Michael Moore’s most recent documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9,released in September of last year, is an interesting take on the 2016 presidential election .(The film is named for the day Trump was declared the electoral winner.) This is another film in Moore’s canon of what is wrong with America, not his best but still worth seeing. The 39th Golden Raspberry Award for worst actor went to Donald Trump.
Although purportedly about Trump’s election and how the country got there, Fahrenheit 11/9 is also about other issues close to Moore’s heart including the 2014 Flint water crisis, and the local government’s refusal to acknowledge the fact that levels of lead were unsafe to drink. An unusual scene of Obama’s visit to Flint and how he disappointed local residents is eye-opening.
Moore also compares Trump’s rise to power to that of Hitler in hate speeches against different ethnicities, religions and sexual orientation. Showcasing recent racial violence, Fahrenheit 11/9 concludes that the Constitution no longer protects the majority of our citizens from the wealthy and powerful. And, therefore, the American Dream is now nothing but a dream. Highlighting social and political injustices, Fahrenheit 11/9 insists that the election of Trump is a wakeup-call to the country for radical transformation.
Although extremely provocative with multiple political
targets–including not only Republican presidents but also Clinton and Obama,–
this is not one of Michael Moore’s best documentaries. It is somewhat scattered and loses its focus
on what happened to the country when Clinton won the popular vote but Trump took
the electoral college.
Nonetheless, there is much substantive analysis of the political structure we have in the US, filmed with the director’s characteristic zeal, passion, flair, and wicked sense of humor. Highly recommend for the 4th of July or when any gimlet-eyed vision of the US is called for.
The Hate U Give is an adaptation of Angie Thomas’s bestseller by the same name (released in February 2017). Starr Carter, a sixteen-year-old gifted student, has to adeptly maneuver between two worlds — her poor, mostly black neighborhood and a wealthy, mostly white prep school. Facing pressure from all sides, Starr must find her voice and decide to stand up for what’s right.
Beautiful newcomer, Amandla Stenberg, is perfectly cast as the wounded, courageous high
school student who attends an elite white private school because her mother
Lisa (a superb Regina Hall) insists she has a bright future, one that most of
their neighborhood’s teen residents will not have.
Shedding her hoodie, swallowing any aggression that might make her seem “ghetto,” and eradicating black slang, Starr endures her white peers, including boyfriend Chris (“Riverdale” star K J Apa) and friend Kayleigh (Sabrina Carpenter) who have appropriated what they think is “cool” from black youth. Painful tolerance is evident on Starr’s face. “If you don’t see my blackness, you don’t see me,” Starr tells Chris in response to his clueless-white-boy pride in “not seeing color.” Yet Starr also has to straddle differing opinions of her blackness and suspicions about her elitist classmates.
Starr’s life is carefully compartmentalized. Yet it seems she can only truly relax around her loving family. In a deeply moving and unforgettable scene, Maverick, her father (sympathetically played by Russell Hornsby), is sitting at the dining room table giving his elementary school-age son a lesson on how to survive a traffic stop by a white cop. Maverick insists that his young son copy how he should place his hands on the dashboard, head down, avoiding eye contact. The little boy has no comprehension why his father’s doing this.
After a raucous and typical teenage party
where Starr reconnects with her childhood playmate and crush Khalil (Algee
Smith), the story becomes tragic. Starr will become the only witness, at first reluctantly, to a night
The Hate U Give offers a fascinating portrayal of the inspiration and moral courage of youth, especially black youth, who struggle to understand and survive the racism and brutality they encounter from infancy. Solidarity against the enemy should not have to mean harboring and hating the enemy within. The lessons to be learned from TheHate U Give and the power of understanding the self-destructive force of hate are nuanced, not dogmatic.
The Hate U Give deserves wide circulation. Enraging, heartbreaking, and ultimately deeply moving, none of the young people should ever have been asked to make these impossible choices. Although the ending is rather weak, the true ending IMHO is when Starr finds her voice. The Hate U Give’s impact lies in using film to demand concrete social change.
