May 29, 2009 by · 1 Comment
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Do Great Men Create Events Or Do Events Create Great Men? What About Robots?

This film, directed by McG, is in bleached color to give to it a grainy noir look but the film itself never achieves that atmosphere or feeling . Its model, like most of these films, is the dystopian noir created by Ridley Scott in Blade Runner. Sorry sports fans there is no one who even comes close to Deckard, Roy Batty, Rachael or Gaff here. However the film is more like Transformers which is about robots, the sequel to which is due out shortly.

It takes place in 2018, not too far away buckaroos, just after Judgment Day when the machines rose up to eliminate the humans. John Conner played by Christian Bale (who appears to be more robotic than the robots) is the leader of a human guerrilla movement made up of a central command cadre and many isolated groups surviving despite the fact that HK (hunter killer) robots are searching for them directed by drones and the machine overall command, Skynet. Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) is in one of these isolated bands but in radio contact with central command.

There is no love interest or even and expectation of romance in this film Although Conner appears to have a wife or girlfriend the relationship is not developed. The film is more of a robot vehicle than a human one.

The humans are organizing into a resistance against the machines and they even have fighter aircraft at their disposal. The machines are perfecting their cyborg models. We see a prototype model of Arnold for a few seconds. However, mostly the more advanced robots are the stainless steel laser eyed models with out human skin reminiscent of Malcolm X in their intense glare.

Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) is a former executed killer whose body parts have been assembled into a machine with a stainless steel frame, but with a human head, heart, brain and senses. He is obviously an early experimental type that will be later developed into the Arnold type seen in the first movie. He has been in a state of suspended animation until accidentally revived and left to wander in this post apocalyptic world. Although he was executed for murder he seems to have become a more thoughtful, sensitive soul, more man than machine.

Conner meets Kyle but doesn’t know who he is and is unaware that he will some day be his father. To him Kyle is just another snot nosed kid in the ragtag army he is assembling.

The driving force of the movie are the action scenes in a destroyed world and the fact that the robot man, Wright, who happens to be the only empathetic character, saves the lives of Conner and Reese to fight another day.

This is primarily an action film with a PG-13 rating (the original had an R rating) designed to appeal to the comic book set and not for adult consumption unless you have had a prefrontal lobotomy in a previous life. Since this franchise grosses more overseas than in the U.S. (expect the current one to gross around 500 milllion worldwide with box office split one third U.S. and two thirds overseas) the film was probably made more with the overseas audience in mind than the U.S. audience . So it was targeted at the lowest common denominator for the broadest appeal world wide. That said, the James Bond franchise with a similar boxoffice break down, except for the sci-fi factor, seems to put out a better film, at least lately, and the material I don’t think is better just the writing, acting and direction.

This film has none of the hooks, verve, originality, damsel in distress or drama of the original film and we would not be talking about it if there had been no original. It probably would have gone straight to DVD.

Given all this one wonders if Kyle Reese was killed would it make any difference who went back to save Sarah so long As he was young and virile. All the strong qualities we see in Conner are those we see in Sarah.

Then again we may ask do great men emerge to meet the demands of trying times which gives them a chance to exhibit their hidden strengths. So if Conner never lived would there be some one else to take his place of equal or better ability?

If the Civil War had not occurred would Ulysses S. Grant have remained a drunken Ohio farmer? Or if the Iraq War had been a success from the outset would David Petraeus have emerged out of the bowels of the Army bureaucracy?

If World War II had not occurred would Major Dwight Eisenhower have retired as a Lt Colonel of no particular distinction or would George S. Patton been allowed to distinguish his previously checkered career. This list goes on and on where men condemned to tedium rise to greatness when events offer them their chance.

Shakespeare observed:

“There is a tide in the affairs of men.

Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.”

So one wonders if another great leader would emerge if John Conner had not been born. Probably so. Too bad Conner aficionados. What about the robots? Will a great robot leader emerge to lead them? Young Darth Vader where are you? Sharpen your pencils screenwriters… or perhaps your minds and get to work.


Film Review: Lemmon Tree. Rating B+.

May 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
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Hiam Abbass

A Haunting, Frustrating Film Suffused With Bitterness and Humanity.

