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Literature (and Movie) You Should Know: The Hiding Place

Monday, April 24, was this year’s Yom HaShoah–Holocaust Rememberance Day. There are a great many books on the subject, from The Diary of Anne Frank to MAUS and beyond. But one of my long-time favorites is the story of a family recognized by Yad Vashem as “Righteous among the Nations” for their work in saving Dutch Jews: The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, with John and Elizabeth Sherrill.

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There is Nothing Not to “Love” About Lana Del Rey’s New Single

Not often do fans of the infamously melancholy Lana Del Rey get to hear a song that is genuinely happy. Yet this is precisely the kind of song that the singer’s new single “Love” is. For the girl known for penning songs like “Sad Girl” and “Pretty When You Cry”, “Love” couldn’t be more pleasantly opposite.

Del Rey, who released the song as a lead single for her upcoming album Lust for Life, has made a notable departure from her typically depressive, sultry style to create something blissful: an unadulterated love song. “Love,” a tribute to young romance, speaks straight from the mouth of enamored youth itself, as the chorus goes: “You get ready, you get all dressed up / to go nowhere in particular/ Back to work or the coffee shop / Doesn’t matter because it’s enough to be young and in love.”

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“The Outlaw Josey Wales” Movie Review

The Outlaw Josey Wales is arguably one of the best Western films of all times.  The film is a spaghetti Western directed by and starring the face of Westerns, Clint Eastwood.  The Outlaw Josey Wales follows a Josey, played by Clint Eastwood, a Missouri farmer.  The Union Army kills Josey’s family so he joins up with the Confederates to exact revenge.  His unit is a guerilla Confederate group that is coerced into surrendering at the end of the Civil War. 

However, the Union soldiers execute them anyway.  Josey escapes the massacre.  He’s now on the run from the entire Union militia and bounty hunters seeking the $5,000 on his head—no small amount back then. Josey’s travels accumulate his own posse of misfits.  They settle down at a ranch near Santo Rio but the sanctuary doesn’t stay safe long.  The Union finds them.  An all out assault on the ranch ends with Josey and his crew victorious.  More bounty hunters come by the local town but everyone comes to an unspoken agreement that the war is over.  They are done killing.

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"Give up your freedom so we can get ours back!"

Bureaucracy and the Beast

(B&B is in the public domain of everyone’s childhood so Boblius refuses to acknowledge plot details as “spoilers.”)

Before he’s THE BEAST, Beast is a tax-and-spend Prince. He vacuums income from the subjects of his French village to throw lavish parties where he prances around like Agador from The Birdcage (but somehow isn’t the gay character people are up in arms about?). The villagers are happy to RSVP in the affirmative for pre-Beast’s parties as long as he doesn’t mock them.

That's more like it.
That’s more like it.

When a disheveled and smelly (one assumes) crone stumbles into pre-Beast’s latest party offering a single rose in exchange for shelter during a horrific storm, he laughs her offer away. Only pre-Beast gives out the roses in this edition of Bizarro Bachelor. For his haughtiness, the crone reveals herself to be an Enchantress (we wouldn’t want to call her a witch in a movie starring Hermione) then transforms pre-Beast into THE (CGI) BEAST. Finally. Now he looks like the Beast from our childhood. Whew. (more…)

"This isn't the casual weekend I agreed to."

Get Out… Before You Meet the GF’s Parents

(Get Out of this page if you don’t want any spoilers.)

Yes, the Armitage family is cool. So hip! Rose (Allison Williams) is a knockout AND willing to stick up for her black boyfriend, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), when a white cop gives him a hard time. They arrive at her parents’ estate where her parents don’t disappoint. They have created an environment where their kids are comfortable swearing in front of them. And talking about sex! Hell, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) even let them stay in the same bedroom. So chill! Despite Dean’s clumsy (but genuine) praise of Obama as opening conversation with a black man, their coolness is still intact by nightfall. Should we be worried yet?

No.

(Note: Boblius is rarely invited to studios’ critic screenings therefore at Get Out he found himself seated near an older couple with a 4 year old girl. Yes, these grandparents brought their granddaughter to Get Out. More on this later.)
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“Enemy of the State” Movie Review

This film is about a lawyer who gets trapped up in a government conspiracy. The director of the NSA is involved in killing a man and he was caught on camera. The man who filmed it is found out through NSA spying and runs the video over to his friend who is a lawyer before jumping into traffic. The lawyer now is on the run from the NSA hit-man and cleverly gets the mob involved to “kill two birds with one stone.”

