Saturday, July 11, 2020

Movie Reviews: A Good Woman Is Hard To Find

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find
directed by Abner Pastoll
This is yet another entry in the "slight woman is underestimated by everyone and takes bloody revenge" genre so if that theme leaves you cold then you know what to do. 

It is a little bit different than many other similar films in that the violence, even when deserved is NOT played for laughs or shown as explicitly being some sort of political statement. 

This movie does make a link between committing violence and being willing to stand up for yourself in some very dodgy situations but in some ways that's true in real life isn't it. Although we all hope not to, sometimes we run across people who mean us harm and simply won't be deterred by kind words or appeals to morality. 

There's only one language that they understand. Also the film spends a lot of time showing the basic challenges a young widow with two small children might face, whether it be dealing with her bossy judgmental mother or needing batteries in a hurry.

This movie is set in the UK. I think it's supposed to be in Northern Ireland somewhere but I am not familiar enough with the various accents to state for sure exactly where the events are taking place. That's not really that important. What is important is that Sarah Bolger (Sarah Collins) is an impoverished widow who lives on an estate (public housing). She has two small children, a boy and girl. The boy saw his father Stephen, Sarah's husband, murdered, and hasn't spoken since then. 

My Name Is Phuc Bui!

If you encounter a name that is difficult for you to pronounce the polite thing to do is to ask the person for the correct pronunciation and use it going forward. 

It is disrespectful to continually mispronounce someone's name after you've been told the correct pronunciation more than a few times. 

It's similar to being frequently mistaken for the only other Black man in your department when you differ greatly in age, height and looks, but I digress. 

Not every name in America will be of European origin. If Americans can pronounce Polish, Hungarian, or Russian names that are seemingly stuffed to excess with z's, y's, s's, and c's, if Americans know that Spanish generally lacks what we would consider a "j' sound and that Jose is pronounced "Ho-zay" and not "Joe-sie" then Americans can correctly pronounce names of non-European provenance.

Sometimes life imitates art. In the review of the film The Gentlemen I mentioned that there were jokes that were ethnically/racially based. The Gentlemen film used the exact example of what recently occurred to a young college student of Vietnamese origin, who like a film character, happened to have the name of Phuc.

A community college professor in Oakland, Calif., is on administrative leave after asking a Vietnamese-American student to “Anglicize” her name because he felt it sounded “offensive” in English. In a Wednesday night email exchange that was quickly shared to tens of thousands on social media, Matthew Hubbard, a professor in the Laney College mathematics department, repeatedly asked the student, Phuc Bui Diem Nguyen, to “Anglicize” her name because it “sounds like an insult in English.”

In response, Ms. Nguyen told the professor that his request “feels discriminatory” and that she would file a complaint with the school’s Title IX office if he could not call her by her given name.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Quarry

The Quarry
directed by Scott Teems
This movie teams up two very good character actors who have occasionally ventured into leading man territory. Michael Shannon and Shea Whigham have often worked together, most notably in Boardwalk Empire. 

They are two actors who I am always interested in watching because they bring depth and realism to their characters. 

No matter how over the top or strange the character may be written, these guys find a way to ground their depiction and make you feel that you know their character, even if on balance the person is despicable. Each man shines in this movie. However the film is slow moving. It's as if the writer/director decided to just throw these actors in the Texas setting and told them "Do something!"

The results were mixed. I thought a while about this review because I initially thought I might be judging a slow neo-noir thriller by action film standards. And upon further reflection I decided that no I wasn't. Even by the standards of thrillers aimed at adults with attention spans longer than thirty seconds The Quarry meanders and wanders. One might argue that the seeming pointlessness of many occurrences is actually the movie's entire point and that yours truly was just too dumb to see it. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Lives can be changed by just one random decision. I have a relative who enjoys pointing out what he considers to be Christian hypocrisy. He thinks that Christians must live exactly by the teachings of Jesus, no matter how difficult.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Movie Reviews: Becky

directed by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion
In the mid seventies this would have been the sort of movie that might have had Jodie Foster as its star. Children should not watch this film. That includes its titular child lead actress. The short description of Becky might be Home Alone meets Saw. In other words, if you are at all sensitive to depictions of violence, this is not, repeat NOT the film for you. Got it???

Even if you are inured to gruesome violence, this film goes over the top showing the violence suffered, but mostly committed by its teen anti-heroine. I'm not joking. This film is not comedic except occasionally in the most over the top way that might appeal to the most jaded horror/thriller viewers. The only deference to viewer sensibilities is that we are spared sexual assault, which given the circumstances, could have been expected.

Since at least River Tam and proceeding thru Arya Stark there have been many occasionally tongue in cheek but often serious filmic or novelistic depictions of young, small, teen or preteen girls who are often able to outwit or outfight one or more fully grown male adversaries, or at least hold them at bay until the cavalry arrives, so to speak. Becky takes that trope, turns it up to 11 and stomps on the distortion pedal. But it also very broadly hints that the ability to commit violence is not something to be admired or sought after. This little girl has some problems. 

Movie Reviews: The Hunt

The Hunt
directed by Craig Zobel
This is another film that (a) had a female lead and (b) had its debut delayed and possibly ruined by the emergence of the coronovirus pandemic and (c) was seized upon by some conservatives, especially the dummy-in-chief, who thought it unfairly demonized them.

This last point is almost too stupid to comment upon but it's worth mentioning that this movie is in part a satire of fraught relationships between conservatives and liberals. The Hunt doesn't actually endorse kidnapping your political enemies and hunting them for fun anymore than the Godfather movies suggest to people that they should build a multi-generational international criminal empire. Given some recent real life incidents one might even argue that this satire doesn't go far enough.

