Film Review: “The Post” (2018)

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“The Post” is fairly dry history made more interesting by putting two world class actors Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep together with Steven Spielberg. Other major players include Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”) and Matthew Rhys (“The Americans”). It’s the story of how the press handled the infamous “Pentagon Papers” in 1971, leading to one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in modern history.

June 30, 1971- Justice Hugo Black: ” Madison and the other Framers of the
First Amendment, able men that they were, wrote in language they earnestly
believed could never be misunderstood: “Congress shall make no law . . .
abridging the freedom . . . of the press. . . .” Both the history and language
of the First Amendment support the view that the press must be left free to
publish news, whatever the source, without censorship, injunctions, or
prior restraints”.

The production and, of course, direction of the film is immaculate. Hanks and Streep are the world class performers that they are. It all comes together to form a very convincing potboiler, but the real history of Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers is diluted somewhat by the drama surrounding owner of the Washington Post, Katharine Graham’s quandaries as to whether to go against Nixon et al, who promised to destroy the paper. Frankly, I think the producers of the film thought the hand wringing Kate Graham was more interesting than the Papers, especially in this era where women want to be portrayed as more decisive than they have been portrayed in the past. Of course, Streep does a masterful job.

But I thought the history of the Pentagon Papers is much more interesting and not explored fully in the film. The film actually starts with the collection of the Papers but the history behind that collection is important. Accordingly, what follows is an explanation (by me) that lays out the real history of how the Pentagon Papers came to be. The film then explains their importance in terms of the attempt by Nixon to undermine a free press. The film does a good job of that.

So, brace yourselves, here is a mercifully brief history of what happened that set the stage for Daniel Ellsberg copying the 7000 or so pages that describe in detail how the American public was systematically lied to regarding a conflict no one believed could be won but refused to quit and appear as “losers”. If you understand the history, the film makes more sense.

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The history behind the “Pentagon Papers” (Daniel Ellsworth, 1971) The 19th and early 20th century were the years of colonialism, powerful countries conquering and occupying foreign areas mainly for the purpose of acquiring natural resources. Following World War II, the Japanese overthrew the French Colonial regime but were overthrown in 1945 by Ho Chi Minh and it’s military arm, the Viet Minh. The anti-communist State of Vietnam was established under Bao Dai in 1949.

Ho Chi Minh extended the conflict to unite Vietnam under communism until the French were defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 the French departed Vietnam. Following the Geneva Accord of 27 April 1954, agreements were made granting Vietnam independence from France. On July 20, 1954, the countries attending the Geneva Conference agreed that there should be a cease fire and a partition line at the 17th parallel should be established to separate the powers and that free elections should be held to establish reunification in July of 1956. This accord was signed only by the French and the (Northern) Viet Minh, who were assured of winning any such election because of their national popularity. However, the United States (under then President Dwight Eisenhower) and the anti-communist portion of the country in the south, under it’s president Bao Dai refused to sign the accord, essentially guaranteeing free elections would not occur.

The communist influenced north under Ho Chi Minh then continued active warfare against the south to unify the country under communism. This was the beginning of President Dwight Eisenhower’s influence in the evolution and revolution of Vietnam. Eisenhower was very wary of what’s popularly been called the “horizontal spread” of communism, a political culture anathema to the United States. This notion was created following the Soviet Union’s violent annexation of numerous border states following World War II. Eisenhower and others believed that if Vietnam were allowed to unify under communism, it would be impossible to curtail the spread to other neighboring countries. Eisenhower didn’t want to be accused be accused of having lost Indochina to the Communists as Truman had lost China after communists had been successful in capturing that country.

Accordingly, Eisenhower began that strategy of military assistance to the anti-communist forces in the southern area of the country under Ngo Dinh Diem who refused to hold national elections. He had previously assisted French military actions in the action before Dien Bien Phu. Eisenhower’s role in the evolution of Vietnam as a country is important for the following reasons:

1. His fear of the spread of communism overwhelmed the premise that countries should have the right to self-determinism, and that they may freely choose outcomes not necessarily friendly to all other countries.

2. His “cold war” bias obliterated the fact that he was supporting a brutally repressive regime, at least as unacceptable as and probably worse than any communist regime.

3. Eisenhower continued the political objective began by Truman in 1950 to contain the spread of communism by providing military assistance to the non-communistic forces.

