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Pro-German tilt is creepy
There is just something warped about this entire series; I got a strong gut feeling that a German apologist had written it. I found the entire series difficult to watch without wincing. I am not referring to the photography and footage, which were excellent. But it was the interpretation that rang distorted.
First of all, the "godlike" intros by the thoroughly discredited, disingenuous Henry Kissinger were off-putting, but immediately following those, the series' odd and inescapable pro-German slant manifests itself in nearly every scene. It's often masked by all the anti-Stalin screed --- I am certainly no fan of that monster --- but there is way too much sympathy for the "poor" Wehrmacht (regarding which, it is now being revealed that the Wehrmacht was even more deeply involved in the slaughter of Russians, Jews, POWs, etc., than had formerly been believed, and they were not just good boys serving in a bad cause). Kissinger and the narrator never (or very, very seldom) mention the word "Jew" even in regards to the concentration camps, saying rather that "people" were killed. The positive portrayal of various Nazi-welcoming collaborators and collaborating ethnicities made me uncomfortable as well.
I felt that there was definitely an effort to absolve the Russians themselves from Stalin's crimes and portray their victimization; I have no argument with that. But the movie never or seldom focuses on German atrocities wrought upon the Russians. In fact, there is actually a whole scene devoted to "shocked" German soldiers unearthing the bodies of Polish officers that Stalin had supposedly murdered. It may well be true, but the portrayal of the most brutal soldiers the world has ever known solemnly shaking their heads at a mass murder almost turned the scene into farce.
Besides the predictable, relentless hammering on Stalin (I mean, if the guy went to the bathroom, this film would have found a way to portray that as monstrous, murderous and a lie), there is very little about Hitler, who is never shown as a heartless monster, as is Stalin in every scene.
Taistelu Näsilinnasta 1918 (2012)
Fascinating and Troubling
For a history buff as I am, this was a very unforgiving work of high integrity, I believe. I am still aghast at the brutality of WWI; there are so many untold stories that are being further elided with the passage of time. The longstanding conflict between Russia and Finland is not well known to Americans. The focus on the war in France overshadows the other battlefronts too. This story does not really spend any time on character development, but focuses on one small, cruel action on the periphery of The Great War, as it was known.
I have to remind myself how Finland was beaten up by Russia over the years because the alliance with the Nazis during WWII has sullied Finland for many Americans. As I understand, the Finns were really caught between two awful choices, and they chose the Germans to avoid allying themselves with the much-hated Russians. (That's a real oversimplification.) Anyway, this film was unrelentingly brutal and sad, exemplifying the terrible waste of life, the confusion, the hopelessness and pointlessness and impersonal nature of war. A troupe of young patriots try to hold off the encroaching Russian forces and in so doing are killed or wounded in various terrible ways. They show great courage, cruelty and brotherhood. Some of the background photos and film are authentic, and it always gives one an eerie and wrenchingly sad feeling to see these poor souls trapped in vicious circumstances, their lives and hopes and individuality swept away by History.
American Son (2008)
Excellent, Truthful Film
American Son is a gem of intimacy, conflict, and the poetry of Americans living their choices. I have always leaned toward movies that illuminate the inner emotion of people as they work through relationships and vulnerabilities. Nick Cannon is masterful in expressing the scorchingly intense emotion of his introverted and torn character, Mike, who is so authentic and such a quality guy --- I feel as if I knew him or people like him, though I cannot bring them to mind... I probably met them in passing over the years.
Neil Abramson deserves great kudos for directing this riveting and engaging film. It is not riveting in the sense of feverish constant action --- which I only find annoying anyway, with its self-conscious, intrusive camera work as in the Bourne movies. Rather, American Son is riveting in the sense of losing oneself in the lives of these people. Melonie Diaz is excellent as Christina, in her vulnerability and intense love for Mike, which she tries to keep hidden... you can feel her fear of being hurt by this wonderful guy who has joined this war.
The movie made me hurt for all people who have had to fight or loved anybody who went to war. These goodbyes have been a part of human history since forever. So much pain. I won't get political here, but I grew up with the Vietnam War in my life, and I truly thought when it ended after those ten arduous and agonizing years, that America was done dealing with war. So young I was.
The Hunters (2011)
Incomprehensible and amateurish
This is what happens when nobody has the moxie to stand up to the writer or director and cut, edit, structure, test, tighten, condense, throw out scenes and characters that don't work or are unnecessary. Somebody wanted to keep everything in the grab bag and fought any efforts to structure this.
Something strange is going on with these ten-star reviews; I suspect they are from people connected with the movie who are trying to balance out the one-stars --- which are the honest ones. Whoever wrote this needed to take a class in screen writing because it was a misuse of the actors; the dialogue was wooden...but the worst part was the lack of tight plot structure. I gave it a fair shot --- watched for about an hour and suddenly sat up and said "this is not happening." It's not a matter of being "different" or "non-linear" or any comments that try to make strengths out of weaknesses. This truly crumbles.
