Thursday, July 12, 2018

RBG (2018)

Rated:  PG

STARS: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
DIRECTOR: Julie Cohen, Betsy West
GENRE: Documentary

She is known as "Notorious RBG," and she's a rock star.  She's also as U.S. Supreme Court justice. Vilified by the right, revered by the left (and respected by a good deal of moderates, I imagine, who tend to have more of an open mind on things), Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been a champion for equal rights and human decency from the beginning.  RBG, the reverential documentary on her life and career, leaves few stones unturned in presenting her story.

The film begins with a montage of right-wing politicians and talk show hosts hurling insults and epithets. It then goes on to show you who she really is. Nice touch, I thought. As documentaries go, RBG is rather austere (could have used a bit more stirring music, I felt), with interviews from the likes of Bill Clinton, Gloria Steinem, NPR contributor Nina Totenberg, and the late conservative justice Antonin Scalia. Of particular interest is Bader's close friendship with Scalia. They had a fondness for each other that transcended political lines. There is a clip showing them riding an elephant together, one of the numerous humorous touches sprinkled throughout the film.

There is even a romantic element, with archival footage and background on her late husband Marty Ginsburg and their times together. And here's the answer to the question that has been in the back of your mind, so admit it. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a strikingly attractive woman in her youth. (So any subsequent biopic that might be made about Ms. Ginsburg, they can go ahead and put Julia Roberts in there to play her.) Now in her mid eighties, Ruth Ginsburg is a warrior. She does a fitness routine that would shame most younger folks.  

Today, with the U. S Supreme Court irretrievably (in our lifetime) skewed to the political right, Ruth Bader Ginsburg will stand, in many cases I suspect, as a lone dissenting opinion--and that is the melancholic  undertone that kept haunting me throughout this film. For I don't see how anyone, regardless of political leanings, could come away from RBG without the impression that there is one word that best describes  Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And that word is integrity. 

Grade:  B +   


I went to this movie thinking I'd be bored witless. But the current film options playing in both southern California and Tucson consist mostly of shoot 'em up crapbusters.  So off I went -- unwillingly-- to learn about this 84-year-old legend. By the end of the film, everybody in the audience was clapping.  Including me.  

I really have to hand it to co-directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West for interspersing Ginsberg's numerous landmark cases (and decisions) in such a unique and mind-grabbing manner.  She didn't just focus on the feminist perspective (although that earned a healthy share of attention).  I particularly liked a case (Weinberger v Wiesenfeld, 1975) where a widower wasn't eligible to collect special benefits while caring for his children.  Bader argued that this gender-based distinction was unconstitutional. (She won.)  

RBG was chock full of cases that changed the course of history. The idea that this tiny wisp of a woman has had such a powerful impact on our nation's legal decisions is particularly appealing to me -- since I'm petite too.  But not nearly as soft-spoken!  

I also had tremendous admiration for her loyal and devoted husband who put his wife's career ahead of his own.  A bold move in those days of Stepford wives. I'm with Tim on this one.  Whether you're a raving Liberal or a staunch Republican, this film transcends politican prejudices.

Grade: B+

Monday, July 2, 2018

TAG (2018)

Rated:  R

STARS: Ed Helms, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Kevin Sable, Isla Fisher
DIRECTOR: Jeff Tomsic
GENRE: Comedy

There's a playfully suggestive song that goes back to the early fifties called, "It Ain't The Meat It's The Motion." Turn that little pearl of prurient profundity  onto its head and you've got the new comedy, Tag--a wild romp of a film that's 's filled with cartoonish sight gags (they run, they tackle each other, they smash up shit)--lots of motion but no meat, or food for thought. That is, until the last third of the movie, when it redeems least to where I didn't have to give it a totally crappy rating. More on that in a moment.

Five "adult" men (played by Ed Helms, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Jake Johnson, and Kevin Sable) get together each May and continue a long-standing tradition, a game of tag they've been playing since the first grade! But like many of the games people play (politics and the like), it has gotten out of hand, and now nothing else matters but to win the game. The current objective is to take down the one group member, Jerry (Jeremy Renner), who incredibly has never been tagged. A plan has been set in motion to get him at his wedding on the last day of the month, figuring he'll be a sitting duck. But Jerry is clever as an elusive Soviet agent--giving Tag the feel of a spy thriller on laughing gas.   

Just when you think that the crazy chase is all the substance this movie has--they'll get him or they won't--the group members must suddenly face their own consciences, as in when does the relentless pursuit of an objective (or an ideology, perhaps) come into conflict with one's sense of human decency? And which one wins out? And that, kiddies, is nothing less than the moral dilemma America is faced with at the moment. So there's more to Tag than initially meets the eye. 

But it comes too little too late to save this film from the Mediocrity Hall Of Fame. All the slapstick gets  tedious after a while, and I was left with a hunger for a little more meat and a lot less motion.

Grade:  C  

Tag makes Animal House look like Gone With The Wind.  Or, for those of you unfamiliar with those two classics, Tag sucks the big one. Unlike Tim, I found no redeeming features in this turkey.  The subtitle should have been 'Peter Pans On Steroids.'  How actors like Oscar-nominee Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) and Golden Globe winner Jon Hamm (Mad Men) got talked into doing this movie is as unbelievable to me as the movie itself. 

I wish I could find something positive to say.  I can't.  I really wanted to walk out of this one before it ended but someone had said the real men the story was based on were shown at the end.  And they were: paunchy, forgettable-looking guys. Playing tag was probably the highlight of their lives.  But it certainly wasn't mine!

And Isla Fisher should be ashamed of herself for playing the competitive harpie married to Ed Helms' character.  Her foul-mouthed mega-aggressive persona set back the image of a liberated woman by centuries.  Yuk!

So my advice?  Don't waste your money.

Grade: F