In 1955, Eisenhower provided the Military Assistance Advisory Group” to train the South Vietnamese troops. This action begins the “official” military action in Vietnam and American soldier deaths from this point on are memorialized in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. In 1967 and especially 1968, the Democratic Party in the United States was in turmoil over the Vietnam conflict. The 1968 Democratic Convention on Chicago escalated to a full-scale riot, contributing to the spin off violent activists. Bowing to increasing criticism of the war effort, especially following the violent Tet Offensive in January of 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson withdrew his candidacy for the 1968 election.

The assassinations of and Martin Luther King on April 4,1968 and Robert F. Kennedy on June 6, 1968 further threw the Democratic Party into shambles. Nixon shrewdly assessed the situation as amenable to a Republican candidate to gain a strong portion of the voting public looking for stability in the country. This was a correct assessment. Running on a “unite the country” and “End the Vietnam conflict (Peace with Honor)” platform, Nixon was elected by a wide margin against his opponents Hubert Humphrey and Alabama Governor George Wallace who may have split the Democratic vote. When Nixon took office on January 20, 1969, the war was extremely unpopular in the United States and there were violent protests against it, including attacks on military installations and providers of military supplies.

In mid-1969, Nixon began negotiations with North Vietnam to find a peaceful solution. Peace talks began in Paris but did not produce any significant accord. Meanwhile, Nixon had approved secret bombing missions in North Vietnam and also in Cambodia. Every month that elapsed between Nixon’s promise to end the war and its continuation resulted in hundreds of American troops killed. The tragic massacre at My Lai in March of 1968 and the shooting of four students at (then) Kent State College on May 4, 1968 sparked International outrage as to American conduct during the war.

The Nixon administration was viewed as callous and indifferent to the escalating outrages related to the deteriorating war effort. In 1971, Daniel Ellsburg, a former State Department operative and anti-war activist, surreptitiously copied a study prepared by the Department of Defense showing that the Johnson administration had systematically lied to the public and congress about the potential for the Americans to actually win the war. Nixon was aware of the content of these missives and reacted by trying to obtain an injunction for their publication, which failed via the Supreme Court.

The so-called “Pentagon Papers” revealed that the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, had progressively misled the public regarding reality of the war intentions and possible outcomes, especially Eisenhower negating the Geneva Accords of 1954. However, Nixon reasoned that the actions of past presidents might soften his own actions. Ellsburg was important also as he provided the incentive for Nixon to break the law in search of future “leakers” of sensitive government documents, eventually leading, of course, to the Watergate drama. The film is world class good. It gets four and a half Hairpieces. Could have explained the history a little better.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

Film Review: “Molly’s Game” (2017)

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Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba in MOLLY’S GAME

There was a discussion a while back as to the difference between “artistic” and “entertaining” in film. A lot of Artsy stuff with big name actors got high ratings for artistry but were virtually unwatchable (anything by Ingmar Bergman) and a lot of poorly rated films were magnificent (“Used Cars” (1980). But occasionally you run across one that’s both incredibly well produced and spellbinding. “Molly’s Game” is such a film.

First thing you do is look for the performers’ pedigree and track record. Idris Elba- Multiple nominations for everything. Golden Globe for “Luther” (2012). Incredible performance in “The Wire” (2005). Jessica Chastain. Golden Globe nominee for “Zero Dark Thirty” (2012). Nominated for two Oscars. Nominated for Best Actress tonite- Golden Globes 2018- Multi-Oscar winner and multitalented Kevin Costner. Director Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing (’99-’06), “A few Good Men” (1992). “Steve Jobs” (1015). “The Newsroom” (’12-’14).

With talent like that all in the same film, it’s usually worth a look and I was not disappointed. Based on a real person (who will be attending the Golden Globes tonight, for which Molly’s Game is nominated for two) who had a disappointing sports career, ultimately finding she had a knack for organizing a high end poker game that made her millions, only to eventually to be busted for illegal gambling activities.

The real jewel in this film is Idris Elba from “The Wire”, a TV series everyone needs to see before they die. He is simply magnificent. Jessica Alba portrays the nuts and bolts of how to create a masterful organization from scratch and you might learn a bit about “Texas Hold’em” the classic poker game in which some players at the table gamble and others play poker.

