Category Archives: The Dark Knight

The Best (and worst) Movies of 2011

It is the year-end review of movies.  It was a crappy year for movies.  A really crappy year!  No.  I can’t even get a top 10 list.  You get 5.  And those five aren’t great.

Why you ask?

I’m looking over the other picks for top movies by other critics and can’t believe it.  For instance 50/50 made it on a lot of lists, yeah, it had some good acting, but it read more like a poorly conceived documentary than film…art is supposed to have a point, a theme, a message, a meaning, or hell even catharsis…this movie had none of that…just an accurate documenting of what happens to a person when they’re dealing with cancer.  Or there is Hugo, which admittedly I haven’t seen, but given that Scorsese is the most overrated director in history who has NEVER made a single even decent, let alone a quality film, I have no desire to watch it.  I would however love to know what the f!@# people see in his terrible body of work?   Midnight in Paris, a cast like New Year’s Eve but with a worse director…again, what the hell is entertaining in ANY Woody Allen film?  War Horse…wow, Seabiscuit meets Saving Private Ryan…or is it Secretariat meets Private Ryan…maybe it was supposed to be Black Beauty meets…you get my point.  (Spielberg has done some good work…but he has also done some of the worst films ever made…1941, Lost World, or Munich anyone?).  Oh, The Help…the idea that help in a household knows more about what is going on than anyone–I got the feeling that the writers and the critics found this a very original concept…which tells me none of them did well in English class or have ever run across a 19th century British novel of manners (it might actually be good, but the banality and unoriginality of theme projected by the advertising when trying to be presented as something new, offends the English teacher in me).  Harry Potter and Muppets (yes, I’ve seen this on lists of critics Top 10’s)…you know if you add Twilight and Justin Bieber’s flick you might actually have the 4 horsemen of an artistic apocalypse.  Drive, or as the most accurate review of it I saw, Grand Theft Auto, is pointless.  A Separation… I haven’t seen it yet but I have read a full plot summary…I don’t need a movie to tell me how shitty life in Iran is, and as I’ve stated before art should show me the best in humanity (and the reviews I’ve seen haven’t exactly convinced me that this is there).

And some movies I was hoping for to be great, weren’t.  Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy, which shouldn’t even really be considered because it wasn’t actually released to the public until 2012 was well acted, but the director was overly taken with himself (I think he always wanted to direct a silent film), the actors were wasted (except Oldman and Cumberbatch), but while the movie was a great thriller, it was thematically pointless (at best it was a statement about how people who live only their jobs don’t have healthy personal lives, somewhat undermined by Smiley being quite content at the end). J. Edgar was a well-done character examination of a flawed man…but it left me bored if anything.  And Girl with the Dragon Tattoo left me preferring the book, not to mention I found having to watch the rape scene (where a good director could have shown a lot less and still given you an idea of what happened) needlessly graphic.   Also the problem with Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is that both are the first books in their respective trilogies and neither is a complete work so it’s unfair to judge them for good or ill until the whole thing is put to film. (I’d actually recommend seeing these three, but J. Edgar was too flawed and Dragon Tattoo and Tinker, Tailor left me wanting more and I refuse to judge them until, at least, I know if their other parts will actually be made).

Admittedly The Descendants might make it on this list…but I just don’t feel like paying the money for a ticket of a movie that cannot possibly be improved by the big screen.

Okay that’s why a lot of stuff didn’t make it…let’s take a look at what did make my list of great films.

Remember I have 4 basic criteria for great art.

