Film review: The Last Hangover (2018)

What happens if the Last Supper of Christian lore is combined with the 2009 comedy film The Hangover featuring a group of friends who wake up after a drunken bachelor party and find the bridegroom-to-be missing? What you get is this comedic short Brazilian film (about 45 minutes long) that has the last supper being a drunken revel that ends with everyone in a stupor who wake up groggily the next morning to find Jesus missing, and struggle to reconstruct what happened the previous night from the fragmentary recollections of each of the disciples.

It is a film with many funny moments and a very different take on the relationship between Jesus and Judas, and explicitly mentions the lesser-known disciples such as Thaddeus, who is largely ignored even in the Gospels, so much so that very few would be able to name him as one of the twelve

If you know Portuguese, you can watch the trailer below that has no subtitles. The film on Netflix has English subtitles and if you click here it takes you to the Netflix site where the same trailer has English subtitles.

It is interesting that this film was released in Brazil, a Catholic country, just before Christmas in 2018. I wonder whether the reaction was as outraged as it was for Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

The racism in The Searchers and Heart of Darkness

I can vividly recall my strong negative reaction to Joseph Conrad’s highly acclaimed novel Heart of Darkness. Its racism appalled me as I wrote in a blog post ten years ago.

I remember the first time I read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, hailed by critics as a masterpiece. I was appalled at the blatantly racist portrayals of Africans and could barely get through the book. Many years later, I re-read it. The shock and anger that the original reading had aroused in me had worn off and I could see and appreciate Conrad’s skill with words in creating the deepening sense of foreboding as Marlow goes deeper into the jungle in search of Kurtz.

Ironically, Chinua Achebe gave a talk criticizing the book and saying that Conrad’s novel, whatever its other merits, perpetuated African stereotypes. The talk attracted a lot of attention and Conrad’s many admirers leapt to his defense, saying that Conrad was a product of his times and merely reflecting the views then current and that his book was actually a critique of the evils of colonialism.

Maybe so, but the racism was still there and still bothered me even on the second reading.

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Film review: The Laundromat (2019)

In 2016 there was the explosive leak to the ICIJ (International Consortium of Investigate Journalists) of a massive trove of documents called the Panama Papers from the firm Mossack Fonseca that revealed how that company created massive numbers of offshore shell companies to move money around all over the world to hide the wealth of the global elite so that they could avoid paying taxes. It led to a series of news reports (see here, here, and here) that showed that this was just the tip of the iceberg, that there were many legal and accounting firms operating in small and big countries around the world who were taking advantage of convenient loopholes placed in the tax codes of thosecountries. The US turns out to be one of the biggest tax havens, with the state of Delaware (Joe Biden’s home state, incidentally) being the most accommodating of all these shenanigans.
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Film review: Official Secrets (2019)

I just saw the above film and it is excellent. It is based on real life events and tells the story of Katharine Gun, a fairly low-level intelligence analyst working for the GCHQ (the British equivalent of the NSA with all its evils) who, during the push by the Bush-Cheney regime to get support for its plans to attack Iraq in 2003, comes across a memo sent by a top official in the NSA to the GCHQ asking for help in getting dirt on the non-permanent members of the UN Security Council in order to ‘pressure’ them (i.e., blackmail) to vote in favor of the second UN resolution to go to war with Iraq since it was felt that the 2002 resolution was a weak legal footing on which to wage war.
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The Christploitation genre of films

On a regular basis, I hear about films that are released that are targeted at evangelical Christians that feed them with the comforting notion that their beliefs are correct, that they are their god’s chosen and that the rest of us heathen are grossly mistaken and will suffer in hell unless we repent and turn to Jesus. The film industry is a commercial one and they are well aware that there is a sizable audience out there for this kind of film so it should be no surprise. I myself have not seen any of them. Life’s too short to spend on C-grade religious propaganda disguised as a feature film.
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New film explores the life of an incel

I read this review of a new film Cuck that has as its central protagonist a white nationalist ‘incel’, the label that involuntarily celibate men who are resentful that women spurn them, give themselves. Incels have been blamed for some of the mass shootings that the US regularly incurs.

It’s a character study determined to provide insight into the types of racist, sexist lunatics who spread fear and hatred via the barrel of a gun and, at least as a portrait of what makes these individuals tick, it’s as timely as it is depressing—and horrifying.

Before it heads down more contrived avenues that exacerbate its dearth of surprises, Cuck crafts an authentic vision of sexually aggrieved white nationalist psychosis. The crazy person in question is Ronnie (Zachary Ray Sherman), a California twentysomething who lives at home caring for his mom (Sally Kirkland, crowing like a prejudiced, pious loon) and, more frequently still, sitting in his dark bedroom, decorated with American flags and pamphlets for the military that won’t let him in because he failed his psych test. Habitually situated shirtless in front of his laptop, pizza and soda always within reach, Ronnie watches online video after online video of right-wing commentators—including his favorite star, Chance Dalmain (Travis Hammer)—ranting about the dangers of liberalism, immigration and diversity.
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This is the best you can be? That’s pretty sad

Every fall, the long-running satirical show Saturday Night Live introduces new cast members. It is considered a huge boost to the career of young comedians to get a slot on this show because many have gone onto highly successful careers later. But this year, the introduction of three new members ran into trouble when it was discovered that one of them, Shane Gillis, had made racist, homophobic, and misogynist jokes.
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Making films in the days before post-production sound

I recently watched Alfred Hitchcock’s Murder! (1930) that can be seen in its entirety online (see below). I have long been a fan of Hitchcock’s films but had not seen this one and was curious as to what his early efforts looked like.

It is not a great film but I learned something about how limited filmmakers were in their options in those days. As I was watching it, it felt strangely different and I finally pinned it down to the lack of ambient sounds, especially a soundtrack. With modern films, one hears music tht sets the mood, footsteps when people walk, doors shutting, and all the other sounds that accompany the action. But in this case, there was mostly silence apart from dialogue, and it was the absence of such sounds that seemed strange.

In reading about the film later, I learned that in 1930, there was no post-production possibility of adding sounds after filming was completed, like they do now with Foley artists and adding a musical score. Any sound in the film had to be picked up by the microphones that picked up the dialogue while filming the scene. So for example, in this film at the 34:00 mark, we hear a character’s thoughts as a voiceover while he is shaving while a radio played music. How this was done was by having the actor’s voice pre-recorded and played on a phonograph while an actual orchestra on the set played the music.

Here’s the full film.

Between Two Ferns: The Movie (2019)

I have long been a fan of comedian Zach Galifianakis’s online sketch show Between Two Ferns where he passive-aggressively, and sometimes outright insultingly, interviews celebrity guests. Here is one sketch where he interviews Ben Stiller.

It appears that they have made a film version of it that will be released on Netflix on September 20.

It is often the case that sketch comedy does not translate well into the long form version, so we’ll have to see how this turns out.

But here’s the trailer.

Review: The Family (2019)

This five-episode mini-series on Netflix is based on a book of the same name by reporter Jeff Sharlet. It is about a secretive group of evangelical Christian influencers know as ‘The Fellowship’ or ‘The Family’ that was originated by someone named Abraham Vereide (1886-1969) and whose mission was greatly advanced by Doug Coe (1928-2017).

Sharlet stumbled into this group as a young man just out of college. Coming from a family in which his mother was a Pentecostal and his father was a secular Jew, Sharlet was looking at various forms of religion when he was recruited by a friend who was in the Family. It had a strange cult-like quality where young men lived together and did menial jobs in the service of influential Washington politicians as a form of bonding. At some point Sharlet left the group and in 2008 wrote the book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power that exposed the working of the group.
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