DIRTY WARS, ALIYAH and A HIJACKING



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Dirty Wars is a documentary that begins as an investigation into the killing of the members of a family who gathered for a celebration in a remote area of Afghanistan.  The victims included pregnant women; the victimizers were a specialized force of American soldiers.  The attack was covered up (to the jaw dropping extent of the soldiers removing bullets not just from walls, but from bodies themselves).  But journalist Jeremy Scahill, who also wrote a book exposing the dirty dealings of Blackwater, found out about it and in investigating what took place, discovered that this attack was only one of many covert actions carried out by JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, a group that are made up of men who don’t exist on paper and who have missions taking place in countries we’re theoretically not at war with.   Mission: Impossible, but without the camp element.
Dirty Wars is a film that succeeds from a documentary standpoint, but doesn’t do as well from an aesthetic one.  The story is powerful and makes you angry.  It makes you want to scream that something should be done.  And it infuriates you when you realize that JSOC were the ones responsible for the raid on Osama Bin Laden and are therefore now untouchable.
But Dirty Wars falters in other areas.  It is narrated by Scahill with a blandness and droning quality that was just a bit too Jack Webby for my taste.  And somewhere along the line, director Rick Rowley, and writers David Riker and Scahill, seemed to have gotten the idea that the story is about Scahill and not so much about JSOC and their victims.   Because of this, the movie constantly cuts way from the horrifying atrocities committed by American forces to show Scahill looking wistfully off into the distance, losing his innocence as he grows more frustrated at how little attention is being paid to his story (a loss of innocence that really isn’t that convincing, at least not for a journalist who has been writing for as long as he has).  There’s even a scene that looks like an outtake from The Hurt Locker where Scahill is bored shopping, wishing he was back in a war zone.
But in many ways, it is understandable if this criticism seems a bit petty.  In the end, this is a troubling and disturbing film that should be seen.
Aliyah (which refers to the immigration of Jews to Israel) is a more than satisfying light drama from France about a small time drug pusher who is no dope (pardon the pun).  He realizes that if he’s ever going to get out of the life, now is the perfect time to do it before he is too far in.  So when he finds out his cousin is going to open a restaurant in Israel, he asks to be let in on it.  He just has to make enough money for his part while doing things like proving he’s Jewish, improving his Hebrew and taking a course on what it means to move to Israel.
That’s really about it.  Not a lot happens outside of that.  In fact, the film, as written by Gaelle Mace and the director Elie Wajeman, seems to do everything it can to avoid formula.  Even when a studio style of telling the story rears its ugly head at the end, threatening to introduce the one last drug deal cliché, the author here takes a different way out. 
Alex, the central character, is played by the tres handsome actor Pio Marmai with an effortless charm.  In fact, he seems to sweat charm, which is perfect for a movie that wins you over using the same approach.  It’s a nice, low key character study and is recommended.
A Hijacking, the Danish movie written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, is about the tense negotiations revolving around the taking over of a ship by Somalian pirates.  It’s an action film without any action, a thriller that is more tense by having few thrills.   It’s a film in which the suspense is played out in meeting rooms, cramped ship quarters and over the phone, with the chief negotiators never meeting one another.  Take that Steven Segal and Tommy Lee Jones.   
The drama revolves around three characters:   Peter C. Ludvigsen (Soren Malling), the chief negotiator for the company who owns the boat, a character of great noblesse oblige and a slight case of hubris; Mikkel Hartmann (Pilou Asbaek), the hapless cook on the boat who gets roped into being a go between because he’s, well, the cook, and the pirates need to be fed and he’s there, so he becomes the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time squared; and Omar (Abdihakin Asgar), the negotiator for the Somalians who keeps claiming he is not a member of the hijackers (with almost the same inflection of Dante in Clerks—“I’m not even suppose to be here today”).  It’s a triumphant triumvirate of acting.  
Negotiations are made more difficult because Ludvigsen is informed by a pirate expert (yes, such people exist) that if he immediately agrees to whatever the pirates ask, they will simply ask for more and then more and then more.  Instead, Ludvigsen has to bargain, certainly a skill he more than possesses, but one he has never had to use when human lives are at stake.   So Ludvigsen has to treat the hostages as if they are cargo and offer a ridiculously lowball counter offer to the pirates.  And then the games begin.
Lindholm is also the co-author of two of director Thomas (The Celebration) Vinterberg films, the haunting drama about two brothers, Submarino, and the soon to open film The Hunt, a tense and striking story about a man accused of pedophilia.   In this solo effect, he has created one of the must see films of the year.  It’s riveting, powerful and leaves you gasping at times.  It’s a story you will not forget soon.
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Movie Reviews of Adventureland and Sleep Dealer


Adventureland is one of those movies that breaks one of the key rules found in books and classes on screenwriting. The hero is a passive character. James (played winningly, as usual, by Jesse Eisenberg) is someone whose active goal (a summer in Europe followed by enrollment in an Ivy League college) is nullified when his parents have an economic crisis. He then becomes like the hero Ulysses, except that while Ulysses is trying to get from geographical point A to geographical point B, James is trying to get from temporal Point A to temporal Point B (the beginning of summer to the beginning of fall). While he does this, he passes his time working at a somewhat pathetic and unamusing amusement park (made all the more pathetic because the owners and workers know exactly how pathetic it is) and reacts to everything going on around him while learning all sorts of life lessons usually found in movies like this such as Summer of ’42, Red Sky at Morning and the more recent The Mysteries of Pittsburg (coincidentally all are about centrals character losing their virginity, though in Mysteries… it’s about losing one’s virginity to man). Adventureland is a very good and enjoyable movie. It may fall a tad short due to a slightly uneven tone and the obviousness of the life lessons learned, but the characters are so rich and shrewdly drawn and the whole thing is just so damned entertaining, that one can do little but wax nostalgic for that same summer in one’s life when one learned all the life lessons that other guy claimed to have learned in kindergarten. The empathetic and intelligent screenplay is by the director Gregg Mottola.
Sleep Dealer is a clever and exciting sci-fi movie that like most sci-fi movies and books is not about the future but is a metaphor for the present. In this case, it’s America’s treatment of illegal immigrants and the recent trend in outsourcing jobs, with water shortage thrown in. In Sleep Dealer, all those jobs that many people claim no one in America wants are still done by foreigners. But here the workers have nodes implanted in their bodies so they can hook up directly to computers and the internet and do their work (build buildings, drive taxis, nanny) via robots, while staying on their side of the Rio Grande. The factories where the workers hook up are just futurized sweatshops. The able actors are ably supported by the attention to detail paid as to how such a situation would work. In the end, as in many sci-fi movies like this (Bladerunner, 2001: A Space Odyssey) the human condition triumphs over the non-human or mechanical. The smart screenplay is by Alex Rivera (who also directed) and David Riker.