Friday, July 13, 2018

"RBG" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "RBG," the documentary about Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, as well as DVDs "Unsane" and "Forever My Girl."  The Book of the Week is "The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with an early Ang Lee film, "The Wedding Banquet."





RBG



A documentary on the life and career of Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

I feel really stupid.


I came of age in the early 1970's
when women couldn't get a credit card without their husbands' signature, marital rape was not a crime, and women could be fired from their jobs if they got pregnant. People, that was less than 50 years ago.  So my being a smart woman who was raised right, meaning my Dad always told me I could do anything, that kind of thing was all I needed to hear to become heavily involved with the Women's Movement in the 70's and I have considered myself a feminist ever since.  And speaking of the word feminist, I get very upset today when women who believe in equal rights don't want to call themselves "feminists (I ranted about that in a post called "Why is 'Feminist' Such a Dirty Word?") But that's another blog post.  

Anyway, back in the day, my idols of that time were Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Kate Millett, and Germaine Greer.  I had never heard of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and yet what she had been doing behind the scenes to help women and minorities during that time was monumental.

Ginsburg was a graduate of Cornell University in 1954 and enrolled in Harvard Law School where she was one of only nine women out of 500 men.  The Dean of Harvard Law School supposedly asked her and the rest of the women "How do you justify taking a spot from a qualified man?"  When her husband was transferred to New York City, she enrolled at Columbia Law School where she was the first woman to be on two major law reviews, and she graduated from there in 1959 tying for first in her class.


She began her law career as a professor at Rutgers School of Law and Columbia Law School, one of the few women at that time teaching civil procedure, but she also spent a considerable part of her legal career as an advocate for women's rights and gender equality, arguing six gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court between 1973 and 1976, winning five.  And she did not just work to protect the rights of women.  She argued and won Frontiero v. Richardson which sought the same housing allowance for a woman soldier's husband that was automatically granted to male soldiers for their wives and argued Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld which challenged a statute that only allowed Social Security benefits to widows and not widowers.  She won that one too.  She also challenged an Oklahoma statute that set different drinking ages for men and women and in 1979 challenged the validity of voluntary jury duty for women (I guess they were thought to be more vitally needed in the kitchen) on the grounds that serving on a jury was an important citizen's service and should not be optional no matter what one's gender was.


Ginsburg's legal legacy discouraged legislatures from treating men and women differently under the law.

President Bill Clinton appointed Ginsburg to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993 where she started out as a moderate but as the Court became increasingly conservative, Ginsburg has moved farther and farther down the liberal line to become a senior member of the "liberal wing" and has written six dissenting opinions, most notably Bush v. Gore (2000) - you know what that one's about - Citizens United v. FEC (2010) which dealt with campaign financing and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014) which gave a religious exemption to a corporation.


So those are the basics of Ginsburg's law career and filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West did a great job showing Ginsburg's quiet and steady dedication to gender equality and other issues, but, for me, the film really shines when illustrating her personal life, most notably her 56-year marriage to Martin Ginsburg, also a lawyer, who she married right after law school and who supported her career all of his life.  He died in 2010.  He was the outgoing one and she was the shy, quiet one but she clearly had a sense of humor and got a big kick out of her husband. Likewise, he clearly was devoted to her.  Speaking of her sense of humor, a highlight of the film was Ginsburg watching Kate McKinnon doing her on SNL.



So like I said, I can't believe I had no idea of the profound impact RBG has had on the issue of gender equality and women's rights - she's not known as Notorious RBG for nothing - and for that reason alone I am glad I saw this film.  But as a documentary, it is also wonderful.

Now from a personal point of view, Ruth, can we talk?  I know you are 85 and have already had two bouts of cancer, but pleeeeeze, don't resign from the bench no matter how old you get.  We need you!  

Rosy the Reviewer says...this one could give "Won't You Be My Neighbor" a run for it's money come Oscar time.  An important film.





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


On DVD




Unsane (2018)


One of those "Is-This-Really-Happening-Or-Is-It-All-In-Her-Mind?" movies.

