2017 at the Movies, the Oscars and the Others

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All the critics agree, it was a great year for film, but I’m not sure I buy that. Nor can I buy that it was a good year for women and minorities unless the Academy Awards nominating one movie by a Black writer/director and one by a woman are significant improvements, sigh. And, there’s no nail biter for best picture for me as I didn’t see many films that stayed with me for long. Realistically, a best picture award should be given for an extraordinary film and that would not happen every year. Nominate away but the flick selected should be exceptional.

That said, I’m still fascinated by the event and even more so by what the movies say about us and our moment in time so let’s talk about some of the nominees–and some that weren’t nominated but worked for me.

Since many movies ostensibly released in December are not available for viewing until January, February or March of the next awards year-and there are some you’ll never see on your local marquee unless you live next door to an arthouse-I’m going by the films I had an opportunity to view this year.

One of my favorite little movies of this year which actually opened in 2016 was Kedi. It’s Turkish for Cats and is a travelogue-documentary movie about the felines who live in every nook and ancient cranny of Istanbul, seemingly feral but lovingly attended to by the shopkeepers, waiters, and apartment dwellers of that cat friendly and vibrant metropolis. If you like people, cats or views of ancient architecture set along the MV5BOGQzNWM0NmQtZTQ3My00MGMzLTk4NDItNjQ1MGY5MjNhZjhmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTkwNzI3NDY@._V1_UY100_CR39,0,100,100_AL_Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, and the Aegean, this film is a little R & R. BTW, better to visit but for now, since the Turkish government recently reacted to the American government’s visitation restrictions by refusing visas to US residents, you’ll have to wait.

I couldn’t wait to see Get Out and caught it the first weekend. I wasn’t surprised that Jordan Peele made a horror movie because on his show Key and Peele with partner Keegan-Michael Key, the duo produced many skits in the horror genre. Here’s just one of their zombie sketches.   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xyhVO-SWfM

It’s an iconic film,  I believe, mostly because it’s one of the few films ever to openly poke fun at American racism from a Black auteur. The catch phrase, the sunken place, and the title itself , something audiences like to shout at the screen when the monster is about to burst through the door, are now part of our film (and social) lexicon. The_Sunken_Place

But there are some small disappointments in this genre busting movie–is it horror, is it comedy, is it satire or all of the above? For instance, the fright scenes were frequently less scary than the build up to them, much of the movie was tongue-firmly-in-cheek, but at other times the tongue was more loosely-in-cheek and the payoffs were sometimes more academic than immediate. It is almost as if Peele wanted to tell us about our racism and confront us with our stereotypes without offending us too much. But it’s thought provoking and entertaining and ultimately one of the movies of this year that will stay with us, or at least until Peele’s next eagerly awaited project.

The Zookeeper’s Wife came out in March and made an impression on me at the time but the reviews were decidedly mixed–many were offended by Jessica Chastain’s Polish accent. Maybe that’s why she was nominated for an Oscar in Molly’s Game rather than this otherwise wonderful performance.

Here are 3 things I know about the problems with the Zookeeper’s Wife 1) it’s a little too glossy for a film set in war torn Warsaw, could’ve been a bit grittier given the subject, 2) the hero of the movie is a soft spoken seemingly naive woman, not the type of hero we want these days, see Frances McDormand, 3) most people including the critics couldn’t stomach the early long scene where the zoo’s tame animals are being slaughtered one by one by the soldiers. But it’s a true story of a couple that were honored by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations, and it’s inspiring without being smug. See it if you can.

Here are three more movies I also liked but only one of them got any Oscar nominations. They were: The Big Sick, made in indy style with an awkwardly slow beginning but its touching true story wins you over soon after–Holly Hunter’s acerbic mother has much to do with that and even though The Indy Spirit Awards and others nominated her for best supporting actor, Oscar ignored her. However, the clever husband/wife screenplay was nominated.

