Tuesday, February 16, 2016
STARS: Michael Moore
I'll admit up front to being a Michael Moore fan. There is no one who is more adept at holding the mirror up to our (America's) face and making us peer directly into it without our makeup on. In his alternatingly humorous, eye- opening, and poignant documentary, Where To Invade Next, Moore "invades" Europe to find solutions to America's problems. And while he's working with a lighter hand here, his insights are no less profound than those imparted in his previous films.
What he finds:
In France, schoolkids get nutritional food--like what you'd order off the menu at a classy restaurant--and plenty of it.
Students in Slovenia get a free college education.
In Finland, school children are not burdened with homework after school, because kids need time to be kids.
Drug possession in Portugal is not illegal.
In Norway, where the emphasis is on rehabilitation instead of retribution and punishment, prison inmates live in decently appointed apartments, and can ride bicycles around the grounds.
In Iceland, women play a prominent role in the government.
IN SHORT, NOT MUCH THAT BERNIE SANDERS HASN'T ALREADY TOUCHED UPON!
My favorite segment is where Moore interviews an affable Italian couple (Why do Italians always look like they've just had sex? he quips) who receive seven weeks paid vacation from their jobs annually, and a laundry list of other perks that make American companies look like slave drivers.
Speaking of which, Michael Moore accurately reminds us that America was built upon slavery and genocide. But after all that, he still manages to end on an uplifting note, pointing out that many of the innovative concepts being utilized by other countries originated in the good ol' U.S.A. All we need to do is get back to that kind of logical and compassionate clear thinking.
I'm ready for some of that. Aren't you?
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
STARS: Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay
DIRECTOR: Andrew Haigh
In 45 Years, Charlotte Rampling breaks her string of appearing nude in most every film I've ever seen her in--going back to the sadistic and sexually explicit The Night Porter from 1974. She was the darling of the art house films, where her body was on more prominent display than her acting chops. I only bring it up because now, at age 70, she's regarded as a serious actor--much the same as Helen Mirren, who was free-spirited enough in her youth to display her ample attributes in similar fashion--even appearing in the notorious semi-porn flick, Caligula. Later in life, we watched Mirren glide up to the stage on Oscar night, and now Rampling has an opportunity to do the same with her Best Actress nomination for 45 Years.
Kate and Geoff Mercer have what you'd call a polite relationship. It's all very British. They're not revealing anything that lies beneath the surface. They're planning a party for their forty-fifth wedding anniversary. Everything seems to be on track. Then Geoff receives a letter announcing that "she's been found." The letter refers to an old girlfriend of his who fell into a crevasse while hiking in the Swiss Alps and perished at the age of 27. Geoff sits there explaining the letter to Kate in an absent-minded way--he's quite drawn into his thoughts. She thinks it's odd that he never told her about the girl. Well, he thought he did. Maybe it was so long ago that neither of them have much recollection of it. It could have just stayed one of those curious things between couples who only communicate on a certain level. They would have moved on with their polite lives. If Geoff hadn't become increasingly distracted by the realization that the girl's body would be perfectly preserved after all those years in her icy tomb. She will look just the same as the last time he saw her.
We witness the emotional progressions on Kate's face as she contemplates the invading question of how much the two of them might have meant to each other. As the week leading up to their anniversary celebration passes, Geoff takes up smoking again, and begins behaving in peculiar ways. When Kate discovers he has visited a travel agency, inquiring about a possible trip to Switzerland, she begins to question what their entire marriage has been about.
45 Years is adult cinema. Not the kind Rampling cut her teeth on, rather a drama for grownups who appreciate thoughtful films. It progresses slowly, as one treading upon the ice would be wise to do--leading to a delicious and devastating climax that will leave you...like Kate...with more questions than answers.
Grade: B +
I've been far less forgiving than Tim about the movies we've seen lately. And I'm sorry to report that 45 Years won't change that trend, either. I realize that it takes cinematic time to create a long-term marriage, with all its daily routines and unspoken but understood communications. But slow moving can often produce a sleepy audience. (At least that's what this film did for me.)
