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five films you should see.

May 11, 2011

These, for the most part, are not happy, fun films. They are movies that will really make you think, and just maybe, act.

All of these films I knew at least a little bit about, but found some info on Wikipedia.

If you have little kids, please make sure they are in bed before watching any of these films.

1. “Charlie Wilson’s War.”

This film is the lightest of the movies I am writing about in this entry. There is definitely some humor in this movie, but it does have many heavy parts to it, so be prepared.

Charlie Wilson was a real person. He was a senator from Texas. Here is a bit of information about him from Wikipedia:

He was best known for leading Congress into supporting Operation Cyclone, the largest-ever Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) covert operation, which under the Reagan administration supplied military equipment, including anti-aircraft weapons such as Stinger antiaircraft missiles, and paramilitary officers from their Special Activities Division to the Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet war in Afghanistan. His behind-the-scenes campaign was the subject of the non-fiction book Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile and a subsequent film adaptation starring Tom Hanks as Wilson.”

I have not read the book, but I have seen the film several times. I do not know how accurately the film portrays the events that are written about in the book.

I will say that if you are wondering why Afghanistan is so screwed up, this movie will answer some questions for you. Afghanistan was a mess before the Russians invaded a few decades ago. In years previous, and even centuries previous, this country has been invaded by other forces from other countries. I don’t know why. Control of the drug trade perhaps? The main cash crop of Afghanistan is the opium poppy. It’s practically the only crop that will grow in Afghanistan, and it grows very well.

Why did the Russians invade? I am not sure. I am guessing it’s at least partially because the Soviet Union had already taken over nearby countries, most likely with relative ease, so why not invade Afghanistan, too?

The movie does not answer the question of why the Soviets invaded, but it does show how Charlie Wilson was instrumental in helping the Afghan freedom fighters. Some of the same fighters we helped back in the ’80’s are our enemies in Afghanistan today.

If you pay close attention to the end of the film, you will know what the US govt. did for Afghanistan after helping the Afghans win their freedom from the Soviets. The answer may surprise you.

The movie takes place in various parts of the USA, as well as in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and a few other areas. The story involves congress, the CIA, and the Pakistani govt.

Charlie Wilson seemed like an unlikely character to do so much for the Afghan people. He represented a small district in Texas that didn’t expect much of him. This left Wilson plenty of time to chase women and consume lots of alcohol. He was a real party-boy good-time-charlie type. Hmm.. maybe that’s where the phrase “good-time-charlie” came from. Probably not.. I think that term has been around longer, but it sure fit Charlie Wilson.

I recommend this movie because of the cast (Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams, Julia Roberts), the script, the acting, and the information. People who are too young to remember the early ’80’s, when this film takes place, will especially gain some understanding of Afghanistan and Pakistan by watching this film. I’m old enough to remember the news and magazines in the ’80’s, that told about the ill-fated Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. I was quite pleased to see a well-made movie about this subject.

Mike Nichols directed this movie, and it was written by Aaron Sorkin.

The movie is rated R for occasional nudity (especially at the beginning of the film), language, and bloody violence.

2. “Syriana”

This is a rather sobering film that covers lots of ground. It is set partially in the Middle East (in Lebanon and various unnamed countries) various parts of Europe, and the USA. This film is not based on one actual true story, but it is very close to reality.

There are several plot lines. One involves a beleaguered and aging CIA field agent played by George Clooney, who one a best supporting Oscar for this role. His character is based partially on real CIA agent Robert Baer, and other agents as well.

Clooney’s character operates in the Middle East, and performs clandestine, dangerous, violent missions.

The second plot is about corrupt oil company executives and a lawyer they have hired to uncover their dirty tricks before the govt. does. If the lawyer finds the incriminating info first, the oil companies can do damage control, and know what dirt the govt. investigators will have on them. The lawyer is played by Jeffery Wright. Two other actors in this plot line worth mentioning are Christopher Plummer and Chris Cooper.

The third plot focuses on a family of incredibly rich sheiks – a father, and two sons. The father is old, and ready to transfer power to one of his sons. One son is an idiot, and lives to indulge in the pleasures of life. The other son is smart, serious, and wants real change for his people.

Matt Damon plays a finance expert who, through a tragic series of events, ends up working for the second son.

The forth and final plot is about Arab workers who do the hard, low paying jobs on the pipelines and in the refineries. This part of the story shows how difficult life can be for these workers, who are poor, exploited, and often have to move from country to country in order to find work. This plot also illustrates how terrorism can seem rather appealing, and why people become terrorists.

This is one of the most intelligent and sobering films I have ever seen. It is very well done, and will get you thinking a lot about politics, greed, corruption, poverty, exploitation, and where the gas from your car comes from, who controls the oil industry, and who is making the profits.

The film was written and directed by Stephen Gagham. George Clooney was the executive producer.

