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‘Rogue One’ gives me a new hope

Updated below (on Thursday, January 5, 2017)

Right about now we all could use a new “Star Wars” movie that doesn’t suck. “Rogue One’s” diverse cast of heroic characters (see the movie’s publicity image below) has the white supremacists in a frothy lather, which is yet another good reason to see it.

Image result for Rogue One cast

With Darth Donald furiously filling his administration with hell’s best and brightest — and our only hope rebel electors who halt the construction of the Death Star and thus save the republic when they meet in the state capitals on Monday — it’s great that we have a new “Star Wars” movie to look to.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” the first live-action “Star Wars” film that isn’t part of the ongoing nine-film series (which has hits and misses), opens on Friday, and it looks like it’s going to be a worthy “Star Wars” movie, unlike last year’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

I like that “Force Awakens” features a heroine instead of a hero (British actress Daisy Ridley as Rey did a great job), and that it is somewhat diverse, with black British actor John Boyega as rebel stormtrooper Finn and Latino Oscar Isaac as rebel pilot Poe Dameron. (Boyega and Isaac also did a great job, and, like many, many others, I’ve always had something for Isaac…)

But “Force Awakens,” although acted well enough and technically sound, of course, given its big budget, suffers significantly from being a brazen rehash of the “Star Wars” movies that came before it, replete with a third Death Star (well, OK, it’s a weaponized planet, but in essence it’s a third Death Star), another climactic light-saber duel, and, of course, the climactic destruction of that third Death Star.

“Force Awakens” also features a geriatric Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford as a geriatric Princess Leia and Han Solo, which didn’t give me a warm and fuzzy sense of nostalgia as much as it gave me the sense that the fucking baby boomers just won’t get off of the stage, no matter how long it has been since they wore out their welcome. (At least Han Solo dies in the movie…)

Perhaps most sinfully, “Force Awakens'” “villain,” Darth Vader descendant Kylo Ren (the son of Han Solo and Leia, he is played by Adam Driver), isn’t actually bad-ass at all, but is a whiny little bitch (much like Darth Donald). And that Kylo Ren is just a bad Darth Vader knock-off only emphasizes the fact that “Force Awakens” is just a bad “Star Wars” knock-off…

Oh, sure, it’s great to watch Rey kick Kylo Ren’s ass, but the whole fucking premise that Leia and Han Solo had a son who grew up to try to emulate Granddad Vader is just stupid. As is that third Death Star.

“Rogue One,” though, looks promising. It’s a more immediate prequel to 1977’s “Star Wars: A New Hope”* than was 2005’s “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith,” which is the best of the first-three-numbered “Star Wars” episodes of 1999, 2002 and 2005 that were made after the first three released “Star Wars” episodes of 1977, 1980 and 1983. (Indeed, “Sith” is the only of those three proactive episodes worth watching, really.)

We already pretty much know the plot of “Rogue One”: Rebels to the Empire manage to steal the (first) Death Star plans so that the rebels then can destroy it. But while that back story was mentioned** in “A New Hope,” it never was fleshed out (recall that “A New Hope” begins with Princess Leia safeguarding the Death Star plans with the [an]droid R2-D2, who/which then jettisons in an escape pod with sidekick C-3PO), and very apparently “Rogue One” fleshes out that back story.

That “Rogue One” takes on fresher (albeit pre-established) material rather than simply rehashing old material, as “Force Awakens” did, is a big draw to me, as is the fact that I was a “Star Wars” fan at nine or 10 years old, replete with action figures and plastic toy replicas of the vehicles. (The fact that my mother cavalierly bought me a regular TIE fighter instead of the Darth Vader TIE fighter that I’d very specifically and repeatedly requested for one Christmas [a true story, unfortunately] probably contributed to the person that I am today [including my being fairly used to deep disappointment].)

While I grew up as a “Star Wars” fan — not only was finally seeing the very first “Star Wars” film a major event for me (I was taken to see it by an uncle who felt pity for my brother and me that our lazy, selfish, baby-boomer parents had yet to take us to it [another unfortunately true story]), but “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” also were big events for me, even though “Jedi,” with its second Death Star (and its inevitable destruction), largely is a rehash of “New Hope,” just with a bigger budget and on a larger scale — I still expect a new “Star Wars” movie to bring fresh elements to the table, and “Rogue One” appears to do that.

And I didn’t need another reason to see “Rogue One,” but the fact that the Trump-loving white supremacists/neo-Nazis are boycotting “Rogue One” because it’s just too damned diverse (and thus apparently is anti-white, you see) is yet another significant reason for me to see it.

You would think that these “alt-right” losers would have boycotted “Force Awakens,” because in it, the heroine Rey kicks the ass of the bad-ass wannabe Kylo Ren, who reminds me a lot of the neo-Nazis: He very much wants to be a bad-ass, and is trying to mimic an actual bad-ass who came before him, but he’s just a pathetic, petty terrorist; oh, sure, he can cause plenty of harm to others, but at heart, he’s a weak fucking coward — who gets his sorry ass kicked by a girl.

I love it that as with “Force Awakens,” “Rogue One’s” main hero is a heroine, Jyn Erso (played by British actress Felicity Jones), a rebel who apparently is aided in her cause against the Empire by fellow rebels played by Mexican actor Diego Luna, black American actor Forest Whitaker, Chinese actor Donnie Yen, and Riz Ahmed, who is a Brit of Pakistani heritage.

