Carlos (2010)



Plot Summary: Over the course of two decades, an elusive Venezuelan terrorist carries out devastating acts of politically motivated violence.

Cast: Édgar RamírezAlexander ScheerAlejandro ArroyoFadi Abi SamraAhmad Kaabour; Talal El-Jordi

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Queue It) The life of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez is extremely interesting in its own right, but the success of this project really depended upon Édgar Ramírez, who rose to the occasion in a remarkable way. Through him, the viewer can see the charismatic, ambitious, inspiring, fiery, driven, obsessed, aggressive, narcissistic, lecherous, hot-tempered, morally and ethically flexible person behind the notorious and fearsome reputation of Carlos the Jackal. One also gains pretty good insight into some of what drives, and the development of, revolutionaries, insurgents, terrorists, etc., and this series begs the question of where the line between those different classifications lies.  The project also calls out how instrumental governments have been in the success of these non-state combatants, and the ensuing hypocrisy of such governments in denouncing these individuals once their services lose enough value. Additionally, viewers can appreciate a fascinating account of the development of the Cold War from the perspective of its “front-lines” fighters and in constantly shifting international settings. In sum, this is a brilliant series about fascinating people and subjects, brought to life by excellent actors.


Changeling (2008)


(R) 2 hrs, 21 mins

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:animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)(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.

Lone Survivor (2013)

(R) 121 mins

(R) 121 mins

Plot Summary: Based on the failed June 28, 2005, mission “Operation Red Wings.”  Four members of SEAL Team 10 were tasked with the mission to capture or kill notorious Taliban leader Ahmad Shahd.

Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Peter Berg, Marcus Luttrell (book), Patrick Robinson (book)

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must Own)  When I was still on active duty in the Marine Corps, a situation involving a recon team, an isolated mountaintop, a targeted Afghani warlord, and a couple of innocent goatherders was posed to us as the perfect ethical dilemma.  A room full of officers wrestled with the theoretical frying pan and fire…self-preservation (or, more importantly, the safety of their Marines) vs. morality.  I knew then that I had to read Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10.  I was not disappointed.  I couldn’t put that book down, and I recommended it to anyone who would listen.

I’ve said this before many times, and I’ll say it again: I love sports and movies, but my heroes aren’t athletes or actors.  I was fortunate enough to serve this great Country alongside my heroes.  When I heard that this movie was being made, I couldn’t wait to see what a team of talented filmmakers dedicated to bringing proper glory to the brave men of Operation Red Wings could do with this amazing story.

Again, I was not disappointed.  As a pure action flick, this film is top-notch.  But it’s more than that.  It’s a glimpse at what some patriotic, determined men and women do for other Americans (and, more importantly, for each other), in far off lands, under uncomfortable conditions, for a mediocre paycheck and little recognition.

It took some effort for me not to get choked up during this film.  Afterwards, my girlfriend marveled, “It’s amazing how much the human body can take.”  I agreed, and added, “Even moreso, the human mind.”  Make this the next film you watch, especially if you need to get motivated to do anything remotely tough.

What would you do in the situation involving the goat herders?  I always say that if the first time you consider an ethical scenario is the moment that you’re facing it, you’re much more likely to compromise your moral code.

Hitchcock (2012)

(PG-13) 98 mins

(PG-13) 98 mins

Plot Summary: A love story between influential filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock and wife Alma Reville during the filming of Psycho (1960) in 1959.

Director: Sacha Gervasi

Writers: John J. McLaughlin (screenplay), Stephen Rebello (book)

Stars: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren, Scarlett Johansson

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  A first-rate cast executes an interesting dramatization of the making of a first-rate movie, while I wonder if the director was nervous about living up to the hype of making a movie about the movie-making process of a first-rate director.  So meta.

Abed Gets Meta


Bronson (2008)

(R) 92mins

(R) 92mins

Plot Summary: Nicolas Winding Refn‘s vivid and unflinching biopic delves into the life of Britain’s most notorious prisoner, Charlie Bronson — who’s been jailed for nearly 35 years — and attempts to dissect the real man behind the deranged persona.

Cast: Tom Hardy, Matt King, James Lance, Kelly Adams, Amanda Burton, Katy Barker

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  A creative, artistic, and interesting way to tell Bronson’s story.  The soundtrack and camera work very-appropriately compliment the tone and pace of the film.

I am not that interested in the movie’s subject matter, as Bronson appears to be a truly ridiculous manchild who perhaps could have found a better place in this world (and maybe even more happiness) as an MMA fighter or military man, were it not for a willfully uncontrolled mean streak (not a lack of discipline, though, as he seems to be able to focus and dedicate his energies to what he actually sets his sights upon).  So, in that sense, the film leaves me annoyed at its protagonist…but never bored.  This flick is like the first half of A Clockwork Orange, but without the rape.

Also, I am even more convinced that Hardy is one of the best actors of our time.  His performance is nothing short of masterful.  According to IMDB, Refn was not allowed to meet Bronson in person since Refn is not from Britain, but was allowed to have two phone calls with him.  Hardy, however, met with Bronson several times, and the two became good friends (although another IMDB post says they only met on two occasions).  Bronson was impressed with how Hardy managed to get just as muscular as he was and how well he could mimic his own personality and voice.  Bronson has stated that he believes Hardy was the only person who could play him.  “Ladies, and gentlemen in ladies’ attire,” if you want to see Hardy’s dick, here’s your chance.  It seems that Bronson loves to fight naked and greased up.  Fellas, you can admire that bad-ass moustache, which, also according to IMDB, was actually Bronson’s moustache that he shaved off so that it could be made into a loose-moustache for Hardy to wear.

