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Die Wannseekonferenz (1984)
Watched after seeing the Wannsee Conference exhibit
Compelling, horrifying, illuminating. The cavalierness of all the participants but two talking about exterminating 11 million innocent people is sickening. Extremely well done. The film is as long as the conference and shows it in real time.
The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)
Smith is good, but overall I was not impressed
I will watch almost anything Will Smith is in, but I felt let down by this movie. The local reviewer, who watches 150 movies a year, gave it a B+, but I give it a C. I seldom disagree with my local reviewer, but I do here.
Smith is good, but, believe it or not, maybe his pair of "Bad Boys" with Martin Lawrence were far better. His son, Jaden, plays his son in the movie, and he does an excellent job for a child actor. It helps, I guess, having two parents who are accomplished actors.
The audience, largely African-American, applauded the outcome of the man struggling to survive a time with no income as a single parent to his five year old son, which is no spoiler because all the reviews talk about it. I didn't, maybe because we all knew he would prevail if we read any reviews at all, and it is "inspired by a true story." I was expecting more. My local review said it would pull at the heart strings of men who relive or longed for such a relationship with their father. While reading the review, in my mind I was thinking "Field of Dreams." But no. I felt manipulated when it was over. Sorry, Will, but you were good. Not necessarily Oscar material, as the local reviewer said, unless the stars of Oscar politics point to you.
Blood Diamond (2006)
Faithful to the Sierra Leone civil war, but just a small part of it, like Hotel Rwanda
I rate this a ten because I had the privilege of going to Sierra Leone after the war and participate in one of the war crimes trials there at the Special Court for Sierra Leone, created by the Sierra Leone government with the United Nations.
In a bit more than two and a half hours, the writers and directors have to tell the story of the civil war, keep it concise yet true, and tell it through the eyes of a few participants. Because the story line is so true, and the acting, writing, directing, locations, people, and photography are all superior, I must admit prejudice toward such a high rating. My local reviewer gave it a B+.
My exposure to the civil war and only some of the events of this movie were based on reading books, hundreds of witness statements, online material about the war, including the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Report, and listening to over 100 witnesses testify, and my trial was not even those of the RUF and AFRC, the really bad actors of the war, as the movie shows, pulling no punches. The accounts of atrocities are shockingly real. Tens of thousands had hands amputated, people were indiscriminately murdered, women raped or forced to marry, villages were burned, and children were kidnapped and forced to fight the war for both of the rebel factions (RUF and AFRC). Making a child a soldier is a war crime, and this movie artfully shows you why, without saying a word about it.
Sherman said, about our own Civil War, that "War is hell." But, African civil war is far different and atrocious because it inevitably leads to atrocities.
This fine work, with Hotel Rwanda, stands out as a film seriously attempting to explain the atrocities that Africans somehow can do to themselves.
Much better than my expectations
I saw the trailer and read some reviews, and I had low expectations for this movie. I was pleasantly surprised. While the plot is a little off-beat, everybody in the making of this movie pulled off a pleasant flick good for many a laugh. The writing and jokes are far more literate than I have come to expect. Better yet, they are delivered with aplomb by unknown actors doing a good job, all of them.
The main reasons I wanted to see this movie were Justin Long and Lewis Black. Long is from "Ed" and the new Apple computer ads. He was just coming into his own as an actor in "Ed," and he was excellent here. He's a natural in front of the camera. Lewis Black is a social commentator who pulls no punches. He's on "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central about once every two weeks, but he really shines in HBO's "Red, White, and Screwed." I regularly catch him on XM Radio's uncensored comedy channel. Give Black an idea and let him improvise. Whether his rants and lines here are scripted or improvised are no matter. He's priceless delivering his thoughts on middle class angst. One thing about Black's delivery, his hand gestures are not those of a comedian. It just seems like he's having a conversation with you, and I think that makes him unconsciously more effective.
Rough, not the best, but really addictive
"24" is a show that reminds me of serials I watched at the theater every week as a child, so now you know my age. They would run about 13 weeks, and every episode would end with a "cliffhanger," which is likely where the word came into the language.
The plots of "24" can be totally unrealistic, with Jack Bauer as a CTU super-agent, able to get all around Southern California in minutes in his Ford SUV (provided by Ford because Ford is a big sponsor). He navigates paths in 7-10 minutes that would take hours, but the story has to be completed in 24 hours, so a few factual corners need to be cut here and there.