Note: Available on Netflix as a DVD and soon available on HBO.
Mendocino County is known for its beautiful coastline, redwood forests, wineries, microbreweries and liberal attitudes towards marijuana. Also, in July of last year the Ranch Fire devastated miles near Clear Lake in Mendocino County. For my first trip there last week it was for an art workshop at the Mendocino Art Center, a wonderful experience I highly recommend. There are a wide range of art classes available for weekend artists and friendly, beautiful accommodations within walking distance. (My friend and I stayed at MacCallum House, and I highly recommend them!)
I think of Mendocino as Carmel about a century ago: quaint, historic buildings that are impeccably well-preserved and with history hiding between its lanes and alleys. For example, there is a cemetery with a Chinese grave site within its perimeter, established in 1863, and segregated from the “mainstream” plots. Ditto for the Catholic cemetery. Little known but well-worth stopping by.
The artisanal grocery stores, curated galleries, and wide range of retail clothing and jewelry shops try to represent locals only in their goods. And an unbelievably well-stocked bookstore (Gallery Bookshophas an entire table devoted to the local history of Mendocino. And the food (check out Trillium and Cafe Mendocino restaurants) are not to be missed.
For all of you who plan to visit northern California, I highly recommend the Mendocino Coast, and if you are there in May and love flowers, make sure to stop by the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens (on 47 acres). Last week’s rhododendron show was memorable–and the largest in the U.S.!
The art of critically-acclaimed Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, now commands the highest price for any female artist alive today. As an art-world superstar, Kusama has attracted millions of museum-goers worldwide who wait for hours for the chance to take selfies to post on Instagram in one of her mirrored Infinity Rooms. Yet little is known of this nonagenarian artist obsessed with dots and the film Kusama-Infinityreveals much about the artist. She committed herself to a mental hospital in the 1970s, out of fear that she might commit suicide. Her long arduous road to success was painful and took decades to reach.
Infinity follows a young and beautiful Kusama whose tortuous path not
only reveals the artist’s persistence, resilience, and confidence but also her understanding
of women’s rights, sexual freedom, and
gay rights in the US. She symbolically performed
the first gay marriage in the US, in
Central Park, long before most Americans
were cognizant of the cultural revolution about to take over the mainstream
Endlessly courageous, Kusama aggressively promoted her work in the male-dominated artworld of New York City, only a decade after the end of the Second World War. Despite staggering odds, this petite, unassuming Japanese woman, speaking faltering English, was determined to exhibit her art as she wanted, not as the gatekeepers of the artworld demanded.
Infinity suggests that Yayoi Kusama’s mental illness may have stemmed
from a traumatic childhood. Both her parents
wanted her to have a traditional Japanese marriage, with an upper class
lifestyle. Instead, the young artist
escaped to New York City. While Kusama was waiting for recognition, she had an
intimate but nonsexual relationship with the famous artist, Joseph Cornell. Under the mentorship of Georgia
O’Keefe, Kusama had her first important gallery show. Frank Stella became an avid collector of her
work as well as a supporter.
Andy Warhol and Claes
Oldenburg, among others, “borrowed heavily”from Kusama’s work which
was still relatively obscure while these male artists became sensations. This repeated pattern, with white male
artists being recognized for work that seemed influenced by her own
innovations, understandably upset Kusama. The theft of her ideas may have been
a catalyst for her depression and decision to return to Japan in the late 70s.
as Kusama reached her late sixties, her art became fully acknowledged and skyrocketed
in value. The 1993 Venice Biennale exemplified the art world’s recognition.
Infinity should have broad appeal as this film is also a condemnation of the patronizing art overseers and their
impact as gatekeepers of what art
becomes internationally recognized.
Note:Kusama–Infinity is available on Netflix DVD. “Velvet Buzzsaw” (see my February 12, 2019 review), a dramatization of a fictionalized and futuristic artworld is a fascinating metaphor for what Yayoi Kusama experienced over half a century ago.
