Tag Archives: Social Commentary

Movie Review: Do the Right Thing (1989)

do-the-right-thing

Rating; B+/ Do the Right Thing is the second film I’ve seen by Spike Lee. The first was 25th Hour, which I really enjoyed (I love me some Edward Norton,) and although I have heard many great things about Lee’s other films, I really didn’t like the way he lashed out against Tarantino and Django Unchained without even bothering to watch it (it was the maligning it without seeing it first that I really couldn’t stand, it was like criticizing the musical quality of a song you’ve never heard.) Continue reading Movie Review: Do the Right Thing (1989)

Advertisements

Movie Review: Fruitvale Station (2013)

ruitale-statiin

Rating: A-/ I have extremely mixed feelings about the Black Lives Matter movement and the all-around virulent attitude toward law enforcement officers over the past few years (my dad has been a cop for as long as I can remember, and I think the political climate toward police, most of which are not racially biased and have never shot anyone in their life, has become extremely hostile and the media machine is not only feeding into things more than is honestly necessary, but actually making everything worse.) Continue reading Movie Review: Fruitvale Station (2013)

Movie Review: The Purge (2013)

Purge_Poster

Rating: B-/  Okay, The Purge is not a great movie. But I think the 5.6 rating on IMDb is a little harsh, because although this isn’t a subtle or masterful film, it is an entertaining one that manages to raise some interesting questions. I was definitely intrigued by the premise right off the bat, as far-fetched as it is. And despite the issues with the script, which I will go into momentarily, this movie kept my interest from beginning to end. Continue reading Movie Review: The Purge (2013)

Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

1964

Rating: B/ Good, but over-rated. Those are the words I’d use to describe George Orwell’s hugely influential dystopian novel, 1984. There’s plenty of bright spots here, and many moments of  brilliance, but parts of this book can be hard to read due to heavy info-dumping and scenes that hit you over the head with it’s themes. It’s definitely worth reading, to ponder, as well as to see what all the fuss was about, but it definitely pales compared to Fahrenheit 451, one of my favorite books. Continue reading Book Review: 1984 by George Orwell

Sicario (2015)

01sicario-movie-poster

Rating- A+/ Buckle your seat belts, because this ride gets pretty crazy. Denis Villeneuve’s Sicario is a unrelentingly bleak and fascinating film about a subject I know nothing about, Mexican Drug Cartels. The only stuff I know about Cartels I learned from the television shows Breaking Bad and The Bridge, so don’t expect me to know a lot about the authenticity of this film. But my dad is a cop who hates cop shows, and he was totally fucking psyched about getting us to watch this. Anyway, there’s hardly a dull moment in Sicario, it’ll get your heart pounding and your adrenaline going, and although it’s a bit too character-driven to be described as an ‘action movie’ (not in the same vein as say, Transformers,) it’ll have your attention every moment of it’s duration. And some of that time you’ll literally be holding your breath in suspense (as cliche as that sounds.)

This is a film where things go from bad to worse. Kate Macer (Emily Blunt) is a by-the-books FBI agent who specializes in kidnapping scenarios. After a raid goes badly awry, Kate is approached by the CIA and offered a job she knows nothing about. Eager to get back at the people who are responsible for the massacre of her teammates but sad to leave her partner and best friend Reggie (Daniel Kaluuya) (How refreshing to see a storyline featuring male-and-female besties that doesn’t devolve into a predictable romantic scenario!,) Kate travels by plane to Mexico, and is told by her superiors she is going to El Paso. Turns out, she’s not, she’s going to Juarez, the most corrupt city in Latin America, where there are literally mutilated bodies hanging from bridges in broad daylight. Shit. She’s going to need to ask for paid vacation time in the near future. Six months in Oahu won’t be nearly enough to get those images out of your head.

Kate is accompanied by an an chilled-out agent named Matt (Josh Brolin) who seems to be doing his best Jeffrey ‘the Dude’ Leboswki impression, and the mysterious Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro,) who doesn’t seem to be working for any one organization as much as his own twisted agenda. In the process of taking down a cartel led by the ruthless Fausto Alarcon (Julio Cadillo,) Kate goes in way over her head, falling down a kind of rabbit hole of violence and corruption.

sicario2

Kate’s story is interspersed with the plotline of Silvio (Maximiliano Hernández,) a Juarez cop who is similarly digging himself into an awfully big hole, but for different reasons. Despite what he might or might not have done, Silvio will break your heart as he makes one bad decision after another in the attempt to fully provide for his wife and son. His corruption and eventual undoing is juxtaposed with the other characters’ deep moral ambiguity and bad decision making throughout. There’s a lot of grey area here, and the characters range from the flawed, to the evil, to the downright dastardly and hold some of this complexity on both sides.