The actors often overact. Their fictional technical abilities surpass that of the employees NSA. I think "Oh, yeah; right." Yet, the plot has the uncanny ability to become so addictive that even the harshest TV viewer who chooses shows selectively to not waste too much time in front of the tube, is drawn back. "24" triggers the "willing suspension of disbelief" and somehow pulls off a show with staying power. I TiVo "24," and, through season before last, I used to watch four episodes in a row in less than three hours. Last season, I looked forward to it, and I was hooked into watching each show the night it ran, usually 15-20 minutes after it started.
Yes, it is flawed, sometimes lamely written, always overacted, but not totally. Gregory Itzin as President Logan in the 2005-06 season was so smarmy, dislikable, and perfect I wanted him to win an Emmy. Dennis Hopper in the first chaotic season where they were writing as they were filming, not even knowing if they would finish the season, was also priceless.
This show has staying power even with this jaded TV viewer because of the inevitable cliffhangers, and it has a few more years left in it. How Jack Bauer gets out of being literally being "shanghaied" at the end of the 2005-06 season will be interesting.
Superman Returns (2006)
Better than the original
For a minute there, I thought I saw Christopher Reeve in Brandon Routh, the new Superman, and he wasn't even born when the original came out.
"Superman Returns" capitalizes on special effects that the original could not even imagine, almost thirty years ago. The story line is more over the top than the original, too. At first, I was wondering if I was going to like it, but it grew on me.
For those of us who got to see the original TV series, there are occasional nods to it in lines in the script, which made me laugh out loud. The others around me never got the joke because they were too young to have seen it.
Routh is excellent, as is Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. Kevin Spacey. however, is deliciously great as Lex Luthor. A great job indeed. He enjoyed making this movie.
I wavered between 7 and 9 for this movie as I was watching it, and settled on 9 for the inside jokes as homage to the original TV series and the superb performances by the central characters.
Code Breakers (2005)
"Duty, Honor, Country." What is the penalty for cheating?
"Duty, Honor, Country" is inscribed in granite over an archway at West Point. A personal moral code, duty, and honor is the foundation of the military and my learned profession. (I am proud to be a criminal defense lawyer, and I take "duty and honor" very seriously.) This story takes place in 1950-51 and wends its way through the infamous West Point football player cheating scandal that ultimately wiped out the West Point football team with 90 athletes dismissed.
The cadet that finally blows the whistle on it is played by Zack Bryan, who was the oldest son in "Home Improvement" (billed there as Zachery Ty Bryan), and he does an excellent job in his role, as do all the other young actors enlisted for this movie. Bryan's character, on the swim team, wrestles with ratting out his roommate who lets him in on the secret that the football team is passing around questions from the examinations. Those who take it first write down the questions for others. Bryan's character is wrestles with his conscience and comes forward. His own father, however, chastises him, but not for following the code. Instead, it is for not following the "chain of command" and going to the Commandant, knowing that going to the Honor Committee likely would be futile because the football team had ringers on the Committee. His own father tells him that his military career will be ruined for following the honor code. He stands up to his father.
Also excellent, and typically understated is Scott Glenn as the team coach, a West Point graduate himself, whose son is slated to be the next season's starting quarterback. He finds his own son involved, and he has to wrestle with that conundrum as well, knowing that his own son would be kicked out, too. He's the coach. His team is destroyed. This is only partly developed because this movie is not supposed to be about football.
The cadets involved connive and plot to "stonewall" (was that word even used in 1950?) the investigation (One says that a leader "never, ever admits that he was wrong. Any man who does is not fit to lead." Sound familiar?), but the first one in to be interviewed didn't know the plan, so he named names. He is Bryan's roommate. He's obviously mad at Bryan when he figures out the source, but he realizes, as others come to do, that he should be more mad at himself for screwing up. Bryan ends up with a guard at his door for protection. Other than the Commandant, the guard, under orders not to talk to him knocks on the door and tells him "You saved West Point." This is an important point almost lost in the movie.
I give this a 7 because of the young actors and the honest attempt at the important message. Glenn has been better, but they all do a reasonably good job. The problem with the script, maybe though, is that it was written for ESPN, and not for wider release to general audiences. So, it spends more time on football issue and teams, and I think not enough on dealing with the important moral issues until all hell breaks loose, and the plot moves more to the characters and their problems. More should have been spent on what it took to come forward and what Bryan's character endured.
But, moral values are so lacking in this society today, at every level and in every corner, I applaud ESPN for taking this on and the message it ultimately conveys. Lives were not all totally ruined, but they paid a dear price for compromising "honor."
Moral values can be taught anywhere. This is a start.
Finally, for HDTV, the picture was not always of the highest quality for HD.
The Ice Harvest (2005)
Even if you like "noir" films, you probably won't like this.
