Friday, May 19, 2017

"LA 92" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new documentary on the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict "LA 92" as well as DVDs "Miss Sloane" and "Gold."  The Book of the Week is Paula Hawkins' latest "Into the Water: A Novel."  Yes, people, it's a novel.  I continue to expand my horizons. This is the follow-up to Hawkins' best-seller, "The Girl on the Train."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Head-On."]

LA 92

A documentary about the aftermath of the verdict in the trial of the four police officers charged with beating Rodney King.

Rodney King? 

That name may not resonate with today's young people, but for those of us who were around in 1992 when that infamous video of Rodney King being beaten by four police officers was shown all over the world, the name Rodney King was on everyone's lips.  And when those police officers went on trial for the beating and were acquitted despite video evidence of what they had done, we were glued to our TV sets as South Central L.A. went up in flames and the ensuing riots resulted in the most widespread racial violence in U.S. history.

Early in the film, Oscar-winning directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin ("Undefeated") lay the groundwork for what happened in 1992 by starting the film with the 1965 Watts riots and the ascension of hardliner, Daryl Gates to Los Angeles police chief. The Los Angeles police already had a reputation for police brutality in black neighborhoods, and Police Chief Darryl Gates was an unrepentant hardliner.  

On March 3, 1991, Rodney King was stopped by Los Angeles police officers after a car chase. Four police officers surrounded King and beat him unconscious and continued to kick and beat him over 50 times after he was down with other officers standing by. Little did they know that a witness, George Holliday, was videotaping them.  He sent the footage to a local news station, and it caused a furor around the world. Four officers were charged with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force.

Today, using our smart phones to record anything and everything that happens is commonplace but back in 1991, seeing that video was revelatory.

So there those police officers were on tape.  It was clear that Rodney King was unarmed and down on the ground with the police officers continuing to beat and kick him.  It's a no-brainer, right?  Those police officers are going to jail.

Think again.

Ironically it was felt that the trial was so volatile that the police officers couldn't get a fair trial in Los Angeles, so, gee, let's move the trial to Simi Valley, a predominantly white city where many police officers lived.  Do we think they can get a fair trial there?  So, duh, it's no wonder that all four were acquitted, despite the video which was basically proof of what happened. All of the country and even the world were transfixed by this trial, and as the verdicts were read, the whole world was watching. The film shows the reactions of black people vs. white people and the progression of emotion and events leading up to the riots.

What started as peaceful protests organized by the AME Church quickly escalated. Within hours of the acquittals, the six-day 1992 Los Angeles riots started, in which 55 people were killed and over 2,000 were injured, ending only when the California national guard was called in.  It was the most destructive civil disturbance in U.S. history.

One of the most horrific bits of footage was the beating of Reginald Denny who just happened to be driving his truck through the riot zone.  He was dragged out of his truck and beaten over the head with concrete blocks, kicked when he was down with his attackers rejoicing.

Stores were set afire. There were many Korean-owned stores in the area and many of those owners were seen as a sort of merchant class who were against the blacks.  There had been an incident 13 days after the videotaped Rodney King beating, but before the Rodney King verdict, where a 15-year-old black girl - Latasha Harlins - was shot in the head by a Korean store owner for supposed shop lifting despite store surveillance video  showing the girl had money in her hand.  Though the shopkeeper was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, she served no jail time.  So there was already deep resentment and this incident was considered a precursor to the subsequent riots.

Using archival footage, interviews and appropriately dramatic music, Directors Lindsey and Martin skillfully weave all of these events together to tell this important story that still resonates today.  There are no talking heads, no narration, no omniscient voice-over, just the horrific footage of the escalating tensions, the police retreating and the ensuing out-of-control rioting.  It is shocking to learn that the police left the area and did nothing - ON PURPOSE - a certain kind of reverse racism, a let's- leave-"those people"-to-tear-up-their-own-neighborhood attitude. A we-don't-care attitude. But it was also cowardice.  Sure, we are happy to beat up an unarmed man but when it's time to keep the peace and save innocent bystanders?  Nope.  That footage is very hard to look at.

But at the same time, the film footage is amazing.  You can't help but wonder who was able to get all of that footage of the looting and the arson and not get beaten up or killed.  Whoever those photographers were had more courage than the cops.  And the filmmakers must have dug deep to find all of that footage and edit it so skillfully into this fine, important film.

