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90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life
90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Death and Life
by Cecil B. Murphey
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.69
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4.0 out of 5 stars God in Everyday Things, March 8, 2015
"90 Minutes in Heaven: A True Story of Life and Death" describes a horrific accident that ended the life of Reverend Don Piper in 1989. Piper was driving on a bridge over the Trinity River near Houston, Texas. An 18-wheeler driven by a prisoner with no license crossed the divide and rammed Piper's compact Ford Escort head-on, at an impact speed of 110 miles per hour. Piper's Ford looked like Godzilla had stomped on it – there is a photo in the tenth-anniversary edition of the book.

Four different medical professionals checked Piper for signs of life, including a pulse, and pronounced him dead at the scene. They covered his body with a tarp. They didn't even bother with an ambulance; they ordered transportation to take his corpse to a morgue. Emergency responders left Piper alone for ninety minutes and tended to others, none of whom were hurt enough to go to a hospital.

Traffic was backed up. A Baptist minister got out of his car and asked for permission to pray over Piper. Permission granted, Dick Onerecker prayed over Piper, and began to sing a hymn. Piper began to sing with Onerecker. Onerecker shouted to emergency responders that Piper was alive. They rushed Piper to a hospital.

What they did not know is that Piper had spent those ninety minutes in Heaven. The book describes Heaven very briefly. Piper says that he did not experience what many near death experiencers report. He did not experience leaving his body, floating above his body, or traveling down a tunnel. Piper says that one second he was driving his car; the next second he was in Heaven. Piper reunited with departed friends and relatives, and saw a brilliant and beautiful light, and heard exquisite singing.

Piper did not face a decision about whether or not to return to earth. Equally quickly and without transition, Piper was back in his body. He says he felt no pain at first, but at a certain point in the ambulance, he regained sensation, and the pain was so horrible he begged for pain-killers, which the emergency personnel could not give him, for fear of losing him. He has been in pain ever since that day in 1989.

Piper points out that four medical professionals determined that he had died instantly in the accident, and reviewing his injuries and the photo of the accident, it's easy to see why. Further, Piper says that had his heart been pumping for those ninety minutes, he would have bled to death, his injuries were so extensive. He reports that his experience of Heaven was the most real experience he's ever had.

The bulk of the book consists of a very straight-forward and unadorned account of Piper's recovery from the accident, and how his Christian community responded to him. Piper's injuries were extensive. He was in bed, flat on his back, hospitalized, for an extended period. He was placed in an Ilizarov device to help his body replace one of his leg bones, which, it is guessed, was ejected out of his body into the river below the bridge (since this large bone was never found at the accident scene.)

Piper has lived with constant pain ever since the accident, and there is much he cannot do. He reports, for example, that if someone pats him on the back, he is likely to fall forward, because his legs lack the structure to break his fall. He can't change the position of his elbow or hand on one arm. If nothing else, this book speaks volumes about how much pain people have to endure. One can't read this book without wishing that medicine had developed better pain management.

The other prominent feature of the book is the account of how Piper's Christian community gathered round him and supported him in over-the-top ways. A family took in his daughter. Church members visited him daily in the hospital. Thousands of people on prayer chains prayed for him. Piper appears to be surrounded by one of the most supportive Christian communities one could imagine.

What most recommends this book to me is its ordinariness. One might think that a book about dying, going to Heaven, and returning to earth would be chock full of arcane wisdom and complicated answers to life's big questions. "Ninety Minutes in Heaven" is not like that at all.

"Ninety Minutes in Heaven" is a very, very simple book. The sentences and the chapters are short. The vocabulary is very basic. An eighth grader could read this book and not miss anything.

The scenes, conversations, and characters of "Ninety Minutes in Heaven" are scenes, conversations and characters that you could experience yourself. A man is in an accident. His body is mangled. He's in horrible pain. He recognizes that he will never have the same body again. His two sons recognize that their father will never teach them to play catch, or fish, or dance, or fix a car. Maybe not even tie a tie. The man becomes horribly depressed. He is sullen and he hurts those trying to help him. Even so, his fellow parishioners refuse to give up on him, and continue to be kind to him.

The man recovers enough that he can walk. He shows kindness to others who have suffered the same injuries he has suffered. He inspires those who are dying of cancer, and parents who have lost sons and daughters in the military. He urges them to have faith in Jesus Christ. They heed his urging, and they find peace.

That's *all* that happens in this book. Piper underplays his experience of Heaven. He emphasizes his imperfect, painful, confusing, mundane, earthly experience.

There's an old story. Tourists arrive in Hell. They see tables set with exquisite, gourmet meals. Yet all the denizens of Hell are starving. The problem is that the only forks they have are very long. Hell's diners spear the food, but can't bring it to their mouths.

The tourists then travel to Heaven. Again, tables set with gourmet meals. Here, the diners are fully satisfied. But! The tourists notice that Heaven also is equipped only with very long forks! The tour guide explains, "In Heaven, we feed each other."


The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined
by Steven Pinker
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.88
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8 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Pinker Uses an Unsourced and Unscholarly Anecdote to Defame a Heroic and Historic Catholic Priest, March 1, 2015
Steven Pinker grievously misrepresents a heroic, and historically significant, Catholic priest in "The Better Angels of our Nature." Pinker does so using an unsourced and unscholarly anecdote that defies canonical history as it appears in peer-reviewed publications. This is a serious problem. I've written to him about it. Letter below:

I'm writing to request that you retract what appears to be false material published in both the 2011 Penguin Book Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Dr. Steven Pinker and the 2015 Henry Holt and Company book The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom by Dr. Michael Shermer. I request that you remove this material from any future editions of both books, and that you insert accurate material.

Both books repeat an unsourced anecdote that misrepresents Father Friedrich Spee, one of the first and most influential opponents of the witch craze that seized Europe during the Early Modern Period. This misrepresentation of a long dead priest matters for several reasons.

Friedrich Spee was a human rights hero and pioneer. He risked his life for others.

Spee is a figure of historical importance. Understanding him is key to understanding the witch craze, a significant period in Western history.

Spee's work is significant today. His biographers consider Spee to be among the first influential authors to work out an argument against the use of torture to obtain confessions. Spee "ranks among the most important authors of his time." His work "was one of the first sustained, detailed attacks…against the witch trials and use of torture" (Modras 27).

Both Doctors Pinker and Shermer self-identify as representational of atheist reason and truth, as opposed to the alleged obscurantism of persons of faith. That both gentlemen have disseminated unsourced material from a non-scholarly book undermines their self-identification.

