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City of Ghosts: Movie Review

The documentary City of Ghosts begins at a black-tie gala in New York City.  A group of Syrian men mingle with donors and have their pictures taken.  “Maybe a little smile?” a photographer asks.  But they are thinking about the struggles of their home city, where there is little smile about.  They are part of “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently,” a group of citizen-journalists who have documented the human-rights abuses of ISIS in the city of Raqqa, Syria.

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To Kill a Mockingbird Movie Review

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is a story about race, poverty, and equal justice, all told from the eyes of a six-year old girl.

Scout, the inquisitive youngster we all know we once were, stumbles upon some very adult themes during the summers of her youth in 1930’s Alabama. Her father, Atticus, a well respected lawyer, is charged with defending Tom Robinson, a black man accused of attacking, and raping, a white woman. Through her eyes, the audience sees the injustices of racism and its inherent grasp on the legal system at the time in the deep south. Through all of it, Atticus sits his daughter on his lap and explains to her, as best he can, how wrong the world can be. Although he doesn’t explain to her the racial bias that played out in the court room with Tom Robinson found guilty for a crime he very well didn’t commit, his emotional closing statement speaks volumes.

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Thank You For Smoking Movie Review

The film “Thank You For Smoking,” starring Aaron Eckhart as Nick Naylor, is a satirical dramady about the cigarette industry’s leading lobbyist and the trials and tribulations he overcomes, not only in his career, but in maintaining the respect of his son.

Nick Naylor would, at first glance, appear to be your everyday, average guy, but the reality is he’s big tobacco’s smooth talking man on “the hill”. On a day to day basis he’s fighting the stigma of cigarettes, after all, everyone deserves a fair defense – even multinational corporations. As we pick up his story, he’s planning a strategy to combat new congressional labeling bill for cigarette products – a large skull and crossbones, reading “poison.”

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The Siege Movie Review

“The Siege,” starring Denzel Washington and Annette Bening, is a story of ‘blowback’ and the extreme measures government will implement to maintain control.

After the bombing of a U.S. facility abroad, American military forces capture and place in custody the man suspected to be responsible (the Sheik). It’s this action that sets off a chain reaction of retaliation. Soon after, in New York, unnamed Islamic terrorists attack the city and its people, demanding the Sheik’s release. Denzel, as the FBI’s chief counter-terror agent, chases the terrorist cells through the city, always rooting his actions in law and order, despite the directions of others. It’s when the terrorists blow up a federal building, killing 600, that the President steps in and declares martial law. The army goes block by block, door to door, and rounds up any and all Muslim people that fit their broad profile: male, 14-30 years of age. Beyond that, the military sees no moral conflict in torturing suspects for information, despite Denzel’s eloquent plea against it. In the end, the FBI works in the shadows to legally take down the terrorists and arrest the military men responsible for the reprehensible actions in the city.

This film deals with several major liberty themed points, namely: the idea of blowback, the morality of torture, law & justice, and the dangers of ‘racial profiling’. The film’s jumping off point is the tactical take-down of the Sheik, the man responsible for the bombing of an American facility abroad. While it is understandable to seek retribution for such an act, the film brings to light the idea of blowback – that foreign policy actions have unintended consequences. In this particular example, a “rouge” elements of the U.S. military engaged in his illegal extraction, undoubtedly invoking contempt that manifested itself in the bombings. This isn’t to say legal means of capturing the man would have had a different effect, but it is to say every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Beyond this, though only a minor plot point, it is revealed that Annette Bening’s CIA trainees are the very same individuals now terrorizing the United States. In regards to torture, and martial law in general, Denzel’s character has a rather powerful monologue, in which he regards the current situation as “shredding the constitution”, and in that effect “they’ve already won”. Finally, one of the biggest thrusts of the film is in regards to Islam and people’s fear of it in the wake of religiously charged attacks. It is in this point that the film’s message is most relevant given current American fears and political rhetoric. To this, the film shows the “lump sum” attitude as misguided, as the large net the military stretches to round up the last remaining terrorist cells doesn’t even catch one lawbreaker. Instead, this net catches the innocent, a point made by Denzel’s Lebanese partner searching frantically for his 13 year old son in the large cages.

1) Is martial law ever a reasonable option?

2) Is it a coincidence that the military’s racial profiling of Muslim individuals was completely ineffective? Was this a conscious decision by the film-makers?

3) Is this film an indictment of America’s foreign policy? In what ways is it?

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“Dunkirk” Disappoints

A guest post from Brian Watt of Ricochet.com

Yes, there are spoilers herein. If you are planning to see Dunkirk at a theater near you and don’t want to read about how the new Christopher Nolan film treats this historical event then you may be excused. Here’s a trailer of the film below that should serve as a visual break in this Ricochet post before the review begins.

