Dear White People: a comedy addressing current issues. This film takes place on a fictional Ivy League campus named Winchester. The source of the film’s title is the lead character’s campus radio show, “Dear White People”. The movie can be viewed as an updated version of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing set on a college campus. Samantha (“Sam”) White, who is more than just a witty radio host, is played by Tessa Thompson. Through Sam’s eyes, we are shown the complexities of stereotypes. For example, Sam informs a professor that the 1984 movie Gremlins is about suburban white fear of black culture as “Gremlins are loud, talk in slang, are addicted to fried chicken and freak out when you get their hair wet”. I would need to see the film more than once to remember more of Sam’s clever lines as well as those of the second lead character, Lionel Higgins (Tyler James Williams). Lionel is initially presented as a shy, gay student who insists he does not identify with anything while not fitting in anywhere on campus. Lionel is told by a white person, who thinks she’s complimenting him, “You’re only technically black.” The incident that is the catalyst for the movie is a Halloween party sponsored annually by a satirical magazine. Blackface hip-hop becomes the party’s theme and this leads to some serious scenes. Writer and first time director, Justin Simien, did not invent the party concept; post-film credits show photos from such parties at Dartmouth, UC San Diego, Pennsylvania State University and other schools. Simien has a person from the Southside of Chicago present the idea of having the hip-hop party (Teyonah Paris as Coco Connors). Coco’s character presents other issues underlying human relations. This film isn’t limited to the Black/White issue. The sons of both the University President and its Dean of Students attend Winchester and both sons have issues with their fathers. Dean Haysbert plays the Dean of Students and Peter Syvertsen the school President. There are also core Black issues presented such as how Black is Black. A lot happens during this 108-minute film and it is all presented with a sense of humor. You will be amused as the movie unfolds. Then, when you further consider what you saw, you’ll have a lot to think about regarding race relations in the USA. I highly recommend this film.
Saturday, October 25, 2014
The Notebook: Hungarian WW II film. The story revolves around 12 year old twin boys. The twins are played by actual brothers, Laszlo and Andras Gyemant. The time period is 1944/1945. The opening scene shows the father returning home on military leave to a loving wife and two sons. When the father returns to the front, the wife takes the boys to her mother’s farm. We quickly learn that the grandmother has neither seen her grandchildren nor met her son-in-law. The boys’ mother left home upon the death of her father. There are hints as to how the father died and why a schism exists between mother and daughter. If you understand Hungarian, the background story may be clearer. The film’s focus is on what happens to the boys when they are left at their grandmother’s house, not on the mother-daughter relationship. The title originates from the father giving the twins a notebook and telling them to write down everything that happens to them while he is gone. The boys are diligent in their task. The fact there is a war is very present throughout the film, and the village’s anti-Semitism is part of the story. The twins are not Jewish and the anti-Semitism we witness is viewed through their eyes. We never learn the names of the twins; they are either “One” or the “Other” or, per the grandmother, “the Bastards”. Until the twins’ father arrives at the farm, the grandmother believes there is no husband. This 112 minute film, directed by Janos Szasz, is based on a French novel by a Hungarian author named Agota Kristof, who also co-wrote the script. The story deals with unpleasant times. The grandmother initially appears to be an angry and evil woman. She is undoubtedly angry, however, as to the story develops, not evil. The twins learn to survive and in the process, are changed; they are not the same individuals they were when the films opens. Some of the characters are stereotypes, but the film’s focus remains on the twins and what happens when young males are forced to grow up without the presence of a sane adult male to interpret the barbaric events of wartime. The Gyemant brothers give an excellent performance. The film will linger in your thoughts for a long while.
Saturday, October 11, 2014
Gone Girl: a mystery based upon the same-named novel. I suspect those of you who haven’t read the novel will enjoy the movie more than those who have as the underlying story is premised on a gimmick. The script is by the book’s author, Gillian Flynn. Because I had not read the book, the movie held my interest. Notwithstanding the manipulative plotline, there are some quality acting performances. The story raises the question of who can you trust. After a short, chilling opening scene, we are introduced to Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a husband whose marriage is off track. We learn of the teetering marriage through a conversation Nick has with a bartender, whom we later learn is his twin sister, Margo (Carrie Coon). Nick and Margo operate “The Bar” in North Carthage, a fictional town in Missouri. Following the bar scene, Nick returns home to find signs of a break-in and his wife missing. Nick calls the police and we meet detectives Boney (Kim Dickens) and Gilpen (Patrick Fugit). The police are suspicious and we begin wondering whether Nick’s wife, Amy (Rosamund Pike), has been killed. Amy is a public personality due to her parents having written and promoted “Amazing Amy”, a famous series of children’s books based on enhanced episodes of Amy’s life. The media become promptly involved. The parents, Rand (David Clennon) and Marybeth (Lisa Banes), through years of exposure, are very media savvy. Media personalities include a Nancy Grace character who pounds on the evils of men. As the story unfolds, the institution of marriage takes a beating. One of the more interesting characters is an individual named Greta (Lola Kirke), but explaining how she fits in would detract from the suspense created by director David Fincher. There is also Amy’s very wealthy but naïve ex-boyfriend, Desi (Neil Patrick Harris). Desi becomes a key character. Tyler Perry gives a good performance as the high profile defense attorney. The story from Nick’s perspective is told in the first person; Amy’s story is told primarily through her diary. The first half of this 145 minute film focuses on Nick while the second half focuses on Amy and the backstory of their relationship. There are some violent scenes. David Fincher directed “Fight Club” and, if you saw that film, you know Fincher enjoys inter-personal violence. Ben Affleck is outstanding and the two detectives, Boney and Gilpin, are entertaining as Fargo-type characters. The story held my attention. In retrospect, however, I enjoyed the film more before I had a chance to think about the numerous defects in the storyline, but discussing the film’s plot problems would reveal too much. This movie works because the ending is not obvious. On a scale of 5.0, this is a 3.5 star flick.
Monday, October 6, 2014
A Walk Among the Tombstones: a Liam Neeson film with a quality script. I enjoy Neeson’s acting but, generally speaking, not the films he appears in. This time, however, Neeson is working with a quality script and director, Scott Frank, who wrote the screenplay for Get Shorty. The film is based on a novel by Lawrence Block and takes place in 1999. Neeson’s character, Matt Scudder, is a former New York city cop and a recovering alcoholic. Technically, Scudder is not a private investigator because he never obtained a license. He just does “favors” for people who, in turn, offer him “gifts”. In the film, Scudder is approached by a prospective client, Kenny Kristo (Dan Stevens), who asks that Scudder find the individual who kidnapped and killed Kristo’s wife despite payment of the ransom. Because Kristo’s income is related to drugs, he chooses not to go to the cops. Scudder discovers that the kidnappers/killers have a prior history. Part of the drama is finding out the killers’ connection to the DEA since it’s obvious they are targeting drug dealers. Another kidnapping occurs and the story’s details are further revealed along with the reason why Scudder retired from the police force. Scudder does his research at a library, a refreshing departure from today’s omnipresent internet, and meets TJ (Brian Bradley), a teenager with artistic talents. TJ provides a lightness to what is mostly a serious crime story. Boyd Holbrook also gives a good performance as Kristo’s drug addicted brother, Peter. There is onscreen violence. The two bad dudes are truly evil, particularly Ray, played by David Harbour. A lot happens during the film’s 113 minutes and, as with The Drop, if you enjoy crime stories, you will be entertained.