Both Doctors Pinker and Shermer self-identify as representing a new and improved, science-and-reason-inspired path toward better lives for all humankind. Father Friedrich Spee should be assessed as an ally, and celebrated, by those interested in human rights. He should not be denigrated and slandered with the use of spurious material and unscholarly methodology.

Both Doctors Pinker and Shermer repeat Charles Mackay's anecdote about Friedrich Spee in their books. As Mackay would have us believe, a humanitarian secular leader, the Duke of Brunswick, "shocked" by the witch craze, which, presumably, is being carried out by Catholic clerics, summons Father Friedrich Spee. The Duke demonstrates to Spee that torture does not work in the extraction of confessions. Brunswick does this by torturing an accused witch into implicating Spee in witchcraft. Spee has an Aha moment and puts an end to the witch craze. Dr. Pinker uses this anecdote to prove that the "Age of Reason" and a "scientific spirit" ended the witch craze. Dr. Pinker places the witch craze in the Middle Ages, as does Dr. Shermer. Dr. Shermer uses the same anecdote to "prove" the same point.

The anecdote is almost certainly false.

I wrote to Dr. Pinker and he was kind enough to reply. He acknowledged that he found the anecdote in a book that cited Charles MacKay's 1841 book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Charles MacKay was a Scottish journalist, not a scholar. Delusions is not a serious history of the witch craze. It was written in a popular and sensationalistic style. I found no footnote for the anecdote in my copy of Mackay's book. The reference librarians at the Cheng Library found no footnote for Mackay's anecdote in their copy of Delusions.

Dr. Ronald Modras, author of a biographical sketch of Spee that appeared in a scholarly journal, and author of several other works on Jesuits and Catholic history, wrote to tell me that he has read at least eight works on Friedrich Spee and that none of them mention Mackay's Duke of Brunswick anecdote.

I find no mention of Spee, witches, or torture in one online biography of the Duke of Brunswick (here).

At the height of the witch craze, Friedrich Spee risked his life in writing an anti-witch craze book, Cautio Criminalis. There is no evidence in Cautio Criminalis that it was inspired by any shallow trick of any Duke. Rather, as Modras writes, "The Cautio is not a calmly argued essay on jurisprudence. It is a shrill cry to stop a travesty of justice" (Modras 29).

Cautio Criminalis was inspired by Spee's experience. "I myself have accompanied several women to their deaths in various places over the preceding years whose innocence even now I am so sure of that there could never be any effort and diligence too great that I would not undertake it in order to reveal this truth…One can easily guess what feelings were in my soul when I was present at such miserable deaths."

Cautio Criminalis' argument against the witch craze is not the argument Doctors Pinker and Shermer want it to be. Both Doctors Pinker and Shermer repeat what has since been proven false: that increasing scientific thought ended the witch craze.

In fact Spee does not use a scientific disbelief in witches to support his case against the witch craze. Modras argues that Spee is like a modern-day opponent of the death penalty. Realizing that banning the death penalty outright might be unattainable, death-penalty opponents focus on issues like the high cost of death penalty cases, and the lower cost of life in prison.

Spee's concession to popular belief notwithstanding, his insights about what causes witch crazes are in alignment with contemporary scholarship.

"It all begins with superstition, envy, and calumnies. Something goes amiss, and people clamor for an inquisition. All the divine punishments described in the Bible now come from witches. God and nature are no longer responsible for any mishap; witches do it all" (Modras 32, summarizing Cautio Criminalis).

That a Roman Catholic priest writing in the height of the witch craze offered insights that mirrors the most modern scholarship contradicts the notion that people needed to evolve into, or be tutored by, atheists, or scientists, or twenty-first century moderns.

Spee briefly concedes what his readers probably cannot be disabused of – that witches exist – but then Spee argues that guilt cannot be adequately ascertained, and torture is too cruel and unjust.

Spee uses the tools of his Catholic faith to make his point to his audience. Spee uses traditional Jesuit argumentation style and Biblical citations. He cites the parable of the wheat and the weeds. Just as a farmer allows weeds to grow with wheat, and separates one from the other at harvest, God allows sinners to live out their lives (Matthew 13). Just so accused witches should be allowed to live, Spee argues, in order that people might avoid the serious crime of killing innocents. In risking his life to save others and to cleanse the soul of his church and his wider society, Spee was following the example of his Lord, Jesus Christ.

Spee's traditional, Catholic, Jesuit argumentation style, his graphic descriptions of the cruelty and irrationality of torture, and his Biblical references worked.

Where and when Spee's book was translated and read by leaders, the witch craze ended.

The pattern of Spee's impact was repeated throughout Europe. It wasn't science that ended the witch craze.

I asked prominent witch craze scholar Brian P. Levack, "What ended the witch craze?"

On February 21, 2015, Levack wrote to me, "I address this question at length in the third edition of my book, The Witch-hunt in Early Modern Europe, and at great length in my essay on the decline and end of witch-hunting in Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: the Eighteenth Century. This is a complicated issue, but my main argument is that the trials did not end because judicial authorities stopped believing in witchcraft but because they began to realize that the crime could not be proved at law."

In his other writings, Spee showed his special concern for women. He wrote a devotional book directed specifically at women's spiritual development. He used feminine metaphors for God. He was a brave and self-sacrificing man who entered primitive hospitals, malodorous, foul places he described in his writing. He died at the young age of 44 of an infection contracted while ministering to the sick.

Nowhere in the factual biography of Father Friedrich Spee does one encounter the silly anecdote deployed by both Doctors Pinker and Shermer to prove that ignorant Catholics required compassionate secular leaders to end the witch craze.

The old-fashioned, popular understanding of the witch craze runs something like this: In the Middle Ages or Dark Ages, the obscurantist, misogynist, all-male and omnipotent Catholic Church murdered millions of innocent, Goddess-worshipping wise women. Then the Enlightenment came along, people rejected religion – especially Catholicism – suddenly became very smart and scientific and atheistic, and stopped the witch craze.

Scholars have completely debunked everything about this narrative. The witch craze took place not, as Doctors Pinker and Shermer would have it, during the "Dark" or Middle Ages, but during the Early Modern Period.

In the real Middle Ages, the Catholic Church repeatedly rejected the concept of witchcraft. Societal stresses like the breakup of the Catholic Church during the Reformation, the Little Ice Age, and changes in the prices of basic goods and traditional patterns of almsgiving contributed to witch crazes.

The Inquisition actually sometimes suppressed local witch crazes. See, for example, Alonso de Salazar Frías, the witch's advocate, who was himself a Spanish Inquisitor, and who worked to stop the witch craze in his region. The demand for trials often came from below, from common people, rather than from church or secular leaders, and from women. Envy and petty malice was often the spark. Men as well as women were victimized.