The film is summed up at the end in a flashback to a newsman reporting on the 1965 Watts riots:

“What shall it avail our nation if we can place a man on the moon but cannot cure the sickness in our cities?”

I want to add:

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

The Rodney King riots were in 1992 and it seems we have not learned that lesson. Can something like the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict happen again?  Hell, yes! It already has. Does Ferguson ring a bell?

As you know, if you have been following me over the last four years, I am a documentary junkie.  I wrote about some of my favorites in my blog post "15 Must See Documentaries" and I should add this one to my list. I have always believed that real life is far more interesting, inspiring, thought-provoking and disturbing than any fictional story.  And this documentary makes that case.  It is highly interesting, highly thought provoking and highly disturbing.  And yes, it's inspiring too.

Not every great film is to be found in the theatre.  More and more, companies like Netflix and Amazon are underwriting the distribution of films or making them themselves.  This wonderful documentary is one such film. This film debuted on the National Geographic Channel and is now available on their website (click on the link) as well as on Xfinity On Demand, Amazon, Hulu and Vudu and is worth looking for.

Rosy the Reviewer important and timely film that is Oscar-worthy and needs to be seen.


***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


Miss Sloane (2016)

Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is considered one of the most formidable lobbyists in Washington D.C. but when she is lured away to another lobbyist firm to take on the gun lobby, has she met her match?

The film begins with a close-up of Miss Sloane saying:

"Lobbying is about foresight. About anticipating your opponent's moves and devising counter measures. The winner plots one step ahead of the opposition. And plays her trump card just after they play theirs. It's about making sure you surprise them. And they don't surprise you."

She is under investigation by the Senate, but let's flashback to three months before that.

Miss Sloane has been working at her lobbyist company for ten years and is well-known to be hard as nails and good at what she does.  Right now she is lobbying for palm oil for the Indonesian government.

It is established early that Miss Sloane is a hard-working pill popping workaholic. She is also an insomniac who is not above blackmail.  She lives and breathes her job so doesn't have time for relationships, unless you consider hiring a male prostitute a relationship. As the film unfolds, we get glimpses into why Miss Sloane is so good at what she does as in lying and coercing and twisting the truth.

However, despite being a tough cookie, Miss Sloane does actually have opinions and works for causes she believes in.  Now her firm wants her to work with the gun lobby to get women to buy guns.  She is against guns but is threatened with the loss of her job if she doesn't "Start getting women into guns."

So it's a no-brainer when she is lured away from her job to work with the Brady campaign to get a gun bill passed that requires universal background checks when buying a gun. It's too much of a challenge for her to pass up. She leaves and takes her team with her.

Now her old company wants to see her fail hence her being up in front of a Senate investigation committee. Seems that the lobbying she did for palm oil for the Indonesian government involved some misdeeds on her part. 

Will she fail or will she blow the whistle on the congress people who are in the pockets of the lobbyists?  What do you think?

Watching this film, "Spotlight" and "The Big Short" come to mind, one a film about newspaper people investigating abusive priest in Boston and the other about the financial collapse of 2008.  You would think neither of those films would be particularly riveting because so much of those kinds of films involves talking heads and topics that are not, shall we say, classically, compelling, but they were. "Spotlight" used the personal dramas of the abused and "The Big Short" used humorous cameos by celebrities to explain financial jargon.

So now we have another iffy subject: Washington lobbying. 

Sounds like a big snooze, right?  But it's not. This film is a primer on how lobbying works in Washington, how lobbying is all about money and nothing about morality and it's scary as hell. And Jessica Chastain's powerful performance turns what could be a dry subject into a compelling story. This film lives or dies on Chastain's ability to get us to care about what goes on in Washington to get bills passed and she does.

Directed by John Madden with a slick script by Jonathan Perera, this film did not do particularly well at the box office, which could be a statement on how many people want to see movies about gun control.  It was billed as a thriller, and I think that might be part of the problem because it's not really a thriller.  When you see how lobbying is done in Washington, it's more of a horror film.  

