And you thought your Thanksgiving Dinner was bad… The Invitation (2016)

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So you just spent your holiday dodging conversations with family members that are Trump supporters, or maybe you went down that dark road of arguing over whether a fact is a fact or not. Or maybe Adele saved the day for you. In any case, I can’t imagine your dinner being any worse than the dinner party featured in The Invitation (2016).

I know this is not exactly the newest release on Netflix. But the fact that Netflix has this is a major coup. We (my wife and I) couldn’t quite make it to see this in the theater when it was here in February. Like many films that we want to see, it was only in the theater for a week, surely replaced by some garbage like Baby Geniuses 2 or its equivalent. Note to theater owners: people older than 17 have a life and they often have to plan to see a movie. If said movie is gone, these people will not necessarily go see whatever is there.

Anyhow, when this came on Netflix a few months ago, we watched it and were floored by how good it was. It was the best thing we’d seen on Netflix since The Babadook (2014), and it was a similar type of movie, one that director Karyn Kusama describes as “emotional horror” in this excellent and insightful interview.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was answering one of those Craigslist ads looking for people to be on a panel. I had done these before. One time about 2 weeks before it came out, we gave our opinions on about 10 different trailers for Anchorman 2. This was probably going to be for something similar, as it asked me what my favorite film of the year was. Wow, I had a hard time answering that at first, because I thought of things I had seen in the theater. Although I had seen some pretty decent films in the theater ( Midnight Special, for example), there was nothing I was blown away by. Then I remembered seeing The Invitation, and that it was by far the best movie I had seen this year. Despite all the promising looking films coming out before the end of this year, I suspect it will remain my favorite. (Moonlight is great, but not quite complete for me. Haven’t seen many other Oscar contenders yet).

Please read the interview with Emily Gaudette. Although Kusama has done some mediocre films, she really understands and appreciates film as an art. It shows in this film from the first scene, when the protagonist, Will (Logan Marshall-Green), comes across a dying animal in the road on the way to the dinner party. Without telling us anything specific about the plot of the film, it tells us everything we need to know about the emotional landscape of the film. This will be a dark, ugly night where death will have to be confronted.

Will is going to a dinner party hosted by his ex-wife and her new, somewhat odd in an “off” way boyfriend played by Game of Thrones alum Michiel Huisman. Some of their mutual friends are there as well, and it’s clear that it’s been some time since they’ve seen Will. It’s also clear that he and his wife share an emotional trauma. It’s this emotional trauma that grounds the “horror” in the film, and makes it so believable.

I had no problem very early on guessing where this film was going. People have criticized this film for being slow, perhaps for that reason. They may also find it slow because some people equate horror with slasher films and cheap scares like something jump out at you in the dark. If that’s you, The Invitation is probably not for you. But despite my knowing exactly where I thought the film was going (and I ended up being right), I was thoroughly engaged in the film, and cared about what happened to the people whose lives were obviously in danger.

What makes this film brilliant, in my opinion, is that even though you think you know where it’s going, you still are seeing the action somewhat through the viewpoint of Will. And Will is damaged enough so that as the film progresses, you actually start to doubt your conclusions, much like Will does. It’s this tension that keeps you on edge, and makes the ultimate outcome that much more horrifying. It’s the same kind of tension and paranoia that makes Rosemary’s Baby the best horror film ever (in my opinion).

I’ve also heard some complaining about the very, very end, after the action at the dinner party is resolved, and there is an indication of how the events we’ve seen relate to the world outside. I loved this ending, and given the setting of being in the hills above Los Angeles, it makes perfect sense. But of course I can’t discuss that too much without giving it away for people who haven’t seen it.

I highly recommend The Invitation.

Netflix Rating: 5 out of 5

IMDB rating: 10 out of 10

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Only God Forgives Review

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What an edgy poster!

Only God Forgives (2013) reunites Ryan Gosling with Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn. A movie poster like the one above highlights the “edgy” violence that peppers the film. The actual viewing experience might leave its audience feeling beat up. The striking visuals and moments of understated brilliance are weighed down by a slow pace, an anti-hero that may or may not be on Ambien in every scene, and an ending that will most likely leave you befuddled, or at least leave you on your own to decide what the meaning of it all is.

