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Wonder Woman (2017)
Warrior Woman meets Man and loses her Innocence
25 years ago I created a 'Wonder Women Wall" for The Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC made up of an installation of pastels/cutouts on canvas drawings of powerful women - women whose courage and toughness is discernible in the pursuit of their dreams; women who negotiate the daily struggles of life's conflagrations; women who are mothers, sisters and daughters who endure the everyday grind of work, and fight for what they believe in with tenderness and tenacity. They are all flesh and blood, vulnerable Wonder Women who prevail; not immortal, but dealing with their mortality without the aid of super-human powers, lacking a sword and shield, steel wrist band bracelets, and breast plates. They are the breathing, conscious descendants of the mythic phenomenal Wonder Woman - the D.C. comics Amazon warrior who has the physical prowess of the greatest male warriors - a woman who captured my imagination as a young girl, when I was fighting to be seen and treated as the equal of the boys around me.
From the DC Comic database - some history on the origins of Diana Prince/Wonder Woman:
Diana is the daughter of Queen Hippolyta, the first child born on Paradise Island in the three thousand year history that the immortal Amazons lived there. The Amazons had been created around 1200 B.C. when the Greek goddesses drew forth the souls of all women who had been murdered by men and placed them on the island. One soul was held back from creation, the one that would be born as Diana. That soul originally belonged to the unborn daughter of the first woman murdered by a man (whom Hippolyta was the reincarnation of). In the late 20th Century, Hippolyta was instructed to mold some clay from the shores of Paradise Island into the form of a baby girl. Six members of the Greek Pantheon then bonded the soul to the clay, giving it life. Each of the six also granted Diana a gift: Demeter, great strength; Athena, wisdom and courage; Artemis, a hunter's heart and a communion with animals; Aphrodite, beauty and a loving heart; Hestia, sisterhood with fire; Hermes, speed and the power of flight. Diana grew up surrounded by a legion of sisters and mothers. When she was a young woman, the gods decreed that the Amazons must send an emissary into Man's World Before embarking on her mission, Diana was given the Lasso of Truth, forged by Hephaestus himself. She was also given the Sandals of Hermes, which allowed her to instantly traverse great distances in seconds. Diana's mission was one of peace, but part of it initially involved defeating a mad plot by Ares to destroy the world. http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Wonder_Woman_(Diana_Prince)
Patty Jenkins the director of WONDER WOMAN charmingly recreates the idyllic Paradise Island - a peaceful enclave,where for many years the Amazons have been preparing and honing their battle skills for the return of Ares, the God of War - and the inevitable final clash between Good and Evil. We first view Diana - the future Wonder Woman - as a young mischievously headstrong child practicing in pantomime, echoing the slashing movements of swordplay, already fully confident of her own destiny.
Once Diana has grown into the beautiful, shapely Wonder Woman (played by Gal Gadot, a former model whose acting skills regrettably do not provide the "gravitas" or range of emotions that would have elevated her role from being a 2-D cartoon character,) the commercial Hollywood block-buster entertainment industry takes over the movie. They do so by placing Diana in the midst of The Great War (W.W. I) complete with flaming infernos, British spies and German villains experimenting with chemical substances to be unleashed upon the civilian populations. And just to brighten the mood, lame sex jokes playing on Diana's naiveté are regularly interspersed throughout the dialogue, revealing an innocence derived from being sheltered on a remote Island safeguarded from life's realities.
Meeting her first man, Steve Trevor, an American pilot (a baby-faced blue-eyed Chris Pine played cute) - tumbling out of the sky with his plane diving through the barrier mist that enshrouds this secret enclave from interlopers (a Freudian interpretation might be relevant,) he crashes into the surrounding waters, and is saved by Diana from drowning. This archetype of a "strange species" called "man," both fascinates and confuses our heroine; nonetheless she is quickly captivated by this handsome soldier and accompanies him outside of her insulated universe in order to fulfill her destiny and bring "good" back into the Ares-corrupted world. Having bitten from the apple in the Garden of Eden, she becomes acutely aware of the destructive malevolence of a landscape outside her own.
