Showing posts with label Civil Rights. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Civil Rights. Show all posts

Friday, December 2, 2016

"Loving" and The Week in Reviews

[I review the new movie "Loving" as well as DVDs "Independence Day: Resurgence" and "Wild Oats."  The Book of the Week is "Tippi," actress Tippi Hedren's memoir.  I also bring you up-to-date on "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Bob le Flambeur."]


This film explores the personal side of the landmark Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia, which ended the illegality of interracial marriage. 

It's difficult to believe that as late as the 1960's, in many states it was illegal for interracial couples to marry.  Oh, wait, maybe not so difficult to believe, considering we only recently legalized gay marriage. But for me, it is difficult to believe that anyone cares who someone else marries, but for some reason, this has been something we Americans have been grappling with for years. 

Mildred (Ruth Negga) and Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) were a hardworking, blue collar couple who, in 1958, just wanted to live their lives and be together.  Mildred was a quiet woman who loved her family; Richard wasn't educated and didn't talk much, but they were in love. They were also an interracial couple living in Virginia where it was illegal for interracial couples to marry.

So they traveled to Washington, D.C. where it was legal to marry, and when they returned to Virginia as a married couple, they were arrested in the middle of the night and hauled off to jail, despite the fact that Richard had hung their marriage license on the wall of their home. Their crime?  Miscegenation. 

Richard was given a lecture by the local sheriff about "God's Plan," about how there was a reason why robins were robins and sparrows were sparrows...and blah, blah blah.  Their lawyer advised them to plead guilty and to keep them out of prison (for up to five years), they had to agree to either get a divorce or leave the state of Virginia not to return together for 25 years.  So they moved in with a friend in D.C. but Mildred missed her family and wanted Richard's mother, a midwife, to deliver their baby.  So back they went to Virginia where once again they were arrested.  Their lawyer appealed to the judge, saying it was his mistake telling them they could return to have their baby (which was a lie), and the judge let them go, but not before their attorney told them this was it.  "If you come back again, I won't be able to get you off."

Richard and Mildred returned to D.C. where they remained for five years, growing their family but missing their home.  Richard had bought a plot of land near Mildred's family and had planned to build her a house there.  So when one of their sons was hit by a car, that was the last straw for Mildred.  They were going back to Virginia to live in the country, no matter what. 

In the meantime, Mildred had written to the then Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, about their plight and he referred her letter to the ACLU.  They called Mildred and set in motion an almost ten year journey of fear and racism that would turn out to be Loving v. Virginia (1967), a landmark Supreme Court case that invalidated laws against interracial marriage, laws that, amazingly in the 1960's still harked back to slavery laws.

The Supreme Court ruled in their favor when the case was made by the Loving's lawyers: "How does interracial marriage harm the state of Virginia?"

"Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."

The court concluded that anti-miscegenation laws were racist and had been enacted to perpetuate white supremacy:
"There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy."
Why do we care who marries whom?  How is it the business of each of us what our fellow Americans do when it comes to love and marriage?

Sadly, this ruling did not stop some states from continuing to enforce laws against interracial marriage, and it wasn't until the year 2000 that Alabama became the last state to adapt its laws to the Supreme Court's decision.

The title is a poignant irony.  It's the last name of the couple but the irony lies in the very unloving racism at work here and that has existed for centuries. Sadly, racism still exists today.

There are some notable and lovely moments in this film -
  • When a drunk Richard lets up his usually steely guard, cries and tells Mildred he can take care of her.  Then note in the moments before the closing credits, she remembered that moment all of her life and acknowledged that Richard indeed took care of her.
  • In the face of their legal fight, Richard and Mildred are still able to bask in the love for their children.  They stand in the doorway of their childrens' room and then quietly go to their bedroom and close the door, putting a point on the closeness and nobility of their marriage, despite everything they had been through.

  • And I congratulate writer/director Jeff Nichols for his restraint and avoidance of the usual clichés we find with movies about court cases. There is no Jack Nicholson yelling "You can't handle the truth!" or a long impassioned speech by Richard, our lead character. In fact, Richard and Mildred did not attend the Supreme Court hearing. The movie unfolds in a realistic undramatic way and yet, the way it was done - highly dramatic.

This is a small picture with a big message but it's also a master class in acting. 

I first saw Joel Edgerton in "The Gift," where he played an obsequious neighbor trying to befriend a couple.  He was beyond creepy.  Then he was an FBI agent after James "Whitey" Bulger in "Black Mass," followed by a role as a cowboy and Natalie Portman's love interest in "Jane Got a Gun."  He is Australian, but never once did I know that until I saw him on a talk show as himself and heard his real accent.  He is a chameleon who can play anything - creepy neighbor, FBI agent, love interest.  He transforms himself into his character and is sometimes unrecognizable as the same guy.  Here he inhabits Richard Loving, blond hair and all.  So now he on my list of our greatest young actors (along with Tom Hardy and Eddie Redmayne).  Ruth Negga as Mildred is also wonderful which lets me segue into a bit of a rant.