Brian’s Song (2001)

(NR) 87 mins

Plot Summary: The story of professional football players Gale Sayers and Brian Piccolo, and how their friendship on and off the field was affected when Piccolo contracted a fatal disease.

Director: John Gray

Writers: Sayers (book), Al Silverman (book), William Blinn (story), Gray (teleplay), Allen Clare (teleplay)

Stars: Mekhi Phifer, Sean Maher, Paula Cale

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  This one gets by with me based on the awesomeness of the true NFL story.  I also like that it effectively portrayed some issues without over-explaining them, like the racial undertones.  Other than that, I was severely underwhelmed.  First, the cinematography was extremely low-budget.  I haven’t seen the 1971 original, but I’m guessing there’s not much of a difference in camera quality.  Also, the acting from just about everyone, even Phifer during his “shy” scenes, seemed forced.  Both Phifer and Maher were pretty charismatic, at times, however.  And although I know that this movie isn’t really about football, they really skimped on the football scenes!  I don’t know what they thought they were doing with that blurry first-person view, but it wasn’t working.  I have a feeling that if I was to see the original flick, I would downgrade my rating of this remake.

The Way Back (2010)

(PG-13) 133 mins

(PG-13) 133 mins

Plot Summary: Siberian-gulag escapees walk 4000 miles overland to freedom in India.

Director: Peter Weir

Writers: Keith R. Clarke (screenplay), Slavomir Rawicz (novel), Peter Weir (screenplay)

Stars: Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris, Colin Farrell

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Must See)  Throughout my life, I have constantly tested myself: martial arts; street fights; pledging Kappa Alpha Psi; earning my Eagle, Globe, and Anchor in the Marines; deploying to Iraq; Crossfit; Tough Mudder, Spartan Race, GoRuck Challenge…the list goes on and on…yet any time I even start thinking that I’m slightly a bad-ass, I am quickly humbled by something amazing that another human being has accomplished through sheer determination.  This film’s Plot Summary says it all.

Whenever any life event gets so tough that I want to quit, I tell myself to just take one more step…you can always take one more step…no one and nothing can make you quit but yourself.  I’d like to think that I could survive what the subjects of this film did, but I’m not 100% sure.  I’d fight to the last breath, but sometimes it’s the right combination of attributes, skills, and luck that allow you to survive something like this.  I am truly in awe of what those people survived.

Hopefully, this film will inspire you, too.  Hopefully, it will shame you out of using the words “I can’t” when you’re really saying “I’m quitting because this is too uncomfortable.”  Hopefully, you will convince at least one friend to watch this movie, so that he or she can be inspired, too.

This film also illustrates the power of community.  All of your differences seem less important when you’re put through the fire.  You may still irritate each other and fight, but some of the strongest bonds are formed through the endurance of overwhelmingly-difficult situations together.

This movie should also raise your appreciation for the freedoms that we enjoy in the United States.  It highlights the extent of the damage that the Axis did to so many people during World War II.

Finally, a bit about leadership: it is an inexact science, for which experience is invaluable.  If you are an inexperienced leader, the best thing you can do to limit the mistakes that you will inevitably make is to learn from the mistakes of others.  Read books by leaders you admire.  There are some very important takeaways about leadership in this film.  One of them is that sometimes you can be wrong, and your group may overrule you, but it doesn’t mean that they don’t trust you.  Too often, leaders become too concerned with defending their decisions, rather than recognizing when they were wrong and learning from their own mistakes.

There Will Be Blood (2007)

(R) 158 mins

(R) 158 mins

Plot Summary: A story of family, religion, hatred, oil and madness, focusing on a turn-of-the-century prospector in the early days of the business.

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Writers: Anderson (screenplay), Upton Sinclair (novel)

Stars: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano, Ciarán Hinds

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  Put quite simply: theatrical blueballs.  The acting was masterful (especially by Day-Lewis and Dano), the cinematography was great, and the score was captivating, but, 2 1/2 hours in, I was still wondering what this movie was about.

Hyde Park on Hudson (2012)

(R) 94 mins

(R) 94 mins

Plot Summary: The story of the love affair between FDR and his distant cousin Margaret “Daisy” Suckley, centered around the weekend in 1939 when the King and Queen of the United Kingdom visited upstate New York.

Director: Roger Michell

Writer: Richard Nelson

Stars: Bill Murray, Laura Linney, Olivia Williams

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Don’t Bother)  Like The King’s Speech Part 2, but without Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, or the same quality cinematography…or the same quality script…or the same…well, at least it had Murray.  I admire FDR as a President, and some of the historical events portrayed were very interesting, but I would have been just as content reading about them in a short article, rather than burning over an hour and a half on it.  This…movie…was…crazy…sssslowwwwww….

The King’s Speech (2010)

(R) 118 mins

(R) 118 mins

Plot Summary: The story of King George VI of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, his impromptu ascension to the throne and the speech therapist who helped the unsure monarch become worthy of it.

Director: Tom Hooper

Writer: David Seidler (screenplay)

Stars: Colin Firth, Helena Bonham Carter, Derek Jacobi

Serious Jest: animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd)animated beer mug 25% (transparent bkgrd) (Worth Watching)  Even having dated a speech therapist for a while, I was not extremely excited about watching what I thought would be stuffy Oscar bait about an early-20th-century British royal stutterer.  The film was a little stuffy, it was definitely (succesful) Oscar bait, and it was about a stammering duke and his petulant speech therapist (who was nowhere near as hot as the one I dated).  However, it was extremely well-acted, well-written, well-filmed…and just overall well-done.  This movie will hold your attention and teach you some history you may not already know.  It is very-much worth the 2 hours to watch, although the subject matter doesn’t exactly make it a Must See…unless you’re a 20th-century-British-history buff.