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Logan’s Travels with Charley (and Wolver-tween): Yes, No, Maybe

(Spoilers? Just some mild ones, bub.)

Yes, it’s good to see Wolverine in action again. Pairing him with a mini-me (or mini-him… er, actually a female mini-him) smelled like a big fat gimmick upon first glance (or whiff) but Wolver-tween is interesting, entertaining… and jarring. Seeing her decapitate an enemy was oddly refreshing. Why?

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The LEGO Batman Movie: Death of a Police Commissioner, Birth of a Batgirl

(Spoilers below? Oh yeah.)

A few years back there was a Lego movie. It’s name escapes me right now. Anyway, the Lego movie was thought to promote collectivism and criticize capitalism. The makers of the Lego movie (whatever it was called) denied an anti-business agenda BUT… the bad guy in the film was named “Lord Business.”

Well, a few years have passed and now we have The Lego Batman Movie on our hands. Perhaps to bring a Ra’s al Ghul-ish balance to the cinematic Lego-verse, this film asserts a strong critique of police policies largely revealed through the Barbara Gordon character. Her shedding of the commissioner’s uniform (Don’t get excited, it’s a PG film) in favor of her Batgirl costume formalizes her abandonment of supposedly enlightened law enforcement policies.

In the first reel Police Commissioner Jim Gordon finds himself in a crisis: The Joker has assembled a huge bomb to blow the literal floor out from under Gotham City. Gordon does what the G.C.P.D. does best: Call BATMAN!

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Stasi-Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich M¸he) sitzt in dem Kinofilm "Das Leben der Anderen" auf dem Dachboden eines Hauses und belauscht die Vorg‰nge in der Wohnung die er beschattet. (undatierte Filmszene). "Das Leben der Anderen" ist am Dienstag (23.01.2007) in Los Angeles f¸r einen Oscar nominiert worden. Der Film ist einer von f¸nf Anw‰rtern in der Sparte nicht englischsprachiger Film. Die begehrtesten Filmpreise der Welt werden von der amerikanischen Filmkunst-Akademie in diesem Jahr am 25. Februar vergeben. Foto:  Buena Vista (ACHTUNG: Verwendung nur f¸r redaktionelle Zwecke im Zusammenhang mit der Berichterstattung ¸ber diesen Film!) +++(c) dpa - Report+++

“The Lives of Others” : A Warning Veiled in a Thriller

In the movie “The Lives of Others,” the STASI and oppression of the East German regime are revealed to the viewer through authoritarian techniques of surveillance and control prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany and the collapse of communism in the region. Throughout this film, characters and scenes depict, in vivid detail, the attempts of the authoritarian East German government to instill unquestioning obedience and devotion to the state to ensure complete control. At face value, the baseline of the story seems heavy handed, but what the film truly draws is a tense thriller entwined with a morality play.

One especially powerful and telling scene is the planting of bugs at Dreyman’s house. After orders come from Minister Hempf to have continuous surveillance of Dreyman, Weisler and a team of STASI agents break into his house, plant equipment, and set up shop just upstairs in the loft of the building in order to watch, monitor, and record his every action.

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Unforgiven

By Stevie Wang

In 1880 in Big Whiskey, a small town in Wyoming, the local sheriff enforces a firearms ban, obtaining ruthless autonomy for himself and his associates across town. Having no serious threats to their authority, the sheriff and his associates are free to manipulate the law to their own self interests. The film starts off with such a case; a prostitute gets disfigured by two cowboys. The sheriff however, lets them off by having the cowboys compensate the brothel owner with horses much to the objection of the rest of the prostitutes. The prostitutes then hire outlaws from out of town to extract vengeful justice but they later clash with the sheriff when they come to Big Whiskey armed with revolvers and rifles.

The concept of having the ability to bear firearms and therefore owning the ultimate legitimacy in the law and order of a small community rings throughout “Unforgiven.” In a small town in the rural Western frontier where population is scarce, authority belongs to those who posses the means to defend themselves. In the case of Big Whiskey, only a select few in town have firearms which means they have authority by force. This would not be the case if at least a clear majority of town were armed. (more…)

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Hell or High Water: a bank robbery film for those who’ve been screwed by the system (so all of us)

David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water isn’t only a standout for great crime dramas to have come out this summer, but one with a message.

