The Academy Award for Best Movie in 2012 – a comparison of the entertainment value, take home value, craftsmanship and other virtues of “Argo”, “Django Unchained”, “Lincoln”, “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Silver Linings Playbook”, “Les Miserables”, “Armour”, “Life of Pi”,”Beast of the Southern Wild” and “The Master” and comments on judging by Gary S. Smolker (February 22, 2013)

Overview of What Makes the Best Movies the Best Movies

Movies are a sophisticated and flexible instrument of thought that can be used for self-development, self-knowledge and self-expression alike.

In that regard, movies inform us, hep us understand things, and remember things and they create expectations.

Movies mold our thoughts; they give color and shape our desires; they limit or extend our sympathies; and they promote self-awareness and awareness of others.

The best movies have “meaningful substance”; they afford pleasure to the movie viewing public by presenting a story through images and dialogue with such an abundance of feeling, thought, imagination and unbounded spirit that the thickest mind and slowest eye is aroused to think and see what the film maker wants the movie goer to perceive.

However, people are bored and irritated by movies that are dull and that do not make sense.

That being said, the best movies have entertainment and take-home value.

Based on that  criteria Argo is the most deserving movie nominated to win the Oscar for best picture, followed by “Django Unchained”, “Lincoln”, “Zero Dark Thirty”, “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Les Miserables.”

Argo

Argo is a movie about leadership, values, courage, heroism, creativity, imagination, thinking, good judgment, patriotism, and service to country plus it informs the viewer of the historical background of events that led to a mob of more than 500 Iranian students storming the American Embassy in Tehran on Sunday, November 4, 1979, where they seized sixty-six Americans as hostages.

The Iranian Hostage crisis was a low point in American history.  I remember President Jimmy Carter informing the world of America’s aborted effort to rescue those hostages.

President Carter told us, “there was no fighting, there was  no combat.”  But eight men had died, he explained, when “two of our American aircraft collided on the ground following a refueling operation in a remote desert location in Iran.”

The movie Argo informs us that the Iranian students and Iranian people thought they would have a better life after the Shah fled, under the leadership of the Shah’s longtime opponent, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who had returned to Tehran after his fourteen-year exile.  The Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini incited Iranian students to storm the American Embassy.

Instead of gaining a better life, the people of Iran have seen their freedom of expression (i.e., what women are allowed to wear) taken away from them under the leadership of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Argo cast a spell on me.  I was thoroughly engaged.  The film aroused tension in me from the moment it began until it ended.

By a chain of circumstances that befall them, the characters in “Argo” (all of whom are fully developed in the movie) incarnate a way of living life which I completely relate to and hold up as my model for how to live because I felt I knew the fully developed characters in the film portrayed by Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin and John Goodman are committed people with good values, good judgment, imagination, creativity, courage and joi de vive in whom I can place my complete trust and in whom I can have complete confidence.

  1. Argo is based on a true story in which historical events of significance intersected with policy issues which enabled the values of the extraordinary real life characters played by Affleck, Arkin and Goodman to define and mark them as heroes by what they did and by what they did not do in Argo and in real life. Argo coherently tells their story, which until recently was a classified story.
  2. Their story, portrayed in Argo, is a story of men’s commitment to a mission and their fierce commitment to one another.
  3. The movie Argo reminds me of Voltaire’s statement, “God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best.”
  4. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters portrayed by Arkin and Goodman’s easy going charisma and disarming humor and am in a state of highest admiration of Tony Mendez’s sense of honor and duty to others, as portrayed by director-actor Ben Affleck.
  5. The men portrayed by Arkin, Goodman and Afflect are men whose word, in all situations, could always be taken as truth and I highly respect the tradition of honor embedded in those men’s personalities.
  6. In Argo each of those men is shown to be a man who is aware, grounded, strong, competent, ferociously independent and tough — but never petty.
  7. Argo is based on a true story: In 1979, six Americans were trapped in Tehran in danger of their lives, while irate Iranians searched door by door for them, after having escaped from the American Embassy to hide in the Canadian Embassy during the American Embassy Hostage Crisis.
  8. The main character in the movie, CIA Agent “exfiltration specialist” Tony Mendez [masterfully played by Ben Affleck] came up with a zany out of the box plan for rescuing them and getting them out of the country.
  9. Mendez proposed that he would enter Iran posing as a movie producer scouting for a location to shoot a science fiction movie entitled Argo. The six trapped Americans would follow him and leave Iran with him posing as the crew.
  10. To get expert advice on how to complete the facade of making a movie, Mendez goes to Hollywood to consult and recruit veteran Hollywood producer Lester Siegel (masterfully played by Alan Arkin) and a special effects maestro (masterfully played by John Goodman).
  11. The story told in Argo recounts in an edge-of-your-seat thriller the “caper” the three of them (Affleck, Arkin and Goodman) planned and how it was executed.
  12. Throughout the movie the tension never lets up.
  13. Real drama shows a conflict about a real issue.  There is real drama in Argo.
  14. In Argo Tony Mendez finds out as he is about to take the six Americans that he is rescuing to the Airport, that Jimmy Carter, the President of the United States, has decided to abort the mission because of fear of possible repercussions if the mission fails.  Tony Mendez has plane reservations but doesn’t have plane tickets or money to purchase plane tickets for the seven of them.
  15. Mr. Mendez is ordered to abort the mission.  Mr. Mendez is ordered to abandon the six Americans he came to rescue.
  16. Tony Mendez is committed to his mission.
  17. Mr. Mendez refuses to follow orders, refuses to do what he has been ordered to do, and refuses to abandon the people he has come to Tehran to rescue.
  18. Mr. Mendez tells his boss that he is taking the six Americans with him to the airport and if the tickets to fly out of Tehran are not paid for and there waiting for them at the airport all seven of them will be found out and exposed. This upsets his boss, the Director of the C.I.A. and the President of the United States.
  19. This is a highly entertaining “feel-good” movie with lots of take-home value.

