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Fake or Fortune? (2010)
Documentary Art History and Detection: the Da Vinci Code meets the Antiques Roadshow
In the book and later film "the Da Vinci Code", much of the opening scenes take place in the most prestigious art gallery in the world: The Louvre in Paris, France. From the Louvre in Paris, to the French countryside, to Westminster Abbey in London, fictional characters Robert Langdon and his female companion Sophie Neveu embark on a trail which combines religious and art history with an action-packed thriller. Take away the car chases and the assassinations, but add real-life works shrouded in both inspiration and mystery. Then add to the mix attractive detectives on the hunt to reveal the truth about important and valuable works of art, both modern and old-master, and you just might end up with "Fake or Fortune?".
The relatively recent BBC series involves three art historian-detectives who are on a never-ending quest to discover the truth about intriguing paintings which have crossed their paths, either by accident or design. The paintings being researched share a few things in common: they are not on display in a prestigious museum and/or they are in private hands. All of them share the distinction of not being attributed to a great master artist. Philip Mould is a real-life art historian and dealer, the series' equivalent of Robert Langdon. His career which spans a quarter-century before the series went on air involves hunting down lost art. At the beginning of his career he bought a painting at a humble auction for only £180 (about $275 US) before research revealed it was a 17th-century painting, later resold for £12,000 ($20,000 US).
Although the fictional character Sophie Neveu is a forensics detective, Fiona Bruce has some interesting similarities, having been an award-winning television journalist with the BBC and an appraiser on the UK version of the Antiques Roadshow. Her tasks on the show involve historical investigations, often discovering the contexts when a work in question was produced and later events which also impacts a work's provenance, i.e. its history. Lastly but not least is Bendor Grosvenor, who, like his colleague Mould, is interested in lost and mis-catalogued works of art. Grosvenor is often the one to find missing paintings in catalogs at auctions or other places where a masterpiece might be hidden. Sometimes he and Mould discover works for sale which are completely misattributed. He also researches provenance history and uses technology to demonstrate certain aspects of an artwork which under current investigation.
So far there have been about 10 episodes broken up into 3 series, with a 4th hopefully on the way. Among the highlights have been a painting thought to be a Rembrandt, once confiscated by the Nazis in the 1930's, a couple of paintings attributed to unknown artists which Mould believes could be by one of Britain's most important artists, Thomas Gainsborough, and some early 19th-century Turners stashed in the basement of an art gallery when experts from the 1950's believed they were misattributed. (Some sailing experts have refuted some of the series' conclusions stating the boats in the pictures may be in fact from the early 20th century, not the 19th.) My favorite thus far is a lost Van Dyck from the early 17th century possibly painted over in the 18th century. I won't reveal all the details of this episode but to say that this is one of the best finds by the three colleagues, and must have been a shock and surprise to the art world at large.
Overall, one of the most fascinating documentary shows of recent memory, which makes PBS' the History Detectives seem a little tame by comparison. If you like the Da Vinci Code, the Antiques Roadshow (both UK and US versions), and the History Detectives, you can't go wrong with "Fake or Fortune?" Excellent job, BBC. Please tell PBS to broadcast more episodes.
Ground-Level Film About the Heart of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
The first scene involves some Palestinian boys engaged in an updated version of "chicken" in the desert outside of Jerusalem. Instead of some teenagers in the 1950's driving their cars off some embankment as in "Rebel without a Cause", these boys are using semi-automatic weapons and a rather worn "bullet-proof" vest. The main character of the film, Sanfur (played by Shadi Mar'i in completely convincing performance), is a Palestinian teenager who dons the vest and instructs his fellow peers to shoot him, if they have the guts. This is a game but a very brutal one. When some of the adults appear on the scene, the kids scatter. But I think the point is the adults are playing at the same brutal game, daring each other to fire at one another.
