Although Black Panther is one of the best Marvel super hero movies, I confess to being surprised at the nominations it has received. Normally the Academy does not give attention to the blockbusters particularly those released in the dark days of February. In its favour Black Panther is well acted, has the expected superb special effects has a story line that rises well above the usual super hero plot. Furthermore It asks questions about the human condition and the responsibilities we have to one another and what often causes us to not meet those responsibilities. I really liked this movie but then I am a fan of Marvel and have yet to see one of their productions I didn’t like. Mostly I just liked some more than others, but I liked them all. But this film is about the director Ryan Coogler as well. He is behind the Rocky spinoffs Creed and Creed II as well as a darker but important film Fruitvale Station. The latter won critical praise but not as well known as his later films. I know not everyone is into blockbuster/super hero films but trust me this one has more to offer than special effects and will leave you with things to think about. Also if you have not seen Coogler’s other films I recommend you follow them up.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg is an octogenarian Supreme Court Justice and is part of the diminished left-wing vote on the Court. She was appointed to the court by Bill Clinton in 1993 and has been a force for justice in the US for a quarter century and is seemingly hanging on to prevent any further appointments of ultra right-wing judges like Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. This documentary takes us through her long career as a lawyer and advocate for gender equality. She was supported by her husband as her career took off and she is highly respected even by her opponents for her intellect and strength. She has survived three battles with cancer and the passing of her husband and when she can finally retire hopefully in 2020 when Trump goes down to humiliating defeat, she will be remembered for being one of the most important Supreme Court justices ever. This documentary of her life is moving and informative at the same time. We know very little about most of the supreme court justices in the US but they carry immense power. The loss of RBG will be devastating to the politics in the US should she not survive Trump. Let’s keep our fingers crossed. While I confess that there are few documentaries I don’t like, I still recommend this film very much to everyone with an interest in American politics and in the remarkable contribution this woman has made to her country.
Netflix is becoming one of the better producers of film and television and have worked with the Coen brothers to produce a fascinating film that is really a tribute to the American tradition of Westerns. In a series of short films it looks at the Western with humour and respect. Whether or not you are a fan of Westerns you will be hooked by the first episode in the film called The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. It is a brilliant take off of the singing cowboy. It hooked me and while the following episodes are up and down in quality and are all very different from one another and I have already re-watched it a few times. The other good thing about the film is that it can be watched in doses since each episode stands on its own. The film is also all about the script which is excellent and the acting is good but not the reason to see this movie. So the final word from me is that this movie is a refreshing distraction and worth seeing – especially part one. It has received critical praise (8/10 on Rotten Tomatoes) but because of its format I think many were not sure about how to rank it. Its too bad some of the segments could not be nominated in the category of Live Action Shorts. However, it has received a nomination for Best Song, Screenplay and Costumes. You can find “When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” on YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K91etXNIkaY
Have a listen but remember that this song is the conclusion of the first episode and needs context so take the time to watch Part 1: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.
I am a big Spike Lee fan and BlacKkKlansman did not disappoint. This film joins several other movies from 2018 and 2017 that look at being black in America. Set in different eras and touching genres like horror and sci-fi, this film, Green Book, If Beale Street Could Talk, Sorry to Bother You and Get Out are all worth seeing and all deserve awards although Sorry To Bother You has yet to get the recognition it deserved. BlacKkKlansman is based on the true story of the first black detective to join a Colorado police department. Coinciding with his appointment, the Ku Klux Klan attempts to open a chapter in the town and sanitize its profile. Our hero played by John David Washington (son of Denzel), decides to take them down and using the phone (and his white voice) convinces the Klan to invite him as a member. That done he needs to find someone white to sit in for him. Enter Adam Driver a fellow detective who takes on the role. One twist is that Driver’s character is Jewish and no more welcome than Washington would be if exposed. The story combines comedy and thriller to tell a very entertaining story that at the same time does not shirk from the racism in the Klan but also in the police department. Driver and Washington are excellent although Washington failed to get an acting nomination from the Academy. He did get one from the Golden Globes however. Also six Academy Award nominations for 2018 and well deserved. An entertaining and eye-opening film.
Anthropocene is a stunningly beautiful look at how humans are destroying the environment and the planet to the point that we have established a new geological epoch named after ourselves to follow the recent Holocene epoch that nurtured modern human evolution and civilization . Edward Burtynsky and Jennifer Baichwal are a Canadian photographer and filmmaker who have worked together on other projects including a great NFB film Watermark. Burtynsky is an excellent photographer who pushes the limits of the art and Baichwal adds to the photography with equally stunning film. The message of the film is clear. We are destroying the planet and all that lives here including ourselves. However rather than pontificate and scold or guilt trip the viewer we are shown the impact we are having in many different ways with images and verbal descriptions. The hope is that once we see what we are doing we will be motivated to act. There is no particular plot to describe or argument per se. Instead I encourage you to see this film and if you are in Toronto in the next few months go see the AGO exhibit before it closes in January. The film manages to be both scary and beautiful at the same time. You will be hypnotized by the film of burning elephant tusks, the seemingly endless coal train moving off into the distance, the trip down the longest tunnel in the world and the giant machines that seem to be literally eating the planet. The images will stay with you for a long time.