If you have to explain satire, you've likely already lost half the audience. Much as Blazing Saddles used jokes about racism, anti-semitism, and stereotypes in general to suggest that those things were, you know, actually harmful to human beings, The Hunt uses political and regional stereotypes to suggest that sometimes conservatives and liberals share negative traits. This could be read as a both sides cop out. One film writer said as much.

Movie Reviews: The Gentlemen

The Gentlemen
directed by Guy Ritchie
Guy Ritchie is a predictable writer and director, particularly when he's examining the milieu in which he made his name, the British underworld. Depending on how much you enjoy this style you might consider this film a welcome return to form. 

Or you might decide that fast paced tough guy/tough gal banter, sudden ultraviolence, music video style quick cuts, British slang, double crosses hidden inside triple crosses, and racial/ethnic/sexual slurs played for jokes is overdone and last year's/last century's news. I generally enjoyed this movie but I have a tolerance for some of these otherwise problematic things in movies if I don't think they're coming from a place of contempt or hatred. 

Presumably Ritchie and/or the other writers would say they're making fun of everyone. I'm not so sure about that, watching it a second time. Still, this is light entertainment, not anything award winning or something that is supposed to make anyone think too much. 

Michael "Mickey" Pierson (Matthew McConaughey) is an American former Rhodes Scholar, who upon arriving in Merry Olde England, soon discovered that he could make more money and meet a higher class of people by selling marijuana than by hitting the books. Fast forward about twenty five years and the middle aged but still trim Mickey has become a multimillionaire marijuana producer and distributor. He has avoided heroin and cocaine because of their associations with violence and because he thinks those drugs are too addictive. Mickey is a nice guy. 

Music Reviews: Long Distance Call

One common blues theme is infidelity. If you're working all day, working in a different city or state, or are otherwise away from home for weeks or months at a time you may come to have some concerns as to what exactly your biscuit roller is doing in your absence. There are many songs that explore this theme but for my money one of the best is Muddy Waters doing "Long Distance Call". 

It's simple and deep at the same time. Muddy Waters changes his stentorian tones to an almost B.B. King like falsetto expressing his pain at "another mule kicking in his stall". I also appreciate that songs like this that generally got their point across without resulting to vulgarity. I was impressed at how the drummer evokes the sound of a telephone ringing.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Black Cowboys

I thought that this was an interesting and useful video/article.
It's important to remember that there are a number of different ways to be Black.

Cowboys are among the most iconic figures of the American West. They’re mythologized as strong, independent people who live and die by their own terms on the frontier. And in movies, the people who play them are mostly white. 

But as with many elements of Americana, the idea of who cowboys are is actually whitewashed — scholars estimate that in the pioneer era, one in four cowboys were black. The historian Quintard Taylor writes about how before then, enslaved people “were part of the expansion of the livestock industry into colonial South Carolina, passing their herding skills down through the generations and steadily across the Gulf Coast states to Texas.”

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Defund the Police! Powerful Slogan or Horrible Mistake?

You may have heard of the slogan "Defund the police!" bubbling up from many of the people who are protesting the scourge of police brutality and misconduct.
Some people whose opinions I respect said that this was a horrible slogan to use because it would be immediately seized upon by conservative troglodytes and used to discredit any attempt at reigning in police departments. Some said anyone using this slogan was stupid.
The people in my circle who dislike the slogan are broadly on the left. None of them voted for Trump in the past or will do so in the future. And they, and I, are all old enough to remember where a strong left stance on a particular issue was misrepresented by people on the right to the detriment of those on the left. So I think they are honestly worried about the same thing happening again. I still wonder if the post-Reagan defensive crouch that many on my side of the political spectrum have been in may have blinded us to how politics and movements actually work. 
The Right doesn't actually run on a slogan of "We're going to cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations, repeal or ignore any laws or regulations protecting the environment and humans from dangerous pollution, waste or chemicals, destroy unions so that the reserve pool of underpaid and unemployed workers remains high, shift public funds to private and religious schools, eviscerate legal protections against racial discrimination, eliminate free speech protections for critics of the Israeli West Bank occupation, hunt certain animals to extinction, eliminate worker safety protections, and drive down American wages via relentless outsourcing and automation so that corporate profits remain high!".

Movie Reviews: The Wretched

The Wretched
directed by Brett Pierce and Drew Pierce
This is a new horror movie that simultaneously hearkens back to some favorite low budget cheesy 80s films but at the same time is inventive enough to give me hope that horror movies can simultaneously be fun, scary and intelligent. 

It's also quite obviously set in my home state of Michigan though I can't remember if the story made that explicit. The Wretched was shot in Michigan.

The movie might as well have made its location explicit as there is plenty of expository dialogue about people maintaining vacation homes and farms in the north of the state.

That's what lots of Michiganders, including some of my family and friends, do. Boating is also a big part of the story. 

After some spoilerish events which I won't mention open the film we see that the film's default hero, troubled teen Ben (John-Paul Howard), has moved in with his father Liam (Jamison Jones). Liam is a genial man who is going through a divorce with Ben's mother. Ben was implicated in some minor criminality which is why his mother has temporarily sent him up north to live and work with his Daddy. Ben's mother hopes that some masculine discipline and role modeling will solve Ben's behavior issues.

Well Liam is less interested in playing strict paterfamilias than in trying to convince Ben to accept that Liam has swiftly moved on to a new younger significant other, Sara (Azie Tesfai), who works with Liam at the marina which he owns/runs.