The final scene in the movie is a spectacular light show of hell erupting with super-woman vaulting from one combat zone to another silhouetted against the glaring heat of combustion, as she saves humankind from the evils of darkness. We women can relate to that and applaud along with the audience in support of Wonder Woman's fight - though the special effects which attend the cataclysm resemble an amalgam of horror creatures and a wet, melting super monster. Diana's last words made me audibly groan and giggle: "Only love can save the world." What??? WONDER WOMAN's final message trivialized a film which had a lot of potential beyond redemption. Please Diana Prince go back to your Paradise and live among those other terrific Amazons - perhaps then you might regain my respect.
The Keepers (2017)
Indictment of Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore Md.
The seven-part Netflix documentary series THE KEEPERS is a scathing indictment of the Baltimore Maryland Archdiocese and its cover-up of abuse by priests in collusion with other locals, leading to the murder of a 27 year old nun, Cathy Cesnik, a popular English and Drama teacher at Archbishop Keough High School in 1969. Forty-seven years later, the murder still haunts some of her students, particularly Abbie Schaub and Gemma Hoskins - two women whose fierce devotion to their former teacher transforms them into "senior Nancy Drews" who have spent the intervening time trying to make sense of what happened, long after the brutal extermination of Cesnik became an official "cold case". Their loyalty and unflinching determination to discover the "truth" was and is an on-the-job learning curve; their use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other investigative methods, including old- fashioned footwork and interviews, begins to unearth an impenetrable darkness that enshrouds the case with widening implications. Buried execrable secrets eventually thrust themselves into the light making us gasp at the physical and mental sufferings of these young people - an agony that time never can expunge along with confusion and guilt - accessory weights that profoundly settle over our spirit.
We discover early on that the police and assisting governmental officials ignored salient facts during their investigation - reports are missing, records are transferred and now gone - all indications of the dominant influence of the Catholic Church in Baltimore on many of the institutions of power. Our "detectives" uncover a pattern of horrific child abuse by Cesnik's colleague, Priest Joseph Maskell who would target the most vulnerable students; young girls who had a history of family trauma, and call them into his office for "counseling." The beauty of innocence is also its bane; to navigate through corruption requires an armor that the tender skin of youth has not yet developed - those who scald that fragile shield are craven reprobates.
Director Ryan White intersperses the past and present - through newspaper headlines, interviews with people whose lives touched on Sister Cathy and those who were victimized in Archbishop Keough High School, and eventually feel compelled to speak up - still believing that their oppressor, the Catholic Church would be their savior - not their foe in the daunting fight for truth and justice. We witness the long-arm of the Archdiocese which utilizes its power to quash dissent, quietly protecting the offending clergy by transferring them from school to school compounding the abuse. A hushed pall of silence - a cloud large enough to hover over medical personal, the police, and governmental agencies sanctioned a fog of evil to multiply and continue to destroy lives.
THE KEEPERS speaks with great sensitivity and directness to the wounds of molestation that never heal, and to the courage of those who are the true heroes - exposing their personal agonizing history to the vicious cross-examination of those in authority - in order to protect future generations from the enduring effect that the despoilment and loss of childhood naiveté has on an individual. We also observe a crime story and the pursuit of "truth" - over decades - an inquiry that becomes an avocation - a razor sharp spotlight on what might seem like a minutiae of evidence that with time and patience piles up into a penetrating narrative, with the potential to bring down an Empire. These are "the keepers."
Rise and Fall of a "macher"
Watching the esteemed Israeli director Joseph Cedar's new film NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER, I kept thinking that the wardrobe expenses for the main character was quite a bargain, as Richard Gere wears the same camel-hair coat and grey cap throughout the movie with a very occasional change into a suit. The character Norman is the Bernie Madoff of the political and social set - building exotic schemes and dreams upon the sludge of greed and desire, but as his clothing indicates in a spare and pared down manner.
Norman is a cipher - we have no idea where he lives; his personal life is a mystery; whether he gets any financial remuneration out of his zany deals; or whether he gets satisfaction in just being accepted by men-in-power that are as secretive and cagey as he is. This is the tragic tale of a man who has come to believe in his own lies, a man passionate about making connections - hooking up people with one another - a "shadchan", the Yiddish word for matchmaker, but for the marriage of political and business elites. This sycophantic "nebbish" is both sympathetic and pathetic. Norman need not fear "invisibility," since he is vociferously insensitive to his own behavior, annoyingly pestering and nudging his "marks," like a mosquito that keeps on biting and never feels being squatted away - a gambler, rolling the dice for a jackpot without any money to cover his bets.