This is a drama filmed from mostly the Palestinian point of view but counter pointed with the official and unofficial Israeli view. Directed by Eran Riklis, an Israeli filmmaker, the film examines the consequences of Israeli governmental actions on both Arabs and Israelis much like Waltz with Bashir, reviewed below on January 11, 2009 .

The story centers around a Palestinian widow, Salma ( Arab-Israeli actress, Hiam Abbass) living alone, on a lemon grove inherited from her deceased father. Her husband is prematurely dead and her children live elsewhere leaving her to survive on the income from her lemon grove which she tends with the assistance of an aged family retainer.

Her life radically changes when a new Israeli Defense Minister, Israel Navon, (Doron Tavory) moves into a house bordering her land with his wife Mira (Rona Lipaz Michael).

Navron’s security people advise him to have the grove cut down as it offers cover for terrorists attempting to attack his home. Both Navron and his wife are conflicted by this advice but he reluctantly agrees and the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) proceeds with the legalities of taking the land and removing the trees for security reasons.

Salma makes inquiries as to her options with the local Arab leaders and is advised that it is a lost cause to oppose the IDF on a security issue. Consulting Arab lawyer, Ziad Daud, (Ali Suliman) she again learns that her case involving a land taking for security reasons has little chance and that she is lucky she has been offered compensation. Despite these dire predictions she is compelled to fight, because of father’s legacy, the military order in Israeli courts.

In the meantime the grove is fenced off from her house and Salma is not permitted to water or tend her trees. Mira whose children are away at school is left in her house much of the time while her husband is away on defense business.

Mira, who is estranged from her husband and in this respect also alone, is aware of the calamitous result of the taking to the widow whose house she can see from her window. She sees the soldiers preventing Salma from tending her trees which are now dying. She questions the need for the decision and it is a source of conflict between her self and her husband. This is compounded by the suggestion that he is having an affair with a young female attaché on his staff.

Mira tries to visit Salma and nearly makes it but security agents stop her at Salma’s door and she returns to her house overlooking the lemon grove and Salma’s modest home.

The lemon grove is based on true events and is an allegory for the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations. What ever rapprochement between Arab and Israeli on the personal level and on the official level might be possible is either made impossible or severely curtailed by the militants on both sides.

Although Mira would like to reach out to Salma she cannot for security reasons although Salma, herself, is non threatening. However as the Israeli’s well know , appearances can be deceiving.

Her husband is Defense Minister and a separatist politician, who could override his security advisors decision, he chooses not to because he realizes that the lemon grove is a metaphor for events happening all over Israel and he will be seen as soft on defense if he acquiesces to his wife’s wishes that Salma’s grove be left intact.

There many secondary themes in this picture. One is that the Arab friends of her late husband are upset she is seen as being too close to lawyer Zaid. This is a meretricious relationship in their eyes as the lawyer is half her age and is also engaged to a prominent Arab politician’s daughter. However they are unconcerned with her struggle to keep her lemon grove and offer neither financial nor moral support. So the film is a comment as well concerning the status of Arab women in Arabic society

A perceptive woman journalist recognizes the emotional aspect of this story, a poor widow fighting the government to preserve her lemon grove and the matter becomes front page news. However the defense minister defends his actions by saying that his hands are tied by the military, the ongoing assaults by Hezbollah rockets in the north and by terrorist acts throughout Israel.

Salma achieves a pyrrhic victory when she wins the right to keep half her lemon grove. At the end the defense minister is in his fortress like house with his view of a once pastoral country side including the lemon grove blocked by the separating wall.

Salma is seen walking her land with half her lemon trees cut back to just above the roots but not completely destroyed so they will grow again with care, symbolic perhaps of the Arab-Israeli condition. The lawyer who made advances towards her is gone, married to the politician’s daughter and the Defense minister is alone in his walled off secure house. Mira is also gone.

The lynchpin of this film is Hiam Abbass whose soulful face reveals the pain of her life and condition. This is mirrored in Mira’s intense feeling that she would like to reach across the divide that separates them and at least communicate as women facing similar problems. In the end everybody loses something and what is gained, Navron’s security or half Salma’s grove, is a bitter bargain for what was lost. The film is well written and directed. The cinematographer was Ranier Klausmann