Sicario feels very raw and realistic, especially for an American movie, which seem to usually feel more sitcomish or fake than their overseas counterparts. The movie doesn’t show a whole ton of violence on screen but is gut-wrenchingly effective when it does, capturing the viewer’s imagination in scenes of implied torture and child murder. Kudos to whole cast from the biggest stars to the fairly obscure secondary players. Together they create a world of intrigue and chaos, and most of all, of unflinching realism. This is not a movie where the good guys go in guns-a-firing and save the day while dropping the occasional shitty one-liner. I’m not entirely sure there are any good guys, at least not in the typical sense. There is, however, a whole lot of devastation and emotional damage on the part of the people who have to deal with this crap- every day. To see the awful side of humanity on a regular basis is enough to make anyone go a little crazy, but these guys- particularly the dead-eyed Alejandro- go above and beyond the call of duty in terms of nuttiness.

Combining excellent foreshadowing  and script writing with a astonishingly chilling score, Sicario is a thriller with brains- I know, pick your disbelieving jaws off the floor- that provides no easy answers or platitudes about the drug war in Mexico or the infinite potential for darkness within the human condition. I’m not exaggerating when I saw this movie might contain the best ensemble cast of the year. The players give it all they’ve got, and the results are nothing less than harrowing. And this from the person who thought the directors’ earlier effort, Prisoners, was mindbogglingly overrated. I guess you don’t know exactly what to expect of a filmmaker until you’ve seen them at their best.

sicario

The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies (2014)

losthonour

I have somewhat mixed feelings about tabloids. While I like magazines such as the Weekly World News with such truths in their headlines as ‘Bigfoot stole my baby!’ and ‘Al Qaeda Vampires Run Amok in Iraq,’ I loathe these kinds of brainless entertainments’ shameless exploitation of tragedies such as Robin Williams’ suicide and the Sandy Hook Massacre. And I can fully see how such media can run rampant and derail someone’s life. I honestly believe the media is a sizable part of what drives many actors on downward spirals. And then there’s Christopher Jefferies. What didn’t break him made him stronger, and this film tells his infuriating and enlightening story.

Christopher (Jason Watkins) is a man of whom I’m convinced of two things, based on this movie #1) that he was gay, and #2) that he was somewhere on the Autism Spectrum, probably mild Asperger’s. Alternately blunt, socially inappropriate, and downright rude, Chris lived a somewhat hermetic existence and was the landlord of a couple of flats in the small English village of Failand. Watkins plays him in a thoroughly believable and compelling manner, every infinitesimal tic and twitch duly perfected. Christopher is a retired schoolteacher and anti-social lone wolf who finds himself in the middle of a police investigation when one of his tenants, Joanna Yeates (Carla Turner) is found murdered outside his place.

Lost_Honour_of_Christopher_Jefferies

Suddenly, everything about Christopher seems suspect- his ‘to catch a predator’ wardrobe, his odd inflection and apparent lack of empathy, even the fact that he is an older man living on his own, and such men must, by extension, be pervs. Of course, correcting the cops’ grammar during questioning doesn’t help Jefferies look like an innocent man, and with no further ado, the police make this assumption: odd old man + suspicious circumstances= killer. They hardly have anything on him that isn’t circumstantial, but suddenly the entire country is in an uproar over this man’s presumed guilt. The thing is, Jefferies didn’t do it, and his lawyer, Paul Okebu (Shaun Parkes) is determined to bring his innocence to light.

Honestly, this movie didn’t end nearly as tragically as I thought it would. I knew almost nothing going in, and I was tense throughout the film, expecting something terrible to happen not only to Yeates, but to Jefferies too (being unfamiliar with the case as I was.) However I was immediately sucked in by the lead character and performance. If the police understood Autism-like behavior more, they would see that this man was not a monster, just a harmless oddball. Watkins does an amazing job of playing someone who is ‘on the spectrum’ who just happens to be gay without reducing his character to a gay or aspie caricature. Some people might find this story slow, but if you like British dramas and the feeling of heightened realism they create, you’re sure to like this film.