The plot is intelligent, strong and holds interest. There are no appreciable lags. All the actors do a great job of bringing the plot to life. Aaron Sorkin stacks the poker table with wonderful characters. Kevin Costner drops a jewel of a brief performance near the end but never overshadows Chastain who nicely holds her own through the array of other excellent actors, capturing her character to perfection.

“Molly’s Game is a tour-de-force highly recommended by me. Exceptionally produced, directed and entertaining.

I give it four and a half cleve-dresses. A little too long and a few more or less maudlin scenes that went over budget but nothing serious.

 

 

Star Wars “The Last Jedi” (2017)

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Star Wars “The Last Jedi” (2017) is a study in contrasts, some extreme. It’s also an interesting study in aging.

In a previous interview with Charlie Rose, George Lucas, the creator of Star Wars, famously rolled his eyes and opined that the series had been worked as hard as it possibly could and there wasn’t much if any room for fresh material. The original three Star Wars films are among the most entertaining movies ever made. What followed held up the sagging premise with increasing CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) to maintain the interest of the faithful. In the end, he was happy to sell the franchise to Disney (for something like 40 billion$). So on it marched with a different director for each one.

The previous version: “Rogue One” (2016) made amends with the tired plot and mediocre performance art, got OK reviews but most of the top watchers said the same thing, that the war should have been won by the evil alliance many episodes ago.  Luke, Han, and Leia were originally interesting characters in an interesting plot, but subsequent characters couldn’t hold up a sagging, seemingly perpetual story line. Subsequent iterations of Star Ward could be accused of being an assembly line product slickly produced to generate a LOT of money.

Now we come to the latest product, “The Last Jedi” featuring the same tired story line about the seemingly endless war between the vastly outnumbered rebels against the infinite evil empire, now headed by a facially damaged skeletor and an upgrade to Darth Vader (Adam Driver) who makes a pretty convincing bad guy as he has a fundamentally convincing malevolent aura about him even in real life. The Last Jedi is the last film of Carrie Fisher who definitely appears her age and has little to do but offer up stern glares. Laura Dern’s performance, such as it was, should probably be forgotten as quickly as possible. The other major characters would be quite at home in the current blitz of comic book movies.

What’s quite remarkable is Mark Hamill at age 66. Last we saw him he was age 26 and although not getting stellar notices for his acting ability, he did fit beautifully in the original three episodes because he integrated so well with Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford. I think he looks damned good for his age but he wasn’t given a lot of room for performance art, relegated instead to variations on the theme of moodiness.

This is a film that hangs its hat on CGI pure and simple. There are explosions and other variances of violence pretty much continuously, and they’re all state of the art. So if you like computer generated effects, this is really as good as it gets. Some very striking as the instant appearance on screen of huge battle ships, presumably coming out of light speed.

However, if you come to see this film expecting stimulating dialog and masterful performance art, it simply isn’t there. The aging originals aren’t given any meaningful dialog or discourse. They’re there as a nod to the past and that’s about all it was. The new, young actors are one dimensional, plying variations on the themes of the tired fight against an omnipotent enemy just like they did it in 1977. And of course, a hint of a new young Jedi or something similar at the end for the inevitable episode 9.

I was watching the news and they noted long lines to get into theaters to see this film, many moviegoers dressed in various themes of Star Wars attire. At the small, local theater where we saw this film, there were no lines and the theater was about 80% filled, but there were authentic characters wandering around the lobby, including a very convincing R2D2 (Photos). I vividly remember when I saw the original Star Wars film in 1977. I was a resident at NYU and the film was playing downtown at one of the big theaters but no one thought it would be what it turned out to be, a quantum change in moviemaking. My then girlfriend and I stood in a moderate line but got OK seats. I (and a lot of other people) were just blown away by this film. The actors worked, the plot worked, the cinematography worked. It was a masterpiece and I’ll always remember it as such.

This 2017 iteration? I’ll give it split reviews:

* If you like continuous CGI visuals, I give it a solid 5 deep space mega-explosions. The computer effects are not matched anywhere.

* If you like performance art……Mmmmm…..this film gets a weak, sagging 3 Mark Hamill sad faces for characterizations and plot development.

Godless” (Netflix mini-series streaming 7 episodes) Review

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A really intense film review.  “Godless” (Netflix mini-series streaming 7 episodes)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=toCP7yUqGEs

Just happened to stumble upon this gem of a mini-series and I wanted to make sure you all check it out.

