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Monday, January 13, 2020

JUST MERCY 1/13/20


Finally saw a film that moved me emotionally.

I recommend JUST MERCY - based on the true story of idealistic Harvard-educated lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) who opts to move to Alabama rather than work as a corporate lawyer, choosing to become an advocate for prisoners on death row. The movie begins with the founding of the Equal Justice Initiative with the support of local activist Eva Ansley (Brie Larson:) 

The film concentrates on a few of Stevenson's earliest cases focusing on Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx) and the heinous journey he undergoes - comprising false accusations, witness tampering, and manipulated evidence landing him on death row waiting to be executed.

1 out of 9 prisoners scheduled to be executed are innocent - and black inmates are the most vulnerable. In this film we see how a good lawyer can change the course of an investigation; we see how money factors in; we see how we are all a hair's breadth away from injustice particularly if you are poor and black; we see police corruption; we see blatant institutional racism and we see generosity and hope.

Stevenson's faith in the power of Congress to rectify unjust laws and the belief that our Judicial System can right "wrongs" brought me to tears in the age of Trump where deceit and cowardice prevail. This is a portrait of a decent, dedicated, brilliant lawyer giving me the confidence to know that there are many more attorneys fighting for those who are helplessly ignored. On a personal note, I have two in my own family and this film showed me again how critical the fight against injustice is. I am so proud of their work.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

DELUGE 1/1/20



Deluge, oil/alkyd/canvas, 60"x84", 2018


2020 will be a year of reckoning. Will separation of powers be subsumed into ONE power - that of the Executive? Will Congress and the Courts allow a Demagogue to overturn our democracy?  Most importantly will the American people re-elect a man and a Senate Majority Leader who are crushing the very institutions that they were elected to uphold? We are living at a critical moment in history. 

When President Obama came to power, the searing wound of racism tore open our society to blatantly undermine Presidential authority. Congress attempted to become all-powerful with myriad Hearings on issues that were resolved many times over and became vehicles of pure propaganda. We were subject to Senator McConnell successfully overturning the nomination of a Supreme Court nominee. Rules were flouted and flipped - a pinhole of injustice leaked out and under Donald J. Trump has become a deluge of venality - facts are now deemed “fake”; scientific data is ignored; the free press has been under constant vilification so that many Americans no longer believe the writings of dedicated journalists; women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims and Jews are denigrated and disparaged as divisiveness and hate have thrown a shadow over the country.

Monday, December 16, 2019

RICHARD JEWELL directed by Clint Eastwood 12/16/19



Clint Eastwood’s latest film RICHARD JEWELL depicts the bombing at Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia and proceeds to expose how justice was perverted by the media and the FBI. The film is timely in that it plays into Trump rallies’ paranoid depiction of “fake news” and a “corrupt” FBI. The derisive language of today - even the term "quid-pro-quo" is neatly shoe-horned into the script. In one of the early moments on the screen, there is a poster hanging in a lawyer’s office stating:  I Fear Government more than I Fear Terrorism.  The poster is faintly seen in the background functioning like a subliminal ad, but the words screamed out at me giving an ideological clue to Eastwood’s RICHARD JEWELL. Yes - there was injustice done to the main character, Richard Jewell who had to endure a trial by the press as we have seen myriad times historically - particularly with the Central Park Five Jogger Case where innocence was sacrificed to the altar of political ambition and hate. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution threatened to sue over the portrayal of their newspaper and journalist Kathy Scruggs, unless a disclaimer was put into the film; their request was rejected by Warner Brothers Pictures. This controversy continues.

Richard Jewell (an excellent performance by newcomer Paul Walter Hauser) is a young man living at home with his mother (Kathy Bates) who has become obsessed with “law and order” and desperately wants to be a police officer. We find out more about his zealousness in the pursuit of that goal as the movie progresses. He eventually becomes a Security Guard during the Atlanta Olympics and discovers a suspicious package under a bench and calls it in to authorities thereby saving many lives once the pipe bomb explodes. At first, Jewell, who rarely receives accolades - quite the contrary - he has often been derided and mocked for his physical appearance revels in the attention. This time he has made his mother proud. But soon the FBI becomes suspicious- feeling that he fits the profile of a savior/perpetrator and they begin to build a case against an innocent man using “dirty tricks.” 


Jewell needs a lawyer and he chooses a man we have met earlier in the film - a feisty, libertarian, go-it-alone Watson Bryant played by the great under-recognized actor, Sam Rockwell. This character and his voice, I believe is quintessential Eastwood - a man fighting the good fight for the ineffective underdog, a role he has played in movies which has osmotically permeated his being. Bryant’s job is to pull the veil of adoration from Jewell’s eyes and open them up to the reality of injustice so that he will defend himself.


