Plot Summary: At the offices of a Japanese corporation, during a party, a woman, who’s evidently a professional mistress, is found dead, apparently after some rough sex. A police detective, Web Smith is called in to investigate but before getting there, he gets a call from someone who instructs him to pick up John Connor, a former police Captain and expert on Japanese affairs. When they arrive there Web thinks that everything is obvious but Connor tells him that there’s a lot more going on.– Written by firstname.lastname@example.org
Director: Philip Kaufman
Writers: Michael Crichton (novel & screenplay), Philip Kaufman (screenplay), Michael Backes (screenplay)
Stars: Sean Connery, Wesley Snipes, Harvey Keitel
Serious Jest: (Don’t Bother) The actors are capable across the board, but the story is just very cheesy and often predictable, with some of the plot “twists” not developed enough to make sense.
Plot Summary: Teenagers at a juvenile detention center, under the leadership of their counselor, gain self-esteem by playing football together.
Director: Phil Joanou
Writers: Jeff Maguire, Jac Flanders (film “Gridiron Gang”)
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Xzibit, L. Scott Caldwell
Serious Jest: (Worth Watching) An inspiring true story. As you see in the credits, a significant number of movie quotes came straight from the real Sean Porter, who appears to be white. I guess Hollywood wanted to avoid the white-savior trope, but given how great this real-life story is, they didn’t need to reverse whitewash it…then again, Johnson played the hell out of this role (even if it’s not a huge stretch in range). And if you are a football fan like me, there was plenty of action with good camera work to maximize your enjoyment of the games.
Plot Summary: A grief-stricken mother takes on the LAPD to her own detriment when it stubbornly tries to pass off an obvious impostor as her missing child, while also refusing to give up hope that she will find him one day.
Director: Clint Eastwood
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Colm Feore, Amy Ryan
Serious Jest:(Must Watch) The film is set mostly in the 1920s, but the hokiness of some of its scenes (although, according to IMDB, “Virtually every event depicted in the film appears as cited in legal documents, with dialog often taken verbatim from court transcripts”) and its sappy score are straight out of the 1990s. However, all of that is overcome by tremendous acting performances, especially from Jolie (but not Eddie Alderson, who was not convincing as Sanford Clark), as well as by the incredible story, which is mostly true.
I can’t believe that this could happen to somebody. This is yet another frightening example of the dangers inherent in handing over unchecked power to any law enforcement organization. If we do not pay attention to history, we are doomed to repeat it.
Additionally, this story reminds me of the value of today’s technology and social media. While many complain about how much easier it is to invade someone’s privacy, it is also a lot easier to expose corruption. Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant…these cases are not a new trend developing amongst police departments. This kind of rampant corruption and abuse of authority has existed for long before anyone can remember. But now we finally have the tools to expose them.
And it’s not just the police. As an attorney, I have personally stopped a mental health professional from wrongfully committing a person to a mental health institution over what basically amounted to a petty verbal argument between the doctor and the patient.
Respect to Straczynski for getting this movie made. This is where filmmaking crosses over into activism. If someone just told you the facts of this case, you might struggle to fathom how this would play out in actuality…how many people would have to screw up, be complicit, or just flat out do nothing to perpetuate this evil…and just how many people would have to decide to do the right thing, even at risk to their own career, financial interests, or even personal safety, in order to unf*ck this mess. This movie very effectively portrays how this unfortunate situation could very plausibly go down…and while there are many more checks and balances today to help prevent some of the previous injustices from happening again, perhaps some who would previously dismiss all police corruption and mental health abuse as wild conspiracy theories might have their minds changed just a little bit by this film.
Plot Summary: A polygamist and his relationship with his three wives.
Creators: Mark V. Olsen, Will Scheffer
Stars: Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloë Sevigny
Serious Jest:(Casual Watch) I began watching Big Love for the novelty of peering into the life of a man with multiple wives, a trepidatious fantasy that I dare say all straight men imagine at some point (although further daydreaming about it often gives way to nightmares about being outnumbered and overnagged). However, I did not think that I would find a show about Mormons in Utah so interesting after that initial novelty wore off.
Well, it wasn’t long before this series showed me how ridiculous my biases were. The show grabs you with its universally human themes, and it also educates you by shedding light on both sides of explosively controversial issues that are very specific to a relatively small group of people, but nonetheless extremely important enough that we should all be aware of such issues. The storytelling is gripping, featuring: a man who built a small empire out of nothing after being cast out of a polygamist compound and onto the streets; his first wife, who bought into this way of life out of love for her husband but still struggles with her choice; his second wife, whose father is the leader of the compound and is responsible for her husband being cast out; and his third wife, who was not very religious before meeting her new family, but has found the path through her love and devotion to this family. More than anything, the themes revolve around people who are attempting to live what they believe is a righteous life, but having to hide it from the rest of society, lest they be persecuted, or even jailed.