Set in West Texas, the movie follows two brothers, Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine), who conduct a slew of robberies in order to repay a family debt, all while being pursued by Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges).  What makes the brothers’ story so interesting is that they’re nowhere near the caliber of professional that Robert De Niro was in Heat.  They target smaller branch banks, located in rural towns, aiming for the loose cash behind the desks.  Their heists may be sloppy, but they brilliantly cover their tracks, burying the crappy getaway vehicles in the desert and laundering their cash at a nearby casino.

hell-or-high-water-posterSicario writer, Taylor Sheridan, has once again crafted a phenomenal script full of shootouts, getaways, and a cast of characters so likable; you’ll have trouble deciding whom to root for.  Toby is the cautious, more calculated of the two brothers, while Toby is more brash and unpredictable.  Their dynamic creates a dangerous, yet sometimes comedic duo.  On the other side of things, we have Jeff Bridges’ Marcus Hamilton, an aging, politically incorrect Texas Ranger who refuses to retire.

Following the death of their mother, Tanner and Toby’s family ranch faces foreclosure from the Texas Midland Bank.  After it’s discovered that there’s untapped oil on the property, the bank seemingly becomes more eager to acquire the property and gives the brothers a very tight deadline to deliver the cash.  As a result, the brothers target Texas Midland Banks during their crime spree to basically feed the snake its own tail.

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Review: Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success by G. Richard Shell

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Before he was an award-winning Wharton professor, Richard Shell was a lost young man. He had defied his father, a U.S. Marine Corps General, by deciding that a life in the military wasn’t for him. It was the Vietnam era and Shell turned in his draft card to become a pacifist. But now he was lost. His life was no longer narrated for him. After a few years wandering from job-to-job, he set out to travel the world with his life savings of $3,000. Traveling from monastery to hostel, in country after country, reading philosophy, doing drugs, and trying to “find himself,” he succeeded only in finding rock bottom. Not everyone can clearly identify the exact moment they hit the bottom, but professor Shell can. It was the day he contracted hepatitis and passed out on the side of a road in Kabul. He says, “Something shifted in my life. I had pushed myself to my psychological and physical limits and had ended up alone, filthy, sick, and no closer to finding my direction than I was a year earlier” (p. 5).

It would take Shell many years to finally find his true productive purpose: teaching. As a senior faculty member at Wharton School of Business, he created the popular course “The Literature of Success: Ethical and Historical Perspectives.” His book, Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success, is a wonderful condensation of this course. It takes the reader through thousands of years of “success literature” (as he identifies the genre) from Plato and Aristotle down to Covey and Gladwell.

Springboard is broken into two parts, both designed to be a guide for the reader. The goal is to answer for oneself two big questions: What is success? How will I achieve it?

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From Page to Screen: The Amityville Horror

The Amityville Horror is a classic in the world of horror, both on the page and on the screen. After the ordeal the Lutz family went through their story made national headlines. It drew the attention of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, now famous because of the Conjuring and Conjuring 2, also based on cases they investigated. Within a year a book had been written (Jay Anson, 1977) that was an instant national best seller, and two years later the film (dir. Stuart Rosenberg, 1979) was released which quickly became the biggest indie hit to date. James Brolin was reading the book when some clothes that were hung on his closet door and scared him witless for a moment; at that point he said he knew there was something to this story. Clearly, it is a story worth the time to both read and watch, assuming you enjoy both claustrophobia and dread.

When is the house warming?
When is the house warming?

The movie is a very faithful adaptation of the book. From the grand incidents, like Jody, to the little incidents or details, like the missing money or the mirrors in the bedroom, the movie knows and respects the source material.

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“Eye in the Sky” is Drone Warfare Movie You’ve Been Waiting For

Eye in the Sky PosterWhen I first saw the trailers for Gavin Hibbert’s Eye in the Sky I almost expected to be disappointed. A movie exploring the intricate ethics of drone warfare with enough big names that people might actually see it? Surely that was too good to be true.

I’m pleased to report Eye in the Sky actually lived up to its outstanding trailer. It had the drama and suspense that one expects from a war movie without relying on unoriginal tropes of the genre. It also shows how you don’t have to shove libertarian messages down your audience’s throats to still have a libertarian movie.

