Saturday, March 5, 2016

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Plot: TV journalist Kim Baker goes to Kabul, Afghanistan during the war with the Taliban. It shows her struggling in Kabul with the people, the war, and the restrictions of women with the help of fixer Ali (Alfred Molina). She meets reporters Tanya (Margot Robbie) and Iain (Martin Freeman) and they talk about stories and drink too much. It's based on a memoir with a series of incidents rather than a traditional dramatic structure with a climatic conclusion. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: The best part is Kim's character who faces improbable challenges one ofter another. The drama is her growth and development.  I am told the original book is funny. The humor arises for the weird situations like a sitcom.

It's based on a memoir, so it's based on a series of incidents in chronological order. This means there is no overarching plot with its climatic ending, and this makes it less satisfying somehow. People complain that all movies are the same, but when a movie isn't the same -- people say something is the matter with it.

Aside from Tina Fey's performance, Margot Robbie and Martin Freeman are fine, perhaps a little too "large" and comedic for a drama. They don't get any dramatic lines.

Now that I've seen it, I can't name any favorite scenes. 

Cast: Tina Fey, Margot Robbie, Martin Freeman, Alfred Molina

Directed by:
Glenn Ficarra and John Requa

Based on the book by:
Kim Barker called The Taliban Shuffle

The Visuals:
The scenes of Kabul and the countryside were spectacular. 

2.0 stars: Sort of the definition of a two star movie with high spot and low spots. It was OK. I thought it was fun to see. 

More: At right is the real Kim Baker" (actually Barker), who was a newspaper correspondent for the Chicago Tribune in Kabul during the aughts. She is a Metro reporter for the NY Times now. 

Even More: None of the filming was in the Middle East. Kabul scenes were in shot in Albuquerque.

Yet More: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a dumb name for a movie.


Sunday, February 28, 2016


Plot: Galton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was a communist Hollywood writer who was blacklisted for studio work during the 1950's anti-Soviet Cold War, along with many others. It shows his early activism with Arlen Hird (Louis CK), studio politics with John Wayne (David James Elliott), Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) & Edward G Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his struggle to make money while blacklisted by using a series of pseudonyms. While blacklisted Trumbo worked maniacally at home creating drama with wife Cleo (Diane Lane), daughter Nika (Elle Fanning) and his other kids. [imdb]    [photos]

Review: Trumbo shows how 1950's America was another world from today: a world where post-war fear created government oppression seemingly greater than that found today. (See Even More below.) Alan Cranston's dramatic acting and scriptwriter McNamara's powerful dialog provide weightness to the Hollywood blacklisting events. The dialog often sounds like quotes from real events with the stilted voice and elevated word choice of a master writer. 

Having said all this good stuff, Trumbo is about the political establishment trying to limit the movie industry's influence on the populous. Politicians did not understand the expanding mass entertainment industry, but they knew the writers controlled the message, and they put their thumb down on them.

Trumbo was sent to jail, and was a political prisoner. Certainly there is less overt political imprisonment today, though some terrorism suspects probably qualify.  Trumbo begins with a political struggle, but it is more free speech, and an Occupy Wall Street or Bernie Sanders redistribution theme. In the end Trumbo loses his politics in order to pay his bills and also to get an Oscar. Getting an Oscar seems sold out to me.  In the end Trumbo pulls its punches, and pushes a message of individual civil liberty especially free speech.

Cast: Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Louis CK, Diane Lane, Michael Stuhlbarg, 

Directed by:
Jay Roach

Written by:
John McNamara, based on the book by Bruce Cook

The Music:
Never noticed it.

The Visuals:
As mentioned, there is old footage of hearings and of movies in which the films actors are inserted in a way that they match the color and texture of the original. Difficult technically, and fun to watch. I especially liked how Dean O'Gorman was inserted into a fight scene in Spartacus. 

4.0 stars: .

More: I liked the photos at the end of the real Dalton Trumbo. Working in the bathtub is pretty strange.

Even More: In the fear-filled 1950's political oppression was heavy on communist scriptwriters, but is it really different from today's talk of Muslim bans, border walls, and bars against refugees. Was the oppression in Hollywood as bad as being shot by police in Ferguson?

My feeling during the film was that the 50's were another era, and also "How thin the distance between us and the barbarian past?" As I think about this later, many people were killed during the cold war in Vietnam or Korea or countless smaller conflicts.

How much of the cold war battle against communism was the 1% trying to hang on to their goods? I still think that the battle against Castro's Cuba was caused by the now Florida-resident former landowners trying to get their land back. They are trying to assert rights under a Feudal system in the 21st Century.

Yet More: Writer John McNamara is also the script writer for one my favorite series, The Magicians based on the books by Lev Grossman.

It doesn't stop: The Louis CK character, Arlin, wasn't real. He was a composite of five characters. The drama about cancer: not real.