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Archive for April 1st, 2012

Today’s three movie reviews are for “Doubt“, “Atlas Shrugged” and “Captain America: The First Avenger“.  The first two are new and the last is a second(/third) opinion.
Doubt” is the story of a new nun/teacher who may or may not be right for the job, an older nun/principal who may or may not be acting in good faith to protect her charges and punish evil, and a priest who may or may not be molesting a child (or children).  First off, did he or didn’t he?  The movie is not meant to provide any resolution.  If that’s your cup of tea, fine; most of the time, it is not mine – so that’s a minus to me.  (I’m simple and I like resolution…  Even if I have to think to get there.)  My bet is he did not.  Second, can you commit sin if it is for a higher (“a good”) cause?  Well, this assumes the intent was to reach the higher goal.  In this case, I “doubt” it was (pun intended).  Third, can a new person (trained to be obedient/subservient) be led astray by a superior?  In this case, easily.
Meryl Streep plays the sister superior / principal and she does it with a cold steel many people seem to remember fondly.  I don’t.  I attended a Catholic grammar school and the principals I had there were every bit as kind and loving as the other nuns and lay teachers.  Was the portrayal then, accurate?  I have no doubt, that for many, it was.  Just not for me.  In any case, Streep plays the part well and definitely deserved the nod of the Oscar nomination.  Without spoiling the ending, I found the final scene between the two nuns, completely unbelievable.
Amy Adams plays the new sister / teacher.  This new nun is very much the way I remember most of my younger nun teachers.  Was she (the nun) believable in her faith, love for her students and desire to teach?  I believed her (in the role), so I would say yes.  Was she (the actress) great in the role?  No, but she played her part well.  Adams also appeared in “Julie, Julia” and in “Leap Year“, and I liked her very much in those roles too.  Three very different roles for Adams who seems to be defying type-casting (at least for now).
Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays the priest.  I haven’t seen Hoffman in much so it’s hard to make much of him in this role.  I loved him in most of it and then he fell off the cliff for me.  He spends most of the movie as a kind pastor and pleasant man.  He then has a few tense moments which demonstrate strength and commitment to his ordination.  However, in the final confrontation, while admitting nothing, he completely surrenders to the sister superior.  While it could happen that way, it just didn’t strike me as believable.  He did whatever he did (in the past) and there is no explanation of it (let alone a description of his sins).  I just didn’t buy the scene and therefore the movie fell flat for me from then on.
Finally, much was made of Viola Davis’ role as the mother of the child who may or may not have been molested.  Her scene was powerful and moving.  The only problem was that it really was nothing but a side issue to the main purpose of the movie.  Was the movie about the child or the relationship between the three main characters.  I believe the latter, so this scene, while powerful, was nothing but a distraction.
All in all, as well shot as the film was, as well acted as it was by the main characters (and Davis), I find it difficult to recommend the movie whole-heartedly.  Like a murder-mystery with a “surprise clue” unknown to all but the brilliant detective at the end, the movie was ultimately unsatisfying for my taste.
The second movie I watched was one I was looking forward to seeing at the theater, but then never got around to going to see: “Atlas Shrugged“.  The movie is based on the novel by the same name and kind of – but not really – purports to defend capitalism from the scourge of socialism.  The book is over 1,000 pages and has the time to develop the arguments in much greater detail than does the movie – even though the movie is promised (“threatened”?) to be a three-part opus.  Despite part-one being a commercial and theatrical failure, part two is under development and is scheduled to be released in late summer before the 2012 presidential elections.  I haven’t heard any word if part-three is seriously being considered.  I suppose that will depend on if the “devil-socialist” President Obama gets re-elected or not.  But I digress…
I read the book (in fact, almost all of Ayn Rand’s major works) back when I was in my early 20’s and full of myself.  I was convinced a dedicated, hard-working person (like me for instance) could change the world and make money doing it (not necessarily in that order).  If we could only get rid of all the socialists and deadwood.  Over time, I realized this attitude is symptomatic of mostly young folks with more potential than a real history of accomplishment.
BUT HOW IS THE MOVIE???  Well, both good and bad.  First, the bad — the good-guys are mostly good-looking, hard working, dedicated folks who also happen to be moderately to filthy rich and flit from party to dinner to social engagement.  The bad-guys are oily, weaselly, short, plump (males) or tall, slender and frigid (females).  Not that anybody is type-casting or anything…  How’s the acting?  See type-casting above…  Does the movie explain Rand’s main points?  Well, no.  That probably would have slowed down an already crawling pace.  Not only does the movie not try to explain the bad-guys reasons for doing anything (blame it on corporate greed and management laziness, or social programs which only benefit the lazy), it doesn’t really explain why those who can (the good-guys), do.  We’re left with “for the money”, but when offered a chance at monopolistic wealth, one of the main good-guys passes on the chance because he wants to “earn it” his way (more precisely: “own it, because I created it”).
Was there anything good about the movie?  Surprisingly (given the above comments) yes, quite a bit.  I liked the special effects, even if they were cheesy at times.  There is an extended scene of a high-speed train racing across the country which I really enjoyed (but I am a train enthusiast).  The two main characters: Taylor Schilling who plays Dagny Taggart of Taggart Transcontinental (a train company) and Grant Bowler who plays Henry Rearden of Rearden Steel are typical young and beautiful unknown actors who have a certain amount of chemistry together up until consummation.  After that, it’s like four different people (the two actors and the two characters).  Schilling is acceptable in the role of Taggart because the movie goes out of the way to mention hers is inherited wealth.  Bowler is less so, because the movie gives the impression his character (Rearden) is self-made, but he appears to be far too young for this to be the case (maybe just poor casting).  Interestingly, Rebecca Wisocky who plays Lillian Rearden (Henry’s wife) is refreshing in her role as a rapier wit, frigid wife.  But, for me, the “best” thing about the movie was the visual contrast between the futuristic “art-deco” world of the rich in stark contrast with the “Blade Runner” desolation of the slums for the rest of us.
Final answer: recommend.  It’s not a great movie and I don’t really believe it even makes the attempt to convey Rand’s arguments/philosophy, but at the end, you are still left asking:  “Who is John Galt?” — and that’s probably the whole point.
A final comment:  I do think there is a “great American movie” out there, but it will be about “corporate socialism” versus “regulated capitalism” and not capitalism versus government sponsored socialism/mediocrity.
The third movie I watched this week was “Captain America”, which I watched with my daughter, Sarah.  It was her first time viewing the movie.  I saw the movie twice last summer – first in 2D and then in 3D.  Again, this is a very patriotic, “rah-rah” America movie, but to expect anything less is naive.  I didn’t notice it before, but there were a number of points in the movie which were shown in slow-motion and which were obviously intended to be shown in 3D.  Sarah pointed this out.  She was not overly enamoured with the film.  The main character is played by Chris Evans who does a good job in this role.  He’s big and buffed, square jawed and blond, and he suits both sides of the role – the wimpy kid and the super-hero patriot.  The movie is a serious attempt to move the comic to the big screen and it works.  It also has a surprising amount of comedic one-liners in it, which help to lighten the movie enough to make it “fun”.  I will say, it wasn’t as good seeing it the third time as I remember it.  The jokes were funnier (or still funny), but the action wasn’t quite as good.  Still, I recommend this movie as being one of the better comic-book class adaptations.  It’s also a good primer for the Avengers movie due out soon.
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Make the best of what is within your power, and take the rest as it happens.
 

—  Epictetus
 

 

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