1. It must be enjoyable (I have some kind of positive emotional reaction)…so that throws most of critic’s picks out.

2. It must understand human nature…that throws out just about anything made or written by a liberal.

3. It must use the tools of the medium well…that throws out Spielberg and Scorsese

4. It must have a meaningful and correct theme.

5. Thor–Is this a stretch on all 4 counts?  Hell yeah.  But this is more to say what a crappy year this has been (hell #4 and #3 were a stretch, but I should at least give 5 films.)  So let me tell you why.  Clearly the plot was better than any of the other superhero movies this year (it actually had three acts…and a prologue and epilogue to boot).  And clearly it was fun and moving (don’t tell me your heart didn’t drop when he couldn’t Excalibur the hammer out of the stone, and that your heart didn’t jump when it finally came flying to him).  The characters actually act far more human than most of the non-superhero movies this year.  The theme of sibling rivalry, the need for the approval of a parent, the difficulty of growing up and living in a parent’s shadow (all very Shakespearian…especially challenging King Lear and Henry V, with a touch of Much Ado in the humorous scenes) show that director Kenneth Branagh has not strayed far from his usual cup of tea with this film.  Now a friend of mine complained that while the plot and characters were good in this film, there were simply no great lines of dialogue…which is incorrect…there are no great speeches, there are lots of great witty and pithy lines.  “Yes, but I supported you.”  “I am the monster parents tell their children about at night?””Do you want me to take him down or would you rather send in more guys for him to beat up? “”Live, and tell those stories yourself!”   Every line from Darcy.  It’s not The Dark Knight but it could not have been better and it (very) loosely meets all of my 4 points. Should Thor have cracked the top 10, let alone the top 5…no, but that’s how crappy a year it’s been.

4.  The Ides of March.  This a dark film about how power and politics can corrupt just about anyone who is in it.  I justify this as a positive theme because it shows all of us what we shouldn’t be…Democrats…no just kidding (kind of, okay maybe not)…it shows that often the people who claim integrity have none and that those who want power will take it no matter the cost.  It shows us everything we’re not supposed to be, and even though the characters fall short in every way, the writer, director, and message of the film understand that all their actions are deplorable and need to be condemned and shunned.


3. The Company Men.  (Technically it came out in 2010…but that was only a release for Oscars, it wasn’t until 2011 that real people could see it).  The Company Men?  Yes I’m sure odds are you didn’t see this.  Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper all in excellent parts.  It’s a little liberal for my tastes, but, it does not deal in cheap hackneyed stereotypes so I will forgive that (except maybe in Costner’s blue-collar character…but it is very opposed to the usual type Costner plays so I could still appreciate it) .  The story of how various upper and middle management employees of a company deal with being laid off in the current recession.  While it’s critical of business, it makes a justifiable critique that most company boards right now care more about stock prices than they do about making things, about getting a big pay off than the long-term profits, about short-term gain more than long-term thinking…which I will heartedly embrace.

2.  The Debt

I’ve already talked about this movie, so I will simply reiterate that this movie is a masterpiece.

1.  Moneyball

And I’ve covered this genius film already as well…but it without a doubt the best film of the year.

And then we have the honorable mentions

Atlas Shrugged.  (You may object that I include this third of a trilogy when not putting in Dragon Tattoo and Tinker, Tailor…but I have seen confirmation that I will get all 3 parts of Atlas where I have not seen proof with the other two).  Thematically the movie as the book is perfect.  As a representation of the main characters from the book it does an excellent job.  Like the others there are some stylistic flaws.  But still you need to see this movie.

Green Lantern.  I know it has a missing second act.  I don’t care.  I found it enjoyable.

Same with Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Sherlock Holmes, and Mission Impossible.  They were just fun.  (Crazy, Stupid Love, DreamHouse and Real Steel might also make it, but I just felt like waiting for the rental with these).

No Strings Attached and Just Go With It.  Cute, stupid romantic comedies, nothing more.

As I said J. Edgar was well done, but dull.  And I can’t justifiably comment on Dragon Tattoo or Tinker, Tailor until I know they’re stand alone films or part of a trilogy (they’re well done, but somehow lacking if they’re stand alones).

Which of course brings us up to what was the worst film of the yearTwilight…the vapid lack of a point makes it a tempting target, but no.  Justin Bieber?  No, although I yearn for the day I never hear that name again.  Fast-Five?  Drive Angry?  Captain America(which was probably the 2nd worst film of the year)?  Hangover II?  Fright Night for having the audacity of redoing one of my favorite horror films?  No I would have to say, without a moment’s hesitation, the worst film of the year, the film which the world might be a better place if every copy were rounded up and incinerated would have to Anonymous.  Haven’t heard of it?  You’re lucky.  Long and short of it is that the movie is about how the man we know as William Shakespeare didn’t write the plays.  This is based on a long held academic theory that the Will we know was just a simple middle class boy with a basic education and couldn’t possibly have done it…no the author needed to be a noble.  The rank snobbery and petty elitism of this is astounding.  And for over 100 years academics have been trying to rewrite history to present the idea that there couldn’t be a self-made man (liberals and academics really hate that concept because it ruins their elite status…and being one of the most famous men of non-noble background Shakespeare has to be destroyed in their mind).  And nothing is worse than Anonymous which give you a string of historical inaccuracies and inventions and claims them as truth.  Some may compare this to a Renaissance birther or truther movement (although even those movements have better ground to stand on…not that I buy into those two in any way shape or form, I just want to point out if you run into an anti-Stradfordian, run because they are morons) but that is to compliment the theory because it is always so far fetched and so without evidence that it defies even the momentary act of common sense it takes to dismiss the argument of a birther or truther.  As history goes Anonymous ranks more with the idea that we didn’t land on the moon or that the Holocaust never happened (though obviously it doesn’t reach the evil of that denial, they just both require you to deny all known facts.).  This film should never have been made.  Oh, and from a writing, directing and acting standpoint it’s also a piece of shit….or as one critic described it “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

