Review

I must confess, I am a political creature, and as such I am always intrigued by movies that carry some political or philosophical weight. Given that I am writing this review during a hotly contested election, I know there are liberals and conservatives fatigued by the atmosphere of lies, fact checking, gaffes, broken, twisted promises, etc.

I also know that these same liberals and conservatives are entrenched in opposing ideologies, for better or worse. My service to both sides, in the spirit of bi-partisanship, will be to ease your anxieties with a review of four films with an ideological edge. I promise to keep my personal politics to myself, and the movies I review, liberal or conservative alike, shall be treated with an equal fairness.

Before you click away in disgust, I can promise you that when I give a review for a “liberal” or “conservative” movie here, I’m not talking about God awful agenda films that hit you in the face with the caveman mentality of “Trees good! Military BAD!”, some Michael Moore lecture or hokey shit like “If only I had prayed sooner and gotten to know Jesus. . ..”

Good Liberal/Conservative films don’t have to be so obvious. I liked Avatar up to a point, then it seemed to check mark every cliche it could to smack you with the beauty of nature versus greed and nefarious corporate mustache twisting. Such liberal agenda films are just horrible, because they treat us like idiots. Likewise, a conservative agenda film can be killed with three simple words: “Starring Kirk Cameron”. These are the films that insist on teaching a lesson up front, and feel like they were written, directed and acted out by some random Sunday school class of amateurs. Ugh.

Good films can have a message hidden, sometimes an unintentional message, and still be damn entertaining for both sides without insulting our intelligence. The REALLY good ones hide the ideology deep in the layers of a film, to be deduced, spotted or hinted at without leaping at the audience. There’s a scene in the Robert Redford film, Sneakers where Redford’s character is entering a building with posters of President Bush lining the walls. A homeless man, sitting by the front door, asks for help. Redford points to the poster and replies “Talk to THIS guy” as he walks into the building. BOOM. Liberal message, the agenda fulfilled in less than three seconds. The rest of the film carries on, but Redford sends out the message in the most efficient, subtle way possible. Those are the films that interest me the most. Let me take you now through two “Conservative” and two “Liberal” films.

Conservatives, Tea Partiers, Romney/Ryan fans. Looking for a good, solid movie to reinforce your values? Try the 1970 film Patton, starring George C Scott and Karl Malden as General Omar Bradley. One of Richard Nixon’s favorite movies, it is a history drama that chronicles the controversial man as he leads American forces through North Africa, Sicily, up into France in a race with the British and the Russians to get to Berlin and end the war.

Full of piss and vinegar, charisma, drive and a love of war itself, Patton was Tea Party before there ever was a Tea Party. No nonsense, pulled no punches, and believed wholeheartedly in America and a destiny leading to greatness. He also believed, fanatically, that the real enemy of WWII were the communists. The movie follows many of his challenges, high points, setbacks, but also showcased his damaging flaws, flaws which also tend to be traits of the Tea Party. At critical points, he badmouths his own allies, constantly competes with the British General Montgomery, and pushes his men for the sake of his own personal glory. The film showcases many true stories that made him shine and darken. The opening speech of the film is an assembly of direct quotes from Patton, put together in a scene that really grabs the audience and sets the tone. Scott did not originally want the speech at the beginning because he felt his character would never be able to live up to the opening hype. But Scott earns his Oscar with his incredible performance of a man admired by friends and foe alike, a General despised by his own troops, holding the Germans in awe of his tenacity, and making his allies green with envy.

At its heart, Patton is about a man who values traditions, swears every other sentence, but prays like a humble sinner. A fire breather, no soldier was going to dishonor his worship of war, no enemy would hold him back. My favorite scene was watching him vent after being pulled from duty for sticking his foot in his mouth concerning the Russians. “A entire World at War, and I’M NOT ALLOWED TO BE A PART OF IT?? GOD will not allow this!! I am going to FULFILL MY DESTINY!”

Want to feel that Pro American energy? Try Patton. The performances are excellent, the battles intense, and you’ll find yourself rooting for and against Scott’s portrayal. He is the perfect protagonist AND Antagonist.

