“In Secret”–Family Casualties

In Secret movie

In Secret depicts the desperate life of an orphaned girl as she becomes a  sexually repressed young woman. This 2013 American erotic thriller (previously titled Thérèse), is based on Émile Zola’s  classic novel,  Thérèse Raquin.  

In 1860s Paris, Thérèse Raquin (Elizabeth Olsen) is trapped in a loveless and sexless marriage to her sickly cousin, Camille (Tom Felton who played Draco Malfoy in the “Harry Potter” series). Thérèse is forced by her domineering aunt, Madame Raquin (the extraordinary Jessica Lange), to accept his marriage proposal, which essentially binding her to becoming a full-time caretaker. She spends her days languishing behind the counter of her aunt’s small shop until she meets her husband’s alluring artist friend Laurent LeClaire (Oscar Isaac). whose sexual charms she finds irresistible. Later Madame Raquin is incapacitated by a stroke and Thérèse’s caregiving role expands. The psychological tension rivals Dostoevski’s Crime and Punishment. Who understands one’s motives? Although it’s not easy to empathize with any of the characters, we can follow their flawed neurotic devolution into a dark and frightening world of unforeseen consequences.

In this captivating drama the lines are brilliantly blurred between hero and villain, lover and traitor. The viewer will quickly discover that there are no characters to cheer: one moment there is empathy and the next, repugnance.   The ensemble cast depicts these multi-dimensional characters fraught with mental aberrations almost effortlessly and with brutal honesty, capturing the devastating effects of attempting to achieve freedom and happiness no matter what the cost.

So cleverly ambiguous is the moral ground constructed by Zola that a powerful, intense, shocking human tale of lust, revenge and tragedy unfolds.  In Secret is a sleeper of a movie not to be missed!

 

Note: Available on DVD from Netflix.

RBG–Truth to Power

 

RBG the movie
RBG movie poster

Regardless of your political tastes, the documentary RBG offers an insightful peek into the life and work of a lifelong advocate for equal rights for women and minorities.

As one of three female Supreme Court justices serving on the nine-judge bench, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become a cultural icon and something of a “fan-girl” sensation. We are entertained by the T-shirts and costumes depicting RBG as a superhero. Early in her career as counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, Ginsburg argued more than 300 gender discrimination cases, including six in front of the SCOTUS, five of which she won.

The inspiring story of the 85-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a diminutive and shy but formidable  judicial powerhouse, begins with her upbringing in Brooklyn, the daughter of Russian Jewish parents. Personal interviews with Ginsburg’s childhood friends, family members, colleagues and young millennial fans reveal her impact on US law, as well as her contribution to social change.

 

RBG can’t contain its love for this remarkable legal mind. And rather surprisingly, this documentary is a valentine not only to RBG but also to her supremely proud and supportive husband, Martin–and their love story is very moving and poignant. Meeting at Harvard Law School, the young couple married and carried each other through school, sickness, and parenthood from 1956 until his death in 2010. (Martin was considered one of the top tax attorneys in the country and an endowed chair at Georgetown Law School bears his name.)

RBG the movie

After her husband’s death RBG has taken on even a more courageous, energetic stand in the Supreme Court and was given the moniker Notorious RBG after the rapper Notorious B.I.G. for her feisty style of resistance. Author and activist Gloria Steinem at one point describes Ginsburg as the “closest thing to a superhero I know.”

What ultimately emerges in RBG is a touching portrait of a brilliant Supreme Court justice– described as shy and retiring but with “a quiet magnetism”– a work horse and a master legal strategist in the tiniest and most unassuming of figures. A force of nature, RBG is a glorious homage of truth to power today.

 

Note:  For a charming portrait of the quirky little-known aspects of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, see Jeffrey Toobin’s March 2018 article, “Heavyweight”.

 

The Terror–A Chilling Northwest Passage Nightmare

 

The Terror series

Inspired by a true story and the novel by Dan Simmons, The Terror, a new AMC television series, takes the viewer into perilous territory as a 19th century Royal Navy crew attempts to discover the Northwest Passage through the Arctic Circle. A holy grail for intrepid explorers dating back to the 1700’s, the Northwest Passage is now open to cargo ships, oil tankers, and cruise ships because of climate change. That wasn’t always the case.

The Terror opens in 1846, with two crews–the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror on a tandem quest to open the treacherous Northwest Passage for the British Empire and its trade mission. Faced with limited resources, an unruly crew, and fear of an unknown killing spirit, the Tuunbaq (borrowed from Inuit mythology), both ships are sailing towards the brink of extinction, isolated by the frozen tundra, and trapped at the end of the earth. Terror ensues.