***

Movies I’m looking forward to in 2012; Haywire, Underworld Awakenings (I’m allowed to have my pure brain candy guilty pleasures…no I don’t for a second think it will even be making the honorable mentions list, and you know what low standards I have for that), Safe House, The Vow, This Means War, Brave, The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing, Knights of Badassdom, Veronica Decides to Die, Skyfall, Les Miserables (Notice the lack of quality movies there…I’m guessing it will be a top 5 list next year too).

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Filed under Art, Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand, Joss Whedon, Movies, The Dark Knight

“The Debt” A tragic masterpiece

As it was the first movie in weeks even worth considering going to see, I saw The Debt this weekend. I was not disappointed. While not the big explosion, all around fun movie you usually expect around this time of year, The Debt is a moving tragedy that forces the viewer to ask some very weighty questions about heroism, cowardice, truth, evil and pacifism.
I’m going to split this blog into two parts, the first being a more general praise of its style that won’t ruin anything and then a more spoiler filled discussion of its themes. Usually I don’t care about spoilers as I know plot is the most meaningless and least important part of any good story, but there is a certain emotional gut kick that comes with seeing this movie without knowing what will happen (something so lacking in modern movies and books) that I do not want to ruin for you.
First and foremost what immediately struck me was that the movie was being directed by someone who knew what a camera was for. There was none of the random, slipshod, quick and numerous cuts that define so many hack directors. This is one of the few movies in the last decade where cinematography and editing skill are actually apparent without overpowering the characters and theme.
The story itself, if you don’t know already takes place during two different time periods. The early time period is in 1966 where three members of the Israeli Mossad have been sent to capture the Nazi war criminal “the Surgeon of Birkenau” (a thinly disguised fictional version of Mengele) from East Berlin and send him for trial in Israel. They return to Israel, reporting their mission was a partial failure as they were forced to kill their target when unable to get him out of East Berlin. Thirty years later, having lived with the complete failure of their mission, they are threatened by the full truth coming out.
This story involving espionage and deceptions offers a lot for the actors to work with, and there should be several academy award nominations coming out of this, most notably for Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain in the portrayal of Rachel Singer, the movies’ main character. I think Chastain probably gave a slightly better performance, but this was partly because she had more screen time. (This is at least a rarity in Hollywood I now have two women in the best actress category to root for this year…all but unheard of in the misogynistic wasteland that is Hollywood). The acting job of Jesper Christiansen provided one of the most sociopathically evil Nazi’s to grace the screen in years (although it did not surpass the gold standard of evil set by Gregory Peck in The Boys from Brazil, it came disturbingly close). And while nothing in this movie caused me to change my absolute hatred of Sam Worthington and all his characters, at least in this case the character was a coward and morally responsible for most of the problems in the movie, so I was justified in my hatred in this case (every other movie Worthington has done I’ve merely been justified by the fact that those movies are complete wastes of film).
In every respect that one can judge a movie this movie is a superior film. Its themes are powerful and its performance superb. I would wager that this movie will deservedly gain a best picture nomination, and if nothing better comes out this year it should win best picture. You need to see this movie. Every other this year has been a rental or worth seeing on the big screen only because it was mildly enjoyable and it was worth seeing the special effects on the big screen. This movie is truly great art and if we are ever going to convince Hollywood to make more movies like this then we have to encourage them with ticket sale at the box office. Go see this movie.
Now one may wonder why, as opposed to most political themed movies I didn’t title this “Movies for Conservatives”? After all this movie deals with the consequence of deception to one’s character and life. It deals with the absolute evil of socialism (yes, Nazism—National Socialism—is socialism, and butchers like the one seen in this movie are its inevitable conclusions) and the hatred and perverted creatures it breeds. It deals with the toll that lies take on ones soul, and of course how it becomes an impossible debt to pay (yes there is a reason for the title). All things I would like to think go hand in hand with conservative values…but I’m just not cynical enough to say that these are only conservative values…I hope.

