Posts Tagged ‘academy awards’

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Learning to Love Torture, Zero Dark Thirty-Style
Seven Easy, Onscreen Steps to Making U.S. Torture and Detention Policies Once Again Palatable

By Karen J. Greenberg

On January 11th, 11 years to the day after the Bush administration opened its notorious prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow’s deeply flawed movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, opens nationwide. The filmmakers and distributors are evidently ignorant of the significance of the date — a perfect indication of the carelessness and thoughtlessness of the film, which will unfortunately substitute for actual history in the minds of many Americans.

The sad fact is that Zero Dark Thirty could have been written by the tight circle of national security advisors who counseled President George W. Bush to create the post-9/11 policies that led to Guantanamo, the global network of borrowed “black sites” that added up to an offshore universe of injustice, and the grim torture practices — euphemistically known as “enhanced interrogation techniques” — that went with them. It’s also a film that those in the Obama administration who have championed non-accountability for such shameful policies could and (evidently did) get behind. It might as well be called Back to the Future, Part IV, for the film, like the country it speaks to, seems stuck forever in that time warp moment of revenge and hubris that swept the country just after 9/11.

As its core, Bigelow’s film makes the bald-faced assertion that torture did help the United States track down the perpetrator of 9/11. Zero Dark Thirty — for anyone who doesn’t know by now — is the story of Maya (Jessica Chastain), a young CIA agent who believes that information from a detainee named Ammar will lead to bin Laden. After weeks, maybe months of torture, he does indeed provide a key bit of information that leads to another piece of information that leads… well, you get the idea. Eventually, the name of bin Laden’s courier is revealed. From the first mention of his name, Maya dedicates herself to finding him, and he finally leads the CIA to the compound where bin Laden is hiding. Of course, you know how it all ends.

However compelling the heroine’s determination to find bin Laden may be, the fact is that Bigelow has bought in, hook, line, and sinker, to the ethos of the Bush administration and its apologists. It’s as if she had followed an old government memo and decided to offer in fictional form step-by-step instructions for the creation, implementation, and selling of Bush-era torture and detention policies.

Here, then, are the seven steps that bring back the Bush administration and should help Americans learn how to love torture, Bigelow-style.

First, Rouse Fear. From its opening scene, Zero Dark Thirty equates our post-9/11 fears with the need for torture. The movie begins in darkness with the actual heartbreaking cries and screams for help of people trapped inside the towers of the World Trade Center: “I’m going to die, aren’t I?… It’s so hot. I’m burning up…” a female voice cries out. As those voices fade, the black screen yields to a full view of Ammar being roughed up by men in black ski masks and then strung up, arms wide apart.

The sounds of torture replace the desperate pleas of the victims. “Is he ever getting out?” Maya asks. “Never,” her close CIA associate Dan (Jason Clarke) answers. These are meant to be words of reassurance in response to the horrors of 9/11. Bigelow’s first step, then, is to echo former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s mantra from that now-distant moment in which he claimed the nation needed to go to “the dark side.” That was part of his impassioned demand that, given the immense threat posed by al-Qaeda, going beyond the law was the only way to seek retribution and security.

Bigelow also follows Cheney’s lead into a world of fear. The Bush administration understood that, for their global dreams, including a future invasion of Iraq, to become reality, fear was their best ally. From Terre Haute to El Paso, Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine, Americans were to be regularly reminded that they were deeply and eternally endangered by terrorists.

Bigelow similarly keeps the fear monitor bleeping whenever she can. Interspersed with the narrative of the bin Laden chase, she provides often blood-filled footage from terrorist attacks around the globe in the decade after 9/11: the 2004 bombings of oil installations in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, that killed 22; the 2005 suicide bombings in London that killed 56; the 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad that killed 54 people; and the thwarted Times Square bombing of May, 2010. We are in constant jeopardy, she wants us to remember, and uses Maya to remind us of this throughout.

