Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Both Oscar Frontrunners For Best Movie Criticised For Highly Misleading Foreign Depictions

Posted by Peter Quennell

Now that the cycle of Godfather-type films is done, American movie demonizations of Italy and Italians seem to have dried up. At least for the moment.

Hollywood has long relied on demonization and paranoia-building to pull the paying crowds in - the Colonial British and “Redskins” in historical drams and westerns, the Nazis (okay, maybe that was fair enough), the Russians back in Soviet days, and most recently middle eastern mobs and subversives.

Form your impressions of foreign countries only from American TV and movie depictions and you might end up where the FOA are now: paranoid and delusional that entire countries are pagan and that their modern justice systems are “third world” and that somehow they all succumb to the grip of one evil megalomaniac..

Anyone who follows PMF and TJMK closely knows that the opportunist rants of Doug Preston and Steve Moore and Nina Burleigh and Bruce Fischer about Italy and the official participants in the case are really complete poison.

Italy has a very low crime rate and very few murders, its prison system is only 1/30 the size of the US’s, and its justice system is very modern - it was only created, very carefully, after World War II. Most of its faults flow from politicians like Berlusconi bending and defunding the system to keep their corrupt pals on the streets.

Every week Hollywoord movie and TV depictions come out that falsely depict what are often modern, well-run countries, and especially falsely depict their cops, lawyers, and judges as incompetent and corrupt.

The GOOD news is that there is also a steady effort (in parallel to ours here) by informed and humane people - both Americans and those from the falsely depicted countries - to push back and enlighten. To try to call a halt and correct the damaging notions put out there.

One good example is the movie Taken 2 with Liam Neeson which takes place in modern Turkey. Was it the real modern Turkey? Here are examples from IMDB reviews of strong criticism of this xenophobic movie.

This movie is utterly awful unless you are ready for a bad comedy. There are tons of flaws. Albania doesn’t border Turkey. Istanbul is a magnificent city. In the movie it is portrayed as a third world country slam hole. Police in Istanbul have new cars… Shots are fired in a hotel, grenades are detonated in a middle of a cosmopolitan city ...and there’s no Police…

i got a couple words to the idiot/s who produced this movie

1. Turkish borders don’t look like parking lot barriers

2. Try shooting grenades and guns in Istanbul and count how fast special forces and police will be on your head

3. We discharged those ancient police cars in 1980s. didn’t you have budget for good ones?

I just hated the director’s point of view about Istanbul, and Turkey. In some scenes you see some women wearing pitch black clothes as if they live in a country governed by Islamic rules. No!!! Turkey is not like that!!! Its constitution is more democratic than many ‘democratic’ countries in the world. And especially, women had their rights before many ‘democratic’ countries in the world. For example Turkish women can vote or can be elected since 1934! Just check the history. You will see Turkish women had such rights before millions of other women living in other countries.

Turkey is a secular, democratic and modern country. You can see the people very modern looking all over the city, not ninjas! The people of Turkey do not wear such pitch black clothes like the people living in an Islamic country. Not only the appearance, but also the thoughts are modern and contemporary in Turkey! Why did director tell a big lie to the world? Is there a political reason? Should a director act like a horrible politician?

Of the 300+ reviews on Taken 2 there on IMDB over 200 take issue with what is depicted.

Now one of the Oscar frontrunner movies, Argo, is also being labeled as factually false, misleading and demonizing - with luck (we shall see) enough to cost it the Oscar.

What it SHOULD depict is a Canadian operation led by Ken Taylor to get six Americans out of the Canadian Embassy in Iran in 1980 when Teheran was already a sophisticated city that had been allowed to fret and go sour for too long under the iron hand of the high-living American-supported Shah.

What it DOES depict is something almost opposite: an American (CIA) operation led by Tony Mendez to save their six people from crazed hordes of fundamentalist Iranians. Here are examples from IMDB reviews of criticisms of the depiction of the country at that time, and the role played by Americans. 