Spoilers ahead….please go see the movie first; these reflections make more sense when you have the whole scope of the film in your mind.

No, really go see it first.

Okay you were warned, don’t blame me if you don’t feel the full force of the movie.

The movie deals with several weighty themes. The first and most important is the nature of truth and lies. Our three main characters tell a lie about their failure, a lie they know will never be challenged, a lie that is meant to help their country…is it worth it? One looks at real history and sees that Mengele escaped justice in real life and how this is a black mark, not just on Israel, but on the civilized world as a whole that we let this piece of trash die living in relative freedom never having to face his crimes. What does this say about our competence, our character, our resolve in the face of evil. This is a man who earned the name “Angel of Death” and we let him live in freedom and die of old age. (And even worse, if you’re a Nazi who knew even the first thing about firing rockets we gave you a free pass and U.S. citizenship). Makes you wonder what civilization is worth if we allow such unquestionable evil to go unpunished (it’s not like we didn’t know where they were). Might it be more comfortable if we thought as a country—be it Israel or the U.S.—had stood for something and actually tracked these monsters down? When the characters were debating telling the lie about their complete failure I heard overtones of the equally political film The Dark Knight and the last few scenes where is was pointed out that “Sometimes people need to have their faith rewarded” even at the cost of a lie. One of the better reviews I saw for this movie brought up the Churchill quote “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies,” and it wouldn’t be hard to make the argument that Israel has in reality been in a perpetual state of war against barbarians at its gates from the first day of its creation, and that its population was always in need of a moral boost. (Yes I said barbarians, and my only apology is to the ancient culture who had that name applied to them who understood reason, civilization, and humanity far more than then the wretches in Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya and the quite fictional state of Palestine). However this is all sophistry at some level. But it’s a sophistry the writers and director of this The Debt wanted you to indulge in. Only then does it become evident how apparent and how valuable the truth is. It is something that is so easily rationalized away, always in the name of greater values and higher purposes…and always at the cost of one’s soul, as even the most amoral of the three has trouble living with the lie…especially because “but at the length truth will out” and demand the debt that needs to be paid.
Next is the question and nature of evil. The villain of this movie (or at least the main one) is the Mengele type Nazi. For a great deal of the film he demonstrates that banality of evil Ardent noticed in Eichmann’s trial (although seeing a Nazi work as an OBGYN adds a whole new level of disgusting I hardly thought possible). But he is at his most horrendous when he begins to toy with his captors, taunt them, and use them even though he is the one tied up. Really, there was a point that I don’t think a person in the theater wouldn’t have gladly beat that son of bitch to death with a crowbar given the chance—and felt justified in doing it. But the worst part is when he says something you can’t deny. It’s one of the great tricks of literature to put truth (or at least half-truths) in the mouths of evil because it forces us to confront things which we might not want to. At one point the Nazi states that he knew the Nazi’s had won, (and I’m going from memory here) “When it took only 4 guards to lead thousands to the gas chambers and no one ever fought back—even when we took away your children none ever fought back. That is when I knew we had won.” It is a sick fact of the Holocaust that makes you wonder if it would have been nearly as bad if the Jews had fought back. However the problem here, the evil of this statement, is that it is applied to only the Jews, when the truth is that it was the sickness of Europe. All of Europe didn’t fight back. They didn’t fight Hitler or Mussolini on the continent as they expanded their influence. Austria and Czechoslovakia were taken without firing a single bullet, the French may have fired about a dozen before eagerly capitulating and handing over every Jew they could find with a determination that probably even freaked out the Nazis. It seemed only the Poles (who were hopelessly outnumbered) and the British (who had spent a decade trying to appease the monster) who seemed to have even a mild ability to fight back (and given the recent events in London it appears that whatever streak the British once had to fight evil has been beaten out them). It wasn’t the Jews who didn’t fight back, it was all of Europe. Which only leaves the question…what evils are we not fighting against today, willingly allowing thousands to be led by a handful through fear. (Hint: Hitler promised great change and the hope of a thousand year Reich, and as every German Jew knows nothing can stand in the way of power of millions of voices calling for change).

