Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Last night I invested several hours listening to the debate on populism between Steve Bannon and David Frum on the November Munk debate.  I turned out to me largely worth it, an enjoyable and surprisingly civil debate.  You can, of course, see the video of it on their site, which would allow you to digest it in smaller doses.

A few thoughts:

  1. The hype and protest against the debate because of Bannon’s “hate speech” was largely undeserved. Now, make no mistake that I disagree with Bannon very strongly and find some of his ideas disturbing.  However, I also believe that the standard has to be very high in order for something to be banned and labelled hate speech.  I saw the film on Bannon at TIFF (which was not protested) and have seen several other interviews, and I’ve never witnessed the level of hateful ideas that would be necessary to ban him as a speaker.  I can’t speak for all of his comments in past years, but what I’ve seen and what I saw last night did not rise to that level.  He’s not a David Duke or a Milo.
  2. I think that Bannon’s ideas are appealing because he is relatively good at pointing at real questions and issues. Like Sartre, he sees the problems, but has no acceptable answers.  I can agree that a form of “elite”, -the ones who caused the 2008 crash for example-, had and still have too much power.  I agree that there is a political class that needs to be shaken up.  But stating a problem doesn’t mean that any old answer/solution is worth trying.  Desperation is not a good motivator when it comes to political standards, and in this case the proof of the pudding was and is very much in the tasting.
    At the very beginning of his opening comment he stated that populism was inevitable and that the only question was whether it would be capitalist or socialist (like Bernie Sanders) populism.  Oddly, he never returned to that point in order to argue the benefits of one type over the other.  Personally I don’t think that either is inevitable, but if that was his thesis, it certainly would have been a point worth pursuing.
  3. The debate, as I said, was very civil and highly informative on both sides. It was worth the wait for it to get started (because of the protestors) and the hours of listening.  Unfortunately the ending was seriously marred by confusion over the audience voting on the question in order to determine a “winner”.  As is the tradition in debates, they polled the audience on the question at the beginning and at the end.  They also, however, added an additional poll as to what percentage of the audience considered themselves willing to change their minds as a result of persuasion in the debate.  The debate was running late and so the ending was rushed.  The result they announced was a win by Bannon with over a 30% shift.  This immediately seemed suspicious considering the amount of laughter at many of Bannon’s statements and the distribution of applause.  As near as I can tell, it turns out that they mistakenly used the numbers for those willing to change their minds instead of those that actually changed their minds, as those numbers are conveniently identical.  Later, on the Face Book site, they posted that the numbers did not shift from the beginning to the end, which makes far more sense.  Bannon’s performance was certainly not stellar enough to cause a 30 point shift.
    Of course this unfortunately gave rise to comments about “fake news” and a “liberal conspiracy”.  What is far more likely is that some poor tech person hit the wrong button or that the system glitched.  But hopefully they will issue a clear and accurate explanation on either the web site or FB page.  To not do this would place a serious blemish on the Munk Debates.
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It is hard to understand why this amazing film is heading to Netflix rather than the big screen. I guess partly because they optioned to produce it in the first place, although I’m sure that it would be very successful (other that the fact that it is partly subtitled) in a theatre run. It is every bit as well made and relevant as Twelve Years A Slave. It will undoubtedly be an Emmy contender and is worthy of an Oscar nomination. This is the second great Netflix film I’ve seen at this year’s festival, both strong social commentaries. Good on them!

I was extremely impressed with the photographic direction and the actual direction of the film. It is a richly shot film with all kinds of effects that one would expect from the same director responsible for the first season of True Detective. This is the screen adaptation of the book of the same name by Uzodinma Iweala, about the abduction and service of a young boy as a child soldier. Its big name star is Idris Elba who plays the ruthless and manipulative Commandant, but the real star is the boy soldier played by Abraham Attah, who won the best actor award at the Venice Film Festival. The movie is so intense that people around me in the audience were visibly shaken, cringing and averting their eyes. It is a naked look at what it means to be a child soldier in Africa (or probably in the Middle East as well). This film has it all, from strong action scenes to great acting performances, to a depth and empathy of the political situation.  It works on many levels.