Eastwood’s film is about the manipulation of the justice system by powerful government agents and the press; where any means justifies the proscribed end; familiar to many people who have been caught in a  Kafkaesque web. It is a nightmare that leaves one helpless. My problem with Eastwood’s movie is that there is a thin line between advocating for personal freedom and tainting with a broad brush institutions that protect those very freedoms specifically the press. The portrayal of Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde) and the methods she uses to procure classified information from an FBI agent (Jon Hamm) made me literally groan with disbelief and annoyance;  Eastwood debases her journalistic skills in favor of a cliched image of a beautiful, sexy bitch with no morals whose story detonates lives. In the process, he degrades the “free press” in a way that catapults us into the “fake news” Trump era. It is frightening.



Monday, December 9, 2019

DARK WATERS 12/9/19





It took almost 20 years for Dupont to reimburse victims of TEFLON production in their chemical plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Dupont was the largest employer in this town furtively contaminating the waters and farmlands of Parkersburg West Virginia causing thousands of people to get kidney, testicular, other cancer and birth deformities in pregnant women.

The film "Dark Waters" is a story of one man's resolution and courage in fighting and bringing to light what he found in an investigation which began in 1998 in order to get much-needed justice for the community over a product which had a toxic polluting chemical: Perfluorooctanoic acid —also known as C8—is a "...perfluorinated carboxylic acid produced and used worldwide as an industrial surfactant in chemical processes and as a material feedstock, and is a health concern..."(Wikipedia.) This man is Robert Bilott, an environmental attorney who previously had defended Chemical companies. Mark Ruffalo gives a stolid - understated performance depicting a person whose conscience countermands his job security, health, and his marriage.



C-8 ended up being used in products that most Americans have used ie: Teflon as well as stain-resistant fabrics and food packaging among others. This film chronicles how Dupont KNEW this chemical was poisonous and still placed in their products for profit. According to words on the screen at the very end of the film - almost 99% of the population have traces of C-8 in their blood. "This prolific contamination is not because C8 exists in the environment naturally (it doesn't), but solely because of widespread industrial use..."(US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.)  We experience the lengthy process of judicial "discovery", the myriad ways investigations can be impeded and after 19 years, some restitution.





DARK WATERS directed by Todd Haynes is a timely film; we witness the abuse of power by our government as well as large corporations. The stealthy methods used to cover-up criminality is clearly articulated and methodically laid out. Sound familiar?

Thursday, November 28, 2019

THE IRISHMAN 11/28/19


Martin Scorcese's THE IRISHMAN is not one of his greatest films, but it is his longest one. It begins with the camera weaving in and out of rooms in a nursing home - a lovely ballet gliding from one space to another which announces that here is a movie about the movement of time --smooth and beautiful.

And then I experienced the "DE - AGING" technology that the Director has been touting, and I was so distracted by too large heads bobbing on shoulders with no necks on bodies that did not gel with the smoother faces - bodies that no longer had the fluidity of youth; legs that no longer were able to dash upstairs. It actually ruined the movie for me - my eyes could not reconcile what I was seeing and still remain in the movie's moment.




Kudos to Joe Pesci's powerfully quiet performance as Russell Bufalino - a Pennsylvania crime family "capo" who is terrific - a highlight of THE IRISHMAN. Robert De Niro as mob/union enforcer Frank Sheeran feels mundane - giving a mannered performance - the all too familiar grimaces as we witness a man who is "loyal" till he is not; a man who follows orders and is straddling the two worlds of the Mafia and the corrupt Teamster's Union President - Jimmy Hoffa played by Al Pacino - too loud loud loud. We follow Sheeran's relationship and friendship to these two powerful bosses against the backdrop of the history of the 1960s and '70s including the influence of organized crime on the manipulation of political elections. The TV is often running in the background replaying for us the 1960 Presidential election between Nixon and John Kennedy, The Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy assassination in Dallas, etc.




If this movie is a reflection of real-life it ignores the role of women who are relegated to being mere scenery and we witness no acknowledgment of population diversity in the cities. As with many of Scorcese's movies, the focus is on the Italian immigrant gangster subculture thereby giving THE IRISHMAN a feeling of predictability.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

FRANKIE 10/27/19



Isabelle Huppert as Frankie


Ira Sach’s new film FRANKIE features the great French actress, a frail Isabelle Huppert who is dying and has summoned her family and a good friend to join her in the wealthy resort town of Sintra, Portugal, whose diverse landscape straddles airless, dense green foliage, stepped-up hills with wide vistas allowing us to voyeuristically watch life below - desultory marionettes interacting with one another like mysterious silhouettes, and the breadth and expanse of the Atlantic Ocean where the panoramic scenery is infinite as are the possibilities. Sachs sweeping terrain is a major character in the film echoing the twists and turns of interpersonal relationships.

