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Leaves you angry for all the right reasons
W.M.D. is hyperbole yet also unsettlingly truthful, in the same world as No Man's Land and Full Metal Jacket. Painting a bleak depiction of the Iraq War (is there any other version besides bleak?) it oscillates between outrageous, laugh-out-loud and shockingly graphic.
The director chose a cinéma vérité style that made us feel like we are trapped in the same room as the band desperate soldiers who kidnap the President to try to uncover the truth behind the Iraq War. He is only called "The President" throughout the film, but it's obvious that he represents George W. Bush. I sometimes found myself squirming in my chair as the soldiers employ the same interrogation techniques on the President of the United States as were used on Iraqis.
The cast is strong overall, and there are some memorable performances. John Posey does an excellent job playing a depiction of George Bush without devolving into a caricature. Contrary to what you might expect, we actually feel ourselves empathizing with the president as he goes through this horrendous ordeal. Tom Kiesche, who is larger than life both figuratively and literally, embodies the outrage many of us felt as we were first duped into the conflict then forced to witness this 10-year train wreck happen. Weetus Cren gives a chilling portrayal of what happens when a sadistic miscreant is thrust into a situation where he has the ability to inflict harm on other people.
W.M.D. forces us to confront the implications of these morally dubious techniques as we see someone recognizable, rather than 'enemy' foreigners, endure them. It also forces us to remember a botched conflict we'd rather now forget, the aftermath of which is still as topical as ever.
The Undefeated (2011)
Palin supporters are clearly stuffing the review ballot
With all the glowing reviews you'd think this film would have a rating over 8, instead of the dismal 1.6 reflective of some of the worst films ever made. This means the people who loved it (or love Sarah Palin) took the time to write a review, while the vast majority who thought it was complete garbage didn't bother. There is only one conclusion one could extrapolate from this: Palin supporters are a dedicated, but very much in the minority.
I don't think this was the worst film ever made, but let's be clear that this was a fluff piece for the main subject. Politically it's no more nor less one-sided than a Michael Moore doc, but at least Michael Moore brings awareness to a particular subject of topical interest rather than simply shameless self-promotion. Even as a bit of propaganda, The Undefeated is heavy-handed, too long, unsubtle, and lacks an engaging narrative structure.
I noticed that most of the positive reviewers also had never reviewed another film besides this one, suggesting they created a profile just to promote The Undefeated.
If you're huge fan of Palin, have $10-15 to burn, and want to spend 2 hours hearing about how wicked her detractors are and how awesome she is, then this documentary might be for you. Or you could just read some of the glowing 'reviews' here and get the gist of the type of person who would love it. Personally, I wish I had accidentally walked into the wrong theater and saw Captain America instead.
Those expecting to see a satire or a parody will be disappointed
W shows a fairly balanced portrait of a man. Certainly it highlights some of Bush's buffoonish traits, but it presents them in a playful rather than disdainful manner. Overall there's a lot of pathos for the man, and it suggests his primary drive is a deep desire to do well in the eyes of his father. We see an honest, faithful man who desperately want to do the right thing, but lacks the deep thought or patience necessary to accurately assess complex situations.
Brolin avoided the trap of doing a caricature and instead gave a solid nuanced performance. Most of the acting in the film was quite strong, with the exception of Thandie Newton, who seemed to fall into the trap of playing the outward characteristics of Condoleeza Rice rather than playing a thinking, breathing human being.
The ending was a little flat though, probably because this is still an ongoing saga. I do question the timing of releasing a biopic about him before his legacy has been fully written.
The Good Shepherd (2006)
Finally a film that doesn't assume you're an idiot
After enduring trailer after trailer with endless stings of explosions, ridiculous CG-assisted stunts and mindless action, I felt very rewarded with an intelligent and intriguing film that defies the status quo of bigger and louder is better.
The Good Sheperd doesn't insult your intelligence, it stimulates it, sometimes confuses it, and forces you to look several layers beneath the surface. It feels like a throwback to another era of films when the complexity of a character was of greater importance than spectacle.