In a metaphorical sense, witch crazes have never ended. During the Reign of Terror, devotees of the Enlightenment, dedicated to atheism and reason, managed to rack up a death toll in one year comparable to the entire number of witch craze victims over the course of three hundred years of trials.

We fool ourselves, and we squander an opportunity to learn how to be better people, when we rewrite the witch craze as something done by people wholly other who lived in a past we have overcome.

We benefit ourselves, and the cause of righteousness, if we recognize that the witch craze was carried out by people exactly like us.

We inspire ourselves to better things when we learn of lives like that of Father Friedrich Spee, what inspired him and what he accomplished.

Doctors Pinker and Shermer, please retract the unsourced and unscholarly anecdote you have disseminated and please change any subsequent editions of your books to reflect the true history, motivations, and impact of Father Friedrich Spee.

Thank you.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 17, 2015 6:19 AM PDT


The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom
The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom
by Michael Shermer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.71
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24 of 41 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Messianic Vision of a God-Free Future, February 20, 2015
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I'm sure Michael Shermer is a nice guy. Through hard work he has amassed a large amount of data that, he is convinced, will make the world a better place. Shermer's idealism, compassion, and hard work are to be admired.

His book The Moral Arc, though, deserves unflinching criticism. The Moral Arc is being presented as a scholarly book. It is not. Its departures from scholarship are significant and those departures render the book incapable of directly contributing to the advance of knowledge or morality. Rather, the book will mislead many naïve and ignorant readers.

In short, Shermer makes virtually no mention of previous applications of his ideas, and he grievously misrepresents history, Judaism and Christianity. The last is no small offense in a world where antisemitism is on the rise and Christians are, worldwide, the most persecuted population for their group identification.

My complete review of The Moral Arc can be found on the web. It is too long for me to post the entire review here. I will post only the opening. The rest is available online.

Michael Shermer's 2015 book, The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom, announces a messianic vision: humanity is naturally evolving into a superior version, one that will be more moral and less religious. He writes,

As a species, we are becoming increasingly moral...we are living in the most moral period in our species' history...we evolved the capacity to actually be moral animals (3-4; 361).

One of Shermer's main themes is that formal education and literacy may make people more moral (28-9).

In this review, the phrase "human progress" will refer to this idea: that humanity is evolving in linear time from the past to the future into a more moral, less religious, more atheistic form; that religion is a negative force and a relic of the ignorant past; and that a combination of natural forces and formal education are effecting this improvement in the human species.

Author Michael Shermer is founder of the 55,000-member Skeptics Society. He writes a monthly column for Scientific American and he holds a PhD in the history of science. He makes frequent media appearances representing capital-A Atheism.

The Moral Arc purports to be a take-down of religious belief in general, but it is in fact an assault on the Judeo-Christian tradition. Confucianism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Jainism, Hinduism, Paganism and Islam are all but unmentioned. Shermer's work grants a free pass to jihad, gender apartheid, mass female infanticide under Confucian values, and the Hindu caste system.

Shermer likes charts and numbers, but he might want to consult a world map reflective of sex ratios. Females are less likely to survive in Muslim, Hindu, and Confucian societies than in Judeo-Christian ones. By avoiding facts like these, Shermer avoids acknowledging that different religions affect humanity differently.

Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Jared Diamond calls The Moral Arc "one of the best recent books I've read...It's an honest, clear account of morality and justice." Steven Pinker, Harvard's Johnstone Professor of Psychology, calls The Moral Arc "thrilling." Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins says,

There's no better tool for the purpose [of telling right from wrong] than the style of moral philosophy that's inspired by science, and Michael Shermer is a master of that.

The Moral Arc is 541 pages, with 85 pages of footnotes and bibliography. It has no underlying structure that takes the reader on a journey that begins on the first page and ends on the last. No developing narrative inspires the reader to keep turning pages. Each chapter significantly consists of a disjointed accretion of one summary of one scholarly study after another. There is, for instance, a rehash of the famous Milgram obedience experiment and then an account of the rise of Whole Foods Market. But no thread connects them.

In a jacket blurb, Arizona State University Foundation Professor Lawrence M. Krauss calls The Moral Arc a "thoroughly researched...work of scholarship." Real scholarly publications require peer review. Experts in a given field review a text for its ability to meet the current demands of their particular discipline. Scholarly works are also written by trained members of a given discipline. Shermer's PhD is in the history of science. It is not in the many fields he touches on in The Moral Arc.

Scholarship invites dialogue. Shermer's scholarship, however, is a triumphalist, zero-sum game: Atheists win; believers lose. In the cover illustration by Felix Parra, Galileo instructs a dense and hostile appearing monk. This image alludes to what Harvard University Press, in a 2010 book title, refers to as a "myth" "about science and religion." Atheists insist that the Catholic Church oppressed science and that Galileo's autobiography is proof of that oppression. Historians know that this Atheist myth is not true, but the myth illustrates Shermer's book jacket regardless of its having been debunked.

Shermer relies heavily on Steven Pinker's 2014 book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Indeed, Pinker calls Shermer's book a sequel to his own. Better Angels makes the controversial claim that humanity has become less violent than it was in the past. Pinker's claim has been met with serious criticism, including in Scientific American, The New York Times, and The New Yorker.

To believe Shermer's book, you have to accept his premise that there is an unbreachable wall between science and religion. Shermer praises Isaac Newton, Francis Bacon, and Rene Descartes, all Christians, as if they represent a science that emerged in a distant galaxy where no Christianity exists.

Shermer also rages against the Torah. Over twenty percent of all Nobel Prize winners have been Jews, though Jews make up less than 0.2% of the world population. Shermer insists that the European Enlightenment saved mankind from the religious "Dark Ages." The science that Shermer celebrates was produced by cultures firmly rooted in or influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition. Shermer proposes that always and everywhere natural processes evolve the human species into a better, more scientific, atheistic form. And yet those processes have not produced any heroes for Shermer to hold up from three thousand years of pre-Christian Egypt, Hindu India, Confucian China or pre-Columbian America. No. Only cultures influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition and its Scientific Revolution produced the scientists Shermer holds up as heroes.

Chemist Charles B. Thaxton, author Nancy Pearcey, physicist Scott Locklin, sociologist Rodney Stark and others have argued that the Judeo-Christian tradition provided unique soil for the Scientific Revolution to take place. Shermer does not address this idea. He writes as if science arose fully formed out of the sea, like the mythical Venus.