Film two for conservatives covers a more religious tone. When it comes to a “Pro-Christian” movies, I humbly suggest that one of the best out there (Besides Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ) is 2010’s Book of Eli, starring Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, and Gary Oldman.

War has devastated the Earth, and the survivors struggle to find a guide into the uncertain future. Denzel plays Eli, a wandering “prophet” of sorts, protecting the last Bible on Earth. He carries himself as a humble, Old Testament style fighter. Merciful as he can be in a wasteland, diplomatic as needed, he is not afraid to bring the smackdown when the sermon calls for some whupass.

Mila plays Solara, a woman intrigued by his stoic nature, who eventually looks to him as a mentor and teacher of better things forgotten by a generation growing up having never read books, never seeing how civilization could be.

Chasing them is the warlord, Carnegie (Oldman), who has searched with his brutal gangs for the one book Eli possesses. It’s words have the power to lead people, change society, grant power to the one who interprets the words to the controlled masses. Carnegie needs the book to mold his people and warriors into a force to create his own post apocalyptic empire. Eli’s refusal to be tempted, bribed, or threatened to cooperate sends him and Solara in a dash to safety from Carnegie’s thugs. Eli must reach an Island fortress where the book can be preserved for the sake of humankind.

The Hughes Brothers, who directed, are admitted atheists. Yet, they have done what few Christian film makers could do, making a Mad Max style action adventure with a religious edge, creating a film with such great sympathy for the subject matter, the Bible, Eli’s quest to preserve the sacred words….all accusations of a liberal, contemptuous Hollywood melt away. It’s a bit on the violent side, but Christians can be inspired by this film, and non Christians can enjoy it for its futuristic apocalypse action. Good cast, well written story. The message is seen when we get a taste of Carnegie’s brutal philosophy and Eli’s cautious wisdom. Wisdom he gives when he’s not delivering unto his foes a serious ass kicking.

 Ok, Liberals. Need to let off some steam? Free yourselves from a stuffy environment with the awesomely funny, iconic John Landis film Animal House from 1978. This is one of those films that is so original, so genuine, it joins the league of movies often imitated, repeated and overused. The plot is simple. A band of misfit college fraternity brothers get involved in crazy campus hi jinks and must fight the old traditional powers with their idealism and youthful new energy. It’s the new generation rebelling against the status quo, against old, outdated prejudices and rules. Like Star Wars, Conan the Barbarian, Alien, and Predator, etc. there are hundreds of ripoffs and copycats, but few ever hit the right notes that made Animal House click in such a subversive way with its 70’s hip audiences.

Based on co-writer Chris Miller’s experiences at Dartmouth college in 1962, the movie is set in 1962 at Faber College (University of Oregon hosted the filming with some reluctance due to the irreverent nature of the script), the story revolves around the Delta brothers, a band of misfits (played by Tom Hulce, Stephen Furst, John Belushi, Bruce McGill, James Widdoes, Peter Riegert and Tim Matheson) whose antics eventually get them expelled by the curmudgeon Dean Wormer (played deliciously by John Verbnon) and the stuffy conservative Omega Fraternity led by the military minded Patton-esque buffoon Doug Neidermeyer (played by Mark Metcalf, who would reprise the role in music videos by Twisted Sister)

Vernon’s Dean Wormer was based on Richard Nixon, so we know this is going to be a film that slaps the face of decency and traditional values. The beauty of Animal House that most imitations miss is that, deep down, these Delta guys are genuine, decent kids trying to live in a world of unfair rules, elitism, racism, etc. All reason and rationality are dashed by the controlling antagonists who demand preservation of a world about to change culturally, socially and politically. Kicked in the face, treated like outcasts, the only way for the Deltas to win is to meet the challenge of beating back at the bullies in an epic movie climax that has never been rivalled in its hilarious chaos.