“Syriana” is rated R for language, and occasional, but rather intense violence.

3. “Traffic”

“Traffic” was written by Stephen Gagham, the same guy who wrote and directed “Syriana.” “Traffic” was directed by Steven Soderbergh. The film is full of famous and somewhat well known actors. This entry will be longer if I mention them all, so I will only mention a few of them. I will do so when describing the plot lines, of which there are three.

The Mexican story: Benicio del Toro plays a plain clothes policeman stationed in Tijuana, but who also works in the surrounding deserts in that part of Mexico. He and his partner inadvertently get involved with a general who is head of the Mexican anti-drug campaign. Life gets more and more complicated for Javier Rodriguez (del Toro’s character) as he tries to remain an honorable cop and still be an effective player in the war on drugs south of the American border.

The second plot involves DEA agents who are fighting the drug war just north of the border. They are working on stopping people who control distribution of narcotics in California. The two main agents are played by Don Cheadle and Luiz Guzman. They make a good team.

A little ways into the film, the two agents begin investigating a very rich family. The husband is hauled of to jail early in the film, and the agents begin investigating the wife, who is portrayed by Catherine Zeta-Jones. Another character worth mentioning in this plot is the family lawyer, played by Dennis Quaid.

The third and final plot is about a high-up government official who becomes the new drug czar – the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. This man is played by Michael Douglas.

In case you are wondering.. although Douglas and Zeta-Jones are a couple in real life, they have no scenes together in the film.

The character Douglas plays spends his time in the eastern part of the United States. Sometimes he is in Washington, and sometimes in other neighboring cities.

His life and work are complicated by the fact that his daughter is a junkie. This brings the drug war home.

“Traffic” won 3 Oscars, including a best supporting actor award for del Toro.

This movie is rated R for language, sexual situations, and violence.

4. “The Constant Gardener”

This movie is based on a novel by John Le Carre. It was directed by Fernando Meirelles, and the adapted screenplay (screenplay based on an earlier source, such as novel or work of nonfiction) was written by Jeffery Caine.

This movie is by far the most heart-breaking of the 5 I am mentioning in this post.

The plot centers on two characters. The title character is played by Ralph Finnes. His character is named Justin Quayle. Quayle is a shy man who moves to Kenya to become a minor diplomat. He seldom leaves his rather large garden. He is a devoted horticulturalist and prefers to putter about tending to his plants.

Shortly before leaving London for Kenya, Quayle meets a woman who is his perfect opposite. She is lively, vivacious, outgoing, and loves people. Her name is Tessa. They become a couple, and Tessa joins Justin in Kenya. Tessa is played by one of my favorite actresses, Rachel Weisz, who won a best supporting actress award for this role.

While Justin continues to stay in his garden, when not doing diplomatic work at the embassy, Tessa ventures into the slums of Kenya, and discovers certain horrible truths about what is happening to the Kenyan people and what is causing them harm.

Tragic events ensue, and Justin eventually becomes an activist like his wife.

The movie is so hard to watch because of its implications, and also because it is filmed in the slums of Kenya, where daily living conditions are absolutely horrible. It will make you feel guilty for living in an affluent society such as can be found in the United States and Western Europe.

The cast and crew were so impacted by what they saw in Kenya that they set up a charity organization to help the people there.

I could tell you more about the plot, but to do so would reduce the impact it will have on you. This movie, like the others, will stay with you for awhile. It will really make you think.

5. “Doubt”

The movie “Doubt” is based on a play by the same name. The play was written by John Patrick Shanley. Shanley won a Pulitzer prize for this play. The film was written and directed by Scott Rubin.

The movie takes place at a Catholic school and church, and feels like a play. There few settings, only three major characters, and lot of dialog. You might think such a movie would be boring, but trust me, it isn’t. This is because of three things.. the acting, the script, and the story.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams, who were both in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” are also in this film. The third character is played by Meryl Streep.

The three people in the story are a charismatic but strange young priest, played by Hoffman, a very strict nun (Streep), who is principal of the school, and a young and impressionable nun (Adams) who gets caught between the other two characters.

This film is set in 1964. Although church scandals have especially gained notoriety in recent years, wrongful doings have been committed by various clergy and lay people since the church has been in existence. This film investigates troubling actions and difficult decisions, and characters who face the challenge of making good choices and taking the consequences of whatever choices they make.

This movie is rated PG-13 for language and adult situations.

These films I’ve written about are intelligent movies, for intelligent, thinking people who like to not just watch all movies for their entertainment value. I, like most movie-goers, usually prefer just to be entertained. However, I feel it is important to watch these films that take on social issues.

Each of these films shake us out of our daily live. They are honest portrayals of certain societal evils, and serve as a call to action.

We can be educated by these films..

..and maybe.. just maybe.. be moved enough to make a difference.

Thank you for reading this entry. Please see these films.

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