The Glass Castle which passed by unnoticed, a young woman’s memoir of a childhood spent with her extremely dysfunctional but fascinating parents. The critics apparently dispute that the main character was able to cull some good memories from her childhood and seemingly panned it for that reason. I was moved by its complex portrayal of family life or maybe it just made me feel better about my own.

And Marshall, which actually lost money, perhaps because so few people can recognize the last name of one of our most important Supreme Court Justices Thurgood Marshall, more’s the pity. It’s a very interesting slice of his early life as an attorney traveling the country defending Black suspects and alternately commanding and alienating allies to the cause. It stars the very charismatic Chadwick Boseman whose next film has been sold out in theaters for weeks, the Black Panther. Maybe his star power can resurrect this movie so more people can see itdownload (3).jpg

There was Beatriz at Dinner starring Salma Hayek in a satire which hammered you with its message including an ugly peek at the lives of the rich and powerful entertaining each other in the decadent canyons of southern California. It might also be titled, “Everyone was Sad Today,” dunno, left me as cold as it was designed to do.

Should we talk about Wonder Woman, nah, let’s not. How about Wind River, yeah, beautifully filmed, touchingly acted, a modern-day cowboy flick [centered around the brutalization of young attractive women, what else is new and guaranteed money making?] also deeply sad, hmmm, is that a theme? I left the theater and then I realized, oh shit, once again, I was led down the garden path where the white people were the saviors and the Indians were the noble victims or the hapless criminals, substitute any other despised ethnicity and voila, the same old same old but with a touch of cultural sensitivity thrown in. images

Locally, those of us who’ve been fighting for years to reform OPD, went to see The Force because the film’s producer also made the award winning The Waiting Room but instead we got the local version of  mainstream media embedded with the troops in some foreign place. Here’s my longer review, https://draketalkoakland.com/2017/10/01/the-force-the-oakland-police-accountability-coalition-a-story-untold/.

And what about the phenomenon of 3 films revolving around the same WWII episode, Dunkirk, the story of the almost unbelievable rescue of 300,000 British and French troops from the coast of France right as the German army overran continental Europe and was poised to invade Britain.

In The Darkest Hour--it was so dark in those conference rooms and tunnels, I could barely see Gary Oldman’s Churchill giving the famous “we will fight them on the beaches” speech–would not have made much sense without having first seen Nolan’s Dunkirk, unless you’re a WWII  history buff. Then finally there was the British tragicomedy Their Finest which I found as entertaining and moving as the other two.

Does this confluence mean that Winston Churchill, the conservative leader of the British Parliament who hated socialized medicine among other proletarian benefits, is the leader we long for? Perhaps, but I doubt it. To me it means we know we have just entered one of the scariest periods in modern history and we’re not sure how or if we will survive it. F. Y. C. Knox

In Dunkirk, the flick which shows the terror in real time as the powerful Luftwaffe bombs and strafes the retreating soldiers, we also see close up the human face of courage and compassion. In the Darkest Hour we get the one-person-stands-alone-in-the-face-of-confusion-and-cowardice [in truth much of the British aristocracy sympathized with the Nazis before they opposed them.]

In Their Finest, a film within a film which depicts the making of a British propaganda piece about the Allied troop rescue, we find the beating heart of humanity under the seemingly cynical manipulations of the media. The story within a story also illustrates the struggle of women’s changing roles during times when the men were sent to die by the hundreds of thousands, women were reluctantly allowed to take over some of their roles, including screenwriting (and we still struggle with women’s roles in that industry.)

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The lesson for our time lies in how this heroic rescue took place-it worked because average British fishermen and their families took it upon themselves to become a navy of brave individuals with little coordination or top down command, and saved most of their army for the fight to come. Whichever angle you prefer to view that period from, people are drawn to these movies and they are all worth seeing.

I admit I didn’t see all the films nominated for best picture but I did see a few more that are worthy of your weekly latte money. Let’s talk about Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri which was filmed in and around Asheville, North Carolina. It was an obvious Oscar nominee. The writing was sharp to the point of painful, the characters were all played by outsized actors and the theme of (white) female rage hit hard and on target.

