5 posts categorized "Current Affairs"

March 10, 2016



Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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Whiskey-tango-foxtrot“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” (a.k.a. WTF) is such a bizarre title for a movie that it seems unlikely audiences will flock to see Hollywood’s first good film of 2016. I’ve seen it twice for good reason. Tina Fey blows the doors off this baby. So does the ensemble. Martin Freeman (as war photographer Iain MacKelpie), Christopher Abbott (as Afghan fixer Fahim), and Billy Bob Thornton (as a Marine General) contribute mightily to the film’s artistic success. Sure it's American white lady propaganda. You know that going in.

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It’s a telling coincidence that the real Kim Barker, upon whose book “The Taliban Shuffle” this film is based, once described herself as “a Tina-Fey type. The heavens were listening. Fey got wind of it and optioned the book before teaming up with co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa to take a running start at Robert Carlock’s seamless adaptation of Barker’s book.

If anything, the movie is paced too evenly. It's missing a dramatic centerpiece, but pushes through on the inertia if its wealth of well observed details. 

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The movie squanders a potential key sequence that would show how Kim Barker handles herself alone. As fits the Hollywood formula a man, who represents her knight in shining armor, saves a drunken Kim from an unknown alley in the darkness of night. Can’t win ‘em all. This is a sign of how far Hollywood is willing to go in promoting an unapologetically feminist character; she needs a man to save her even if she manages to return the favor.

Episodic in form, and contained in mainly medium and close-up shots, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” blends America’s pointless Afghan war, comedy, intersecting political and cultural mores, with a thematically meaningful romantic thread. The nuanced tone of the movie is reflected in a military rescue mission that occurs at Dutch angles of blue and green lighting to the strains of Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” The action is stylized to fit the genre, and the moment.


One of the film’s clearest themes states that gender doesn’t matter much; we all become products of our environment. In Kabul, “sex with strangers in restaurant bathrooms” comes with the territory for foreign journalists, and their bodyguards, regardless of whether they are men or women, much less pretty or average looking.

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Once leaving her relatively sheltered life in the States, Kim Barker embraces her wartime environment in the “Ka-bubble” of Afghanistan. A watershed event occurs during her first embed outing. Her Humvee’s bulletproof windshield absorbs the first bullet fired by a group of angry Afghan warriors. Without missing a beat Kim jumps outside to videotape the action as she shadows an American marine like a monkey on his back. Her bravery (or professional rashness) earns her an “Oo Ra” from Billy Bob’s General Hollanek. Later, when Kim explains the reason that Marine-built wells keep being destroyed in a tiny village, we see a woman speaking truth to power in a way that has never before been shown in cinema. 

The disorienting storyline spans more than three years, during which time the fearless Baker becomes a battle-tested war journo looking for her next adrenaline fix. So much so that her Afghan fixer Fahim is compelled to read her the riot act over her irrational actions of late. Kim Barker hasn’t had much cultural sensitivity training.


Kim gets a brief, and comical, introduction to Afghanistan from the first Western woman she meets, television reporter Tanya Vanderpoel (played by the impossibly lovely Australian Margot Robbie). Tanya hates to be “rude,” but just has to ask Kim for permission to have sex with Kim’s supposedly New Zealand-born bodyguard Nic. Kim gives her consent. She’s only thinking of her boyfriend back in New York. Still, Tanya encourages Kim to share in the practice of shagging your peers. When Kim demurs, Tanya blurts out the unthinkable, “Talk to me in two months when you pussy’s eating your leg.”

Normally I wouldn’t spoil a joke, but trust me; you’ll still laugh when you hear it. The irreverent zinger reflects the film’s precise use of coded ways that journalists, military officers, security forces, and afghan civilians and military communicate. When Alfred Molina's Afghan bureaucrat Ali Massoud Sadiq says he wants Kim to be his "special friend," we know what he means. 


The movie explicitly addresses American media’s nonexistent coverage of the war in Afghanistan during a meeting between Kim and Geri Taub (Cherry Jones), the head of the network that funds her reporting. Geri blames it on the public’s lack of interest in the war rather than even pretend to have an editorial mind of her own. The economic signal is clear. War is money, but the media can’t sit at the big table to profit from it anymore.

“The Navy says Who Ya, the Marines say Oo Ra; don’t mix them up.”