It did have one irritating thing… kind of a big one. It pointed most of the accolades to Affleck’s character and the CIA. This really was not true. It was Ken Taylor and the Canadians who really pulled ‘the Canadian Caper’ off so successfully.

“When Taylor heard a few years ago that Mendez had sold movie rights to his book (which, to be fair, is much more generous than the movie about Canada’s role), “I said, ‘Well, that’s going to be interesting.’....“The movie’s fun, it’s thrilling, it’s pertinent, it’s timely,” he said. “But look, Canada was not merely standing around watching events take place. The CIA was a junior partner.”...

So the USA does another revision on history here. I believe ‘Argo’ goes this far. Yes, it’s based on a true story - the movie does it’s best to allude that it sticks to technical accuracy. And it really does, in some ways. Historical pictures of flag burners, rioters, gate climbers, etc.. up against Argo film stills run by during the credits make it seem that the facts were adhered to down to the tiniest detail. In reality, it wasn’t Tony Mendez or the CIA who were responsible for the success of this operation; actually they were barely there.

In this movie they pictured Iranians like a bunch of savages who try to kill Americans and burn their flag at any given moment…. The problem is people did the revolution to have a better country and to get rid of the shah,who was a bad leader but they chose a much worse option, the Islamic republic. when i spoke to those people who were a part of that revolution, they told me “we didn’t know hi-jab would be compulsory for women,we thought it would be a free country with Islamic laws” “we didn’t know”¦” .It’s all they can say, that they didn’t know this and that could happen.

The historical inaccuracy has been pointed out in other reviews: no, things didn’t happen that way, the Canadians deserve much more credit in that operation than this portrayal ever shows. Notwithstanding the role of the US in sustaining a puppet dictatorship during the Shah and actively interfering in a sovereign country’s domestic politics for decades prior to the events….What I dispute is how incredibly shallow and predictable the storytelling is:

It could not be more islamophobic if it tried. I am not saying the Iranian revolution was something pretty. It really wasn’t. Here is a list of the disturbing in the portrayal of Iran in Affleck’s Argo:

When the Iranian people spoke Farsi in the film there were no English subtitles. If an American spoke Farsi there magically appeared subtitles.

Every single Iranian in the film was angry. This was the only emotion they could express. According to Argo all Iranians are hostile.

Showed no culture, not a single educated Iranian of their own right. There was one “good” Iranian who was a housekeeper to the Canadian ambassador. No character development at all, she serves her purpose and leaves. Apparently fled to Iraqi cause thats going to end well for her children.

The streets of Iran were made to look like the streets of hell. The streets are shown with either one of these characteristics 1. angry Iranian mob protesters who are in favour of the Khomeini;  2. militia terrorizing and murdering it own citizens;  3.objectified Iranian dead bodies.

The basic fact that for a short period several American consulate workers were in hiding and were flown out under fake identities is true, but a lot is missed out. They first hid in the British consulate, but were moved to Canada House on British advice (as best as I can glean from various Internet sources), and the whole operation was a joint venture between at least three countries. What we get is a ‘Yankwash.’

Pretty much nothing in this film actually happened (time-wise, people-wise, story-wise), so what’s left is just the movie in itself. Where Ben Affleck portrays a man with clearly no emotions, the group of six ‘escapees’ clearly experienced difficulties portraying fear. Add in the classic ‘America is the smartest country in the world, and the bad guys have the intelligence no bigger than a pile of (you know what)’ and you’ll find this movie pretty annoying (like I did).

The other Oscar front-runner for best movie is Zero Dark Thirty about the American raid in Pakistan which resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden. Criticized mostly for being boring but also for ends justifying very harsh American means including repeated torture of foreigners . Here are two quotes on these lines, again from reviews on IMDB.

Zero Dark Thirty is one of the most offensive propaganda film crafted for critics and American jingoists I’ve seen in a long time. There is nothing worth while in this film. It’s dull, repetitious, badly acted mess without a clear goal or any intentions of exploring it’s subject matter, politics surrounding it and moral and ethical questions.

