Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Game Changer

May 11, 2022

The recent online spat between Steve Schmidt and Sarah Palin prompted me to watch the 2012 film Game Changer, which is about John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. It is the best film I’ve seen about American politics. The film shows how even a political insider like Schmidt can take a superficial approach to politics.

John McCain (Ed Harris)  asks Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson) to act as an advisor to his campaign. When the Democrats nominate Barack Obama, Schmidt decides that McCain needs a “game change” in his campaign. Schmidt suggests that McCain get a woman running mate. An aide to McCain comes across a video of Sarah Palin (Julianne Moore) giving a fiery speech. Schmidt and another aide interview Palin. On the basis of her glib answers, they advise McCain to make her his running mate. It isn’t until after Palin is nominated that they begin to realize that Palin is an empty vessel, largely ignorant of world affairs and even of American history. As Schmidt himself admits, if they had merely asked her policy questions, they would have learned this right away.

This film also shows that McCain’s campaign was a foreshadowing of the rise of Trump. When the campaign takes a foray into “populism”, the results are ugly.

My one criticism of the film is that its portrayal of McCain is too kind. McCain comes across as almost an idealist. The real McCain was anything but that.

American Animals

June 25, 2018

American Animals is a semi-documentary fictional film that tells the true story of the attempted heist of an enormously book from the Transylvania University library.

Spencer (Barry Keoghan) is an art student at Transylvania University. He feels dissatisfied with his life. He believes that he hasn’t experienced enough of the world to be able to produce good art. He tells his friend, Warren (Evan Peters), about a rare book of Audubon prints in the university’s special collections library, a book that is reputed to be worth millions of dollars. Warren is a restless and disaffected youth who is bored with his suburban existence. He talks Spence into a plan to steal the book. They eventually enlist two other people, Erik (Jared Abrahamson) and Chas (Blake Jenner), to help them with their plan.

Never having carried out a robbery before, they decide to learn by watching heist films. In one scene, we see them watching The Killing. The irony of this moment is telling. The Killing depicts a carefully planned robbery that gradually unravels due to a series of unforeseen circumstances. Although they don’t know it, the film foreshadows what will happen with their own plan. In another scene, Warren assigns fake names to everyone, mimicking a scene in Reservoir Dogs. An example of life imitating Hollywood.

It is perhaps a further irony that their own story is eventually made into a film. American Animals is a thought-provoking and deeply moral film.

Testament of Youth

June 20, 2015


I believe that violence is sometimes unavoidable. (I support the struggle of the Kurds, for example.) As I grow older, however, I find myself becoming increasingly sympathetic to pacifism. Back in 2003, I watched in amazement and bafflement as supposedly sane people called for an obviously illegal and immoral war against Iraq. Those of us who rightly argued against this were called “traitors”. The current chaos in the Middle East shows we were more right than we even imagined at the time.

To give another example of why my thinking has been moving in this direction, not long after Russia’s illegal seizure of the Crimea, I got into a Facebook argument with a left-wing Putin-hater, who boasted about how much he welcomed a war between Ukraine and Russia. (I hate Putin myself.) When I pointed out the possibility that Ukraine might lose such a war, he ignored me and kept going on about how much he would love see Putin be given a comeuppance. Yes, I would love to see Putin given a comeuppance, but how many innocent people would have to be killed in order to do that?

I think I don’t need to even mention here our society’s complacent and morally corrupt response to Israel’s assault on Gaza last year. History will never forgive us for this.

Testament of Youth, directed by James Kent and written by Juliette Towhidi, is based on the autobiography of Vera Brittain, who became a well-known pacifist. It depicts her experiences as a volunteer nurse in army hospitals during World War I. In the course of the war, her fiance, her brother, and two of her friends were killed. At one point in the war, she served near the front in a hospital treating captured wounded German soldiers. Some of the scenes in the film are wrenching to watch. This film benefits from strong acting, most of all from Alicia Vikander, who plays Vera Brittain. (Vikander, who is Swedish, does an English accent in this film, and she does an American accent in Ex Machina, and she’s completely convincing doing both.)

With all the militarism that currently pervades our society, it’s good to see to some subtle pushback in the form of such films as Good Kill and Testament of Youth. On the other hand, American Sniper was a huge box office hit. We have a long way to go.


November 11, 2014


Birdman is the latest film by the Mexican director, Alejandro González Iñárritu.