Pay cable companies have the option and ability to portray life is it is, or how we might view it, rather than how ratings shape it. On network programs, stunningly bad pseudo-comedies with irritating laugh tracks prompting those with an IQ under 50 to guffaw on cue. “Two broke girls”? Seriously?

HBO pretty much owns the Emmys for their series but It pays to sniff around sometime to see what’s out there on the other cable channels. Netflix is coming up very quickly. And again, before you start perusing too many “reviews” (always check out mine), you’ll always check rottentomatoes.com first for the most honest and objective numbers.

This month on Netflix resides an absolutely fantastic series with some big name actors and writers. It’s a morality play set in the old West with several tips of the hat to “Deadwood” aura, probably the definitive “Western” of all time.

Godless” is about the search for mysterious loner Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell), by a sheriff (Scoot McNairy), a US Marshall (Sam Waterston) and the fearsome embodiment of father issues Frank Griffin (Jeff Daniels). The plight of women who lost all their men in a mining accident. The showcase is the stunning, rugged landscape of the West and the stark hardships of those who live there. The interaction between Roy and the horses is spellbinding. I don’t know how they could have trained either to do that.

“Godless” features some really awesome performances by some world class actors, most noticeably Jeff Daniels (Yes, the same guy that did “Dumb & Dumber). Daniels’ portrayal of the complex character of Frank Griffin is stunning and spellbinding. Look for very convincing performances by Michelle Dockery as Alice and Cree Indian lady Tantoo Cardinal. Interestingly, several of these major players are born & raised Brits affecting a Southwestern accent (a cross between South Georgia and Valley Girl).

Uppers: “Godless” is a visual masterpiece. Stunning if you happen to have 4k electronics. Most flat screen TVs are now affordably in 4k and it’s highly recommended. The difference is very noticeable and for epic scenery it matters. Westerns are interesting because of the visual texture of the landscapes, caught extremely accurately now on 4k visual.

Downers: It takes some time watching this epic before you’re convinced to care about these people but it eventually sucks you into their lives and their complexities. There are a lot of flashbacks and it takes some figuring out as to where they fit in.

I give it a 4 ½ stunning New Mexico landscapes. Must-see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

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Some may remember “In Bruges” (2008), (Golden Globe for Best Actor Collin Farrell). The writer/Director of that underrated masterpiece (Martin McDonaugh) now presents this film, an epic about anger and its results all around.

Frances McDormand has lost a daughter to a heinous crime, it’s been seven months and the case seems to have gone cold, so she rents three billboards in succession chiding the police department in her town for not working hard enough to solve the crime. This sets off a rapid succession of events that change the total complexion of the town most of those that live in it.

The Chief responds to pressure by fruitlessly trying to reason with McDormand. His first officer tries to get the billboards taken down by intimidation. The town citizens get involved and the result is a masterpiece of writing and character development that never follows expected paths.

McDormand, Woody Harrelson and especially Sam Rockwell command the film, each in world class roles. McDormand’s speech to a priest offering counsel is as world class good as it gets. There are no easily identifiable heros or villians and most importantly, the progression of events is never predictable or even logical. It’s something that could more likely happen in real life as in a movie.

Frances McDormand accurately portrays every conceivable real emotion as she proceeds to get her case, and it’s accompanying pain, pushed to the front burner. She’s simply amazing; you can’t take your eyes off her. Sam Rockwell spans the breadth of a basic aggressive police officer to violence to compassion, wearing the observer out.

The film is incredibly well written, the performers are all immaculate, the characterizations are impeccable and I truly believe there will be a row of Oscars around for this excellent film.

Just a little too long and sags just a little in the middle. Otherwise, highly recommended by me.

Easily four of five Steely-eyed stares.

Film Review: Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

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“Blade Runner 2049” (2017)

Yes, the very, very long awaited “sequel” to the 1982 masterpiece, loosely taken from the Philip K. Dick short story: “Do androids dream of electric sheep”.