The Judeo-Christian tradition is not separate from reason in the way Shermer wants it to be. Jesus famously said, "Judge a tree by its fruits." Peter advised believers always to be ready to give answer. Catholics invented universities. Catholics from Aquinas to Benedict XVI (in his 2006 Regensburg lecture) have famously detailed how and why reason is the partner of faith. Catholic clerics gave us everything from Occam's razor to the heliocentric universe to the Big Bang to genetics. Scholars cite Jewish emphasis on literacy and Talmudic study when seeking reasons why Jews score so high on intelligence tests. Shermer's insistence on a complete separation between Jewish and Christian faith and reason is inaccurate.

Shermer's concept of human progress is not new. Human progress has a controversial intellectual history and a catastrophic history of application. But Shermer does not mention this fact. That lack of mention of the previous incarnations of his main idea is an intellectual and moral lapse. If you are recommending an idea that has been used to support genocide, you must show why your reiteration of the idea is immune to its previous failings...

Again, the remainder of this lengthy review can be read online.

A book you may want to read: The Drama of Atheist Humanism
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 1, 2015 6:44 AM PST


With Blood and Scars
With Blood and Scars
by B. E. Andre
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.13
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5.0 out of 5 stars whether she finds herself stuck at home decorating Easter eggs in the Polish style or bored during the interminable church servi, February 13, 2015
This review is from: With Blood and Scars (Paperback)
Review by Michal Karski, who wrote it for my blog. He gave me permission to repost it here as long as I credited him, which I do. Michal Karski's review, below:

"What did you do in the war, Daddy?" was a question which became a bit of a cliché back in the fifties and sixties. The answers came in many and various forms at the time. Those of us living in English-speaking countries might suppose that individual stories from the various campaigns of the Allies during World War Two have all been told and that the subject is quite familiar territory by now. Even so each new decade provides new viewpoints. The ever-changing focus of history ensures that each succeeding generation will feel compelled to continue asking the same question and to reassess the conduct of their fathers and mothers, or, indeed, their grandfathers and grandmothers. As we have seen recently, the Germans continue to examine the conduct of their forefathers to this day. But a frequently overlooked aspect of the entire subject is, of course, that there are Allied war stories which are hardly known in the West. The world of the Polish Allies who found themselves in Britain after the war is the background against which B.E. Andre sets her story.

For ten-year old Ania Walewska, a girl growing up in "Polska Land", the Polish community in Manchester of the mid-sixties, and who is at the heart of this engaging first novel, the question of what anyone did during World War Two is profoundly uninteresting. In fact, anything to do with those times, particularly as recounted by Ania's redoubtable grandmother, who is full of ghastly tales of Siberia, is virtually incomprehensible to the girl and makes her mentally switch off. As for whatever her father may or may not have done in the war years, all she knows is that talking about those times makes him angry and upset.

Ania just wants to be out with her friends. She is a natural rebel, oppressed by the influence and the rigid rules of Polish expat life, whether she finds herself stuck at home decorating Easter eggs in the Polish style or bored during the interminable church services or sitting through extra Polish lessons which are also as boring as they are irritating and unnecessary. The term 'expat' in this context might be substituted by 'political refugee' to describe those Manchester Poles among whom this story is set. It's difficult to call these people simply immigrants because they are from that generation of Poles who found themselves in the UK and other Western countries as a direct result of the war and through no choice of their own. They are mostly ex-combatants from either the Allied army abroad or from the resistance at home who ended up in German prison camps, and have chosen to stay abroad rather than to return to communist Poland.

As the novel unfolds, we see that many of this older generation, have adapted themselves to their new home with reasonable success. Witek, Ania's father, is a keen Manchester United supporter, for instance, and enjoys Hollywood musicals and the Marx Brothers on TV while Wanda, her mother, loses herself in romantic fiction. But parents and grandparents feel duty bound to pass on their Polish heritage to the youngsters. However British they may be outwardly, they are in their hearts first and foremost Polish patriots and they expect their children to feel the same. Ania mostly tries to please because she is very much bound up with her family. Her father, in particular, is the dominating and sometimes tyrannical presence whose varying and unpredictable moods shape her days. When he has had a drink or two with his ex-combatant friends, he can be positively frightening. Ania goes along with his requests, when, for example, she is asked to learn to recite a patriotic Polish poem in order to impress relatives from Poland. But she can't wait to get out of the house and play with her friends - who are also from immigrant and foreign backgrounds - and be a relatively normal Mancunian child. The central part of the story is what the group of young friends get up to out of sight of the grown-ups and which has consequences resonating down the years.

An older Ania also narrates from a viewpoint in the present. The paterfamilias who used to dominate Ania and her siblings' lives is now a terminally ill old man and Ania, by now a mother of two grown-up children and having had to deal with some serious health problems of her own, has to put her life on hold while she faces up to the inevitable. But there is also something very important she needs to do. She needs to find out something which has been troubling her ever since her childhood. She has never understood properly what her father went through in the war. There have only been vague hints and over the years she has wondered exactly what sort of a man her father was in those dark days in Warsaw. Old Witek may have been just a teenager in the Polish resistance when the Germans stormed the city during the uprising in 1944, but Ania knows he feels remorse at something that happened then. What did he do in the war? Ania needs to confront her father and solve this mystery before it is too late.

B.E. Andre has crafted a very readable debut novel and the deceptively straightforward style displays a narrative flair and a particularly keen sense of dialogue. I could easily imagine this book adapted for television, for instance, particularly as the group of childhood friends reflects the various nationalities which were as much in evidence in sixties Britain as they are today. The device of the dual plotline is never obtrusive and the pace is brisk with frequent touches of humour in what is essentially a study of some quite weighty and thought-provoking themes. Indeed it would be difficult not to be reminded of Wajda's "Kanał" or Agnieszka Holland's "In Darkness" in one particular sequence.

The voice of the child narrator is convincing: she is not exactly a much younger, female version of Holden Caulfield - since there is not quite the same overwhelming sense of alienation - but she is given a similar kind of critical and amused detachment from the events she describes, even though she is deeply involved. And although the Manchester setting provides a rather unexpected background for a story dealing with Polish themes, nevertheless anyone with any Polish connections will probably find something they recognize in this book - and no doubt Mancunians will do the same. Those readers new to "Polska Land", who only know the Poles because of one popular pope, or because of a moustachioed trade union leader, or through their local Polish delicatessen or perhaps because they have employed an efficient builder or plumber, may be surprised to learn about the post-war origins of the Polish presence in the UK. This novel is a good introduction to a community which is not so much separate or enclosed or somehow exists in parallel to the mainstream English one but continues - in spite all the shared values and the interaction with ordinary British life - to have many of its own traditions and definitely has its fair share of idiosyncratic customs.