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Despite Some Cool Moments, Batman v Superman a Disjointed Mess

First, the good news… Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t a total disaster.

Even as a moderate fan of Man of Steel, every new bit of overshare for this movie cranked out by the Warner Bros. marketing team over the last year caused my expectations to drop lower and lower to the point that even a passable film would be considered a success.

It’s an ambitious movie and there are a number of good parts, but to be perfectly blunt, I’m not sure it even met that bar.

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Good Batman. Better Bruce Wayne.

Some positives: Ben Affleck is an excellent Bruce Wayne and a pretty good Batman, and I think his character is (mostly) handled pretty well. He has the most fleshed-out motivation of any character in the film, though that isn’t saying much. The first scene in the film – which of course, you’ve already seen in the trailers – immerses us in Bruce Wayne’s perspective during Superman’s battle with Zod from the end of Man of Steel, and it is that point of view which shapes most of the film. It’s clear why he doesn’t like Superman, and when it comes down to their titular fight, Batman’s ability to hold his own and even defeat Superman is plausible, if largely cribbed from Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns, Pt II”. This film also contains one of the best Batman fight sequences ever made, so that’s a pretty big win.

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Wonder Woman ex machina.

Jeremy Irons is also excellent as Alfred Pennyworth, Gal Gadot is a strong choice as Wonder Woman, and Amy Adams continues to make a ballsy Lois Lane. Overall I think the performances and casting in this film are pretty solid. The problems with this film, much like with Man of Steel, really don’t come down to casting and I can genuinely say that I’m interested to see the upcoming solo films featuring Batman & Wonder Woman.

I’m probably in the minority here, but I even like Jesse Eisenberg’s largely unhinged take on Lex Luthor. Apart from the complete mystery that is his motivation for a lot of his specific actions, he is at the very least really good at being a villain.

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How Zootopia Can Teach You And Your Kids About Liberty

I went to see Zootopia last week expecting a solid children’s movie. What I didn’t expect was arguably the most libertarian children’s movie in recent memory. Seriously, Ayn Rand could have written this thing. Zootopia can teach kids about all sorts of libertarian ideals, such as citizen accountability, skepticism of government officials, civil liberties, and the rejection of majority rule justification. 

We start with a relatively simple premise common in kid’s movies: our lead character has a dream that the world says will never come true. In this case, that lead character is a bunny, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) who wants to be a police officer. A bunny has never been a police officer before, but Judy works hard and becomes the first one. What makes Zootopia somewhat unique is that it spends relatively little screen time telling us how that dream comes true. Instead, the movie focuses on all of Judy’s struggles after she becomes a cop and how sometimes dreams aren’t everything we thought they would be.

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Risen: Faith-based Filmmaking Done Right

This week I’ve been working out how to make a snood, a type of hair net worn by long-haired ladies for centuries but particularly useful on the American frontier and for reenactors who need to hide their short hair. Especially when working with super-fine cotton yarn, I have to be very careful and precise about placing my stitches and deciding on the sequence of rows in order to make the netting come out right.  My mother’s been trying for a year to find a pattern on the Internet that works, but so far she’s gotten nothing but messes.

I bring this up because as I’ve mentioned in the past, C. S. Lewis argues in his essay “On Stories” that a story is like a net used to catch something else that isn’t necessarily defined by the structural elements of the story.  What that ‘something else’ is can vary greatly, of course, and can have an effect on the form, but unless the net is well made, it won’t catch anything at all.  Similarly, he argues in “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to Be Said” that it’s almost impossible to start with a particular idea for a moral and build the story around it; for the story to be any good, the story itself has to come first, and the moral will generally make itself known in the end product.

The former is the trap into which many filmmakers fall when they set out to make a film to promote a particular ideology, whatever that ideology might be, and end up making a major mess. The latter is the approach that’s needed—and is, incidentally, the approach advocated in Taliesin Nexus’ workshops from the first session on.  A well-crafted story will attract viewers and provoke discussions better than preachiness.  And that is where Sony’s newest faith-based film, Risen, shines.  The film works precisely because it takes a well-known story, that of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and presents it afresh through outsider POV without crossing the line into preachiness. (more…)

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Avenging The Fantastic, Part 10: The Machinations of Ultron Begin!

Continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #92-99; Captain America #100-105; Iron Man and Sub-Mariner (just the Iron Man story) #1; Iron Man #1-4; Avengers #51-56, Annual #2; Marvel Superheroes (Captain Marvel) #12-13, (Medusa of the Inhumans) #15; Captain Marvel #1-5; Fantastic Four #74-79; Incredible Hulk #103; Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #1-3; years spanned: 1967-68.

a52_bpThe Revolving Door of Avengers Mansion

Captain America can’t return to the team quite yet, but he invites the Black Panther to join in his place. And when the first black Avenger shows up at the mansion, the police promptly arrest him for the murder of the Avengers. It’s all very awkward. But he saves the Avengers from new villain the Grim Reaper (brother of the late Wonder Man and bent on vengeance), and all is well. That leaves us with a lineup of Hawkeye, Goliath, Wasp, and the Black Panther – a formidable but still low-powered bunch.

That Didn’t Take Long – Tales of Suspense #96 (Captain America)

Remember how Captain America quit last time? Made a big fuss, revealed his secret identity to the world and everything? Yeah, well, Cap decides never mind…all in the span of ten pages, because some imposter Caps get themselves in trouble and he has to leap into action to bail them out.

As I said last time, 60s comics burn through plot fast.

“You can’t give up bein’ Captain America…’cause you are Captain America. It’d be easier to turn yer back on Steve Rogers!” –Nick Fury

“I…think you’re…right…Fury! I realize now…a man can’t ever stop being…something that he was born to be!” –Steve Rogers (channeling William Shatner, apparently) (more…)

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Avenging The Fantastic, Part 9: The Secret Origin of Dr. Don Blake!

And we’re back—in a bold new direction! (Well, technically not bold, but 60s Marvel and hyperbole do go hand in hand.) As the Marvel Comics Universe continues to evolve, so must this column. I’m playing around with the format a bit, but one thing remains the same: We’re continuing the read-through of as many Avengers and Fantastic Four–related Marvel comics as possible!

Books Read

Fantastic Four #56-73; Thor #141-159; Tales to Astonish (starring the Hulk) #92-101; Incredible Hulk #102; Strange Tales (starring Nick Fury and SHIELD) #150-168; Tales of Suspense (starring Iron Man and Captain America) #89-95; Avengers #36-50; years spanned: 1967-68.

A confession

Lifelong Marvel fan though I am, I must confess I’ve entered into a bit of a slog here. By this point, Marvel has grown confident in its house style. The books have hit a comfortable rhythm, which was no doubt great for young fans at the time, but it doesn’t hold up so well against modern adult sensibilities. Dialogue is over-written. Captions explain more than they need to. And while everything is still brimming with wonderful imagination, it doesn’t feel as special as it did when most of the characters were making their debuts. And that makes perfect sense—these books weren’t built for long, multi-year narratives. They were disposable entertainment kids would get into for a few years before moving on to other hobbies.

But that’s just story-wise. Art-wise, however…

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A broader palette

Jack Kirby dominated the art scene in the beginning and helped launch most of these characters. As this is a visual medium, Kirby deserves as much credit as Stan Lee for introducing these characters the right way. He had a kinetic, larger-than-life style that particularly suited the Fantastic Four and Thor, which he continued to illustrate in this batch of issues.

But other notable artists had begun emerging with their own distinct styles that suited the books they were assigned to.

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Doctor Who Season 9 Ranked From Worst To Best

SPOILERS ahead.

My previous ranking of every modern Doctor Who episode had become out of date…until now. Series 9 wrapped up earlier this month, and this year’s Christmas special was the last new episode until probably next fall. Time for an update.

I’ve inserted the new episodes into the overall worst-to-best rankings, which debuted in four parts early this year:

I’m Sorry, I’m So Sorry

Are These Good Episodes?

These Episodes Are Cool

Fantastic!

But if you just want to focus on the newest season, I’m including the Series 9–only list below (same text I’m inserting into the full list). Note that this was a more serialized season than previous years. It featured a mix of conventional two-parters (The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, Under the Lake/Before the Flood, and The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion) and episodes that directly continued into each other while each maintaining its own flavor (The Girl Who Died/The Woman Who Lived and Face the Raven/Heaven Sent/Hell Bent). The episodes in the latter category are separately ranked because their different flavors merit individual attention.

This was an excellent season on the whole, a big improvement over the past few years, with no real clunkers in the mix. But, as always, some are better than others.

Again, SPOILERS!