The movie is about righting a wrong in American history and now here is a chance for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to right the wrongs of the last few years where diversity was not celebrated when handing out Academy Award nominations and Oscars.  I said it in my review of "Moonlight," and I say it again. Here is your chance, Academy.  Ruth Negga's quiet but powerful performance as Mildred Loving needs to be recognized as does Edgerton's.

Rosy the Reviewer says...this movie will make you mad, and it should! that the phone?  Ring, ring...Oscar calling.


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


Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

Earth is yet again under siege from those pesky space aliens.

One can't help but compare this movie to the original "Independence Day," which opened 20 years ago and was the highest grossing film of 1996, ranking in the top 100 of the highest grossing films ever.  It also won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. 

As you may remember from the first one, an enormous alien mothership enters the earth's orbit and deploys 36 smaller spacecraft that take positions over some of Earth's major cities and military bases. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), a satellite technician, decodes a signal embedded in the global satellite transmissions that he determines is a timer counting down to a coordinated attack on July 4 - Independence Day, get it? - Levinson demonstrates that the key to defeating the aliens lies in deactivating their force fields, and devises a way to do so by uploading a computer virus into the mothership. Two pilots volunteer to be the guinea pigs, and though humankind is saved, only one pilot comes back.

So now it's 20 years later and sigh...THEY'RE BAAAACK!  No I don't mean Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch and director Roland Emmerich, though, yes, they are back too.  No, I mean the aliens are back except this time the countries of the Earth has been able to cooperate and create an early warning system, because fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice...well, you know.  And I guess once you have an alien attack you can expect another one. 

It seems that one of those original alien destroyers has been discovered in Africa.  The aliens had been able to send a distress call to their comrades on the home planet. It also so happens that an unidentified spherical ship, with design and technology different from that of the aliens who attacked 20 years earlier, has also been discovered but Levinson believes that it belongs to another extraterrestrial race that might be benevolent and urges the world's Security Council not to attack, but naturally they vote to shoot it down regardless. Still with me? But before they can do that a mother of an alien mother ship (3,000 miles in diameter) suddenly emerges and destroys Earth's planetary defenses before approaching the planet and destroying cities and our famous landmarks. This is not good!

Turns out this big old mothership has a big old mother in it - an alien Queen - and our heroes need to destroy her or all is lost.

Unfortunately, despite some spectacular special effects once again, this film feels more like redundant than resurgence.  We have seen this sort of thing before. The world is coming to an end, the powers that be have to find a way to save the world and then there are all kinds of the usual side plots about people trying to get away from that inevitability - kids and dogs in danger, that sort of thing.

I can't help but also compare this film to this year's "Arrival," another space invasion film but a decidedly different one.

Though I liked "Arrival"" for the most part, I gave it a lukewarm review, but that's because, compared to this film, it's "Citizen Kane," and I expected more from it. 

But there are similarities. 

Space crafts are threatening countries around the world and world leaders are trying to work together to defeat them before they destroy earth.  The aliens in both films have a language that uses circular symbols, there is a female linguist (Charlotte Gainsbourg) trying to figure our what they are trying to say and there are also good-looking pilots (including a woman, which is a good thing).  But other than that, best not to compare these two because, despite those small similarities, this film would fall decidedly short.  "Arrival" is an intellectual film with great acting and a message; this one is a cartoon with the actors looking like they have been caught in a video game.  There is cheesy dialogue and did we really need to have a whole school bus load of little kids wearing bunny hats  in jeopardy? 

And when you compare this film to the original, some of the same actors are back and the special effects are good, but this one has an almost indecipherable plot.  My mind wandered for a minute while watching and then I didn't have the slightest idea what was going on.

So here's a question: Charlotte Gainsbourg, what is she doing in this film?  Shouldn't she be in some French film taking off her clothes likes she usually does?

And here is another question.  How did Jeff Goldblum become an actor?  His acting is downright deadpan and wooden and he delivers every line the same, no matter what is going on in the film, though, to cut him some slack, the cheesy dialogue doesn't help.

"We got one shot at this." 
Gee, I wonder what happens.

Charlotte to Jeff: "Don't say anything.  You'll ruin it." 
I know, because he can't act.

Though the special effects were good, they were probably much better in the theatre in 3-D than at home in my jammies with a glass of wine.  All in all, I didn't really like it.

But here are some things I think would have helped this movie:

Liam taking his shirt off
Jeff talking less
No teenagers
Some hot sex (when in doubt, throw in some hot sex especially when Liam Hemsworth is in the film

All in all, it took about an hour for this film to really get my attention but when they decided that they had to kill the Harvester Queen things started to pick up a bit and in the end, the President of the United States makes the ultimate sacrifice to save the planet.  We can only hope that President-Elect Trump would do the same.

Rosy the Reviewer says...the film felt like a giant set-up for yet another sequel.  Oh, geez, there's going to be another one!