I’ve enjoyed the work of Luna, Whitaker, Yen and the adorable, doe-eyed Ahmed, and I’m happy to be able to see all of them in one movie.

And that ass-kicking droid in “Rogue One” (named K-2SO, apparently an Imperial droid that/who is droidnapped and reprogrammed to work for the rebels) strikes me as pretty fucking cool — like a C-3PO who/that finally grew a pair.

Movies do a lot of things. They are escapism, for sure, and right about now we Americans — and those who live in nations that are affected by what we Americans allow our government actors to do (and what we don’t allow them to do) — sure could use some escapism.

But movies also are a deep part of American and global culture, and it’s not a one-way street; movies not only reflect the culture at large, but they help to shape the culture.

Even the dimwitted, cowardly members of the “alt-right” and other neo-Nazis know this, and that’s why they hate to see images of racial and gender equality in our mainstream movies; they want only straight, white, conservative men to be the sole heroes in our movies in perpetuity.

But “Star Wars” has been, at least in its own way, subversive from Day One. Even in 1977’s retroactively titled “A New Hope,” it’s clear that the evil Empire, with its legions of stormtroopers and military hierarchy and massive weaponry, is much like the short-lived Nazi German empire.

And “Star Wars'” heroes have not been its villains (although no doubt many have fetishized its villains to the point of not really even viewing them as villains); “Star Wars'” heroes always have been the little guys and gals who have stood up to the big, fascist bullies against all odds.

“Star Wars” has been anti-neo-Nazi since its birth in 1977; the mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging, neo-Nazi mega-losers of today boycott it way too late.

And I’m incredibly fine, when I go to see “Rogue One” — taking a break from the news of the stunningly awful team that is being assembled in Washington, D.C., to “make America great again” by bringing it to the brink of its destruction — knowing that at least there shouldn’t be any neo-Nazis in the theater with me because of their pissy little boycott.

Update (Thursday, January 5, 2017): I finally saw “Rogue One” in IMAX on Monday.

While not a perfect movie, it probably is the best “Star Wars” movie to be released since “The Empire Strikes Back.” It certainly has the look and the feel of the 1977 “Star Wars.”

Like every “Star Wars” movie, “Rogue One” has some characters (humans and non-humans) that are rather dumb, to be frank, but in “Rogue One” the strong characters thankfully cancel out the others. Droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) steals the show as a C-3PO with balls, and Felicity Jones as reluctant Rebel Jyn Erso and Diego Luna as Rebel leader Cassian Andor are a strong heroine and hero team.

Riz Ahmed seems underused as Imperial turncoat Bodhi Rook, a character that is rather undeveloped, as are the characters of blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (who is reduced to babbling a mantra about the Force, which many viewers are going to find more tiresome and annoying than anything else), played by Donnie Yen, and radical Rebel offshoot Saw Gerrera, played by Forest Whitaker, whose importance seems diminished by a deficient back story.

The CGI of the long-dead Peter Cushing as Governor Tarkin is rather obviously CGI, and it’s surprising how much of the CGI Peter Cushing is in “Rogue One.” I’ll leave aside the discussion as to whether or not we even should be resurrecting dead actors via CGI, and just say that the CGI in “Rogue One” is lacking. We’ve come a long way from the creepy CGI of “The Polar Express,” but in “Rogue One,” it’s not far enough.

For all of it flaws, again, “Rogue One” succeeds in bringing back the look and feel and spirit of the 1977 “Star Wars” without entirely rehashing old story lines, as “Return of the Jedi” and “The Force Awakens” did.

Yes, like “Revenge of the Sith,” “Rogue One” fleshes out events that already were alluded to in the earlier films, but still, it’s a masterful fleshing out.

And it’s rather exhilarating, in fact, if you are an old “Star Wars” fan like I am, to watch “Rogue One” take you right to where the 1977 “Star Wars” begins.

I give “Rogue One” at least an “A-“. It misses primarily in some lacking character development. And I still don’t know about that CGI.

“Rogue One” must be given points for its diverse cast — it’s so refreshing when the hero isn’t yet another straight white guy — and for its rather bold ending, which I’d talk about except that it would be a major spoiler to tell you the fate of the main characters.

*I was nine years old when that movie came out, and it wasn’t subtitled “A New Hope” until 1981, when the movie was re-released.

**The iconic opening crawl of “A New Hope” reads:

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy…

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No good options for Sony Pictures with ‘The Interview’

This photo provided by Columbia Pictures - Sony shows, from left, Diana Bang, as Sook, Seth Rogen, as Aaron, and James Franco, as Dave, in Columbia Pictures' "The Interview." (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures - Sony, Ed Araquel)

Associated Press image

Seth Rogen and James Franco are shown in a still from “The Interview,” a movie that Sony Pictures Entertainment has put on indefinite hold because of threats made by apparently-North-Korean hackers to retaliate should Sony release the movie not only in movie theaters, but in any other form.

I don’t recall that at any time in my life was a movie not released because of terrorist threats.

Sony Pictures Entertainment has taken criticism from many for deciding not to release “The Interview,” starring Seth Rogen and James Franco as a team who ultimately assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

Sony’s decision not to release the movie as planned on Christmas Day wasn’t enough; hackers who have been identified as probably North Korean apparently demanded in an e-mail to Sony that “anything related to the movie, including trailers” be removed from the Internet and that Sony “never let the movie [be] released, distributed or leaked in any form of, for instance, DVD or piracy,” as though it were possible for Sony to police the entire Internet and prevent all leaks or acts of piracy.