I admit I was in disbelief that the character Sam Rockwell played so well seemed to morph too easily into a human being from an idiotic and vicious racist cop. Of course, Frances McDormand’s badass grief-stricken mom was not so much believable as symbolic. McDormand served as the anti-hero that women have been craving, that is if you feel like tossing Molotov cocktails at buildings or people–and maybe you do.

The controversy-and there really could be many–is this your vision of feminism, who deserves redemption-centers around the ultimate acceptance of a cop who is known to have tortured Black suspects as a character who is capable of earning the sympathy of the viewer, depending on whether he in fact did earn it? Did indeed anyone and was anyone really redeemed? The movie doesn’t make that clear. Anyway, here is one critique if you wanna know more, Alison Wilmore in 171113_r30902.jpgBuzzfeed,  https://www.buzzfeed.com/alisonwillmore/three-billboards-outside-ebbing-missouri?utm_term=.wsZLVOyoDM#.mhaJv4gqX” “He [filmmaker Martin McDonough who is Irish] has a solid grasp of how a woman can be dismissed as crazy, as a bitch. But when it comes to American racism, he’s playing tourist.”

As to working class white women who can’t seem to fit the mold, there’s I, Tonya which takes the anti-hero and then flips it sideways. Its perfect sardonic tone takes aim at the audience because the film knows that we were as easily manipulated as Tonya, an abused girl who came close to achieving the American dream but became the punchline to a bad joke instead. It doesn’t answer any of the ultimate moral questions or explain away all the ugliness plus Margot Robbie is way too pretty to be the pinched face protagonist, much less playing her as a young teen. But the movie works, it’s entertaining and thought provoking, what more could you ask? download (5)

The Post came out in December and I saw it with a group of friends that first weekend. Sitting with a crowd at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland, CA, watching a movie about what the press can do to an out-of-control-president is heartening enough to make it worth the price of the ticket. That the movie had an outstanding cast and an important message was even better.  MV5BYmQ1MGM4ZjAtODlkOC00MThmLTg5MWYtMGVlNjgxYmQwYmNlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNzQ4MDUzNzI@._V1_UY100_CR23,0,100,100_AL_

There’s lots more to the story of Ben Bradlee’s cozy relationship with presidents and CEOs https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/the-newspaperman-the-life-and-times-of-ben-bradlee and to Katharine Graham’s ultimate betrayal of many of the workers who made her paper great that was barely hinted at by the film, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/wash-post-busted-pressmens-union-in-1975-strike-why_us_599eed71e4b0cb7715bfd3b2.

The only real fault I had with the set-up was Spielberg himself. Sometimes he just had to tell us how to feel by pumping up the John Williams score when silence would have sufficed. And what was that bit with the bewigged hippie spouting Mario Savio’s words in  DC at a 1970 demo, “There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop!”

Sorry, that was a different time and place, 1964, Sproul Hall, Berkeley at the height of the Free Speech Movement. For many in the media these days, the movement of the 60’s and 70’s from the Civil Rights era and the anti-HUAC struggles to Anti-Vietnam War movement and the Counterculture was one decade long period of foment but it was more complicated than that and those complications have consequences that still mean something today.

And now to the great Shape of Water divide. It leads the race with 13 Oscar nominations. I nominate it for silliest-and-darkest-version-of a-Fred Astaire-minus-Ginger-musical-fairy-tale, replete with stereotypes you haven’t seen since Stepin Fetchit, slack jawed dramatics, wince-inducing-preciousness-over-the-top–hit-you-on-the-head message movie of the year.

For instance, while Sally Hawkins was able to fill her bathroom with water almost to the ceiling by stuffing towels under the door (for you know, a romantic midnight swim) in her dreary apartment lit only by nostalgic movie theater marquees all the while with the same dumbimages (2)founded expression on her kisser, Octavia Spencer’s sidekick existed as a stereotype of a Black woman who chatters endlessly about her no-good husband and Michael Shannon reprises his trademark role as the vicious Trumpian villain. Ah well, gotta love the nostalgia and simplistic symbolism.