De Niro took a page from his producer's best work, Francis Ford Coppola, emulating films like The Godfather, The Conversation and Apacalypse Now. The drama rises not from the usual blatant conventional devices but rather by raising questions because of what we're not told and not shown. It requires a great deal of courage to use this style as films have gravitated more and more toward assuming the average moviegoer is of substandard intelligence. The scope of the film is enormous, yet the point of view is narrowly focused to be seen through the eyes of one man. There are a dozen of subplots, but all are carefully tied into the through-line of the story to match the main character's progression.
The film may require some understanding of American history from WWII through the Kennedy administration. It starts with the later years of the story, The Bay of Pigs debacle, and traces the steps that lead to it, one of the more embarrassing moments in the history of U.S. foreign policy. I found it a bit annoying that Matt Damon's character, Edward Wilson, barely seemed to age in the film while others around him did (the best way to determine his age is whether he's wearing wire-rimmed or horn-rimmed glasses), but it didn't ruin the film for me.
Overall though, definitely one of the best films of 2006. A rare film that makes you want to think and understand, rather than forget.
Unfortunately it was like watching a sequel...
That is no criticism of the film, but rather a comment on how blind we are to our own past.
I recently watched Winter Soldier, and The Ground Truth was like watching a remake or sequel-- except it was about Iraq rather than Vietnam. Similar to Winter Soldier because of it's one-sided message, both films illustrate how gleefully we rush to engage in conflicts based on false pretenses, and allow our young and brave (and often naive) to bear the brunt of this greedy war profiteering. Both films effectively show that the mentality forced into the minds of the young and willing make them efficient killing machines, but the training falls woefully short of teaching the diplomatic and policing skills necessary to effectively win the hearts and minds of the people they're supposedly fighting for. This is ultimately what lost the war in Vietnam, and will likely lose the war in Iraq as well.
My only negative comment is that the film is so one-sided it could be easily passed off as left- wing propaganda. Not by me, mind you, but by those aiming to discredit the film and message. A more balanced point of view would speak to a larger audience.
A tall order
"Ali" left me feeling flat. It seemed as if I had seen the story of a man whom everyone had forgotten, instead of a man that most still remember. Ali, in the film, seemed constantly confused and unsure of himself. I believe Michael Mann wanted to play up this side of Ali since it was the side hidden from public view, but the result was that Ali seemed like less of a legend, and more of a lost soul. Mann spends a good deal of the film (far too much in my opinion), with musical montages showing the bewildered face of Will Smith, to help illustrate Ali's inner angst. These scenes don't help move the story, and made it difficult to tell whether the Ali was thinking, or just dim-witted. The part of Ali was played admirably by Smith, but it was difficult for me to get beyond the fact that I was observing an actor playing the part, instead of the great champion himself. This was either due to Smith's inability to capture Ali completely, Mann's distracting direction, or the fact that Muhammad Ali himself is far too big a personality to accurately portray on film. Likely, a combination of all three things.
I had the opportunity to meet Muhammad Ali briefly a year ago. Despite being hobbled by Parkinson's Disease, there was still something incredibly powerful and majestic about the man. It was a twinkle in his eye, or an aura that was difficult to describe. I don't feel that this was captured in `Ali'. I am too young to have seen Ali in his prime, but I have watched all his great fights (and some of his lesser ones) on video or television. There is a good documentary, `When We Were Kings', that is about the fight where Ali regains the title against Foreman in Zaire. I would recommend that to any who are interested in the real Muhammad Ali.