The Associated Press reports that “Sony Pictures has been removing all signs of ‘The Interview’ from its websites and taken its trailers off YouTube. On Wednesday, the studio canceled its Dec. 25 release after the hackers made threats of violence against theaters showing the film. Sony has said it now has no plans to release ‘The Interview.’”

While I doubt that any actual terrorist attack at a movie theater would have been committed had “The Interview” been released as planned — North Korea has no operatives within the United States, to my knowledge, and as North Korea doesn’t want its inhabitants to leave the Asian nation at all, I don’t really see the United States ever crawling with North Korean operatives  — I imagine that Sony would like to avoid any lawsuits or negative publicity (or both) should any such terrorist attack actually happen, even though such an event is fairly highly unlikely.

While I would like to see Sony at least release “The Interview” on DVD and streaming, as it would any other theatrical release, I imagine that Sony doesn’t want to have to worry about further problems with North Korean criminals in the future. Sony Pictures Entertainment is, after all, first and foremost a business. Its No. 1 reason for existing is not to enlighten us or even to entertain us, but to profit from us, and if Sony perceives that releasing a film would or could cost it more than if it withheld the film, Sony’s probably going to withhold the film.

“Team America: World Police” (which was distributed by Paramount Pictures) went off without a hitch in 2004 (I saw it at a movie theater and I’ve seen it on DVD), but maybe that’s because the late Korean dictator Kim Jong Il was portrayed by a puppet (and was not assassinated technically; at the end of “Team America” his human body is destroyed, but from his body a cockroach emerges – Kim Jong Il actually is [or was…] an alien in the form of a cockroach, you see – and flies off in a miniature spaceship, promising to return). And maybe it’s that Kim Jong Un is a lot more sensitive than was his daddy.

Just as “Team America,” had it never been released, probably wouldn’t have been a great loss to American culture, the pulling of “The Interview” (as much as I’ve liked some of the work of Franco and Rogen in the past) also probably isn’t a huge loss to American culture. We can take some comfort in that, I think.

We can assert that Sony Pictures Entertainment shouldn’t cave in to terrorist threats, but at the same time, should any terrorist attack actually occur at any movie theater showing “The Interview,” we then would lambast Sony’s greed that put dirty profits above precious human lives (and, as I noted, I would expect at least one lawsuit to ensue).

As much as I’m not into sticking up for corporations, I don’t see that Sony really could win in this case (except that if I were in charge at Sony, “The Interview” probably would, minimally, get an online and/or DVD release…).

Still, one day I’d like to see “The Interview” at last, in one format or another, and we have the apparently-North-Korean hackers, with their terrorist threats, to thank for that. It’s a movie that I probably would have skipped otherwise, at least in its theatrical release.

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Notes on the Oscars that I didn’t watch

Cate Blanchett holds her Oscar for Best Actress for the film "Blue Jasmine" at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California

Cate Blanchett is not just a pretty face, but a talented actress whose work should have been recognized with a Best Actress award more than a decade ago. Best Supporting Actor winner Jared Leto, on the other hand, unfortunately is just a pretty face…

Jared Leto, holds his Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in "Dallas Buyers Club" at the 86th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California

Reuters photos

I don’t have cable television and don’t desire ever to have cable TV, and so I didn’t watch the Oscars last night (this year, for the first time ever, ABC made live streaming available — but only to those in certain markets who already have cable!), but I still have plenty of opinions about this year’s.

First off, it was about time that Cate Blanchett won a Best-Actress Oscar. She was robbed in 1998, when she was nominated for the award for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in “Elizabeth” but lost to Gwyneth Paltrow. I don’t hate Paltrow as so many others apparently do, but she didn’t turn in the best performance that year.

Blanchett was nominated for Best Actress again in 2007 for “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” but the academy passed on her again, so last night was the third time and the charm for Blanchett, and she deserved it, as she turned in the best performance of the year, hands down.*

Indeed, Blanchett’s performance is what saves “Blue Jasmine,” which is not one of Woody Allen’s best scripts, even though it earned him yet another nomination for Best Original Screenplay (he did not win, and deservedly so, since the screenplay is a fairly trite rehash).

I’m glad that the members of the academy didn’t snub Blanchett again, this time because they didn’t want to appear to be supporters of child molestation, because to the hysterical members of the pro-Mia-Farrow camp, you see, anyone remotely associated with Woody Allen is for child molestation. (Under this “logic,” not only does Blanchett support child molestation for having worked with Allen, but if you even cast your Oscar ballot for Blanchett, then you, too, support child molestation, by extension.)

“12 Years a Slave” is a worthy Best Picture winner, but I would have been OK with either “Philomena” or “Nebraska” having won (of those two, “Philomena” probably is my favorite).

I saw all of the nominees for Best Picture except for “Her,” “Captain Phillips” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.” I would like to catch “Her,” and probably will, but the subject matter of neither “Captain Phillips” nor “The Wolf of Wall Street” appeals to me, and I’m a bit overdosed on Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio as it is (one word: overexposure). (Seriously, though, it wasn’t long ago enough that I saw DiCaprio as the Great Gatsby. I’m good for a while.)

“American Hustle” is an OK film — good, but not great — and “Gravity” and “Dallas Buyers Club” both have been over-hyped. None of those three nominees deserved to be named Best Picture.

