Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Belated Review: SOP

Standard Operating Procedure (or SOP). It was a documentary about the controversial photographs that were taken at the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib that sparked an uproar about torture and improper interrogation practices at that prison, and caused the arrests of US soldiers there.

It was interesting, though it tended to dwell a bit too long on certain aspects. The people interviewed (many of whom are those who are in and/or took the photographs) at times seemed a bit distant and unaffected by what had happened. No one showed any remorse, but part of that was because they were "just following orders" and because many of them "spent time in jail" which could desensitize someone after a while.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Follow up: sometimes one has to turn it off.... Or not....

A few months ago I reviewed Dangerous Liaisons, the film that starred Glenn Close and John Malkovich.  I chose to turn it off after 20 minutes or so because I couldn't stand John Malkovich's character.  I found his portrayal to be flat.

The other night I watched Valmont, another film based on the novel Les Liaisons Dangerous.  This time Colin Firth played the Valmont, and he did so in a much more convincing and fun matter.  It was a joy to watch.

Another actor who redeemed a role was Sian Phillips, who is always great in whatever she does.  Swoosie Kurtz was terribly miscast in the other film.  Sian was perfect and portrayed herself with a sense of esteem and nobility, which is what the part called for.

And Henry Thomas as Chevalier was perfect, surpassing Keanu Reeve's performance in the other film.

Annette Benning was fantastic as Isabelle.  I've always liked her performances, and she doesn't disappoint here.

As with Uma Thurmann's portrayal of Cecile in the other film, I was really pleasantly surprised at Meg Tilly's portrayal of Madame de Tourvel in this one.  I never cared for her work in the 1980's and '90's (this film was released in 1989), since she always played a soft-spoken shy, type.  I never saw her range until now.  I haven't seen much of her work in recent years, but her portrayal in this film is the best I've seen from that decade.

If given a choice between Dangerous Liaisons and Valmont, I would hands-down vote for Valmont.  Don't waste your time with the other film.

Belated Review: Happy-Go-Lucky

This is a really cute film on Wednesday made by Mike Leigh, who also did Vera Drake among others.

Unlike Vera Drake, this film is very upbeat. The acting is excellent. I really sat up and took notice of that.

The movie is about a woman (Sally Hawkins) who approaches life with optimism, despite the negativity around her. :)

This film rightfully deserved the Oscar buzz it received.  It's a nice little film and the acting is stellar.  Watch out for Eddie Marsan's performance as the frustrated driving instructor.  He does a fantastic job.

Belated Reviews: Then She Found Me, Before the Rains and The Cake Eaters

Then She Found Me (Helen Hunt, Colin Firth, Bette Midler)

Helen Hunt plays a woman whose life is turned upside down when her husband leaves her and her biological mother enters her life. It's got some good scenes and some endearing moments, especially with Colin Firth, but it wasn't anything special.

Bette Midler plays her biological mother, and while it's entertaining, the character is no different from her past roles. Matthew Broderick is the soon to be ex-husband, who hasn't grown up. Colin Firth, although very neurotic in this, is the best one and he makes the film worth watching.


Before the Rains (Linus Roache)

Linus Roache plays a British plantation owner in Imperialist ruled India in the 1930's. When his ambitions get the better of him, he winds up clashing with the local culture and laws, which causes serious problems for him and anyone around him.

Good film.


Mary Stuart Masterson (Fried Green Tomatoes, Benny and June, Some Kind of Wonderful) directed this film, which starss Bruce Dern, Jayce Bartok (who also wrote the screenplay), Kristen Stewart (Twilight), Aaron Stanford (X-Men), Elizabeth Ashley and Talia Balsam.

Nice little film.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Very Belated Review: Stolen Summer

This film aired on TV the other day.  I had wondered why I had not heard of it before, given that it was a Project Greenlight inaugural production.  After watching it, I can see why I hadn't.  It's pretty bad.

I'm convinced this film was chosen By Ben Affleck and Matt Damon because they knew it would cause the audience to discuss it afterwards.  Personally, that only works if the subject matter is presented in a logical way, rather than make assumptions and leave out some key details.  The only discussions that came out of this were in the form of disgust over the obvious flaws in the film, and the insensitivity of the subject matter.

~Spoiler warning!  To better explain my views, I'm going to have to give away the ending.  So stop reading now if you'd rather not be spoiled.~

The film is about an 8 year-old Catholic boy named Pete O'Malley, who after constantly hearing from the nuns at school that he was destined for hell asks his brother what he can do to get to heaven.  His brother, who's only a year or two older than him, tells him that according to what he's learned in religion class, he has to convert a Jew and he'll go to heaven.

