Saturday, March 21, 2015

Movie Reviews: Horrible Bosses 2, The Crusades Documentary

Horrible Bosses 2
directed by Sean Anders
If you liked the first movie then you may like this remake sequel. Virtually everything is the same only MORE and DUMBER. I could probably just stop writing right there, actually. But that wouldn't be very descriptive would it? Horrible Bosses 2 features tons of sex jokes, the normal levels of cleavage, dangerous misunderstandings with the police, shockingly inept protagonists, inadvertent racial insults, car chases and various double crosses. Some of this is occasionally funny. But generally this movie is more hit or miss than the previous film. I guess your enjoyment of this flick will depend on your mood and your tolerance of lowest common denominator jokes. What was transgressive or fresh in the first movie is just "been there, done that" in the second. I think I checked out mentally when the sex crazed dentist Julia Harris (Jennifer Anniston) revealed her familiarity with some very disgusting and filthy activities. But hey, to each their own. This film is horribly uneven. There are some (too few) very funny set pieces. But there are also plenty of scenes that didn't work too well. It reminded me of an aging boxer still trying to stick and move but missing his target and getting repeatedly tagged by a younger, quicker rival. Still, just like that old boxer, this film every now and again lands a belly blow that will leave you rolling on the floor (hopefully in laughter, not pain) This was definitely not a movie that needed to be seen in the theater so I'm glad I didn't spend the money to watch it there.

Having escaped prison by the skin of their teeth in the first movie, friends Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) have pooled their meager financial resources and their even less impressive brainpower to start up a shower caddy business. They've decided that it's time to go into business for themselves. I didn't really pick up on this in the first movie as much but the three men are heirs to the Three Stooges style slapstick comedy only without the constant physical confrontation. Dale is still a mouse of a man who's both faithful to and frightened of his wife. He consistently has the worst ideas of the trio. Kurt is possibly even dumber than Dale but doesn't realize it because he has tons more confidence and swagger. He's always looking for that woman who will let him "bend her over a barrel and show her the fifty states". Quiet and pensive Nick is who passes for brainpower in the group but obviously finds himself drawn in to his buddies' hijinks. His deadpan reactions, sarcastic questions and straight man timing are things I appreciated in this film. Now that I think about it Kurt and Dale have been dumbed down from the first movie. Their not so carefully thought out business plan goes awry. When their financial future teeters on the brink, because as Nick's imprisoned and embittered former boss Dave (Kevin Spacey) not so helpfully points out, the group lacks testicles and brains, the friends once again search out Muyerfuyer Jones (Jamie Foxx) for assistance. However the bumbling group messes up Jones' idea and winds up in a kidnapping situation initially similar to O'Henry's The Ransom of Red Chief. As I intimated, this movie walks the line between crude and dumb. This is not a film that requires you to use the more complex areas of your brain to enjoy it. In fact doing so will probably hinder any pleasure you might find. 

All in all it wasn't as funny as the first movie. Christoph Waltz, Jonathan Banks and Chris Pine also star. Comedian Keegan-Michael Key has a small role.

The Crusades
as shown on the History Channel
President Obama recently was attacked in some quarters for stating that Christians have their own history of religiously inspired intolerance, fanaticism and violence, most famously the Crusades. Of course as Professor Juan Cole pointed out, Christians in general and European Christians in particular have set some records when it comes to killing people for any number of reasons. Since killing people is in direct contravention to the teachings of Jesus Christ, Christians are hard pressed to defend killing and war. Of course needs must and as we live in a world that is not perfect, Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas codified the theory of the just war. President Obama's critics referenced this theory in arguing that that the Crusades were really wars of self-defense and thus morally ok. The truth, as always is somewhere in between and definitely depends on which side you are standing. It is true that the Western European Catholic Christians came to fight the Muslims because of stories and rumors of mistreatment of Christian pilgrims and residents in the Levant. The newly dominant Seljuk Turks were said to be less tolerant of Christian worship than had previously been the case. There was also a state of war between the expanding Muslim ruled areas and the declining Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire which was slowly losing its domains in Asia Minor. It is also true that the Pope and various European rulers were eager to be rid of what they saw as excessive numbers of warriors, who caused all sorts of havoc across Europe with their interminable bloody feuds, battles for land or thrones, and their general resistance to strong central states. Pope Urban rationalized that if he could not get rid of violence, why not redirect it towards the infidel? A crusade would reduce the surplus military population, possibly help unify Europe under papal rule and extend Latin, which is to say Catholic, authority in the East. It would also bring the sites of Christ's birth and death back into Christian hands. 

Crusader armies and mobs gathered, excited by the chance to expiate their sins and see Jerusalem. Along the way to the Middle East, some Crusaders decided that rather than wait until their destination to combat the enemies of Christ, they could do so in Europe. Jewish communities were attacked. Some were decimated while others were forced to convert.

The Byzantine Emperor who had written the Pope for assistance had in mind only the 11th century equivalent of Seal Team Six or the French Foreign Legion. He wanted a handful of tough guys/advisers who would lead and inspire his armies. He felt threatened and somewhat betrayed by thousands of armed fanatics showing up on his doorstep, led by men who were all too obviously interested in carving out their own dominions in lands being fought over by the Byzantines and Muslims. The Emperor forced the Crusader leaders to swear oaths of allegiance to him before turning them loose on his Muslim rivals. These oaths were only briefly honored. Fortunately for the Crusaders the Muslim leaders facing them initially were weak, divided, and had little knowledge of Western style war. Jerusalem fell to the European invaders in a sack which even by the callous standards of the era, was considered to be a war crime. Contemporary eyewitness accounts tell of mass rape and slaughter, mosques and synagogues burned down and streets literally running red with blood. The Crusaders killed Muslim, Christian and Jew alike. Conveniently forgetting their promises to the Byzantines, the Crusaders set up independent states in what is now Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey. This set off a multi-century struggle back and forth between Christian and Muslim over the Holy Land which ultimately saw the European Christians defeated and expelled. 

The documentary covers the first three Crusades. Only the First Crusade saw a complete Christian victory. I thought the documentary should have covered the Fourth Crusade, in which the simmering hostility between Eastern and Western Christian finally boiled over, resulting in the sack of Constantinople by Crusader armies. This documentary gives a lot of time to the Muslim point of view which is usually not part of the Western narrative. That's fair I guess. But it's also fair to point out that the people who bemoan European Christian invasions of the Middle East and the associated barbarity and imperialism were often as quiet as church mice about the prior and contemporaneous Muslim invasions of North Africa, Spain and France and future Muslim invasions of Eastern Europe. By the time of the First Crusade Muslim invaders had ruled huge swaths of Spain for almost 400 years. In the big picture, very few people have clean hands, historically speaking. The re-enactments are nicely done.You get a surprisingly detailed examination of what it was like to live, eat, sleep, fight and die in a time before modern medicine and refrigeration. It is humbling to watch someone drive down a highway, stop and tell the viewer that one thousand years ago the battle of such-n-such took place right here. This documentary also details the various machinations, murders and backstabbing that went on among the Muslims as various leaders vied to unite the Muslim world. The one who briefly did, Saladin, gets a fair amount of analysis. The entire documentary is about three hours. It can be watched online.
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