The author even provides a short glossary for anyone who wants to check up on the occasional Polish word thrown into the mix. This is a well-constructed first book and an altogether gripping read. Hopefully it will also be the prelude to many more from this talented writer.


That Old Feeling
That Old Feeling
DVD
Price: $2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful Bedroom Farce, February 1, 2015
I *love* "That Old Feeling" and it bugs me that this effervescent bedroom farce is not received as a classic along the lines of "It Happened One Night" or "When Harry Met Sally." For my money, it's a masterpiece in its genre. Comedy is a lot like music. It requires timing, choreography, and expertise to look effortless. "That Old Feeling" is the product of a master – director Carl Reiner – and it shows in every gesture, every beat, every scene. "That Old Feeling" is smart, witty, bubbly, bouncy, sharp and sweet from first scene to last.

"That Old Feeling" doesn't make much sense; it isn't supposed to. It's supposed to make you laugh and feel romantic and good about life, and it does. Anyone, of any age, could see this movie and feel, afterward, that they could walk out the door and stumble across the love of their life. Though I've watched this movie several times, I still laugh out loud at favorite gags.

Molly (Paula Marshall) a straight-laced twenty-something, is marrying Keith (James Denton), a ridiculously handsome politician's son. Molly's divorced parents have not seen each other for years. Lily (Bette Midler) is an actress. Dan (Dennis Farina) is a writer. They hate each other. They, in turn, are married to Alan (David Rasche) a therapist and self-help author, and Rowena (Gail O'Grady) an interior decorator. Lily is being chased by Joey (Danny Nucci) a paparazzi.

The rules of the bedroom farce genre are that a roundelay of characters must rapidly pair off in unlikely ways, their pairings interspersed with improbable plot devices and lots of slamming doors and aghast hands to faces as couplings are discovered. That's pretty much all that happens in "That Old Feeling," right up until the very last moments of the movie. It's no small feat that Reiner keeps all these juggled balls bobbing compellingly in the air.

It's all funny and sexy and smart, but it's also actually pretty deep. "That Old Feeling," like all good bedroom farces, comments on love and hate and attraction, commitment, fidelity, and adultery, and on relationship trade-offs. All of the characters in this film are likeable and they are all flawed. If character X ends up with potential partner Y, she will gain in one area of her life, but lose in another. Charm v stability. Passion v consistency. Love/hate v security. The exciting unknown v the old reliable.

Every performance is terrific. Bette Midler is, well, Bette Midler. She's never been better than she is here. I often find her over-the-top but here she is just the right amount of the Divine Miss M. David Rasche, a former member of the Second City troupe, makes me laugh every time he is onscreen as the therapist and self-help author. He's every bit as funny as Will Ferrell. Danny Nucci is appropriately sleazy and scruffy and he is also wonderful after his transformation via wet fingers and another man's jacket. Dennis Farina is amazingly, wonderfully hot as an arrogant, macho guy who gets what he wants by waving large bills between his fingers under the noses of hotel staff. I could go through the whole cast but suffice it to say that every performance is funny, tender, human, and expert.

One of the lovely plusses of "That Old Feeling." It depicts people over fifty having sex and enjoying it.

I watch this movie over and over because I love the signature of a master's hand in every scene. In the opening scene, a man proposes marriage to a woman. In the background, there is a bouquet of flowers. The flowers are onscreen for less than a minute, but they are lit so beautifully it takes my breath away. It's that kind of meticulous attention to detail that makes a movie worth watching for me.


Tarot of Delphi: A Fine Art Tarot Deck & Booklet
Tarot of Delphi: A Fine Art Tarot Deck & Booklet
by J.D. Hildegard Hinkel
Edition: Cards
2 used & new from $35.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Triumph. Collectors Will Want to Add It, January 27, 2015
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
"Tarot of Delphi" is a 79 card Tarot deck "created and curated" by Janet Denise Hildegard Hinkel. Hinkel illustrates her cards with paintings and watercolors by two dozen British artists from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, that is, from 1838 to 1913. The artworks that Hinkel has selected depict life in ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome. The cards are three inches by five, glossy, on sturdy stock. The artworks occupy the center of the card. They are surrounded by a narrow golden frame with ivy leaves accenting the corners. Surrounding that is a border pattern of pale beige and gray. The fully reversible backs of the cards are black, a muted shade of Persian orange, and gold. Bars at the top and bottom mimic Greek columnar elements; in the center of the card, vegetal elements meet in a cross pattern. The backs of the Tarot of Delphi are the most exquisite Tarot card backs I have ever seen.

The colors that dominate on the cards themselves are muted Persian oranges, russets, golds, and flesh tones, with stunning reds providing contrast, for example in the robes of the otherwise shadowed High Priestess. Some cards feature emerald greens and sapphires, for example the ace of coins, which depicts an ivy nymph intertwined with foliage, and the enchantress of cups, which depicts Circe in a peacock gown pouring jade-colored poison into a turquoise sea. The three of swords features the midnight blue of Electra's robe as she mourns her doomed family; the five of wands shows an ancient Greek maiden in a mineral-green robe playing an early form of badminton.

The artwork Hinkel has chosen is almost photographic in its precise details. It is so crisply rendered that I'm sure an expert could identify the very quarry that provided the gold- and gray-veined marble for the fountain in the six of cups. The many nude females are anatomically accurate.

Dressed in togas, armor, and peplums, or simply nude, characters lounge royally on expansive verandahs, play lyres, herd goats, drink from pottery kylikes, perform Pagan rituals, interact with gods, raise children, dance, flirt, embrace, bathe, breach the defenses of besieged cities, and plot to conquer civilizations. The Tarot of Delphi is a very beautiful deck.

There is an added attraction to its visual beauty. Janet Denise Hildegard Hinkle can write. The accompanying manual is small enough to fit in the palm of a closed hand. But this tiny volume is jam packed with well written prose that identifies each artwork, says who created it and when, and how the artwork in question relates to the card it illustrates. Hinkle educates her readers in the classics, and that is a very good thing. Readers will learn of the myths, like that of Orpheus, who entered the underworld to rescue his beloved Eurydice, and of history, including Rome's genocidal defeat of Carthage, and Queen Zenobia's resistance to Rome. Hinkle wastes not a single word in her stirring sermonizing on how the perennial lessons of the past can be applied today.