SPOILERS AHEAD:

The movie takes place in Thailand, where two expatriate brothers, one of which is Julian, played by Gosling, and the other of which is a pyschotic with an interest in under-aged girls. This combination results in the brother being found with  a dead underage prostitute in a hotel room. Rather than arresting him,  the police’s Lieutenant Chang, who, according to Wikipedia, acts as “The Angel of Vengeance,”  allows the father of the slain girl to do what he wants to Gosling’s brother in the hotel room. But the father takes things too far, and kills the brother. However, Chang does not care about Billy’s death; instead, Chang cuts off the father’s forearm for allowing his daughter to be a prostitute.

Although the film at this point is bathed in both red neon light and blood, we only see the aftermath of each attack. The visuals are gruesome yet beautiful. Bathing the film in red neon light is a bit on the nose, but it fit not only the subject matter but the seediness of the setting. You can feel the tawdriness of the city enveloping the main characters.

Gosling, who owns a Muy Thai boxing club (which we learn later is a front for a drug smuggling operation), soon learns about his brother’s murder, and seeks out the girl’s father. Just as you think this film will become a art-house Death Wish, we find Gosling actually listening to the explanation. I liked that we don’t actually hear that explanation; instead we see the father gesturing and talking, and we see Gosling’s reaction, if you can call it that. Gosling stares straight ahead, stoic and seemingly unmoved. He decides to do nothing to the father.

So as not to confuse Julian with someone of high moral ground, or “the good son,” or even someone who shuns violence,  we are shown various things that make us believe that Julian ultimately lacks moral convictions. He is not an anti-hero, he is a non-hero, a weak person who passively accepts things he can change. He is not above seeking out prostitutes himself: he pays a regular named Mai to put on a show for him while he remains at a distance, tied up to a chair. He seems to be almost asleep throughout the movie, with occasional explosions of rage or violence that only sometimes seem to have a reason behind them.  He can beat someone up at a club for no reason, drag him across the floor by his teeth. Yet when confronting Lt. Chang, who is ultimately responsible for his brother’s death, he is strangely impotent, and quite easily beaten in hand to hand combat.

Julian’s mother, Crystal, bursts onto the scene, and we get all that we need to know about why Julian and his brother’s mental and emotional problems by the way Crystal treats the receptionist at the front desk of the hotel. This scene is brilliant, but at times the role as written by Refn may have been a bit too much. Crystal is very willing to act where Julian has been passive, and she stirs up the pot by taking vengeance against her son’s killers. This moves the plot and action along, but perhaps too much of an incestuous vibe is played up for my taste. She compares the penis sizes of her sons when at a dinner with Julian, who is pretending that Mai is his girlfriend. She sees right through the ruse, delivering judgment upon Mai and Julian with scorn in a way that only a spiteful mother could. I’m not sure we need the incestuous overtones thrown in.

Regardless, up until this point, the look of the film, the performances, and the script measured up to the expectations I had for the film (I was not a huge fan of Drive, a film for the most part has erased itself from my memory). The way Refn used violence in the film was effective and even though graphic, understated. But there’s a scene where it started to go south a bit for me. Lt. Chang is nearly executed by gunmen in an outdoor restaurant. Chang tracks down the man who hired the gunmen, whose name is Byron, who himself was hired by Crystal to kill Chang. Lt. Chang drive skewers through Byron’s hands, legs, eye, and ear in a drawn out scene that would seem more at home in Reservoir Dogs than in this film. It seemed to want to shock the audience with how realistic it was. It felt very out of place in a film where we often feel like we are in a dream state, or like Julian, seemingly overdosing on Ambien.

Throughout the film, Julian has had visions of Chang, and it seems like we are destined for a great showdown when Chang and Julian finally confront each other in the boxing gym. But expectations and hopes are quickly dashed, as Chang easily defeats Julian in hand to hand combat, in the same way that a human swats away a fly. I thought the way this scene was handled was interesting and different, but it contributes to the unraveling of the film. I’m not sure what it really was supposed to mean or signify. Julian clearly is not a hero or a villain or even much of a presence or force in the film. That is clear. What isn’t clear is why this story was told in the first place. I don’t feel I was ever given a reason to care why Julian was such a non-entity. Perhaps if Chang had more of a personality himself, that might have provided some insight. But although a force to be reckoned, dealing out punishment to all those who come his way, Chang is too reserved and mysterious himself to be an effective counterpart to Julian. (Crystal is the most understandable and interesting character in the film, but the film isn’t really about her, except for the fact that that in a sense she created Julian’s personality by being such a forceful personality herself).