So this film is less about the Second Amendment and more about the evils of lobbying.  Not doing well at the box office is not necessarily a sign of whether or not a film is good.  And this film is good primarily because of the performance by Chastain and the excellent ensemble cast, and the subject which basically exposes the real way our laws are passed.  It's a sad truth that many of our laws are actually passed well before they are voted on in Congress.  They are figuratively passed by these lobbyists, who put the pressure on our legislators.  The case is made that we the people don't really run our country, the lobbyists do, which in turn means the corporations do.

Rosy the Reviewer says...Not a thriller, more of a horror film about how things get done in Washington.  But it's worth seeing, especially for Chastain's amazing performance.

Gold (2016)

Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) is the owner of a mining prospecting company, and he needs a lucky break, so he teams up with a geologist and the two go to Indonesia to find gold.  They find more than that.

It's Reno, 1981. Kenny is a wheeler dealer, living with his girlfriend, Kay (Bryce Dallas Howard), and after inheriting his Dad's thriving mining company has managed to run it into the toilet.  He can't get investors.  Then the 1989 recession hits and it hits commodities hard.  Now he is losing his house and to make matters worse, he's old and fat and drinking too much.

Then Kenny has a dream about finding gold in Indonesia, and he becomes obsessed with the idea.  He pawns his gold watch as well as the one he gave Kay and goes there.  He meets Mike Acosta (Edgar Ramirez), a geologist with a reputation for finding gold.  Acosta also believes there is gold to be found in Indonesia, so Kenny decides to back Acosta and starts to raise money to find the mines. He wheels and deals and gets investors but they run out of the money and Kenny's dream begins to fall apart.

But then, amazingly, they do strike gold and Kenny is back in business. Washoe Mining goes on the stock exchange and everything is hunky dory for our hero. It's celebration time. Let the spending begin!

And then about 40 minutes into the film we realize that Kenny is being interviewed by cops.  Oops.  What's going on?

I found that to be a bit jarring because that should have been established early on and despite the flashback being a cliché move I think this film would have benefited from it.

Anyway, back to our story.

At the height of his success, Kenny is offered $300 million for his mines, but he won't do it because he doesn't want to give up naming rights.

Then the worst happens.  Indonesia seizes his mines. It's always risky doing business in another country.  Turns out the money men had ties to Suharto.  Kenny doesn't sell?  Well, they will just steal the mines from him.

"Pride goeth before a fall," right?  Kenny, why didn't you take the money?

"It was a pride thing.  It was my dream.  I dreamed it.  If you sell your dream, what do you have left?"

Now Kenny is depressed again and drinking. But it's not over for Kenny yet. This guy is like a cat.  He has nine lives.  Mike saves Kenny from his depression and drinking and the two concoct a plan to get their mines back by hooking up with Suharto's profligate son.  They strike it big but then...BIG TWIST. 

We find out why Kenny is being interviewed by the FBI.

McConaughey and his make-up people have certainly done everything they can to make McConaughey look unattractive or rather he has done it to himself.  He gained 50 pounds for this role and wore a bald wig and false teeth.  I think that's a trend when actors want to win Academy Awards.  Think Halle Berry's nude scene in "Monster's Ball" and Charlize Theron's make-up job in "Monster." What good-looking actors have to do to get noticed! McConaughey also gets to give an Academy Award style speech at the end:

"What is a prospector?  He's someone who believes it's out there."

Sadly, no Academy Awards for him or this film.

Directed by Stephan Gaghan, this film is based on the Canadian Bre-X gold mining scandal (note:  if you click on the link, major spoiler) and adapted for the screen by Patrick Massett and John Zinman.  This film reminded me of "American Hustle," where Christian Bale also got fat and there was a con going on, but it doesn't have the zing that "American Hustle" had.  The film definitely has some high moments, but it also has some lows and dragged in the middle.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you like McConaughey, you might find this entertaining, but I am still recovering from seeing Kenny/McConaughey in his tighty whities.

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

202 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Head-On (2004)

A young Turkish woman living in Germany marries a much older man to free herself from the restrictions of her family.