The film involves three groups: two militia groups of Palestinians who are somewhat at odds with each other, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and their common enemy, the Israels. Sanfur is literally caught between all three who seem to be playing a very deadly game of tug-of-war. His family is sympathetic to the Palestinian Authority but he socializes with people in Hamas, the more radical of the two. At the same time, Sanfur is good friends with Razi (Tsahi Halevi in an equally compelling performance), who is in reality an Israeli agent. His agency's duty is to infiltrate the Palestinian regions near Jerusalem and Bethlehem and root out members of the Palestinian militia groups. While Ravi appears to be Sanfur's friend at one level, the Israeli is using the boy to obtain information about Hamas.
The conflict begins with a decision to hunt down and assassinate a Hamas leader name of Ibrahim, whom the Israelis have been chasing for a year but is also, unfortunately, Sanfur's brother. Sanfur finds himself caught between the radical Hamas leaders, his family which appear to be on the moderate side of the conflict, and Ravi the Israeli, who has become like a father-figure for the boy. Now the boy is torn between all these loyalties. The crucial moment of the film occurs when Sanfur forces Ravi to take a kind of test of friendship. Will he succeed or fail? Will the boy side with the Palestinian authority, Hamas or with the Israeli agent?
An incredibly compelling film, but a very dark one about the current hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians. The acting is outstanding, and I have read that some of the actors had never performed in a film before. The viewer feels as if he or she is with these people, almost spying on their conversations and actions. There is never a dull moment, but this is not that kind of film where the good guys and the bad guys are neatly spelled out for us.
The Tourist (2010)
Pure Old-Fashioned Hollywood Fantasy Like the Grant-Hepburn-Kelly films of the1950's and 1960's
"The Tourist" is very similar to some of the Hollywood escapist fair of the 1950's and early 1960's with the likes of Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. In several films during this era, Grant played an American in European exotic locales dealing with espionage in relatively light-hearted plots. The classic films of this ilk which come to mind are "To Catch a Thief", "Charade", even "Roman Holiday", taking place in Monte Carlo, Monaco, Paris, and Rome. In "The Tourist", Depp plays a Cary Grant-like character and Angelina Jolie has the long dark hair of Audrey Hepburn with the demureness of Grace Kelly. The action begins in Paris then moves to Venice.
The best thing about the film in some ways is the opening. The viewer is plopped right into the middle of things without any background or knowledge. A demure mystery woman (Jolie) arrives at a café in Paris near the Champs-Elysees and orders something, which we learn is already being prepared. She's a regular. A mysterious note is given to her and provides detailed instructions concerning exact steps she's supposed to take right after leaving the café. While she is reading the note, we learn she is being staked out by some kind of government officials. Part of the instruction says "...pick someone with my height and build and make them believe it is me..." She burns the note and makes her way to the central train terminal in Paris.
Part of the fun of the story is that we don't know who wrote the note, and part of the mystery-fantasy is a gradual revelation regarding who the unknown letter-writer is. (The voice-over for the note is Jolie, which is somewhat confusing at first.) On a train to Venice, she meets a clueless American tourist from Wisconsin, Frank, played by Johnny Depp. Depp (who doesn't exactly seem like a clueless tourist from Wisconsin) acts flattered that a woman who just walked out of Vogue Magazine would sit by him on the train. And so begins a rather fun, if somewhat improbable, misadventure. Depp appears to be someone "with my height and build". Two factions are on the trail on the unknown "letter-writer": Scotland Yard authorities who believe he has not paid back taxes on several billion British pounds, and an international mob run by an older baddie who would kill not only a man who cheats on his wife, but he'll kill his wife too, and all the members of both families. He would even kill the man's doctor, just for good measure. The mob boss lost billions to the mystery who was once a trusted part of his organization. Part of the plot is the tried-and-true "mistaken identity" device in which the authorities and the mob appear to be confusing the clueless tourist with the unseen letter-writer. Everyone is sure the man they want is Depp.
A fun fantasy which combines elements of romantic-comedy and international espionage. There are a couple obligatory chase scenes and even a romantic interlude or two, with the compulsory ballroom scene and casino. What makes it work are the fine performances by Depp and Jolie. The ending is pretty interesting, but there are aspects during the film which don't quite mesh with some of the scenes which have occurred previously. But if you're willing to suspend your disbelief and let your imagination run wild, "The Tourist" is a fun treat, sort of like a nice bow of vanilla ice cream. French vanilla of course on Viennese China.
