Chappaquiddick: A Review

From a distance, Kennedy has long seemed like a man playing a role: the role his staff expected him to play, the role his public expected him to play, the role his brothers and their retainers expected him to play, the role his father expected him to play. “Ted Kennedy, Liberal Icon” was performance art which dragged on for decades. One of his more vigorous opponents over the years, Raymond Shamie, pointed out that his signature issue was ‘national health insurance’, but that his proposal had never got out of subcommittee, and he was chairman of the subcommittee. Maybe all along what he really cared about was making waitress sandwiches.

Art Deco, commenter, The American Catholic, April 7, 2018

 

 

My son and I saw the movie Chappaquiddick on the  Saturday before last.  It is a superb evocation of time and place and a damning indictment of the cowardice of Ted Kennedy that led to the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.  My review is below the fold, and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in full force. (more…)

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Published in: on April 23, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Chappaquiddick: A Review  
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The Death of Stalin

 

I finally saw The Death of Stalin (2017) with my wife and bride last Saturday.  Most films that I have high expectations for often leave me at least slightly disappointed.  This film exceeded my expectations.  It is a superb evocation of the power struggles that ensued in the wake of the death of Stalin in 1953.  The blackest of black comedies, it is also hilarious, albeit with quite a bit of very rough language.  The language however in this context works.  The men of the Politburo were gangsters, murderers.  We would no more expect them to use decent language than we would expect the demons to do so in Dante’s Inferno.  However, if there are gradations in Hell, the worst was Stalin’s Himmler, Lavrentiy Beria.  A Georgian like Stalin, and head of the NKVD for the latter part of Stalin’s rule, Beria had the blood of millions on his hands.  However, his colleagues were little better than him.  None of them had the courage not to go along with Stalin’s paranoia that executed millions and send millions of others to living deaths, and often simply deaths, in the Gulag.  All of them had to sign off on execution lists and imprisonment lists of people they knew to be completely innocent.

 

Beria is the villain of the film, as the film depicts, albeit in truncated fashion, his rise and fall post Stalin.  The film’s comedic tone leaves it right at the very end when during his “trial” Beria is denounced for his habit of taking advantage of his position to rape women at will, to have women prostitute themselves to him in usually futile efforts to save themselves or their men and children and Beria’s involvement in pedophilia.  Only then do we see moral outrage from his colleagues, because here they are talking about crimes they did not engage in themselves.

 

 

 

Communism is back in vogue on the Left, and thus this film appears at an opportune time to remind us of the gruesome reality of Communism in practice.

 

 

 

Published in: on April 13, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on The Death of Stalin  
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Paul: Apostle of Christ-A Review

Hollywood, when it goes into the realms of History and Faith, often does justice to neither, getting the History wrong and making a complete hash of the presentation of religious faith on the screen.  I am pleased to report that Paul: Apostle of Christ defies this usual litany of failure.  My review is below, and the usual caveat as to spoilers applies:

 

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Published in: on April 6, 2018 at 4:30 am  Comments (4)  
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Seven Samurai

(I posted this at The American Catholic and I thought the film mavens of Almost Chosen People might enjoy it.)

 

 

 

This is the nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourselves.

Kambei, leader of the Seven Samurai

 

 

Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts takes a look at Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece, The Seven Samurai.

 

I finally did it.  My entire life, I’ve heard of the almost mythical movie The Seven Samurai.  Considered one of the greatest foreign language films by American critics and universally praised by critics around the world, I just never got around to watching it.  When I did look for it, it was difficult to find.  And when you could find it, it was always expensive.

Finally, this last Christmas, The Seven Samurai ended up under the tree.  Because of its length of 3 1/2 hours, we couldn’t find time to see it.  Since the two oldest have moved on with college, they’re not around to watch things like they used to, but they wanted to watch it with us for the first time.  So it wasn’t until Tuesday night that we could get everyone together for the first viewing.

It was worth the wait.  Long and short, it lived up to the hype and then some.  Everyone knows of its influence.  We all know The Magnificent Seven was just an American version of the film.  We know that from Guns of Navarone to A Bug’s Life, the movie has been considered one of the most influential and copied movies of all time.

Despite this high expectation, and I can’t put my finger on why, it lived up to all I had heard and more.  I think, when the dust settles, it was the interaction between the players.  Oddly, in the end (without giving away too much), the seven Samurai do little of the fighting, instead funneling the fight over to the village farmers and letting them do most of the heavy lifting.  The movie is mostly about the relationships between the villagers and the Samurai, and the Samurai (technically mostly Ronin) and each other. 

But here’s what dawned on me.  In America, there is this notion that only in America, and all because of that infamous ‘Code’ of the 1930s, our films were repressed and unable to express themselves openly.  We have this notion that the sex and drugs culture, with explicit and open and unrestrained sexuality and hedonism, accompanied by increasingly gory and bloody violence shown graphically in film and on television, were all just the logical result of the ‘Code’ finally crumbling and true artistic expression emerging.