If I'm going to read with a deck, I want the pictures to be beautiful and deep, and these pictures are. I also want the pictures to be readily accessible to querents, and many of these are not. In a couple of cases, I wondered why Hinkel did not pick an illustration for another card. One of her two Empress cards (thus a 79 card deck) depicts Zenobia, alone, looking meditative, and in chains. A woman in chains would work better for the eight of swords than for the Empress. Narcissus illustrates the four of coins; Narcissus, as his name implies, exemplifies narcissism. Surely Midas would have been the better choice.

The five of swords, a card that depicts ruinous spite, is illustrated by a beautiful if remote woman holding back a curtain and leaning on a staff. This puzzled me. Upon examination, I realized that she was leaning, in fact, on an ax, discretely dripping blood. Aha! This was Clytemnestra, after her avenging the death of her daughter Iphigenia at the hands of her ambitious husband Agamemnon. It's the perfect backstory for the five of swords, but this illustration, as with many others, is not as readily accessible as I'd like.

I compare this deck to the sublime Victorian Romantic tarot of Baba Studios. That deck reveals a Victorian world populated by young people, old people, poverty, and ugliness, as well as shiny pretty people. The Ancients killed their own handicapped children, and many of their daughters, just for the crime of being born female. Roman soldiers, such as Hinkel's hero of swords, committed unspeakable horrors as a matter of course. The vast majority of the population in the Ancient World lived their lives under the heel of the shiny, pretty people in these cards. There was Aesop, Socrates Spartacus, and Thecla. Their struggles, whose tensions rent the Ancient World, are not in this deck, although, to her credit, Hinkel includes Diogenes, the wise beggar, as The Hermit. Thecla would have been perfect for Strength.

Too, I got tired of all the nude females, not because of their nudity, but because of their obvious status as underage eye candy. They all lack hair in their exposed privates, suggesting a youth that should be protected, not exposed. None of the nudes look like most of us look when naked. The Ancients valued physical perfection too much. Paganism in the real Ancient World was not always as harmonious as Hinkel depicts. Reservations aside, the Tarot of Delphi is a triumph, and Tarot collectors will want to add it.


Into The Woods (Plus Bonus Features) [HD]
Into The Woods (Plus Bonus Features) [HD]
DVD
Price: $19.99

22 of 77 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Bring Tick Repellent, January 21, 2015
"Into the Woods" is one of the worst A-list-star, major-studio movies I have ever seen. It lacks magic. It's boring and it is so inept it's actually offensive. Performances by international stars like Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt and Johnny Depp go kerplunk on the screen, without motivation or artistry. The cinematography is murky and flat, as if provided by Moe's Sporting Goods and Cinematography-To-Go.

The problem of "Into the Woods" can be summed up in one word: "meta." "Into the Woods" is an attempt to *tell* fairy tales while simultaneously making meta commentary *about* fairy tales. The film fails on both points.

Imagine someone telling you an anecdote about what happened with their day, and stopping after every line to say, "At this point, you should be feeling empathy because I have just told you a sad thing. At this point, you should be feeling exhilaration, because I have just told you a celebratory thing. At this point, you should be concluding that Obama's economic policies have failed, because I have just told you that I do not have enough money for lunch. At this point, you should be feeling frustrated, because I have just defied your expectations of how this story should end."

Think of how rapidly that storytelling style would grate on you.

"Into the Woods"'s plot is a regurgitated slop, with several fairy tales mined for their money shots and slapped together in order to make some arcane point about how fairy tales are really psychologically and socially complex documents, full of implications about sexuality, gender roles, parent-child relations, and economic inequity.

There's no narrative drive, no need to see what will happen next. The plot elements were just thrown in the air and allowed to fall to the ground in a random fashion. There is no main character to root for. There's no goal to be achieved and celebrate or mourn for. None of the actors can register a breath of conviction because there's nothing happening that anyone could care about. When the movie feels over, it suddenly lurches on for twenty more minutes.

The music and songs do not deserve to be called either "music" or "songs." Is Stephen Sondheim the first fully deaf man ever to make a career as a composer and lyricist? Does he compose his music and lyrics by throwing darts at a piano and a thesaurus? I saw Rodgers and Hammerstein's magical "Cinderella" when I was around five years old. I have not seen it since. I can still sing some of the songs, they touched me that deeply, especially "In my own little corner," which captures the heart and soul of every little girl who ever felt alone and escaped on dreams to a better world.

I couldn't begin to recapitulate a single one of the songs from "Into the Woods" and I saw it just a few days ago, except for the line "Children will listen." All I remember is: "Children will listen blah blah blah." Actually, since it's Stephen Sondheim, it's more like "Chil' dren will LISten blah blah BLIIIH." With the "BLIIIH" on a minor key.

There's a scene where two dueling handsome princes sing a competitive song: I'm more handsome than you; I am suffering more than you are suffering romantically. It's a great concept accompanied by a lousy song and even worse execution. Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen, both talented stars, are directed to move without grace or charm, and they do all this in leather clothing in a waterfall. The entire time you are thinking, "Wow, that water is really gonna ruin that leather."

Fairy tales are magic. Fairy tales do make important points about gender roles, socioeconomic inequities, and parent-child-relations. Fairy tales are deep. If you want to immerse yourself in those points, read scholars like Bruno Bettleheim, Alan Dundes and Bengt Holbek. Ripping the innards out of a fairy tale and tossing those innards about randomly kills the tale. All you get is inert fairy tale innards. "Into the Woods" isn't sophisticated or intelligent, as it desperately wants to be. It isn't saying big, thoughtful things about fairy tales. It's just a big, meandering, amateurish misfire created by people who really aren't as sophisticated as they think they are.
Comment Comments (17) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 26, 2015 4:58 PM PDT


American Sniper [HD]
American Sniper [HD]
DVD
Price: $19.99

8 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Virtuosic Filmmaking, January 19, 2015
War movies are not my genre of choice. I am a romantic comedy fan. "American Sniper" is such an excellently made film that it demanded my full attention and earned my esteem. This is a violent, bloody, war movie with a sad ending. The film is so expertly made I left the theater exhilarated. Such is the power of art.

It is astounding that this film was made by a director, Clint Eastwood, who is in his eighties. "American Sniper" is fast-paced, gripping, suspenseful, and the most truly contemporary film I've seen in a while. It addresses what we are all thinking about: the West's confrontation with violent Islamists. The film feels as if it was peeled out of our brains during our nightmares. There is no elegiac feeling here. No nostalgia, no backward glances. It is all now, now, now, now, with the forward motion of a locomotive at full tilt. With "American Sniper," Clint Eastwood has outdone himself and set the bar very high.

