Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — The Golden Rule

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.

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

 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 him.

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.

Almost 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 universally accepting. 

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.

Note: Available on PBS.com and Netflix DVD.

True Detective Season 3–Whodunit…or Not?

For armchair sleuths, the latest season of True Detective will probably not fit neatly into the category of cops-and-killers genre, buddy-cop, film noir, or police procedural.  Surprisingly,True Detective’s latest season has elements of all four.

True Detective Season 3
True Detective Season 3

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. 

True Detective Season 3
True Detective Season 3

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.

Note: This is an HBO mini-series.

Narcos, Narcos Mexico and El Chapo–Cinema Verité

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.

Based 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.  

Narcos, Narcos Mexico, and El Chapo Netflix TV series

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.

Velvet Buzzsaw–Art Can Be Dangerous

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 to Rhodora.

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.   

IndigNation–Jim Carrey’s Political Cartoons

 

Jim Carrey Robert Mueller
Squeeze. Mueller. Squeeze

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)

Jim Carrey A Void cartoon
A Void

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.

Jim Carrey political cartoons
Our Ally. Our Missile. Our Crime.

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 13December 7, 2018.

 

“The Invisible Guest”–What You See is Not What You Guess

 

The Invisible Guest 

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 of Gone 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. The Invisible 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.

Note: Available on Netflix streaming.

 

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.

Call Me By Your Name…”And I’ll Call You By Mine”

Based on the novel by André Acimen and directed by Luca Guadagnino, Call Me By Your Name delivers a universal coming-of-age narrative. The two main characters’ relationship serves as a mirror through which viewers can recognize their own vulnerability and youth’s promise of love.

Against the backdrop of the Northern Italian countryside in the 1980’s, Call Me By Your Name is a beautiful portrait of the complexity of human desire and sexuality. Elio (the Academy Award-nominated Timothée Chalamet), is the adolescent son of a Jewish archaeologist and a French-Italian mother. Oliver (Armie Hammer, also nominated for an Academy Award), is a research assistant mentored by Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg). Invited to the professor’s home to gather data on ancient Greek sculpture during the summer, Oliver embark on what would be considered a morally-questionable romance, as he and the teenage Elio explore not only homosexual love but also love between an adolescent and an adult ten years older. Call Me By Your Name normalizes this relationship as simply a romance between two men that seems to exist completely outside of time. The two pass the summer under the glittering Italian sun, portraying both the brilliance of the landscape and the idyllic, albeit ephemeral, nature of summer love and heat.

Chalamet and Hammer deliver amazing and sensitive performances that truly capture the struggle of sexual exploration and identity. Call Me By Your Name reveals the subtle complexities and intense sexual attraction between Elio and Oliver, thus helping the viewer to really understand their romance as well as the games they play.. The character of Elio, in particular, proves incredibly raw, insightful, and even alluring—almost an archetype of male youth, mirrored in a pivotal scene where Elio’s father admires the erotic male sculpture of ancient Greece, stating that the art “dares you to desire them.” In his relatable, sometimes clumsy efforts at winning the affections of Oliver, Elio showcases his vulnerability, anguish, and self-actualization. These struggles are poetically articulated in scenes with Elio’s parents who, rather than denounce the relationship, encourage his self-exploration. Elio’s father delivers an electrifying speech–“We rip so much out of ourselves”– that unapologetically combats conventional notions of masculinity and human desire, lost youth, as well as the aching heartbreak of unrealized dreams.

— Sam McKeown, Guest blogger

Currently a graduate student at the American University of Paris exploring different methods of storytelling through food, Sam’s blog can be found at: placebuds.blog

“The Post”–High Stakes

 

The Post movie

Perhaps no other film this year captures two important political moments of our time: the issue of fake news and “me too”, the invisibility of women’s voices, until they were not. The Post is high-stakes filmmaking. Released this month, The Post is already receiving wide-ranging, intensely opposing reviews.

The Post opens with a scene of an American military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg shocked by the depths of continued deceit in hiding the loss of American lives in the Vietnam War, under four successive presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson). Ellsberg photocopies 7000 pages of top secret government reports commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. (See my December 15, 2011 review, The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Paper” Now he is determined to shed light on the deceit by leaking the incriminating papers to The New York Times.