The headache inducing winner of the eye-roll contest was the Last of the Jedi, here’s hoping it’s the last of the Star Wars resurrections. Let’s remember the originals with fondness like you do old friends before they revealed they liked The Shape of Whatever That Was.

Here’s to not nominating any more beautiful films like Call Me By Your Name except of course for the cinematography, each frame a picture to behold, that is until you begin to worry this movie might never end and you have to use the restroom sometime. It was sort of s backlash to last year’s winner, no, not LaLa Land but Moonlight, that beautiful coming-of-age film set in Florida about a young man who had nothing and was loved download (4)by almost no one but which was able to maintain that quality of wonder that Call Me sought to depict.

Even as a middle class, reasonably well-traveled white woman, I could identify with very little about this wealthy, multi-lingual family vacationing at their summer villa in Italy while their young son develops a hot romance with a beautiful older man. I got the scenes of sweltering summer sexuality-when the search for romance and sex were all that counted. I just couldn’t relate to long scenes of cigarettes being inhaled while gently ordering the housekeeper to prepare dinner a little earlier this evening, thank you. a422c8840d719bae599ef170f27a6c4dd6491b1091fc20e9ae7c7e22b093ff99-195x195.jpg

Since filmmakers so often replay the same stories, why not suggest some that haven’t been told. Here’s one of mine: The Warmth of Other Suns, the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, tells three in depth and true tales out of the millions of Black people who found their way north and west during the period between the two World Wars and beyond. The stories are as heartbreaking as they are inspiring and  worth telling. Just one would make an epic film about the struggle for the American Dream. It would be hard not to make it entertaining and thought provoking and what else could a movie goer want?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Force” & the Oakland Police Accountability Coalition: A Story Untold

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Many members of the Oakland Police Accountability Coalition, some of whom have worked on police reform for decades, have struggled to reconcile the portrayal of the Oakland community, its police department and the fight for police reform which ultimately led to the passage of Measure LL–an independent police commission-with the power to impose discipline and passed by 83% of the voters last fall with the film, the Force. The final product was more significant for what it left out than what it described.

First off, the filmmakers were embedded with the department and that shows in its point-of-view. And even within that access the emphasis was very narrow, following one officer whose community engagement was shallow, to say the least. The film itself came off like an episode of Cops when it came to its portrayal of the Black community, showing only the most dysfunctional interactions with individuals who were experiencing life threatening stress.

The thesis as told by The Force is an old cliche, a cop’s life is tough-he has to deal with difficult even dangerous people. That may be a part of the story but it’s not the whole story, certainly not the one that has yet to be told.

For instance the film took pains to explain away a rash of police killings, showing video from police cameras that purported to hold them blameless. But there was no mention of the shooting death of an unconscious man on the Lakeshore Avenue off ramp that same summer at the hands of a rookie officer. A huge peaceful vigil was held near where he died yet somehow a year later the DA found the killing “justifiable.” The police had video which former Chief Sean Whent IMG_20150612_212616promised to share with the community but never did.  Thirteen months later the city paid out a $1.2 million wrongful death suit on behalf of the dead man’s family. Once again, there was  no mention of this incident or its aftermath in the film which perhaps did not fit the already established narrative.

Peter Nicks and his crew probably thought their film was almost in the can when the news on OPD and its trajectory toward reform blew up. At that point the filmmakers had an opportunity to fully explore what had gone so wrong that a department under a Negotiated Settlement Agreement, that is court oversight of its reform measures for over a decade, could have jumped the tracks once again and found itself in the middle of a national scandal; but it was an opportunity lost. It appeared that Nicks and his crew had run out of steam and then decided to run out the clock just as wave after wave of ugly revelation hit Oakland and the Bay Area police community.

Since then many officers who were involved in the cover-up of this OPD-underage pimping/youth-sex-trafficking scandal have been promoted to OPD command and at the same time the initial charge that led to the NSA so many years ago, that of racial profiling continues to require the court’s oversight.