Furthermore, we are now just getting back to how it always was, when sex and sex and graphic sex and gore and graphic violence were just the way it should have been or always was or both.  Without saying it directly, we have this notion that we’re finally getting things back to the rest of the world, where gay sex, group sex, graphic violence, drugs and all the explicit ‘invite the camera in the bedroom’ movies were common around the world.

Except, it wasn’t.  The Seven Samurai, a movie where hired guns come in to save a village from rampaging bandits, is violent.  There are dozens of deaths.  And yet, you never really see much.  No blood.  No gore.  No guts hanging out.  You see a few fights at the end.  You see some duels.  But no explicit violence.  You see a case where a village girl and a young Samurai get together in a barn, much to the father’s dismay.  Later, the head Samurai chuckles that they’ll expect more from the youngster now that he has ‘become a man.’  We all know what that means, just as I’m sure audiences did back then.  But they didn’t show it.  And all that restraint without the evil Hollywood Code, driven by the nefarious Catholic Church.

And that got me to thinking, as I am wont to do.  The fact is, there was no real ‘Hollywood Code’, at least any different than anywhere else in the world.  Oh, there was a code.  And it had its demands and its expectations from films, just like today.  If you think on it, there isn’t a lack of movies coming out of Hollywood that question homosexual normality, or challenge abortion rights, or reflect on the failures of the Civil Rights movement over the last quarter of a century, because there is nobody out there imagining these things.  They simply aren’t allowed.  If they were made, they would be boycotted, banned, attacked and even sued.  Codes have always been around.  I’m sure they always will be.

And not just in America.  Being a fan of old, silent movies, I’ve seen my share from around the world before there was this mythical Hollywood Code. Heck, a few predate Hollywood.  Sometimes you get a little more than you would in 1930s or 1940s Hollywood fare.  Sometimes you might catch a bit of skin in some old, silent Italian film, or see some more direct examples of innocents dying in an old Soviet propaganda film.  If there was any nudity at all, it came off as more artsy than anything sexual, and that’s stretching it since I don’t recall anything, but I’m willing to allow for the possibility.  Yes, you could get a little more nitty-gritty at times, like the original King Kong, but like 1954’s The Seven Samurai, there just isn’t a case of flagrant, porn like sex and graphic blood and gore violence that I have found.  There just isn’t.  Anywhere.  Around the world.

This is something that has arisen only over the last fifty years or so of film making and other visual entertainment.  Sure, the ‘themes’ were there.  Samurai was about the real, down in the trenches lives of these legendary warriors as much as it was anything.  It was taking the chivalrous knight down a notch, by showing warts and all.  But it didn’t show it with the camera.  It showed it with the dialogue and the mind of the viewers.

Somewhere, however, filmmakers in America, Europe and around the world began showing us, rather than pointing our minds to think it through.  By the fifties, violence was starting to creep into the explicit levels.  By the sixties, sex was getting more open as violence became more graphic.  No longer did a mixture of camera angles and convenient barricades mixed with clever dialogue point the audience to what happened.  Nope.  By the late sixties, the cameras were going into the bedroom or showing the gunshots and saying ‘here you go, this is what happened.’ 

It was about then that the same began happening around the world, to a greater or lesser extent. By the late seventies, everything was on the table.  Explicit sex (not counting the porn film industry that had been developing apace for a couple decades by then) and graphic violence were the name of the game.

And it was right around that time, if memory serves, that the mass killings began, at least as we  know them today.  And not just here in the old US of A.  Of course movies and entertainment around the world have become pretty graphic – including in Japan.  And it seems that mass killings are quite the global phenomenon.  Oh, not the shootings like we have.  But mass knifings, mass bombings, basically attempts to kill as many innocent people you might or might not know as possible.

Could it be connected?  Based on the film record, there simply was no culture at the dawn of the film industry that threw all manner of graphic sex, violence, gore and smut out there for public consumption.  Even outside of the Hollywood ‘Code’, there seemed to be pretty strict codes around the world.  But all of that changed by the mid to late 20th century.

Could there be a connection with this relatively new phenomenon of people seeking to slaughter as many innocents as possible for no other reason than to slaughter them, and the rather graphic level that entertainment has risen to?  We already elevate celebrity and entertainment to the place that religion and national identity enjoyed in ages past.  Could there be a connection?

It turns out that this whole ‘Code’ thing wasn’t reserved for America, just like this phenomenon of mass killing of innocents isn’t confined to America. Because the breakdown of barriers in cultural output, and the rise of mass killings through terrorism and personal crime seem linked in the timeline, could there be a connection worth examining?

Just curious and sort of thinking out loud after watching one fine romp of a film. 

