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Progressive Politics in Minnesota, the Nation, and the World

2015 Oscar Nominated Movies - My Take On Seeing Them All

Category: Society
Posted: 02/20/15 23:32

by Dave Mindeman

OK - I'm going to do a little change of pace here just for fun. One of the nice advantages of retiring is that you have time to really do what you want. This year I decided to make a point of watching all of the Academy Award Nominated Films for 2015. It took some planning, time, and at todays theatre prices a bit of an investment.

Not being an expert on movie production, you can take all this with a grain of salt, but maybe something might pique your interest to see one of these. Anyway here is a brief review of ths year's nominated films.... in no particular order.

1. Boyhood - The interesting thing about this movie is the way it was made. It literally took over 15 years to make because the director took a boy actor and used him as the lead character throughout his period of growing up. The story revolved around a blended family with all the possible ups and downs that divorced parents and their new spouses bring to the table. There were no big life changing moments but focused on the day to day happenings that do the real shaping of our lives. It was fun to watch this kid grow up - but the story seemed a bit disjointed at times. Still if you want reality in your movie, this would meet your needs.

2. American Sniper -Bradley Cooper was spectacular in this movie. I know there has been a lot of controversy about the portrayal of the Iraq War, but I took it as a character study of a complicated soldier, who believed in what he was doing but paid a deep psychological price from all those tours of combat. Although the movie refused to go into the reasons we were there, it did give a clearer picture of the pressure we put on our soldiers during this long decade (and more) war. I don't doubt that this door to door warfare changed people and the movie tried to center on what Chris Kyle did to cope with it. It also gave a vivid portrayal of what his family back home had to deal with as well. I thought it was very good.

3. Birdman - This was a very unique film and I doubt very many could pull off a complicated lead character like Michael Keaton does here. The artistic moves in this film are worth noting. It is mostly set in a Broadway theatre and we spend a lot of time in the winding corridors in its lower level. The lighting in the film actually plays a part. Sometimes the conversations are in near darkness with shafts of light that add to the intensity of the dialogue. The "Birdman" character (a reference to when the character played a superhero of that name in blockbuster movies) is a demon from Keaton's past and also his only real claim to fame. He desperately wants to be recognized for being an artist and it consumes him and everyone around him. Sometimes it is hard to know if they are in actual reality or following his fantasy. The movie keeps you guessing and the dialogue is intense. It might get Keaton that Oscar nod.

4. Grand Budapest Hotel - This is the only pure comedy in the nominated group and it was very funny. Ralph Fiennes makes this work, showing some great comedic talent. The European scenery is a pleasure and the story is a complete, but delightful farce. The film makes you suspend belief in the entire story line as you wait for the next pitfall to develop. Ed Norton and Jeff Goldblum have small parts in which they blend in without overplaying the role. Wes Anderson was nominated for director and adapted screenplay in this movie. I do expect he will win the screenplay Oscar.

5. Selma - This movie got snubbed in all the other categories and I think that was a shame. Martin Luther King was played by a British born actor, but when he spoke, it was like you were hearing a recording. There has been some flak about the way LBJ was portrayed, but there isn't much question that the Johnson administration had been dragging its feet on voting rights in the South. I think he was more sympathetic to the cause than the movie might suggest, but the overall tone was clear about how difficult it was to get the nation's attention on the subject. The graphic portrayal of the beatings that occurred on the Edmund Pettys Bridge struck a nerve even as it did when it happened in 1965. It was a powerful movie and even with some creative license, it still resonates today almost as much as it did then.

6. The Imitation Game - Another character study. This time a real person in Alan Turing. The man who broke the German Enigma Code in WWII. Although he might be the biggest reason the Allies won the war, he ended up in prison after the war. His crime? He was gay. His life was also affected by his ability to fit in and many believe that he had Asperger's syndrome, although that is still a bit controversial. His inability to accept someone else's authority got him into trouble in a military situation, and he had little time for people who did not understand his long range plan. It led to a very complicated life and a very lonely, tragic one in the end because he lived in England....a country that believed the person he was, was illegal to be. Outstanding movie and Benedict Cumberbatch is becoming one of the elite actors of our time.

7. Theory Of Everything - This movie portrays the life of Dr. Stephen Hawking. Eddie Redmayne was incredible (and if Keaton doesn't win the Oscar, he should). It was hard to believe that he actually does not have the disease. The movie didn't dwell much on his academic career, but rather the struggles his wife and family endured in, essentially, keeping him alive. They all paid a heavy price, but their gift was giving us the life of Stephen Hawking and all the knowledge that he could still impart by sheer force of will. The movie had an interesting sound track that kept moving in the background, yet didn't overplay its hand. Might give it an Oscar in one of the sound categories. I thought Felicity Jones should get the Actress award, but everyone says Julianne Moore was just too good in "Still Alice", which I have not seen..