While all this was going on, the Oakland community, never willing to accept the dangerous status quo, continued to organize against police aggression. There is a story to be told here that would rival any drama now in theaters but alas it remains almost completely untold. The absence of even a mention of People United for a Better Oakland, PUEBLO, the organization that doggedly worked on police accountability for decades  is  particularly galling.

There are some illuminating scenes of powerful Black Lives Matter demonstrations and discussions of tactics and goals at Anti Police Terror Project meetings, one of the groups working toward ending police brutality, but there is not one scene of any of the 30 community organizations which wrote and passed the Police Commission initiative, Measure LL. One member of APTP is seen suggesting a police commission as a path to change but ultimately, that group decided against supporting the measure as “reformist.”

18839239_307755119662088_2859169411652791691_nFor all that, many members of the Anti Police Terror Project continue to apply pressure in the streets and at city council meetings for reduced police budgets and the abolition of policing as we know it. There is no doubt that their efforts have made a difference and some of us continue to show up for those calls. We see no contradiction in taking to the streets while lobbying at the ballot box, because we believe that the broadest strategy continues to be necessary in this struggle.

But to have altogether left out the band of dedicated community representatives who pulled off a huge electoral victory with almost no cash and no paid consultants in favor of hours of rookie cops riding around in police cars, is to downplay, at best, the story of the creativity, tenacity and community dedication that are at the heart of transforming police community relations. We continue to wait for that history to be told but please don’t expect to find it in Peter Nicks the Force.  14523289_1794031850880854_5149506198094883856_n

Further references: https://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/the-force-is-a-methodological-failure/Content?oid=9073235

https://hyphenatedrepublic.wordpress.com/2017/09/16/policing-history-peter-nicks-ahistorical-the-force-erases-context-and-facts-about-opd/

https://www.eastbayexpress.com/oakland/oakland-police-chief-doubles-down-on-promoting-the-cops-who-covered-up-the-celeste-guap-case/Content?oid=7922863

Must See Movies of 2015

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I just came back from seeing the best or most important movie of the year, maybe the decade, The Big Short, go see it now. To borrow a line from the overrated flick, Network, when you walk out of the theatre, “You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!'”

If you want to know why so many people support Bernie Sanders and even Donald Trump, this movie helps explain where the anger and discontent, the distrust of all our institutions, comes from. It pulls back the top layers of our corruption, our avarice, our indifference to each other’s pain and our naivete.

Yes, Americans, we who inspired and trained ISIS through our wars in the Middle East, who developed the CDOs, Collateralized Debt Obligations, which destroyed the economies of whole communities, heck whole countries; and us, the folks who pay for and support  police murder while we eschew politics-we still pretend that we are exceptional, that we are  models to the world.

So, go see the Big Short. It is your obligation as a citizen of a country with this kind of power-to face up to what is really going on. If you want to “make American great again” that means you have to fight to bring back opportunity and some hope for equal justice under the law-to be that Tom Hanks character in The Bridge of Spies, an entertaining and true story which can remind us of our best selves.

I am a former history teacher. I taught American History to 8th graders, then Government to young adults. During the economic meltdown, I taught Economics for the first time including Credit Default Swaps and subprime mortgages. I learned along with my students as together we watched our economy rupture-parents lost their jobs and families lost their homes.

BTW, that institution, Adult Education, which had survived the Great Depression and world wars, did not survive the subprime meltdown so I no longer teach nor learn these things  along with my students. Our Republican Governor from Austria with help from the Democrats ended the funding for an institution which provided second chances to those who needed them the most.

Let me add the other best, most influential movie of the year, Straight Outta Compton. It’s a powerful film which is so relevant, it’s almost supernatural, coming out in the year of #Blacklivesmatter. The scene where NWA performs Fuck Tha Police at a huge concert in Detroit is the most powerful scene in a film I’ve seen this year. You gotta go see it. This is a film which demonstrates the best and the worst of the so-called American Dream.