Argo begins with a recital of the history of the Shah’s mistreatment of his people.

The introduction of the movie Argo informs the viewer that ordinary people in Iran hated the Shah for good reason, that at the time of the take over of the American Embassy Iran was being exploited by big foreign oil companies, and the Shah was living in luxury (i.e., lunches flown in from Paris, the Shaw’s wife was bathing in milk baths while the Iranian people were starving.

The story told in the movie Argo makes it clear that the Iranian students who stormed the American Embassy in Tehran believed Americans had orchestrated the Shah’s rise to power through a military coup which deposed a  democratically elected president who was trying to reign in foreign exploitation of his country’s natural resources.  The students thought their takeover of the American Embassy was a necessary step to prevent another pending American intervention and further exploitation of their country.

Before I saw Argo all I remembered of those times and of the Iranian Hostage Situation was yellow ribbons hung all over America and Americans wondering how long it would be until the Americans held hostage would be returned to freedom and be able to come home to American.  I recalled that the American rescue effort had failed due to the collision of aircraft that were supposed to rescue American hostages.

I also remembered Ross Perot’s daring rescue of the American hostages.

Now, I realize America’s support of a cruel dictator and American support given to the gigantic companies that exploited Iran provoked a cascade of consequences in America, in Iran and in the entire Middle East and in the rest of the world that we all now live with.

Argo shows us there is a lot to know and a lot to remember.

Argo brings everything of historical importance about that moment in time and the Iranian Hostage Situation all together in one coherent piece and brings the movie goer back into that time in history.

Tony Mendez had honor and humanity on his side, wit in his head, skill and a higher life as his aim which enabled him to disobey his boss’s direct orders.

In Argo the people in Hollywood (played by Alan Arkin and John Goodwin) are portrayed as being highly patriotic, highly intelligent and unselfish.

Argo informs us that many of the people in Hollywood deserve our praise, are praiseworthy individuals who would conduct themselves with honor sensitivity and intelligence, unselfishly and patriotically when given the opportunity to do so.

Argo also serves the highly important diplomatic purpose of informing educated leaders in other parts of the world, especially in the fastest growing economies in the world in South America and Africa, as well as ordinary people all over the including people now living in Iran, of the above recited history, albeit Argo is a movie, not a documentary.

Movies, such as Argo, have political and commercial ramifications.

Argo is public relations for the United States.

Argo will serve as a countervailing force in the minds of elected leaders in Latin America who are well aware of and have not forgotten the effect of past unwanted disruptive USA interventions in their countries and throughout Latin America.

Before the release of the movie Argo the current thinking of leaders in Latin America (including the thinking initiated and continued by Correa, Morales, Kitchner and Rouself) did not include the thought that Americans have a strong moral fiber and backbone.  That was not their thought when they and their countries took actions as a defense against their perceived exploitation of their countries by the U.S.

The movie Argo and the story it tells illuminates the fact that there is moral fiber in America, that a great number of Americans embrace being honorable and trust worthy, and that a great number of American are living up to commitments and are actively taking moral leadership.

The thoughts of other people in the world about the moral fiber of Americans is of great importance to every American, to the living standards that will be enjoyed by Americans in the future and to the economic and world leadership America will be able to enjoy.

For example, America can not afford to have the leaders of Latin America or of Africa, or the citizens of those countries, distrust America’s intentions, integrity, morality or social conscience.

Consider the following economic facts which can be gleamed from reading the February issue of “newgeography” written by Joel Kotkin on February 18, 2013.