On the surface Hanna (Amazon original series) might appear to be another conventional espionage thriller/dystopia about discovery of identity and revenge against those who hid the truth. However, this reinterpretation of the 2011 action movie starring Saoirse Ronan, is also a dark sci-fi treatise on fascism and violence in society. In this new release we follow an isolated teen (newcomer Esme Creed-Miles) with almost super-human powers. She learns both survival and assassin skills from her ex-government operative father (Joel Kinnamon), both of them hiding deep in a forest in Poland, after escaping Romania. Hiding from a CIA agent (Mireille Enos) who is determined to kill them, the father and daughter’s cat-and-mouse game leads to evermore sinister conspiracies.
Those expecting consistently fast-paced
action may be disappointed. The soundtrack, languorous chase and car
scenes are for Bourne Identity and Jack Ryan fans. The narrative has plot holes, often involving
how someone was located and why a change of venue occurs as we move from
Romania, to Poland, Morocco, Amsterdam, Germany, and London.
The casting of
Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnamon (both starring in “The Killing” TV series 2011-2014) was a perfect match for
supporting Esme Creed-Miles in her coming-of-age story. However, the nine episodes could have been edited to
seven or eight for a tighter, more cohesive drama.
Nonetheless, I was hooked by this young superwoman and found
enjoyable and intriguing, especially the dynamic between father and
daughter. Do not compare this
mini-series with the film, because so much of the story has been revised. This
is one of the better Amazon series we’ve been offered in the past few years. Highly recommend!
Dawn Wall was last year’s SXSW Audience Award documentary winner. Free climber Tommy Caldwell and his climbing partner, Kevin Jorgeson, attempt to scale the unscalable 3000 ft. Dawn Wall, a vertical granite face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
Dawn Wall is much more than a documentary about climbing,
however. There is the horrific incident
in Krzygistan, the years of gaining experience climbing the other faces of El
Capitan, and the friendship with two female climbing partners, both of whom he
had married. After an accident, Caldwell resolved not to stop his free climbing
but persevered, often blurring the boundary between commitment and obsession.
All can appreciate Dawn Wall,
even if you don’t have a clue about
climbing. This is an engrossing documentary that is, first and foremost, about
the friendship between Caldwell and Jorgeson. Kevin Jorgeson was inexperienced
as a free climber but expert at “bouldering”, a type of free climbing
at 50-100 feet. Together the two
climbers spend more than six years meticulously mapping
and practicing their route. Their resilience and courage are beyond astonishing
as the two climbers make history.
Wall is about the indefatigable human spirit, and
the ability to overcome and accomplish the impossible. The power of friendship
and supportive brotherly love in the face of adversity is beautifully crafted. While
Caldwell’s obsessive nature is apparent in almost every frame of this movie, he
avoids narcissism in the turning point of their climb.
is where Dawn Wall transfixes the viewer. I felt like I was literally
hanging on the side of the mountain with both climbers as they slept in a
portaledger tent suspended in mid-air and laughed about what they ate and how
they adapted to toilet needs as they climbed for weeks. This isn’t really a sports film.
magic is in this amazing journey between kindred spirits. The fact that there
are two humans in a partnership without jealousy or competitive pettiness
outstrips other movies about supra-human feats and endurance such as “Man
on a Wire” and “Free Solo”.
The need for human companionship and sharing in the victory makes Dawn
Wall more compelling. Adversity
and setbacks drive their personal
challenges but their friendship triumphs
over all. Dawn Wall is full of
heart and soul, for everyone who has experienced hard climbs, slipping and
losing our grip, and then pushing through.
Note: This YouTube behind-the-scenes clip is an added bonus for appreciating the heroic efforts the film crew undertook as well!
There’s a lot to like about producer/director Morgan Neville’s moving, 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?Neville (who also created 20 Feet from Stardom – see my August 19, 2018 review) interviews just about everyone who knew Fred Rogers– his wife and two sons, his longtime cast and crew on the pioneering PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood (1968 to 2001). Some baby-boomers, their children and their grandchildren grew up on the soothing words of Mister Rogers:
So, let’s make the most of this beautiful day/Since we’re together we might as well say/Would you be mine?/Could you be mine?/Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was pokey enough to be cringe-worthy for adults who wondered how their children could be spellbound by a nondescript, unassuming man in a cardigan, who changed his shoes while singing the same opening song for almost forty years.
