Friday, November 24, 2017


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.