  • Sub-Sahara Africa over the past decade has produced six of the world’s fastest growing economies.
  • Through 2011-15, according to the International Monetary Fund, seven of the fastest growing countries will be African, and Africa as a whole will surpass the slowing growth rates in Asia, particularly China.
  • Africa already has more middle class households (defined as those with incomes of at least $20,000 per year) than India.
  • China’s former vice-minister of commerce, Wei Jianguo, recently told China Daily that Africa will eventually surpass the U.S. and the E.U. to become China’s largest trading partner.
  • With 60 million people, including a middle class of 400 million, Latin America represents one of the world’s great growth markets.
  • Over the past two years the growth in Latin America has been twice the growth and more in some countries than in the United States, Europe and Japan.
  • Latin America’s unemployment rate is 6.5 percent, well below unemployment rates in the U.S. and Europe.
  • Overall, Latin America’s combined gross domestic product is larger than that of Russia and India combined.

The release of the movie Argo rebuts the image of the Ugly American.

The true story dramatized in the movie Argo is a welcome explication and endorsement of the virtues of free-enterprise capitalism practiced in the United States which is driven by a purpose higher than maximizing profits.

The story told in Argo creates wonderful expectations and is good PR for the United States.

People live up, or down, to expectations. We all create expectations.

Affleck, in his film Argo, makes clear and unforgettable the moral assumptions upon which Affleck, the majority of Americans, and I believe people should live by.

Affleck is the real deal.  Watching Afflect’s movie Argo made me feel alive.

Argo is a wake-up call to all American politicians, to all American citizens, to all operating businesses and to all world leaders of the consequences of being dishonorable.

Django Unchained

In the tradition of Western art, Django Unchained is an object not only of enjoyment but also of self-aware contemplation.

Django Unchained delivers the simple messages that (a) slavery is bad, and (b) all people are intelligent, have the capacity to learn, can be romantic and have the capacity to be noble.

In Django Unchained, a very simple appearing black man walking in chains chained to other black men who is a slave, is set free, given ingredients for a successful life –vocational training, an education, a job in a profession, and tools to make a living.  Thereafter he becomes a big commercial success in his trade, and rises to the opportunity afforded to him to show that he is an unselfish courageous noble person.

Obviously the filmmaker who made Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino, made Django Unchained with the objective of teaching the audience a practical moral lesson and with the hope that the audience would learn the lesson taught in this film — teach a slave how to be good at a profession and give him the tools to do so and you will enable him to become a successful and noble businessman.

Great film makers, such as Quentin Tarantino, change our stance and vision.

Django Unchained is a small step taken by Tarantino to change the view of those people who think certain people, by reason of the color of their skin, are “inferior” to other people.

Django Unchained is Tarantino’s attempt to eradicate racial prejudice, to drive a nail in the coffin and bring a final death to the contagion of racial prejudice and to illuminate the value of providing a quality meaningful practical education to all people that will enable them to advance their own well-being.

Django Unchained’s financial success encourages people in the United States as well as people in the rest of the world to believe there are brilliant practical socially conscious business leaders in the United States (such as Quentin Tarantino) whose socially conscious leadership receives a hearty enthusiastic welcome from the movie going public in the United States.

People complaining about the violence depicted in Django Unchained do not understand Tarantino’s objective or the way the world works.  Many of them do not agree with Tarantino’s message that all men are entitled to be afforded dignified treatment as human beings, are entitled to be treated equally before the law and are entitled to receive an affordable free meaningful education.

Quentin Tarantino does not provide a simple prescription for fighting racial prejudice or the inequitable treatment of any particular individual or class of individuals or give a solution to fix the lack of quality education provided to children currently enrolled in the public school systems in the United States.

To the contrary, the story told in Django Unchained demonstrates that there is never a single “fix-all” solution to complicated problems in real life because life is complicated.

In the 1770’s, Diderot said in Rameau’s Nephew: in the whole kingdom everybody must dance his little cowardly dance of social flattery  Only one man walks – the King – and even he goes through contortions if he is ruled by a mistress.

So called leaders (metaphorical Kings) go through contortions in the grid-locked Congress of the United States demonstrating that [for is-guided and cowardly political reasons] intelligent people still cannot work together efficiently and effectively or demonstrate talent brilliance or leadership in solving problems of great moment.

In modern day life, we still live in a world where ordinary people are still not afforded equal opportunity.

For example, in Southern California, in the City of Baldwin Hills only 50% of the money per student spent on students in public schools in Beverly Hills (five miles away) is spent on educating students in public schools in the City of Baldwin Hills.

In Northern California, teachers who teach in the public schools in the City of Oakland can expect to be paid $10,000 per year less than teachers who teach in the public schools in the City of Palo Alto.