I love my documentaries and this one I recommend to everyone who at one time thought you could not trust anyone over 30. Although it is somewhat self-indulgent, Michael Caine narrates a trip through the 60’s. I am a sucker for Caine’s accent and delivery, so I was hooked from the start. There are interviews with Roger Daltry, Paul McCartney, Marianne Faithful, Mary Quant and Twiggy among others. We don’t see them as they are today but there is all kinds of archival footage of them from the time. If you can’t guess from the list of names this movie focusses on London of the 60’s which in many ways was the centre of popular culture of the time and avoids for the most part the nasty sides of things like Vietnam, the civil rights movement, and student and youth unrest but it does have a totally awesome soundtrack and great scenes from the time including a very very young Mick Jagger and the Stones, scenes of the Beatles at the Cavern nightclub and the wonderful street scenes all accompanied by Caine’s cockney accent. We also get some great scenes from his movies of the time including Alfie, The Ipcress File, Zulu and such. I learned some very interesting things, like how Michael Caine chose his screen name (He was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite), and that Mary Quant invented the mini-skirt.
If you are up for a nostalgia trip this is all for you and there is some coherence. As a review in Variety puts it the film has three parts: the rise of the 60’s revolt against the mores of the previous decade, its flourishing and its decline as the 70’s close in. Still this is a movie about Michael Caine’s experience of the time in which he was a player but one very much connected to times and the people. Do not look for deep insight or critical analysis but have fun.
Mike Leigh’s last film – Mr. Turner – about English landscape painter J. M. W. Turner, played by Timothy Spall was a spectacular visual experience without the use of animation or CGI and Peterloo continues and I think goes one better than Mr. Turner. Peterloo is a dramatic look at one of the most important events in the establishment of labour rights, women’s suffrage and democratic reform in English history. In 1819 a gathering of workers, women and commoners met in Manchester at St. Peter’s Field. Nearly 100,000 people came to hear a speech from a parliamentary reformer and start a movement to address the repression of the time. The landowners and factory owners were terrified and called in the army. The result was a horrendous massacre. The press of the time named the event Peterloo after the recent battle of Waterloo. Although the immediate outcome was greater repression, ultimately major reforms came forward to address the demands of the people. Apparently, the Manchester Guardian, still a left-wing newspaper was founded as a result of the massacre.
The movie is a stunning portrayal of the repression of the time and the attitudes of those who were the oppressors. The tension of the film evolves slowly as we await the inevitable outcome. Some of the scenes reminded me of Dutch Master paintings with exquisite lighting and staging. Throughout the film Leigh’s brilliant visual sense is exhibited. The script and acting is also excellent. If I had a complaint it was length at 2.5 hours but to determine which scenes might be cut would be hard to be honest. While watching the film I felt that this was not just an historical record but a statement about today. One of the most disturbing scenes in the film is a textile factory where workers attend to automated weaving machines. As we learn more about how Amazon warehouse workers are treated or how underpaid Walmart workers are, or how Uber drivers are treated as contract workers to save having to provide health benefits or job security it was hard not see the similarities. The violent repression is not so far away should these workers decide to revolt. Definitely one of the best films of my week with a message for our modern times.
This was the best movie of the week and I do not expect it to be surpassed in the remaining days. I was with the second audience to see the film and apparently the most enthusiastic. We were at the Elgin, so a huge crowd, and as the director and cast came on stage for a Q and A after the final credits they received a standing ovation that lasted it seemed at least 5 minutes. They were clearly stunned and did not know how to respond when we just kept clapping and cheering. So why?, I hear you ask.
