Friday, May 18, 2012

Battleship, The Dictator, What to Expect When You're Expecting

I'm not going to the movies this weekend.  Partly this is because of the NATO summit taking place this weekend here in Chicago that promises to make going through the downtown area a nightmare and partly it's because I can't justify paying even matinee prices / the loss of time to see any of the three more "popular" movies being released for this weekend in the U.S.

Still, I'd like to offer the usual links to readers here as well as offer a few words as to why one could probably make better use of one's time than see any of these three movies in the theater.

THE DICTATOR (MPAA (R) - CNS/USCCB (O) - Roger Ebert (3 Stars)) directed by Larry Charles, cowritten by (along with three others) and starring Sasha Barron Cohen [IMDb] as Aladeen the dictator of a fictious Middle Eastern nation called Wadiya appears to be basically Charlie Chaplin's [IMDB] The Great Dictator [1940], meets Sasha Barron Cohen [IMDb] of Borat [2006] and Bruno [2009] infamy.

I mention Charlie Chaplin's film because that may be the only aspect of this film that could give one pause before condemning it.  In 1939-40, Europe was forced by Adolf Hitler, a mad-man, to enter into a ruinous war that ended up costing 50 million lives.  And so if Charlie Chaplin mercilessly lampooned this future arch-war criminal, honestly so be it.  At times it really is the court jester who has to speak the truth. In an interview prior to his own death last year former Czech playwright / dissident, then president Vaclav Havel noted that all the world's leaders knew for decades that Libya's strongman Muammar Gaddafi was insane. Yet few if anybody called Gaddafi out on this.  So in this sense, Sasha Barron Cohen [IMDb] is simply if mercilessly calling out a fair number of Gaddafi-like strong men / dictators in the Middle-East as insane.

The issue that I have had with Cohen's humor is, in fact, its mercilessness and his willingness to freely insult innocents in the process.  For instance, while it is indeed possible that Kazakhstan has its share of anti-Semites in its midst, most Americans knew next to nothing about Kazakhstan prior to Cohen's film Borat [2006] and now many may think that the country is somehow uniquely anti-Semitic when in reality the anti-Semitic slurs and imagery in Borat [2006] was all too common in lands far better known to average Americans.  Similarly, Cohen' s Bruno [2009] savagely lampooned perennially "fringe" but generally _kindly_ U.S Presidential candidate Ron Paul with over-the-top "gay" Bruno trying to "seduce" him.  It's the savagery of Cohen's humor, often honestly unwarranted (What did Kazakhstan ever do to anybody or Ron Paul ever do to anybody?) that makes Sasha Barron Cohen "no Charlie Chaplin" ... 

WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING (MPAA (R) - CNS/USCCB (L) - Roger Ebert (2 1/2 Stars)) directed by Kirk Jones, written by Shauna Cross and Heather Hach based on the What to Expect pregnancy and parenting books by Heidi Murkoff is a film with a large ensemble cast of stars including the likes of Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Rock, Anna Kendrick, Elizabeth Banks and Dennis Quaid, the main problems with the film being (1) its obvious formulaic nature (yet another "rom comish movie" based on a self-help book -- He's Just Not That Into You [2009] which actually was pretty good and Think Like a Man [2012], which was less so) and (2) its tilt toward lowest common denominator crudity of last year's hit Bridesmaids [2011].  Okay, I get it: "girls can be just as crude as boys."  Wonderful.  But is that really "progress?" 

Finally, there's BATTLESHIP (MPAA (PG-13) - CNS/USCCB (A-III) - Roger Ebert (2 1/2 Stars)) directed by Peter Berg and written by Eric and Jon Hoeber and starring among others Liam Neeson is yet another "alien invasion movie" with a Transformer look bankrolled by Hasbro (the maker of both the Battleship board game and the Transformers toys).  Apparently a 2+ hour $200 million+ movie featuring the Transformer machines attacking Chicago wasn't enough (Transformers 3 [2011]).  There was a need for a 2+ hour $200 million+ movie featuring Transformer machines attacking Hawaii and Hong Kong made less than a year later.  Additionally, since there was a high budget 2+ hour movie released last year featuring the U.S. Marines fighting off invading aliens (Battle Los Angeles [2011]), then there was a need for make another high budget 2+ hour movie with the U.S. Navy also fighting off invading aliens.

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of Battleship appears to be that after the aliens get their armor protections stripped off, they end up looking a lot like us.  Still, I don't know if this perhaps interesting plot twist is worth the $10+ admission fee to say nothing the nearly 2 1/2 hour viewing time.  Gone With the Wind [1939], War and Peace [1967], The Longest Day [1962], Deer Hunter [1978]Apocalypse Now [1979] or even Star Wars [1977] / The Empire Strikes Back [1980] / Return of the Jedi [1983] it is not.

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