The movie begins with Frankie’s family and her good friend Ilene (Marisa Tomei) having traveled from divergent locations arriving in Sintra along with tourists who will partake of the rich history of the town. We focus in on the always wonderful actor - a hulking Brendon Gleeson who plays Frankie’s adoring husband Jimmy, slowly walking up steep steps - occasionally stopping to rest and drink from the water cupped in his hands to quench his physical and psychic pain quashing the knowledge that loss is imminent. We first meet Francoise Cremont, nicknamed Frankie (Isabelle Huppert), seemingly strong and healthy swimming topless in a clear blue pool amidst luxuriant surroundings. As she alights from the pool we are able to see her smallish, frangible body - a beautiful woman who can be both commanding and fragile.  The strength of their marriage is evident in a scene where we witness them passionately making love - his large torso cradling her thin figure - the intertwining forms breathtakingly stunning to behold. 


Brendon Gleeson and Isabelle Huppert
Frankie’s first husband Michel who we see with binoculars observing others from afar is a “survivor” of his relationship with Huppert. An intimate moment in the film occurs when both husbands talk and Michel reveals that the ending of his marriage to Frankie was a porthole to a more truthful life; the opportunity to come out and admit that he was gay.  Michel is also the father of Frankie’s beloved son Paul who cannot sustain a relationship with a woman. Frankie who usually gets what she wants- making plans for others - would like to see her best friend Ilene hookup with her son. The only problem being that Ilene has brought a boyfriend Gary along on the trip. 


Isabelle Huppert and Marisa Tomei

Jimmy’s daughter Maya played by Vinette Robinson  (Frankie’s step-daughter) her husband Ian (Ariyon Bakare) and her rebellious teenage daughter Sylvia - a lovely Sennia Nanua - angry and frightened by the antagonistic tension she senses between her parents are also part of the cortege. There is a beautiful vignette of a thin, long-legged child-woman Sylvia going off by herself to the beach on a bus where she meets a young man and we are witness to the tender seductiveness of permeated innocence. There is a magical trust that we experience when we are young that is hard to rekindle with future connections.


Sennia Nanua
There is an intimacy to this film that is exquisitely delicate - the cinematography, the writing and even the long wavering shots of the surroundings have a light touch like a passing caress. Many of the scenes with Huppert involve long solitary walks where we sense the strength of her will but at the same time the weakness of her frame - cancer has taken its toll and now is the time to say goodbyes. Yet Frankie somewhat believes that she can arrange life after death - make liaisons, clean up the loose ends, etc. But life is ephemeral and the last scene in the movie is illuminating, sublimely acted by Huppert, where you can see on her face that she realizes that “the living” akin to the Universe keeps on spinning  - with or without your direction creating surprises that bump up against your considered expectations.

Monday, September 16, 2019

UNBELIEVABLE - ON NETFLIX - 9/16/19

Interrogation of Marie
Reading about Brett Kavanaugh - having watched the Senate Hearings when Christine Blasey Ford's accusations were summarily dismissed - and observing how those in positions of power deny a woman's reality when they claim they have been sexually abused made UNBELIEVABLE an 8-part series on Netflix even more disturbingly relevant. This excellent true-life series makes excruciatingly clear how the insensitivity of male detectives in the state of Washington quickly dismiss a young woman's claim of rape because of a "clean" crime scene, undermining her story and through intensive interrogation break any spirit she ever had. It is heartbreaking to witness how simple it is to manipulate a shy, vulnerable, person whose life has been violently capsized - whose body has been brutally violated - and manipulate them even further to the point where they have lost any sense of their own bearing and begin to doubt themselves.

Kaitlyn Dever who plays Marie is perfect in the role. I could not take my eyes off her as I watched this fragile teenager dwindle into a transparent phantom of her 18-year-old self. Not only does Marie no longer trust others, but she is an object of distrust. She speaks haltingly and conveys an "aloneness" that is impenetrable. She is unreachable.
Kaitlyn Dever
Miles away in Colorado a couple of years later, a serial rapist is committing one heinous assault after another and the two female detectives on the case are passionate about finding who did this and listening to the "victims". The perpetrator's modus operandi was always similar; DNA wiped away, no fingerprints, etc. Always a "clean" crime scene - but these women "cops" persist in their desire to get to the truth. The acting is superb - particularly Toni Collette as Grace Rasmussen a hardened, experienced detective (the toll of such investigations is evident) vs. the younger - softer Merritt Wever as Detective Karen Duval. Their approach is humane and sympathetic, both have strengths and weaknesses, as well as genuine sadness and furious anger which occasionally erupts in the course of this grueling investigation. Throughout the series, we also witness affection that is not sentimental but profound.

Merritt Wever and Toni Collette
We are privy to the painstaking step-by-step procedural work it takes to track down a criminal which I found fascinating. This is a group effort and in serial rape cases, a fierce commitment to sifting out clues is indispensable. Of course, there are detours but faith in one's own instincts is crucial. UNBELIEVABLE is a beautiful aperture into frailty and durability.