Tuesday, January 10, 2017

"Hidden Figures"

A must-see film.

The story opens a curtain on America and its standard operating procedure on race. Here we have three women (bad enough), and "colored (worst) - everything against them, but with loving families standing with them, and taking advantage of what they can, and always pushing the limits.

The acting is superb ... and the overall theme is painfully clear, as the husband of one of the women says: "Freedom is never given to the oppressed; it has to be taken" ...

These women walk a tight rope - their own ambition and ability constantly checked and challenged by racism - not always the violent kind, but the endemic kind, like air and water, just the way it is.

The setting is the early 60s ... the civil rights movement is on, and as one of the men says, "civil right isn't always very civil."

The women find ways and means to hang on, to stand up, to push ahead. They are brilliant in all respects, working a team of African American women segregated to the West Campus, doing their work, shunned and mistreated ...

There are a few white folk around who catch a glimmer of a different world ... and make it happen, even when it's not enough, but something is better than nothing. There are no "white heroes" here (which is too often case in movies); whatever freedom is won, is hard-won, and the whites, if they move, are moved by mostly by pressure, and not by compassion.

I found myself sickened at times - oh, how could we be like this, to look upon other human beings and simply categorize them as "less than us" and constantly deny to them a place in life - the colored bathrooms, the colored coffee maker, the colored section of the library - every goddamn thing marked off with boundaries drawn by whites - it's ugly, hateful, disgusting ... and almost always polite.

The three women swallow a lot ... they find surcease in family and faith ... they love and fall in love and are loved - the irony of it all: as Kevin Costner, the director, says, "our pee is all the same color" when he smashes off the wall a "colored bathroom" sign and walks away with everyone standing around in amazement.

Is there hope?


But neither the story nor reality allow us to be naive ... we've come a long way, but the way ahead remains challenging ... the work of freedom, the work of civil rights, is far from complete.

Woven into the story is the character and crust of these three remarkable women. There's humor in the pain, and I found myself, with the audience, laughing with delight at the victories and humor in the face of sorrow, and cheering when a victory is won - like being able to take a night-course in all white high school, a decision made by a judge, so one of the women could continue her education.

At the end, narrative on screen telling us about the three women, and showing their pictures - suddenly, it's all-too clear: this is real story about real people and and a real time in our nation's history.

Powerful, important, entertaining, enlightening.

I came home and said, "What a fine, fine, movie."

Yes, a must-see movie.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

"American Sniper"

American Sniper is an excellent piece of work, a subtle anti-war film if I've ever seen one ... "war is hell," and that's made abundantly clear here. I was worried, from some of what I've read, that it glorified war; it doesn't.

Throughout the film, bits and pieces lift up the futility, the aimless of war. I was particularly moved by the opening scene of the young Chris Kyle being raised in a "Southern Warrior" home ... a belt-loving father, a hunter, a quiet, if not silenced, mother, going to church - the toxic mix of religion and violence throughout the South.

Kyle had four tours of duty ... a profound dislocation for him, for his wife and his children. Where was home? Was it with his family, or with his "family" over there? The horror of war is clear ... this is not glory, this is pain and fear and sorrow and stress of the worst kind.

Kyle does his job. He's a Southern Warrior - not an evil man, but an innocent man, a good man, devoted to his country, his god and his buddies. Like Graham Greene says in one of his novels, "Dear God, save us from the innocent and the good." With that said, it's clear that Kyle was neither a mean man nor one who lusted for blood. He was a Southern Warrior, a class in America, if not a caste, like those found throughout history and cultures - a class of people who, by instinct and tradition, are warriors, willing to put their lives on the line for the cause of god, nation and the good, as they see it.

At the end, news footage of his funeral procession, and thousands lining the highway with flags a-waving. The hurt and pain of a soldier's life all covered up and glorified with the Stars and Stripes.

I don't think anyone seeing this movie would come out cheering ... I think it provokes lots of questions about what America is doing to its soldiers, and to the world.

I thought the "enemy" was decently portrayed - mostly, I think. The enemy sniper was no different than Kyle - a soldier doing his job. One character, "the butcher" was portrayed as a man of great evil ... but the enemy was simply that.

Blood and gore ... sudden death ... who's the enemy? women and children ... as is done in all wars by occupied peoples; sadly, women and children are called upon to defend their homes, their land, their families, too.

Acting is superb - Bradley Cooper is astonishing, and so is everyone else. My son noticed the evolution of equipment from Kyle's first tour to the fourth.

Kyle's belief rarely wavered, though at the end, he was ready to come home ... not just be stateside, but to come home, not only in body, but with soul, too, to his family.

That he was murdered by another vet whom he was trying to help is full of profound irony. Who knows how life would have gone on for him - it seems that he was making the transition to civilian life.