The Monuments Men (2014)
More Than Just Ocean's 11 During World War II: An Important Episode in the War Against the Nazis
The first scene of the film is set in a church in Ghent, Belgium. Clerics are busily taking down a large paneled altarpiece which appears to be late medieval/early renaissance in its style. It's the Ghent Altarpiece, one of the most famous artworks ever forged in Europe. The panels are hastily taken down and put into a truck. Word is the Nazis are on their way to confiscate the work, possibly ordered by Adolph Hitler himself.
We often think of Nazi-Germany in terms of what they did in battle and/or to certain religious and ethnic groups in Hitler's "Final Solution". However, the Nazis didn't limit themselves only to the gunfire on the battlefields and the horrors of the concentration camps. Another aspect of Nazi-Germany's rape of Europe was the destruction of cultural heritage and legacy, particularly by plundering Europe's artwork from public museums and private collections. In nearly every country the Nazis overrun, they plundered museums and large private collections. It wasn't enough that they subjugated large populations to their totalitarian regime; they also stole their identities. The Monuments Men were a real-life group of "soldiers" assigned the daunting task of retrieving the art confiscated by the Nazis towards the end of the war. This film is about their story.
George Clooney plays Frank Stokes who outlines the importance of retrieving the lost art: "You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they'll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it's as if they never existed. That's what Hitler wants and that's exactly what we are fighting for." An evil power can subjugate France, but if it destroys the Louvre or Versailles, France itself becomes nearly destroyed. Save the Louvre and Versailles, France lives on.
After the Ghent Altarpiece scene and Stokes' speech, "the Monuments Men" rings a bit like "Ocean's 11", with Clooney soliciting art historians, scholars, and restorers from different parts of the United States. He puts together a small band of misfits who are either too old or too ill-equipped to be involved in the war on the front-lines. This is their way of being involved in the conflict in a significant way. Their mission: to find and retrieve the lost artwork either from public museums or private collections. The cast is a Who's Who of famous name talent in addition to Clooney: Matt Damon, Hugh Booneville, John Goodman, Bill Murray, and Bob Balaban, just to name a few.
The band breaks off into smaller groups and each has their own story. One of the most interesting is that of real-life figure Rose Valland, although they changed her name to Claire Simone in the story. She has been spying on the Nazis while they've been abducting many great artworks in Paris. In real life, she became a heroine in the cause of stopping the Nazis from their plundering. In the film, she meets James Granger (Matt Damon), who needs her help in finding the art. At first she is reticent, believing he only wants to bring the art back to US museums. In another group, there's Richard Campbell and Preston Savitz (Murray and Balaban) who are following leads into the European countryside, hoping to find some of the lost treasures. Other members go by themselves seeking to save art not yet pilfered by the Nazis, such as Donald Jeffries who goes to the church housing a Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. Eventually the groups will converge and they hit the jack-pot in a way that would make auction houses Southeby's and Christie's salivate.
Although much of the story is a bit exaggerated and doesn't always ring of true history, this is still a very enjoyable film about a subject which has had much less screen-time devoted to it than other subjects of World War II, at least in the United States. (Europe has been all too aware of the devastation of its art at the hands of the Nazis.) Aspects of "the Monuments Men" recall the rather idealized films of the late 1950's and early 1960's, such as "the Great Escape" and "the Longest Day". (The music soundtrack seems inspired by such films with one passage using a whistle and piccolo to intone its patriotic melody, similar to the Great Escape). Not quite a great film, but a good one.
The Waltons (1971)
Not the Typical Glamorous People on Television, Honest Look at Depression Era Life
In the entertainment industry today, most casting directors want the extraordinary looks first, and then if that's present, the acting skills are then evaluated. The Walton's television series of the 1970's was an extraordinary exception. Almost none of the cast had the looks of the typical 1970's to early 1980's television stars like, Jacqueline Smith, Lee Majors, Joan Collins or Farrah Fawcett. Seeing an old woman with her granddaughter sitting at the family table and preparing beans for the family meal is something which will never be seen again on American television in the foreseeable future. They say grace at meals, and they attend the local protestant church. (Interestingly, European television shows portray more "ordinary" people.)