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is an aging movie actor who twenty years earlier played a superhero character named Birdman. Riggan has written, and is directing and starring in, a play based on a short story by Raymond Carver. Thomson is hoping the play will revive his career as well as his reputation. He begins to worry, however, that another cast member, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), an egotistical method actor, will overshadow him. At the same time, he is trying to reconnect with his emotionally estranged daughter, Sam (Emma Stone). His girlfriend, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), tells him that she is pregnant. Riggan begins hearing a voice inside his head, the voice of his old Birdman character, telling him that he is wasting his time with this play.

Birdman is a black comedy and a satire of show business. As someone who used to work in the theatre, there were many things in this film that were familiar to me. Its depictions of the competitiveness of the acting profession and the petty humiliations suffered by actors all ring true. Iñárritu and cameraman Emmanuel Lubezki have contrived to make it appear that the film is almost entirely one long tracking shot. This is more than just a gimmick, for it sometimes gives one the feeling that one is almost part of what is happening.

Birdman also contains fantasy elements. I did not mind them at first, and some of them are funny, but they overwhelm the story towards the end, culminating in an ending that I found unsatisfying. Iñárritu’s previous film, Biutiful, also had fantasy elements that I found distracting from the main story. I would like Iñárritu better if he stuck to the realistic storytelling that he does best.

For all its flaws, though, Birdman deserves to be seen.

PETA Dines on the Corpse of Detroit

July 27, 2014


Detroit, one of the world’s great cities, is slowly dying. The city government is cutting off water to thousands of residents, and there is serious talk of selling off the artworks in the city’s art museum. The rest of America stands by and watches while this happens.

Ah, but the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is doing something about it. On their website, they have announced:

    Thanks to this donor, PETA will be able to pay off the water bills for 10 families who commit to going vegan for one month. We’ll also help them get started by giving each family a basket of healthy vegan foods and recipes.

    The last thing that people who are struggling need is increased health-care costs. By accepting our offer to go vegan, not only will families be getting an immediate financial boost and helping animals, if they stick with it, they’ll also lower their risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and strokes.

Yes, a lucky few – 10 families exactly – will get to have running water in exchange for agreeing to eat vegan for one month. (And if they break their promises, will they have to pay the money back?) Not quite the same as finding a ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, but pretty close to it.

No doubt this is meant to provide publicity for PETA and to make people aware of the many advantages of veganism.

The website provides an address that people can write to if they want to be considered for this. I hope the people of Detroit write to them to tell them what they think of this offer.

The people of PETA are not vegans, they are vultures.

Here is some more about PETA.

Edginess and Its Discontents

September 24, 2013

Seth MacFarlane

Seth MacFarlane, the creator of Family Guy, is producing a TV show called Dads. A recent episode has produced a good deal of controversy. In it, an Asian-American woman who works for a gaming company is forced to dress up in a school girl uniform in order to please some Chinese investors. (The latter stupidly take photos of her. Hey, those Orientals love cameras, don’t you know?) Critics have called this racist, which is true. What really strikes me about this sitcom, however, is that this is precisely the sort of inane, unfunny situation comedy that Family Guy mocks from time to time. The characters and situations are uninteresting. The dialogue is unconvincing. (Note from the following clip that the writers thought that simply tossing in a movie reference would provoke a laugh.)

While listening to Seth MacFarlane tell unfunny jokes on this year’s Academy Awards, I began to wonder if perhaps he had received more credit than he actually deserved for the success of Family Guy. His involvement with a show like Dads makes me wonder even more.

One thing that the two shows do have in common is that both try to shock people in an effort to appear “edgy”. Having a woman dress up in a school girl uniform serves the same purpose as the jokes about disabled people on Family Guy. The assumption is that being mindlessly offensive is somehow hip.

Z and Blow-Up

February 28, 2013


Costa-Gavras’s 1969 film, Z, is a fictional depiction of the 1963 assassination of Grigoris Lambrakis, a leftist Greek politician. His killing set off a series of events that culminated in a military coup in Greece in 1967.

Lambrakis (Yves Montand) arrives in an unidentified city (Thessaloniki was where the assassination took place) for a political rally. Although he is warned that there may be a murder plot against him, he insists on going ahead with the rally. As he is walking across a plaza, a truck appears out of nowhere, and a man in the back of it hits him on the head with a club. Lambrakis dies from the injury several days later.