Bradley Cooper is flawless. His commitment is one hundred percent. This is a performance for the ages.

"American Sniper" tells the true story of Chris Kyle, the most lethal sniper in US military history. The film depicts him as having been taught to hunt by his father. His father also taught him that there are three kinds of people in the world: wolves, sheep, and shepherds. It is the shepherd's job to defend the sheep from the wolves. Kyle became a rodeo bucking bronco rider.

After terrorist attacks, he decided to join the military to defend his country. He was sent to Iraq, where he did four tours of duty. He covered soldiers moving into urban combat zones in cities like Fallujah. He would lie on rooftops, survey surrounding areas, and shoot at suspicious characters, including women and children assigned to bomb troops. Interspersed with his tours in Iraq, Kyle married his wife and fathered two children. After his return to the US, Kyle aided returned veterans who suffered from PTSD.

"American Sniper" follows this story in a completely straightforward, unadorned fashion. You can't help but think of other war films when watching "American Sniper." The flamboyant operatics of "The Deer Hunter," the heavy-handed, manipulative, almost propagandistic politics of "Coming Home," the graphic combat of "Saving Private Ryan." "American Sniper"'s style is almost no style. The movie simply meticulously recreates what Kyle did and saw. There is a scene where American soldiers raid the headquarters of The Butcher of Fallujah. There are shelves on which human body parts, including at least one severed head, are stored. The camera does not linger on this hideous and telling sight. The moviegoer sees these body parts for only as long as the soldiers running through the headquarters sees them.

There are no White House scenes, no Pentagon scenes, almost no scenes of reporters commenting on the war. There are no lingering shots of gas stations hint hint – petroleum caused this war! One soldier does begin to question; he dies. Kyle attends his funeral. A mourner begins to read a document questioning the wisdom of the Iraq war; she cannot finish. The three-volley gun salute drowns her out.

The movie soundtrack begins with an ominous male voice intoning "Allahu akbar." Characters who are obviously Arab and Muslim are shown doing very bad things, including one very brief but disturbing scene of a man torturing a child to death in a hideously inventive way, in front of the child's father. American soldiers are shown being dedicated and trying to avoid civilian deaths.

Politically correct moviegoers will decide that what is missing from this movie is the heavy hand of an interpreter reaching in and telling you that the war was a mistake, that it was all about petroleum, that the American soldiers were all racists, that the Arabs were merely attempting to defend their homeland from invaders, that truly evil men like the Butcher of Fallujah were the products of failed US foreign policy.

I found "American Sniper"'s minimalism to be an incredibly courageous and innovative stylistic choice. Eastwood must know that every moviegoer enters the theater with his or her own opinion about the Iraq War, about the West v Islam, about terror. We know that Fallujah is now under ISIS control. We know that another war looms.

This isn't the viewer's movie. It isn't the politician's movie. It is Chris Kyle's movie. The movie veers wildly from scenes of incredible tension and horror in Iraq. Kyle goes on leave and is back in the US. Suddenly the biggest issue is getting a collie to behave at a family barbecue in Texas. Kyle sits in front of an empty TV screen, reliving Iraqi battles. The film delivers no lecture about PTSD. It just lives Kyle's PTSD with him.

"American Sniper" is a gripping, suspenseful, involving, virtuosic film. I am glad it is getting the Academy-Award nominations and record-setting box office and audience it deserves.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 15, 2015 9:53 AM PDT


Ida (English Subtitled)
Ida (English Subtitled)
DVD
Price: $9.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful but Underdeveloped, January 3, 2015
"Ida" 2013 directed by Paweł Pawlikowski, is a brief (80 minutes) black-and-white, two-character movie. It is very quiet; you barely need to read the subtitles to follow the slender plot. It is so slow-moving that three times while watching it I suspected that technical difficulties had stopped the film. No; the actor and scene were merely all but frozen. This almost anorexic film takes on huge, sweeping issues: Polish-Jewish relations, Christian-Jewish relations, identity, the Holocaust, guilt, karma, Communist oppression of Poles, and the Catholic vow of chastity for nuns. Reviewers have blessed "Ida" with glowing reviews, insisting that this minimalist film makes big points through allusion and suggestion.

I doubt this. I think most viewers who don't know a heck of a lot about Poland will be baffled and bored by this movie. I think sometimes less is not more but really is less. I think "Ida" would have been a better film with a more tightly focused and more developed screenplay. Words can lead to misunderstanding but words are what we've got to work with. "Too many notes!" a cinematic emperor criticized a Mozart work. "Ida" suffers from "too few words."

In spite of its heavy subject matter, what struck me most about "Ida," and what I will most remember, is its visual beauty. "Ida" is shot in black and white, and it takes place in undistinguished Polish settings in the depth of winter. You see snow-covered fields, corner bars, dingy buildings with cracked plaster. The careful composition of each shot, and the cinematographers' lovely handling of different gradations of light and shadow, transform otherwise dreary locales into works of art.

"Ida" is about a teenage girl in Poland in the 1960s. She has spent her entire life in convent, and she is about to take her final vows. Her mother superior orders her to meet, for the first time, with Wanda Gruz, her sole living relative. Ida does so, and Wanda informs Ida that she is Jewish. Wanda and Ida travel to the village where their Jewish family hid from the Nazis in a barn. Ida's parents and brother were murdered. Wanda and Ida travel to their grave. This new information causes Ida to reassess her commitment to becoming a nun.

Agata Trzebuchowska plays Ida. Press accounts claim she is not a professional actress. She is given very little to say or do. The camera spends much time gazing at her youth and beauty. A male director ogling a gorgeous young amateur – the director's "discovery" – whom he does not allow to speak, act or develop as something other than an artistic composition – distracted and offended me. Enough already with females as marionettes of male geniuses.

Agata Kulesza plays Wanda Gruz, Ida's aunt. Wanda was a judge under Communism. Wanda participated in the persecution of Polish anti-Nazi fighters in the post-war era. Wanda is based on the real life Helena Wolińska-Brus. Wolinska-Brus participated in the Stalinist persecution of genuine heroes who had fought the Nazis and aided Jews. She was a monster.

The Wanda Gruz of "Ida" is not a monster. She is the most fascinating and memorable character in the film. She is the one burning ember in an otherwise inert, black-and-white landscape of monosyllabic Polish peasants and the boring Miss Goody Twoshoes, Ida. Wanda is complex. She is a highly tormented character who drinks, smokes, is sexy and sexually promiscuous, and reveals her superior intelligence through her sarcasm. In the scene where Wanda and Ida are brought to their relatives' graves by a morally compromised Polish peasant, Wanda reveals deep grief. You cannot help but like Wanda.