I read the summaries of the professional (big paper and source) reviews on www.movies.com, which were generally positive. I love the director (Harold Ramis) and cast (John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Oliver Platt, Randy Quaid, et al.) and the premise (stealing from the mob).
Sitting through this movie, I kept wondering when it was going to start getting good. But, it never really got off the ground, and I was sorely disappointed. My vote of 4 is generous, only because the plot was somewhat interesting. But the performances were all lackadaisical at best; phoned in at worst. Why did they even bother to make it?
Of all the professional reviews, I read the local paper's review which ran the day after I saw the movie, and his assessment was the same as mine. C. A "gentleman's C." There are far better things to do with 90 minutes. Two words describe this movie: Highly forgettable. Perhaps it was fitting that I saw this on Turkey Day.
Lord of War (2005)
If you care about Africans killing Africans, you must see this movie
You might give this a 7 or 8. I rated this a 10, but I have a personal bias. You see, I am a criminal defense lawyer trying a war crimes trial in Africa that to me was unexpectedly a part of this movie. At the end of the movie, it says it is "based on fact." It certainly is. Names of the guilty and the charged are changed, but the essential facts are true. The movie only touches on the Sierra Leonian-Liberian civil wars, so it only touches on the atrocities that occurred there. That is all it could do. This is not "Hotel Rwanda." It makes a different point. Nevertheless, the atrocities I've heard testimony about are horrible: amputations of innocent civilians, including children, cannibalism, and wanton homicide, all financed by diamonds plundered from the Sierra Leonian diamond mines. (Cage in a dream, or is it? Child: "Let's ask the white man. Mister, will my arm grow back?") Nicholas Cage is not great in his role, but, on further reflection, maybe he is. After all, he plays a conscienceless arms dealer whose own trophy wife in his penthouse apartment in NYC doesn't know what he does for a living. If that was what he was conveying, he did it quite well. Eamonn Walker, brilliant in five seasons of "Oz", a British Shakespearian actor, plays Liberian president Andre Baptiste Sr. In real life, Baptiste is Charles Taylor, charged with war crimes for fomenting the Sierra Leonian civil war who may never come to trial unless Nigeria no longer gives him asylum. Ethan Hawke is an Interpol agent hot on Cage's trail, trying to bring him to justice, morally outraged by Cage supplying both sides of any conflict, just for the money. After all, Cage rationalizes, somebody's going to do it, so it might as well be me. This movie shook me. I've been dealing with the Sierra Leonian civil war for 16 months now, but only as a lawyer and only when I am there in trial. When I am home, I accidentally find it on the big screen. I'm so glad I took the two hours to go.
The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005)
Exceeded my expectations, and this is not just a comedy
This is the second movie to exceed my expectations in the last few weeks. The trailers left me wondering whether this movie would be worth watching at all. Plus, I loved Steve Carell on the Daily Show, but I found his movies lacking, but he was never the star. Here, he has a writing credit. His performances are getting better as his roles expand. Much to my surprise, they pulled it off after all, to an interesting, and unexpected closing after the closing which adds a significant element of sweetness to the story.
The subject of the movie is more serious than the comedy this is billed to be. Andy Stitzer (Carell) is the virgin because he "choses to be"; actually, because he's socially inept and afraid of the opposite sex. I was wondering how he would break the news to his girlfriend in the movie, who eschews sex with him, apparently to avoid the pressure.
The supporting cast is a hoot, the dialog is well written, and entirely believable, as crazy as his co-workers seemed to be. We've all had them. I also loved the interesting choice of music, which adds an interesting layer to the movie one doesn't usually notice.
Not the funniest movie of the year, as some reviewers say, because it isn't intended to be, considering the subject which needed to be dealt with seriously and not frivolously. It is good story with funny parts, and I highly recommend it.
Four Brothers (2005)
Like revenge flicks?
I've always loved revenge movies, and this one fits the bill because it has four brothers trying to find out the truth of their mother's murder. The four brothers are all superb in their roles, as adopted brothers from foster care that went their separate ways, who come home to find out who killed their mother and why. The 8 minute AOL trailer on the movies sold me. Also superb is Terrence Howard as a Detroit cop who doesn't trust his own who is desperately trying to find out what happened himself. The plot is well executed through twists and turns. Mark Wahlberg just gets better and better. He was great in "Three Kings," and he is better here.
Wedding Crashers (2005)
You need to see this movie.
I see perhaps 80-100 movies a year, and I have taken the time to write only one comment before, and that was three or four years ago. I watched the trailers for this movie, and I expected it to be mindless entertainment, kind of typical Owen Wilson-Vince Vaughn fare, expecting it to be a 5-6. When I got home and thought about it, I decided that 9-10 was more appropriate, and I hardly ever give a movie a 10. This time I did because of the (1) great performances of Vaughn, Rachel McAdams as Wilson's love interest, Isla Fisher as her sister, and Christoper Walken as the father of the sisters, and (2) and excellent, intelligent script.