Let me begin by articulating that I am an admirer of Nolan’s work. He breathed new life into the Batman stories and made something that had been targeted previously primarily to adolescent boys something that adults could find entertaining and at times thought provoking, exploring such themes as chaos, evil and nihilism. With Interstellar, he and his screenwriting brother, took the time to explore the actual science of the astrophysics that the film relies upon with renowned physicist Kip Thorne, so it would have an air of authenticity and highly-probable believability (well, the ending was a stretch). If only Ridley Scott had applied Nolan’s same discipline and attention to detail to the laughably unscientific, Prometheus.

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Twin Peaks: The Return

“I’ll see you again in 25 years,” Laura Palmer promised Special Agent Dale Cooper in the Red Room.  That was 1991, the end of the second season of Twin Peaks.  Since then, there has been a prequel movie, Fire Walk With Me, and multiple books to expand on the mythology of the series.  But this year, creators David Lynch and Mark Frost returned to the small screen with Twin Peaks: The Return on Showtime.

The small screen has gotten bigger in the intervening years.  TV has become more cinematic, with series like Game of Thrones. CRTs have given way to 65-inch flat screens.  Video production technology has made special effects cheap and seamless.  And streaming services have changed the TV business model by trying to attract subscriptions from niche audiences.  So it’s only natural that Lynch and Frost would revive their legendary television show.

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Eric Ford Holevinski Explains How “The Restaurant” is Dishing Out More Than Spaghetti

Scarily relatable, surprisingly humorous, undeniably intriguing, Eric Ford Holevinski’s indie film “The Restaurant” has it all—from moments every food industry worker will understand to startling, jump-out-of-your-seat scares. As his first endeavor in filmmaking, Ford seems to have found subject material that draws from personal and universal experiences, while maintaining both humorous and horrifying themes. “The Restaurant,” a comedy-horror centered around a fast-paced New York City Italian restaurant, leads viewers into a spiral of scares and laughs as the busboy discovers a dark secret the manager is keeping. The secret? A customer-hungry entity in the basement that must be fed for the rave reviews to keep flooding in. Being his first foray into the indie film industry, Ford explained the motivations, developments and experiences of his career in the film industry in a Q&A.

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I like Underpants…

I never grew up reading the Captain Underpants book series by Dave Pilkey; they were as us old-folks say “before my time.” Still, something about the trailer spoke to me, and I found myself watching the film Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017).

Spoilers throughout.

In the film, best friends Harold and George, a storyteller-artist tandem obsessed with creating comic books, find themselves at odds with their fascist Principal Krupp. The Principal is obsessed with order, structure, and efficiency; all of which come at the expense of his student’s creativity, and innovation. With the use of a cereal-box hypno-ring, the two hypnotize Principal Krupp into believing he is the embodiment of their comic book magnum opus, Captain Underpants. With Captain Underpants as their principal, their harmless pranks become a welcomed addition to school, and art and music are returned to the school curriculum. They spend their day helping the Captain blend in as a convincing principal, and making sure he does not accidentally return to his natural Krupp state.

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At least one reviewer liked “The Circle”

What would happen if everyone was connected via social media? What if all their information was public? What if there were cameras literally everywhere to make sure that any and every experience was accessible to all? What if people voluntarily agreed to this world because a slick talking ceo convinced them it was better? These are just some of the questions raised by “The Circle.”

While many critics didn’t like “The Circle,” I actually thoroughly enjoyed it. I think some of those issues came from the marketing of this movie, as the film isn’t really worthy of the title “gripping thriller” that it claimed. “Thought-provoking drama” is more appropriate. The story starts when Mae (Emma Watson) gets a job at “The Circle,” which is like the love child of Apple and Facebook.

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Essential Authors #1: Andrew Klavan

Two years ago, I joined Liberty Island Media, a start-up book publishing company focusing on genre fiction, as their West Coast Editor and began acquiring and editing novels. I also started writing my own novels and helping other writers develop their stories. Now, in this ongoing series at Smash Cut Culture I’m going to start highlighting the authors who I’ve returned to most often in working with writers. As I’ve studied and met both fiction and non-fiction writers over the years these are the ones with the most depth, originality, and humanity. Reading their books and understanding the ideas that matter to them has helped change my life for the better and I hope it can do the same for you.

Andrew Klavan has worn many writer’s hats over the years: hard-boiled thriller novelist, Hollywood screenwriter, essayist for The Wall Street Journal and contributing editor for City Journal, longtime new media innovator in blogging, hilarious YouTube videos, podcasting at the Daily Wire, and now celebrated memoirist with The Great Good Thing: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ.

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Wonder Woman: Everything We Could Hope For… And More

I don’t know about you, but I have been anxiously awaiting a “Wonder Woman” feature film since rumors circulated in the late ’90s of one starring Sandra Bullock. For me, the films near twenty-years in pre-production hell was well worth the wait.