Only after the US Department of Justice secures an injunction against The New York Times, on the ground of threats to national security, do the Pentagon Papers become The Washington Post’s story and, therefore, Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee’s story.

Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep star as Ben Bradlee (editor-in-chief) and Katherine Graham (The Washington Post owner) in a flashpoint in our history: the courageous decision, in 1971, to publish the Pentagon Papers, which then contributes to the end of the Vietnam War as well as bringing down the presidency of Richard Nixon.

The Post Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham

Katherine Graham, with no experience in the industry, has just assumed control of her family’s second-place local newspaper, The Washington Post,. The newspaper has neither significant power nor readership, and she is advised to take the company public since it is running at a financial loss. After her unfaithful husband has committed suicide, Katherine takes over the helm but she is fearful of losing her family’s newspaper legacy, having to lead in a man’s world where women do not manage corporations. Ben Bradlee gives her both respect and reminds her of the challenges of becoming a newspaper CEO.

Perhaps one of the most powerful and climactic moments in the film is when Katherine Graham, whose son has safely returned from Vietnam, realizes that US presidents’ lies have killed tens of thousands of young men over a period of two decades or more. Her turmoil anchors the film. Personal friends with Robert McNamara, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson, masterminds of the Vietnam War, Katherine Graham has multiple challenges to face and conflicting loyalties to balance in this high-stakes game: to publish or not to publish. Similarly, Ben Bradlee, who had been close to John F. Kennedy and proud of his association, is disillusioned as well.

The tensions keep rising. The Washington Post has just had an IPO. How will investors react? Will Graham and Bradley be prosecuted for revealing top secret documents? Will she lose the company she has inherited from her father and grandfather, hoping to bequeath The Washington Post to her children? How can she publish such damning material about her personal friends?

The Post bristles with intelligence. Every role is brilliantly cast: Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad”) and Sarah Paulson (“The Case of O.J. Simpson” and “American Horror Story”) have brief onscreen roles but commanding speeches.

While the memory of the 1970s is still momentous for many, the context of a president in the Oval Office detesting and trying to muzzle the media bears an unmistakable parallelism with political events today. Such a thing could never again happen in America, right?

Note: Companion films and series to watch along with The Post are The Most Dangerous Man in America, All the President’s Men , and the superb, unforgettable Ken Burns’ PBS Series, The Vietnam War. Look for my review of the Ken Burns’ tour-de-force in the near future.

Note: Viewers who believe that the newspaper beacons–The New York Times and The Washington Post–are outdated and irrelevant, will enjoy disliking this movie. For those born in the seventies and later, this may seem like irrelevant history but in reality it is a lesson to be learned. If you remember the breaking into a locked door of the Democratic National Committee, you will have to explain this ending scene to the millennials who will not know the significance.

 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: A BOLO for Justice

Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri

Guest blogger extraordinaire Bill Clark

Writer-director Martin McDonagh’s film, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), takes us along Mildred Hayes’ journey as she deals with the unsolved murder-rape of her teenage daughter. Brilliantly played by Frances McDormand, bereaved mother, Mildred, decides to take on the avuncular police chief Bill Willoughby  (played by Woody Harrelson), after a year of apparent police inattention). She pays for three road-side billboards with provocative Burma Shave-like titles asking for justice from Chief Willoughby.

The billboards trigger a chain of events that sets Mildred at war not only against the Chief Willoughby, but also the citizens of Ebbing who side with him. The drama intensifies as Mildred becomes more and more frustrated in finding justice. She precariously veers into vengeance as she seeks answers for her daughter’s brutal death. [It is difficult not to mention spoilers here!]

The film’s sparkling dialogue lights up the dark corners of Mildred’s psyche, as we can visualize her torment, as well as offers a welcome counterpoint to the underlying suffering of her journey. Three Billboards navigates a mother’s necessary journey toward a place of hope that she doesn’t expect. Three Billboards is definitely a trip worth the price of a ticket, most especially for the astounding Frances McDormand, whose Oscar-worthy performance is favored to win.