The Waltons are middle-class people living during the Great Depression in the 1930's. Their clothes are ordinary and even drab. The women wear very little makeup, and they drive average cars from the period. They live in a humble two-story house with small bedrooms, a kitchen and eating area. Occasionally they listen to the radio dramas at night. They don't wear furs or silk, drive in Cadillacs, and reside in a large luxury manor whose entryway is larger than most people's apartments. This was probably the most honest portrayal of a middle class family ever to air on television. The characters of the show engage in regular work: preparing meals, chopping down trees, and buying goods at the local general store. Within this show were interesting stories often centered on some kind of stranger staying with the Waltons during the course of an episode.
The character at the heart of the show was John-Boy Walton (played by Richard Thomas), loosely based on the series' writer-creator Earl Hamner. John-Boy is an aspiring writer, and at the beginning of each episode, the voice of Earl Hamner tells the story of the Waltons as if looking back to his past. The Waltons was loosely based on Hamner's experiences growing up in depression-ear Virginia. Other characters of note are John Walton Sr. (Ralph Waite), Olivia Walton (Michael Learned), Grandpa (Will Geer), Grandma (Ellen Corby), and John-Boy's brothers and sisters.
Other supporting characters lived around the town, such as Ike Godsey and his wife at the General store, and two spinster sisters who are the wealthiest of the locals. The Waltons and their surrounding community are Protestant Christians who frown on things like alcohol, even though most likely the story is set just after Prohibition. Every once in awhile, Grandpa, my favorite character of the show, would spike lemonade with a "secret formula" and then plead innocence when it was found out. One Walton trademark which kind of entered into the American lexicon is the voice-overs which occur at the end of each episode where the characters speak about what they experienced, a bit like the ending jokes of many television westerns and even Star Trek. The voice-overs always occurred with a birds-eye view of the Waltons' house at night with a couple of the windows still lit. Then after all the good-nights were said, the light in the windows would dim. (I remember seeing a Mad Magazine spoof of Star Trek with an illustration of the hull of the ship, and the captions read: "Good night Captain. Good night Mr Spock. Good night John-Boy.")
One of the few television series which portrays a family dealing with the real issues of family life in the 1930's. Not glamorous, not beautiful, but very real. If you're interested in seeing something of substance, try the Waltons. However, if you wish to see a production which takes you to fantasy-land, like Charlies's Angels, best look elsewhere.
The Butler (2013)
Whitaker Offers the Performance of a Lifetime in the Best Film About Civil Rights Since "Gandhi"
Although the American Civil War ended in 1865, civil injustice towards African-Americans continued to be an enduring aspect of American life, particularly in the South. Not until the Civil Rights legislation of 1964 was written into law about 100 years after the assassination of President Lincoln could the United States truly boast of being a country where all citizens were truly free or at least regarded as "equal" (more or less) by law. The United States for African-Americans was a very different place in 1920 than it became in 1970, a half-century later. This transformation is shown through the eyes and experiences of a butler for the White House, based on the life of Eugene Allen, who was a prominent butler at the US President's residence for 34 years. Allen lived from 1919 to 2008 and was one of the few people who lived long enough to see racial lynchings in the early 20th century and an African-American become president in 2008.
Loosely based on Allen, Cecil Gaines, played by Forest Whitaker in a tour-de-force performance, grew up in the American South where he sees first-hand injustice and racial inequality. He works for a southern plantation and receives an opportunity to work inside the house, as a "house n-----". His employment experiences eventually lead to a post at an exclusive club in Washington DC where he is spotted by someone who recruits for the hired help at the White House. He becomes a butler in the residence of the most powerful political figure of the United States. He has a wife, played by Oprah Winfrey, and two sons.