Although there are a great many things worthy to praise in this film, there wasn’t enough insight into Julian or Chang to feel one way or another about how it ended.  It really didn’t end in a traditional sense either, with another vision of Julian’s ending the film. Chang sings karaoke in a bar in front of other policemen as the credits roll. Although it seems unclear, I took this to mean he is the last man left standing, even though Julian’s last vision breaks from reality and the gritty setting of urban Thailand and ends in a field surrounded by trees.

Refn is extremely talented in an unconventional way. But he still has a long way to go before he can get me to care about what happens in his films as much as I can enjoy the technical skills on display. He knows how to write in a restrained way, by showing rather than telling. But he needs to show a bit more, give his characters some emotional weight, for his films to feel like they are more artsy exercises in pretentiousness.

 

Review: The Act of Killing (2012): Pure Torture

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Let me just cut straight to my opinion of this film: I hated it. I will make it my mission to see it destroyed, and all its critical acclaim go the way of The Birth of a Nation‘s.

The Act of Killing (2012)  is the fifth and final entry of my reviews of the 2013 Oscar Nominated Documentaries. Given all the rapturous acclaim for this film, I was expecting it to contend for my top pick up to this point: The SquareThe premise seemed insane and unbelievable, or as one IMDB reviewer put it, “it needs to be seen to be believed.” True, but that doesn’t make this a good film. The idea of allowing mass-murderers to re-enact their crimes seemed too surreal and interesting to fail, yet it does. Werner Herzog and Errol Morris are producers for this film, and if either of them had tackled this subject matter, then it could have been the film I imagined it would be, or the film that critics think they saw. But Joshua Oppenheimer is a hack, offering the viewer nothing but indulgence and wallowing in other people’s depravity, and making us feel complicit in their crime. If that’s how the viewer should feel in watching this, then of course you have to question how Oppenheimer can sincerely believe “There’s no good guys, there’s no bad guys, there’s just people.” [1]

Bullshit!

Oppenheimer must not have even watched his own film, and must be blinded by his “contact with Anwar (the centerpiece of the film and one of the murderers), with whom he’s grown close” [1] Either that or he’s a hipster, trying to maintain an ironic distance from the horrific implications of his film.

I unfortunately have to review this film, develop an opinion of it, and decipher the filmmaker’s intentions by seeking sources outside the film, because we are given virtually no context for what we see in the film. The film begins with a quote from Voltaire: “It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets”. We then see what seems to be a structure for an abandoned amusement park that is in the shape of a giant fish. Cut to a waterfall where Anwar, the “conscience” of the film, and Herman, the grotesque pig of a man that is dressed in garish drag, are motioning as if they are sirens luring ships to the shore. They are surrounded by ornately costumed dancers. But there is no music, just a director shouting directions. We will come back to this scene towards the end of the film, but when the director shouts “Cut” you see the young dancers stretching to get their coats- they are uncomfortable and cold. The fantasy quickly gives way to reality. We then are given the only historical context to the film: “In 1965, the Indonesian Government was overthrown by the military. Anybody opposed to the military dictatorship could be accused of being a communist: union members, landless farmers, intellectuals, and the ethnic Chinese. In less than a year, and with the direct aid of western governments, over one million ‘communists’ were murdered. The army used paramilitaries and gangsters to carry out the killings. These men have been in power, and persecuted their opponents- ever since.” The film then goes on to give their film its current context, which is where they claim to do things that the film won’t end up doing: “When we met the killers, they proudly told us stories about what they did. To understand why, we asked them to create scenes about the killings in whatever way they wished. The film follows that process, and documents its consequences.”

Not really, Oppenheimer. If you were to truly have documented the consequences of their actions, you would have at least partially stuck with your original intentions for the film, as chronicled in The Australian: “When the filmmaker tried to explore the truth about what happened in 1965 through the experiences of survivors in the plantation belt outside Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, he found: ‘They were too scared to say what had happened to them because the killers were living all around them.’ Police threatened the filmmakers with arrest, while plantation bosses and civic leaders regularly found ways to interrupt shooting. Eventually, the survivors asked Oppenheimer: ‘Why don’t you film the killers?’ Suddenly, ‘all the doors flew open.’ Whereas his original subjects had feared reprisals, the men who’d helped bathe Indonesia in blood were eager to talk about their achievements.” 