Such is the current state of public education in public primary schools in the “Golden State” of California.

Django Unchained demonstrates that Quentin Tarantino is not a member of the solid, cautious, unimaginative members of society who huddle together hoping they will prevent revolution or cause revolution by merely sitting still.

I recommend that you think of Quentin Tarantino as a contributor to the advancement of knowledge.

Events have taught us that the fate of each man and mankind and the human race are permanently in jeopardy.

The life of a slave portrayed in Django Unchained urges us to do something to create a more abundant life for our descendants by creating a more civilized and equitable society.

Django Unchained has tactical vigor and connectiveness.

The characters in Django Unchained (particularly Django and his teacher Dr. Schultz) teach us that creating a more civilized and equitable society is the purpose of life.

People who complain about the violence in Django Unchained are people without insight.

Being without insight, they are sitting still and only see one half of the effect of sitting still; being without imagination or foresight they do not know what will happen next; being without originality they cannot devise anything new to supply if necessary in the place of what is old.

Quentin Tarantino, on the other hand, cannot help being brilliant; the quality of his mind is to put everything in the most lively, most exciting, and most startling form.

Quentin Tarantino startles those who do not like to be startled, and does not compose those who like to be composed.

Quentin Tarantino’s movie Django Unchained forces the viewer to ask himself or herself the question, What are my priorities? and appeals to an alert public who love discussion, who delight in argument, who love the noble play of mind upon mind and who want to live in a more civilized and equitable world.

Art is so potent, “Life imitates art.”

That is why Django Unchained is a great success.

Lincoln

Steven Spielberg’s movie Lincoln taught me something new, that Lincoln bribed Congressmen to get the 13th amendment (the amendment abolishing slavery) passed by Congress.

Before watching Lincoln I thought of President Abraham Lincoln as being “Honest Abe”, a man who learned by candlelight, a man who succeeded in life by working hard.

After watching Lincoln, I now think of Abraham Lincoln as a man who could think with complete clarity of mind, who succeeded by having singular determination and single minded focus and by applying great energy, ruthless cunning, self-assertiveness and utilizing a towering intelligence in the passionate execution of well thought out plans.

Lincoln was not a clumsy country lawyer.  Lincoln had great poise. Lincoln was a supremely craft conscious genius, not an innocent.

Lincoln’s extraordinary power was to make his spirit felt.

Steven Spielberg has transcendent gifts of perception and composition.

Spielberg’s genius is to show us that Abraham Lincoln, in spite of all the pressures on him, was at home in himself, comfortable with who he was; that Lincoln was full of energy in what he felt, and that energy led Lincoln to have a purpose which propelled him.

In making us see how he perceives President Lincoln got the 13th Amendment passed, Steven Spielberg is not trying to persuade us of anything or to judge how Lincoln did it.

Spielberg is only trying to make us know more than the common uneducated and unenlightened person knows about President Lincoln so that we may enjoy and appreciate President Lincoln’s accomplishments more.

Spielberg accomplishes his goal with flying colors by showing us that Lincoln fully imagined the abolishion of slavery, fully imagined slaves becoming free men, then “willed it to happen.”

Spielberg (Lincoln) teaches us that people who “will” what they have first “fully imagined” can make it happen, and that effort, endeavor and purpose come from thinking about something, from consciousness and mental effort.  Most importantly, Spielberg teaches us in his portrayal of President Abraham Lincoln that life is not just atoms in a bag but instead consist of physical efforts that are manifestation of mental activity of thinking.

That being said, Lincoln is a work of genius with great take-home value because it illuminates the importance and power of thinking and turning thoughts into desires and then turning desires into goals and thoughtful effort.

Silver Linings Playbook

Silver Linings Playbook is the story of a man (Pat, masterfully played by Bradley Cooper) who married the wrong woman, discovered his wife naked in the shower having sex with another man when he came home, beat the shit out of that man, was prosecuted, lost his marriage, his home, his job, and temporarily lost his freedom when confined to a state mental institution as part of a plea bargain.

Silver Linings Playbook is a “comeback after losing it all story” in which a man who has “lost it all” (Pat played by Bradley Cooper) finally finds and luckily realizes he has found the right woman for him (Tiffany, masterfully played by Jennifer Lawrence).

At an intellectual level, Silver Linings Playbook teaches us that a man married to the wrong woman is not likely to find solid happiness.  But, a man united with the right woman is a complete human being who is empowered thereby to reach his full potential. Together as a couple that man and woman are more likely to succeed in the world.