Richard Gere, in a defining career move, sheds the glamor of previous roles, to play Norman, a person intensely driven to pushing and cajoling his way into the lives of the power brokers; surprisingly when he does gain some notoriety, his approach to life remains unchanged. Norman continues to wear the identical outfit; his office still consists of wandering the streets of Manhattan making promises on the phone; a loner who remains an enigma who cannot control his need to "help" despite being helpless.
This film is a character study of an older man who unintentionally has an enormous impact on people in his immediate circle, and internationally - particularly Israel's peace talks in the Middle East. The bare bones of the plot focuses on an early decisive encounter between Norman and an Israeli Deputy Minister, who 3 years later becomes the Prime Minister of Israel. The impact of their initial meeting reverberates throughout the film.
There is an innocence and an affability to the soft-spoken Norman; oftentimes he looks confused and fails to understand that his schemes can lead to dire consequences. Small moments in the film are incredibly moving; Norman sneaking into a synagogue's back room to dip into a jar of Vita herring which he deftly balances on crackers, underscoring the bleakness and isolation of his life in the very space where he goes to for sanctuary and comfort. Steve Buscemi is excellent portraying the Rabbi of this large Congregation, surprising even himself by reaching out in desperation to Norman, the "fixer" to help save the Synagogue's building from being wrested away due to lack of funds.
NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER, is a fascinating study of someone with a bad case of logorrhea, who clearly has no influence or prestige, with a reputation built on quicksand - who shockingly does affect events and temporarily succeeds. Sound familiar without the empathy?
In director Paul Verhoeven's new film, men are brutes. The men in ELLE, a psycho/sexual/sadistic thriller, are cheaters, liars, wife-beaters, and "gamers' who produce video games that are an extension of their puerile fantasies - bloody and savage. The movie begins with a close-up of a cat's vertical eyes - narrowed and expressionless observing a violent rape scene; we hear the pounding and stifled screams of struggle, but do not witness the scene until later when the victim relives it over and over. We eventually meet the rapist, costumed in anonymity who can only reach ejaculation's pinnacle of pleasure through rough, furious acts of inflicting pain as his launching platform for intense sexual rapture.
Isabelle Huppert plays Michelle - a stylishly successful business woman who with her good friend runs a company which produces wildly graphic, titillating videos - where women are attacked by creatures who invade every orifice of their body with monstrous tentacles, etc - the more horrific the better. Safe from the fantasies that she peddles, Michelle has now become a victim of an uncontrollable psychotic - and like her cat, she does not reveal any emotion, nor does she report the event, preferring to plot revenge in her own distinctive way as she attempts to search out her attacker.
The film slowly reveals the psychological underpinnings of Isabelle - her relationship with a father who was imprisoned when she was a young child for heinous crimes, her mother whose desperate relationships with very young men, in an attempt to maintain her youth, is broadcast on her taut stretched face - the scars of surgery. And Michelle's handsome adult son, who has not yet found his way and is about to become a father, though still being supported by Michelle.
Sexual tension, desire and intimacy permeate this film. Isabelle Huppert is cool, amoral and calculating, seduced by the power of a sadomasochistic urgency into a dangerous situation which is audaciously grotesque. Walking a tightrope over lies and deceit creates collisions that pull and strain one's conception of self.
When I left the theater, I kept wondering if I just saw a horror-porn movie or a titillating morality tale? Is Isabelle a victim or a participant? Ethical ambiguity permeates ELLE - and Isabelle Huppert is at the center of every scene - the ELLE of the movie - dominating every moment; a beautiful woman who is an enigma, rarely giving any indication of her thoughts or feelings, as we witness her shell slowly cracking.
Moonlight - Journey Into Adulthood
MOONLIGHT, directed by Barry Jenkins is an exquisitely written and delicately acted tale of how a young African-American boy navigates through the covertness of childhood isolation, into the reticence of adulthood. Three actors portray Chiron at different stages of existence - all maintain the silent presence of a person with a deep secret viewing a world of abuse and neglect with the curiosity of innocence. The young Chiron/aka "Little" (wonderfully acted by Alex R. Hibbert) realizes at an early age, that he should keep the pain and turbulence that is cloaked behind his dark-intelligent eyes hidden - it is best to stay silent and remain an enigma to others. Desire is tucked away from the periscope of one's peers, under a translucent sheet of manhood, thereby avoiding some of the emotional lacerations that kids inflict on one another, particularly if you are "different" and happen to be gay, and poor, living in Miami with a drug addicted single mother.