Second, Undermine the Law. Torture is illegal under both American and international law. It was only pronounced “legal” in a series of secret memorandums produced by the Bush Justice Department and approved at the highest levels of the administration. (Top officials, including Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, evidently even had torture techniques demonstrated for them in the White House before green-lighting them.) Maintaining that there was no way Americans could be kept safe via purely legal methods, they asked for and were given secret legal authority to make torture the go-to option in their Global War on Terror. Yet Bigelow never even nods toward this striking rethinking of the law. She assumes the legality of the acts she portrays up close and personal, only hedging her bets toward the movie’s end when she indicates in passing that the legal system was a potential impediment to getting bin Laden. “Who the hell am I supposed to ask [for confirmation about the courier], some guy at Gitmo who’s all lawyered up?” asks Obama’s national security advisor in the filmic run-up to the raid.

Just as new policies were put in place to legalize torture, so the detention of terror suspects without charges or trials (including people who, we now know, were treated horrifically despite being innocent of anything) became a foundational act of the administration. Specifically, government lawyers were employed to create particularly tortured (if you’ll excuse the word) legal documents exempting detainees from the Geneva Conventions, thus enabling their interrogation under conditions that blatantly violated domestic and international laws.

Zero Dark Thirty accepts without hesitation or question the importance of this unconstitutional detention policy as crucial to the torture program. From the very first days of the war on terror, the U.S. government rounded up individuals globally and began to question them brutally. Whether they actually had information to reveal, whether the government had any concrete evidence against them, they held hundreds — in the end, thousands — of detainees in U.S. custody at secret CIA black sites worldwide, in the prisons of allied states known for their own torture policies, at Bagram Detention Center in Afghanistan, and of course at Guantanamo, which was the crown jewel of the Bush administration’s offshore detention system.

Dan and Maya themselves not only travel to secret black sites to obtain valuable information from detainees, but to the cages and interrogation booths at Bagram where men in those now-familiar orange jumpsuits are shown awaiting a nightmare experience. Bigelow’s film repeatedly suggests that it was crucially important for national security to keep a pool of potential information sources — those detainees — available just in case they might one day turn out to have information.

Third, Indulge in the Horror: Torture is displayed onscreen in what can only be called pornographic detail for nearly the film’s first hour. In this way, Zero Dark Thirty eerily mimics the obsessive, essentially fetishistic approach of Bush’s top officials to the subject. Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Cheney’s former Chief of Staff David Addington, and John Yoo from the Office of Legal Counsel, among others, plunged into the minutiae of “enhanced interrogation” tactics, micro-managing just what levels of abuse should and should not apply, would and would not constitute torture after 9/11.

In black site after black site, on victim after victim, the movie shows acts of torture in exquisite detail, Bigelow’s camera seeming to relish its gruesomeness: waterboarding, stress positions, beatings, sleep deprivation resulting in memory loss and severe disorientation, sexual humiliation, containment in a small box, and more. Whenever she gets the chance, Bigelow seems to take the opportunity to suggest that this mangling of human flesh and immersion in brutality on the part of Americans is at least understandable and probably worthwhile. The film’s almost subliminal message on the subject of torture should remind us of the way in which a form of sadism-as-patriotic-duty filtered down to the troops on the ground, as evidenced by the now infamous 2004 photos from Abu Ghraib of smiling American soldiers offering thumbs-up responses to their ability to humiliate and hurt captives in dog collars.

Fourth, Dehumanize the Victims. Like the national security establishment that promoted torture policies, Bigelow dehumanizes her victims. Despite repeated beatings, humiliations, and aggressive torture techniques of various sorts, Ammar never becomes even a faintly sympathetic character to anyone in the film. As a result, there is never anyone for the audience to identify with who becomes emotionally distraught over the abuses. Dehumanization was a necessary tool in promoting torture; now, it is a necessary tool in promoting Zero Dark Thirty, which desensitizes its audience in ways that should be frightening to us and make us wonder who exactly we have become in the years since 9/11.

Fifth, Never Doubt That Torture Works. Given all this, it’s a small step to touting the effectiveness of torture in eliciting the truth. “In the end, everybody breaks, bro’: it’s biology,” Dan says to his victim. He also repeats over and over, “If you lie to me, I hurt you” — meaning, “If I hurt you, you won’t lie to me.” Maya concurs, telling Ammar, bruised, bloodied, and begging for her help, that he can stop his pain by telling the truth.