As a parallel story, Gaines' son, Louis, played with equal vitality by David Oyelowo, becomes interested in the Civil Rights movement. While the elder Gaines is forced to steer clear of any kind of political posturing because of his role as a White House employee, his son participates in the demonstrations, sit-ins, the Freedom Riders, and even the Black Panthers. Because of his involvement, the relationship between father and son becomes strained. A large part of the story is not only about Gaines' employment at the White House but about Gaines the elder and Gaines the younger.
On the other front, the elder Gaines learns about the eccentricities, the sensibilities, and even the political mind-sets of several presidents. Although he has been trained to stand in the midst of the president and other heads-of-state as if he is part of the furniture, Gaines cannot help but overhear the political goings-on at the White House. One of the remarkable aspects of Whitaker's performance is his ability to seem strangely detached from his surroundings, and yet through it all, he can't quite escape from having an opinion about his different employers. He is forced because of his employment obligations to resist offering his political opinions, and yet occasionally he is asked for his opinion by some of the presidents he served, which I would guess is probably quite accurate. (As a footnote, the fictional character and the real butler Allen, lived to see the election of Barack Obama in 2008.)
"The Butler" is one of the best films to date of the 21st century. In addition to Whitaker's masterful performance, many other name actors are in this film, including Robin Williams in a surprisingly on-the-money portrayal of Dwight Eisenhower, John Cusack as Richard Nixon, Liev Schreiber as Lyndon Johnson, Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan, and Jane Fonda as Nancy Reagan. Through it all, it's still Whitaker who takes all the way from racial segregation to Barack Obama. This is one best films on the subject of Civil Rights (actually one of the best films period) and not to be missed.
The Master (2012)
Critically-Acclaimed Film with Outstanding Performances Left Me Surprisingly Cold
This is one of those films which the critics were nearly-unanimous in offering universal praise and yet audiences seemed to be relatively dismissive. (The film didn't quite make back its money at the box office.) The performances of Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Hoffman, and the rest of the cast were outstanding, along with the dialog which seems perfectly suited to its characters. Even the sets of the late 1940's and early 1950's were superb. And there are a number of surprising moments in which you don't know where the story is headed. However, by the film's end, I felt like there was something missing, as if the filmmakers were reluctant to take a risk with the material and say something about their subject through the story. About the last half of the film, the story meanders and never finds again its pace or goal.
The film is about the obsession of cult groups which try to answer life's riddles for troubled people. In this case, the group and its leader appear very loosely inspired by Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard, called "the Cause" whose leader is Lancaster Dodd (Hoffman). Although Hoffman plays the title role, the story is really about an ex-naval officer Freddie Quell (Phoenix) who is suffering from PTSD as a result of his involvement in World War II. After the war, he is a lost soul roaming through life with a series of misadventures, such as attacking a customer when he works for a department store as a photographer, or accidentally offering a poisonous drink to a migrant worker.
At his lowest point, he wakes up on board some kind of small yacht and meets a strange man, Lancaster Dodd, who informs him he's aboard his ship at Quell's request, although our protagonist can't remember having boarded. Quell learns about Dodd at their first meeting who states "I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher, but above all, I am a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you." He also says people attack him for his "dangerous" ideas. Slowly, Quell learns that Dodd is head of some kind of an underground movement combining philosophy and pseudo-science and publishes books on some far-fetched ideas which probably have no scientific basis. Dodd is often referred to as simply "Master" by members of this group. Dodd and his group believe the way to "heal" troubled people is by cleansing their souls through a hypnotic process which attempts to heal injuries inflicted during past lives.
Probably the most compelling part of the film is the first half, where we as the audience learn about Dodd and the Cause through the eyes of Quell. The most captivating moment is when Dodd is accused of not only illegally accepting a large donation from a philanthropist through a foundation, but practicing medicine without a license. I thought the film would focus on these accusations, but then the film leaves these indictments far behind. Afterwards, the film meanders, a bit like Quell at the beginning. The film becomes an episodic montage of interesting moments which are rather disconnected. By film's end, I didn't feel much more was revealed about Dodd and his Cause than when Quell first joined during the first third of the film.