Life changes when "Little", chased by a group of stone-throwing boys, finds refuge in an empty shack , breathless, curling up on the floor, bony arms flung around his thin body for protection. Juan (the wonderful performer Mahershala Ali), who happens to be the local drug dealer, enters the room and sees this young boy silhouetted against the wall, a small warrior standing erect refusing to utter a word, and an unspoken bond is forged - a connection based on Juan's memories of his own childhood. "Little", unwilling to talk, but willing to accompany this tall, powerfully built potential "father figure" to Juan's house for a home-cooked meal by Teresa ( Janelle Monae), the woman he lives with. Teresa instinctually recognizes a "wounded" child, and provides "Little" with a patina of kindness and warmth momentarily allaying the scars incurred by years of bullying and abuse.
MOONLIGHT gives us some lovely moments between Juan and his pre-teen protégé - particularly one involved with learning to swim and the oft-used metaphor of the power of water to cleanse; but this scene is so beautifully filmed that it erases any notion of banality.
In the next chapter, we meet the adolescent Chiron (Ashton Sanders) and witness the anguish of being a loner. Bullies take advantage of those they sense can be tormented and the High School years can be agonizing to a sensitive, fragile young man moving into adulthood. Innocence is slowly eroded; the protective veneer of armor and detachment are easily pierced, yet a sense of wonder remains. Chiron experiences moments of joy particularly in the company of a childhood friend, Kevin (Jaden Piner,) who is practiced in the art of subterfuge and easily glides through his fellow teenagers' posturing mentality - appearing to be part of a group, but in reality attracted to Chiron's desolate stillness. Their relationship is restrained, but undercurrents of sexual yearning - the physicality of touch - a tender finger grazing a hand - can transform years of misery and sorrow into the confusion of love.
The last chapter occurs 10 years later when a powerfully built Chiron (alluringly portrayed by Trevante Rhodes,) returns home to Miami - his wordlessness remains, but the years have altered his appearance, and for a moment we believe we are seeing Juan again - the man who helped shepherd "Little" through the turmoil of childhood. Chiron having maneuvered through sphere's of hate and humiliation, is eventually able to reconcile with those who have previously cracked his world; a mother who could not see beyond her own aching needs, and his former confidant Kevin ( Andre Holland, depicting the sensuous, and elegant, adult Kevin.) A guileless candor belies Chiron's rugged presence; the passage of time is complex, paving over the self-inflicted wounds of longing, but also re-igniting the desire to embrace the future.
Café Society (2016)
Boy Meets Girl/Glamour/Hollywood/NYC comedy????
Woody Allen's latest film CAFE SOCIETY is another lightweight effort by the Director, who feels that he has to put out a new second-rate movie every year. I am sick of Allen's Jewish jokes; his quips walk a tightrope, often falling into the net of anti-semitism. Jesse Eisenberg might be a smart guy in "real life," but he made a bad decision to be involved with CAFE SOCIETY. The character he plays is whiningly predictable, and Eisenberg is unable to give heft to an undeveloped role.
The often terrific actress - Kristen Stewart whose gorgeous expressive eyes can usually make me a captive audience, tried her best, but could not pull this one out of the pool of mediocrity.
No one is given a chance to act because the screenplay is so love-at-first sight/older man falls for younger woman/infatuation with tawdry glamorous trappings - clichés that the characters who are paper thin can be upended by a whisper.
And I only giggled once!
Boardwalk Empire (2010)
Prohibition Era Consequences
I regret to say I have finally finished watching "epic" television in the five seasons (56 hours) of BOARDWALK EMPIRE. The scope of history - from the adoption of the 18th Amendment's prohibiting the making, transporting, and selling of alcoholic beverages passed in 1919 through its repeal in 1933, and how it generated an industry run by criminals - names of gangster's that are still familiar to us, their brutality romanticized over time in film and television; Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, Al Capone, Arnold Rothstein, etc. set against the backdrop of Atlantic City with satellite locations in NYC, Chicago and Miami.
The history of race relations, women's rights, workers rights, corrupt public servants and rigged elections are woven through the plot as broken, disillusioned soldiers return home from fighting in WW I; Presidential elections come and go as the nation slides into dissolution and the chaos of financial ruin. Names that are familiar to us such as J. Edgar Hoover, Eddie Cantor, Joe Kennedy (father of Jack) are characterized but not caricatured by a wonderful cast. When one great actor gets written out of the series, and I feel a deep disappointment, another one appears and gives an equally compelling performance.