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SPOILER REVIEW: The Force is Definitely Awake

If the title wasn’t clear enough; the second section of this review will contain ALL THE SPOILERS.

If you’ve somehow stumbled into this post by mistake, don’t worry, you’re still safe… for now. I’ll start with a basic, spoiler-free synopsis & review and then dig deeper into the good stuff a bit farther down in the post. It will be ridiculously obvious where the spoiler section will start, but if you haven’t seen the film and don’t even want to risk it, then you’d better make the jump to light speed and get out of here now to avoid any plot or character-related spoilers for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” .

With those disclaimers out of the way, here goes.

Spoiler-Free Synopsis:

Currently holding strong at 95% on Rotten Tomatoes, I’m only adding my voice to a growing chorus when I say that “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a fantastic film.

forceawakens-logo-02Director, J.J. Abrams and co-writers, Lawrence Kasdan & Michael Arndt, managed to flawlessly capture the look, tone, and feel of the original trilogy. I’m not going to waste time beating up on the prequels too much, but for the first time since 1983, everything about this actually seems like the Star Wars I fell in love with as a kid.

The universe depicted in the original trilogy wasn’t exactly shiny and new.

Spaceships like the Millennium Falcon were falling apart and didn’t always work perfectly; droids like C3P0 and R2D2 were dented and scuffed; and the locations were populated by strangely believable creatures going about their daily business. These kinds of imperfections and the physical reality of everything on screen, combined with John Williams’ luscious and emotionally powerful score, gave the world a visual realism and emotional depth that the cartoonish CGI perfection of the prequels completely failed to accomplish.

The magic in those original films has had a profound impact on now several generations of young people who would – like myself – grow up to be film-makers and creative artists. I’m beyond thrilled to say that “The Force Awakens” reminded me of the creative inspiration I felt as a kid seeing Star Wars for the first time.

But the record-breaking success of this film will be owed to far more than style and tone.

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You May Have Missed: Defendor

You may have missed the movie Defendor. If that is the case, here is the trailer.  The short version is that Arthur (Woody Harrelson) is a simple, honest man who adopts the person of Defendor (a DIY Batman) to rid the streets of crime, especially his nemesis, Captain Industry.

The difference between Defendor and other “super” hero movies is Arthur’s character.  All heroes want to help, but most are also seeking a little bit of glory.  Arthur never asks for recognition, he is simply trying to right the wrongs he sees in the world. Throughout the film various characters try and understand his angle: his hooker friend, the crooked cop, his court appointed psychologist.  Most have trouble accepting that he wants nothing more than to do what’s right.

Defendor plays like It’s A Wonderful Life in reverse.  Instead of seeing the effect of one man’s absence, you see the impact of one man’s presence. There is a device throughout the film of voice over for a radio host and his callers to show public opinion about the state of things in the city as well as Arthur’s influence as he goes on his crusade.  Initially you hear the public’s frustration with the status quo, but also their complacency to just call in to a talk show and complain, either because it gives them a sense of doing something productive, or because they think there is nothing else they can do.

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Foxcatcher’s Sin of Omission

MM_FOXCATCHER_POSTERBefore I launch into Foxcatcher, which I finally got around to watching, I should note that dramatic films based on real personalities are rarely true accounts of an individual’s life. At best one hopes that they are at least close approximations. Filmmakers must deal with the constraints of compressing events into a two-hour timeframe so their film is more marketable upon release. As a result, in the making, important factual information is often left in the editing bay. Of course, other filmmakers make conscious decisions to omit key information about their subject in order to enhance or sully the reputation of the personality being portrayed or to make other ideologically slanted statements. Thus approaching any film based on real personalities or real historical events should always be met with a degree of skepticism.

Foxcatcher is a well produced and well acted, though plodding and lumbering, film. It has an air of authenticity and is set for the most part on a sprawling estate standing in for the former du Pont estate near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania which, since the murder of Olympic gold medalist wrestler Dave Schultz by John du Pont, has been parceled out for a school and housing tracts.

Foxcatcher producer and director Bennett Miller (Moneyball – 2011 and Capote – 2005) gives us a John du Pont (played very seriously and adeptly, by Steve Carell) who bears some physical resemblance to the real John du Pont with the help of some prosthetic makeup on his proboscis. But at its heart Foxcatcher is an incomplete portrait and ultimately a dishonest portrayal of du Pont and the events that took place.