Although all the acting is right on the money including outstanding performances by Hoffman and Phoenix, and the script dialog was absolutely true the characters, the entire film was kind of dissatisfying. We as the audience are given hints of the politics of Dodd and his inner circle but often these ideas are never fully developed. Also, much screen time was devoted to many of the "past life" sessions conducted by Dodd, but I think at some point it became wasted screen time. After 3 or 4 sessions, I pretty much understood the idea but instead countless others are offered without giving much insight into Dodd and who he is. By film's end, "The Master" was more like a character study than a story. A noble effort that wasn't quite there for me.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
Decent Action Flick But Nothing Special--Branagh as the Baddie was the Best Aspect
I guess we so-called Generation X'ers like more plot and story than just pure action, unlike our Millenial counterparts. This film seems more targeted to the action crowd than the audience who wants to see an intricate plot and a compelling storyline. While there are a few good things in this film, such as Branagh as the baddie and an interesting seduction scene between him and Keira Knightley as Jack Ryan's heartthrob, the film never quite pulled me in. At one point, the plot takes a pretty good turn where the baddie seemed to have the upper hand but that was all too brief. Thereafter, I guessed where the film was going.
The plot is rather complex but underdeveloped, which is part of the problem with this latest installment in the Jack Ryan Canon. The story begins with Ryan (now played by Chris Pine, the most recent Captain Kirk in the latest Star Trek films) during his salad days as an economics PhD student at a university in London during the 9/11 attacks. After serving his country and being injured for his troubles, he is then recruited by the CIA via Thomas Harper, played by Kevin Costner. Ryan is to pretend he's a typical trader on Wall Street, but in secret he's investigating off-shore investments which might be funding terrorists group. Through an analysis that takes only minutes on-screen, Ryan discovers trillions of dollars in secret accounts which he traces to some kind of business magnate, Viktor Cherevin, played with nice understatement by Kenneth Branagh.
Unfortunately, for my taste, we really don't see how Ryan was able to penetrate the accounts so fast. He just flips on his laptop and finds a whole bunch of inaccessible accounts and immediately knows what they are. I really wanted to have a much more developed sequence where he looks for clues and follows leads. After about 5 minutes of screen time, he's flying to Moscow to confront Branaugh. At the same time, he is living with the woman who was helping him in the hospital. However, she doesn't know he's secretly working for the CIA. And then Costner ends up in Moscow to help Ryan, and then lo and behold, the girlfriend ends up there too and the race is on with lots of car chases through Moscow and then in New York.
Overall, a modestly entertaining but for some reason not entirely satisfying action film. At no point in the story does the baddie ever get his way or achieve any of his goals, except for one action sequence about 75% of the way into the film that is way too short. And I liked Branaugh as the vain and soft-spoken baddie, the way he should be. At a certain moment, one of the people in his organization scolds him because of his weakness for booze and broads, which was one of my two favorite scenes in the film but like most of "Shadow Recruit", the good scenes were all too brief. There is also a young baddie of Russian extraction now living in America as a double-agent, but very little about him is developed except a biography which is recapped for about 30 seconds. The script needed about 2-3 more rewrites before it would have been there. Essentially about 80% action and only 20% story development. I wanted more interesting scenes, not just piles and piles of car chases. A one-watch at best.
Olympus Has Fallen (2013)
Mediocre and Senselessly Violent Action Flick thats Essentially Die Hard in the White House
I found little about this film entertaining or even redemptive. Its essentially an over-top shoot-em-up flick with moments of such gratuitous violence that I began to wonder why in the world I was watching it. The plot is essentially like that of the original Die Hard film. Instead of a multi-national corporation, the victims are the White House, and the hostages include the President, the Secretary of State and the Head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon.
The movie parallels the original Die Hard not just in terms of plot but also in many scenes. In the original Die Hard, the baddies were Germans. In this offering they are North Koreans. The baddies infiltrate the White House using such state of the art equipment and finesse that anyone in charge of some kind of military operation would be highly envious. In about the time it takes to order a hamburger and shake from your favorite fast food restaurant, the North Koreans have brought the White House to its knees and are holding the top brass hostage. And why? They want the US's nuclear launch codes to start World War III.