Ambition, greed, sex, love and marriage - the range of uniquely varied personal interactions propels the plot into new directions as we witness the ebb and flow of time on a character's persona.There is an authenticity to the sense of place - from the shacks in the "negro" part of town to the lavishly decorated mansions of the power-brokers - each set design has intricate details that help delineate an accurate, sociological study of southern NJ coastal towns.
The cinematography is often exquisitely breathtaking, such as choreographed scenes of violence in the darkened light of night; the infinite expanse of water touching the Atlantic City shoreline with bursts of gunfire spawning fireworks of sharp white flashes, a resounding thunder of sound and visual effects, and then the quiet of death, red blood slowly puddling on the ground.
BOARDWALK EMPIRE has a superb cast: doe-eyed Steve Buscemi in the role of his life portraying Nucky Thompson - the "overlord" of Atlantic City - a man who "tried to be good" but reached for more and more money to maintain the lifestyle that he envied as a child, and eventually achieves at a terrible cost; Bobby Cannavale - great as the clinically insane gangster Gyp Rosetti whose id is let loose in horrific acts of violence; Michael K. Williams is heartbreaking - hard and pragmatic in business with a poetic, "romantic" side as "Chalky White" the son of a carpenter who was lynched by the very white men he was building cabinets for - Chalky runs the black part of town and teams up with Nucky in the bootlegging business; Jeffrey Wright as Dr. Valentin Narcisse, a disciple of Marcus Garvey whose actions belie his philosophical beliefs; the always terrific Michael Shannon as a fanatically religious federal Agent who loses his way; Stephen Graham as the explosive, vicious mobster, Al Capone; Kelly Macdonald as Margaret Thompson married to Nucky whose beauty blossoms while her innocence fades away; Gretchen Mol- a tragic figure as Gillian Darmody mother and lover of her son Jimmy played by Michael Pitt - a tragic tale of a woman who had to face life alone as a child battling sexual abuse among other acts that vulnerable children with no protectors are forced to endure; and a personal favorite Jack Huston-grandson of great director John Huston who comes home from the War with half his face blown off - hidden behind a mask - a complicated person whose sharp-shooting skills are put to use by the mob, but whose goodness prevails - if anyone takes the time to "look" at him.
I encourage you to take the time to view this series - it is true to the historical figures which are intertwined into this grand tale of the Prohibition era - post WWI up to pre WWII where money and power contaminated those who were supposed to be the guardians of the populace. Relationships between family members, husbands and wives, fathers and sons, sisters and brothers are all impacted by the vicissitudes of an age that tried to stamp down profligate behavior and ironically encouraged a much deeper amorality.
Room - a film about the ineffable bond between Mother and child despite horrific circumstances
Kidnapped at fourteen and locked up in a room for seven years with a five year old child conceived through violence, director Lenny Abrahamson's film inspired by Emma Donoghue's novel of the same name - a composite of true events - is titled ROOM; a delicate and harrowing story of two people caught in a private space, where they live a life of extreme tenderness and tension. The actors are excellent, Brie Larson as Ma and Jacob Tremblay as Jack create a home/neighborhood/community/country inside a small, cluttered "room" with occasional shafts of light beaming down from a skylight that displays the stars and moving clouds - the outside "world" a dream beyond their reach.
A television sputtering on the blink allows that other "world" entry, but for young Jack, what he sees flickering on the screen is both real and "make believe" ; distinctions have been erased and are unknowable. The relationship between mother and child is stunning - the connection between them is acutely poignant, as if the umbilical cord had never been severed. Days are spent exercising, running back and forth- sharp turns are necessary after a few steps, making us aware of the claustrophobic feel of the space; and Ma's attempt to teach her son to read and maintain a somewhat "normal" existence is impressive and heart-rending. Jack's poetic and descriptive use of words to describe his circumscribed environment invokes the originality and charm of expressing and interpreting what we see and feel through language tailored to one's unique cosmos. We also witness the chilling visits of "Old Nick" her captor whose step on the stairs on his way to the "room" is a sign for little Jack to hide and feign sleep behind a shuttered closet door - the presence of "evil" glimpsed through cracks in the battered and weatherworn slats.