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Filed under Anti-Semitism, Art, Death, Evils of Liberalism, Faith, Fear, Foreign Policy, Free Will, God, Government is useless, Israel, Libya, London Riots, Movies, Movies for Conservatives, politics, The Dark Knight, Tyranny, War on Terrorism

More Movie Fun

One day left in the decade (not really, but let’s not be technical).Can I look back on the spirituality of the past decade…not if I don’t want to be depressed for a week (lets be honest the biggest thing to happen in religion in the last 10 years was 19 guys proving that Islam may not be qualified to be recognized as a legitimate sane religion and not as a suicide cult… #2 Muslim’s can’t take a joke about Mohammad, child rapist that he was, being in some cartoon, #3 Some Christian kills an abortion doctor and Christians the world over quickly denounce his evil…maybe some other religions should take the hint about this whole publically denouncing the evil acts of members of your religion instead of say, oh I don’t know, dancing in the streets over the death of 3000 people, #4 The cult of His Divine Holiness Obama, blessed be the brain that he thinks with so thatI do not have to…)…so religion is out.

Politics for the decade is equally depressing.See here.

So it’s back to movies.Besides I like talking about movies.I’d talk about books, but then nobody would read this blog.

Now, there was an objection that I had no criteria for my last picks for films of the year and that is not true.Here is my criteria for great movies (great art in general actually…and in case you’re wondering, yes this is a lecture I give in my English class).

1.Great art mixes High Tragedy and High Comedy.Basically, I should be crying, either from having my heart ripped out and stomped on or from laughing so hard I’m hyperventilating….preferably both in the same movie.

2.Great art has a deep understanding of the human psyche.All good drama is character drama, and good character drama comes from understanding how people actually act.If character don’t act realistically there can be no suspension of disbelief and thus nothing to do with point one.The best are reveals something about the human psyche that reveals truth about yourself.

3.Great movies must understand how to use language and a camera, and all the other aspects of a movie.Good acting.Good writing.Good directing.Goodmusic.(For instance the Celestine Prophecy has a beautiful message, but is very poorly done and thus will never qualify as a great movie).

4.Finally great movies must have a underlying hopeful, positive, and ethical philosophical base.

So here we go the Top 16 movies of the decade (with honorable mentions).

Honorable mentions: Juno, 50 first dates, Failure to Launch, Inglourious Basterds, National Treasure, Revolver, Hancock, P.S. I love you, Waitress, The Guardian, and Ocean’s 11.None of them are great, but they’re all fun and entertaining and can be watched over and over again.

#16 Thank You For Smoking

Witty and poignant.Calling every side on their BS and calling for personal responsibility among a cast of wonderfully insane characters.

#15 500 Days of Summer

We’ve all been here.We’ve all fallen in love and had our hearts broken

#13 Tie Lucky Number Slevin and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

God I wish people could actually maintain the sustained level of witty banter that exists in these movies.

#12 Kill Bill

Tarintino focuses a little too much on style over content, but there is still enough content about revenge, redemption, and identity to make it worthwhile.

#11 The Lord of the Rings

Do I have to explain why?

#10 The Incredibles

If Ayn Rand wrote cartoons…while Pixar is the only bright point in Disney these days, this is by far their best and deepest work.

#9 The Lake House

A beautiful and moving romance.Not to mention strange proof that if you actually give him a good script Keanu can act.

#8 The Hangover

The greatest comedy since Ferris took a day off.

#7 Gladiator

Clear morals, good dialogue,Makes me yearn for the epics of yesteryear.

#6 Serenity

Joss Whedon, the greatest artist of TV, hits the movies and finishes off his masterpiece of Firefly.

#5 Lady in the Water

What may be Shamalan’s last decent movie, and his best movie yet.

#4 The Fountain

Never has the path to Enlightenment been more moving.

#3 LoveActually

Not since Plato’s Symposium has there been this in depth a look at the nature of love.And Plato was never this sweet and endearing.

#2 Gran Torino

The culmination of an entire career.Every theme Eastwood has brought up in his previous films comes into clear focus in this beautifully done film.I haven’t seen it yet, but I can’t see Invictus surpassing this masterpiece.

#1 The Dark Knight

Beyond question nothing can surpass this beautiful work on what depths people can sink to and what height they can reach.

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