Gerard Butler plays Mike Banning, a sort of John McClaine-like Secret Service Agent who just happened to be removed from the White House when all the fun begins. He then infiltrates the battered White House, moving among the Oval Office and other areas which appear like the remnants of a place long since abandoned centuries earlier. The film is mostly about him, in true John McClaine-like fashion, trying to free the hostages and doing to the baddies what was done to the White House. His contact is the Speaker of the House, played by Morgan Freeman, and other members of the government who were luckily not at the White House when it became the equivalent of a building in a Post-Apocalyptic world. In a particularly vicious scene, the Secretary of Defense, played by Mellissa Leo, is beaten to a pulp by the baddies.
Overall a horrid movie with so much gratuitous violence that some scenes I just didn't want to watch. If you like pure shoot-em-up where no less then 679 people get killed or hurt, this is certainly the film for you. The original Die Hard film certainly had violence, but it also had plot, pacing, and a certain amount of character development. There are even moments of humor. This film is humorless, character-less, and has no sense of pace or timing. Just lots and lots of heads and bodies being blown to bits.
The Challenger (2013)
Finely Crafted Film About How Science and Facts Clash with Insider Politics Through the Eyes of Physics Genius Richard Feynman
In 1986, the United States experienced possibly the worst space flight disaster in NASA's history up until that time. (The fire which occurred during the testing of Apollo 1 in 1967 was probably the worst before Challenger.) With a disaster of this magnitude, then President Reagan formed a board of inquiry to determine the cause of the Challenger's untimely explosion which occurred less than 1.5 minutes into its launch. Most of the members of the commission were government, military, and NASA insiders such as astronauts Neil Armonstrong and Sally Ride, Air Force General Donald Kutyna, and William P. Rogers, former cabinet member of presidents and adviser to President Reagan. However, one board member was not only an outsider but a Nobel Laureate in Physics: Dr Richard Feynman. The present film chronicles the investigation through the eyes of Feynman, played convincingly by William Hurt, regarded as a bit of a maverick who did not understand the magnitude of consequences if the full and possibly ugly truth were ever laid bare before public scrutiny.
At the time of the disaster, Feynman was teaching physics at the California Institute of Technology. One of his former students, a NASA insider, recommends the professor become involved with the commission. From the first, Feynman clashes with the Director of the commission Rogers (Brian Dennehy), who is at first more worried about NASA's reputation than finding the cause of the Challenger disaster. Feynman begins a bit of rogue investigative work which frustrates other members of the commission, who are worried that reputations and business contracts could be be jeopardized by the findings.
Feynman then befriends General Donald Kutyna (Bruce Greenwood), who turns out to be an invaluable ally in the investigation. Kutyna explains to Feynman that the politics surrounding such an investigation often becomes messy, even ugly. People try to veil the truth, often with lots of scientific jargon, fearing that reputations, positions, and even careers might be compromised if unflattering facts come into the spotlight. At the same time, since Feynman is an outsider, he is much more free to ascertain the truth than other members. Then the physics professor receives a strange message which says "it's just ivory soap". Late in the film, Feynman makes a fascinating presentation of his findings to the other commission members. After the credits, video footage of the real Feynman making the identical presentation is shown as a kind of epilogue or coda.
A compelling and thoroughly entertaining insiders' look into a commission of inquiry appointed by the US Government. While the need to find the truth is what the public expects, they don't often see the political shenanigans which often occur when such an investigation embarks on its task. The Warren Commission, the mishandled board of inquiry formed to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, made decisions which were above and beyond the goal of finding the truth, such as shielding crucial pieces of evidence from other board members for fear that such exposure would embarrass and/or infuriate the Kennedy family. (The Warren Commission's failures would fuel conspiracy theories for decades.) The Challenger Commission (or Rogers Commission) could have fallen into the same trap. However, because of the integrity of several of the members of the board, the truth of the Challenger disaster was finally revealed. And as a result, NASA made far-reaching improvements in its shuttle technology. Sadly, the Shuttle Disaster Commission was Feynman's last undertaking which received national attention. Feynman would die of cancer in 1988 at the age of 69.