Film review: War Machine (2017)

The war in Afghanistan is a tragic version of the film Groundhog Day, where the same cycle of events gets played out over and over again with no discernible progress. We now have president Trump faced with the prospect of deciding whether to send in more troops and a new commander to break the stalemate, which is the same situation president Barack Obama faced in 2009 when he was newly elected.
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Film review: Lion (2016)

I was quite disappointed with this highly acclaimed film, based on a true story, that was nominated for six Academy Awards (though it did not win any) including for best film and for best supporting actors for Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman.

The first half of it is about a five-year old boy Saroo in India who lives in a remote town with his mother, older brother Guddu whom Saroo idolizes, and sister Shekila. His family is extremely poor and his mother works as a laborer gathering rocks in the heat of the day. Guddu and Saroo engage in petty thievery to buy food for the family and help out their mother. But one day while he and Guddu are out on another such mission, Saroo gets separated from his brother and, after falling asleep on a train, ends up in Kolkatta, a teeming city over a thousand miles away. After wandering the streets fending for himself and fending off people who seem friendly initially but have darker motives, he ends up in an orphanage with a large number of other street children. A kindly official, after failing to locate his mother, arranges for him to be adopted by an Australian couple (mother played by Kidman) living in Tasmania.
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Film review: Hidden Figures (2016)

I tend not to watch films that deal with major historical atrocities such as slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, the Holocaust, the Civil Rights struggle, and the like because my anger at the unbelievable and pointless cruelty on display tends to obscure my appreciation of the film as a whole. This film tells the story of the important but largely unknown role that women, and black women in particular, played in the early days of the NASA space program and sure enough, I got furious, but the film was able to overcome my resistance.
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Portrayals of minorities in films and the media

Richard Gere stars in a new film that has just been released called Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer, about a Jewish ‘fixer’ or dealmaker in New York. He happens to do an expensive favor for an obscure Israeli politician who later becomes prime minister of that country and this suddenly makes Norman a highly sought-after influence peddler. Jeffrey Salkin writes that he cringed many times while watching the film and explains why.
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Film review: Risk (2017)

On Friday I saw the new film Risk produced and directed by award-winning documentarian Laura Poitras, who won the Academy Award for Citizenfour, the film about Edward Snowden and his leaks. The focus this time is Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and unlike the earlier one, the narrative structure of this film is, to say the least, a bit confused. But that is not due to the lack of skill of Poitras but due to the fact that after she started filming it, the story went off in many directions and she too became part of it.
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Film review: National Bird (2016)

[Note: You can stream the film for free until May 15.]

The documentary National Bird directed by Sonia Kennebeck and released by Independent Lens looks at the US drone warfare program from the point of view of three former US Air Force (Heather, Daniel, and Lisa) whose jobs were to identify targets seen in the drone videos, and from the survivors of the infamous attack on February 21, 2010 on a convoy carrying a group of families that resulted in the deaths of 23 people, all civilians, and caused serious injuries to many others. All three of them have since left the Air Force. They all suffer from guilt at what they were part of, with Heather being suicidal and diagnosed with PTSD. Daniel is under threat of charges under the draconian Espionage Act and all three fear that the government will take severe action against them as it has with other whistleblowers.
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How nature documentaries try to get you interested

Nature documentaries are not easy to make, involving patiently watching for hours, days, and weeks on end in very difficult conditions to get the footage they need. But they cannot simply show the footage. To get people to watch, they need to create some kind of story arc with animal characters and protagonists who seem to play roles within it that the audience can identify with.
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