The Ice Storm (1997)
Better than American Beauty
Although it never received the recognition it deserved, this film was a triumph for Ang Lee. I thought it was better than Lee's `Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon', which was novel for someone who had never seen a Hong Kong film before, but certainly not totally original for those who have. `The Ice Storm' is also better than the film with the exact same theme that came two years later, `American Beauty'. I can understand why `Beauty' was more popular though, because it was hip', less dark, and more immediately satiating. While it was a good film in its own right, I still found the `The Ice Storm' to be much more graceful, and lacking the predictability of `Beauty'. It was quiet, intense and extremely intelligent-- perhaps too much so for today's audience, but a treat to those who still appreciate subtlety in filmmaking. `The Ice Storm' is by no means the first of its kind to touch upon the disenchantment of American ideals, as `The Graduate' did it thirty years earlier. It is, however, a gem of a film, and one that I hope will not soon be forgotten.
Dead Poets Society (1989)
Entertaining, if you like heavy melodrama with little substance.
After all the hoopla, what really happens in this movie? One kid kills himself, a teacher loses his job, and the system remains the same. Why does the kid shoot himself? Because he has a stock character of a dad that doesn't understand his son's desire to wear tights and spout poetry. What is a lad to do? Try and really stand up to dad? No. Try and talk to mom or another sympathetic ear that might be able to sway dad? No. Run away from home until dad realizes he made a mistake? No... wait, I got it: Blow your own skull off! And what about the lad's mentor? The teacher who dared to defy the system and take the fall? All the desk stomping and Shakespearean one-liners didn't save his job or reputation in the end. He leaves and the system wins again. So did anything really change in this movie? Doesn't really seem that way. A couple kids were more "enlightened" I guess. But how? Ethan Hawke, whom I presume is the protagonist, watches his one pal kill himself in an act of cowardly selfishness, and his star teacher get crushed by the bureaucracy.
This film was moving when I was in high school, but later viewings made me feel as if I'd been had. The film seemed to work for many people though. "Oh Captain, My Captain" was the equivalent of the filmmakers saying, "Cry, audience people! Cry!". It certainly is affective among the those "poor", "misunderstood" souls, as I felt when I was 14. Fortunately now, I know better.
Geliebter Alltag (2005)
Excellent short film
"Geliebter Alltag" (Ordinary Love) defies the standard short in being more than just a cute gimmick, and captures genuine human emotion without being pretentious. Well shot, well acted and good execution on the part of the director.
A futuristic tale of might vs. right.
This film captures the idealistic American ideology of truth and individuality against fascism. Jonathan E. (James Caan) is the classic reluctant hero-- a master at his sport, but with no political agenda of his own, until the weight of the world crashes in on him. Imagine a Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, except what's at stake is not a trophy or green jacket, but freedom itself. This film paints an eerie picture of corporate domination and mass media manipulation. Unfortunately, it is an image not too dissimilar from our modern day reality. A great theme encapsulated in a great film.
The Thin Red Line (1998)
Masterpiece, or mockery?
When I heard Terrence Malick had come out of a twenty-year sabbatical and made a new film, I was interested. After all, "Days of Heaven", was a decent movie that was well acted and filled with wonderful cinematography. I had also heard from someone that "The Thin Red Line" was poetry on screen-- an exquisite philosophical blend of the beauty of nature and the insanity of war. What I discovered for myself, after squirming in my seat for three hours on opening night, was cinematic masturbation with little respect to the subject matter of the story, and even less respect for coherent narrative. Somewhere buried within the layers of gratuitous shots of birds and swaying trees, non-stop pretentious voice-overs and ridiculous celebrity cameos, was a story worthy of telling. But sadly, this story never actually materializes and we are left with a dreadfully long, meandering LSD trip flashback, lacking any sort of truth or characterization. To its credit, "The Thin Red Line" has some beautiful nature photography, worthy of The Discovery Channel no doubt, and an excellent score by Hans Zimmer. But these things alone do not a good film make. After a two-decade vacation from filmmaking, Mr. Malick should have taken a refresher course in Story 101 before filling the screen with an unholy volume of philosophical mumbo-jumbo, and insulting the men who fought and died in the Pacific Conflict during World War II.
I know there are many who swear this is a great film. I would say that they have been duped by Mr. Malick in the same way that he duped the studio into unloading so much money into this wandering hippie experimental piece disguised as a feature film.