First, a housekeeping issue. You have a choice of seeing this very visual epic in 3D, XD and on a regular screen. I elected to see it in XD at the McCandless Cinema and it didn’t disappoint. The SD is a huge wall-to-wall screen and state-of-the-art surround audio. I think all that really enhanced the film and I recommend it. However, you’ll notice that the film does not cover ALL the screen available so it’s not shot in 70 mm wide angle. It’s shot in 35mm and so you’re not watching the full impact. But the sound system is better so it’s still a better deal for not too much more $$. If you’re too close the screen size can be daunting. I don’t think 3D on a normal screen would have been as good. Definitely don’t waste this film on a normal size screen.

Many have waited a long time for this film to possibly answer some lingering questions following the original film 35 years ago (said to take place in 2021). There have been books written about it and to this day there are continued arguments about whether Deckard was a replicant. Harrison Ford was on Charlie Rose the other night and, of course, Charley asked if Ford thought Deckard was a replicant. Ford howled in laughter and cackled: “Don’t go there” (and never has elucidated).

If you have not seen the original film, it is a must before you see the new 2017 version. It will be very difficult to understand the nuances without knowing the history. The actors and actresses in the original film were simply perfection. Like Van Gogh’s paintings in 1873, the film was not appreciated much in 1982. Rutger Hauer (Roy Batty) is said to have advocated boycotting the new film, as it would only diminish the impact of the 1982 version like adding a few notes to a Chopin sonata. Harrison Ford has opined in the past that it was not one of his best efforts, which is a lot like saying Van Gogh didn’t think much of his paintings at the time he painted them. The 1982 film is an absolute masterpiece, I truly believe at the table with the top five films ever made. Films you must see before you die.

Here is one of the very famous clips from the ending of the original film, one of the replicants running out of steam and philosophizing about his “life” such as it might have been. You’re watching genius:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HU7Ga7qTLDU&t=28s

So I arrived with high expectations but, alas, after much thought, I must post a rather mixed review. The major thrust of the film is interesting but very diluted out by nonsense diversions that simply wasted time.

The cinematography and production details are magnificent. Ryan Gosling is a world-class actor, as are most of the others. They don’t disappoint. The CGI is good- watch for the scene where a female hologram “links” within a “real” woman’s body to produce a creature Gosling would recognize and have a very physical interaction. The hologram that hangs out in his apartment that he cannot touch or feel. Very interesting.

If you recall, the human Rick Deckerd falls in love with the beautiful and desirable high-end replicant Rachael (Sean Young) in 1982 and they steal away to an uncertain future, not knowing how long she will live, accepting what time they may have. They both simply vanish from sight.

Now in 2049, replicants have been refined to the point where there are very few replicant outlaws like Roy Batty, only docile servants from the new iteration of the Terrell Corporation (Wallace). A Blade Runner still roams around retiring the odd “skin job”. Gosling is one such and he is a replicant and he knows himself to be so. After retiring an older model hiding out as a farmer, he notices some odd things on the farm and begins an investigation that opens up a lot of things the Wallace Corporation (the next iteration of Tyrrell) is very interested in pursuing to their own ends.

It slowly comes out that replicants have reached the point in their evolution that they may be so close to human that it’s impossible to tell them apart, they may have real memories and they can perform other strictly human functions machines can never do no matter how sophisticated. And so it becomes unclear exactly what Gosling is. Ultimately, he seeks out a former blade runner, Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford about halfway through the film) to answer some questions about his relationship with Rachael. He was told at some point that the Rachael/Deckard liaison was staged for experimental purposes. But how? Did they just put the human and the replicant together hoping they would bond or were both replicants and Ford was ordered by an internal chip to fall in love with her? Then a lot of things happen that you’ll have to watch closely.

The thrust of the film in the nature of “life” and how closely it can be built with super-technology under the direction of a super-genius. Can such a creature be constructed that can perform ALL the functions of a real human? If so, its creator would know the mind of God but how would such a creature feel within? If so, how much if anything would they know about their “life”? Would their life consist of real memories or memories that can be constructed in perfect detail. The Director works very hard to flesh these things out in somewhat diluted form.

Now for the not so strong news, and there is some. The plot of the film is interesting but underworked and made to be too complex and obscure- it doesn’t become clear till the last scenes (no spoilers here). It takes the audience a while to figure out where this is all going, muddied by non-sequiturs, dead ends, micro-plots that don’t go anywhere and actors that don’t really contribute much (Jared Leto). The thrust of the plot is spread over almost two and a half hours while the audience looks at their watches. Its TOO long and it dilutes things out dramatically. It’s hard to remember where the plot’s going when it meanders as it does.