“Gravity” is watchable (I saw it at IMAX), but, in my book, fatally flawed by its incredible — literally incredible, as in unbelievable — plot.

“Dallas Buyers Club” also is watchable enough, but come on, it’s like “Philadelphia” meets “Transamerica.” This gay man is as sick of movies about gay and/or transgender people being about AIDS as black folks are sick of movies being about slavery.

That said, yes, obviously the academy is filled with (mostly white) liberal guilt, and so if you make a movie about slavery, AIDS or the Holocaust, yes, your chances of winning an Oscar go up astronomically.

Again, “12 Years a Slave” is a worthy film, as I noted when it came out, but I do believe that (white) liberal guilt boosted it, just as it boosted “Dallas Buyers Club.”

Speaking further of which, I have enjoyed the return of Matthew McConaughey, whose performances in “Bernie,” “Killer Joe” and “Mud” all were good, but it seems to me that the main reason that he won Best Actor for “Dallas Buyers Club” is that he lost so much weight to play the role, which is not quite the same as great acting, but also because he played a man with AIDS, which also sure was good for Tom Hanks (who won Best Actor for the unworthy film “Philadelphia”).

I’d have given Best Actor to Chiwetel Ejiofor** for his performance in “12 Years a Slave” — not out of white liberal guilt, but because I think that he gave the best performance of the year.

At least the enthralling Lupita Nyong’o wasn’t robbed of the Best Supporting Actress award for her great performance in “12 Years a Slave.” Again, no white liberal guilt there — she earned that award, turning in a performance that probably is the heart and soul of the film. (I love Jennifer Lawrence, who did a good job in “American Hustle,” but this award wasn’t hers.)

And Jared Leto — don’t even get me started on him.

OK, so just as McConaughey won Best Actor for having lost a lot of weight and played a guy with AIDS, Leto won Best Supporting Actor for having lost a significant amount of weight and played a transgender individual with AIDS.

This was the result of full-blown liberal guilt. I don’t see that Leto’s performance was better than was Bradley Cooper’s in “American Hustle” or Michael Fassbender’s in “12 Years a Slave.” It was the transgender person with AIDS angle that did it.

I fully support equality for transgender individuals — I am a gay man myself — but isn’t coddling a historically oppressed minority group in a saccharin, maudlin manner just the flipside of oppressing that group?

Also, just as “Gravity’s” fatal flaw, in my book, is that its protagonist’s fantastic feats are just not believable, in my book “Dallas Buyers Club’s” fatal flaw is its portrayal of the protagonist, Ron Woodroof, as a homophobic heterosexual man with AIDS when, in fact, very apparently those who knew the real-life Woodroof — including his ex-wife — have said that he actually was at least bisexual, but possibly, if not even probably, gay. (Indeed, the photos of him that I’ve seen of him make my gaydar smoke.) Oh, and those who knew Woodroof dispute that he ever displayed homophobia (which, admittedly, a closeted gay man might do, especially in a homophobic state like Texas and in that day and time, to “prove” that he’s “heterosexual”).

Why the apparent change of such an important detail (the protagonist’s sexual orientation)?

Would Woodroof’s story have been less interesting if it had been that of just another faggot who had died of AIDS?

Can you pretend to be respectful of the gay “community” when you change a central character in a “real-life” story from non-heterosexual to heterosexual?

And in Jared Leto’s acceptance speech, he gave an unfortunate (but fortunately brief) shout-out to the “dreamers” of Venezuela and Ukraine. Wow.

On the surface, the “causes” of Venezuela and Ukraine appear to be great bandwagons for a good guilty white liberal to jump upon, but when you scratch beneath the surface, you’ll find that those so-called-by-Jared-Leto “dreamers” are, in Venezuela, plutocratic and pro-plutocratic wingnuts who are just bitter that the socialist president there won the last presidential election — not by much, but he still won. They’re bitter that they lost the election and so they’re trying to force a do-over election (this was done in my state of California in 2003, with the gubernatorial recall election, which was, for all intents and purposes, just a do-over of the previous close gubernatorial election).

I fully expect wingnuts to support the Venezuelan “cause” of toppling a democratically elected socialist president because he is not a right-wing, pro-plutocratic president, but Leto, who presumably fashions himself to be a good liberal, should know better.

And the “dreamers” in Ukraine are largely far-right-wing nationalists, some of them even actual neo-Nazis.

Sure, they have a “dream.” Hitler had a dream, too.

These dreams might be great for them, but others of us, these dreams are nightmares.

Jared Leto, if he wants to be remembered as having been more than just pretty, really, really, really should do his homework before he endorses a “cause” in front of a massive, worldwide audience.

*OK, to be fair and thorough, I  saw all of the performances that were nominated for Best Actress except for Meryl Streep’s in “August: Osage County,” since the film’s previews suggest that it’s a mediocre, sappy film, worthy of perhaps catching on DVD. Still, I can’t imagine that Streep’s performance in that surpassed Blanchett’s in “Blue Jasmine.” My second choice for best actress would have been Judi Dench for “Philomena.”

**To be fair and thorough, I saw all of the performances that were nominated for Best Actor except for Leonardo DiCaprio’s in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” (Hey, if I got paid to see [and write about] movies that I wouldn’t ordinarily see, that would be different!)

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Woody Allen must be presumed innocent

Those were the days, when it was about the art…

The Mia Farrow-Woody Allen fight has become unseemly. Actually, it reached the unseemly point a while ago.

