Many of today’s Americans were alive when Fidel Castro and his revolutionaries successfully took over Cuba in 1959, and memories of show trials and thousands of his political executions remain quite alive. Castro was a brutal, murderous dictator who will go to his reward after he died today.
The main reason to see “Lion,” the latest release by the Weinstein Boys, is Sunny Pawar, an 8 year old actor whose tiny teeth make him look far younger and more precocious. I dare you not to smile when Saroo (his character) pronounces the English words for salt and pepper and I double-dare you not to weep at his predicament - having jumped onto a train that took him 1,000 miles from home and Mum, the only name he knows for his mother. His native smarts enable him to escape all sorts of entrapment by unsavory predators until he is finally adopted by an honorable Australian couple who adore him and raise him with love and advantages he would never have known in his poverty-stricken village. this segment of the film is poignant and appropriately touching until Saroo becomes a young adult played by Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel.
If you’d like to see a movie that epitomizes salacious, exploitative misogyny, don’t miss “Nocturnal Animals,” adapted and directed by Tom Ford. Trust a former fashion designer who spent his professional life with rail-thin women to open with a slo-mo montage of aging, obese white strippers in full frontal nudity with their rolls of flesh gently rippling over each other as the women move. I mention their race because no Hollywood director would dare to use a black woman in this humiliating sequence lest he be branded racist - despite the fact the American obesity is statistically most prevalent in the black population. But this scene is a mild harbinger of much more severe nastiness against women - scenes of sadistic kidnap, rape, torture and death against a mother and daughter whose ineffectual husband/ father is unable to stop the carnage.
It’s one thing to play off a classic movie and tweak it; it’s another to dress up your actors in vintage costumes and forego the essential irony that you need when re-making a period film. In “Allied,” Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard play the parts of intrepid allied undercover agents in Casablanca, pretending to be husband wife but really there to assassinate the German commander of Vichy during World War II. They are both superb eye candy but Brad has never been duller, even when wielding a machine gun and speaking French. Marion has the kind of face the camera melts into so she will hold your interest a while longer. But at the moment when the plot thickens, this movie disintegrates so that instead of being a thriller, it becomes prosaically predictable with too many familiar tropes that lack cleverness.
I confess that I am a devout fan of writer/director Kenneth Lonergan who makes a brief Hitchcokian appearance in this outstanding film. Seldom do we see a movie that summons such enormous and emotional empathy without devolving into a tearjerker, though you will not only cry but feel your heart stop beating during certain scenes. Having said this, I will add that there is also the requisite amount of humor, anger and unsettled family matters that characterize Lonergan’s work.
You’d expect President-elect Donald Trump to have said imperiously, “I won,” as his response to the growing criticism of his initial appointments. “Bitch and moan all you want, but I’m the victor. Go bite yourself.”
In the wake of the universal “shock” at Donald Trump’s private comments to Billy Bush, remarks that automatically branded him as terminally misogynistic, it’s fascinating to see the reaction of critics to the film “Elle,” the latest offering from Paul Verhoeven. Since this article is not meant as a review, stop reading now if you want to see the movie for yourself. The chattering classes were overwhelmingly impressed and delighted by this film about recurring rapes in which the level of violence escalates as the heroine refuses to notify the police. Isabelle Hupert plays the icy head of a video-game company who keeps urging her young male employees to ratchet up the sex and violence in the program they are currently creating. She is a divorced single mother whose ex-husband and son are both weak, unsuccessful men whom she berates routinely. But she’s an equal opportunity exploiter of women as she cheats on her trusted friend/partner with that woman’s husband; maligns and humiliates her elderly mother, perversely recounts her recent rape at a dinner table as casually if she were discussing what to choose from the menu.
We are used to seeing science fiction films that have lots of action, weird-looking aliens and some hair-raising danger. Arrival is a quiet film that uses language as the most significant inter-planetary bridge we possess. In it, Amy Adams plays a world-famous linguist called upon by the government to act as intermediary between humans and whatever inhabits the elongated oval hovercrafts that have landed in 12 different parts of our world. Jeremy Renner is the physicist/mathematician who partners with her in this endeavor and subsequently, in an equally important one. Since most of this movie consists of unraveling and understanding the proper sequence of events and their significance to each other, it’s important not to give away the plot.
It’s pretty darn hard to come up with good news on foreign policy these days considering the severely unsettled state of the world. And while I use the phrase “good news” loosely, I may have actually stumbled upon some regarding Russia.
If you a convicted killer in the state of New York, you are entitled to take college courses both while in prison and when you are released. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University, offers full scholarships to those criminals who have served their time and wish to enroll. The student who is profiled in this Sunday’s Times is a 41 year old former drug dealer whose explanation for murdering another drug dealer when he was 23 is that his girlfriend had broken up with him, he had served some time at Rikers Island and he was feeling “hopeless and angry.” (Life Beyond Bars: One Man’s Journey From Prison to College, NYT 11/6/16) By contrast with this magnanimous govt largesse, if you are the law-abiding child of a living fireman or policeman, NY state has no educational stipend for you at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice - odd, considering that law enforcement is as heavily involved in that field as law - breakers. If you are the victim of a crime, NY State does have an Office of Victim Services (OVS) but they don’t provide any assistance for your higher education. Instead, you can get lots of information related to victims’ rights in judicial proceedings, victim impact statements and restitution for your injuries. The website doesn’t mention helping to educate you while you are feeling “hopeless and angry” after your traumatic attack.
You will forget every past ugly incident involving Mel Gibson, every promise you made to protest his anti-semitism by boycotting his films as you sit stunned and shaken throughout the last half hour of Hacksaw Ridge The recreation of one of the horrendous battles for Okinawa is the closest thing in memory to an on-going visceral gut-punch that makes you feel the brutality, madness and devastating grief for countless soldiers fighting and dying for their country. Seeing this movie and then watching a news report of renewed fighting in Mosul points out the chasm between our sanitized sound-bite reports and the real experience of war. Perhaps if part of our requirement as citizens was the obligation to watch this film every week that we have soldiers in battle or in hot zones abroad, we might have the requisite respect for our veterans and a re-shuffling of our national priorities for who deserves the most acknowledgment and assistance first.
When Phil Chess died recently, the news received little notice here in his former hometown of Chicago, another sign of the cultural amnesia of today’s society. The record label Phil formed with his brother Leonard, Chess Records, was an absolutely crucial influence on 20th Century music, and had an important role in racial progress in America.