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Friday, November 24, 2017

SPIKE LEE'S SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT - NETFLIX 11/24/17

I binge-watched: 10 episodes in 5 hours of Director Spike Lee's new Netflix series SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT where Lee attempts to address the Brooklyn of today in contrast to the original Brooklyn that he filmed in 1986 - 31 years ago. We see how much has changed in the Borough, impacting the local populace both optically and financially. White people have taken over brownstones in the neighborhoods - buying up properties which then propel shops and cafe's to dot the streets serving their needs. Gentrification is addressed in the film loud and clear.


The SHE is a young "struggling" artist, Nola Darling who is strikingly beautiful and seemingly self-confident, but defensively so - a woman who has no trouble juggling three lovers. I kept thinking that Spike Lee was desperately searching for sub-plots to keep this particular story-line going beyond a woman's insatiable sexual appetite, reversing how men behave toward women, but even that can get boring. Yes, women, today are free to treat the other sex like objects for gratification and temporary fulfillment - which seemed to be the in-your-face message. So to fill the gap there is lip service paid to almost every social issue affecting the community, except the opioid crisis - the ever-present weed (or the many names that it goes by) is now taken for granted and socially (if not legally) acceptable. I did rejoice in the fact that Nola took her art seriously, and spent a lot of time making it, not allowing her "suitors" to be a distraction.

Visually Lee does some "cool" things in SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT such as:
Filming a love poem to Brooklyn, NYC

Focusing on the sensuality of black women annexing all the senses including smell, taste, and touch.

Introducing pop up stills of the musicians and artists, and writers Lee admires which flash on the screen unexpectedly.

Referencing the November 2016 Presidential election with a powerful visual diatribe against newly elected Donald Trump.

And Lee's paen to the death of multitudes of historically distinguished black artists/writers/musicians/leaders is beautifully and simply done - with an image of a rose.

Those are the precious moments when the series moves us.

It is the characters themselves, particularly the three chosen men that are cardboard cut-outs; often defining a distinctive trait and representative of a specific class structure whose humanity has been veneered by caricature. One of the few exceptions is a homeless Afghanistan veteran, Papo da Mayor played by Elvis Nolasco, who is never without a cart brimming with "the detritus of the street - (garbage to most) which he transforms into art. Whenever he appears, his genuineness shines a light on the moral emptiness of the other characters.There is also Nola's mother (acted by Joie Lee,) who has acquired some wisdom and acts like someone you would want to know better and spend time with - a person who has been enriched by life experiences. She is no fool.

Spike Lee is trying to "do the right thing" by women and in the credits many of the writers are women - but most of the male characters cannot be penetrated - no pun intended.
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Sunday, November 19, 2017

LADY BIRD 11/19/17




Greta Gerwig, usually disappoints me - as an actress and now in her writing and directorial debut, LADY BIRD, a coming-of-age film about a seventeen-year-old girl growing up in Sacramento “…the Midwest of California…” (the best line in the film,) and the love/hate relationship she has with her working-class family and peers. Social distinctions figure prominently in Gerwig’s cinematic world of “ironic class strivers.” I keep wondering why I am left cold by her words and her characters and eventually understood that LADY BIRD is too self-consciously trying to be inclusive - inclusive of every contemporary issue - touching upon a diversity of characters and situations with momentary episodic flashes.The touch is light, illustrating concerns rather than delving into them, giving us tokenism - glossing over deep pain and longing with a CliffsNotes diminution.

Saoirse Ronan is excellent as Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson - a nickname she gives herself to appear distinctive. I am sympathetic to the aspirations of a young, self-involved teenager searching for a path to glamour and excitement. Youth is an innocent time - one open to endless fantasies - reality has not yet penetrated the hermetic world of dreams. The “firsts” of the teen years - first kiss, first sexual experience leading to the loss of virginity, first self-awareness of one’s own ethical and moral values, and the critical realization that the world is not always spinning for you alone - solely for your personal gratification.

The film opens with Lady Bird and her mother - a wonderful performance by Laurie Metcalf - who is driving and listening to Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath on audio tape - both simultaneously weeping, moved by the beauty of the spoken words; their mirrored responses reflect their enduring affection. And suddenly the mood is shattered and we see the other side of their relationship - a mother who works double shifts as a psychiatric nurse to supplement the family income so that her daughter can go to a private Catholic school; the burden of monetary expenses weighs heavily on her shoulders.  The ever-present resentment that comes with sacrifice is often unleashed on her oblivious daughter in a torrent of sarcasm, humiliation, and disparagement.


Greta Gerwig is at her best in the scenes between mother/father and daughter. A lovely tenderness exists which is often choked and stifled by the exigencies of financial straits.The underpinnings are there for a truly fine movie, but in the rush to cast a wide net, Gerwig compromises her subjects’ humanity, placing a veil of bromides over what could have been profound interactions. Maybe next time. I hope so.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

THE FLORIDA PROJECT 10/22/17



THE FLORIDA PROJECT directed by Sean Baker is a film that left me with a sadness I could not shake all evening. Still thinking about a movie which gives us the best performance by Willem Dafoe I have seen in years, finally shedding the horror edge he often exhibits to display a complex humane being. The action takes place in Orlando Florida's honky-tonk atmosphere of cheap motels and stores surrounding the "magical" Disneyland dream destination.