I put Farrow’s name first because she appears to be the one who wants this fight the most, and because she seems to be using her children, natural and adopted, as her weapons in her long-running family feud with Allen. My understanding is that she has been doing this for many years now.

I was sexually abused by a family member, so I don’t need to be told that I am minimizing sexual abuse. I am not.

My central problem with the Farrow-Allen fight is that if you peel away its layers, at its core appears to be Farrow’s hatred of Allen, which probably is mutual. The core of the fight does not seem to be any real, good-faith intention to educate the public about the problem of sexual abuse.

The core intention of Farrow and her surrogates, such as her son Ronan and now her daughter Dylan, seems to be to tell the world, “You think that Woody Allen is so fucking great? Ha! No, he’s a child molester!”

And maybe Allen did sexually abuse adopted daughter Dylan Farrow when she was 7 years old in 1992, as alleged. (While Mia Farrow and Woody Allen never married in the more than 10 years that they were together, they did adopt two children together, including Dylan.) But as Allen was never even criminally tried for such an act, we have to presume him innocent until and unless a criminal court deems him otherwise.

It’s possible that Allen is guilty as charged, but it seems to me that it also is possible that, as Allen’s attorney has posited, Mia Farrow, in the throes of a messy breakup, planted the idea in the young Dylan Farrow’s mind that Allen had sexually abused her. (“In my view she’s not lying; I think she truly believes this happened,” Allen’s attorney is quoted as having said of Dylan, adding, “When you implant a story in a fragile 7-year old’s mind, it stays there forever; it never goes away.”)

Indeed, if it’s true that a home video that Mia Farrow shot of the young Dylan asking her (grilling her? I don’t know; I haven’t seen the video) about the alleged incident is full of in-camera edits (starts and stops), it certainly indicates that some off-camera coaching by mama went on.

In any case, absent a court conviction, the Mia Farrow-Woody Allen fight, in my book, remains unresolved, and because we just don’t know what did or did not actually happen, because we were not there, it’s pointless to take a firm side in the fight, and it seems to me that male-phobic women of course are going to knee-jerkedly side with Mia Farrow and that female-phobic men of course are going to knee-jerkedly side with Woody Allen; it’s yet another Rorschach test, in which the individual sees what she or he is predisposed to see.

I don’t side with either Farrow or Allen, although I do find it unfortunate that Farrow probably will be remembered more for her messy breakup and post-breakup fight with Allen than for her acting — and she turned in some great performances. She might be remembered as the actress who was bitter because her ex found much more post-breakup fame and success than she did, and it’s too bad that that casts a pall over the art that she created.

And yes, I do tend to believe that art and intra-family squabbles and other interpersonal and intrapersonal problems should be kept separate. Art is beautiful and intra-family squabbles and interpersonal and intrapersonal problems are ugly. Art belongs in public for all to see; intra-family squabbles usually belong within the family.

No, I’m not suggesting that the actual victims of sexual abuse at the hands of a family member keep quiet about it. Of course they should not; and the sexual abuse of minors always should be reported to law enforcement authorities. And Dylan, now 28, certainly has not been silent about the allegations against Allen; she recently penned a piece about them for the New York Times, which she began thusly:

What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.

Dylan concludes her piece like this:

What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?

Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse.

So imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter.

Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?

The slam against actors and actresses who have worked with Allen, as though they were firm advocates of the sexual abuse of children, is gratuitous and unfair and ultimately sadly pathetic, and Dylan’s piece still seems more aimed at undercutting Allen’s stature and fame than anything else — giving her the appearance of being her mother’s long-standing pawn — and, having read Dylan’s piece, I still cannot say with confidence whether Allen actually sexually abused her those years ago or whether Mia Farrow, in the throes of a rampage over a messy breakup, really fucked up the young Dylan’s mind.

And you cannot either.

Because you were not there, either.

Until and unless something were to happen, such as Allen issuing a videotaped deathbed confession (without in-camera edits…), the only fair, logical answer to the question “Did Woody Allen sexually abuse his daughter Dylan?” that I could have as I type this sentence is: I do not know. I was not there.

I hope that he did not, but I just don’t know whether he did or not.

In the meantime, I do, to at least some degree, separate a work of art (or attempted work of art) from the personal life of its creator. For instance, to my recollection I haven’t read any of Ernest Hemingway’s novels (I know — I’m bad…), but if I did read one of his novels, I wouldn’t be thinking the whole time, “This guy was a drunk who killed himself; he was a real fucking mess, so all of his writing is trash.”

No, I would judge a Hemingway novel by its own merits, and I do that with Woody Allen’s films.

Some of Allen’s films are pretty good; some of them are pretty bad, especially compared to his better films.*

The Mia Farrow-Woody Allen breakup and post-breakup warring (very apparently instigated mostly if not entirely by Farrow) is, to me, outside of that fact.  

*I will answer, seriously, Dylan Farrow’s snarky concluding question, “Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?”, which very apparently is supposed to make me feel incredibly guilty for ever having enjoyed any of Allen’s cinematic work — because of her alleged sexual abuse at his hands.

It is hard to pick just one Woody Allen film as my favorite, but I suppose that if I had to whittle it down, “Alice” would be my favorite.

In my top 10 also probably would be “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Zelig,” “Husbands and Wives,” “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Midnight in Paris.” (While I loved Cate Blanchett’s performance in “Blue Jasmine,” I found the screenplay lacking. Indeed, in my book, Blanchett’s acting is all that gave that film any real value.)