Fred Rogers, a graduate of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in the mid-60’s, soon realized that television could be revolutionary and that children’s lives would be impacted by this new medium. Why not offer a show that deals with a child’s feelings–anger, fear, self-esteem, grief–to prepare them for their new world? Mister Rogers proved to be a master at eliciting children’s feelings, and recommending trusting grownups to listen. Daniel Striped Tiger–Mister Rogers’ alter ego in a furry puppet form– tackled the everyday emotional needs of pre-schoolers with respect, honesty, and thoughtfulness rarely seen on television then or now.
What the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? explores perhaps more clearly now than at the time the show was produced is just how revolutionary Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood actually was. Even through the tumultuous Sixties, subjects of political violence, racial discrimination, and the degrading messages children and adults frequently heard were never side-stepped or sugarcoated. Without preaching but with integrity and visual connection, Mister Rogers would show by example. Soaking his feet in a kiddie pool with his friend, the African American policeman, Officer Clemmons, demonstrated community in a time of segregated swimming pools.
When cellist Yo-Yo Ma describes first meeting Fred Rogers, he recalls that
Rogers put his face three inches from Ma’s while gently smiling at him. “He scared the hell out of me,” says
Ma. Rogers did the same thing when he
first met the gorilla Koko, who then held his hand and signed that she loved
Under Mr. Rogers’ seemingly
bland exterior was a true radical. Here was a white middle-aged man
inviting everyone to live in his
neighborhood, regardless of color. And
his cast reflected diversity not yet seen on most shows today.
hagiographical in scope, Neville does reveal one of Fred Rogers’ blind
spots. The actor who played Officer Clemmons had been to a gay
bar. Rogers soon informed him that if
there were any future visits to gay bars, he would be terminated out of fear of
losing corporate sponsors. The inclusion and fostering of community revealed in the
context of its time was still not
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? elevates this classic children’s show and its star to a standard we need to remind ourselves of and recommit to. The unspoken question is: What would Fred Rogers think of a culture congealed into a state of outrage, vulgarity and intolerance? How would we build a neighborhood and live together in an era of proposed wall-building?
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a realistic lens on how a child must make
sense of an emotionally complex and sometimes irrational world.
It’s this idea that
kindness is not a naive notion like believing in unicorns and rainbows. It’s
oxygen: It’s vital, and needs to be nurtured.
When you watch Won’t You Be My Neighbor?you don’t see a Republican or a Democrat. Mister Rogers speaks to the fundamental ways we should all speak to each other.
For armchair sleuths, the latest season of True Detectivewill probably not fit neatly into the category of cops-and-killers genre, buddy-cop, film noir, or police procedural. SurprisinglyTrue Detective’s latest season has elements of all four.
Set in the Ozarks in the ‘80s (with virulent Jim Crow traditions), the ‘90s, and the recent past (probably 2015 or 2016), True Detectives focuses on one haunted Vietnam War veteran, detective Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali), as he investigates the disappearance of a little girl, and the death of her brother. The narrative is at times, a murder mystery, a love story, and a friendship between an African American detective and his preferentially treated white partner. In the end, True Detectives is a meditation on death, memory, and the fragility of human relationships.
The cultural and emotional legacy of the Vietnam War becomes increasingly important as we come to know Wayne Hays more completely. His attempts at introspection and often unsympathetic reactive behavior towards the woman he loves, Amelia Reardon (Carmen Ejogo), changes the tone of the mystery. A schoolteacher who knew the missing kids, Amelia writes a best-selling true-crime novel about the case.
Although we never really discover what has
scarred him so deeply, Wayne Hays is so
tightly bottled up and wounded that his feelings and thoughts are only
expressed through watching his face and body as he moves through a world that
is often racist. We see US race
relations flash forward through the three time periods of the case.