It is hard to believe that the legal controversy over the ability of the State of Utah to not just deny polygamist marriage licenses, but to prosecute polygamists for cohabitation, did not come to a head until 2013 (see Brown v. Buhman). As mentioned above, the show presents both sides of the coin, showing how the cohabitation laws were a useful tool for law enforcement seeking to prevent the wrongful exploitation of young women within polygamist compounds and societies, but also recognizing that a significant portion of people who were just trying to freely and honestly practice their religion were arbitrarily caught in the crossfire. Ultimately, my hatred for pretext laws puts me on the side in favor of abolishing anti-cohabitation laws. We should fight the war against exploitation of young women by changing the laws concerning exploitation of young women to better facilitate prosecution of the traffickers, not by casting a wider net that also ensnares innocent people.
The execution of the above-mentioned superior storytelling was masterfully performed by a strong cast. This is the role in which I saw Paxton go from charismatic supporting actor to natural leading man. All of the actresses playing the wives bring out their character’s individual strengths and beauty, but Ginnifer Goodwin in particular delivers The Girlfriend Experience; she only gets more beautiful the more you watch her. And before she became a fantasy woman, Amanda Seyfried was soft-spoken teenage girl Sarah Henrickson, who expressed the turmoil shouldered by the children of polygamists through her big, blue-grey, brooding eyes.
Unfortunately, the brilliance of the show was overshadowed in its later seasons by over-the-top plot twists. It devolved into a hard-to-believe soap opera, and it lost a significant amount of the real-people-problems appeal that made it so relatable early on. Thus, while the first two seasons easily deserve 4 mugs, the bad aftertaste in my mouth left by the latter seasons downgrades the series to a very full 3.
Plot Summary: A New York mobster goes into hiding in rural Lillehammer in Norway after testifying against his former associates.
Creators: Eilif Skodvin, Anne Bjørnstad
Stars:Steven Van Zandt, Trond Fausa, Steinar Sagen
Serious Jest:(Casual Watch) I went into the first season hoping for The Sopranos-meets-Norway. I don’t know much about Norway, and it’s nice to get a glimpse into other countries through productions that feature them as almost a character in themselves (for example, The American). This series did a great job in featuring Norway. However, it was also pretty hokey and featured a protagonist that I did not like.
Frank Tagliano is a narcissistic, hypocritical bully, who pushes his culture and ideas of how the world should be onto everyone in his newly adopted country, stepping on hapless and sometimes innocent Norwegians for selfish gain in stereotypical American imperialist fashion. However, unlike The Sopranos, in which Tony Soprano constantly struggled with his conscience, this show glorifies Frank. I feel like I’m supposed to chuckle as he “outsmarts” (more like strong-arms) people into satisfying his every whim. Fortunately, in the second and third seasons, Frank became a little more judicious and tolerable, while other characters, such as Fausa’s Torgeir, flourish. In my opinion, Fausa carries the show. He is charismatic, funny, humble, and tough when he needs to be. He idolizes Frank, even though he is often unrewarded for his unconditional love. Most importantly, he is the conscience of the show, and through him, we are reminded of the price one pays for being or following Frankie the Fixer.
By the way, world, look out for Maria Joana
and Ida Elise Broch.
Plot Summary: The story of Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airborne division and their mission in WWII Europe from Operation Overlord through V-J Day.
Stars: Scott Grimes, Matthew Leitch, Damian Lewis
Serious Jest: (Watch It Live) As a former Marine who deployed to Iraq, this ten-episode mini-series is a must for my personal collection. In fact, I think it’s safe to say all military personnel should have it in their collections. Even if you have little to no interest in military affairs, however, you should take the time at some point in your life to watch this series all the way through.
Beautifully scripted, masterfully acted, and filmed amongst breathtaking (in many different ways) cinematography, this production, which significantly contributed to HBO‘s fast rise as the gold standard in series quality, is an amazing portrayal of the sacrifices made by troops and of the horrors of war. A healthy dose of clips from this series was played by my instructors during training ops to drive home points about all kinds of important subjects germane to war.
A few random thoughts I had while watching the project:
Everyone did such a great job acting, and the character development was top-notch. Even amongst this wonderful cast, Damian Lewis stood out, followed closely by Neal McDonough.
It was pretty awesome to see David Schwimmer play such a different role.
There are countless useful lessons to be learned from this series, especially by those who hope to lead troops someday.
Why is there so much hip firing throughout the series? Isn’t it a bit unrealistic to make some of these shots without looking down your sights?
I watched one of the most squared-away officers in the 101st return a salute sitting on his ass. This would not happen in the Marines. Is it different in the Army?
I understand very well the transition that one may go through in terms of how he/she thinks of the enemy during war. When you first get out there, you dehumanize them in your head in order to justify some of the things that you may have to do. After a while, however, there comes a point when you realize that your enemies are human beings, much like you, fighting out of a sense of duty, and just trying to make it out of this thing alive like you are. At least, I went through a transition like that, and this series did a good job of illustrating such a transition. Still, despite the respect that our soldiers may have gained for the Germans as a formidable fighting force made up of dedicated human soldiers, they were still Nazis. They were supporting some pretty foul principles. I’m not saying that our troops were wrong for regarding Nazi troops with the respect that they did during the conflict, but I wonder if my attitude toward Nazi soldiers would have softened even after we defeated them.
It would be great to have a beer with one of the living members of the 101st who fought in WWII.
After you finish watching this production, watch The Pacific. It’s even better! Then again, I’m biased. 🙂