Watching Silver Linings Playbook reminded me of the following point of view expressed by Benjamin Franklin in a letter dated June 25, 1745: “A single Man is not nearly the Value he would have in a State of Union.  He resembles the odd half of a pair of scissors.  If  you get a prudent healthy Wife, your Industry in your Profession, with her good Economy, will be a Fortune sufficient.”  That was the major point made in Silver Linings Playbook.

By the way, Benjamin Franklin preferred old Women to young ones, “Because as they have more knowledge of the World and their Minds are better stor’d with Observations, their Conversation is more improving and lastingly agreeable… They study to be good.  To maintain their influence over Men, they supply the Diminution of Beauty by an Augmentation of Utility.” 

It is those wonderful traits Tiffany portrayed which captures Pat’s (Bradley Cooper’s) heart in Silver Linings Playbook.

Watching Pat reluctantly fall in love with Tiffany in Silver Linings Playbook is very enjoyable and entertaining.

Silver Linings Playbook skillfully molds our thoughts and enchantingly gives color and shape to our desires while promoting healthy sensitive self-awareness and mutually beneficial awareness of others.

Silver Linings Playbook is a skillfully written movie, well directed by a highly skilled director which is artistically performed to the highest level of acting by a masterly casted ensemble of highly talented actors.

All of these factors combined is what makes Silver Lining Playbook a great movie and a healthy fulfilling and delightful movie to watch.

Zero Dark Thirty

You can always tell the stature of a movie by the stature of its critics.

Zero Dark Thirty has high stature by virtue of being criticized by United States Senators Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain.

Additionally, Acting C.I.A. Chief Michael Morell has criticized Zero Dark Thirty.

On the other hand, former C.I.A. Chief Leon Panetta said Zero Dark Thirty got many things right.

Zero Dark Thirty is about the use of torture by the C.I.A., the torturing people by the C.I.A. of people captured by the C.I.A. and/or captured by the armed forces of the United States.

I agree with Richard Cohen statement in the January 28, 2013 issue of the Washington Post, “What the film says is really less important than what is being said about it. In the category of ‘thought-provoking’ it deserves an Oscar.”

One measure of the “worth” of a movie is power of a movie, its influence on the world through its effect on the soul of the beholder.

Zero Dark Thirty has sparked a national debate on the use, effectiveness, short term benefits and detriments as well as the long term consequences of the United States using torture as an interrogation technique.

By any measure Zero Dark Thirty is a very important movie.

Update

In the February 25, 2013 issue of the Los Angeles Times is an article with the headlines, Karzi bans U.S Troops in key area and Karzi accuses U.S. troops of torture. Quoting: “Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday ordered U.S. special forces troops to cease operations in a strategic southern province, accusing the Americans and Afghans working for them of torturing and abducting civilians….It was the latest example of strained relations between the United States and Karzai’s government, and the latest dispute to damage U.S. efforts to achieve a smooth withdrawal of the remaining 60,000 American troops in Afghanistan by the end of the year.  The Obama administration has long viewed Karzai as an undesirable partner, and has complained repeatedly about widespread allegations of corruption involving those close to the Afghan leader.

In the January 21, 2013 issue of the Los Angeles Times is an article in which a United Nation’s report alleges Afghan abuse of prisoners.  According to that report suspected insurgents continued to be tortured in numerous Afghan detention facilities.  They are subjected to severe beatings and electric shocks.  Many of the suspected fighters who have ended up in Afghan custody were captured by U.S. and allied troops and then turned over to the Afghans.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai maintains that the handling of detainees is a question of national sovereignty.

Les Miserables

Although Les Miserables has outstanding sets, outstanding costuming, outstanding hair and make-up, and outstanding actors, Les Miserables is not an exciting movie.

Les Miserables is not an invigorating movie. It does not create excitement nor does it provoke self-aware contemplation or conversation with others.

Les Miserables accurately depicts life in a very dreary time, when many people living in Paris and the French countryside were starving.

However, Les Miserables does not have tactical vigor or connectiveness.

Furthermore, although many of the the characters in Les Miserables are noble people who make unbelievable sacrifice (i.e. a mother who becomes a whore and sells the teeth in her mouth to earn money to support her daughter, and a rich man who gives up his power position and wealth so that another man wrongfully accused of something will not be sent to jail) the characters portrayed in Les Miserables do not seem like real live people.

As a result, although the story and sub-stories portrayed in Les Miserables portray the noble actions of people who do good and are worthy of our admiration, the story and sub-stories portrayed in this movie do not capture the viewers attention.

Very few people in the audience watching Les Miserables, if indeed anyone in the audience, will care about what the actors are doing or will want to know what the actors will be doing next.

Unless you know the story told by Victor Hugo in his book (Les Miserables), most audiences will be unable to make sense of the movie (Les Miserables), perhaps because it is a musical and because it is not a dramatic production.   As a result of a failed effort to make a musical out of a very dramatic novel many people who see Les Miserables will be able to relate to why the characters do what they do.