Indeed, Mia Farrow and Woody Allen had, I think, a great run together; it’s too bad that it has come to the airing of their filthy family laundry in public.

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‘12 Years a Slave’ is a grueling antidote to the comparatively toothless ‘Lincoln’

Film review

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is “counseled” at knife point by cotton-plantation owner Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender) in director Steve McQueen’s grueling film “12 Years a Slave.”

I finally got around to watching “12 Years a Slave,” and while it perhaps has been a little over-hyped — I hate it when a good film is diminished because it can’t possibly be as great as so many claim that it is — it’s going to win a bunch of Oscars, and I consider it to be an antidote to Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” of which I noted at the time that it came out (a year ago) that “the evil of slavery itself is barely portrayed in ‘Lincoln’ … and blacks are only supporting (and mostly subservient) characters in ‘Lincoln,’ which gives the viewer … the unfortunate impression that perhaps the film is asserting that slavery was more of a burden for liberal whites than it was for the actual slaves.”

Indeed, in “12 Years a Slave” the “saviors” still are white men, but, given the fact that at the time white men held virtually all of the political power, what other “savior” could a black person have had at that time? The best that most black Americans, especially enslaved black Americans, could hope for at that time, it seems to me, was to have the fortune to have the mercy of white men who had power to make their lives less miserable.*

Indeed, in “12 Years a Slave” we see at least two grown black men run to their white-male protectors and embrace them as a child would embrace his parent. But, given the circumstances, one could hardly blame them.

I wrote of “Lincoln” that “The Southerners (and their sympathizers) in ‘Lincoln’ aren’t portrayed flatteringly, which probably will mean that the film won’t appeal to the ‘tea-party’ dipshits, since the slavery- and treason-loving Southerners depicted in ‘Lincoln’ are their true founding fathers.”

Ditto for “12 Years a Slave” (and Quentin Tarantino’s “Django,” too, of course).

Michael Fassbender and Paul Dano couldn’t have done a much better job of portraying what probably was the typical Southern white male of the era, and Brad Pitt, perhaps because he was one of the producers, got what to me is the plum role of the liberal, abolitionist Canadian whose action finally frees our hero.

Our hero, of course, is the real-life historical figure Solomon Northup, who in 1841 was a free man (well, “free” as in “not a slave,” “not someone’s property”) who was lured from his home in New York state to Washington, D.C., where he was promised well-paying work but instead was kidnapped and forced into slavery in Louisiana for a dozen years.

And the star of “12 Years a Slave” is Chiwetel Ejiofor, who no doubt will be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for his harrowing portrayal of Solomon Northup.

The other star of “12 Years” is Lupita Nyong’o, who plays the slave Patsey, and who also very most likely will be nominated for an acting Oscar.

“12 Years a Slave,” based upon Northup’s autobiography of the same name and penned by American screenwriter John Ridley, is, first and foremost, the story of the slaves, and its portrayal of their trials and tribulations by comparison makes “Lincoln” look like it portrays slavery as a mere inconvenience to black Americans.

“12 Years,” among other things, portrays free blacks in the North being abducted and sold into slavery, slaves stripped nude and bathed for auction like livestock, a mother being separated permanently from her two children at auction, and the character of Patsey being serially raped by the cotton-plantation owner Edwin Epps (played by Fassbender) and, to add injury to injury, being hated by and thus violently attacked by the plantation owner’s wife (Sarah Paulson) because her husband is sexually predating upon her. We also witness one of our protagonists being quasi-lynched and the other one being brutally whipped.

“12 Years a Slave” does as probably a good job as a film could do to bring us into Solomon Northup’s world. You’re supposed to feel Northup’s struggle and large degree of helplessness, given how utterly disempowered he is. His spirit not only is violated repeatedly by the wrongs that are done to him, but also by the multitude of wrongs that he has to witness done to others, probably especially to Patsey.

“12 Years a Slave” is directed by Steve McQueen, a writer-director who, I surmise, because he is black and British, wasn’t overly worried about not offending white Americans in his portrayal of Southern slavery. (Of course, Quentin Tarantino wasn’t worried about that, either, with “Django,” but bad boy Tarantino can make just about any film that he wishes. Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln,” by contrast, suffers because the “upright” and apparently uptight Spielberg apparently didn’t want to offend white Americans too much.)

I wasn’t impressed with McQueen’s over-hyped 2011 “Shame,” which also starred Michael Fassbender, but after “12 Years,” which draws you into Solomon Northup’s grueling world so well that when he finally is reunited with his family you will, if you have any empathy at all, have tears in your eyes, I look forward to more projects by McQueen, and after having watched “12 Years” I’ll probably catch McQueen’s other project starring Fassbender, 2008’s “Hunger.”

My grade: A

*Indeed, we are told at the end of “12 Years a Slave,” as Wikipedia puts it:

Northup sued the slave traders in Washington, D.C., [who had kidnapped him and sold him into slavery], but [Northup] lost in the local court. District of Columbia law prohibited him, as a black man, from testifying against whites, and, without his testimony, he was unable to sue for civil damages. The two men were charged with the crime of kidnapping and remanded into custody on $5,000 bail, but without Northup’s testimony, a conviction could not be secured and [so] the men were released.

So, even in the North, which in Northup’s day was quite progressive compared to the South, Northup, as a “free” man, because he was a black man, did not have equal rights, and white men still could commit grievous crimes against black Americans with impunity.

