All posts by Michael Rosengard

Unbreakable, Yet Unexceptional

Before seeing Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s The Revenant, I had to look up the word “revenant.” According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, it means “a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.” This dictionary entry succinctly sets the stage for the film: The Revenant centers around Hugh Glass—an explorer, tradesman, and military man played by the ever-popular and Academy Award-nominated Leonardo DiCaprio—and his incredible survival in the harsh wilderness of the Midwest after being mauled by a grizzly bear and subsequently abandoned by his troops. The film also features British actor Tom Hardy, who plays John Fitzgerald, the dishonorable and cruel member of Glass’ platoon who abandons Glass. While the film succeeds in highlighting the tenacity of the human spirit and the unforgiving environment of the American landscape, it unfortunately suffers from a rigid storyline, a muddled use of Glass’ memories, and, for much of the film, a surprising lack of suspense.

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Sins of the Father

Last year on a trip to Munich I visited Dachau concentration camp. Walking through the barracks, standing in the gas chambers, and looking into the crematoria deeply disturbed me. Yet one of the most unsettling things I remember was something the tour guide mentioned in describing the dismantling of the camp at the conclusion of the war: “Most guards honestly thought they could simply go home and live happy lives with their families as if nothing had happened.” How could someone “forget” about committing genocide? How could they live with themselves? Most of all, how could their own families ever love them again?

David Evans’ What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy deals with this dilemma, focusing on two sons of high-command Nazi leaders, Niklas Frank (son of Hans Frank, who served as Nazi appointed General-Governor of the occupied Polish territories) and Horst von Wächter (son of Otto von Wächter, who served as the Nazi appointed Governor of both Krakow, Poland and Galicia, Ukraine). This simple documentary, expertly narrated and explored by renowned legal scholar Philippe Sands, views the Holocaust through a unique and deeply troubling lens. It unlocks the profound emotions surrounding the sons’ attitudes toward their fathers and highlights the contrasting ways in which they confront their fathers’ crimes: Niklas’ absolute rejection and Horst’s delusional loyalty.

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The Secret Life of Pets—Revealed!

When I was five years old, I always wondered what my dog did when she was alone. Could she talk? Could she read? Could she use the toilet instead of relieving herself right smack in the middle of the living room rug? Oh how I hoped so—and not just because I wouldn’t have to clean up her mess.

Chris Renaud’s The Secret Life of Pets has finally come to answer these burning questions. And from the film’s teaser trailer, the audience gets a sense that pets are secretly rather creative and adorably quirky—not unlike people.

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A Rotten Apple

“He got me invested in some kind of fruit company,” commented Forrest Gump as he read a letter emblazoned with a rainbow, partly-eaten apple. This fruit company—or to be more precise, Apple Computers—has swept across college campuses and the world with unparalleled speed. From MacBooks to iPods to iPhones to iPads, its success stems largely from its peculiarly iconoclastic founder, the late Steve Jobs. Danny Boyle’s film Steve Jobs attempts to recreate this icon’s story, tracing his professional relationship with Apple through three vignettes—each the launch of a new product—and spotlighting Jobs’ personal relationships with his daughter, her mother, and his friends and colleagues. Although the film takes an original, psychoanalytical approach to the biographical genre, it ultimately fails to convey a coherent analysis of Steve Jobs, played by Michael Fassbender, and likewise fails to show the critical role he played in Apple’s genesis and growth.

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Black Mass is White(y) Hot

My earliest memory of my grandfather is of his valiant efforts to get me to eat my vegetables. A native of South Boston with an unmistakable Boston accent, he regularly entreated me not to waste food so that I could grow up to be “big and strong.” Although he often failed to convince me of the vegetables’ merits, there was always one threat that puzzled me. “If you don’t eat your vegetables,” he would say, “Whitey will get ya.” If you’re from Boston you know all about James “Whitey” Bulger, a ruthless, murderous mobster who ran the Winter Hill Gang. Scott Cooper’s Black Mass is a biographical representation of Whitey, from his family life with his brother and then with his wife and son, to his rise and fall as the unforgiving mastermind of organized crime in South Boston. The film does a masterful job at bringing Whitey and the enterprise back to life and artfully delineates the harsh realities of a life in organized crime.

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