This is not a Sylvester Stallone movie.  Unlike a Stallone movie most audiences will not be able to relate to what the actors are doing.

As a result of lack of character development a typical  Les Miserables audience is unable to believe the noble sentiments which propel where the actors are coming from, how the actors think, and why the actors think the way they think.

Les Miserables does not flow along smoothly from a beginning to a middle to an end.  As a result, the audience becomes exhausted watching and listening to great actors – who are at most mediocre singers – singing songs designed to turn a great novel into a musical while delivering stellar acting performances in scene after scene while the story jumps from one scene after another connection to one another and without continuity of plot.

In order words, Les Miserables is a poorly sung musical incoherently staged as a dramatic story.

While watching this movie, most viewers will quickly become bogged down in confusion.

At the end of watching this movie it is clear that both the film maker and movie goer have both wasted their time.

For a different type of movie experience brought about by the brilliant adaptation of a great novel as a movie I highly recommend watching Midnight’s Children.

 Midnight’s Children is the product of a momentous collaboration between director Deepa Metha (a fearless filmmaker) and Salman Rushdie (one of the world’s most imaginative and controversial novelists).

Midnight’s Children is an epic.  It is a movie of gigantic proportions that tells a story which has many twists and turns and in which all the scenes are seamlessly woven together in an engaging dramatic and sensible manner.

Midnight’s Children brings romance, spectacle, intrigue and social commentary together in a most exciting, dramatic, engaging and agreeable manner.

To experience a worthwhile and enjoyable lesson in how a movie can masterfully develop characters, I recommend watching The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

The main character is The Reluctant Fundamentalist is, as are the main characters in Les Miserables, true to himself and lives his life with dignity.

Unlike Les Miserables,  The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a totally engaging movie that makes sense, touches the viewer’s soul, has taken home value, stimulates lively and worthwhile self-examination and conversation and will influence people’s conduct in the real world.

A movie critic at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival proclaimed, “… The Reluctant Fundamentalist promises to be one of the most talked about films of the year.”

The characters portrayed/played by Mendez, Arkin and Goodman in Argo were made so lovable by filmmaker-director Ben Affleck and by screenwriter Chris Terrio that the audience was able to relate to those characters  merely by watching what the the actors did as the story developed without Argo taking up any of the audience’s time explaining why the actors did what they did, or why the actors were doing what they were doing or why what the actors were doing in the story portrayed in the movie was part and parcel of their being.  That is the effect that good tone good rhythm good structure and good organization — which are the components which underlies good story telling achieves -and is that effect that movie makers, directors, screenwriters, and actors should seek to achieve.

All of  elements of good story telling, great directing, great screen writing, great cinematography, great editing and great acting are abundantly present in Margarethe von Trotta’s masterful film Hannah Arendt.


In Hannah Arendt, actress Barbara Sukowa, without speaking a word, fully inhabits the role of Hannah Arendt. Hannah Arendt’s life was not lacking in drama.  Hannah Arendt is considered one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century.

Among other things, Hannah Arendt said that the number of Jews killed by the Nazis would have been much smaller if Jewish leaders in each territory occupied by the Nazis had not cooperated with the Nazis.

With respect to Eichmann, Hannah Arendt said Eichmann was just a normal non-thinking man following orders and a completely mediocre person. Arendt also said that totalitarianism is designed to take away all human impulse, to make people into non-persons, into people who do not think.

Following the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem, Arendt formulated the concept of the “banality of evil” — evil not as diabolical intent but as an unthinking, almost off-handed ignorance of the consequences of one’s actions.  Arendt said, “The greatest evil is the evil committed by nobodies, that is by human beings who refuse to be persons.”

Without speaking a word Actress Barbara Sukowa conveys the isolation, fierce determination and brilliance of Hannah Arendt.

After watching Hannah Arendt, I wanted to know more about Hannah Arendt (about her life) and to read the books, essays and letters she had written during her life time.

I learned many things and was exposed to many ideas that were knew to me by watching Hannah Arendt.

I did not learn anything by watching Les Miserables. 

Watching Les Miserables did not create any desire on my part to learn anything or to do anything.

Watching the movie Les Miserables did not move me to do anything.

Les Miserables is an unremarkable film.  Hannah Arendt, on the other hand, is a remarkable film

Watching Hannah Arendt moved me.  In that regard, soon after watching Hannah Arendt I purchased several books written by Hannah Arendt and several books containing essays and letters she had written during her life-time.

I learned a lot and enjoyed and have been inspired by reading each one of Hannah Arendt’s books which I purchased as a result of seeing the movie Hannah Arendt.