That Greg Abbot should declare a Chris Kyle Day is also ironic, and sad - for a man who only did his duty, who was not interested in his "legend," who only wanted to serve his country, not be used by a political hack to further the culture of violence and American pride.

Worth seeing? For sure ... you'll come out as I did - appreciative of this strange Warrior Class, and one member of it: Chris Kyle, and all the more determined that we end our nation's warring madness ... as Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote:

Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control.
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

Monday, January 26, 2015


Stunning in all regards. 

The story, in all of its complexity and sorrow, is told and pulled me in. 

I was there, in the moments of planning, anxiety, doubt - the drama on the bridge, the horror of the beatings - I was there watching the likes of George Wallace and the local sheriff gladly wallow in their own hatred ... when LBJ, always the consummate politician, struggles to weigh the options and hold the now-dead Democratic coalition together ... I felt the despair of decades of voting rights denied ... I felt the pain as  Martin and Coretta struggle to figure it all out ... and shocked once again to realize that he was only 39 when white rage finally caught up to him and killed him on a Memphis motel balcony. 

The story ends triumphantly in Montgomery, with only a tag line at the end of his death. Musically, powerful, with a searing rap song woven in at the end mentioning Ferguson. 

The cast, superb ... 

A must-see - for an important chapter in the American Story.


A FB friend of mine offers the following:

  • Constance McIntosh One lyric line in Common's rap portion of "Glory" says "our music is the cuts that we bleed through". For me, that fresh truth sums up why the director did not go with all the old songs from the marches of the 60s.

    For those who were disappointed in 
    the soundtrack, a very subtle aspect to notice is that the 'theme song' (from the white perspective) of the civil rights movement was 'We Shall Overcome' and many people may not be aware that it was a Pete Seeger song. The Weavers were THE Justice singers and nobody could have more love for them than this granddaughter of a union organizer. And, yes, they were white allies as I am a white ally...but we are supporting characters in the movement, not the stars. White folks have a problem not being put in front...and this is something that needs to be addressed by all white allies and corrected. 

    The music in Selma was all black, from black singer/song writers and performers ..,. Except "Yesterday Was Hard on All of Us", by Brit singer/songwriter, Fink. And that placement was such an olive branch of reconciliation in the film. This is a great film and it will be a classic. It just isn't receiving much recognition now.  

    AND I am so grieved that 'American Sniper' has grossed (really) $105 million while this giant film, Selma, has taken in @ $20 mill, barely breaking even so far. What a sad social commentary. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"The Amazing Spiderman"


What fun!

If you like the Spiderman Series, then you'll love this one.

Now I'm smart enough, just barely, to know that my cup of tea may not satisfy others, but this episode, and there will be more (stay through the initial credits), filled my cup to overflowing

First of all, the story: the tale of Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) - his parents and their untimely disappearance ... raised by  Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field) ... his high school sweetheart (Gwen Stacy) ... and a good guy gone bad (Rhys Ifans) ...

We know the story, mostly, sort of ... but it's done exceedingly well, and for me, the acting is terrific. What's not to like about Martin Sheen portraying what he does so well - an ordinary working stiff with native wisdom and compassion ... and Sally Field, with some of the saddest eyes I've ever seen, yet with fire in her heart for her beloved nephew.

Andrew Garfield captures the slightly geeky character of Peter Parker, and then the thrill of discovering great abilities. Gwen Stacy is high school innocence and delight; a genuinely smart young lady who has an eye for this Peter Parker, even as he has an eye for her. They bring off the awkwardness of the teen years without being melodramatic - which says a lot about the directorial skills of Marc Webb who keeps things under control.

The music is superb ... heroic music as Peter Parker discovers his abilities and learns how to use them well.

But first, humiliate the high school bully (Chris Zylka) who may actually have some redeeming qualities after all.

And, of course, the proverbial Stan Lee cameo as the high school librarian ... you'll love it.

It was entertaining throughout, though at one point, I wanted the story to get on with it. But I think the director made a decision, the right one, to tell the story with detail and care. This is a movie, first of all, not just a showcase of special effects, monsters, all in 3D, which, by the way, is very well done, without overwhelming the senses.

As a summer action movie, it more than fills the bill - making up for summer's biggest disappointment, "Prometheus" ...

There's plenty of high school angst for the younger crowd, and love, too.

There's enough action for the testosterone gang.

And plenty of story-line for those who like good questions: 1) Can science solve our ills and woes? 2) Does science have its limits, and what happens when those limites are transgressed? 3) How does one use one's abilities? 4) If you're not the high school jock, then what? 5) How do we learn who we are?

Okay, 'nuff said.

Worth seeing?

You bet.

In the theater?

