Friday, December 22, 2017

"Mudbound" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the Netflix original film "Mudbound (nominated for two Golden Globes) as well as the DVDs "Patti Cake$" and "Ghost in the Shell." I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Wild Reeds."  NOTE:  I'm sorry there is no Book of the Week this week - hey, it's the holidays!)


Two families living in the Mississippi Delta during the 1940's intertwine tragically in this film that explores race and class in the Jim Crow South.

More and more, Netflix and other home viewing companies are providing quality content that we can all watch at home.  That's probably why the movie industry is suffering.  People would rather watch at home than venture out to the movies.  So Netflix has taken advantage of that and provided original TV series and movies that would otherwise never get made or languish unreleased. 

And so because of Netflix, we are able to see this incredibly raw, but incredibly compelling epic of two poor families, one white, one black, trying to survive in the Mississippi Delta after WW II, a film considered by some to one of the best films of the year.

Henry (Jason Clarke) and Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) McAllen are brothers.  Henry, the older brother, is kind of a dud.  He is educated but socially inept.  On the other hand, Jamie might not be as smart but he is handsome and charming.

Henry and Jamie are first seen trying to bury their father during a rainstorm.  As they dig the grave, the two are almost buried themselves in the mud.  A wagon with an African-American family pulls up and Henry asks them to help.  He is met with angry stares and thus begins this story of two families at odds.

Flashback to 1939 when Henry meets Laura (Carey Mulligan), a 31-year-old virgin spinster living with her parents.  She doesn't exactly fall in love with Henry, and in fact when she meets his more handsome and charming brother, Jamie, you can feel her attraction to him, but she wants to get married and have her own life so she marries Henry and they are living happily in Memphis when Henry gets this bright idea to live out his dream to own a farm.

He uproots the family, including his Pappy (Jonathan Banks), and they all move to Mississippi where Henry thinks he has rented a nice house on the land he bought but when they arrive, they discover the house has been sold out from under him and they are forced to live in one of the sharecropper's cabins alongside the black sharecroppers who are working the land, something Pappy is not happy about. You see, Pappy is a racist who throws the "n-word" around liberally and has no problem making that clear and throwing his weight around when he encounters black people.

Henry is basically a city guy and is not prepared for the hardships of working a farm. The McAllens live near the Jackson family - Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence (Mary J. Blige) Jackson and their children.  The Jacksons are black sharecroppers and, though they are poor, their experiences on the land are very different from Henry's.  Hap is a pastor and has hopes and dreams of moving up and owning his own land.  Henry seems to be on the way down having been swindled and forced to live where he feels is below his station.

Meanwhile, WW II has started and Jamie has gone to war as has the Jackson's son, Ronsel (Jason Mitchell).  Jamie is an Air Force pilot and Ronsel is a tank commander.  Both experience the war very differently.  Jamie comes home guilty and shell-shocked for having bombed so many people.  Ronsel comes home liberated freed from the racism he had experienced at home. Yes, he was in an all black military unit and was segregated as he was at home but the Europeans did not exhibit the kind of racism he faced in America.  In fact, he was in love with a white German woman and was living with her until the war ended and he needed to go home.

But when both Jamie and Ronsel return home, they both come home to a war of another kind - Jamie is shell-shocked and returns to nothing but a disapproving father and his own guilty dreams and Ronsel to a racist world that continues to try to beat him down.  Jamie and Ronsel find solace in their shared experiences of the war but their friendship also leads to murder and tragedy.

Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan and adapted by Virgil Williams and directer Dee Rees, the film is told from each of the main characters' different viewpoints throughout the film giving the film a poetic feel and insight into the inner workings of each character. 

Carey Mulligan is always good but I get her mixed up all of the time with Michelle Williams.  The two could be twins, and Mulligan, who is British, plays so many Americans that it doesn't help.  Here her part is quite small but a pivotal one. 

Mary J. Blige as Florence plays a mother who grieves for a favored son who has gone off to war and is a steady presence for her family as they live a hardscrabble life. She also helps Laura during childbirth, and the two share an uneasy bond of motherhood and womanhood. The singing diva is almost unrecognizable as she sheds her makeup to play the no-nonsense Florence.  She has been nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Golden Globe for this performance, and though she is good, the part is not really that meaty to give Blige a chance to really stand out, so I'm on the fence about whether or not that nomination was deserving.  The Golden Globes and the Academy seem to reward women when they take off their make-up and go au natural but is that acting?