How many times does the American public need to be told that torture did not yield the results the government promised? How many times does it need to be said that waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11, 183 times obviously didn’t work? How many times does it need to be pointed out that torture can — and did — produce misleading or false information, notably in the torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the Libyan who ran an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and who confessed under torture that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Sixth, Hold No One Accountable. The Obama administration made the determination that holding Bush administration figures, CIA officials, or the actual torturers responsible for what they did in a court of law was far more trouble than it might ever be worth. Instead, the president chose to move on and officially never look back. Bigelow takes advantage of this passivity to suggest to her audience that the only downside of torture is the fear of accountability. As he prepares to leave Pakistan, Dan tells Maya, “You gotta be real careful with the detainees now. Politics are changing and you don’t want to be the last one holding the dog collar when the oversight committee comes…”

The sad truth is that Zero Dark Thirty could not have been produced in its present form if any of the officials who created and implemented U.S. torture policy had been held accountable for what happened, or any genuine sunshine had been thrown upon it. With scant public debate and no public record of accountability, Bigelow feels free to leave out even a scintilla of criticism of that torture program. Her film is thus one more example of the fact that without accountability, the pernicious narrative continues, possibly gaining traction as it does.

Seventh, Employ the Media. While the Bush administration had the Fox television series 24 as a weekly reminder that torture keeps us safe, the current administration, bent on its no-accountability policy, has Bigelow’s film on its side. It’s the perfect piece of propaganda, with all the appeal that naked brutality, fear, and revenge can bring.

Hollywood and most of its critics have embraced the film. It has already been named among the best films of the year, and is considered a shoe-in for Oscar nominations. Hollywood, that one-time bastion of liberalism, has provided the final piece in the perfect blueprint for the whitewashing of torture policy. If that isn’t a happily-ever-after ending, what is?

Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School. She is the author of The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days and the co-editor of The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib.

Copyright 2013 Karen J. Greenberg (used with permission)

 

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Zero Dark Thirty: Torturing the Facts

by Marjorie Cohn

On January 11, eleven years to the day after George W. Bush sent the first detainees to Guantanamo, the Oscar-nominated film Zero Dark Thirty is making its national debut. Zero Dark Thirty is disturbing for two reasons. First and foremost, it leaves the viewer with the erroneous impression that torture helped the CIA find bin Laden’s hiding place in Pakistan. Secondarily, it ignores both the illegality and immorality of using torture as an interrogation tool.

The thriller opens with the words “based on first-hand accounts of actual events.” After showing footage of the horrific 9/11 attacks, it moves into a graphic and lengthy depiction of torture. The detainee “Ammar” is subjected to waterboarding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and confined in a small box. Responding to the torture, he divulges the name of the courier who ultimately leads the CIA to bin Laden’s location and assassination. It may be good theater, but it is inaccurate and misleading.

The statement “based on first-hand accounts of actual events” is deceptive because it causes the viewer think the story is accurate. All it really means, however, is that the CIA provided Hollywood with information about events depicted in the movie. Acting CIA Director Michael Morrell wrote a letter to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in which he admitted the CIA engaged extensively with the filmmakers. After receiving his letter, Senators John McCain, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin requested information and documents related to the CIA’s cooperation.

The senators sent a letter to Morrell saying they were “concerned by the film’s clear implication that information obtained during or after the use of the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques played a critical role in locating Usama Bin Laden (UBL).” They noted, “the film depicts CIA officers repeatedly torturing detainees. The film then credits CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques as providing critical lead information on the courier that led to the UBL compound.” They state categorically: “this information is incorrect.”

The letter explains that after a review of more than six million pages of CIA records, Feinstein and Levin made the following determination: “The CIA did not first learn about the existence of the UBL courier from CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques. Nor did the CIA discover the courier’s identity from CIA detainees subjected to coercive techniques. No CIA detainee reported on the courier’s full name or specific whereabouts, and no detainee identified the compound in which UBL was hidden. Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name, and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program.”

In a speech on the Senate floor, McCain declared, “It was not torture, or cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees that got us the major leads that ultimately enabled our intelligence community to find Osama bin Laden.” McCain added: “In fact, not only did the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on Khalid Sheik Mohammed not provide us with the key leads on bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed; it actually produced false and misleading information.”