It was a truly interesting year at the movies (I was tempted to write “in film” but that sounds pretentious, they’re just movies.)  I saw Trumbo and Spotlight, the Black Panthers:Vanguard of the Revolution, and Brooklyn and loved them all.

I found Amy affecting and Trainwreck had some very perceptive moments. Love & Mercy was weird but there wasn’t enough of the Beach Boys and too much of the crazy to make anybody want to live through Brian Wilson’s life if they didn’t have to.

On the flip side, I thought Ex Machina and the Clouds of Sils Maria were a waste of screen time. Star Wars:the Force Awakens ranged from cute and funny to boring and silly. Some of it parodied itself on purpose and some of it was clearly meant in earnest which rendered it all the flimsier a franchise. Adam Driver’s character as the bad son or the evil Jedi twin was more the lost hipster looking for that perfect flat by the Lake or Williamsburg, if you will. “What no hardwood floors-I will destroy the world!”

The movies I saw this year reminded me that we have been through dangerous times before; and if this year has taught us anything, we must acknowledge that we are entering them again. Spoiler Alert-I don’t actually know the ending of this tale. I can’t predict if we are heading towards facism or a period of righteous struggle. The only thing I know for sure is that we all have a part to play.

Artifical Intelligence and Film Critics or How to Imagine Better Movies

2015-05-04 11.04.28 From my review of Ex Machina on Rotten Tomatoes-

One reviewer suggests that when the lights come up, you might find yourself thinking about the true meaning of intelligence, yeah, but only as to whether all film criticism is the real answer to whether AI exists, that is, how to find meaning where none exists and no real character development has taken place, leaving the reviewer to conjure it artificially for the sake of his critique.

This movie had little plot, the twists were telegraphed-spoiler alert-you knew that young Caleb would not leave the lonely mountain range alive from the moment the helicopter landed there-and the music told you the rest. Thank god, because all the other stuff these reviewers imagined developed between these characters, the over achieving egoist, his pale techy antagonist and the cool and calculating female character, just didn’t happen.

The script leaped from one vague interaction to another with no connecting tissue, just some reviewer’s desire to find some kind of (well) hidden meaning in this otherwise useless exercise, ultimately,  in the difficulty of designing the perfect woman who can be controlled absolutely. Fortunately, the filmmaker failed there too.

Desperate for some escapism last week, I had seen the Age of Adaline which was mostly forgettable. There were a couple of things to draw the attention and displeasure of any viewer with a passing acquaintance of San Francisco in the way that they flubbed many of the identifying scenes-like the address on 18th Street which resembles no corner or view of that street in the Mission/Castro and the lions at the main library, a scene most probably filmed in Manhattan.

But, if you went just for the popcorn, you might have enjoyed a couple of moments watching the aging but still romantic countenance of Harrison Ford at his most vulnerable since Regarding Henry, an emotionally manipulative movie which I can’t help watching whenever it reappears on television.

Here’s hoping for a better movie-watching experience next week!

Mini Movie Critique, the 3 Hearts, with a side of the Last (Exotic) Marigold Hotel

Ah, French movies, so opposite of American jumpcut, blow’em up sagas. Actually, I rarely go to those but I do know that in an American family drama, in the scenes where the character has something difficult, tedious, or just confusing to accomplish, the director will relieve your angst, by jumping to the following scene where all that is done and we’ve moved on; whereas, the typical European flick will drag you through every tedious moment.

In this film, we have scene after scene in which the Jaws-like score makes you think something momentous is about to happen and then…it doesn’t. Ok, basic plot. Boy, albeit, wimpy, pudgy faced boy, meets boylike girl in a scene full of silly but sensitive dialogue and they bond….somehow. They make the predictable date that Pudgy Boy misses due to an anxiety attack, not as most reviewers wrote, a heart attack, and off Boylike Girl goes to the states full of sad-eyed regret to join her husband in the states.