The cast is excellent. John Belushi is priceless. Donald Sutherland makes an appearance as a free spirited professor, Karen Allen of Indiana Jones plays love interest Katy. Too many good moments to list in a film that started the Toga party craze, that introduced the world to a young Kevin Bacon, and showed Landis’ mischievous humor. But, More than just a goofy comedy, it is a film that had a serious message about rebelling against a harsh oppression that permeated the early 1960s. It is a movie whose value stays with each generation, and never gets old.

Finally, we have a recent film for those who like a good dash of Liberal. I recently went to see Cloud Atlas, starring Tom Hanks, Halle Barry, Hugo Weaving, and too many other good actors to mention.

I consider this to be, perhaps, the finest, most subtle subversive film of the year if not the new millennium. It’s very difficult to follow, but once you get it…..the experience is nothing short of awesome.

Directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski, this film follows six different time periods, happening almost simultaneously. Most of the cast plays multiple parts, at least 2-3, while the leads play at least 6. Spotting all of them is a challenge.

Going back and forth in time every 5-10 minutes, the film covers the adventures of a lawyer sailing home from Hawaii in 1849, a bohemian homosexual musician in the 1930s, a black female journalist in 1972, an older book publisher in 2012, a synthetic clone in the far future Seoul, Korea, and a pig herder 160 years after an implied apocalypse.

To cover all the characters and plots of 6 timelines is a dizzying task. Like I said before, this movie is a challenge to follow. It would have been easier to play one timeline after another, but the method of editing is well done, very disciplined. Once you get the flow and rhythm, the film opens you to a whole new level of film making.

Suffice to say, the liberal message is in the details, and the stories are so well executed, acting so good it is easy to be drawn in and never notice an agenda.

True, there is the homosexual couple of charming musician rogue Robert Frobisher (played by Ben Wishaw) and Rufus Sixsmith (James D’Arcy), but the relationship is low key, Frobisher’s story revolving around his obsession in composing the Cloud Atlas sextet. There is the anti-oil company intrigue of the 1972 segment, ensnaring Halle Barry’s reporter. Still, there is a low key approach to presenting Hugh Grant as a CEO. He never displays any nefarious expressions, but all the dirty work is portrayed by hit man Bill Smoke (played by Hugo Weaving)

The messages within Cloud Atlas are ones of Freedom from the different forms of slavery in each timeline, that not every protagonist is perfect, but they all rise to be greater than what society demands of them. Each story is a lesson in Carpe Diem, without the maudlin styles of Robin Williams wrapping himself in a self righteous flag. Each protagonist is sincere, a genuine victim of circumstances who escapes the proverbial “Cave of shadows” described by Plato. Each is given an epiphany, seeing the world in a new light, challenged by obstacles, and each leaves behind something that reaches the next protagonist in the next timeline.

Which is Cloud Atlas’ epiphany to all of us in the audience. We have been influenced by the words and deeds of someone in the past, someone we’ve never known or met, and our words and deeds will find their way to someone 100 years from now. Everything is connected, everyone is a part of the village spoken of by Hillary Clinton, shaped by an anti-corporate, anti-greed, anti-Ayn Randian necessity for the survival of not just humanity, but our sense of justice. The struggles of these characters are incredible, but when they take their big step into the future with their choices, we find ourselves rooting for them. The cliches of Avatar pale like a kid banging on a cheap drum next to this symphony of ideas and concepts that stretches beyond what we were capable of realizing.

This film is not for everyone. This is the kind of film few can enjoy, so it wouldn’t suprise me to see it bombing at the box office. But this movie’s complexities put it up with 2001: a Space Oddessey, Inception, Momento, etc. It’s three hours long, but for those who brave its challenges, the rewards are great indeed.



About the Author

Jon Hodges
Jon Hodges
Jonathan has enjoyed doing community theater since 1989, and has been involved with shows in Van Wert, Wapakoneta, Waynesfield and Fostoria as well as Lima Encore. He is a judge for the Northwest Ohio Film Festival. Jon feels that the human imagination is one of the greatest adventures to share, and it is always fascinating to see others bring something to life. The second greatest adventure to share is a good dose of chocolate.