade Next (2015)
Should be debating the issues brought out in this film
Where To Invade Next is one of Moore's best because it is funny, has a lighter touch, but still hits the mark on raising questions about why America can't adopt some of the great things other countries are doing. Business does it all the time. It is called adopting "best practices." If we can steal good ideas from other companies, why not from other countries? That is the premise of the film and he takes us on a very photogenic tour around the world to countries that have much they could offer us here at home. Moore has a good eye and good wit in choosing citizens of these countries to get his point across. Much of the power of his film is in how he uses children to get across some of these ideas, like actually having good food to eat in the school cafeteria instead of junk. Children are again used to show how Germany teaches the lessons of the holocaust to their children to make sure it never happens again. Of all the moments in the film, that was the most powerful for me. It was totally unexpected and an emotional high point. I also enjoyed the discussion of the education system in Finland, where the focus is on learning and not on test taking, and not pushing tons of homework on the kids. Finland has also created an education model that stresses uniform equality of education. There is no such thing as shopping around for the best schools like we have in the U.S. All of the schools are equally good. That is a conversation we should be having here. Ideas that are more well known are also covered such as the high number of vacation days given in European countries, and time off for honeymoons, and having a baby. Labor unions are still powerful in Europe so the workers still have strong middle class wages and an actual voice on company boards. It was amazing to listen to CEO's from these companies talk about their employee concerns, something rarely heard here in the U.S. Moore is upfront about the cost of some of these services and yes, these countries have a higher tax burdens but when you consider what they get in return, it is well worth the money as Moore explains in the movie. The huge kicker for us is that so much of our tax dollars go into our military that other countries just don't have. In one European countries, the taxes taken out of worker paychecks are itemized in detail to explain what services they pay for. Here, as we all know, there is no breakout of how are tax money is used. The movies closes on how women can shape world events for the better and it is a very powerful message. In his subject interviews, they remind us that the practices employed in these countries are not new; most of them started in the U.S., such as the concept that executives could be put in jail for fraudulent practices as they did in Iceland. The Iceland prosecutor that put multiple banking executives in jail for the 2008 financial meltdown, got his ideas from what we did in the savings and loan scandal, where we put executives in jail. There is no doubt some of the practices in other countries may not work out all that great here given the scale of the United States and our cultural and ethnic diversity, but we aren't even trying. In this review I have only covered about half of the examples shown by Moore. We saw Where To Invade Next at the Palm Springs Film Festival and at the end of the movie, it got the greatest round of applause. Probably because non Michael Moore fans were not in attendance, but this is a well made movie and it shows the sophistication Moore has reached in his documentary making. I gave the movie 8/10 because about midway through I thought it lagged a little, but then picked up strongly at the end. This is an ideal movie to watch in a group and then discuss the concepts afterward.
Worst Movie This Year
I write reviews when either the movie is great or bad, and this movie is the latter. Emma Stone in no way made me believe she was a hotshot Air Force F-22 fighter pilot. She was not only miscast but overacted and it was hard to swallow that a pilot held in such high regard would be assigned such a menial task as accompanying a washed up ex-Air Force officer on a mission to Hawaii as a contractor. Bradley Cooper for some reason slept walked this way through the movie. Bill Murray was awful as a billionaire pushing for privatization of the space program. The movie went way overboard with the obligatory Hawaii native islanders sacred ground routine and it was a ridiculous plot point to string together concern for sacred land versus putting a private satellite in earth orbit. The plot was the worst thing about the movie. They couldn't decide whether to make a romantic comedy or a thriller and did a bad job at both. I think they were opting for a romantic comedy but these characters had zero chemistry. Ten minutes into this movie and I was ready to send it back to Netflix but I kept thinking it might get better. It actually got worse. Don't waste your time.
The Judge (2014)
How many cliché's can you count
Even a great cast can't save this movie. It felt like a movie I had seen many times before only I hadn't. It just seemed like it because of the laziness of the screenwriters who must have decided to go through the cliché encyclopedia, over originality, and hope the cast could save it. They couldn't. I could go over each of the clichés but then I would be forced to do a spoiler alert. There was one scene that was terrific but it was felled by so many that were clunkers. This movie promised to be a courtroom drama where you weren't sure of guilt or innocence until the last scene but that proved to be more background noise than real courtroom drama. As others have said it was be fun to have a drink every time a new cliché was introduced. I am amazed that so many felt this movie was worth ten stars. If so, how many stars would you have to give a really great movie like "Birdman".
Madam Secretary (2014)
Tea Leoni needs a better supporting cast
As television drama goes this is no Breaking Bad or Mad Men or even Manhattan, but it is better than a lot of the drivel on television and is worth watching. Tea Leoni carries the show but her fellow actors in subordinate roles as State Department staffers are borderline comedic. They are just not believable in roles as senior advisor's to the Secretary of State, and it reflects badly on how good the show could be. Also the dialogue between Leoni and her husband are a little too new age. They go to great lengths to show how empathetic they are to each other but it just doesn't ring true for people in those types of power positions. This character empathy also carries over to the children and it is a flaw in may television shows today. I would rather see more grit along the lines of The Wire and House of Cards. The plot lines are fairly believable since they are based on real life story lines such as Benghazi and bureacratic infighting at the highest levels. A good show but not a great show.
Last Vegas (2013)
Cringe Worthy Bad
I wasn't expecting a masterpiece, even from four stars of the magnitude in this movie, but I wasn't expecting a movie that would make me cringe either. When DeNiro, Kline,Douglas, and Freeman read this script, they must have thought "how much am I getting paid to make this movie?" I have seen many a bad movie but not a movie this bad with so many quality actors who mailed it in. With just a little plot development and better script writers this could have been a better movie, not a great movie, but a movie worth spending money on. None of the characters were believable in the slightest. Yes there were some funny moments but far more embarrassing moments, where you felt like laughing out loud it was so bad. This is a movie that should have stayed in Vegas.
The Monuments Men (2014)
Badly Misplaced Humor
First off, these are the types of movies I love, stories about the unusual events that happened in World War II, especially if they are based on true events. This could have been a great movie about a group of men and one woman who did the extraordinary is saving countess works of art, public and private from ending up in the Fuerher Museum or worse yet being destroyed. This subject matter is serious stuff and is of tremendous interest to those who know art and culture and have an appreciation of it. For some reason, George Clooney decided this should be a quasi-comedy which is dangerous turf when dealing with Nazi themed subject matter, even in the best of hands. Clearly Mr. Clooney might want to stick to acting. Others have already stated the flaws in this movie and I reluctantly have to agree with them. My wife and son felt the same. This was an eagerly awaited movie that proved to be a big disappointment