So as strange things will happen, Pudgy-faced Boy (actually, a petty bureaucrat in an ill-fitting shirt) meets Boylike Girl’s crybaby sister and beds her. We get to repeatedly see his pasty-skinned back on top of Miss CryBaby. It invoked that feeling in me that people get when realizing their parents probably had sex with each other (and don’t tell me you never fantasized that you were adopted.)

Over the course of the next few hours, or at least it seemed that long, the Pudgy-faced Bureaucrat finally realizes that he is marrying Boylike Girl’s sister. Having not seen much evidence of their budding romance, you’re not sure why he can’t just tell Miss CryBaby and have a laugh about it since they now have a charming little boy with the square jaw and large eyes of Boylike Girl in a gender switching play on the old-whose-baby-did-she-have bit.

Finally, Miss Boylike Girl shows up and passion ensues, actually smoking ensues, and much of this romantic fantasy seems to revolve around it-a ubiquitous lighter becomes symbolic of all that was lost during the missed assignation. The director, who is said to long after the days of Douglas Serk films, full of primary colors and pointy bras, takes a lighter caressing scene to a new absurdity of underediting. And while we’re talking pointy bras, what’s with Boylike Girl and that sad little black bra that she wears under the same see-through linen shirt over the years (shades of Carrie Bradshaw’s bra etiquette?)

The new lovers at one point take off in a plane with the narrator-what, yeah, just plonks a narrator in there every once in a while-says they took off far and fast and then they came back, with a scene of a jet taking off and then a jet landing. I laughed and I still believe it was meant as a joke but no one else in the theater did so after the next heart-rendingly pathetic scene, I split.

My friend had already left because the Jaws score, deedeedeedee, made him too tense. But bottom line, I suspect it was the unlikability of the characters that made the ending so unimportant for both of us. Well, maybe unlikability is too strong, annoying might be better. All the protagonists were annoying and the biggest star, Deneuve, was underutilized, mostly eating, smoking and clearing the dishes. In the end, the little dog who hangs around Deneuve’s kitchen and the child were the only sympathetic characters in this lugubrious “country town,” as the sisters both named it.

One of the reasons I went to see this movie was that I was interested in the actors so it wasn’t a complete waste. Outside of the pudgy-faced bureaucrat, there was the senior Deneuve, thick of body like the rest of us, but with the same beautiful face (and hair style) in a flick with her and Marcello Mastroianni’s real life daughter, Chiara Mastroianni, along with actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, who also has a theater family pedigree. These folks are very watchable even in this limited-range story, more’s the pity.

I loved the first Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I enjoyed all the actors, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton, and Dev Patel so even though I knew the sequel might be less surprising and more formulaic, since Richard Gere had signed on and Dame Judi would be there with young Patel whom I had come to love on HBO’s Newsroom, I had to see it.

Well, the story is the usual, we’re putting on a show/building-another-hotel kinda theme. Poor Dev has to continue to put on his labored accent which, of course, we didn’t hear in Newsroom (he was born in London.) He has to continue to present as naive and childlike, where’ve we seen that kind of writing before?

The story line forces Mr. Patel into a phony mean-spiritedness where he must kiss up to the wrong person while pushing away his lovely bride in order to make his dream come true so that we soon cease to care about his goals and him. Poor Judi’s romance diddles along always on the verge of dying out like a lawn mower whose motor just won’t catch, and, of course, Richard, finally finds love. And, oh well, I think I aged during the movie cause I’d rather take a nap than see another one of these.

2013 Films in Review, an Oakland Experience, Part II

Please read Part 1 first!
Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela
Time and Hollywood marched on. In August I saw Blue Jasmine which I came to loathe while swearing once again that I would give up on Woody Allen; and then I saw Lake Bell’s In a World… which reminded me of what Woody once meant to me. See my blog, In a World Where Woody Still Made Good Movies. I won’t waste anymore time on that super silly flick-or Blanchett’s portrayal which I didn’t believe, but do catch In a World if you still can. Lake Bell is worth keeping an eye on.

Another interesting film came out in August, the Butler, or, as it came to be known, Lee Daniels’ The Butler. While watching this film, I was quite entertained and caught up in the period. It made me see those turbulent changes through a parent’s eyes, even though I was involved in much of it myself as a youth. Either this is a tribute to the film or my own age, not sure which.