The state security police, who arranged the killing, then carry out a cover-up. Their plans are foiled by two unlikely characters. The first is a cynical and voyeuristic photojournalist (Jacques Perrin). At first, he is only interested in finding a good story, but as he learns more about what happened, he becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth. The second is Christos Sartzetakis (Jean-Louis Trintignant), an examining magistrate with conservative political views. When his superiors warn him that digging too deeply in the case could harm his career, this seems to only make him more determined to go through with his investigation. The story is about how under extreme conditions unlikely people can become heroes.

Although this film was made in the 1960’s, it has an eerie relevance to current events in Greece. In particular, the film depicts a close relationship between the police and a far right group. One is reminded of the current coy relations between the Greek police and the Golden Dawn. The leader of the fascist group in this film talks about how he wants to go “beyond Left and Right”. Does this sound familiar?


While Z is about two men who rise to the occasion, Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 film, Blow-Up is about a man who fails the greatest challenge of his life. David Hemmings plays a jaded fashion photographer who unwittingly photographs a murder scene. When he realizes that a crime took place, he starts to piece things together, but he allows frivolous distractions to prevent him from ever discovering what actually happened – or even from simply notifying the police.

Some see Blow-Up as a critique of Britain’s mod culture of the 1960’s, but I think that Antonioni was trying to make a larger point. His film is about how we let the distractions of our daily lives blind us to the crimes that go on around us in this world.

Andy Griffith (1926-2012)

July 3, 2012

Most people will remember Andy Griffith for The Andy Griffith Show. I will always remember him for his performance in A Face in the Crowd. This is one of those films that remind you how little things have changed.

Mitt Romney

January 5, 2012

“Go ahead, suckers, laugh all you want about ‘magic underwear’, but when my friends on Wall Street are through, you’ll be lucky if you can afford underwear. Heh, heh”.

Mitt Romney has narrowly defeated right-wing-nutcase-of-the-week, Rick Santorum, in the ultra-right-wing Iowa Caucus. It is clear that Romney will be the Republican Party’s nominee in the 2012 election. He has always been that party’s only serious candidate, yet the media have always refused to acknowledge this. Instead, they have subjected us to the spectacle of incessant rounds of completely unnecessary debates. One by one, they have tried to produce a far right David to take down the Mormon commie Goliath. First, there was Rick Perry, then there was Herman Cain, then there was Newt Gingrich, and now Santorum. All have failed.

This shouldn’t have been surprising. It’s worth remembering that in 2008, it was the most moderate candidate, McCain, who won the primaries. A few months before, the media had dismissed his campaign as dead in the water. Likewise, only a few weeks ago the media seemed ready to write off Romney. Most Republicans are not as far to the right as the media believe or would have us believe. When I say “Republicans”, I should perhaps say, “Republican voters”. A distinction should be made between the people who vote in the primaries and the Pod People who show up at the debates and cheer wildly whenever someone discusses the possibility of killing innocent people.

So the election will be Obama versus Romney: Wall Street’s Plan A and Plan B. Real change can only come from outside the electoral system.

We are the 99%. We will prevail.


March 23, 2011

Gasland is a documentary about hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking”, a process in which water and other chemicals are injected into the ground at very high pressure, in order create or broaden fractures in rock formations, thereby releasing natural gas. Documentary filmmaker, Josh Fox, receives a letter from a gas company offering him a large chunk of money if he agrees to let them do hydraulic fracturing on his property in Pennsylvania. Fox goes to the nearby town of Dimock, where hydraulic fracturing was already going on, to see what effect it might be having on the residents. There he finds people who have poisoned water coming out of their taps, who have health problems. He also meets a family who can set fire to the water coming out of their faucet. Fox then goes to different parts of the country where fracking is going on. He finds people who have the same problems. He observes a creek in Colorado that has been poisoned by dumping from gas wells. He observes man-made storage ponds containing poisoned water from the gas wells. He talks about the enormous amount of energy that is consumed in building and maintaining the wells. In the end, he discusses how the gas companies want to do hydraulic fracturing in a region of New York and Pennsylvania that provides drinking water to New York City.

Instead of developing renewable energy sources, corporations are willing to wreak the environment just to make a profit. Instead of wind farms we have things like the nuclear power plant at Fukushima, now spewing out radiation. So long as we have a system based on profit, we are going to have corporations pursuing their interests at the expense of people.