And we are treated to their boasting for 2 hours, while the victims and their suffering become an abstraction, and even a source of amusement. Herman, the fat pig of a paramilitary leader, enlists locals to help recreate scenes of terror and kidnapping in the streets. It’s a spectacle to everyone involved, with laughter and joy taken in the recreating of their own country men’s misery. “They burned our house down!” Herman says, mocking and mimicking the families of victims, while people in the street laugh and laugh. They calmly recount how they strangled “communists” using wire. Anwar tap dances on the same roof where he supposedly killed thousands. We meet a newspaperman, who occupied the same building that they killed people in, who claims to be ignorant of what was happening under their shared roof. The Pancasila paramilitary group to which they belonged still thrives, and essentially rules the streets. We see their rallies, which seem stuck in a time warp, as they rail against communists, and claim that the origin of the word “gangster” is “free man” over and over again. In case you thought they were just violent, we are treated to their leader playing golf and making disgusting comments about the female caddie’s genitalia. So we learn they are sexist too. Anwar, Herman, and others begin recreating interrogation scenes quite convincingly, but in a very movie-like exaggerated manner.

Given very little context for what is happening, things become very confusing at times. When we are introduced to Anwar’s neighbor, who tells a story of how his relatives were killed, I didn’t know if that was part of the movie they were making or not. Some of the recreations have a nightmarish quality to them, that frankly felt like what a self-indulgent director would do given an unlimited budget. But we never get a sense of how the film they think they are making comes together, or how the “scenes” relate to the historical context we are not given.

We eventually also learn that the killings may have been a cover for the genocide of the Chinese population of Indonesia. When Herman runs for office, we learn that the populace can be bribed for their vote, and he who bribes the best will win the election. Herman loses, and we lose respect for the general populace of Indonesia for seemingly accepting and participating in the corruption that they are essentially victims of. We get to see the members of the paramilitary shake down business owners for protection money, so some sympathy may remain.

Everything I mentioned up to this point happens in the first half of the film. At the hour and 15 minute mark, we got antsy, wondering how much longer this indulgence in depravity could last. I have to admit that I stopped watching at that point, and watched the last 45 minutes just today, a week or so later. Despite several scenes highlighting the natural beauty of Indonesia, the whole country seems like a place to never visit. Oppenheimer treats the viewer to repeatedly observing the actions of people who are the opposite of self-aware at best, and the worst of humanity at worst, without challenging them in any way, shape, or form. I can imagine Herzog taking the same material, and giving it shape and form, and purpose. I can imagine the director of The Devil Came on Horseback or even The Square allowing these people to have their say, but placing their actions in the context of the misery and strife they create. With The Devil Came on Horseback, it was clear what the benefit of the film was. No one would have heard about the suffering in Darfur without it.

And to those who might say that I missed the point of this film, I would point them to Errol Morris’ own The Fog of War, which essentially is a long sustained interview with a “villain” who may have also been to some a mass murderer. The implications, context, and consequences of one man’s actions are clear, even if what we do about it is not. But we inherently as Americans should have wrestled with what we saw because we understood its context and significance. And for what it’s worth, we see a man genuinely wrestle with his conscience, in an understated but genuine way, quite the opposite of the showiness of Anwar’s coming to terms with his actions. So then what is the point of this film? What was the point of going on for 2 hours, letting these people take joy in recreating their own murderous crimes? What are we supposed to learn? What are we supposed to do?

I must quote the following from Jennifer Merin, who quotes her colleague, who also sums up my feelings about the film: “During a post-screening conversation I had with BBC Commissioning Editor Nick Fraser, he commented. ‘It’s as though a documentary filmmaker went down to Argentina, found some ex-Nazis and gave them some money to make a film about how much fun they’d had killing Jews during the Holocaust. Everyone would be horrified. But in this case, it’s about Indonesia. People don’t know as much about it, so they don’t take exception in the same way.’ Insightful and pithy, as always, Fraser’s take on the film and the general response to it just about sums up my own” (2).