When Jack turns five his mother decides he is old enough to participate in an escape plan involving resilience and courage which eventually succeeds. Mother and child are hospitalized and the second half of ROOM begins. How to acclimate one's self to being separate individuals, after the powerful link between them is sundered - a tie which was both nourishing and restrictive? Accommodation to "freedom" begins, and the aching awareness of the familiar becoming unfamiliar, as well as the unfamiliar becoming familiar, are daunting and formidable.
ROOM is an exquisitely fragile story of the pliancy of the human resolve to survive and adapt to suffocating circumstances and adjust to the shock of change after flight and rescue. A child's ability to embrace the magic of his new environs - as one Dr. mentioned in examining Jack, "he is still plastic"; and an adult's more complex road to acclimatization which includes grieving the loss of a singular bond where the "other" completes you to the exclusion of everyone else.
The Hateful Eight (2015)
Hateful Eight is quintessential Tarantino - I am a big fan.
Quentin Tarantino's films are wildly original, despite his cinematic homage to great directors. I know there will be an excess of violence, blood will hemorrhage, splatter and "spritz" over everything and everyone, while the characters keep on talking literally to their dying breath. Dialogue which is both amusing and penetrating is the linchpin of his movies - refreshing in its fearlessness in talking about issues of hate, misogyny, and racism that have oozed under society's surface veneer of civility, over the centuries. Tarantino's approach is not to preach but to show through his characters their appetite for revenge, greed and the conceit of self- interest.
THE HATEFUL EIGHT opens up with panoramic shots of horses galloping in rhythm pulling a stagecoach silhouetted against vast mounds of white snow; an infinite vista emptied of form with only a white light flooding the screen. We are blinded by the beauty and the calm stillness of the landscape; short-lived - the drama begins. Words slice through the silence and language becomes a weapon; Tarantino's unique verbiage becomes a tool that wounds and spills blood setting the stage for physical slaughter.
Bounty hunting for the most ruthless, becomes the chosen profession of both former Union and Rebel fighters who are skilled in bringing "accused criminals" - those WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE back to small frontier towns to be hung. Trials are an afterthought - the reward is in the successful transport of prisoners to the "hangman." In this movie, there are at least 7 men and one woman who are itching to shoot each other down with very little pretext. All the lives of the "hateful eight" converge and ignite at Minnie's Haberdashery - a cabin with a stable and outhouse set like a punctuation mark in the center of the pristine snow-covered terrain - a warm space serving food and drinks for drivers and passengers and a shelter for the exhausted horses.
Like a lot of Tarantino's movies, his characters are mysterious - past lives and actions are questionable - truth weaves in and out of the picture; the agility of "the talk", the facility of the tongue to deceive is always hovering in the fetid air. The first person we see emerging from the all-encompassing blanket of snow is Samuel L. Jackson halting a stagecoach speeding to keep ahead of the blizzard, and confidently hitches a ride - frozen prisoners - all dead in tow. Jackson gives a terrific performance as Major Marquis Warren - a grizzled legend in the land, not only for bringing in his bounties "dead" rather than alive, but for being a pen pal and confidante of President Abraham Lincoln, a letter from Ole Abe reverently folded up in his breast pocket - the letter being a catalyst for discussion and a symbol of the former black Union soldier's stature. THE HATEFUL EIGHT bristles with post Civil War disputes - the war might have ended a few years before but a peace treaty does not allay animosities that run deep from generation to generation to this very day.
We next meet the wagon's occupant, John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) handcuffed to a swollen, blackened eye Daisy Dormergue (great performance by one of my favorite actors - Jennifer Jason Leigh) being brought into Red Rock - for the $10,000 reward. We are never told what Daisy was charged with, but the racist venom spewing out of her mouth reveals a grotesque spirit which is palpably visible on her battered face. Tarantino's over-the-top violence does not coddle women and it is difficult to watch Daisy being a punching bag and receiving the brunt of "the hangman's" brutality, but Tarantino literally does not pull any punches especially when he is dealing with a fanatical bigot. Another passenger, who is frozen by the extreme elements, is added to the group - Walter Goggins plays Chris Mannix an ex-Confederate soldier and the newly appointed sheriff of the town where the hanging will take place.