I would give this film an A. One way or another when this is released you have to see it, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

PS:  For those of you with an Integral Theory leaning, you will find this film very enlightening  in showing the ways in which Amber controls Red and Orange controls (though not always successfully) Amber.   …It made me think of how possibly Green controls Orange. 

This documentary covers the three months of protest against the government leading to the flight of President Yanukovych. It bears truthful witness to the struggle, although critics might say that it is somewhat one sided. Little is said about the pro-Russian side. However, the film gives testimony to the betrayal of the people by the government and the inhuman police brutality. There is little disputing that. It is a testimony to commonplace heroism. A comment from the audience after the showing was that every politician should see this film to remind them that they are responsible to the people.  After the film was screened it was announced that Netflix picked up the movie and will be making it available on Oct. 9 of this year, -a fantastically quick delivery time. Well worth watching. B+

It is difficult to come up with a new, original story about WW2, but Land Of Mine sheds light on a chronicle that has previously been shrouded. In the middle of the war Hitler was convinced that the allies would invade Germany through Denmark, landing on the west coast of that country and moving south. To prepare for this he directed German troops to bury thousands of land mines on the beaches of western Denmark. Of course the invasion never landed there and at the end of the war these landmines still littered the beaches. After the war, German POWs, who in Denmark were mostly older teenagers, were conscripted to clear the mines. That is the context of the movie, but the film is more about the evolution of one hard nosed offices who hated the Germans developing respect and compassion and coming to realize that everyone deserves to be treated as human beings.

The film was made in Denmark in German and Danish languages, with the director saying that his goal was to shed some light on the darker episodes of war in that country. It is a gruesome film. When people are diffusing mines, they sometimes get blown up. Very well acted and shot. A great film worth watching but it’s one of those foreign films that you’ll probably have to hunt to find, and may eventually appear on Netflix or the History Channel in several years. I would give it a B++ rating.

Good Interview with Director

Just want to put in here that I was equally disappointed in CNN’s Special Report on Atheism.  I found it unfocused and very shallow in it’s view.  I wonder if it was meant as an obligatory “equal time” response to the “Finding Jesus” travesty.  It didn’t really bring out many of the important points that should have been covered, such as establishing “Humanism” as a viable moral philosophy.  Most of it was about how several atheists from religious families were shunned by those families.  Sad stories, but still not really the stuff from which meaningful documentaries are made.

As an Integralist, I like to think that I have a skeptical but open mind when it comes to religion. While allocating much of religion to the realm of superstition, I feel that there are real spiritual values to be found (sometimes deeply buried by dogma) in religions, and I truly appreciate how religion can be important to the lives of many people who are operating with a certain world view, however much I may disagree with them.

So I was very interested in the new CNN series “Finding Jesus”. The advertizing sound bites put forth ideas like “He didn’t disappear without a trace,” and other things that kind of begged the question of scientific or historic evidence. It had the potential of being in interesting treatment of the subject.

I have to admit that I wasn’t very surprised to find out that it is nothing of the sort. After watching two episodes (-and I confess to fast forwarding though the second to try to find more serious parts-) I basically found this series to be rather graphic portrayals of Bible stories with a very slight injection of scientific speculation.

The Bible stories are all presented the way you’d expect to hear them at Sunday school, though perhaps more bloody and violently depicted in order to enthral (or perhaps outrage) the viewers. They are presented from the point of view of being factual, with frequent commentaries from known Christian pundits and clergy, never questioned or corroborated in any way. They’re argument for the existence of Jesus (-which is what the series purports to be about-) is from the assumption that the Bible stories are factual and then trying to support them with cherry picked “facts”. It is the same way that Creationists make their arguments. Start with the assumption that the Bible is true, because anything else is unthinkable, and then proceed from there.