Many high-level interrogators, including Glenn L. Carle, Ali Soufan and Matthew Alexander, report that torture is actually ineffective and often interferes with the securing of actual intelligence. A 2006 study by the National Defense Intelligence College concluded that traditional, rapport-building interrogation techniques are very effective even with the most recalcitrant detainees, but coercive tactics create resistance.

Moreover, torture is counter-productive. An interrogator serving in Afghanistan told Forbes, “I cannot even count the amount of times that I personally have come face to face with detainees, who told me they were primarily motivated to do what they did, because of hearing that we committed torture . . . Torture committed by Americans in the past continues to kill Americans today.”

Torture is also illegal and immoral – important points that are ignored in Zero Dark Thirty. After witnessing the savage beating of a detainee at the beginning of the film, the beautiful heroine “Maya” says “I’m fine.” As he’s leaving Pakistan, Maya’s colleague Dan tells her, “You gotta be real careful with the detainees now. Politics are changing and you don’t want to be the last one holding the dog collar when the oversight committee comes.”

Torture is illegal in all circumstances. The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty the United States ratified which makes it part of U.S. law, states unequivocally: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” The prohibition of torture is absolute and unequivocal. Torture is never lawful.

Yet despite copious evidence of widespread torture and abuse during the Bush administration, and the Constitution’s mandate that the President enforce the laws, Obama refuses to hold the Bush officials and lawyers accountable for their law breaking.

Granting impunity to the torturers combined with propaganda films like Zero Dark Thirty, which may well win multiple Oscars, dilutes any meaningful public opposition to our government’s cruel interrogation techniques. Armed with full and accurate information, we must engage in an honest discourse about torture and abuse, and hold those who commit those illegal acts fully accountable.

[Editor’s Note: Please contact the Motion Picture Academy at contact@oscars.org to voice your opposition to this film receiving its awards.  More info.]

Shortlink to this page:
http://wp.me/pwAWe-Y7

UPDATE: New Campaign Live Online

And a new text message.

Tell the Oscars:

contact@oscars.org

Dear Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences,

Zero Dark Thirty should be disqualified from receiving your awards on the basis that the filmmakers deliberately crafted false propaganda in the service of making illegal torture practices seem acceptable and productive. This deceitful twisting of the facts, coupled with special insider access to CIA sources, ties the filmmakers to the government in an unseemly and dishonest arrangement.

As the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has set the record straight and pointed out the glaring falsehoods presented in Zero Dark Thirty, and as this issue is of vital and current significance to the nation, the awarding of this deceitful film with your honors would confer on it an unacceptable legitimacy harmful to the rule of law and to justice in the United States. These are not trivial matters and have international significance. The awarding of top honors to propaganda films sends a message to the entire world on where America’s values truly stand.

This is a great responsibility of the Academy, and it should not attempt to divorce the artistry of a film from its ethical, moral and legal implications. Creating false dramatic situations that justify torture, while claiming to be based on true events, is unacceptable. Torture is a war crime punishable by 20 years incarceration or the death penalty if the victims die – as several have already done. Witness your own Award Winning Taxi to the Dark Side.

Original Version:

Dear Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences,

I am writing to inform you of my intention to create a campaign to disqualify the film Zero Dark Thirty from receiving your awards on the basis that the filmmakers deliberately crafted false propaganda in the service of making illegal torture practices seem acceptable and productive.

This deceitful twisting of the facts, coupled with special insider access to CIA sources, ties the filmmakers to the government in an unseemly and dishonest arrangement.  As the Senate Intelligence oversight committee has set the record straight and pointed out the falsehoods presented in the film, and as this issue is of vital and current significance to the nation, the awarding of this deceitful film your honors would confer on it an unacceptable legitimacy that can be harmful to the rule of law and to justice in the United States.  These are not trivial matters and have international significance.  The awarding of top honors to propaganda films sends a message to the entire world on where America’s values truly stand.  This is a great responsibility of the Academy, and it should not attempt to divorce the artistry of a film from its obvious political, ethical, moral and legal implications.  Creating false dramatic situations that justify torture is unacceptable, and torture is a war crime punishable by 20 years incarceration or the death penalty if the victims die — as several have done.

I hope to make an issue out of this disregard for the deceits contained within the film, and the Academy’s apparent condoning of this false historical propaganda.