So Pete sets out to do just that.  He gets permission from a local Rabbi to set up a lemonade stand outside the synagogue, offering free lemonade in exchange for a trip to heaven.  No one takes him up on it, and even some members of the congregation are offended by it, telling the Rabbi that the boy's attempts to convince them to convert to Catholicism are offensive.  But the Rabbi doesn't mind.  He tells his secretary that the boy is making people think.

Events lead to the discovery that the Rabbi's son, Danny is ill with Leukemia, but in remission.  So Pete decides to help him get to heaven.  The film takes place in the 1970's when Bruce Jenner was famous for his olympic decathalon.  So Pete sets up his own decathalon for Danny to compete in.  The goal is to successfully complete each task in order to receive the "body of Christ" and eventually get to Heaven. Danny agrees to do it, because he wants to go there when he dies.

The kids are great.  The whole cast is fine. It's the writing that suffers greatly.  The plot suffers some truly gaping holes.  No one realizes that what Pete is doing is totally selfish.  He's attempting to convert Jews so that HE can go to heaven.  Yes, he claims he's helping Jews go to heaven, but it's really his own salvation he's worried about.  No one thinks that what he's doing is disrespectful to others.

No one asks him why he's doing this. No one tries to guide him and tell him that converting a Jewish person isn't the only way for someone to go to heaven.  Even his father at the end of the film tells him he's getting in anyway, so why bother trying to do any of the other good deeds a good Catholic child is expected to do?

His father tries to stop him, but uses ignorance and pride, which doesn't work.  His mother, on the other hand, thinks it's sweet that her son wants to convert someone, not even thinking of how touchy the subject might be to some people.  Not even the Priest nor the Rabbi ask him why he's doing it.  He just says it's his quest.

This film treads on the extremes.  On the one side is Pete's father who blatantly orders him not to go to the temple.  On the other are the religious leaders and Pete's mom who let him do whatever he wants.  There is no middle ground.

The problem with that is that Pete is not given any guidance or teaching.  The Rabbi holds back from giving him some insight to Judaism, and his mother lets him go do whatever he wants.  And his Priest is too jaded or fed up to care.  Not one of them tells him that there can be another way to go to heaven.  It's not like the quest is a big secret.  I'm all for allowing a child to dream and think and have an imagination, but the ignorance on both sides was upsetting and especially disappointing by the end of the film. With no pep talk, no role model and no guidance he'll just going to keep making mistakes in his life with his parents just chalking it up to him following his dreams. 

Even the most spiritually free people have had gurus and teachers to guide them.

Another gigantic flaw in this film is the inaccuracies of Judaism.  I'm Jewish and I can tell you that no one in my religion would be caught clasping their hands in front of them when praying.  That's a no-no.  Christians do this.  Jews do not.  So the shock of the Rabbi and his wife seeing their son cross himself at the dinner table is lessened by the shock of seeing them clasp their hands together to pray.  Terrible.

Also, the Rabbi tells Pete that Jews believe in heaven.  Is Pete too young to be told the truth?  Jews by tradition don't believe in heaven.  There is some debate as to what they believe happens after one dies, but heaven and hell are not among the common Jewish beliefs.

Then came the final act of the film.  Danny dies before he's had a chance receive communion.  He could have done it without insulting anyone, because the Priest tells Pete the bread he has wasn't blessed.  So essentially it would have just been bread (or a wafer).  But Danny is dead, so now we all have to be sad and be shown how Pete is the smartest most caring person in the whole film.  Say it with me, "Plot device!"

And, then, as if the Catholics weren't offended enough by the stereotypes in this movie, Pete tells the Rabbi that Jesus is just a symbol.  What?  Is this the moral lesson fellow Catholics are supposed to take from this film?  He also tells the Rabbi that because Jesus is a symbol the Jews should have one too, so theirs can be Danny (:::sob:::).  While the sentiment is nice, it only reminds us how sad the adults are in this film to miss the opportunity of supplementing his quest, rather than letting him go half blind with it.

Did he really teach anyone tolerance?  No.  He just brought everyone together.  It's Pete's mother who finally speaks up and with a threat to her husband of no more sex unless he shapes up.  Then once Danny dies (which is shortly thereafter), everyone turns a corner.  Pete's just the cute kid.  That's all.

How ironic that the boy who played Pete is Jewish and his father is a Rabbi.