Daily Archives: September 10, 2019

The Report – Director, Scott Z. Burns

After the terrorist strike on Sept. 11, 2001 the US reacted with an enormous effort to shut down Muslim terrorist organizations. There was definitely a belief that the actions of the terrorists had to be met with equally ruthless reaction and that this had to happen to protect the US from any further attacks.  Hundreds of suspected terrorists were captured in an effort to stop attacks and hunt down Osama bin Laden. The CIA instituted black sites in other countries and established a prison in Guantanamo that would all be outside US legal jurisdiction. Questioning of the prisoners included what was euphemistically called enhanced interrogation techniques but was actually brutal torture. While the CIA moved on there were those in the US Senate who suspected what was going on and wanted to stop it. A senate investigator named Daniel Jones was the one who hunted down the evidence and brought it forward. This film documents this endeavour in dramatic form. Daniel Jones is played by Adam Driver, Senator Dianne Feinstein is played by Annette Bening and Dennis McDonough, the White House Chief Staff was played by Jon Hamm lead and excellent cast. This was one of most shameful episodes in recent US history and the film does and excellent job of following its development over more than a decade. There is some graphic film of the torture itself which I could really have done without, but the director has made a film that reminds me of All the President’s Men and similar political thrillers. Although the whole thing was about research and report writing it was a real edge of your seat thing. Worth your time although not likely Oscar stuff.

The Q and A was a treat. The director came out with Jon Hamm and although Adam Driver was not there we got the real thing – Daniel Jones. It was a good talk with good questions from the audience and Hamm was a major wit that had us all laughing. Maybe the best line was when an audience member asked Jones how the writing of the report and its ultimate release has affected his life. His response: “Well they made a movie about me.” Not many can say that.

Bad Education – Director, Cory Finley

I was attracted to this film by Hugh Jackman in a non superhero role and in part by the story. The film dramatizes an ugly event in the public education system in New York. Based on a real story it chronicles the years long embezzlement of funds by senior administrators and how easily they are able to do it and cover it up because of their senior positions and the academic success they brought to the schools over which they had authority and the communities in which those schools existed. Jackman is superb as the evil administrator who is manipulative and greedy. (I really liked him last year as Gary Hart in The Front Runner and he does even better here.) What jackman’s character does not anticipate is a young student with ambitions to become a journalist who slowly but inevitably exposes the crimes. The remarkable thing is that the exposé is first published in the student newspaper and only after that picked up by major media like the New York Times. Jackman and his accomplices in crime are arrested and convicted. End of story. The interpersonal aspects include the fact that Jackman’s character is gay and, in the closet, although he has been living with his partner for 30 years. In the course of the film and completely unrelated to his crimes he starts an affair with a young man in Las Vegas that he eventually tries to join when the embezzlement scheme starts to collapse around him. In the end we have a great acting performance that left me thinking so what? There did not seem to be any point to this film other than to dramatize a crime and the ending was literally pointless. Even the affair with the guy in Vegas was irrelevant. I think the film would have been far far better if the focus had been on the young student who brought the crimes to light and the impact her work had on her but that all seems a sidelight to the story. So unless you are a huge Jackman fan you can give this film a miss.

Jojo Rabbit – Director, Taika Waititi

Jojo is the name of a young German boy growing up in Nazi Germany near the end of World War II. In order not to cause any trouble his mother has allowed him to join the Hitler Youth and he in on the surface a proud Nazi and keen to get better. He has an invisible friend in a caricature Adolf Hitler (played by the director Waititi) who visits him in times of crisis to encourage his devotion to the fatherland. However, Jojo is not really into the whole Nazi thing. He is asked to prove his devotion by killing a rabbit during a Hitler Youth training day and he can’t bring himself to do it earning him the name Jojo Rabbit. While home alone one day he learns that his mother, played by Scarlett Johansson, is actually part of the resistance and is hiding a young Jewish woman in their house. Jojo is conflicted as he grows to be friends with the young woman and realizes that Jews are not the monsters he has been led to believe. All this sounds very dramatic and serious but Waititi is a great satirist and the film manages to be very funny while wrestling with very serious issues. It successfully makes mockery of Hitler, Nazis and anti-Semitism while not minimizing the destructiveness of the kind of populist politics that led to the rise of the Nazis. The audience at the Elgin gave the film a huge standing ovation and the Q and A was excellent. When asked about the theme and his satirical approach, Waititi said that the he felt it was important that the issues of populism and anti-Semitism needed to be brought forward again and again because as a society we very quickly and easily forget the horrors that come with this kind of politics. He noted a recent survey that found over 60% of millennials in the US could not say what Auschwitz was or what happened there. That in itself is frightening. I thought the film was a huge success and it is interesting how it is being received. While the audience was clearly loving it and making it a challenger for the People’s Choice Award, many reviewers have panned it. A quick look at rottentomatoes.com gives it a 55% rating based on 11 reviews: 6 loving it and 5 not so much. Clearly it is a controversial way to take on the issues but my bottom line is that it does it very well.