I guiltily found myself feeling terribly judgemental towards the single-almost-children-themselves moms in the throes of "hard" living; their hand to mouth struggles to exist, and the laissez-faire attitude towards taking care of their offspring. Yet, I admired a certain freedom that comes from a who-gives-a-damn- about- me - attitude when you know you are fighting a losing battle and anything is possible - where time is compressed into the moment.


The children were not sentimentally cute but cunningly so. Kids who are growing up running wild; a total lack of respect for others a mini-version of their parents but with their innate empathy still unbroken. The insights of Moonee ( a terrific Brooklynn Prince) are penetrating, her intelligence spurs the pack of friends onto new adventures whether it is scamming a tourist for the ice cream cone which the group takes turns licking with the innocent sensuality of children; or sitting on a curved, bent tree with her best friend, telling her why it is her favorite tree - appreciating its visual history.



Here is an enchantment that is not produced commercially by the Disney Corporation; Moonee's childhood delight is raw and grating full of laughter and at times perilous mischief-on-thin-ice.

Monday, October 16, 2017

MARSHALL 10/16/17


Josh Gad and Chadwick Boseman

MARSHALL is a movie directed by Reginald Hudlin which is worth seeing. Injustice makes me choke back tears of anger as we meet a young Thurgood Marshall, the sole attorney for the NAACP in 1940 being sent all over the country defending black men falsely accused of crimes. A cocky, confident Marshall who is well-aware of his own brilliance, teams up with an inexperienced white, Jewish Insurance lawyer, Sam Friedman in Bridgeport Ct. on a case of rape and assault of a white woman by a black man - a story which inflames the East Coast news media.
The story is based on a true event and the film has the intensity of a courtroom drama but carried out in a Northern city where hatred and bigotry are as powerful as anywhere in the South. This occurs in 1940 just before the US enters into World War II to fight against Hitler and his dream of an Aryan nation.
L. Josh Gad C. Chadwick Boseman R. Sterling K. Brown

Thurgood Marshall became a great Supreme Court Justice and this movie gives us a glimpse into his "beginnings" and the passion he had early on for the Consitution's ideals of equality for all. The Law was his mantle and he knew how to wear it with cunning, intelligence and compassion.
Thurgood Marshall - Supreme Court Justice

Saturday, September 16, 2017

ONE MISSISSIPPI 9/16/17

Tig Notaro at Radio Station



Stephanie Allynne and Tig Notaro
Tig Notaro’s Mississippi - a state that has a history of segregation and fierce support of white supremacy encapsulating the evil that is racism - is filled with eccentric characters who are authentically and unselfconsciously themselves, often oblivious to the appeal of their awkward presence. Notaro’s ONE MISSISSIPPI series on Amazon involves lots of talking. Notaro is a radio host telling stories which ramble on, and on, often biographical as when she discusses breast cancer and her double mastectomy, narrated with a nonchalance that is punctuated with the abyss of cramped silences. 

Community functions highlight the slow pace of daily life where we meet many of the fictional town’s personalities. Some names are changed but Tig who is played by Tig remains herself - wearing the same dungarees, shirt and sneakers in every episode, as she observes her idiosyncratic family’s dynamics, forays into the gay dating scene, and work issues at the Radio Station - all told with an equanimity of a person who totally accepts who she is. 

The second season (6 episodes) is both funny and bitingly serious dealing with issues of sexual abuse, the election of Trump, and the sweet tenderness of falling in love with someone who turns your idea of a “suitable” partner on its head. The earnestness of trying to please the other, involves a wavering courage that is all too familiar. 

I am particularly fond of Tig's step-father (John Rothman) - a man living a compulsively ordered existence in the midst of chaos in contrast to her brother (Noah Harpster) who attempts to hide his lovely originality under the guise of good-ole-boy bravado. Stephanie Allynne who is actually married to Tig plays her sounding board at the radio station, and their courtship which involves many conversations, weaving in questions of sexual identity and its fluidity, is played out in the series.

John Rothman and Sheryl Lee Ralph
ONE MISSISSIPPI flows so naturally that a superficial viewing can be misconstrued as commonplace. A caustic dry wit permeates each episode and I continue to watch this understated, generous view of “ordinary” lives lived extra-ordinarily. 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

DETROIT 8/6/17


My tears have dried up but my throat is still choking from the injustice that the characters experienced in the incredibly tragic film DETROIT, directed by the great Kathryn Bigelow. Sticking close to the facts that occurred in 1967, this movie is a docu-drama about the events leading up to, and the aftermath of the Detroit riots, when a city was trashed, looted and set afire - a red-hot blaze that spontaneously erupted spewing forth all the hatred and resentment that racism had wrought.

DETROIT is expansive and intimate, coldly brutal and deeply felt, where stereotypes are upended and a portrait of the white/black divide is bleakly demonstrated. Bigelow focuses on a particularly merciless incident that occurred at the Algiers Motel - sited in the midst of the fuel-filled horror, seemingly far removed from the screeching of sirens and the acrid smoke of burning buildings, but historically primed to become a symbol of vast psychological and physical brutality, echoing the conflagration outside.

Detroit police officers searching the Motel for a sniper, led by a sadistic bigoted white cop, terrorize and murder 3 black teenagers in cold blood. How that episode of blatant criminality impacts the surviving participants is heart-wrenching for its razor sharp depiction of our American Judicial system, and the stench of racism which has penetrated into and perverted every aspect of both black and white lives. Fifty years later - not much has changed.