The Beguiled–Bewitched and Possessed

 

The Beguiled

In Sophia Coppola’s reinterpretation of the 1971 Clint Eastwood film by the same name, The Beguiled opens with an eleven-year-old girl gathering mushrooms in her straw basket deep in a quiet wood in Virginia. Conjuring an image of Little Red Riding Hood soon coming upon a big bad wolf, we see her discover the wounded John McBurney (Colin Farrell), a Union soldier in the midst of the Civil War. The child decides to take him back to her girls’ boarding school. Headmistress Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) is reluctant but feels a moral obligation to tend to him. Edwina (Kirsten Dunst), a teacher locks McBurney in the music room, terrified of what could be a menace to their highly secluded and precarious lifestyle. In a series of lovingly erotic shots of headmistress Martha’s bathing Farrell’s chest, forearms, calves, and neck as she ministers to his injuries, the viewer sees a foreshadowing of what is to come.

Meanwhile, the students—especially the sexually blossoming teenager Alicia (Elle Fanning), huddle by the door, to get at least a brief glimpse of probably the only man to ever visit the boarding school. Aware of McBurney’s sexual drive as well as their own (albeit sometimes subconsciously), each girl except the youngest who is eleven, preens in front of him: with pearl earrings, a formal dress, or bearing small gifts. Miss Martha looks at all of this in horror, but raging hormones are everywhere.

McBurney is a shape-shifter, and his foil are the two adult women: Martha and Edwina. At times respectful or seductive, compassionate or manipulative, sometimes earnest, McBurney manages to be both for each resident.

The Beguiled is just that: hypnotic, mesmerizing, and unsettling. With each scene– fleeting, things unsaid, –there are repressed emotions and dreams, a stultifying code of norms for girls and women. The drama is internal–expressed in the cinematography by the placement of scenes within the boundaries of the boarding school. Perhaps symbolic of the interior life of the female realm where women, confined by their circumstances, can only be independent when the male lies powerless, the viewer sees what happens when women, unaccustomed to this power, react. The mere presence of a man unexpectedly and violently alters their group dynamic.

The pacing for this historical drama is at times slow. However, The Beguiled is worth watching, especially for the originality of Sophia Coppola’s world view. Both Nicole Kidman and Kirsten Dunst infuse humor and intensity into their roles, giving performances that are perfectly interwoven. This is perhaps Colin Farrell’s best performance yet. And Elle Fanning is a wonder, embodying teenage sexuality, giving heat through her languid gestures, evoking a boredom on the verge of explosion.

The Beguiled rages with what lies underneath the surface. This is Sophia Coppola at her very best.

 

Note:  Currently available on Netflix (DVD)

 

Mudbound–Mired in the Mississippi Delta

 

Mudbound the movie

Set in the Deep South in1939 and then fast-forwarding to World War II, Mudbound is an epic of two families–one white (McAllan) and one black (Jackson)–who are severely constrained by the Jim Crow laws and customs in Alabama. The two McAllan brothers, Henry and Jamie, epitomize Cain and Abel. The Jacksons are sharecroppers bravely facing the disconnect between their dreams and the dangerous obstacles set before them.

Mudbounds main plot focuses on Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedland) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell), decorated war heroes who, upon returning, are misfits in their hometown. As their friendship grows tighter, so do the menacing threats surrounding them. One subplot moves into sibling rivalry between Jamie and his brother; another into Henry’s brutal and defeated temperament, which affects his marriage to Laura (Carrie Mulligan).

Mudbound challenges our concepts of friendship, family, and marriage. Sometimes the story is predictable, even clichéd. There are also difficult scenes to watch. Yet, the retelling of this story is crucial, lest we forget. The military, out of necessity, gave responsibility to both black and white soldiers, albeit in segregated troops. It is the “welcome home” racism that is portrayed in all its hypocrisy and disrespect for heroes of color. ln addition, the French and Belgian openness in attitude and behavior towards black soldiers are in stark contrast to what Ronsel Jackson has to face in Alabama.

A history to remember, Mudbound showcases superb acting from an ensemble cast of up-and-coming actors who engage us enough that we can overlook a script that should have been better. In an unexpected scene-stealing performance, Mary J. Blige, the queen of hip-hop and soul, is virtually unrecognizable, as Florence Jackson. She gives as much soul to her subtle, heart-wrenching performance as the best, more experienced actresses.   A Netflix Original, this new addition to the genre focused on racial inequality deserves to be watched by all interested in history and family saga.