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‘Lone Ranger’: Bloat on the range

Film review

'The Lone Ranger' and the Trouble with White Horses

In what probably is the film’s funniest scene, Johnny Depp as the Comanche Tonto confers with the “spirit horse” Silver about the equine’s taste in heroes in director Gore Verbinski and producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s “The Lone Ranger.”

Reviews of “The Lone Ranger” have not been kind. As I type this sentence, rottentomatoes.com gives “Ranger” a “rotten” rating, with just 24 percent of critics having liked it — but tellingly, 68 percent of the website’s users have given the film a thumbs up.

“The Lone Ranger,” to be sure, is flawed, but its moments of brilliance make it worth seeing.

“Ranger’s” biggest flaw is its bloat. It’s OK to make a tw0-and-a-half hour film if you can keep our interest the whole time, but “Ranger” sags seriously in the middle. It would be interesting to see cuts of films that are improved not by restoring footage that was cut from the original releases, but by tightening up overlong films like “Ranger.” Sometimes less is a lot more.

The carnivorous rabbits in “Ranger,” for instance, could go. Even the scorpions. Hell, the filmmakers even could have stripped the Lone Ranger’s love interest (his brother’s wife) from the movie entirely and it wouldn’t have been a huge loss. (The actress who plays her, Ruth Wilson, does a fine job, but why the “mandatory” love interest? Might we mistake the violence-hating and book-loving Lone Ranger — who at the end of the film goes off with his same-sex companion Tonto — for a gay man otherwise? [Horrors!])

And as much as I like Helena Bonham Carter, she’s not given nearly interesting enough stuff to do in “Ranger” to justify the inclusion of her character. In “Ranger” Helena Bonham Carter is wasted as a one-trick pony, and she doesn’t have to appear in every film that Johnny Depp is in.

Speaking of Depp, “The Lone Ranger” more aptly might be called “The Lone Comanche,” because, as others have noted, this is Tonto’s and Depp’s film, not the Lone Ranger’s and Armie Hammer’s.

As adorable as the promising young actor Armie Hammer is, his Lone Ranger is not a born stud, but is a bookwormish nerd who stands in the shadow of his older brother (who is a born stud) and who needs Tonto’s guidance.

Indeed, without Tonto’s guidance, in this new version of the Lone Ranger, the Lone Ranger wouldn’t be the Lone Ranger. Tonto is not the Lone Ranger’s servile sidekick in this reboot; he is the Lone Ranger’s Yoda, the young, clueless hero-to-be’s reluctant mentor (although Yoda wasn’t this reluctant).

On that note, while some have dismissed Depp’s version of Tonto as a condescending and thus racist parody of Native Americans — I’ve even seen Depp’s Tonto compared to Stepin Fetchit — Depp’s Tonto is not a buffoon, but is a mixture of the shaman and the trickster, two important Native American archetypes, as I understand the Native American culture.*

And that is a definite promotion from the Tonto of yore. In Lone Ranger 2.0, Tonto is the hero, and the white man is not portrayed as the brave pioneer, as he was for decades in Westerns, but is portrayed as “wendigo,” the term for a Native American belief in a cannibalistic, demonic entity.

True, there’s only one actual cannibal in “The Lone Ranger” — its effective villain Butch Cavendish (played well by William Fichtner) — but “Ranger” makes the point that you don’t have to be an actual cannibal to be evil nonetheless, a point that is played out with its villain behind the villain, the railroad tycoon Latham Cole (played by Tom Wilkinson), who in his own hypocritical way is a cannibal much worse than Butch Cavendish.

Indeed, that is what the white man did to the Native Americans, so to speak: ate them up, consumed them, so that they were (and are), to a large extent, no more.

Again, this portrayal is progress, it seems to me, from the cowboys-and-Indians movies of before, in which the white men were always the brave heroes, the good guys, and the Indians always were the bad guys — standing in the way of what “rightfully” was the white man’s, you know, manifest destiny and God’s will and such (in a word, wendigo).

That said, in “The Lone Ranger” we get plenty of nostalgia from the Westerns of yesteryear, even if the story apparently is to take place entirely in Texas yet the film actually apparently was shot mostly in New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and Colorado. Indeed, Monument Valley, which is a prominent backdrop in “Ranger,” is not in Texas (but is in Utah and Arizona), and the transcontinental railroad was completed at Promontory Summit in northern Utah, which is quite a distance from Texas, where “The Lone Ranger” very apparently has the transcontinental railroad completed.

But while “The Lone Ranger” mixes up the entire Southwest into one generic mass that’s supposed to be Texas (where it apparently barely even was filmed), it does apparently pay attention to some historical details, perhaps especially where the history of the transcontinental railroad is concerned; “Ranger” portrays the exploitation and the abuse of the Chinese immigrants who did so much of the hard, dangerous labor for which the white men, at the railroad’s completion, congratulated themselves with pride, pomp and circumstance.

And “Ranger” gives us a sense of what was lost when the white settlers decimated the Native Americans. Non-native Americans sorely could use the wisdom of the Native Americans right about now, but with the misinterpretation of Johnny Depp’s Tonto as a buffoon rather than as a hero in his own right (as a shamanistic trickster), non-Native Americans appear to be no closer to getting it now than they never have been.