8. Whiplash - This movie was the only disappointment in the group to me. It was good, but very painful to watch. A talented musician (drummer) gets into the music conservatory he dreams of with an instructor that has won all the awards. But soon learns that his teaching method is to bully and abuse his students into "greatness" (as he puts it). The student has his own flaws because he is so obsessed with being the greatest drummer since Buddy Rich that he destroys all of his other relationships and is left with attempting to please a person who is incapable of giving a compliment or satisfaction. It was painful to watch two people self destructing in such an abusive fashion. The teacher, J.K. Simmons is expected to win the supporting actor category (although he was the lead actor as far as I'm concerned), and I would think he will. He made me hate him so much.


Best Picture - Birdman
Best Actor - Eddie Redmayne
Best Actress - Julianne Moore (the buzz is too high)
Best Supporting Actress - Keira Knightley
Best Supporting Actor - J.K. Simmons

All great movies worth seeing.
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The Myth Of America - Part I - The Dream Of Success

Category: Society
Posted: 02/15/15 19:14

by Dave Mindeman

It is a political mantra that is meant to inspire followers and repeated in every political cycle - If you work hard and play by the rules, you can succeed in America.

However, if you equate success with a comfortable living or wealth, then you would be wrong in your assumption.

Yes, on occasion, people who work hard will find a path to success, but the vast majority of people who, indeed, work very, very hard barely make ends meet.

The 1%, the bastions of wealth in America, didn't work hard to accumulate their wealth. The Walton family, the richest people in the world, inherited their wealth from Sam Walton, the founder of WalMart - a man who did work hard and took all the risks. His descendants did not.

The Koch Brothers have certainly built an empire that started with a large inheritance, but working hard to achieve it? Hardly.

And a more recent, local example is young Stewart Mills III, heir to the Mills Fleet Farm fortune. He tried to make a case of his own struggle of working hard, from the ground up, in his family's business. But it is not the same thing to struggle in a low level job with your future already guaranteed and your financial status secure.

America may be a land of promise - but the actual fulfillment of hard work to a lasting reward is a myth...a fantasy.

Over the years, the deck has been stacked against Americans who want to build a successful life. Yes, they have a better chance if they work hard - but it is far from some kind of guarantee. Their best hope is to get slightly ahead- enough that they can give their children a chance to get slightly ahead as well.

The 1% of this country have used their wealth to protect themselves. And hinder the rest of us. They fight taxes. They give the advantage to inheritance. They handicap their competition. They specify laws to their advantage. And they buy the political process.

America is more like the Russian oligarchy. We are ruled by the wealthy class.

Politicians perpetuate this myth, because they need support from the other 99% to get elected. That is the only difference in America from countries run by the wealthy class. In America, we still have the vote. The means to make real change. To place a check on the power of the few.

But that is also in danger as well. Those that seek power understand the danger of the vote. And they have worked to put obstacles in the path that threatens that hold on power. That is the next discussion.
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Theocracy, Be It Christian or Muslim, Must Be Rejected

Category: Society
Posted: 02/02/15 14:15

by Dave Mindeman

Mike Huckabee mixes religion and politics a lot. His latest foray involves revisiting gay marriage in the Republican Party/Christian orthodoxy...

Asking a Christian to accept same-sex marriage, Huckabee said, is "like asking someone who's Jewish to start serving bacon-wrapped shrimp in their deli."

Well, not exactly. There is a difference. You are asking a Jewish person to go against his beliefs. What Huckabee wants to do is make everyone follow HIS Christian beliefs.

Huckabee doesn't have to accept gay marriage. Please don't, you would be a bigger hypocrite than you are already. But you have no right to force everyone to abide by your personal belief.

I don't understand why the evangelical take on gay marriage is not compared to the Muslim world on Islamic law. Islamist extremists expect everyone to abide by their religious doctrine - how is that different from Huckabee's idea that everyone has to accept his ideas on gay marriage? Yes, I agree that the scale of Islamic extremist violence should be abhorred, but the political philosophy with both extreme Christianity and extreme Islam is very much the same. And just as rigid.

Many theocratic ideas in Christianity have the same extremist philosophy as theocratic ideas in Islam. I imagine there will be some Christians that will take offense at that, but I have difficulty seeing the difference.

Anti-choice activists kill doctors and bomb abortion clinics. Is that not extremist terrorism? How is imposing Christian dogma into our political system different from demanding adherence to Sharia law in Arab countries?

Basic Christian and Islamic philosophy adhere to a message of peace. And in both religions there are extreme activists who demand more and demand that it be imposed on those outside of its followers.

Huckabee seems to think that he can be a Presidential contender by making the Christian religion his platform. My hope is that this country will reject that type of reasoning....and reject it soundly.
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