HMS Terror’s Captain Francis Crozier (Mad Men’s Jared Harris) has every expectation of achieving the opening of the Northwest Passage, after replacing the expedition’s leader, Sir John Franklin (Game of Thrones” Ciaran HInds). Having a change of heart as he assumes command, Crozier must believe in their mission at the same time he is doubtful that they will succeed. His command and pretense at confidence are revealed through the toll that his deception takes on the man. In the first epsiode the word hubris is muttered, and it hangs over the rest of the series, a diagnosis, a rebuke, and a lesson on the profound misunderstanding of other worlds.

As winter approaches, with scurvy and starvation growing more severe, a young frightened Inuit woman (sneeringly nicknamed “Lady Silence”) is demonized.The Terror lives up to its name–not only as the name of a ship but also as the state of mind trapped in a frozen seascape.

In all the episodes we begin to understand uncomfortable truths: These men — all men — would survive, or at least find peace, if they could consider the world through someone else’s perspective. And they can’t.The Terror highlights all that can go wrong when a group of men, desperate to survive, struggle not only with the elements, but with each other and with a type of life that threatens their belief system.

Meticulous detail and painstaking reconstruction of what life on a naval ship looked like in 1846 are impressive as are the visual effects which rarely seem like a set or too many CGI special effects.

The Terror is a haunting, gripping story–not a horror flick– which will nonetheless chill you to your core. The tightness of the miniseries format certainly helps. I tore through precious food rations.  An unbelievably taut and original spin on adventure, exploration, and trespassing the boundaries of nature!

 

 

Lean On Pete

Review written by contributing blogger extraordinaire, Bill Clark

William Clark's review of Lean On Pete for Diana Y Paul's blog, Unhealed WoundLean on Pete, British director Andrew Haigh’s first American- made film, opens with the camera following behind 15-year-old Charley Thompson as he does his morning run through an impoverished Portland neighborhood under overcast summer skies.

Charlie Plummer (no relation to Christopher) brilliantly plays Charley as the son of his single alcoholic father Ray (Travis Fimmel) and is in almost every scene with an award-winning performance.

Having left Spokane due to his father’s search for another warehouse job, Charley is uprooted from his old high school, his friends and his role as cornerback and sometimes wide receiver on the football team, a metaphor for Charley’s penchant for being left out there, alone.

On his own, he finds work as a stable hand at a second-class racetrack working for Del (Steve Buscemi), a down-on-his-luck gruff and brusque owner of quarter horses he races on the county-fair circuit. Del becomes Charley’s mentor – if you can call, “Just clean out the shit from the trailer,” mentoring – and pays Charley in cash, a scarce resource in the Thompson household.

Charley’s father reluctantly accepts the cash and shows his love for his son in a hardscrabble kind of way – a tug on Charley’s baseball cap as he goes out for another night of drinking.

Somewhat predictably, Charley grows fond of one of the older quarter horses, Lean on Pete, who is at the end of his racing career and destined to a one-way trip to a Mexican slaughterhouse.

Just when you think this may be the British director’s slow-unfolding take on a remake of My Friend Flicka, a series of sudden, disastrous, fatal, random events, including the death of his father, leave Charley alone with Pete.

In one evening Charley becomes both a rustler and a car thief as he leads Pete into the horse trailer to avoid the abattoir and drives off in Del’s old pickup truck in search of a long-lost aunt in Wyoming, a thousand miles away – a teenage outlaw on the run in the New West.

The film faithfully follows the episodic arc of the 2010 Willy Vlautin novel, with a series of characters who unfailingly help Charley and his horse, revealing Vlautin’s melancholic view of the New West and its marginalized inhabitants.

But the pair’s situation becomes even more and more desperate, finally forced on foot to cross high desert terrain beautifully photographed by Magnus Nordenhof Jønck and accompanied by James Edward Barker’s haunting music score.

As they journey through some of the most bleak areas in the country, dehydrated and starving Charley recounts to Pete in jagged soliloquies his own desolate inner life and life events.

As if nothing more could happen to Charley, it does.

Left alone utterly, he continues to search for his aunt.

At the end, after successfully reunited with his aunt, we watch Charley from behind, running alone as he was at the beginning, then stopping and looking back. Plummer’s expression silently illuminates what Charley feels: hope, apprehension, fear, determination, vulnerability – human realness.

The film was made by A24 Studios, the same studio that brought us Moonlight. Together with films like The Florida Project we are beginning to see mainstream movies depicting  the same human realness of   the working, and not so working, poor i in nonglamourous, nonsentimental, nonsensationalized ways. Least we forget.