I was really surprised. The actors in this movie must have had a ball making it because of a great script (R rated for language, but most kids have heard the words before), and the acting performances were all superb. This is, without a doubt, Vince Vaughn's best performance yet. Wilson is Wilson, but he has good lines and delivers them well. Walken is excellent, too. He's had a string of mediocre parts in the not to distant past, but this one allows him to shine, and it is the script and his deadpan way of delivering some lines in funny situations that make him better in this role, almost as good as Captain Koons in "Pulp Ficton." The truer test: The audience laughed heartily throughout, and the audience at this showing was, I would guess, an average age of 40.
Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The reviewers are right--it is better than the original
I worked late last night and got up early to finish a project by noon. Instead of going home for a nap, I went to the movie at noon on Friday.
Most of the reviewers said that Spiderman 2 was better than the original, and they are right. Spiderman is more of a superhero in this one, the girl is better played, and the bad guy has a little redeeming value, once Spiderman talks to him, mano-a-mano. There is obviously a Spiderman 3 in the cards, because it tips us off to it, and I see by IMDb.com that 3 is tentatively scheduled for 2007.
Great escapism on a Friday afternoon. I loved it, and I rated this one higher than the first. I never read the comics--my first exposure was Spiderman 1.
Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004)
A must see if you care about whether Democracy in America can continue to exist
I laughed, I cried, I laughed, and I left the theater drained, p*ssed off at my government. I ached for the victims of 9/11, the families of the dead soldiers, the families of dead innocent Iraqis, and the ones in the hospital missing hands and legs. Bush says "Support Our Troops" and even he doesn't, trying to cut their pay and benefits. Many books have been written of the hypocrisy of the Administration, but the average American is too lazy to read a book to learn of the screwing we are getting. If you won't take two days to read a book, at least take two hours to see this movie.
I was a conscientious objector from the Vietnam War for the same reason soldiers said they will not go back or cannot understand why we are there, and my wife lost her high school sweetheart in Vietnam. She may not be able to handle the crying wives, sisters, mothers, and fathers now, 40 years later. Unlike those weasels Cheney (who said he had "other priorities") and Bush (who was AWOL from the NG), I was up front about my opposition to dirty wars that do not threaten America. I would take up arms to defend my country, but not kill people not threatening us. This is "Operation Iraqi Freedom," aka "Operation War Profiteering."
I only wish Republicans had the guts to show up and watch this movie. This is Moore's best work yet, and it will be hard to beat. No wonder Eisner and Disney chickened out.
Dissent is patriotic. If you care about what has been done to us as a country and our standing in the world, you have to see this movie. Hate it if you want, but you have to see it to be informed. And don't give me any crap about "our soldiers fighting for Moore's right to speak." That was World War II, not this dirty war. Our soldiers are fighting this war based on a lie and financial motive; nothing more, nothing less. And they are dying everyday, and for what? George Bush's and Dick Cheney's political and personal aggrandizement?
The Law (1974)
The first made for TV lawyer movie, and it was right on the mark
When The Law came out, there was no made-for-TV movie that presented the system with all its human flaws, flaws that make the system human. Before was Perry Mason and The Defenders, but they showed the system in an unrealistic light. The defense lawyers were nearly perfect. Perry Mason was much maligned, but his clients (all but one were innocent). Hamilton Burger accused Mason of all kinds of misdeeds, and he never got it that the "showmanship" he railed against was always part of the process to show the client was innocent. In the Law, we have a dedicated public defendant who cannot let go of the one client he has that is innocent. A franchise lawyer seizes the client through the mother, and the lawyer is about to plead the client guilty to make a book contract fatter. He has to fight and cut a corner or two to get the client back to be sure that the client gets the best defense, which, it turns out, comes from the beleagured public defender. The client walks without a trial. And that is the point--there is no trial, no courtroom tricks or confessions. The whole story takes place as the State's case comes together then collapses. The innocent client and his struggling lawyer find the occasional needle in the haystack of justice. I was a lawyer only a year when The Law first played, and I marvelled at how it captured the essence of the criminal justice system: Venal judges, prosecutors seeking notches in their political gunbelt, overworked public defenders trying to rise above it all (I was a prosecutor at the time). About five years later, I was lucky enough to tape it. I haven't seen it in at least ten years. It probably no longer shows because of its age, but, of all the shows to have come before or since, none measures up to its realism.