But Oppenheimer has the nerve to say the message of his film is “there’s just people.” No, there are people who murder and get away with it, and boast and revel in it. But allowing them to revel in it, without ever really questioning them during the whole process, should leave Oppenheimer with a dirty feeling. Sorry, Oppenheimer, Anwar does not truly come to terms with his actions. A few minutes of hacking up phlegm, or wretching, or whatever he does, does not even begin to count as contrition. If Hitler had come to terms with his actions by getting a little sick, would that mean anything to anyone?

Even better than that, put Hitler in place of Anwar in the penultimate scene of the film. Remember the waterfall fantasy scene at the beginning of the movie? We return to that scene, this time to the tune of “Born Free” (there they go again with the whole “free man” thing) where Anwar is a god like figure, Herman is a grotesque drag queen, and beautiful dancers surround them. Insert two downtrodden dirty people who have wire around their neck, which should immediately for the viewer place these as two of Anwar’s victims. They remove the wire from their neck, and thank Anwar for “sending them to heaven.”

Grotesque. Indulgent. Complicit. Depraved.

Anyone watching this film should read the following, which calls into question the veracity of the claims of the participants in this film:

BFI Review

Also, read the few negative reviews I could find for other reasons to not praise this film:

About.com Review

Filmracket Review 

So that leaves us with the Oscar Documentary Challenge, that I should have finished a month ago. The good news is that 20 Feet From Stardom is now on streaming! So you can decide for yourself on how to rank all five documentaries nominated by the Academy. For me, the order from best to worst would be:

1. The Square

2. 20 Feet from Stardom

3. Dirty Wars

4. Cutie and the Boxer

5. The Act of Killing

Methinks that Blackfish could have been a nomination. I will have to watch that soon.

My IMDB Rating of The Act of Killing: 1 out of 10

My Netflix Rating: 1 out of 5

References:

1) APPLEBAUM, STEPHEN (13 April 2013) Indonesia’s killing fields revisited in Joshua Oppenheimer’s documentary. The Australian

2) MERIN, JENNIFER (2013) The Act of Killing- Movie Review- 2013. About.com

The Blair Witch Moon Project: Apollo 18 Review

(This is not a movie poster, it’s a picture of me watching the movie)

What if, while you just happened to be traveling through outer space, found footage of a secret Apollo Mission? What if you were dropped on your head as a baby yet still somehow became an astronaut? What if you were using hand held video recorders, but somehow had the skills and awareness of a director to know where to place the camera where only a third person could have shot it from that angle?

What if you were a director, who got an idea for a movie when he came across a tiny bit of moon rock trivia, and expanded that into a feature length film, but did so in such a lazy fashion that nothing really makes sense?

You would make one of the worst movies ever made, that’s what!

Apollo 18 (2011) tells the nonsensical story of a secret Apollo mission to the moon. It opens with a brief, written history of the Apollo mission- the landing on the moon in 1969, Apollo 18, 19, and 20 were canceled due to budgetary reasons, in 1972 Apollo 17 is the last mission to the moon. Then we learn “In 2011, Eighty-four hours of classified footage is uploaded to http://www.lunartruth.com. This film is edited from that footage.”

Ok, fair enough. We are treated to the standard “meet the astronaut” footage, where we learn that astronauts have no personality. They lament that they are going to the moon, but have to tell people lies about where they will be. One tells his family he is on a joint training mission with the Chinese. In 1974. OK, whatever. Before the astronauts leave for space, the director does an effective job in making it seem like this is truly found footage, with the clothes and background looking right, as well as the quality of the film and the colors as well.