Before 45 Years began, I was impressed with the opening credits. The click-clicking of a projector as each name came on screen. Later, when Charlotte Rampling's character watches an old movie, clicking from one image to another, witnessing something that will change her relationship with her husband forever, I was reminded of those opening credits. And was even more impressed.
There were moments—albeit fleeting ones—that smacked of originality and tour de force acting. But as I left the theater, I must admit I felt insanely grateful to be living alone. If any of you long for everlasting togetherness in the sunset years of your life, this film will cure you of that notion. It may not be as dark as, say, The Revenant. But in its own way, it's even darker. Although Ms. Rampling is up for an Oscar, I thought Tom Courteney's performance was even better. (And the dog did an outstanding job, too!)
Thursday, February 4, 2016
STARS: Paul Giamatti, O'Shea Jackson Jr., Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell
DIRECTOR: F. Gary Gray
You're driving along. You stop for the light. Pulling up beside you is a vehicle with the stereo blasting, and immediately you hear the F-bomb, and a whole string of other "cultural indicators"--the poetry of the street set to a primal beat. You glance over and observe that (as often as not) the person singing along to the lyric is a pasty-faced teenager of the Caucasian persuasion.
Straight Outta Compton is the biopic that chronicles the meteoric rise to popularity of rap and hip-hop music---cutting across racial lines--produced by two of its principal architects, Ice Cube (O'Shea Jackson Jr.) and Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins). Together with Easy E (Jason Mitchell), they formed the nucleus of the highly influential rap group, N.W.A, beginning in the late eighties. But the film doesn't show us just what special talent or charisma set these individuals apart from all the rest. Self-serving manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti in what should have been a nominated role) takes them on in mythic fashion, recalling the man with the big cigar saying hey kid, I'm gonna make you a star. And the rest is history at seemingly breakneck speed.
What the film does show is the ghetto life, racial profiling, and police harassment of minorities that seemed to go with the territory in L. A. (and I'm sure in many other parts of the country) in those days, before we supposedly got all sensitive to people's rights being violated...er, excuse me...before we pretended that things had changed. Before Ferguson; before Baltimore; before Freddy Gray, etc. So it's an eye opener in that respect. In truth, the real appeal of these rappers was their ability to translate their experiences--the facts of their lives as they lived them--into their music in a way that could stir the emotions of the listener. Angry young men with a right to be angry--running afoul of the authorities in an era when freedom of speech meant say what you want, as long as you don't offend the sensitivities of the most straight-laced among us.
Things do "develop" right along in Straight Outta Compton, as there are a bevy of bare boobs and booties shaking, but that other kind of development--that of the individual characters--is lacking. Still, there are some good beats, and the action sequences are top-notch. And we do learn the many creative ways in which the prefix "mutha" can be combined with other colorful epithets.
Straight Outta Compton serves to remind us that while our society may not be color blind--and likely never will be--our music (go to a Miley Cyrus concert) most assuredly is.
With all the outrage a'brewin' about the list of snow white nominees this year, Straight Outta Compton is the only black-is-beautiful offering. For Best Original Screenplay. I can't really get excited about the screenplay, as I felt the movie was overly long and the three main characters were fairly one dimensional. I did, however, learn a lot more about the history of rap. I also developed serious respect for the artists who achieved their hard-earned success in this musical genre. That corruption abounds in the record industry is nothing new. The same could be said for the stock market (The Big Short), The Catholic Church (Spotlight) and the fur traders in the early 19th century (The Revenant). But the degree of violence, even murder, among those early rappers is unequaled. And this makes for a lot of exciting footage. And a lot of baaaad language....
I found it a bit ironic that Paul Giamatti's role as a smarmy agent/manager in this film was quite similar to another role he played in the 2014 Beach Boys biopic Love and Mercy. He does shifty very well. (Check him out in Showtime's megahit Billions if you don't believe me.)
I wish I could give Straight Outta Compton a high rating for it's raw honesty and exploration of a timely subject. But I just didn't care that much about the characters and that, to me, is a big flaw.