Some parts of this “movie” remind me of black-and-white Nazi propaganda documentaries. Shooting female civilian in the back is not a heroic act. Not even in a war. Never was. I have some doubts about what real happened on that night in Pakistan. Why the most wanted was not taken alive. Submitted to a Court. Show him to the world and let the American people judge him. Interrogate him. Using the law to make justice. Nothing of this was answered. All the movie its like a very bad documentary about assassination and torture

Posted by Peter Quennell on 01/16/13 at 07:58 PM in News media & moviesMedia developments

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The third Oscar frontrunner is about two people who love/hate one another hitting on a way to cope in face of bipolar disorder which can cause often very bright people to do things you dont, to say the least, see coming.

Some of the the surprises are beyond belief. The guy’s family is Italian American. The Solitanos. Hard to imagine the movie working without these fanatically loyal-to-one-another Italian-Americans.

Extremely funny, a real cliff hanger, and very moving. Silver Linings Playbook is nominated for best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress, best director, and best movie, the first for many years.

Tough competition from the movies mentioned above in the posts, but the watchable, fearless and always dangerously unexpected Jennifer Lawrence at 22 may have a lock on best actress.

She laughs a lot in the YouTube interview videos, which is misleading, because in the movie she is as driven, focused and unsmiling as she was in her other famous movie The Hunger Games.

Soon after the end of this scene, he implies she is crazier than he is. She doesn’t take it well, to say the least. That scene by itself could win her the Oscar.

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Posted by Peter Quennell on 01/17/13 at 02:57 AM | #

This topic is interesting.

About the Pakistani operation - I mean the perecption of it, ideological spin and the role of the law - I also made some comments time ago with the FOAs.

Yes these productions and topics draw interest on various aspects; the re-writing of truths and facts, as well as the challenge to perception of morality and law.

Posted by Yummi on 01/17/13 at 04:41 AM | #

I remember the sunny day Shah was having lunch with Carter: I have gone to Washington DC from Bethesda, MD to see the museum of natural history.

There was a protest of several hundred students- one girl walked upto me and asked me to join the protest. She told me who and what Shah is.

For several days I wondered why the US is friend of such a person. I still do not understand so many things.

Many years later, in a conference in Portugal, one Iranian Professor told me what the country expects from Ahmedinejad but I wondered what they are going to get.

Sometimes perception and reality can be confusing. I am confused.

Posted by chami on 01/17/13 at 11:22 AM | #

From a development aid point of view the US is or was at least most generous to many countries. It still gives away a great deal of food, and it has a good volunteer program of teachers, doctors, etc in rural areas. It pours millions into relief and rebuilding after earthquakes and tsunamis.

But starting in the 1970s it has done so much harm to its brand. The US got behind a very harsh economic policy line (mixed in with Cold War incentives for people like the Shah) called the Washington Consensus. That was really austerity on steroids and cost most of the world 20-30 years of good growth.

Do you know why much of the world is now eating the US’s lunch? Not because of America development assistance back them. In fact because of ASIA which starting with Japan and then the Little Dragons and then China and Indian and Indonesia turned its back on US prescriptions and more or less did the exact opposite.

One of the oddities is that United Nations development (where I worked) was allowed into inner sanctums everywhere. We were not only trusted in sensitive inner sanctums in Italy etc but trusted also in east European countries as they ditched communism, and in Arab countries, and Latin American countries, and of course Asian. Poor frustrated American officials could only sit and watch, powerless and disliked and locked out.

Now observe the US losing any advantage from the Arab Spring as the Moslem Brotherhood etc marches into the vacuum of growth ideas and community ideas.

Furthermore, demonization of minorities is not at all helpful here at home in the US. Redneck hate promotion like Bruce Fischer’s is sadly prevalent in the so called red states (Fischer is a bit out of tune with the liberal internationalised blue state of Illinois which is presumably why his venom is focused on Italy, a country he doesnt know and lies about daily) and on talk radio.

