Movie Review: The Mauritanian

Some movies are intended for consumption; others are intended to consume. The Mauritanian is of the latter sort. It will consume your thoughts long after the movie ends. The issue is torture, and more specifically the use of enhanced interrogation at Guantanamo Bay in the years following 9/11.

I’ve written before about torture, and why it is an issue that requires a more nuanced ethical approach than simple absolutism offers. The Mauritanian takes up the issue of the real life story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a man picked up in North Africa in the months following 9/11 for his alleged association with Osama Bin Ladin. He was taken to Jordan and then to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was held by the U.S. Government for 14 years (through both the Bush and Obama administrations) without charges ever being brought against him.

When I began watching this movie, I fully expected a strong helping of the typical Hollywood hubris combined with twisted facts to support a hard-left premise. What I got was something more honest and penetrating. The Bush and Obama administrations must have both thought Slahi guilty, but if they did, why not indict him and put him to trial? The suggestion offered by the movie is probably accurate: the evidence was merely circumstantial or inadmissible. And without spoiling the movie, I can say that the best evidence against Slahi was certainly and rightly inadmissible.

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Five Recent Movies with Good Messages

It had been so long since I had seen a really good movie, the thought crossed my mind that perhaps I had reached that age where I would stop liking movies. You ever wonder why your parents don’t go to the movies anymore? I’ve never heard a good explanation, but there must be a reason, right?

Well, the good news is that if there is such an age, apparently I have not reached it yet. After a long drought, I can honestly say that the last five movies I’ve watched were excellent, and all but one had a good message, and by “good” I mean one that was either consistent with Truth, promoted virtue, or asked the right questions.

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Movie Review: Nomadland

I like thoughtful movies. I long ago lost any desire for two-hour chase scenes and mind-numbing shoot-em-ups. I like movies with a message, supported by symbols and images to assist in conveying the message. I even enjoy movies with the wrong message. The Coen brothers and Woody Allen are my favorites, and I almost never agree with their message. But sometimes the message is so misguided it pollutes the whole movie. Such is the case with Nomadland.

Frances McDormand is Fern (presumably because a fern will grow almost anywhere), a widow, who, after her husband dies and the recession destroys the town where she lived, puts everything in a storage facility and sets off into the American West in a van, where she will live, stopping for a season at an RV park or national park.

For the first half of the movie we feel sorry for Fern, even though some of the sympathy is lost when she turns down the opportunity for help from the Baptists homeless ministry, subtly signaling she doesn’t really need help.

In one scene, she gathers around at an RV park site with other nomads while a more experienced woman teaches all present the finer points of defecating into a bucket because when you live in a van where else are you going to scat, in the glove box? It was at this point The Wife pulled the rip chord and told me she had had enough. I hung in there though because I knew I hadn’t got the message yet; this was not just a film about the plight of the homeless. There was something else going on here.

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Movie Review: Meloncholia

What is it with filmmakers and nihilism these days?

Melancholia, written and directed by Lars von Trier,  is another in a long line of films pimping an oversimplified view of reality paraded as thoughtful art.

The movie is divided into two parts. The first covers Justines’s (Kirsten Dunst) wedding reception and her abnormal reaction to what most people would consider one of the happiest days of their life.

The second part of the movie starts the day after the wedding and follows the response of Justine, her sister Claire and brother John’s (Kiefer Sutherland) attempts to deal emotionally with the threat of an approaching planet predicted to collide with and end all life on earth.

The message in the movie is found in the film’s implicit critique of the three characters’ responses to the impending doom.

Claire responds with fear. As a result, her husband John (Sutherland) is constantly trying to protect her from reality. “Have you been online again [reading about the approaching planet]?” he asks. John is unrealistically hopeful, naive even, in assuring his wife that the planet will pass without incident and that “scientists aren’t always right.” Continue reading “Movie Review: Meloncholia”

Movie Review: Blue Like Jazz

Blue Like Jazz, the movie based on Donald Miller’s best-selling book of the same name, opened yesterday at theaters.

The movie is based on Miller’s spiritual journey from a Texas Baptist boy to Reed College pagan and back to a more mature Christianity.

The book is a post-modern spiritual classic that is interesting and insightful, while at the same time authentic and convicting. It is, however, so good it promises more than a movie can deliver.

The movie begins by showing us Don’s (Marshall Allman) fundamentalist Baptist culture before heading off to college. The scene in Miller’s Baptist church, complete with racially insensitive puppetry to illustrate truths from the Bible, is so cringeadelic it made me want to backslide.

Shortly after arriving at Reed College, which prides itself as the most godless campus in America, Don abandons Christianity. In the movie, everything and anything is accepted at Reed, except Christianity, and Don’s desire to be accepted by others leads him away from Jesus. Continue reading “Movie Review: Blue Like Jazz”