It isn't easy being Queen.  That's the only reason I can think of why Claire Foy would give up her crown and go from playing Queen Elizabeth in "The Crown" to playing a young woman involuntarily committed to a mental hospital where her stalker just happens to be an orderly.  But perhaps it's also so she could work with director Steven Soderbergh who has directed some superlative films.  Or maybe it's because Claire needs a new gig and wants to disassociate herself from Queenie now that Olivia Colman will be taking on the role of the older Queen Elizabeth in Season 3 of "The Crown."

And let me tell you, Claire goes a long way to get away from young Lilibet. 

Here she plays Sawyer Valentini, who is, uh, how do I put this?  Kind of a slut?  She meets guys, has sex with them right away and then tells them to not call her.  But we come to learn that she  has issues and is also being stalked by a man named David Strine (Joshua Leonard) and has been for years and so she goes to see a therapist.  What a mistake that was.  The therapist gets her committed to a mental hospital involuntarily, and Sawyer spends the rest of the film trying to convince the hospital staff and us that she is not mentally ill.  

While there Sawyer meets several of the inmates, including Nate Hoffman (played by SNL's Jay Pharoah) who seems normal enough if not paranoid and Violet (Juno Temple), who is not very friendly to say the least, but to make matters worse, her stalker is also there as one of the orderlies.  Or is he?  And we find out that the hospital is involved in a conspiracy to admit perfectly sane people just to get the money.  Or is it?  I even spotted Matt Damon in an uncredited role as a police officer.  Or did I?

Foy is a really good actress and I don't doubt that she has a long career ahead of her whether she is playing a Queen or a nutter but I will certainly miss her in "The Crown."

But whenever I see Juno Temple in a film these days I just can't understand why she hasn't broken out and been able to carry a film on her own.  I wrote about her way back in 2014 in a post called "15 Really, Really Good Actors You Never Heard Of: Names You Should Know and Some Films You Should See," predicting that she would emerge as a household name.  Hasn't happened.  After starring in "Little Birds" and "The Brass Teapot," she has mostly played the quirky friend or some dysfunctional character and her roles seem to be getting smaller.  And this film isn't going to help because her role is very, very small. Speaking of that blog post, looking back at it, most of the actors I highlighted HAVE emerged and are now big names.  Good on me!

I am a big fan of director Steven Soderbergh who has always been in the forefront of original movie making - after all, he changed the movie world with his "Sex, Lies and Videotape" - but this film looked like he filmed it on his Iphone (turns out I was right!), but I guess he was going for a sort of maddening Kafkaesque feel and if so, it works as does the screenplay by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer which clearly brings up that whole gender issue of women and hysteria and not being believed.

Rosy the Reviewer says...I guess if you want to not be type cast as a queen, just play a possible madwoman. This is an unsettling movie that will make you think twice about going to see a counselor!





Forever My Girl (2018)


A country star returns to his hometown and the girl he left behind.

Christian-themed movies are everywhere these days.  I guess people want to go back again to when America was great, and I guess that means country music, high school sweethearts, religion and no racial discord.


Liam (Alex Roe) not only leaves his small town of St. Augustine, Louisiana - a little town of nice houses, big porches and lots of American flags and churches called affectionately by the locals as"Saint" to which I say "how quaint" - to follow his dream to be a country singer, he actually leaves the day he is supposed to marry his high school sweetheart, Josie (Jessica Rothe).  He literally leaves her at the altar.


Eight years later Liam has realized his dream and is a big country music star, but we come to learn that money and fame doesn't always bring you happiness.  Didn't we know that already?  Liam has found his life not to be what he had hoped.  Groupies, adulation, drinking too much and living the high life just doesn't cut it anymore and he longs for the simple life he once had.  He regrets jilting Josie and when he sees a news report of the death of an old friend back home, he decides he needs to go home for the funeral.


He returns home and runs into Josie and a little girl named Billy (Abby Ryder Fortson) at the funeral.  He also learns that his name is Mud in town for walking out on Josie.  How many of you grew up with that as the all-time humiliation when you screwed up?  In my house, if you really messed up my Dad would say, "Your name is Mud." Not fun.


So Liam doesn't get a very warm welcome when he returns to St. Augustine.

"We have each other's backs here in St. Augustine.  We're family.  You don't belong here anymore."


Not the homecoming Liam had expected.  Oh, and that little girl with Josie?  Liam does the math and - gasp! - she is his!