My guess is this blast of contempt toward the rest of the world, in some ways a Cold War hangover, costs the US two to four percent in growth every year. Lost growth gains that are badly needed to pay off the deficit and national debt, provide good health for all (health indicators for the US are appalling), invest in training and research, and give everybody a decent old age.

ALL of us throughout the whole world would be better off without these movies and xenophobic hate sources like the Doug Prestons and Bruce Fischers. A certain niceness helps a lot toward paying our own bills.

Posted by Peter Quennell on 01/17/13 at 01:10 PM | #


If you calculate per capita foreign aid, then much smaller countries like Sweden come up on top. USAID comes with lots of strings attached. One of them is called contempt.

During early 60s, we used to get in our small school a glass of milk - during the lunch break - milk powder donated under PL480 scheme - I still remember the logo of two hands holding each other.

The tragedy was that the milk powder was rotten (probably after the expiry date)- originally meant for cattle feed - I learnt that much later, after 20 years when I gave a talk at New Paltz, NY. Much of the US assistance was similar. This is not the way to build “trust”.

During 80s, there was a widespread feeling (and I believe it to be true) that US companies supply sub-standard instruments or equipments to third world countries. Even today, many US suppliers maintain two price lists (for obscure reasons)- one of them is called export price list with about 50% more cost. This is not the way to do business.

US helped us to get up on our own feet. We are still stumbling now and then but I see some strange sense of national pride in asia (even in Pakistan and Bangaldesh)- we blame it on our leaders and not on the US.

Last year I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel in Istanbul. I told the driver that he is charging me more. The strange thing (I have never experienced this before) was than he returned back to the hotel and wanted to refund part of the fare. And I declined. Just for the record, I have paid 50 euro for a taxi for 5-7 km trip in Italy (he came with 20 euro on the meter and also wanted some tip). It was legal, I checked it later.

I made wonderful friends in the US. You must not mix business with foreign policy. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are gone. The reason? You mistook the politicians representing the country as representing the people.

Posted by chami on 01/17/13 at 05:10 PM | #

As I’ve been watching the developments in Egypt, I can’t help thinking that this will be a repeat of the Muslim revolution in Iran and that it would be so dangerous to allow it to happen. The Persian people didn’t get what they expected out of their revolution; instead of the independence they were hoping for, my impression is that everything that was Persian about Iran was systematically threatened and perhaps destroyed under Khomeini. So many of their intellectuals were imprisoned and killed, while the lucky ones fled abroad.

I suppose my perceptions of Iran, which I’ve never visited myself, have been colored by what some Baha’i friends have told me. They suffered under the Shah, but I think they’ve suffered more under Khomeini.  I’ve lost touch with them, but from what I understand, the Ahmadinejad regime has increased its persecution.

Incidentally, they have also been persecuted in Egypt, where they were unable to obtain official IDs since their religion was not one of three recognized as official.

Egypt should have followed the Turkish example from the get-go in establishing a secular state. I haven’t watched any of these films, by the way, but I find descriptions of European Turkey as Muslim and backwards absurd.  The Middle Eastern part, I don’t know much about, but Istanbul is modern and Turks are Westernized.

And I’m saying this as someone from a country which is owed great historical debts by the former Ottoman Empire - both for past unspeakable wrongs, and for a certain type of culture which was manufactured in Constantinople and which, to this day, infects a good part of eastern and southern Europe. 

The Greek crisis, by the way, seems to me like the direct result of this phanariote culture, which resulted from the intersection of Ottoman corruption and Greek collaborationism.