Joe Giambrone

The Political Film Blog

jamie-foxx-as-django-in-django-unchained

Tarantino’s American Love Story

by MICHAEL DONNELLY

I went to see Django Unchained with a screenwriter friend yesterday, forgetting that it was Christmas week and the matinees would be crowded. I’ve always been a little ambivalent about the already legendary director Quentin Tarantino’s movies. I think the under-appreciated Jackie Brown is one of the best movies ever and most of his oeuvre is quite good, if over-the-top at times. Though other than Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction, I doubt I’ll watch any a second time. Django, however, is the best movie I’ve seen in years and will be part of film school AND American History curricula for years to come, as well. And I plan to see it at least once more on the big screen.

Tarantino’s script is superb; the acting excellent; the score beautiful; the cinematography stunning and the absolute horror of Slavery has never been addressed this well in film – even Roots never came as close. It’s the most important film so far on American Slavery.

Director Spike Lee says he won’t even see it, as it is “disrespectful to my ancestors.” I had to see it, as this makes four movies now that Spike Lee has disparaged publicly that I’ve found to be outstanding. He slammed Ali, mainly because it had a white Director; he went after Flags of Our Fathers because it didn’t have enough black actors in it – when Blacks were confined to kitchens in WWII’s Pacific Theater (he might as well have complained that there weren’t any depictions of women hitting the Iwo beaches) and he sneered at Pulp Fiction. While I find Lee’s Do the Right Thing to be one of the top 20 movies of all time, I can only conclude that Spike is either a woeful, jealous film critic or a racist. The only “disrespect” here is Lee attacking another Director’s work without even seeing it.

I won’t go much into the plot and all, as anyone can find tons written about that on-line. Suffice to say, the movie pulls no punches when it comes to the malevolence of Slavery (a couple brutal scenes are almost unwatchable); and, when it comes to depicting the acute division between field and house slaves, one can almost hear Malcolm X’s exceptional speech on the topic. Samuel L. Jackson’s head house slave “Stephen” is destined, as Jackson has said, to be “the most hated Negro in film.” (Jamie Foxx, who pulls off the very difficult title character role, has noted that one deleted Jackson scene would cement that notion, and likely would have garnered Jackson an Oscar.)

The almost unrecognizable Jackson, who gets to say his trademark “muthafucka” four times, says that when he watched the film in a theater full of African-Americans, they were shouting, laughing and crying the entire time, though it has to be excruciating for Black people to watch. (When I was growing up in inner city Flint, MI, some of my Black buddies and I would go to the Westerns at the neighborhood theater on Saturdays. Jimmy, Wally and Cleo would always root for the Indians – Native Genocide being the other great affront that America keeps its head firmly in the sand about.)

Lee and others have condemned the film for violence and use of the N-word. Ahem; how could anyone faithfully depict what was really going on back then sans either? Sure, the violence is rampant on a Rambo scale, yet it has a Tom & Jerry, buckets of cherry juice aspect to it. And, the N-word is used so often that it just blends into the scenery, a la Lenny Bruce.

It is fiction, after all. But, if had watched Django and then back-to-back, the overrated, clownish, allegedly true-to-life Lincoln, I would end up howling at every one of Lincoln’s pompous pronouncements.

The performances of the entire ensemble are also magnificent. Leonardo DiCaprio, whom I’ve never liked in any movie, should get a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Calvin Candie, the vile owner of Candieland plantation, who has a side business staging gladiatorial fights between slaves. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve seen DiCaprio where I didn’t see Leonardo DiCaprio; the first time he melts completely into his character. Christopher Waltz is outstanding as Dr. King Shultz, Django’s ally, a German immigrant bounty hunter who is completely perplexed by white and Black society’s shock at simply seeing a Black man on a horse – and boy can Foxx handle a horse. Kerry Washington is first-rate as slave Broomhilda, Django’s wife and the object of Shultz and Django’s liberation quest. And, as I noted, Jamie Foxx is outstanding in the lead role; one of the all-time pulp fiction heros. The Grammy-winning Foxx even wrote a song in the usual excellent Tarantino soundtrack.