In a movie that touches on WW II and the Holocaust, I was sickened by how sympathetic Wanda was. Would Pawlikowski have been able to get away with placing a likeable Nazi at the center of such a film? If not, then why did he place a sexy and lovable Stalinist murderess at the center of his film? Answer: Because Stalinist murder does not carry the same taint as Nazi murder. Problem: the millions tortured and murdered in the name of Communism are just as dead as the millions murdered in the name of Nazism.

There are volumes of history and hours of debate transcripts behind the issues that "Ida" touches on. Most filmgoers will have no idea of any of this and much of the film will pass right over their heads. Reviews on the International Movie Database reveal this. Sincere and intelligent filmgoers were unmoved and befuddled by "Ida." Key pieces of information are never articulated: Poland was occupied by Nazis. Nazis persecuted and murdered Polish Catholics as well as Jews. Some Poles betrayed Jews. Some Poles were heroic and saved Jews. Many Poles were neither heroic nor villainous. Everyone was afraid for his or her life. A thousand years of history preceded the Nazi era, and every word and gesture has history behind it. There are no easy answers.

"Ida" falls into predictable traps. Its Jewish character, Wanda, is fascinating and verbal, worldly and morally compromised. Its Catholic character is pure, but boring and simpleminded. These stereotypes are trite and unworthy of any serious film.

Towards the end of the film, one major character leaves the movie and the other character is left to pursue an underdeveloped and aborted subplot that serves no end except to add extra minutes to the runtime.


The Imitation Game
The Imitation Game
DVD
Price: $12.99

13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine Movie; Distorted History, December 26, 2014
Film-fan me loved "The Imitation Game." The me who knows something about World War II felt that "The Imitation Game" was a bit of an unfortunate farce.

Aesthetically "The Imitation Game" is like a hundred other movies about British people dressed in attractive but muted woolens who march about speaking about God and country and occasionally dropping their civilized masks and giving play to their violence or their lust. We've seen all this before: the vintage clothing, the vintage cars, the vintage architecture, the golden lamplight on vintage interiors. We've seen it on Masterpiece Theater and Merchant Ivory and Jane Austen films and Downtown Abbey which I've never watched but which I feel as if I have watched.

"The Imitation Game" is also like a lot of bio pics.

I really do wish "The Imitation Game" had some aesthetic surprises up its sleeve.

"The Imitation Game" treats very complicated subject matter: the breaking of an unbreakable code. I wanted the movie to tell me something about this topic that I didn't already know. The film just puts an enigma machine on a table and has a bunch of smart characters stare at it and announce that it can produce one hundred fifty followed by eighteen zeroes variations. Okay, but how? Give me something technical. The movie never trusts its audience, or its own storytelling skills, enough even to scratch the surface of the nuts and bolts of code-breaking.

Benedict Cumberbatch gives a fine performance as the film's version of Alan Turing, the British mathematician who helped to decode Germany's Enigma during WW II. In the film, Turing displays symptoms of Asperger's. He doesn't get jokes and he has few friends. Everyone is mean to him. He lives an isolated life with only one significant human companion, his school chum Christopher. Turing is awkward and superior with his fellow codebreakers, and they hate him. He is light years more advanced than they. If only they could appreciate his brilliance! Turing is regarded with suspicion by his superiors. They almost arrest him. They break into and search his home. Again, this all feels hackneyed.

Enter Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). Joan is a gifted code-breaker. Like Turing, she too faces difficulties because of others' ignorance and prejudice. People don't realize that a woman can be a worthy code-breaker and they keep her back and put her down.

Joan encourages Turing to overcome his Asperger's symptoms and to befriend his coworkers. He does so.

A casual comment by a secretary, that each German message ends with the words "Heil Hitler," leads Turing to have the Aha moment that breaks Enigma. His jubilation is short-lived. He realizes that he can't rescue an English ship because if he does so, the Germans will realize that the English have broken their code. Turing devises a mathematical method to determine when to use information gathered from breaking the code, and when not to.

Two other timelines are intertwined with the WW II timeline. We are shown Turing's schooldays. He interacts with Christopher, his schoolboy crush and only friend. Christopher departs from his life and Turing is heartbroken. The headmaster of the school is cold in breaking this news to young Turing. Poor little Turing must bear this hard news all by himself.

In the other timeline, also interwoven randomly into the WW II timeline, Turing is interrogated in the early 1950s for "gross indecency" – homosexuality. Turing undergoes chemical castration. This affects his ability to think. He can't even do a simple crossword puzzle in the newspaper. He is a broken man. The film insists that his death was a suicide. Some, including Turing's mother, are not so sure of that.

I was moved by the film. The scenes of little schoolboy Turing are very poignant; it's always hard to watch children suffer. Cumberbatch is a very competent actor and he plays intellectual intelligence well, which is a rare accomplishment. Not many actors could look as smart as Cumberbatch does. He is convincing as someone with Asperger's.

The me who knows and cares something about accuracy in a film "based on a true story" about WW II was very disappointed with this movie.

"The Imitation Game" erases the significant contribution of Polish war heroes and Polish mathematicians to the breaking of Enigma. Like Turing, the Poles were also cruelly and ignominiously betrayed by the very Brits they helped: from Churchill consciously lying about who committed the Katyn massacre to Churchill handing the Poles to Stalin at Yalta to Brits like Stephen Fry insisting that Polish Catholics caused the Holocaust.

It was ideologically convenient for Brits to shaft the Poles, and the Brits did exactly that. "The Imitation Game" erases the Poles because the film wants Turing to be a lone genius and a lone, martyred homosexual. As it happens, during WW II, there were plenty of opportunities for heroism and martyrdom; Turing did not monopolize the supply.

The film is inaccurate in other significant ways. Turing was treated kindly by the headmaster around the Christopher incident, and Turing remained in contact with Christopher's family. Turing proposed to Joan Clarke because he liked her – he even told her he loved her – not to keep her in the code-breaking program. He tried to re-start their relationship years later. Turing could be funny and charming in real life. Etc.

The filmmakers wanted to create an image of Turing as an isolated genius, unappreciated by anyone, and persecuted because of his homosexuality. In fact Turing was part of a team of other geniuses, and he was open about being gay. I wish the film had been able to tell us more about how a relatively privileged man had been so ill-treated. His working class lover was not chemically castrated, for example. "The Imitation Game," though, is not really interested in probing complex facts, or in saying anything new.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 26, 2015 6:11 PM PDT


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