Taken at face value, Foxcatcher’s du Pont could easily be described as simply an unloved, eccentric and egocentric rich man/child longing for the approval of an aloof mother preoccupied with her line of pampered purebred horses. Foxcatcher’s John du Pont character (or caricature) displays moments of eccentricity tinged with an ominous undercurrent of potential rage. However, the glaring omission that Miller makes about du Pont, especially during the time that the heir to the du Pont fortune hosted and dubiously trained the USA wrestling team on the family estate, is that the man was suffering what was diagnosed at trial as paranoid schizophrenia that exhibited itself often in delusional tirades about people, including wrestler Dave Schultz, who du Pont believed was part of an international conspiracy to kill him. There is no mention of this in the film. In fact, there is no mention at all of du Pont’s psychosis.

There are actually two recent films about the events that took place on the du Pont estate near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania – Foxcatcher which was released in 2014 and a subsequent documentary The Prince of Pennsylvania released in 2015 by ESPN’s 30 for 30 film group. Had the ESPN documentary, which describes Du Pont’s psychosis in more detail, been released and viewed on television prior to Foxcatcher, it would have been easier to detect how Bennett Miller made a conscious decision to dismiss the disturbing aspects of du Pont’s mental state, which any reasonable person would conclude was the overriding factor in the murder Dave Schultz – not an inferred jealousy for Dave Schultz’s brother, star athlete, Olympic wrestler, Mark.

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RID6

Trailer Tuesday – The Ridiculous Six

The-Ridiculous-6-posterAdam Sandler has a new comedy and it headed straight to… Netflix?  That’s right, in addition to the original series programming that has changed the face of your television with the like of Orange is the New Black, Bloodline, Narco, and House of Cards, Netflix has now brought full-length feature films with heavy Hollywood talent at the helm.

While Adam Sandler’s more recent film efforts haven’t been the huge box office success stories of his earlier slate of films, overall, Sandler still has his fans and most of his comedies turn into cult favorites when they end up on DVD or, nowadays, streaming online.  So for Sandler, why not head straight to that medium and ditch the bad press of a low box office turnout for your latest film?  Our movie-going culture is so transfixed on box office grosses that it makes complete sense to ditch that bear trap and go directly to this streaming demographic, especially when the bulk of Sandler’s fanbase is made up largely of the under 40 crowd who are more prone to just spend a night at home with Netflix and chill.

As for the movie? Well, it’s a Sandler comedian the great Rob Schneider co-stars, so most will hate it, and I will grow to love it after seeing it for the third time.  The Ridiculous 6 debuts on Netflix Dec. 11, 2015.


compton

Movie Review: Straight Outta Compton

compton-posterThough I normally would reserve my film reviews for SmashCut Culture, I recently got asked to do an in-depth review of Straight Outta Compton for Liberty Unbound and took the opportunity to dig a little deeper into the surprisingly libertarian messages in the movie.

Get the gist here:

There are very few movies I would describe as explicitly “libertarian,” but as unlikely as it may seem, F. Gary Gray’s Straight Outta Compton is high on that list.

The film interweaves the stories of legendary hip hop artists Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.), and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and chronicles their rise out of violence and poverty to fame and fortune as the groundbreaking gangsta rap group, NWA (“Niggaz Wit Attitude”). This is not, as you might imagine, a film for children or even most teens. It depicts a life experience steeped in drugs, gang violence, and police brutality in one of the poorest, most dangerous parts of Los Angeles in the 1980s. Against this backdrop, three teenagers looking for a way out created one of the biggest entertainment acts of the last three decades, and irrevocably changed the face of the record industry.

At its heart, Straight Outta Compton is a great entrepreneur story, but more in the tradition of The Godfather than Tucker: The Man and His Dream. Nearly all of the business dealings that occur throughout the film are built on threats and violence, and certainly not what libertarians would endorse. But contrary to what a lot of people might assume given NWA’s music, there is no glorification of gangs or gang culture in the film. In fact, a major theme is the drive to escape violence, even though it swirls around every character in the movie.

But the theme of commerce over violence was not the only libertarian quality to the film. It also depicts a fascinating period of American culture when actual government censorship (and threats of censorship) were on the rise. While the movie touches on the way censorship affected the growing gangsta rap scene around the country, I think few people today are fully aware of how extensive the governmental push against free speech really was back then.

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