The Deckard character was not fully fleshed out here. You get the impression that Harrison Ford is in the film for his commercial namesake and to provide an action figure. He doesn’t act like the old Deckard. Rachael is no longer with him and it’s unclear why at first but is slowly bleeds out. Little is known about her fate or his life since 1982. As the plot progresses, it becomes more clear but you have to watch closely for it. Otherwise, Harrison Ford doesn’t really contribute much other than fight scenes that don’t go anywhere.

Now, the appearance of the 1982 version of the high-end (Nexus 6+) replicant Rachael as she appeared then (hot babe) is a closely guarded secret. Sean Young is now 67 years of age and obviously doesn’t look as she did then. No one is saying how they did it, other than with her help and assistance but it was very effective. Her 1982 likeness is perfect. I think they used a body double and used CGI to superimpose Rachael’s face to it. They’re definitely good enough to do that. At any rate, it’s pretty surprising and realistic.

Director Denis Villeneuve works hard to slip away from the shadow of Ridley Scott who moved heaven and earth in 1982 to make this film in his image. He does, in fact create a separate plot, loosely attached to a portion of the old one that remained unexplained. Does the new version explain it? Maybe. I think it puts to bed the thought that Deckerd is (was) a replicant. Replicant’s don’t age and Harrison Ford ages plenty. And certain other bodily functions replicants cannot do because they contain life, which cannot not be created by any machine. Yes, I believe Deckard is human and that’s what they needed him to be chosen for. What happens next is a logical extension of where that premise might go, and Villeneuve did a good job, probably with some advice and consent from Ridley Scott.

I have tried hard not to slip in any spoilers. This is a very, very complex film and will require you to assimilate a very lot of things over 2 & 1/2 hours but it does eventually come together. There are a lot of diversions that go nowhere and then you have to figure out how to get back to the point, a point that moves around some and might be a little hard to follow.

This is a very interesting film, flawed in many places I think but worth the effort to sog through it. In the end, some questions are answered that are very interesting commentaries as to the state of the art of creating alternate forms of of life, a day that might come someday.

I give this film 4 of 5 Scuzzy Harrison Ford grimaces.

 

 

Film review: “Wind River” (2017)

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Desolation angels. “Wind River” is an example of truly phenomenal components of a great film. Phenomenal, riveting performances by really excellent actors. Incredible cinematography on location in the Utah Mountains. A spellbinding story line that drags just a little. When put all together and stirred, the result is just a bit less than the sum of its parts, but much of that lack can be forgiven because of the quietly spectacular actors.

Although true in its essence, Director Taylor Sheridan (who wrote the excellent “Sicario” in 2016) uses the same nuts & bolts in Wind River but comes off just a bit politically charged about the abuses of native Americans that are all too apparent from history and in the present. Sheridan also tends to maybe overwork the hard-times-in-the-country theme; you’ll note an upside down American flag on the reservation.

If there are very minor philosophical deficits in the story line, there are none for the actors. Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker 2008) is absolutely riveting. Elizabeth Olson moves from tranquil to aggressive in a heartbeat. But deserving of special accolades is native American of Comanche ancestry Gil Birmingham. His performance is simply incredible.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1B7zhlGkJmQ

Even at 90 minutes, the story line drags just a little. This film could have been a very taut HBO hour-long drama. It starts out slow but progressively drags the viewer into a very shocking and violent end that a potential viewer should consider if they’re a little on the squeamish side. All things considered, the 87-94% rating from Rotten Tomatoes.com is definitely deserved.

BTW, there are emerging articles suggesting that a LOT of potential audiences check <rottentomatoes.com> before considering overpriced tickets and popcorn to see a dud. It’s changing the way studios make and market films.

https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/06/how-hollywood-came-to-fear-and-loathe-rotten-tomatoes

Here’s a trailer for “Wind River”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCuzMG3enK4

One of the top five films this year. I think a “must see”, especially for Gil Birmingham’s performance. I have absolutely no doubt that there will be a lot of Oscar talk about this film and it’s principal characters. Highly recommended by me for the performance artistry and cinematography. I give it four and a half of five bloody snow tracks.