Les Miserables should be a celebration of the lives of people.  It is not.

If you want to see a movie that is an intense celebration of the lives of people the movie is about, that has intoxicating prose and high energy, go see On the Road,  a film by Walter Salles, with a screenplay by Jose Rivera, staring Sam Riley, Garrett Hedlund, Kristen Stewart, Viggo Mortensen and Kristen Dunst — and enjoy the experience of being thoroughly invigorated while being entertained.

If you want to see a meaningful romantic movie, a love story about a noble unselfish man that will keep you spellbound and on the edge of your seat, see Sergio Costelitto’s film Twice Born staring Penelope Cruz, Emile Hirsch, Adnan Haskovic, Saadet Aksoy, Pietro Castelitto, Luca De Filippo, Sergeo Castellito, Jane Berkin, Mira Furlan and Jovan Diviak.

There were many great movies released in 2012, Les Miserables was not one of them.

Armour

I did not see this movie.

I understand from people who saw this movie that this movie is so realistic and engaging that it makes the viewer contemplate his or her own mortality.

That tells me that this movie has good tone, good rhythm, good structure, good organization and is an excellent execution of a creative vision.

Life of Pi

Life of Pi is a technological marvel.  In this movie a boy and a tiger are shipwrecked and then drift aimlessly together in an ocean that is sometimes calm and at other times choppy.

The movie is an amazing technological accomplishment in that the tiger looks and acts real although during almost the entire movie the tiger the tiger the audience sees on the screen is a computer generated image.

The movie is a cinematic wonder in that while the audience watches the boy and tiger floating aimlessly in a frequently bobbing and rocking small boat the audience does not get sea sick.

Putting aside the technological accomplishment of creating a movie that has a real appearing animated computer generated tiger and many types of computer generated fish that look real, watching this movie is not an enjoyable experience.

Watching Life of Pi is not an enjoyable experience because Life of Pi is a metaphor that stands for the propositions that the fittest survive and that it takes forced effort to survive.

But aside that lesson, which is not well taught in the Life of Pi, the Life of Pi is a aimless boring movie that has no plot.

During the entire time one watches the movie one is struck by how the main characters in this movie (a boy an a tiger) are unreal and unbelievable characters.

The story portrayed on Life of Pi literally and figuratively goes no where.

Life of Pi has no take-home value, is not entertaining and although Life of Pi is a technological wonder of the world of film making with computers it is of no sociological significance.

If you want to see a poetic demonstration of the power of photography and narration see Terrence Malick’s film To The Wonder staring Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams and Olga Kurylenko. This film tells the story of a cold man (Ben Affleck) who cannot commit to beautiful women (Olga Kurylenko and Rachel McAdams) who give him unconditioned love and of a priest (Javier Bardem) who is full of despair because he doesn’t feel the presence of God or connection of God.

To the Wonder, unlike Life of Pi, is visual poetry.

To the Wonder is magical. Life of Pi is not.

To the Wonder is a poetic demonstration of the power of photography; To the Wonder is visual poetry, Life of Pi is not.

Beast of the Southern Wild

This is a cute entertaining movie about a little six year old girl who is comfortable in her own skin and in her own life as she bravely faces a life of poverty living in post-Katrina Louisiana lagoon after disaster strikes with no fear of hurricanes or poverty.

This movie is extremely entertaining but has no take home value.

The Master

 In this movie, Joaquin Phonenix is a totally convincing (believable) whacked out crazy veteran of World War II and Philip Seymour Hoffman is a totally believable cult leader.

No-one can doubt their acting genius after seeing this movie.

My criticism of this movie is that the story told in this movie is fatiguing, takes too much effort to understand.

Therefore, it will have little or no influence on the world and many people will find it has no take home value and is not entertaining.

Many viewers will find this movie boring, dreary and a horrible experience.  They will want to escape during the showing because the movie and the story it is telling will make no sense to them.

Comments on Judging

Some people have told me that President Lincoln was the worse president in United States history because of the tremendous loss of life and property in the Civil War and that the movie Lincoln is a horrible movie because it sustains President Lincoln’s reputation as being the best United States president.

Other people have told me that President Lincoln was the best president in United States history because President Lincoln took the long view of how life would be in a future if slavery was abolished now vs. if slavery was not abolished now in all parts of the United States.

Those people believe President Lincoln is an inspiration for all people for all time.

Those people have told me they believe that the portrayal of President Lincoln making the statement quoted in the next paragraph makes the movie Lincoln the best movie released in 2012.

In the movie Lincoln, President Lincoln states, words to the effect, that “what we are doing here if we abolish slavery is not just for the benefit of people who are currently slaves but for their children and future generations.”

The ability to judge this right and that wrong, this good and that bad, this movie is the best movie and that movie is the second best movie, etc. first and foremost depends upon the self-understanding of the judge.