By 1990, the case is reopened when startling information surfaces. Now Wayne has married Amelia, and his relationship with his own children–a son and daughter–becomes more remote as he becomes even more obsessed with solving the disappearance of the Purcell girl at the expense of his own family.
While True Detectives is purportedly a story of obsession and crime, it is the tragic disintegration of Wayne’s mind that makes this season worth watching. Dropping hints that his recollections might not be as accurate as they seem, that his past as a war veteran causes some of his serious family problems, are important revelations.
His performance drives the series, and is most compelling for the way the crime intersects with his family life. Despite shadowy distractions, “True Detective” is worth watching for the multifaceted and virtuoso performance of Mahershala Ali.
Three Netflix series — Narcos, Narcos Mexico and El Chapo– are gritty, raw, and bingeable. Each chronicles the most powerful drug lord and his cartel at the rise of cocaine and marijuana production in Colombia, Mexico, and other parts of the world.
on sometimes astonishly real life stories of drug kingpins Pablo Escobar, Angel
Felix Gallardo and El Chapo, the viewer
witnesses each of these drug dealers’ malevolently brilliant strategic
maneuvers to avoid capture and extradition.
Corrupt government and law enforcement, including the DEA (US Drug Enforcement
Administration), dance to their deaths in quick step, a carefully calibrated violent
seizure of power.
The war on drugs is not simple for the agencies
committed to win or for the producers and distributors committed to prosper.
With billions of dollars in income, we are treated to observe, from the catbird’s
seat, each drug lord continually shifting allegiances and deal-making in order
to retain power. Surviving in a
cut-throat world of betrayal and loss, the thug subculture tries to maintain
fierce loyalty while family members become the collateral damage. An unlikeable character, no
matter the circumstances, remains unlikeable, but in each of these Netflix series
we see the drug lord’s vulnerability, focused on wives, girl friends, and
children, giving humanity to otherwise horrifyingly brutish and cruel behavior.
The three award-winning series seem incredulous until the viewer realizes that the current and ongoing trial and sentencing of El Chapo demonstrates truth is stranger than fiction, and that screenwriters flocked to the courtoom in Queens, to gather more material for the ongoing series, Narcos Mexico, and that the young actor who plays El Chapo was greeted with a wave by the actual El Chapo when he entered the courtroom. At times gripping suspense and violence give way to scenes of Mexican culture and small towns surviving on the margins.
Poppy and cannabis cultivations fit in well in among cucumbers and tomatoes. This is one of the best series of drama and suspense to come from Netflix. A winner without qualifications.
In this grisly art-world satire, Velvet Buzzsaw opens with a renowned art critic, Morf Vandewalt (the sensational Jake Gyllenhaal), in his designer sunglasses, turning his pompous, gimlet eye on artwork at the highly hyped Art Basel Miami show. Pontificating about what he considers worthy or unworthy, Morf has the power to punish or reward.
Everything starts conventionally with the
cocktail circuit of groveling artists’ representatives, but soon it turns grisly. Velvet Buzzsaw relishes in
satirizing the pompous art-world, blending horror inside an artist’s disturbed mind.
The disturbed mind is that of a deceased elderly
man, Vetril Dease, whose paintings are discovered by Josephina (Zawe
Ashton) , a
recently fired art gallery assistant. Although
Dease had instructed that his paintings be destroyed after his death, Josephina
ambitiously appropriates them. She sees an
opportunity for profit, power, and status.
Partnering with her former boss (Rene Russo), the powerhouse owner of
the Haze gallery, the two women form an unholy alliance to sell Dease’s
“outsider art” for exorbitant sums of money. Despite the fact that Rhodora Haze had
humiliated Josephine previously, the young assistant soon becomes indispensable
Art becomes personal, and Dease’s
mysterious paintings have a mind of
their own. What
if the figures in his paintings reflect the artist’s past pain and suffering? Dease’s
fear, melancholy, menace and agony?
Seemingly unfazed by growing
concerns over Dease’s work and his past, Rhodora imperiously manipulates the
profits from this windfall collection, creating more buzz as some paintings are
destroyed. Josephina is her accomplice.