Clarke and Hedlund are excellent as the brothers who love each other but struggle with their differences but the film belongs to Jason Mitchell as Ronsel, the African American man who goes off to war and experiences being treated like a man for the first time but returns home to the humiliation of the white supremacist and KKK South. Mitchell stunned as Eazy-E in "Straight Outta Compton" and he stuns here too.

Directed by Dee Rees"Mudbound" is a good title and metaphor for this story of two families stuck literally and figuratively in the muddy cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta and the racism of the Jim Crow South. The film reminded me of Terence Malick's "Days of Heaven." Not having heard much about this film, I decided to watch it on Netflix when I saw Carey Mulligan on "The Graham Norton Show (BBC America)" and later heard the buzz about Mary J. Blige's performance and her Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and I am glad I did.

I find as I watch these kinds of films about what black people in the United States have had to go through - holocaust films do the same - that I get so angry, so angry at the evil that men do.  The racism and horrors that African Americans have had to endure is shameful and should make us all mad.  No this isn't happy holiday fare.  You have the Lifetime and Hallmark channels for that. But the holiday season is a time to reflect on love for our fellow men and women, all of them, and if we all did that, not just during the holidays but all of the time, maybe we could end racism because racism is still alive and thriving in this country today.

Rosy the Reviewer says...stunning performances.  This film made me cry.  One of the best of the year!

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


Patti Cake$ (2017)

An unlikely rapper sensation emerges - an overweight white girl from New Jersey.

Patti, AKA Patricia Dombrowski AKA Killa P. AKA Dumbo (Danielle McDonald) is a 23-year-old who dreams of being a rap queen.  She practices her raps in the mirror and dreams of stardom while living with her alcoholic mom, Barb (Bridget Everett), who likes to bring strange men home.  Actually Barb is a slut who is mean to Patti and an embarrassment to her, but Patti takes care of her, holding her hair back when she throws up in the toilet after a night of partying.  Patti also lives with her Nana (played by Cathy Moriarity who I never would have recognized in a million years had I not seen her name in the credits) who has medical issues but encourages Patti and is her biggest fan. 

Patti is a bartender in a karaoke bar and sometimes her Mom comes in to sing.  Her mother is actually a really good singer who had a sort of career in the past, but now she comes in and sings and gets very drunk much to Patti's chagrin.  Patti wants to have a connection with her mother but her mother blames her for her lost career by becoming pregnant with her.

Patti's friend, Jheri (Siddharth Dhananjay), who works at the drug store, has a crush on her and encourages her dreams.  She, however, has a crush on the handsome pizza guy.

Patti's life is dead end and bleak, but she gets through it by listening to rap music and pretending to be a rapper.  She attends street rap jams and wows her fellow jammers, though they disrespect her by calling her Dumbo. She also meets a strange black musician who calls himself Basterd the AntiChrist (Mamoudou Athie), and she begs him to collaborate with her.  He is a mysterious, withdrawn guy who lives off the grid in a tunnel he has labeled The Gates of Hell.

Now you may ask, "What's a 69-year-old woman doing watching a movie like this, about a 23-year-old wanna be rapper?"  She's watching an awesome ass movie, that's what!

This is one of those stories of making it despite the odds, and we all know how it is going to go, but it's the getting there that is so great.

McDonald is wonderful.  She is so real and believable as Patti and Bridget Everett, who so far has been known mostly as a rather raunchy standup comedian and pal of Amy Schumer wows, not only as an actress, but as a singer.  I hope to see more of these two.

Written and directed by Geremy Jasper, this is a feel good film that takes you on an original and mesmerizing ride that you don't want to miss.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a really wonderful little film... AKA killa!

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: a cyber-enhanced body with a human brain. 

I have been struggling lately with whether or not Scarlett Johansson is a good actress or not.  I am leaning toward not and this film didn't help.  Don't get me wrong.  She is a beautiful woman and has certainly paid her dues.  She has been around for a long time, first as a child actor who made a splash in "The Horse Whisperer" and has steadily progressed ever since, but when I look at her body of work, I feel like she is competent but plays most of her roles the same.  I almost gave up on her with "Under the Skin," a movie I hated. Here ScarJo is a cyborg police woman named Major and playing a cyborg doesn't really give her much opportunity to change my mind about her acting.  

Major was once a human named Mira Killian, but she was caught in a terrorist attack that killed her parents and left her body beyond repair. Only her brain survived.  In this futuristic world that Mira lives in, it is common for people to get cyber augmentation to give them greater vision or strength and Hanka Robotics is the leader in this industry.  They are involved in a secret project to create a "shell" that can house a human brain rather than using AI and Mira is their perfect subject, and the project is successful.  Her designer, Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) decides to use her as a counter-terrorist operative. Major is dedicated to foiling cyber-criminals and hackers including one whose goal is to destroy the technology responsible for her very existence.  

