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“CFI-Friendly” Movie Reviews (Merged)
Posted: 21 July 2008 12:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 61 ]
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Lately I’ve been intrigued by movies about con jobs.  It seems like we are bombarded with declarations about “other ways of knowing” which, whether they be astrological predictions, new age hokum, religious visions or scams, all seem to spring from the same well of misguided thought.  The first three movies are all based on true stories and the forth is a documentary.

Number one on the hit parade is “Quiz Show,” which is about the fixing of the enormously popular game shows of the 1950s.  Robert Redford directs an all-star cast in masterful dramatization of greed in the television industry.  The acting is superb and the drama is edge-of-the-seat.  John Turturro is a wonder as the Jewish nerd-genius Herb Stemple, and Ralph Fiennes embodies his antithesis, the pretty boy WASP Charles Van Doren who television and everyone else needs to love.

Next is “Shattered Glass,” about David Glass, the writer who scammed The New Republic, the in-flight magazine of Air Force One, with a series of sensational “true” stories that were pure fiction.  Where Quiz Show turned on a smart government attorney who unraveled the con through dogged legwork, Shattered Glass hinges on a newly promoted editor who is far less popular than the writer he wants to believe, but can’t.  Anyone who is upset with Hayden Christianson for his wooden acting in the Star Wars prequels will be pleased with his redemption as David Glass.  Extras on the DVD feature interviews with the real-life Glass.

Leonardo Di Caprio is thrilling as he evolves from self-assured teenager to self-absorbed wreck in “Catch Me If You Can,” the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr. who had more poses—teacher, airline pilot, doctor and ultimately true-life jailbird—than a runway model.  Some people were upset by Tom Hanks’ performance, playing the stiff-backed FBI man who chases Abignal, but he’s actually doing a fine job in a thankless role. 
Last, is a documentary called “Con Man” about James Hoag whose moral compass never points anywhere, it just spins round and round.  Hoag conned his way into Princeton, where he did very well until his downfall.  This may sound rather dull, but we’re trying to avoid spoilers here.  The tale of how he conned his way from high school to Princeton and what happened afterward make this a highly engaging tale of a con job that really didn’t seem to hurt anything except for the sensibilities of the conned.  After we learn all about him, including the early college experience that cost him his self-control, the real-life Hoag appears in the documentary attempting to make sense of something that makes little sense at all.

Underlying all of these movies is a tragic will to believe that props up almost everything we read about in the skeptical publications.  As for these con artists, their minds are like visiting an alien world for a rationalist.

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Posted: 28 July 2008 09:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 62 ]
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War Made Easy is a queasy documentary.  Sure it’s preaching to the converted about the evils of the media, but as one of the converted, I could only watch this doc in a series 20-minute intervals since its topic, media complicity in bringing the USA into every war since WW2, was so stomach churning.  This is meant to be a positive review of the doc, but how much reality can a poor skeptic take!

The doc scores points for fine juxtaposition between the words of GWB and those of LBJ as champions of Iraq II and the Vietnam wars respectively.  It also scores points for quick cuts as when it explains how Fox, CNN, MSNBC and PBS slobbered all over themselves to open the door for GWB to slaughter more Iraqis than Saddam could ever dream of.  The documenary, for example, makes the point that in leading up to war, the “news” outlets stormed through the Pentagon to scrape up every general they could find to support the idea of invading Iraq.  Then General Talkinghead after General Talkinghead, including the self-disgraced Colin Powell, is shown in quick succession doing on-air blah-blah-blah about Saddam’s weapons of mass distruction.  Our roads to war are indeed paved with media-supported propaganda.

This is the best sickening documentary since Michael Moore’s Sicko.

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Posted: 11 September 2008 11:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 63 ]
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I thought Vantage Point made a good CFI-friendly movie.  A lot of what we’re about is tied to points of view where some see the world as a mish-mash of gods, demons and supernatural explanations and others see it as natural and explicable.

Vantage Point is a thriller told fom various points of view of those who witness a presidential assination and terrorist bombing at an important political conference in Spain.  Fantastic, no, astonishing (!) editing elevates this above the run of the mill kill-the-president movies.  Here we have several people witnessing the same event.  Each experiences it differently yet the movie weaves their experiences into a whole in a manner quite unlike any other movie we’ve seen before.

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