 

Go here to comment.  In his capacity for endless violence Man reveals himself as lower than the beasts.  In his capacity for self-sacrificial violence in defense of others Man stands above the angels.  Once upon a time, film makers understood that central truth of the human condition.

 

Published in: on March 12, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Seven Samurai  
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Darkest Hour: A Review

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

Winston Churchill, June 4, 1940

 

 

My bride and I and our son saw Darkest Hour on December 23, 2017.  It is a very good film, perhaps a great one.  My review is below the fold.  The usual caveat as to spoilers is in full effect. (more…)

Published in: on January 12, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Darkest Hour: A Review  
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Dunkirk Is Ready For Its Close-up Mr. DeMille

I didn’t think much of the film Dunkirk (2017).  Go here to read my review.  I like it better as a re-imagined silent film.

 

 

Published in: on January 3, 2018 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Brother Orchid

 

Brother Superior: When the heart speaks, Brother Orchid, other hearts must listen.

Brother Orchid (1940)

Interested in seeing a screwball comedy-film noir gangster-western-religious flick?  I am always on the lookout for oddball films for Advent and they don’t come odder, or more heart warming, than Brother Orchid (1940).  Starring Edward G. Robinson with a fantastic supporting cast including Humphrey Bogart, Ann Southern, Ralph Bellamy and Donald Crisp, it is a trip back to the Golden Age of Hollywood when literate, thoughtful films were considered mass entertainment.  It also is a fine exponent of a facet of the human condition that is not much commented upon today:  the seductive power of goodness.  A review of the film is below with the usual caveat as to spoilers. (more…)

Published in: on December 22, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Brother Orchid  
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Dunkirk: A Review

 

My son and I saw Dunkirk (2017) yesterday.  I was looking forward to seeing it, but I am afraid I found it disappointing overall.   My review is below the fold, and the usual caveat as to spoilers is in full effect. (more…)

Published in: on July 30, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Dunkirk: A Review  
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Eliot Ness and The Untouchables

 

I have foresworn myself. I have broken every law I have sworn to uphold, I have become what I beheld and I am content that I have done right!

Eliot Ness, The Untouchables (1987)

 

Hard to believe it is 30 years since The Untouchables (1987) movie was released.  My bride and I saw it in Joliet that year and we both loved it.  A year or two later and I was sitting next to one of the last of the surviving members of Al Capone’s gang.  A truckdriver for Capone, he had invested in Central Illinois farmland and by the time I knew him he was a grey headed and kindly great grandfather.  I never worked up the courage to ask him if Capone had asked him to bury some gangland slaying victims in the ground he purchased, as local rumor indicated.

 

The film was magnificent with the screenplay by David Mamet and the haunting, and period appropriate, musical score by Henry Mancini.  De Niro gave the performance of his career as Capone and Sean Connery, who won a best supporting Oscar for his performance, was completely believable as honest cop Jimmy Malone, joining Ness in his crusade against the corruption that sickened Malone.  Kevin Costner as Eliot Ness was superb as an innocent who learns the terrible cost that is sometimes demanded when evil is confronted. (more…)

Published in: on June 19, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Eliot Ness and The Untouchables  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Judge Dan Haywood

Ernst Janning: Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, You must believe it!

Judge Dan Haywood: Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

Judgment at Nuremberg, (1961)

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), loosely based on the trial of German jurists after World War II, is a powerful film.  Burt Lancaster, an actor of the first calibre, gives the performance of his career as Ernst Janning.  The early portion of the movie makes clear that Ernst Janning is in many ways a good man.  Before the Nazis came to power Janning was a world respected German jurist.  After the Nazis came to power evidence is brought forward by his defense counsel that Janning attempted to help people persecuted by the Nazis, and that he even personally insulted Hitler on one occasion.  Janning obviously despises the Nazis and the other judges who are on trial with him.  At his trial he refuses to say a word in his defense.  He only testifies after being appalled by the tactics of his defense counsel.  His magnificent and unsparing testimony convicts him and all the other Germans who were good men and women, who knew better, and who failed to speak out or to act against the Nazis.  Janning’s testimony tells us that sins of omission can be as damning as sins of commission.  When he reveals that he sentenced a man to death he knew to be innocent because of pressure from the Nazi government, we can only agree with his bleak assessment that he reduced his life to excrement.  Yet we have to respect Janning.  It is a rare man who can so publicly take responsibility for his own evil acts.

Yet even this  respect is taken away from Janning in the final scene of the film where he attempts to justify himself to Judge Haywood, superbly portrayed by Spencer Tracy, by saying that he never believed that it would all come to the millions of  dead in the concentration camps.  Judge Haywood delivers his verdict on this attempt by Janning to save some shred of self-respect:  “Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.” (more…)

Published in: on May 23, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Judge Dan Haywood  
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