Lesser characters are skillfully portrayed by a plethora of Hollywood stars: Don Johnson is very good as a plantation owner; Walton Goggins has a fine turn as one of Candieland’s brutal enforcers. Others – Laura Cayouette is excellent as DiCaprio’s creepy, incestuous sister; Bruce Dern, James Russo and Tarantino, himself, have cameos. As does Jonah Hill, in a hilarious proto-KKK scene that could have been lifted from Blazing Saddles. Even the original Django, Franco Nero, has a short scene in a bar. Scores of Black actors/actresses take on what had to be painful, harrowing roles as slaves.

Lincoln will win all the Academy Awards (and Daniel Day Lewis is Oscar-worthy superb in the title role). After all, the Academy is known for not being cutting edge – and Django is as edgy as it gets. The Academy picked the fluff of An American in Paris over great The Best Years of Our Lives; Chariots of Fire over Reds; The Greatest Show on Earth over The Quiet Man; Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan; Jackie Brown didn’t even get nominated the year Titanic won and the top Documentary of all time, Fahrenheit 911, which had a box office larger than four of the Academy’s five top movie nominees combined, didn’t even get the Documentary nod after getting Cannes’ Palme D’or and many other awards as top movie!

I recommend all adults, hopefully including Spike Lee, see this film – in the theater. Definitely leave the kids at home. Just as the Spaghetti Westerns it pays homage to debunked the familiar Hollywood Western myths, this movie yanks America’s head out of that comfortable sand. In its way, it blasts away at the wall of denial around Slavery like (Lone Watie) Chief Dan George’s unforgettable speeches on the injustices suffered by Native Americans in The Outlaw Josey Wales does for that denial.

 

In the end, the movie is a love story: a retelling of the original Broomhilda myth with Django playing as, Shultz in a takes-one-to-know-one moment notes, a real-life Siegfried who rescues his love; a story of a man’s undying love for his wife.

MICHAEL DONNELLY lives in Salem, OR. He can be reached at pahtoo at aol.com

Youtube version has been truncated.

“Logorama is a work of art and a parody.
Best regards,”
-Elsa Chevallier

Exclusive:
The legal questions behind an Oscar winning Short

LOGORAMA

This brilliant look at the world from an “over-marketed” perspective just won the Academy Award for animated short, 2009. In Logorama, nearly everything is constructed from corporate brand images, much as the real world is steadily evolving toward.
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PFB articles about The Hurt Locker:

Watching “The Hurt Locker” Hurts
by Jasmin Ramsey, P U L S E

The Hurt Locker (2009),
Cultural Politics and Uncritical Critics

Up in the Air

A Review of Up in the Air
A Landscape of Impossible Options

By KIM NICOLINI

If you’d asked me before I did this movie, “What’s the worst thing about losing your job in this type of economy?” I would’ve probably said the loss of income. But as I talked to these people, that rarely came up. What people said, time and time again, was: “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” It was really about a lack of purpose. They would say, you know, “After I finish this interview, I’m going to go get in my car, and I have nowhere to be.” And I can’t imagine thinking that every day.
– Jason Reitman on the making of “Up In The Air”

“How much does your life weigh?” This is the question that Ryan Bingham (played to perfection by George Clooney) asks in Up In The Air, Jason Reitman’s brilliant new movie that so beautifully, hilariously, and brutally encapsulates America’s current cataclysmic economy. This is a question for the current economic landscape where people are losing their jobs, their homes, and their every possession at astronomical rates, an economy where people are being left empty handed and without many options for a new future. Ryan Bingham thinks he understands the transience of material culture. That’s why he delivers informational seminars telling people to eliminate excess weight in their lives. Bingham understands the fragility of economic stability and material acquisition because he spends the large majority of his life traveling the country and telling hard working Americans they’re out of jobs. Yes, Ryan Bingham is a professional hit man in this depression era economy which has generated a real unemployment rate of 22 percent. He packs his suitcase, takes to the air, and is like some kind of corporate downsizing angel of death as he delivers bad news encased in motivational speeches that sound like something he pulled out of a fortune cookie.