While Italy was never in that particular cultural sphere, my feeling is that it’s entertained some similar practices.  This is why I think Chami was right about Dr. Sollecito’s involvement.  Chami, I’ve never been to India, so you’ll have to forgive me if I assume things, but here we have a rather antiquated word to describe that sort of deep-rooted corruption: “oriental” (although we sometimes use “balcanic” too in recognition of our own guilt in adopting it). I think that this “oriental” way of thinking exists, to different degrees, everywhere west of Vienna.  It’s present in Eastern Europe, it’s present to a greater extent in Greece, and it stretches from Turkey to southern Asia.  So perhaps you and I understand in a more intimate manner why it’s likely that some undiscovered Sollecito strings exist, in a way that someone who grew up in an absolutely civilized country may dismiss as conspiracy theories.

Posted by Vivianna on 01/17/13 at 10:03 PM | #

Fortunately there are a lot of intelligent Americans who don’t fall for this kind of ‘Yankwash’.  (Great term from an IMDB reviewer).

The USA has done a great deal of good in a great number of ways over its brief history so there’s no real need for such propagandising.  It’s not new, though.  Recall that the brilliant Steve McQueen showpiece “The Great Escape” fictionalised a real escape attempt by British and Commonwealth POWs.  A Canadian pilot was one of the primary consultants on the film.

These films are all intended to entertain Americans and keep them feeling good about themselves and their place in the world.  That’s how you fill the theatre seats.  I don’t know how many of us who aren’t American are offended or even surprised. 

Besides, just to get even, we sent Bieber down there so maybe the joke’s on them. 😉

Posted by Stilicho on 01/17/13 at 11:06 PM | #

I think Bieber is Canada’s joke on the whole world, for not recognizing the excellent economic and policy model you have going there :p

Posted by Vivianna on 01/18/13 at 12:01 AM | #

Silver Linings Playbook is the warmest, funniest, most popular movie about Italian-Americans in years, perhaps ever. It is the movie described above in the first comment.

It’s now gathering a lot of buzz. It will expand from 800 US theater to 2500 this weekend, and today it was rated FIRST by several influential showbiz websites in the Oscar Best Movie horserace.

The two military theme movies of the post above have slid down, and maybe also the movie Lincoln. Jennifer Lawrence of Silver Linings may be a sure thing for best actress.

Said to be the finest actress of her generation. She’s dramatic and funny, that’s for sure.  See

Posted by Peter Quennell on 01/18/13 at 07:22 AM | #

I watched “Taken 2” the other day. I’m 30 minutes into the movie when Lian Nelson’s character tells his daughter (who is in Istanbul) that she had to go to the US Embassy. I went “huh?”. Why do you want your daughter to fly/drive to Ankara that is 400 km away when there is a US Consulate in the city she is in? I later realized that everyone in the movie was mentioning the “embassy” when in fact they meant the Consulate in Istanbul. Apart from this major flaw (for me), I enjoyed the movie.

Posted by Clander on 01/18/13 at 10:13 PM | #

Hi Clander

Good comment. The capital is indeed elsewhere. Deliberately in the center of the country so development doesnt only occur in the west. Modern but by Turkish standards a bit dull. Diplomats seem to prefer Istanbul. 

On Taken 2 some of the scenes didnt look to me to be Istanbul, a pretty, colorful place as you surely know,  and they could have been shot in another less attractive town.

I mean Liam Neeson no harm. 😊  We see him now and then around the Roundabout Theater Group theaters where he and his late wife Natasha Richardson were on the board. (Yeah. I see he is still there on their artistic council.)

We saw him in one of their plays with Natasha Richardson (that is how they met) before he got his big break. Steven Spielberg was in the audience one night, and picked him for Schindlers List. We saw Natasha Richardson in her last play (A Streetcar Named Desire) and Liam Neeson always came every single night. He was there that night.

The costar of Taken 2 Maggie Grace is in Picnic on Broadway now. My wife Hope and I had never heard of her but we each (on separate nights) thought this was one of the great breakout arrivals on Broadway that we have even seen I wrote it up on IMDB here:

Posted by Peter Quennell on 01/19/13 at 02:11 AM | #

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