The precondition of judging is the ability to imagine before your eyes the others whom your judgment represents (who your judgment speaks for) and to whom and to what force and activity your judgment is responding to.

Judgment is a sort of balancing activity in which the scales of justice weigh the stability of the world.

In the regard, the United States Supreme Court currently has before it a case (Shelby County v. Holder, No. 12-96) which challenges the central provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which prevents nine states from changing voting procedures without getting permission from federal officials.

By the way, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, does not only apply to states in the South.  It also specifically applies to the boroughs of Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 grew out of the legacies of and lessons learned from slavery, the Civil War and the civil rights movement.

In Shelby v. Holder, No. 12-96, the nine justices of the United States Supreme Court are being “required/asked” to answer the following questions, among others:

  1. Has the modern South outgrown its troubled past and/or are the legal burdens on the nine states still justified?
  2. Are citizens in the South more racist than citizens in the North?
  3. Are the nine states subject to the “Act” “independent sovereigns” or must they continue to live “under the trusteeship of the United States government?”
  4. Has racial discrimination in voting ended, that there is none anywhere in the United States?  Has the problem to which the Voting Rights Act was addressed been solved?

According to a recent article in the New York Times: If the Justices strike down that law’s central provision, it would be easier for lawmakers in the nine states to enact the kind of laws Republicans in several states have recently advocated, including tighter identification standards.  It would also give those states more flexibility to move polling places and redraw legislative districts.

Of course the Civil War was aimed at treating some states differently than others.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, which joined the government in defending the law, argues: This statute is in part about our march through history to keep promises that our constitution says for too long were unmet.”

The United States lived through 200 years of slavery and 80 years of racial segregation before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 came into being.

Massachusetts, which is not covered by the statute, has the worse ratio of white voter turnout to African-American voter turnout.

Mississippi, which is covered by the statute, has the best ratio of African-American turnout, with African-American turnout exceeding that of whites.

Times change.

The judgments that you and I and everyone else make are determined in large part by the forces, events and personalities that shape our lives and the era in which we live.

Movies shape our lives.

The history we experience (including the movies we see and talk about) is the backdrop to our lives and largely defines, enables or limits all that we do and do not do.

Happy movie going.

Gary S. Smolker, Publisher
Gary Smolker Idea Exchange Blog
http://www.garysmolker.wordpress.com
 

Copyright (c) 2013 by Gary S. Smolker

About Gary S. Smolker

PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY: No enterprise can exist for itself alone. Every successful enterprise ministers to some great need, it performs some great service, not for itself, but for others. Otherwise, it ceases to be profitable and ceases to exist. Imagination, open mindedness and flexibility are the most important factors in unlocking potential. Those who embrace innovation, improvisation, continuous learning, time management, are action oriented, high energy, passionate, creative, purposeful and intense individuals are best equipped to succeed. We all have ideas and the ability to make progress by sharing information and our ideas and also by changing our ideas when appropriate. We should always be on the lookout for teaching and mentoring moments. We hold time like water in our hands; however tightly we clench our fingers, it drips away. But, if it falls on a seed, a seed may grow to become something that will have a positive social impact. PERSONAL INTERESTS: I have a passion to learn, to innovate, to lead, to mentor and to teach. I seek to write things worth reading and want to do things worth writing about. I enjoy (a) driving a fast car, (b) having intense conversations (c) teaching/mentoring, (d) reading and (e) being involved in productive activity. PERSONAL: I believe in cultivating and backing passionate people, innovation, and old fashioned good ideas. I love making human connections and spreading good ideas. I am strongly motivated to achieve in situations in which independence of thought and action are called for. PERSONAL GOALS: I want to live life vibrantly, to be as sharp as a tack until my last breath and to change the world by being me. My personal goal is to be fully engaged in life, to lead by example, to set high standards and to continue to amass firsthand experience and knowledge in all that interests me. PERSONALITY: I love fun and mischief. I relish absurdity. I have an irreverent, facetious and satiric disposition. I dread boredom. I have spent a lifetime reading. I have no bias against people who have lived successful and/or complicated lives. I write to release tension, to get things off my chest. SOCIAL MEDIA: I post articles on the "Gary S. Smolker Idea Exchange" blog at www.garysmolker.wordpress.com, and "Dude's Guide to Women's Shoes" at www.dudesguidetowomensshoes.com. I also post images and comments on Instagram @garyspassion. CONTACT INFORMATION: Gary Smolker, Smolker Law Firm, 16055 Ventura Blvd., Ste 525, Encino, California, 91436-2609, USA. Phone 1-818-788-7290, e-mail GSmolker@aol.com.

Posted on February 22, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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