Note- Frankly, I’m a little confused because this film is described on Imdb as a ‘mini-series,’ but the version I saw on Netflix Streaming was a movie just under two hours, and distributed by Universal. If I missed some footage of the original cut, I would definitely like to see the whole thing straight through. Any help on this would be much appreciated, and I hope you get a chance to see this film; it’s fascinating. For me, British cinema holds a kind of appeal that American movies just don’t, and I would love to discuss the themes of this obscure gem with anyone who wishes to partake.losthonourof

Beasts of No Nation (2015)

Beasts-of-No-Nation-Poster-620x919

Poor Agu (Abraham Attah.) A young African boy caught up in a war on his own soil that American youngsters can neither understand nor comprehend, he is forced to commit unconscionable acts in order to survive. Fighting as a child soldier against a faceless enemy he has no real understanding of, Agu has little time to mourn the senseless slaughter of his family as he must prove himself to the charming and predatory Commandant (Idris Elba.) As he learns to be a fighter and a murderer, Agu must face the death of everything human in him, and his realization that being reunited with his remaining relatives is becoming increasingly distant and unlikely with each passing second.

Beasts of No Nation is based on a novel by the same title, which I bought on Amazon about a year prior but just couldn’t get into. People talk about ‘first world problems’ so much that it becomes kind of a cliche, but there is still a grain of truth to it. Growing up in America can be hard, unbelievably hard- drugs, mental illness, family strife, gang warfare, bullies, and poverty are just a few of the hurdles many American kids face every day, but there’s a marked difference between us and a kid like Agu. We know with some degree of clarity that we aren’t going to be invaded or have our homes destroyed in all-out war.  We don’t have to worry we will come home and find a crater where are house was, and piles of ash where the people we called ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ once stood.

The film adaptation of Uzodinma Iweala’s slim novel takes us into a world where safety is excruciatingly uncertain and the only thing between a relatively comfortable childhood and the wreckage of innocence is a group of soldiers keeping up a barrier between ‘home’ and ‘out there.’ This is done with somber immediacy, and held up to scrutiny by Attah’s haunting performance as a boy for whom tragedy becomes a long-standing part of himself. Attah’s astonishing dramatic turn makes his transformation from ordinary goofball preteen to psychologically broken casualty of war completely believable.

The violence in this movie doesn’t have a whole lot of stylized varnish or frills, the difference between this and a Quentin Tarantino movie is daunting, though both are worthy cinematic excursions in their own way. Pedophilia, carnage, wartime rape, and the mass killing of innocents are on naked display, and we see how thin a line there is between a normal person and a person who commits horrific acts is.

Sometimes, all it takes is a push for a everyday citizen, even a child, to act in self-interest and slaughter another human being. We are all just slightly advanced animals. Anyone who thinks we’re morally superior to wild creatures is either a fool or simply mistaken. Agu is not a monster, he does what he needs to to survive and we wonder how many of the men- boys, really- in Commandant’s troupe (many of which are participating in rape, child killing and other wartime atrocities) were just scared little kids unable to hold a gun at the beginning of this long, bloody war.

The script of this movie is incisive and well-written in that like Agu, we are never quite sure what is going on or who is fighting who. This deliberate vagueness gives the film a kind of disorienting feeling that was a good choice on the part of the filmmaker. The only connection to the white journalists and outsiders to this war is the people with cameras who snap pictures of Agu as he walks down a dirt road with an assault weapon. Agu returns their gaze with an appropriately uncomprehending look.

We see the brainwashing process- the pleading man Agu is forced to kill with a machete is obviously responsible for slaughtering his family, because why not? Agu is given drugs and groomed with smarmy words and bullshit political speeches. He is beaten senseless and molested by the Commendant. His only friend, the silent Strika (Emmanuel Nii Adom Quaye) feels for him but is in exactly the same position he is. We also see how the wealthy profit from a boy’s war, though exactly when and how we are unsure- like Agu, we are cast into an unfathomable situation with very little background information.

Beasts of No Nation is a disturbing movie, but it succeeds in making a conflict we hear about secondhand in the papers feel a little bit closer. Appropriately confusing, erratic, and sometimes downright unwatchable (in a good way,) the film will make you think and, cliched as it is, appreciate what we have in this country compared to what those in war-torn regions only dream of. Safety is relative (especially with the number of shootings in this country spiking) but Agu lives in a reality that, God willing, none of us will have to experience first hand.

beasts_of_no_nation_still_h_15_c_netflix