Unfortunately, the worthwhile messages in “The Lone Ranger” do get a bit buried in all of the busy and loud action sequences that we inevitably are going to get in a Jerry Bruckheimer production released in the summer.

I want to see more Westerns like this, but I want them leaner, without all of the fat that is in the current version of “The Lone Ranger.”

I, for one, am up for a low-fat sequel.

My grade: B

*On that note, as to whether or not Native Americans should be outraged that the character of Tonto is played by Depp and not by a full-blooded Native American, I’ll leave that decision entirely to actual Native Americans.

I hate it when people (usually guilty white “liberals,” it seems) are “outraged!” on behalf of another group of people with whom they have little to even no actual contact.

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‘World War Z’ needs braaains!

Film review

In this publicity photo released by Paramount Pictures, the infected scale the Israeli walls in "World War Z," from Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions in association with Hemisphere Media Capital and GK Films. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Jaap Buitendijk)

The Cool Catastrophes of 'World War Z'

This publicity image released by Paramount Pictures shows a scene from "World War Z." The zombies in “World War Z” move with Carl Lewis speed and a swarm-like mentality inspired in part by rabid dogs, furthering the eternal fan debate over whether the walking dead should actually run. (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures)

Zombies leap and pile atop each other like angry armies of ants in “World War Z,” produced by and starring Brad Pitt, but despite these impressive visual effects and a plot that has Pitt’s character jetting around the globe, “WWZ” overall is a fairly tepid entry into the zombie genre.

I walked into “World War Z” yesterday with one reviewer having stated that the film does nothing new with the zombie genre but with other reviewers (the majority of them) having stated that it’s an engaging, thrilling summer action movie.

Sadly, in a nutshell, my verdict is that “WWZ,” while watchable enough, does nothing significantly novel with the zombie genre.

I wanted to like “WWZ” more than I did. The zombie genre, done right, can be decent entertainment, and Brad Pitt usually doesn’t do shit. But “WWZ” won’t go down as one of Pitt’s best films or as one of the zombie genre’s best entries.

“WWZ” has some compelling special effects, such as its hordes of fast-moving zombies leaping and piling atop each other like angry armies of ants, but methinks that the proof that’s in the blood pudding is how the individual zombie is portrayed, and “WWZ’s” individual zombies aren’t very frightening, and “WWZ’s” lackluster zombie makeup effects break no new ground in the zombie genre.

Not that gore alone makes for a successful zombie movie, but perhaps one of “WWZ’s” chief errors, I suspect, is its producers’ decision to make a PG-13-rated instead of an R-rated zombie film. I mean, a G-rated zombie film would be considered something for kids, and so not very scary at all, so why would a PG-13-rated zombie flick be all that much scarier?

Indeed, far from being all that scary, most of “WWZ’s” individual zombies are (from what I can tell) unintentionally fairly funny. (My mate, who sat next to me, laughed throughout the movie, and laughed at scenes that very apparently weren’t intended to be comedic.) The tooth-chattering zombie, the zombie that Pitt’s character interacts with the most, I found to be creepy, but not scary, and zombies are supposed to be scary, especially in a movie that bills itself as a seriously scary zombie movie.

Further speaking of which, from what I can tell, the zombies in “WWZ” have no interest whatsoever in consuming human flesh — no, not even human braaains! — but have interest only in biting non-infected humans in order to spread the zombie virus. Perhaps that’s the best that you can do with a PG-13 rating, but yaaawn!

And while the whole concept of the zombie — a human being that is without a beating heart and thus without circulating blood and thus without any other functioning organs yet somehow nonetheless magically is animated — of course is entirely fantastical and not remotely scientific, it would be nice if “WWZ,” since it presents itself as interested in science and medicine, had strived for more medical and scientific accuracy in its portrayal of the viral-infection process.* (Spoiler alert: The material at the asterisk below is a mild spoiler.)

No virus, for instance, is capable of taking over the entire human body within a matter of seconds, and no virus can replicate without a living host, so of course a zombie, without even a beating heart, could not be a virus factory.

Didn’t early zombie movies just rely on voodoo or some other kind of magic or hocus-pocus as the explanation for zombification? When and why did viral infection become the new, unworkable rationale in the zombie genre?

OK, sure, I suppose, perhaps the fear of a Plague still lingers within the human psyche — large swaths of people have been offed in plagues during the past (and the plague of AIDS is still with us, and new plagues, such as bird and swine flus, have the power to scare us at least a bit today) — but even before “WWZ” we didn’t need another entry in the virally caused zombie genre.

And the “solution” that the heroes in “WWZ” find to deal with the zombies is less than credible and less than thrilling. (It’s so not thrilling that I won’t even bother to go into any detail about it; it would be a “spoiler” not even worth “spoiling.”)

With Brad Pitt’s involvement, you would have thought that “WWZ” would have turned out to be a smarter zombie movie. Instead, “WWZ” screams out for braaains!

That said, “WWZ,” regarded as typically mindless summer action-movie fare, is not entirely unwatchable. It’s just disappointing if you expected something more and something better.

I can forgive Pitt for this lapse — as long as he does not involve himself in a sequel.

My grade: B-

P.S. I found BBC America’s “In the Flesh” to be a fairly fresh take on the zombie genre, in case you are interested in feasting on such a fresher take — a take with brains (literally and figuratively).

*Indeed, the movie disappointingly kills off its most scientifically minded character quite early. Are we to take that symbolically as well — that without the scientist further in the movie there will be no further scientific orientation in the movie?

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