Velvet Buzzsaw’s pacing
is skillful and adept with what-will-happen-next tension. However, a few images are almost too
far-fetched, even for the horror genre.
Part “Black Mirror” and part classic “The Red
Violin”, the viewer is left asking
questions from the ambiguity of the ending:
Who is the
perfect victim for a cursed object? When
is the punishment too extreme for the crime?
Velvet Buzzsaw is sharply rendered.
Note: This is a new release, a
Netflix Original, with grisly deaths and a few bloody scenes.
Every time I think I know what Jim Carrey will do next as a comedian the actor throws me off balance. Think of his new HBO series Kidding. But most of all, his evolution as a no-holds-barred political artist just blows me away.
I recently was privileged to see more than 80 of his sketches at the Maccarone Gallery in Los Angeles, “IndigNation: Political Cartoons by Jim Carrey, 2016–2018.” This Canadian actor is fearless in attacking the dysfunction of Trump’s presidency. The intensity of his aversion for Trump is felt pulsating through the 8 1/2 x 11 school notebook pages literally ripped from the binder. The torn, ragged edge of each sheet is perhaps a metaphor for how Carrey feels while painting with brush markers and acrylics, often in exceptionally fine detail.
From October 13 through December 7, the Los Angeles exhibit covered the Twitter sketches Carrey has posted weekly, since Trump’s inauguration. The Maccarone gallery had three huge rooms exhibiting his colorful drawings, simply framed, and with often scathing and vituperative captions revealing an artist talented with words as well as with color. Carrey has been quoted as saying that social media is his canvas. (Currently Carrey has 18 million Twitter followers @JimCarrey)
But it is only since January 2017 that we have seen how accomplished his artistic talents are, as he reacts with outrage to what Trump has done.
I hope that the IndigNation exhibit will travel throughout the country so that followers of Carrey will see for themselves how irrepressible these drawings are. Truly turbocharged fulminations of our times.
Note: “IndigNation: Political Cartoons by Jim Carrey, 2016–2018” was on view at Maccarone, 300 South Mission Road, Los Angeles, October 13–December 7, 2018.
The Invisible Guest (2016) (Spanish: Contratiempo) is a 2016 Spanish crime thriller by director and writer Oriol Paulo. The intricate plot will leave the viewer spellbound .
Adrián Doria, a successful business entrepreneur, husband and father, is knocked unconscious, and wakes up in a locked hotel room to find the dead body of Laura Vidal, his married lover. Charged with murder but wealthy enough to be out on bail, Adrian soon learns that his lawyer, Félix Leiva, has hired the renowned defense attorney, Virginia Goodman, to represent him. She visits him late one evening to inform him that a witness has come forward to testify against him. He must tell the whole story quickly so she can prepare his defense. Goodman pulls no punches in the resulting cat-and-mouse game.
No spoiler alerts here! Suffice it to say that you must pay attention with every scene, even though–as in many foreign films–the pacing sags in the middle. The viewer will be rewarded, however, with clues and red herrings that are purposeful and complex, not suspecting how the interconnections make sense. The Invisible Guest requires more than the usual demands on the viewer’s attention in order to follow the plot.
Just when you think you have a reasonable explanation for what has taken place and who the probable perpetrator is, a new scene with a different point of view enters, and you are wondering again who is guilty of the crime. The story becomes so populated with different points of view and arguments back-and-forth with Virginia Goodman that the viewer is engaged up to the final reveal.
The narrative and plot remind me ofGone Girl with a number of unreliable versions of the crime scene. This masterpiece consistently changes the game, raising more questions than it answers. Consequently, the viewer parses the dialog and several accounts of the crime into puzzle pieces– but they don’t fit. TheInvisible Guest is crafted so well that you don’t see the intricately woven web unravel as it does. There is always the who before the why.
The Invisible Guest is a winner! This Spanish gem is thrilling, suspenseful, mind-blowing, an edge-of-your-seat riveting tour-de-force for thriller/mystery enthusiasts and psychological film-noir fans.