But soon this top-secret mission, which somehow secretly rocketed the Apollo 18 into space, (well, they gave an excuse that they were launching a satellite. OK, whatever) reaches its target of the moon, and simultaneously loses all sense of reality. First of all, the premise makes no sense, no matter the lame explanation that comes from Control later, that they would shoot over 84 hours of a SECRET mission. But we wouldn’t have a film without that, so on they go into space. One astronaut remains in orbit while the other two land on the moon in the lunar module. These two somehow either develop a third arm or give birth to a camera man because after some boring chit-chat and “goofing around,” we are treated to some camera angles and quick cuts that are not possible, no matter how this footage was “edited.” I don’t know much about the Apollo missions and how they were taped, but the images from Apollo 11 that were sent to earth were not from multiple angles. They were pretty much point and shoot, no “technique” involved. In addition to cinematic camera angles sneaking their way into the found footage, the look of the “film” being used seems to slowly work its way towards looking like it was shot by a camera from 2004, not 1974. The quality of some of the pictures look too good, and also, when the shit starts to hit the fan, there are effects thrown in that really don’t make any sense. For example, one astronaut finds himself in pitch black, and hears a freaky sound all around him. In the vacuum of space. He uses some kind of flash on the camera to see whatever he can, and we somehow hear the sound of that as well. The “strobe light” effect he creates by taking pictures (I guess?) really wouldn’t have been possible back then, even if the rest of it made sense scientifically. And plus, there is always a flashlight to provide consistent lighting when you need it. Again, I assume these astronauts had mental problems, or they were overly concerned about making the footage they were shooting look neat for the people who would find it later.

The actions of the astronauts make no sense either. The astronauts soon find out that their supposed mission of putting tracking devices on the moon as part of a warning system against missile attacks from the USSR (first of all, what? to that idea anyways, even the “fake” mission makes no sense) is not why they are really there. They find a Soviet capsule that also must have been from a secret mission. But the cosmonaut is dead, the capsule thrashed, and worst of all, the cosmonaut’s shoes had worn out soles. So what do you do when you are having a private conversation about what the mission is really about? You tape it, of course. And of course you do that from a weird camera angle that could only have meant that you spent more time figuring out the best place to put your camera beforehand than you took having the conversation. Also, if the other astronaut has a bunch of spider creatures crawling inside of his suit and is screaming, is it your instinct to pick up a camera and film it? Or figure out a way to get the fuck off of the moon? If you are an astronaut in this film, it’s the former.

So obviously this film doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, either when thinking the script, or staying consistent with the concept that this film was culled from “found” footage, or staying consistent with what we know of science (astronauts apparently experience Earth’s gravity on the Moon because they run normally without bouncing at all). I could have been more forgiving of this film, and just considered it a bad film, rather than one of the worst ever, if they gave a plausible excuse for how this footage was “found.” It’s not the Blair Witch project, where someone walking through the woods might stumble across the footage. People who defend this film in forums have their excuses as to how this could be, but they don’t hold up, and frankly these people are very defensive because they know what a piece of shit this film is and they feel stupid for liking it. No, they would have not have launched another mission to recover film from a lunar module which must surely be hurtling through space (I am guessing that he collided with the lunar orbiter). No, this was not transmitted back to Earth because the camera they use uses film, and they said in the movie that most of the footage was found on film. How would they have recovered film among the debris of the crashed modules, even if that debris is orbiting the moon? No, ravenmaniac07 on the IMDB message boards, I am not an idiot for not coming up with a bunch of excuses for the director of this dingleberry of a movie for not convincing me that the found footage premise of this film made any sense. I wouldn’t have liked this movie if it were honest and admitted it was just another film with a third-person omniscient point of view. But the fact that it wanted to use the horribly played out found footage genre without doing even half of what was necessary to make it plausible, means it deserves my wrath, and not my excuses.

So basically, moon rocks are actually aliens. There. That’s the movie. Don’t watch it. Instead, read this portion of the Apollo 18 movie’s wikipedia entry. I’m sure this provided the idea to the director, but the real story of what happened to the moon rocks would make for a more interesting film. But then again most infomercials would make better movies than this.

“The film concludes with a statement that the Nixon Administration gave away hundreds of moon rocks to foreign dignitaries around the world, and that many of these moon rocks have been lost or stolen. This is factually true; both the Nixon and Ford Administrations gave away 135 Apollo 11 Moon Rocks and 135 Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rocks. The Moon Rock Project, a joint effort of over 1,000 graduate students started at the University of Phoenix in 2002, has helped track down, recover or locate many moon rocks and found that 160 are unaccounted for, lost or destroyed.[18] In 1998 a sting operation, called Operation Lunar Eclipse, made up of personnel from NASA‘s Office of the Inspector General, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and U.S. Customs recovered the Honduras Apollo 17 Goodwill Moon Rock, valued at $5 million. In October 2011, NASA agents raided a Denny’s restaurant and arrested a 74-year-old woman for attempting to sell a moon rock from Neil Armstrong for $1.7 million on the black market.[19]