But in case you hadn't already figured this out, Liam is kind of a selfish ass.  For all of those eight years he was gone becoming a big star, he didn't talk to anyone back home, not even his Dad (John Benjamin Hickey), who is a pastor, so that's why he didn't know about the little girl. That's his Dad's excuse for not telling him, anyway.  But, uh, St. Augustine might be a small town but don't they have cell phones?  Don't those people text?


But eventually, Liam realizes his life has been all about himself and he is drawn back to his church, which I think was the whole point of this movie.


Written and directed by Bethany Ashton Wolf (from the  YA novel series by Heidi McLaughlin), this film has a good message but in general these Christian-based films are so simplistic.  You mess up, just go to church and all will be well.  Actually, though, come to think of it, that's what my mother used to say to me!  Maybe I should have.


Anyway, you keep watching to find out why Liam left in the first place, and I am sorry to say that the reason is kind of lame, the ending is something out of "A Streetcar Named Desire," except Alex Roe is no Marlon Brando, and oh, geez, the little girl sings and plays the guitar and is so precious I thought I was going to gag on the Starbucks latte I had smuggled into the theatre.  You know how I feel about precious child actors. I thought I was going to hell so I guess I do need to go to church.


Rosy the Reviewer says...if you are looking for a movie version of a romance novel with no sex or bad words and where going to church plays a big role, or if you miss Nicholas Sparks you might enjoy this.







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



135 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?





The Wedding Banquet (1993)


A gay man living in New York makes a deal with his tenant - if they get married she gets a green card and his Chinese parents won't find out he is gay.

This was the first American film for director Ang Lee, who co-wrote the screenplay with Neil Peng and James Schamus.  Lee went on to direct the highly acclaimed films "Life of Pi" and "Brokeback Mountain" for which he won Best Director Oscars.


Wai-Tung Gao (Winston Chao in his first feature film) is a gay Taiwanese-American man living in New York City with his American lover, Simon (Mitchell Lichtenstein).  His mother and father (
Ah-Lei Gua and Sihung Lung), who live in Taiwan, keep wondering why he hasn't married and keep nagging him about it.  They want to fix him up with a bride and send him a questionnaire to fill out.  

He fills it out with what he feels are impossible qualifications for any woman to meet - she must be 5'9 (not an easy qualification for a Chinese woman), must have two doctorates, speak five languages and be an opera singer, also not easy qualifications to meet.  There, now he feels confident his parents will leave him alone.  But wouldn't you know?  Parents are uncanny about these things. They find him a woman who is all of those things except she only has one doctorate!  She travels to New York and Wai and she go out on a date and after she sings him an operatic aria, they both realize they are doing this for their parents.  She, too, has a love her parents wouldn't approve of.  So they part ways and Wai is back to square one.

Wai is kind of an uptight guy who owns a building and rents to Wei-Wei (May Chin), an undocumented Chinese artist.  She can't get a job and needs someone to marry so she can get a green card so Simon comes up with the idea of Wai and Wei-Wei killing two birds with one stone by getting married. When Wai wavers in the decision, Simon tells him if he gets married he can get a tax break and that's good enough for Wai.  He also thinks telling his parents he is getting married will be enough and they will get off his back, but instead they tell him they are coming to America to arrange the wedding.  Now Wai and Simon have to get all of the "gay" stuff out of the apartment, substitute it with Chinese calligraphy, move Wei-Wei in and really live out this charade.


When Wai's parents arrive, he and Wei-Wei get married at City Hall and his parents are clearly disappointed that the wedding is so small and simple.  But Simon offers to take them to an expensive Chinese restaurant to celebrate the wedding, and while eating, they run into a man who recognizes Wai's Dad as his commander during the war and it just so happens he is also the owner of the restaurant.  When he finds out that Wai and Wei-Wei have just gotten married and they are not having a big shindig to celebrate, he offers his restaurant for a huge banquet.


So now Wai and Wei-Wei embark on a huge wedding celebration with white wedding gown, wedding pictures, big dinner and the requisite wedding night tradition of shedding their clothes under a comforter with party goers in attendance and once naked and drunk under the covers...well, all kinds of complications, some predictable, ensue.