As the movie follows the story of Bingham and the people he encounters, it delivers one hell of a powerful commentary on where we stand in today’s economic landscape. While it could be classified as a depression era comedy (and it plays like the best of them), in the end the movie is more devastating than funny. Sure, it has loads of exquisitely hilarious moments in which we laugh our asses off, but ultimately the movie is a sad and tragic tale of the dehumanizing effects of neo-liberal economics and the decimation of the American workforce.
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The White Ribbon

DVD: The White Ribbon
The Vicious Countryside: Haneke’s The White Ribbon

by Binoy Kampmark

Arthur Conan Doyle found the English countryside seething with potential criminality. His sleuth creation of Sherlock Holmes was never deceived by the tranquil image of the country retreat and escape from the industrialized centre. London, with its bustle, filth and squalor, was a far more decent option. One finds the same theme repeated in such writers as John Mortimer, who only ever lets his famed advocate Rumpole venture out into the country occasionally for a brief. All tend to end badly. Cynicism towards country life, dominated by casual cruelties and sudden death, is ever present.

This case is brilliantly depicted in Michael Haneke’s black and white The White Ribbon (Das weisse Band), a portrait of a north German village in 1913. The narrator (Ernst Jacobi), who is also a teacher (Christian Friedel) resident in that village during the crucial years, speaks of various mysteries that affected its inhabitants. An attempt is seemingly made on the village doctor’s (Rainer Bock) life through tripping his horse by a wire that is mysteriously removed. The wife of the farmer is killed in an accident. Two children, including one with Down syndrome (Eddy Grahl), are found abused in the woods. The estate barn is burned down; and the cabbage crop destroyed. The police are eventually called in, but they are incapable of making sense of it.
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Taxi to the Dark Side

Get the DVD: Taxi To the Dark Side

See also:
Taxi To the Dark Side (2007)

Taxi to the Dark Side
by Jasmin Ramsey, P U L S E

(This review first appeared on Rabble.ca)

“We’ll have to work … the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows … A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion … it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal basically, to achieve our objectives.”

These were the words of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, during a Meet the Press interview with Tim Russert five days after the September 11 attacks of 2001.

Acknowledging Cheney’s words as a telling precursor to America’s self-serving and calamitous ‘War on Terror,’ Alex Gibney’s 2007 documentary Taxi to the Dark Side provides viewers with a glimpse of what the ‘dark side’ of the Bush administration’s tactics and policies entailed for detainees who had been apprehended by U.S. military forces.
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The Hurt Locker

See also:
The Hurt Locker (2009), Cultural Politics and Uncritical Critics

Watching “The Hurt Locker” Hurts
by Jasmin Ramsey, P U L S E

“The Hurt Locker” was a Box Office favorite and may become an Academy Award contender.

…That a film that does not include a single Iraqi perspective is being hailed as an accurate portrayal of the situation in Iraq is either indicative of the blatant bias and possibly hidden intentions of the film’s creators and reviewers, or representative of the flawed view that continues to resonate within people’s minds about the war in Iraq.

As the year winds down and Hollywood gets busy creating Oscar buzz, one unlikely contender is “The Hurt Locker,” the widely praised Iraq movie that premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year and was released in the U.S. in June 2009.

Just when I thought I’d seen enough of Iraq war movies, along comes (Hurt Locker),” an Access Hollywood film critic told USA Today in September. “If any movie about Iraq is going to break through to the academy, this is it.
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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

DVD: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Mr. Smith holds up over time better than most of the films shot in the 1980s. This is a “classic,” but that’s not why it’s a top pick on most political film lists. It’s more than a classic; it’s about something real. Jimmy Stewart turns in a tour de force performance the kind that still sends chills 70 years later. And it’s funny, with great comic timing and scenes that sear.
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CASABLANCA
DVD: Casablanca
Blu-ray: Casablanca

Casablanca Revisited

By David Macaray

With the Motion Picture Academy having recently announced a change in next year’s format (i.e., going from five Best Picture nominees to a whopping ten), it might be useful to revisit the classic 1943 Best Picture winner, “Casablanca,” one of the most celebrated films in Hollywood history.

Not only is it still ranked as one of the greatest movies ever made, not only does it feature one of the greatest movie songs (“As Time Goes By”) ever written, and one of the most-quoted movie lines of all-time (“Play it again, Sam”), but it managed to beat out an astonishing nine other nominees to win Best Picture.

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