Yes, for sure. You'll want the big screen for this one.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Prometheus - Stay Home

One big disappointment, and mostly boring - no suspense, some horror, and no story at all, at least one that made any sense to me. Visually, somewhat entertaining, but hardly worth cheering about. The "dreamy" moment when the robot sees the holographic solar system reminded me of the brainless moments in sci-fi films when the "wonder" of the universe is displayed and beatific smiles all around - cheesy at best! Acting, mostly so-so; actors seemed pre-occupied with more important things than making a movie. The ending - how campy can ya' get? Worth seeing in a theater? Forget about it! There's more suspense in a Dr. Seuss book. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Jack Black is terrific … in his portrait of real-life character, Bernie Tiede, a small-town assistant mortician who’s a bit dandified, a determined self-guided PR machine who quickly becomes the town’s darling in his care for the deceased and their families, and especially the darling of all the “little old ladies.” 

He joins the local church and becomes a song-leader.

He lives humbly and gives away most everything.

He does a post-death visit on the town’s meanest and richest lady, Marjorie Nugent, played skillfully by Shirley MacLaine. Slowly, she warms to Bernie’s kindness and soon they become an inseparable couple, he inviting her to cultural events, and she, taking him along on her travels around the world. 

At some point in time, her meanness, her neediness, overwhelms the relationship and Bernie becomes a lapdog. She convinces him to go part-time in the funeral home and become her personal servant. She includes him in her considerable financial empire and though Bernie enjoys first-class travel and fine hotels, he donates huge sums to the community, helping the local church and making life a little easier for lots of folks.

Bernie is a generous man, with Marjorie’s money ...

You’ll have to see the movie for the rest of the story.

Set in East Texas, with a wonderful ensemble cast and lots of local actors with their marvelous East Texas expressions of life, it’s a “small” movie, wonderfully executed by director Richard Linklater.

Cast members include Matthew McConaughey who portrays “country lawyer” and Carthage, TX prosecutor, Danny Buck Davidson, with a fine cameo appearance of McConaughey’s mother, Kay McCabe (not credited on IMDB, but found here).

Linklater tells the story comedically, while offering a generous respect for the folks, mores and faith of this small Texas town.

It’s a “dark comedy” pulled off successfully, rarely accomplished even in more ambitious films. Hats off to the director, of course, but to the screen-writer, Skip Hollandsworth for a deft and well-paced story, allowing a variety of characters to emerge in this economically presented tale. Cinematography and music are equally well done.

Wait for Neflix?

I dont’ think so.

See it in a theater, grab some popcorn and enjoy this jewel of film … and be sure to stay for the credits!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Hunger Games"

I enjoyed it and recommend seeing it, if not in your friendly neighborhood theater, then in the comfort of your home a few weeks from now.

It's a fine story of loyalty, sacrifice and love in the face of oppression. These values are highlighted throughout most of the film, though at times, the message got a little muddy, though not in any terminal way.

It's about 20 minutes too long; I found myself getting slightly bored by a mostly repetitive plot - kill or be killed, though the lead character played by Jennifer Lawrence is spared most of the killing.

The lead actor (Lawrence), though touted in the media, lacked the emotive power essential to the story.

The same for her fellow Tribune (Josh Hutcherson). They're young actors and may yet mature, but their lack of intensity was slightly disappointing, though the story itself has plenty.

I haven't read the books, so it's hard to say, but the Hutcherson character, Peeta Mellark, was played ambiguously - is he trustworthy? I don't know it that was the intent, but that's how it came across to me. If he's not to be trusted, that was played a bit too weakly. If he's to be trusted, that really didn't come across all that well.

Elizabeth Banks and Jennifer Lawrence in
The Hunger Games
Lawrence's character has strength of mind and soul, but her lack of emotional intensity never quite delivers. Does this hamper the story? I don't think so, but a more mature actor might have made the role more memorable.

Stanley Tucci is the Hunger Games Host, and he does a fine job, along with Woody Harrelson who is a former games' winner, a mentor to the new contestants, and now mostly a drunk, who reluctantly takes an interest in our heroine, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence). Donald Sutherland portrays President Snow, a dangerous and calculating man who uses the games to entertain the nation and reinforce the power of the state.

These three actors bring a considerable maturity to their roles, compensating for the younger cast.

While the film has plenty of violence, it's well choreographed to enhance the story rather than being the story.

Filmed in North Carolina, the glories and mystery of the Eastern Mountains and Forest are front and center, along with some last-minute mutants created by the high-tech computers employed by the Games.

In some ways, the film had the feel of a sci-fi B movie, but all that aside, I enjoyed it.

Worth seeing in the theater?

Sure, if you want to see it now and be able to talk about it with your children or grandchildren.

But it'll be fine on your TV, too.