Chin and Chao were attractive and appealing actors but I found their acting to be over the top at times whereas Lichtenstein maintained a steadying presence as Simon. But it was Sihung Lung and Ah-Lei Gua as Mr. and Mrs. Gao who stole the show.  They were funny without overdoing it and also added a quiet pathos to the film especially when Mrs. Gao said, "When a son grows up, mother is forgotten."


Why it's a Must See: "...a clever and entertaining social comedy that helped to establish [Lee] as a commercial director...[and] the Chinese cultural details should be fascinating to all non-Chinese viewers."

---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says...I agree that the "Chinese cultural details" were fascinating and actually the best part of the film. but though the film was often humorous I also found the acting and screenplay to be over the top at times.

(In Chinese and English with English subtitles)





***The Book of the Week***




The Recovering: Intoxication and it's Aftermath by Leslie Jamison (2018)


A memoir about drinking and addiction that includes not just the horrors of that life but also the cultural history and literary romanticism associated with it and the question of whether or not a story about recovery can be as interesting.

Jamison shares her personal struggle with alcohol in a very candid memoir.  She pulls no punches when it comes to telling her story and her story is an interesting and harrowing one.  But she also wanted to share her story of recovery and she wanted that to be interesting too.  She wondered if it was.


"When I decided to write a book about recovery, I didn't want to make it singular...I wanted to write a book that was honest about the grit and bliss and tedium of learning to live in this way -- in chorus, without the numbing privacy of getting drunk...If addiction stories run on the fuel of darkness...then recovery is often seen as the narrative slack, the dull terrain of wellness, a tedious addendum to the riveting blaze.  I wasn't immune.  I had always been enthralled with stories of wreckage.  But I wanted to know if stories about getting better could ever be as compelling as stories about falling apart.  I needed to believe they could."


And that's what drew me to this book.  I, too, have "always been enthralled with stories of wreckage."  I think it's human nature to want to read about the weaknesses and horrors of other peoples' lives so we can feel better about our own.  But I am also drawn to well-written inspiring stories of triumph over adversity and you can already tell, I am sure, that Jamison is one hell of a writer.


Jamison is not just a wonderful writer.  She is also a wonderful reporter. She has combined her personal story with a discussion of writers for whom drinking was not just a prop but something that drove them to write.  She also combines that with a report on the recovery movement and putting those three things together - memoir, literary criticism and reportage - Jamison has written a book that is as important to the recovery movement as Kate Millet's book was to the Women's Movement and it reminded me of that book, a book that changed my life which as an early proponent of the Women's Movement changed my life.  

This book could be a life changer for people seeking recovery, but it's also part memoir, part recovery advocacy, and part a literary history of how we romanticize the drinking life as portrayed by the hard drinking male writer (think Hemingway and Carver), but if it's a hard-drinking woman?  Forget it. Just as with job equality and life, we women aren't even considered equal when it comes to alcoholism.

"Female drunks rarely got to strike the same rogue silhouettes as male ones.  When they were drunk, they were like animals or children: dumbstruck, helpless, ashamed.  Their drinking was less like the necessary antidote to their own staggering wisdom...and more like self-indulgence or melodrama, hysteria, a gratuitous affliction. Women might know something about the complications of a drunkard's life, but their drinking would never be IMPORTANT...not like a man's.  If they weren't drinking like children, they were drinking instead of caring for their children.  A woman escaping into drink was usually a woman failing to fulfill her duties to home and family."


Yes, this is a classic drinking memoir with all of the confessions and shame associated with a drinking life but it's so much more than that. It's also about the loneliness of the human condition, gender, literature and recovery. It's beautifully written and does manage to also make recovery compelling and that is what sets this book apart from the rest.  Jamison was right to believe that the story of recovery could be as compelling as stories about falling apart.  She has done it.


Rosy the Reviewer says...Jamison has been compared to Joan Didion and Susan Sontag and, yes, she is every bit as good as those writers and has written the definitive book on the joys and sorrows of intoxication and recovery.  Highly recommended.




Thanks for reading!


See you next Friday 


for


"Skyscraper"


and
  
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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Go to IMDB.com, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.

1 comment :

  1. RBG was a great documentary and yes please hang in there. It's even more important now with the replacement for Kennedy.

    ReplyDelete