David Crippen, MD, FCCM
Professor Emeritus
University of Pittsburgh (Ret)

Film review: “Detroit” (2017)

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This new film by the director of Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker is generating a bit of buzz, including some from me. Katherine Bigelow is a world-class director and rave reviews and Oscars have greeted her previous films. This film requires a little more perspective. No spoilers here. Look up the story line on “rotten tomatoes.com” or IMDB.

The film brutally depicts some events embedded in a 1967 race-related riot in the city of Detroit. The use of a historical backdrop as a base for drama involving named individuals for whom a story is told as technically a “docu-drama”. Facts and factoids are depicted according to the recollections of some individuals involved that are still alive, which is a dangerous thing.

People involved in any “real-life” drama remember things differently depending on their perspectives and biases. The film is unclear which of these players are spinning the story line and where the biases lay. The “real” facts according to some completely objective observer are largely unknown but the aftermath was clear.

Also unclear how the story might be biased according to Katherine Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, both of whom are white and Bigelow known for biasing toward the utility of torturing to obtain information (in Zero Dark Thirty). Finally, unclear also as to what the necessity was for a whole lot of seemingly endless gratuitous brutality. A story that could equally be told with more subtlety.

As I have mentioned before, there’s a whole lot of difference between a documentary (read- Ken Burns) and a docu-drama that can and frequently does take a “creative” liberties to tell a story sellable to the ticking purchasing audience. Did Bigelow and Boal specifically intend to over-emphasize graphic, gratuitous violence to wag their fingers at society because these things happen or to be historically accurate? If so, how that that improve the aura of the film? Very unclear to me and I’m quite suspicious of it.

Failing all the above, the actors are outstanding, the camera work is riveting and the story line is interesting to say the least. I think it merits a very hesitant and skeptical recommendation. It’s too long and the brutality becomes overwrought quickly. We’ll never know the stark reality what happened that day, but we’ll see one viewpoint of it, and that should be kept in mind.

The actors, writer and director on Charlie Rose Friday night:

https://charlierose.com/videos/30851

With some hesitation, I give it four of five baby-faced cops. See with realistic expectations if you have an interest.

 

 

 

Film Review: “Dunkirk” (2017)

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We live in an increasingly, for want of a more descriptive term, “technological” society that can be effortlessly depicted in soulless, technological terms. Witness the rise of “superhero” films with computer generated special effects (CGI- Computer Generated Interface) to make the impossible (even the ridiculous) amenable to the visual imagination. Comic books for the new Millennium.

One would think that the history of film has come to a real bifurcation. One road, reality in the personal experiences of real people on real film (Manchester by the Sea- 2016) and the other computer creations saving the world from other computer creations (The Avengers- 2012). The “artistic” value of one road seemingly balanced by the pyrotechnic value of the other. However, those roads are melding somewhat as filmmakers learn to judiciously use computer graphics to make very artistic films.

In “War for Planet of the Apes” (2017), one might consider the incredible facial ape morphing to human qualities, including a wide range of emotion, fear, anger and frustration. Combined with a fairly rational plot line and stunning cinematography, the Apes film is really very interesting and worth a look for this masterful use of CGI to mimic an alternate quasi-human reality.

 

 

“Dunkirk”- (2017) is one such film that couldn’t have been made without computer graphics, but it doesn’t let that fact interfere with the incredible visual and emotional effect of the film, given stellar ratings by virtually all the critics this week.

The film depicts a campaign that began in late May 1940 in the French port city of Dunkirk, where nearly 400,000 Allied soldiers were trapped on a vast beach by the Germans, whose aircraft picked at them like fish in a barrel. The British faced the capture or possible annihilation of their troops. Rescue seemed impossible as German artillery and torpedoes vanquished any approaching ship.

338,226 men escaped aboard 861 privately owned small vessels, of which 243 were sunk during the operation. British Fighter Command lost 106 aircraft dogfighting over Dunkirk, and the Luftwaffe lost about 135. It was a truly awesome feat.

Directed by Chris Nolan (The Dark Knight- 2008). A world-class cast including Sir Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance and especially Tom Hardy whose entire character as a Spitfire pilot is emoted from his eyes and gestures. One of the most incredible performances I’ve ever seen, worth the price of admission just for Tom Hardy’s incredible performance in which he had only ten lines.