A year later, Mira has attained the rank of Major in Section 9, an anti-terrorist division led by Aramaki (Takeshi Kitano), but she is starting to experience hallucinations and to wonder about her past, and through a series of adventures and misadventures and lots of karate chopping and kicking on ScarJo's part, Major goes back to find her past, who she really was, and learns her real name and in so doing, the film explores that whole issue of what makes us human.  Does just having a brain make us human?

Watching this film, one can't help but think of a female version of "Blade Runner: 2049."  Same concept but not as good.  Directed by Rupert Sanders (who you may remember was in a bit of a cheating scandal with Kristin Stewart awhile back) with a screenplay by Ehren Kruger, William Wheeler, and Jamie Moss, this one is a very stylized film version of Masamune Shirow's Manga series and the set design is quite extraordinary.  It reminded me of the film "The Fifth Element."  But the film is also very cartoonish which made it difficult to care about the characters.  It just failed to grab me.  And I am not prejudiced against cyborgs.  I loved "Ex Machina."  Maybe ScarJo just doesn't have the acting chops to make me care about this cyborg.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this film is kind of a confusing mess and ScarJo is no Meryl Streep, but I have to say, she has "The It Factor."  You can't take your eyes off of her.

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

161 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Wild Reeds (1994)
(Les Roseaux Sauvages)

Boarding school students in 1960's France.  I wonder what they get up to?

This film, directed by Andre Techine, tells the tale of the sexual awakenings of three male students at a French boys boarding school in 1962 during the last throes of the French-Algerian War. They are all in their last year of school before heading out into the world.

Francois (Gael Morel), Serge (Stephane Rideau) and Henri (Frederic Gorny) couldn't be more different.  Francois thinks he is in love with Maite (Elodie Bouchez) but is sexually naïve and struggling with his sexuality.  Francois is actually in love with the street smart and straight Serge. Henri is a French Algerian obsessed with the Algerian War.

At the wedding of Serge's brother, Pierre (Eric Kreikenmayer), a soldier fighting in Algeria, Pierre asks his ex-teacher Madame Alvarez (Michele Moretti) to help him desert.  She is a known Communist and he has heard that the Communists help soldiers desert from the Army.  Madame Alvarez is a teacher at the boarding school and is also Maite's mother.  She refuses and, when Pierre is killed in Algeria, Serge seeks revenge on Madame Alvarez blaming her resistance to helping Pierre desert as the reason he died.

Meanwhile, Serge, who is a bit of a bad boy and who reminded me of a young Matt Dillon seduces Francois even though Serge is straight and really lusts after Maite. Francois must face his burgeoning feelings for Serge and his homosexuality.  Henri, who looks like a young Hugh Grant, is an Algerian French National who has been expelled from Algeria because of the war.  He isn't really attracted to anyone.  He's angry about the war and, well, angry about everything, though he, too, is eventually drawn to Maite, despite their political differences. 

While Serge, Maite and Francois represent the personal angst that young people go through as they come of age, Henri represents the political climate that they will also have to navigate, but since we Americans probably know absolutely nothing about the French-Algerian War, which was to France what the Vietnam War was to America (and I must confess I actually didn't know anything about it), the political side of this film doesn't really resonate.

It's all a strange little adolescent love triangle, or actually it's a quadrangle, with Serge in the middle.  There is a touching and telling scene when Serge and Francois take a motorbike to Toulouse, with Serge driving and Francois riding behind him with his arms grasped tightly around Serge.  It beautifully shows how much Francois loves Serge and how he is going to have to deal with his feelings about him.

There is a side plot where Madame Alvarez has a breakdown because she too blames herself for Pierre's death but I thought that side plot  was over dramatic and bogged things down.

Despite the fact that these were engaging young actors, I am getting tired of coming of age stories and this one was a bit self-indulgent for me and difficult to relate to.  It starts out as a story about Francois, Maite and Serge but the second half of the film morphs into the story of Henri, who is a right winger and Maite, who is a Communist, and their political odds vs. personal odds. The film ends with a scene where they all go swimming together in what could be seen as their last burst of childhood before the personal and political upheaval of adulthood will take over, which to me is a cliché scene used many times in films like this.

Why it's a Must See:  "[This film] was the winner of Cesar awards (the French equivalent of the Oscars) for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and 'New Female Discovery' (for Bouchez)."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...yawn.
(In French with English subtitles)

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday 


"Rosy the Reviewer's One Liners:
One Line Reviews for Busy Folks who want to just 
Netflix and Chill" 


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