I do know that given the choice to watch the series Eyes on the Prize again or this film, I would choose the series. I tend to prefer good docs, that take their time, to overstuffed fictional accounts. However, watching Winfrey exercise her chops might be worth the seat time again.

Another little thing happened in August which we should not forget. We, by that I mean, progressives, conservatives, and decline-to-identifys, stopped our country from going to war in Syria. We just said no, too many of us to ignore and the prez decided to lay the decision on Congress after he heard us. They decided not to do anything other than try to repeal Obamacare once again. Don’t for a moment think that we’re not as embroiled in Syria as we are in the rest of the Middle East but at least it’s not all out war.

I was reasonably entertained by Enough Said in September where Elaine awkwardly wooed, as only Seinfeld’s Elaine could do, Tony Soprano, or the mild-mannered guy who once played him, the recently deceased, James Gandolfini. It was enough for me to see this duo, another odd couple, goofing around for a couple of hours to give up some ducketts for my senior ticket.

October-Blockbuster-for-adults month! There was Gravity, Captain Phillips, Twelve Years a Slave, and Blue is the Warmest Color. I gotta admit here, I’ve still been too chicken to the see Slave, not sure I need to see that cruelty yet again to believe it-just seeing a child ripped from its mother is more than I, a mom with an overload of separation anxiety, can bare.

Gravity appears in my mind as alienating as I remember 1968’s 2001, A Space Odyssey being. With the fear of the Void I have, I can hardly drive past open fields without developing a longing for religion or beginning to worry that the neutron bomb (anybody remember that?) has dropped.

So there was Captain Phillips, which was a reasonable thriller. What I liked was that the Somali captain was depicted with as much humanity as the Tom Hanks character and some background information was thrown in to explain the pirates’ motivations. I do intend to see Blue is the Warmest Color as I enjoy love stories, especially sexy ones.

November’s best movie, interesting, entertaining, well acted, even enlightening was The Dallas Buyers’ Club. It’s hard to admit that an actor I saw as a lightweight, rom-com lead has turned into a real actor while literally losing the beefcake and becoming a light weight for that job.

I was at Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom on Christmas day and was inspired but like some of our local California cuisine, it didn’t stay with me. Though I loved watching Idris Elba and the cinematography was amazing, I longed to know more about Winnie, who she really is and how she became that. It seems she had a much tougher row to hoe than her husband. I ran across a Jennifer Hudson flick or a Lifetime movie version of Winnie’s life that was also made this year, but I would love to see Naomie Harris reprise the role from the Elba movie into a full length film.

During the holidays, I also took in American Hustle. I can’t tell you how much I related to that music, that period, that nightclub scene, uh oh, that’s TMI-it was a very entertaining if not a great movie. Most importantly it closed out the year with a film written around the female leads-the sexy, ditzy, crazy female characters played by Amy Adams and Jennifer Lawrence at their best (is their any other kind with those two?) and no Carey Mulligan types littering up the set.

I mostly left out documentaries because I usually catch them later on PBS or Netflix. So don’t get me wrong, documentaries are some of my favorite watching. And, even though I haven’t mentioned the Oscars or the Golden Globes, which would mean I could throw in some TV watching. But let’s do-please add Scandal, Parenthood, and the lamented end of Treme, my favorite series of this year and last to the lists of must see stuff.

What else will I remember from this year besides the Sequester, except for business-class people trying to catch their planes, the incipient drought to end all droughts (we hope), the cravenness of Republicans and some Dems to strip poor people of basic necessities, not to mention the cravennesss of our BART board and the almost funny incompetence of BART managers?

Well, I’ll remember the minimum wage fights, the groundbreaking at our port/the former army base after decades of waiting, and the courage of low wage workers everywhere fighting for their right to human dignity. Can’t wait to see the movies, documentaries, musicals, comedies, and love stories to come out of that fight in the years to come.