“Dunkirk” is one of the most finely textured and nuanced films of this decade. It’s a film where the cinematography tells the story, allowing the audience to understand the goings on with minimal spoken dialogue. It falls into place because the images tell the tale. Yes, there is CGI in place mainly to show the vastness of the scenes that could not have been depicted any other way. But the CGI does not interfere with the artistry which is world-class masterful.

This is the most visually stunning film this year, as good as it gets. I enthusiastically give it five of five burning Spitfires. Absolutely a must see.

“The Mummy (2017): Anatomy of a truly bad movie.

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Opened with scathing reviews (“Deserves a quick burial”) and a whopping 18% on the Tomatometer, maybe a new low. So I had to see it. Now that it’s mercifully over, I’m sitting back reflecting on the nature of bad movies.

Good movies are easy to dissect. Cinematography, directing, performances, plot all come together as in “Manchester by the Sea” (2016) and “The Revenant” (2016). Bad film is a little more difficult to understand the nuts and bolts, although in the immortal words of SCOTUS Justice Potter Stephens’ comment “I know it when I see it”.

There are really two different kinds of bad films. Bad production and bad writing.

“Cleopatra” (1963) wasn’t bad, just expensive.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleopatra_(1963_film)

The gold standard of bad production is “”Plan 9 from outer space” by Edward D. Wood in 1959.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plan_9_from_Outer_Space

Bella Lugosi died halfway through the film and was replaced by Edward’s chiropractor in a hood and cape. The production was insanely amateurish using common household items as props.

But much can be forgiven in 1959 low budget productions. The new millennium produced bad writing and very bad screenplays, the gold standard of which is “Stayin’ Alive” (1977), said by critics to be a vision of the end of film as an art form. “Showgirls” (1995), feminine beauty molded into bad taste. “Patch Adams” (1998), did for doctors what Theodoric of York did for the Renaissance. “What Dreams May Come” (1998), a film so profoundly depressing half the patrons went straight home to stick their heads into an oven.

Then came the unchecked hubris of directors/actors. “Battlefield Earth” (2000), the most universally shellacked movie maybe of all time. “Heaven’s Gate” (1980), an incredibly bad film that failed on every possible level, brought down the studio that produced it and destroyed the director’s career. Books have been written about it.

The list goes on and on.

‘The Mummy” with an otherwise stellar cast of Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe and Courtney B. Vance (Law & Order back in the 90s) is in a class by itself.

 

 

Bad plot, bad script, bad screenplay, bad acting and gratuitous CGI special effects. A vacuous Full Monte. Possibly the most inane and absurd interpretation of plot particulars by experienced actors I’ve seen in many years.

(Warning: gentle spoiler ahead). Tom Cruise and his pal, “real” soldiers in Iraq said to be out on a “Long Range Patrol”, (presumably for information gathering) but actually sifting through ruins looking to grab artifacts for the black market? In civilian clothes? Then conferring with a colonel right off a helicopter who seems to know them and what they’re up to? An LRRP? A Field Grade officer that even knows what any low grade enlisted guy look like? Think it couldn’t get sillier? Oh, but it does, and never lets up.

One might think that the director is intentionally trying to make a campy film but I don’t think so. Tom Cruise acts like this is a “real” production. Russell Crowe can barely keep a straight face during his antics. I think this was meant to be a serious “horror thriller” film and it definitely succeeds but for all the wrong reasons.

The Mummy is truly a bad film on every level, a frenzied quest for the summit of Mount Bad. A plot so silly it defies rational explanation. Overwrought actors trying to look dignified in simply ridiculous plot lines. What criteria did experienced actors use to choose this script? It’s worse than “Springtime for Hitler” (“The Producers”, 1968). Career enders for all involved?

Probably not. Tom Cruise is a good actor and will go on to make better films. Unsure about Russell Crowe. Critic Glenn Kenny made an excellent point writing for Roger Ebert.com: “As Richard Harris and Richard Burton found out many years before Crowe came along, there comes a time in the career of every loose-cannon macho actor where the any-port-in-a-financial-year-storm approach to career management is all for the best”.

This is a truly terrible experience. Everyone connected with this film should be embarrassed and ashamed of this production, especially outstanding actor Russell Crowe whose contemptibly stupid performance should earn him every Razzie in the book.

I give it ZERO stars out of five creepy CGI manipulations.