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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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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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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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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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You May Have Missed: “Whisper of the Heart”

You may have missed this Studio Ghibli film since it is approaching its twenty second anniversary in July, but you still have time to seek it out, and it is well worth the search.

The first film produced by Ghibli that was not directed by either Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, it is much quieter than some of the studio’s better known films. The story focuses on fourteen year old Shizuku dealing with two big coming-of-age moments: realizing her passion/dream to write, and navigating her first love.

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Why I Hate the “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and Why You Should Too!

I hate the film Guardians of the Galaxy. I hate it. I understand that my position is not a popular one; but then again, I never really was that popular. Need proof? Look me up in the high school yearbook.

I hate the film and everything about it, from its Kevin Bacon inspired jokes to its talking Raccoon. I have spent the better part of the last two years trying to convince the rest of you, that I am right. With the sequel arriving in theaters, I will give this one another go.

I hate Guardians for one simple reason: lazy storytelling. Essentially, Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) is a carbon-copy of the Avengers (2012) formula, just with a relatively obscure series from deep within the Marvel vaults. And yes, before you start questioning me and my fan-boy creds, I am in fact one of some twenty-five people who has ACTUALLY read the Guardian’s books.

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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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It’s Morphin’ Time!

Jason David Frank – or maybe you better remember him as Tommy Oliver – has to be credited as one of the driving forces behind the new Power Rangers movie. After the internet hyped some really great Power Ranger shorts, JDF approached series creator Haim Saban about the possibility of a mature Power Ranger movie following the Green Ranger (which would have been awesome to watch). Instead of limiting the film to just the Green Ranger, we get a full cinematic reboot of the series in the new film Power Rangers (2017).

These Rangers are very different from the ones we remember. While in the series Zordon instructs Alpha to recruit “teenagers with attitude,” the original Power Rangers severely lack the attitude. They are essentially “squeaky-clean” kids with martial arts skills. These new Power Rangers – screw ups, trouble makers, and even bullies – are edgier, bringing a certain amount of depth and realism to the characters. While the purists might see this as tainting the beloved heroes, to true intention is to sever the “campiness” which defined the series in favor of something more “realistic”.

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Mad Max: Fury Road Movie Review

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is a story about a group people who, quite literally, break the chains of their bondage and rise up against authoritarianism.

In the film, Tom Hardy’s character (Max) is captured and enslaved, his only purpose in life to provide clean blood to the ruling class’s warriors. Meanwhile, Immortan Joe, the land’s ruler, maintains power with an iron fist forged by military might and the flow of resources. Joe keeps his people in line, keeps his subjects suppressed, by restricting their access to water – then preaching his necessity and humility when he allows a few drops to fall on the masses.

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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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“Contact” Movie Review

In the film “Contact” an astronomer (Ellie), considered fringe by many of her colleagues, discovers a radio signal transmitted deep in space, in essence, discovering alien life.
As the film opens, is clear to see that Ellie is pursuing her life’s dream: contacting intelligent life in space. However, soon after arriving to a large antenna in Central America, her project is shut down by the National Science Foundation (a federally funded program) who sees her work as frivolous. Steadfast, she lobbies for private funding and finds it with an eccentric billionaire who believes in her passion. It’s after this that she makes a breakthrough. On the verge of the government once again “icing them out”, she discovers a mysterious transmission flying through space, hurdling toward Earth.

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“A Scanner Darkly” Movie Review

Richard Linklater directs an all-star cast in the film “A Scanner Darkly”, the tale of an undercover cop in a futuristic, dystopian world, fighting on the front lines of the drug war, becoming a victim himself.

In the world the movie creates, we are only a few years down the road, in an America plagued by a dangerous new drug – Substance D. With the number of users growing and growing, the government instills a high-tech, rather invasive, security network, tracking phone calls, interpersonal interactions, and even recording you inside your home. Beyond this, they have developed a sophisticated informant network with undercover police officers, Keanu Reeves being one of them. It’s this element the action of the film revolves around – Reeves walking the line between cop and addict, the later taking over his world.

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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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“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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