The science being presented is baffling. In the first program there was an examination of the Shroud of Turin with the scientific conclusions being inconclusive. Afterwards several commentators appeared on screen to say that even if it is not scientifically proven, it is important to include the idea of Faith and a need to have something to believe in. The second episode examined a bone artifact that was believed to be from St. John the Baptist, and out rightly proved that it could not have been authentic because it was only about 1000 years old according to carbon dating. Again, commentators stated that it is important to have such artifacts in order to have Faith, totally ignoring that it was just proven on screen that their artifact was a fraud. This is truly baffling. There was some mention of the fact that there were many other alleged artifacts that had not been tested, as if that is supposed to be a consolation. It isn’t.

So we have a series that tells Bible stories from the perspective of them being true and then peppers the hour with scientific examinations that are, at best inconclusive and in some cases completely disprove authenticity. I’m not sure what they are trying to do. To the believer, I guess they can point to the scientific component and say, “See, we are trying to be rational and scientific about this,” totally losing sight of the fact that the science they’re talking about refuts their arguments. I honestly don’t understand the motive behind this, especially on a channel like CNN. It seems more like something that FOX would run.  I will not be watching any more episodes.  As I said, I am a little bit disappointed but not at all surprised.

I thought that I might catch the new movie, Chappie, sometime this weekend, or ever perhaps today (the opening day), seeing that it was playing in some places at 1 p.m. A quick look at the listings revealed a commercial opportunism that I’ve seen building over the past year or two, but never to the degree that currently seems to be prevalent.

If you want to see a new movie in any of the larger theatres, expect to pay extra. I’m not talking about the IMAX or 3D surcharges. Those, at least, make some sense to me. You’re paying for a notably better experience, and you usually have a choice in whether you want to avail yourself of this premium experience or not.

No, I’m talking about the other, recently imposed, fake premium tickets such as the VIP or the ULTRAAVX arrangements. IN the ULTRA situations you pay a surcharge of several dollars for what they claim is superior video and audio, -although I’ve never really noticed any difference. You also get the privilege of choosing your seats before going in to the theatre, although you really don’t have full choice as there are limitations on what seats you can choose. The result in a low use time is having a small group of people lumped into a small area in the middle of the theatre. There is no point in this seat selection. In high use times, you get to choose at the box office between a variety of poorer seats, -something you could just as easily do walking down the hall and entering the movie. In low use times, you get to choose among lots of seats, just like you’d be able to do if you just walked in and sat down. The difference is that with ULTRA you get to pay a surcharge for the privilege, which usually doesn’t do much other than slow down the ticket line. Even if you were the only person in the room, or one of a dozen, you would still pay this premium price. (If they wanted to impose a surcharge for choosing a seat on the Internet, which I personally think is totally unnecessary, then, fine, do that for those taking advantage of that extra service, but don’t make the people in the theatre line have to pay for it.) For today and the following week, the movie “Chappie”, along with several other new releases, are only available in most theatres using the ULTRA option. It is nothing less than a surcharge for seeing a new release wrapped in a thin veneer of crappy extra services.

When I went to see “A Theory of Everything” about a month ago, I chose to see it at the Varsity Theatre in Toronto. It wasn’t playing at anything but a few downtown theatres at that point as it was prior to the awards season. Admittedly, I didn’t look carefully enough at the listing, or I would have noticed that it was only playing in the VIP theatre. I didn’t realize it until they asked for $20 for the movie ticket. I had gone all the way down there and there wasn’t any opportunity to move to another theatre (-there was only one other in town playing it at that time-) so I took the hit, cursed myself for not looking more carefully, and saw the movie. For the additional cost, I enjoyed the privileges of having a slightly more comfortable seat (and I mean slightly), being offered over priced theatre food by annoying waiters and seeing the movie on a relatively small screen.

Theatres, especially the larger chains such as Silver City, are using the pretext of the “premium service” to simply fleece their customers of a little extra cash. It is not enough that they sell popcorn for a price that calculates to $66 a pound, a price that is twice what you’d pay for a fine steak in a good restaurant, and which rivals quality caviar. (I actually calculated this as a Math/Science activity with my Gr. 7 class.) Now they are trying to convince us that their meagre enhancements are worth charging us even more for the actual movie. It’s all smoke and mirrors. If I lived close to a small theatre like the Carlton, it would have all of my business. In the meantime, if theatres want to complete with on line services (and pirating) they would do well not to exploit their customers.