For starters, “Wonder Woman” is the film that we needed to finally prove the Exec’s wrong. The belief that female superhero films cannot be successful is farce! You may remember leaked emails from 2015 revealing their suspicions that female characters were not a draw in the box-office. The failure of female comic book movies – or any comic book movies for that matter – has nothing to do with the sex, gender, or ability of the character. No instead, as fans have always maintained, the failure of comic book films is the result of shoddy film making at the hands of filmmakers who do not understand the properties they are working with. “Wonder Woman” is a film seeming created by those who seem to understand, and love, the character. And what a difference it makes.

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“The Handmaids Tale” from a Muslim Feminist Perspective

I first watched the trailer on the same day the first episode aired and was instantly intrigued. The history buff inside me initially took it as a historical series due to Elizabeth Moss’s hood and petticoat. As the video went on I realized that the plot was much more complicated than meets the eye.

Of course, this was all happening in the middle of finals week, so I decided to postpone watching the series until after my exams were done; until then I did a reasonable amount of research. To be brutally honest: prior to watching the promo, I had never heard of  Margaret Atwood’s feminist novel. The plot immediately blew me away—set in New England, a Christian fundamentalist group overthrows the U.S. government, replacing the Constitution with a very strict, Puritan-esqe version of the Bible.  Bit by bit modern working women are stripped of their jobs, bank accounts, and identities. They are reduced to their fertility and levels of obedience. The fertile ones become “handmaids” forced to bear children for the new society’s elite and their barren wives.

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Judah and the Lion Rocket Off to Another Adventure in new video for “Suit and Jacket”

Judah and the Lion’s latest music video, “Suit and Jacket” continues the folk-hop band’s 7-year conversation with youth, adulthood, death and meaning within the context of a new outer-space theme. The video, off their new Folk Hop and Roll Deluxe album, features an opening scene with band members Judah Lee Akers, Nate Zuercher, Brian Macdonald and Spencer Cross sitting in a small blue-lit bedroom. Akers sings, “I ain’t trading my youth for no suit and jacket.” His is a common refrain within the lyricism of the band.  He continues, “I ain’t giving my freedom for your money and status,” folding imaginary bills in his left hand.

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Forming, Storming, and Norming – A(nother) Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Review

I like to laugh. I like action. I like smart-ass characters and clever dialogue. Needless to say, I loved the “Guardians of the Galaxy 1” Like so many others, I waited with joyful anticipation for “Guardians of the Galaxy 2.”

I’ve read other reviews that weren’t very positive and all I have to say is, It’s based on a comic-book and it’s only a 2-hour 18-minute movie. It’s longer than the average movie but there is only so much character development you are going to be able to cram into 138 minutes, but for what it is, the writers did a hell of a job. The story reveals more well-rounded characters and yes, I felt the attraction between Quill and Gamora even though it was just one of many character relationships forming. As far as pacing, there is a lot of story going on in this movie. The writers are trying to tell an important back-story about Quill and his origin, bring us to the major conflict in this film and set up for the next movie all the while giving us more character development than you would expect in a movie based on a comic-book starring a variety of alien creatures.

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Sara Barielles Sweetens the Deal on Broadway

Sara Barielles is in the midst of a ten-week run as Jenna, a Southern pie-maker stuck in a loveless marriage in the popular Broadway musical, “Waitress.” What’s more daunting than the play itself is that Barielles is a Broadway novice taking over the lead role previously held by Tony winner Jessie Mueller. Despite previous nervous energy, Barielles, who wrote the play’s music and lyrics, seems to be thriving.

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Dallas Buyers Club Review

The film “Dallas Buyers Club”, starring Matthew McConauhey in his Academy Award winning role, is about Ron Woodroof, a man exposed to the AIDS virus who starts a buyers club – a network of infected individuals that help each other get life-saving medication.

The homophobic, free wheeling cowboy Ron contracts the HIV virus through the casual sex he has on a regular basis. The disease, stigmatized at the time as a “gay man’s” ailment, forces Ron into personal hiding, as he’s affronted with homophobic slurs despite his heterosexual lifestyle.

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Tea and Tape: A Review of Better Call Saul’s “Mabel” and “Witness”

Jimmy McGill is my favorite character on television.

There. I said it.

But throughout season one and two of Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould’s wildly successful Better Call Saul, I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why.

Was it the fact that I used to work at a law firm as a legal assistant and had the satisfaction of stumbling through the legal world with Jimmy, fully able to agree that yes, Interstate Commerce is a bitch? Perhaps. Was it the fact that he’s loveable, despite his centrifugally flawed nature? Also possible. Hell, maybe it was that nose thing I mentioned earlier. Either way, I comfortably went along, aware of my not-so-specific reasoning. I mean, I could always divert by talking about how brilliant the show was in other aspects.

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

Monday, April 24, was this year’s Yom HaShoah–Holocaust Remembrance 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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