The film is a classic road trip film but based on real events. A black jazz pianist (and very well to do gentleman) from New York City, Dr. Don Shirley, decides to take his trio on a tour through the southern US in 1964 at a time when segregation and Jim Crow laws and customs were still very much in place. He knew he was going into difficult places so he decides to hire a driver/protector to accompany him on the 8 week trip. Enter Viggo Mortensen in maybe his best acting performance ever. Mortensen plays a third generation Italian New Yorker, working class background, who has recently been laid off from his job as a bouncer for the Copacabana Club which is undergoing “renovations” following a “fire”. The mob is a part of Mortensen’s community shall we say. Mortensen’s character is also not exactly comfortable with those not of Italian extraction shall we say although he is clearly at heart a good guy. He takes the job a bit reluctantly because he needs the money. The two leave in a car rented by Shirley’s recording studio and we are taken through the 8 week trip during which we learn much about Don Shirley’s and Mortensen’s characters as they slowly bond into good friends. The film is funny, heart warming, does not shy away from the racism of the time and is brilliantly scripted and acted. I can’t say too much more except to tell you this movie comes out in November, is headed to the Oscars and if Viggo doesn’t get a nomination and even a Best Acting Oscar there is no justice in the world. The title is from an actual guide for black travelers in the deep south. It was called The Green Book and listed all the hotels and restaurants where blacks were allowed to eat and sleep while in the south.
Peter Farelly, the director is maybe best known as the director of Dumb and Dumber among other comic classics but this film goes far beyond his other work. The actors all praised his talents and dedication to the film. During the Q and A the actors were asked to tell stories about their time working on the film and how they all came to bond with each other as well. There were several good stories but I liked best the one told by Mahershala Ali who plays Don Shirley. One day while filming at one of the Green Book hotels that still exists, an elderly black man who was watching and lived across the street asked about the film. When he learned it was about Don Shirley he got excited and told them he had lived there for decades and remembered that not only did Don Shirley stay there but also Little Richard, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles and Sam Cooke among many others. He knew them all it seems and partied with them. Ali say it lent a reality for him as to what the film was about, how sad those times were and how accurate this film was in documenting that time.
I want Oscar nominations for the writing, the director, Viggo and Ali, and for the music. I did not know Don Shirley’s music and went home to listen to some more. It is superb jazz. The film has a great music score and features many examples including a great set in a blues bar near the end of the film. Look him up. See the film.
After a series of films with political overtones it was really relaxing to see this one that just tells a very nice story about three old guys robbing banks. That is a bit unfair. The cast is great with Robert Redford, Danny Glover and Tom Waits as the Over the Hill Gang, Sissey Spacek as the love interest and Casey Affleck as the cop who is reluctantly chasing them down. Not really a comedy and not really a romance but just a nice telling of a mostly true story of life long bank robber Forrest Tucker and his last run after escaping San Quentin prison. The story is understated, no violence, great subtle acting and really relaxing. Not sure I can say a great deal more about it. I suspect it will not show up at the Academy Awards but this is not a reason for you not to track it down when it is released at the end of the September. With all the evil news we deal with every day it seems take an hour and a half to just calm down with Redford and gang.
Many will remember the dramatic rise and fall of Gary Hart when he sought the Democratic presidential nomination to run against George H. W. Bush. Seen as the front runner he ultimately resigned when evidence of an extra-marital affair surfaced. Many thought he would easily beat Bush should he win the nomination, but the fallout of the affair ruined his chances and Michael Dukakis was nominated only to lose by a huge margin to the Republican Bush. The fall from grace happened over three weeks and Reitman’s dramatization follows the events almost as a documentary. He focusses on Hart but also includes an ensemble cast representing political operatives working on the campaign, journalists, Hart’s family and the woman Donna Rice who became the focus of the story. The cast is excellent including Hugh Jackman as Gary Hart, Vera Farmiga as his wife, J.K. Simmons as Hart’s campaign manager and many others in supporting roles. The film moves from intimate scenes between the leads to scenes of the chaos of media scrums, bar scenes and campaign offices. Jackman is superb in the role and portraying acting ability that was not always demanded of him as Wolverine, the role I know him best for. I did comment to friends that I wondered as the press closed in on him why he didn’t pop his adamantium claws and rip them all apart as Gary Hart clearly wishes he could. That aside, the film cannot help but contrast Hart’s fate with that of Donald Trump. Reitman was present for the Q and A and was asked whether he felt that now only someone with no morals could win political office. He responded that it wasn’t morals but that it was only someone with no shame. He asked the audience if we believed the political system was broken and he clearly believed it was. In the film Hart argues that the chasing after every aspect of a politician’s history and personal life has driven most people of quality from entering politics. It is simply not worth the risk or suffering to do it so that now only those with no shame are willing to try. It means we are only left with candidates with little or no values or principles. The other aspect of this film that is important is that the focus is not entirely on Hart and whether he is a tragic hero or not. Reitman makes a point of showing how the fallout of the affair affected Donna Rice, the woman with whom Hart had the affair. She is as much a victim of the media as Hart’s own demise as a candidate and the film does not shy away from that.
Reitman does not pass judgement one way or the other on Hart as a person or as a politician but very much leaves that up to the audience and lets us go away to talk and debate the story and the situation especially in the context of today’s political reality. An excellent film and highly recommended not only for political junkies but for anyone who enjoys thrilling drama.