Rated R. 112 mins.

4 Stars

Cozy Cole

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July 27, 2009


Tickle Me Quick
Judd Apatow is the King of Comedy
By Cole Smithey

Funny_peopleWriter/director Judd Apatow raises the stakes on his already stellar formula for generating laughs with a comedy that is equal parts sincerity and wit. Set in a real-life world of Los Angeles stand-up comics, the story revolves around Adam Sandler, very much playing himself as George Simmons, a hugely successful comedian living it up in his coastline mansion. News that he's dying of leukemia inspires George to hire local newbie stand-up comic Ira Wright (perfectly played by Seth Rogen) to write jokes and work as a personal assistant who will guard George's medical secret from the press. An awkward friendship develops between George and Ira as George tries to set the record straight with family members, old friends, and with his former fiancée Laura (played by Leslie Mann).


Seth Rogen is an ideal comic foil for Sandler's character, and the film provides a great format for each to express a range of comic levels. "Funny People" is by far Adam Sandler's best movie because Apatow writes comic set-pieces that allow germs of humor to expand between the more obvious laughs that Sandler hits with sharp-shooter accuracy. At two-hours, twenty minutes, "Funny People" runs about fifteen minutes longer than it should. But this is still the funniest movie of the year. 

Jason_Schwartzman At home, Ira sleeps on the couch of his comic friend Mark's (Jason Schwartzman) apartment. Mark lords the newfound success he enjoys playing a role on a crumby TV sitcom by "accidentally" leaving his weekly paychecks laying around in obvious places, like on Ira's pillow. Fellow stand-up comic Leo (Jonah Hill) also shares the apartment and leverages his own brand of oneupsmanship over Ira, who's comic delivery is not as polished as Leo's. The boys' club atmosphere--part support group and part surrogate family — goes a long way to providing Rogen's character with a tangible sense of youthful ambition trying to claw its way past his more successful peers. When Ira answers George Simmons' call, requesting writing assistance from he and Leo, Ira cunningly keeps Leo out of the conversation so that he can gain some ground on his condescending roommates. Ira is not above entering into competition with his peers, but he's more passive aggressive in his approach — to the point of tolerating jabs of degrading abuse that George regularly dishes out once their working relationship begins.


George's terminal prognosis hits him like a ton of bricks that he tries to throw back one by one later that night at a comedy club audience when he shows up for a surprise performance. "You're gonna miss me when I'm gone," and "Who will fill my shoes?" are the questions George runs up the flagpole during his miserable impromptu stage act. If anything, it seems that George's date with death will make him an even more insufferable butthead than he already was before the diagnosis. George's unsatisfying personal life has revolved around a stream of meaningless sexual conquests, and the ability to hang out with a veritable who's-who of comic talent that don't constitute real friends. Apatow's inclusion of cameos from the likes of Andy Dick, Eminem, Sarah Silverman, and Ray Romano, among others, adds more of a zing than the common trope normally does thanks to a specific "King of Comedy" tone that the movie maintains over the first two acts.


The movie gets into some trouble in the third act when George and Ira go to San Francisco to perform at an industrial function where James Taylor is also on the bill. George has rekindled a thread of romance with his old flame Laura, now unhappily married to Clarke, a hunky Australian traveling salesman (played for laughs by Eric Bana), and plans to visit Laura at her Marin County home while hubby is away. The not-so-innocent visit takes a turn for the worse when Clarke returns home unexpectedly just as Laura and George are making plans to get back together.


Sub-plot sequences involving Laura's daughters (played by the director's own girls Iris and Maude Apatow) take up too much time and burden the story with an otherwise nonexistent element of sentimentality. You can't blame Judd Apatow for being blind to the obstacle that using his own children brings to the movie, but it's the kind of mistake than an editor should have been able to address. Nonetheless, the plot takes a couple of late hairpin twists that brings the comedy to a satisfying close by staying true to the film's fascination with humor as a free human resource that everyday people use to communicate in colorful ways.

"Funny People" is worth the price of admission just to see the opening sequence homemade videos of Adam Sandler making prank phone calls when he and Judd Apatow were young unknown comics. Anybody can be a funny person. 

(Universal) Rated R. 140 mins. (A-) (Four Stars)

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Groupthink doesn't live here, critical thought does.

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