Upon arriving at the rest stop, the action begins - 4 men are already there waiting out the blizzard - with a mesmerizing performance by Bruce Dern as Confederate General Sanford Smithers - an elderly man whose claim to fame is the slaughter of a black Union Calvary Division. To round out the "hateful eight" picture we have Tim Roth (always a favorite of mine) as the actual Hangman of Red Rock complete with a phony British accent, suave and ironic (reminding me of Christoph Waltz's character in Django Unchained,) and Michael Madsen - a Tarantino ensemble regular as Joe Gage - a laconic stranger lurking in the background, quietly observing the scene. And then there is Bob (Demian Bichir ) dubbed "The Mexican" who seems to be running the joint - claiming that Minnie is out of town. For Major Marquis Warren who misses nothing - it all does not add up.
What ensues in this darkly lit claustrophobic space with occasional bursts of light from the door opening and closing by the storm's wind is mayhem. Tarantino's ability to use language is irresistibly seductive and I was never bored. Shards from words piercing the atmosphere infuse the room with a straining tension. Rapier wit together with brutish violence dominate the expansive monologues. THE HATEFUL EIGHT is interesting in that of all Tarantino's movies - this one is intentionally the most constrained by the oppressive limited space; ultimately there is only the outside and the inside.
The Big Short (2015)
Housing Crisis which almost wrecked World's economy.
I do not grasp what Hedge Fund Managers do, or what Collateralized Debt Obligations (CODs), Credit Default Swaps, Mortgage Backed Securities (MPS) and subprime mortgages are, and what it means to "short" something, but director Adam McCay's THE BIG SHORT based on Michael Lewis' book is an excellent film - both comedic and forcefully tragic with many fine actors making this a movie that is both entertaining and deceptively poignant. Surprisingly we do get to understand a lot of what was going on in the fiscal system without having to take a course in the particulars. This is accomplished through visuals - quick flashes of TV shows, cinema and pop stars, artworks, news headlines, sports figures, etc. all subliminally flashing before our eyes embedding the culture of money into our psyches. Throughout the film, there are witty respites whereby the camera exits the narrative, and various actors in wildly strange settings explain Wall Street jargon with idiosyncratic humor to make the "wheeling and dealing" more comprehensible.
I left the theater with an abysmal feeling of sadness, my voice cracking and tears in my eyes - not wanting to betray my emotions and my fierce anger at a capitalist system gone completely awry; rigged and fraudulent in handing the money of everyday working people whose pensions, domiciles, and livelihoods were placed into the hands of manipulative, raptor-like greedy banks and money managers. Billions - not millions - of dollars are just abstract numbers to be gambled with as the "party" keeps blasting upwards and onwards, monetary gains piling up, until it all implodes with aftershocks eventually destroying the income, employment and shuttering the homes of millions in the US and globally.
Many of the main characters are based on real people who worked for Lehman Brothers, Morgan Stanley and Bear Stearns among other firms. Christian Bale is terrific as Dr. Michael Burry, a Cassandra-like figure, an eccentric - characterized by walking around barefooted - who foresaw the mortgage collapse early on, watching banks bundle mortgages which were being given AAA ratings by Moody's and Standard and Poor's without proper examination of the underlying financial integrity of the lenders and borrowers. Burry decides to "short" - to bet on a future housing crisis debacle and is ultimately proved correct.
Steve Carrell portrays Mark Baum, an irascible individual, who was one of the few conscience stricken players in the "money game", trying to make participants aware of the looming future cataclysm, but also wrestling with his own hypocrisy in personally profiting from the 2008 world economic bankruptcy. He is an anguished "truth teller" antithetical to most characters engaging in this closed world of financial gains and losses, whose egos get propped up by the insubstantial glint of wealth.
The director McCay includes every type of trader - from self-centered, sophomoric "masters of the universe" to those with some integrity and concern for their clients. The editing is quick and incredibly entertaining for a subject that could easily put many of us to sleep. In THE BIG SHORT we are made painfully aware of the collusion of institutions and governmental agencies, all profiting from the deception that the housing market was one of the best and most secure investments to be made. We see the social and human ramifications of this delusion that brought world markets to the brink of financial collapse.
Unlike previous films about Wall Street, this is a true story - a tale that is still resonating in our minds and pocketbooks. Many ordinary persons were encouraged and seduced by the easy access to home ownership, low interest rates that often skyrocketed a few years later to the bewilderment of landlords and tenants who had to flee their properties. This drama showed how the Banks were "brought down", but today we are still wondering were they ever punished? Cynicism persists as new ploys and risky gambits continue to be placed before a gullible public by corruptible institutions functioning without legislated safeguards.