My IMDB rating: 1 out of 10

My Netflix rating: 1 out of 5

Review of Act of Valor (2012), leaving Netflix April 3

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Act of Valor (2012) sold itself as “an unprecedented blend of real-life heroism and original filmmaking.” This blend comes from using real Navy SEALs to star as themselves, with some scenes featuring Hollywood actors portraying terrorists or CIA agents (the only actor I recognized was Roselyn Sanchez). This seems like a cool idea to pitch to movie producers eager to tap into underserved movie audiences. You are part of that audience if you are looking for flattering portrayals of American Military (aka “patriotic”), you believe we are the best country in the history of the world, and you like your film to have an uncomplicated (aka trite) message (aka propaganda) confirming that we are the best country in the world with the best military.

I won’t be able to say much original about this movie that you couldn’t read more or less on Rotten Tomatoes. First of all, although it may have been unprecedented to use Navy SEALs, it wasn’t necessarily wise. If you want an unprecedented look at our military at war, find yourself a copy of Restrepo (2010). The SEALs are quite capable of acting their way through the action scenes, yet they are given way too much exposition in this film. It is the worst acting in film history (ok, maybe not the worst), and really just made me think that a porno was going to break out at any second. I appreciate the commitment to the concept of using the real people, but at some point someone should have thrown in a real actor to carry some of the scenes that are full of wooden soldiers delivering wooden dialogue, woodenly.

As for the action scenes, many people have praised them as being the positive aspect of the film. The scene where they extract a CIA agent from a terrorist jungle outpost is well done, and exciting on some level. But it also seems to be inspired by video games like Call of Duty more than any other films. You will have traditional action scenes, which are well done and orchestrated, broken up by the camera switching to the viewpoint of a SEAL, much like a first person shooter. Also, you get an aerial view of the river boats that are part of the rescue operation that is directly above the action. It’s shot in a way that reminds me of Age of Empires or other real-time strategy games from the past. It makes sense that Act of Valor received a Movie: Action nomination for the Teen Choice awards. The first action scene also is the best. Unfortunately the last action scene, where the SEALs are deployed just south of the Mexican border to stop terrorists entering the country, is underwhelming, full of cliches (such as one man sacrificing himself to save the lives of his fellow soldiers), and for a film touting its realism, feels a bit false, as if it belongs to an ’80’s action flick.

The plot is fairly standard. The recovered CIA agent found information that helps the SEAL team track a group of Chechen-backed terrorists who are scheming to enter the United States and blow themselves up using vests with undetectable explosives. Actual actors help you keep interest in a storyline that at times ventures into being good enough to be the basis for a season of 24. But seeing that 24 alone had dealt with similar material to varying degrees of effectiveness for 9 seasons, I needed a bit more from the movie. For example, having identifiable characters with charisma would have been a start. Every single SEAL in this movie (with the exception of the token non-Caucasians) just seems like some guy you would see at an OC beach.

I prefer the realism of fictional movies, such as Black Hawk Down, The Hurt Locker, Jar Head, even Saving Private Ryan, over this film. Using “real” people doesn’t make for a more realistic, visceral experience for the viewer. Especially when you have nothing new or interesting to say. Catch the movie if you are a fan of military action; otherwise, skip it. It will be leaving streaming tomorrow at any rate.

My IMDB rating: 5 out of 10

My Netflix rating: 2 out of 5

 

 

The Baader Meinhof Complex until 12/8

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The latest movie in my queue to disappear from streaming is The Baader Meinhof Complex (2008) which is the story of a German Terrorist Group from the 1970’s. I saw this movie in the theater, and while it was entertaining in parts, it was kind of a mess, and went on too long (150 minutes when it could have been two). If you check out the IMDB page for this title, the review that is currently featured pretty much sums up my opinion of the film as well. I find stories of terrorism before 9/11 to be inherently fascinating, but this movie had too many points in it where the action dragged or my interest waned for me to wholeheartedly recommend it.

My IMDB Rating: 6 out of 10 http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0765432/?ref_=nv_sr_1

My Netflix rating: 3 out of 5