Casino Jack (2010)
Superlative and darkly humorous saga of disillusionment
I confess to having followed Jack Abramoff's actual denouement years ago only as much as I could tolerate without gagging. My feelings toward lobbyists are mostly of disgust anyway. But to separate this work of art from the morality of its subject matter, I must say that this is a fine, fine film. Mr. Hickenlooper's death is a profound loss to all of us. I find Kevin Spacey and Barry Pepper at the top of their form here. The character and the situation give Spacey a broad stage to display his talents and range. Abramoff is no easy character to portray with any sympathy at all, and I had virtually none, but my outrage over the facts didn't spoil my enjoyment of the entertainment one bit. A tribute to all involved.
As far as the abuses portrayed, all I can say is, I really hope the American citizenry somehow wakes up and unites to end the stranglehold that cash has put on our democracy. The utter hypocrisy and self-serving, greedy behavior of our politicians is harming us for generations to come. If they truly love their country, they must reject and expose lobbyists sacrificing our national welfare to Mammon.
Robin Hood (2010)
A;ll the "right" elements, but the result is disappointing
I'm relieved to see that so many other reviewers felt as I did --- although I also feel for those who participated in this movie and gave their all. I write movies myself, and have been on the receiving end of a lousy review, both from viewers and critics, and it "hoits." Nevertheless, honesty is our best friend, and so I'll add my impressions as a viewer.
I'm an Anglophile (American but majored in English lit and have avidly read British authors and legends from earliest to present day.) I read a version of Robin Hood as a child, as did we all. And what I loved most about Robin and the Merry Men even then was the camaraderie, the rough humor and loyalty to larger ideals. I loved the intimacy and "smallness" of the story in its magnificent forest. It invited the reader in to live with Robin and his band. I believe that this is what has charmed through the ages: Robin was a rebel and a leader --- irreverent and good-humored and fearless; quick to fight and to forgive, a foe of hypocrisy and unfairness. A trustworthy comrade. A marksman par excellence. A risk taker for the fun and hell of it.
This movie delivered none of that. It left me unengaged. And yes, sadly, Russell is far too old to be the youthful rebel that Robin was. And Cate... well she might have been the mother of Maid Marian, but she too, sadly, was miscast in this and we lose her great talent in a role that's unsuitable and drawn with too-broad strokes. A middle-aged woman hurling threats of emasculation, that is such a turn-off and risible as well. Oy, made me cringe and flinch (and I'm female too).
Even as a prequel, I didn't buy the setting. Huge battlefields, castles, large farms... we lose the intimacy and the character. Robin was a forest dweller above all --- he knew forests that are long since sacrificed to the hunger for wood and war. That would have been a fascinating fantasy scenario for Ridley Scott to recreate; those ancient, almost unimaginable first-growth forests... but this movie was not about Robin the forest outlaw. I do understand but still take issue with that strategy.
The movie was structurally difficult to understand, if not downright incomprehensible. That smacks of a script that did not know where it was going and as a result got overworked. For me, creating a a script is like kneading bread dough. You have to stop at just the right moment. If you continue kneading, the dough gets tough, loses its flexibility, rises poorly and the loaf is tough and and heavy. So... throwing in huge battle scenes that the audience really has no investment in was a costly error.
I could not help but compare this to Gladiator, which many others have, apparently: why did that formula work and not this? You still have the misunderstood, heroic but unwilling warrior who would rather make love and plant his fields; the crafty and corrupt ruler and his minions, the betrayal, the battles and carnage; Russell Crowe showing prowess and perfect "fight faces" (that must strike terror into hotel employees worldwide); the love interest, smoldering sensuality plus a good heart...
Well, we all grew up with Robin Hood, whereas Gladiator was a completely fresh plot line. But in trying to make Robin Hood fresh, Scott sacrificed the essence of his hero.
Had I presumed to write this movie, I would have placed the band in the forest, their natural habitat, and told the story of how Robin got there only in brief, sharp and poignant flashbacks that gave insight into who he is now. I would have replaced those tiring battles with the intimate skirmishes that Robin was known for; tests of archery and cudgeling that we loved in the book. I would have beefed upthe roles of the Merry Men we all knew and loved, rather than creating new characters out of whole cloth --- like the blind patriarch whose son's identity "Robin" stole ...what was that about? All that face-feeling and havy-handed declaiming over a character nobody, including Robin or Marian even knew --- that original son... I'd rather have seen more of Friar Tuck or Little John...
The Nines (2007)
A superior film on every level
The other reviewers have already done an excellent job of encapsulating the plot here, so I'll just add my voice to what seem universal accolades. This movie was not only intellectually intriguing, it was endlessly entertaining, and my attention didn't flag for a moment. I attribute this not only to the excellent script, dialogue, and pacing, but to the superlative acting, which was so natural, so spontaneous, and so intuitive that I literally never "got off the train" throughout. I could single out Ryan Reynolds, of course, because he carried the movie seamlessly and convincingly, but his whole supporting cast was just as great, and inhabited their various roles completely. Wow! Not just an absorbing movie to watch, but much nourishing food for thought.