Cahit (Birol Unel) is a German immigrant living and working in Hamburg.  He is an addict and a loser, and he knows it, so one night he drives his car into a brick wall. But he recovers and meets Sibel (Sibel Kekilli) at the psychiatric clinic where they are both recovering.  Sibel has issues too.  She tried to slash her wrists because she just couldn't conform to her traditional Turkish family's needs for her to conform.  Sibel just wants to party and have as much sex as possible with as many men as possible. Though Cahit is 23 years olden than Sibel, when she finds out he is Turkish, she asks him to marry her and he asks her for a beer.

These are two wacky kids, but she is actually more nutty than he is.  She actually cuts her wrists in front of him, because she doesn't want to live with her family.  I don't blame her. Her brother has already broken her nose for her supposed bad behavior, and he is not above a little honor killing should she step out of line again.  I would want out of that family too!

So Cahit is finally convinced that to save Sibel he should marry her, and they enter into a marriage of convenience.

And he is hardly a catch.  He's a drunk, a layabout, likes cocaine and has a dead wife he won't talk about. He also likes to have rough sex with Maren (Catrin Striebeck), a woman friend of his. Cahit and Sibel get married, but on their wedding night, Cahit gets drunk and kicks Sibel out of their apartment, so she goes to a bar and picks up a bartender. 

The two have a sort of a marriage except they are both having sex with other people and not each other.  They had no intention of falling in love - this was a marriage of convenience for Sibel - but of course they do and when Cahit overhears that same bartender that Sibel had sex with on their wedding night saying bad things about Sibel he kills him.  Sibel's family finds out about this "jealousy killing" and now her brother is after her to kill her for the family honor.  Cahit goes to jail and Sibel goes to Istanbul to stay with a friend and hide out from her family.

So will these two crazy kids ever get together?

Written and directed by Fatih Akin, the film employs a sort of Greek, or should I say, Turkish chorus that sings Turkish songs to show the passing of time and to break the film into scenes. This film is not just a love story between two lost souls, it also explores the clash of Turkish traditional cultures and Western culture, and the stars, Unel and Kakilli are mesmerizing, he with his craggy handsomeness and she with her vivacity. 

Why it's a Must See:  "A nervy, unsettling, sometimes bleak drama of two outsiders (vividly) played, with unwavering intensity and conviction, by the two leads, the film in fact continues a vital strand of provocative, post-punk creativity in contemporary European cinema..."
--"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Cahit crashes his car into a brick wall early in the film, and Sibel's and Cahit's relationship is like that same head-on car crash, and like a car crash, you can't look away.

Rosy the Reviewer astonishingly dark but poignant story.


***Book of the Week***

Into the Water: A Novel by Paula Hawkins (2017)

Several women have mysteriously died over the years in the river that runs through a small English village, but when two die there over a short span of time, there is a mystery to be solved.

Jules Abbot has come back to Beckford.  She left never wanting to return but her sister Nel has drowned in the river and Jules has come to take care of Nel's teen-aged daughter, Lena.  Jules and Nel had been estranged for years and Jules accepts that Nel was a suicide until Lena tells her she was pushed, and Jules becomes embroiled in the mystery of her sister's death as well as the mystery of why Lena's young friend, Katie, also jumped to her death in the river.

Did Nel kill herself by jumping into the river or was she pushed?  What about Katie?  Why would a young, beautiful, smart girl choose to kill herself?  As the secrets of the villagers are revealed, so are the reasons for Nel's and Katie's fates.

This is author Paula Hawkins' second book, following her "The Girl on the Train."  It's a gripping story that, like "The Girl on the Train," is all very British.  Similar to "The Girl on the Train," Hawkins also uses different points of view to tell the story.  Hawkins does a good job of slowly revealing the characters and their stories, letting each talk for a chapter or two and then another character jumps in to pull the story forward.

However, this time Hawkins uses an irritating device, changing each character's points of view, sometimes the character speaks in the first person, sometimes from the omniscient third, and I could not figure out what that device was supposed to tell me.  At first I thought she changed points of view depending on whether the character was in the past or the present, but that didn't bear out.  So it was distracting. This book also feels more like a British detective series than "The Girl on the Train."  Each character tells his or her story and each is under suspicion until the secrets and twists are revealed.

Rosy the Reviewer enjoyable mystery but if you are expecting another "The Girl on the Train," I think you will be disappointed.


Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 

for my review of  



The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)

 and the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before 

 I Die Project." 

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