Wild Oats (2016)

What do you do when you receive $5,000,000 from the proceeds of a life insurance policy instead of the $50,000 you were supposed to get?  Why you grab your girlfriend and embark on the trip of a lifetime!

Ex-teacher Eva (Shirley MacLaine) has just lost her husband and is having difficulty adjusting.  Her daughter, Crystal (Demi Moore in a very small part) isn't much help.  Crystal wants her mother to sell the house and go into a retirement home, but Eva's having none of that "out of sight, out of mind" stuff.

Eva's best friend, Maddie (Jessica Lange), is a twit, but her husband has left her for a younger woman and she has cancer so I will give her a break.  But she's not much help to Eva either. There is a poignant scene after the funeral where we see Eva getting ready for bed all alone for the first time, a chance for Shirley to show the acting finesse of a woman who has been at the craft of acting for so many years. 

But then Eva receives the pay out for her husband's life insurance policy and the check is for $5,000,000 instead of the actual amount of $50,000.  That perks her up. Eva and Maddie embark on an adventure. They both know that it's a mistake and they will probably get found out, but in the meantime...LET'S PARTY!!!

They decide to go to the Canary Island (a choice that is never explained) and live it up.  When the insurance company realizes their error, insurance agent Vespucci (Howard Hesseman who doesn't even look like himself anymore - he's old!) is dispatched and then the film becomes a cat and mouse between the ladies and the insurance guy sent to find them.  And, oh, yes, there is also Chandler, a handsome lothario (Billy Connelly), who also appears to be suffering some dementia but not enough to stop him from conning Eva. And then there is the inevitable younger man/older woman romance where Maddie thinks she is still attractive enough to attract a younger man when in fact she is being scammed.

This film gives MacLaine and Lange a chance to overact like mad, but it's mad fun! Though there is a scene where Eva and Maddie have trouble calling the insurance company - you know, for life insurance, press 1, for car insurance press 2 - that kind of thing and these two can't seem to handle that in a scene that goes on too long. I never like those scenes that show old folks having trouble with technology.  Not funny to us old folks.  

So because they can't seem to figure out how to get in touch with the insurance company, Eva decides to deposit the check and off they go on their big adventure where Eva wins a bunch of money gambling and they both get involved with con men.  The film also has the silliest ending ever, though I enjoyed it as a great homage to teachers everywhere.  Let's just say that one of the best parts of this film is all of the people Eva runs into remember her as their favorite teacher.  See, teachers?  You never realize how many kids you have influenced or lives you have affected.  Oprah still remembers her second grade teacher as being a huge influence on her life.

Written by Gary Kanew and Claudia Myers and directed by Andy Tennant, some of the jokes and situations are silly and there is a bit of slapstick, and yes, the film plays the age card with moments when the film feels like a big joke about old people coping with being old:

When trying to decide whether or not to keep the money:
"What if they arrest me?"
"You are old.  Tell them you were confused."

"Eat that steak tartare before it gets cold."

But the film also makes a statement on how we want to dismiss our old folks and put them away, rather than benefiting from their experience and expertise when in fact us old folks still have a lot of life left in us!  (And if you read my recent rant, er, post on that, you will know that's one of my things). 
Eva is the smart, practical one and Maddie likes to drink and is a bit sex mad (another old folks joke that isn't funny), but the interactions between MacLaine and Lange are amusing and celebrates the joys of female friendships.  There is a certain charm here and chemistry between the two that is great fun and reminded me of those 1950's romantic comedies starring Debbie Reynolds that took place in beautiful locations.  Remember those?  Oh, I guess I do because I'm old.

Rosy the Reviewer says...a silly but fun female buddy picture that celebrates women of a certain age.  We need more movies like this (said a woman of a certain age)!

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

224 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Bob le Flambeur (1956)

Bob is an aging gambler who is broke so he decides to rob a gambling casino. So?  What else are you going to do in retirement?

"Monmartre is both heaven.... and hell." 

So begins this classic French film with a voice over as a trolley goes down a hill on the world "hell."  You know you are in for an amusing ride. 

Bob (Roger Duschesne) is a regular denizen of Monmartre.  He's also a world weary hood and a gambler who is getting old. But Bob is the height of cool with his slicked back white hair, his fancy car and his modern apartment that sports its own slot machine.  Everyone knows Bob and he's actually friends with one of the local cops because Bob may be a hood but he has some morals.  He saved the cops life once so the cop is grateful and protective of Bob.  Likewise, when Marc the pimp (Gerard Buhr) approaches Bob for money to get out of town, Bob tells him he doesn't help pimps and men who beat women so he tells him to get lost.

Bob meets Anne (Isabelle Corey), a young woman who appears to just be hanging around looking for trouble. He takes a liking to her but warns her "Don't hang out in Monmartre.  You'll end up a pavement princess."  "Pavement princess? Classic film noir. I'm going to have to use that one! Anne comes on to Bob, but like I said, he has morals and realizes she is too young for him.  He introduces her to his protégé Paulo (Daniel Cauchy).  Anne has trouble written all over her, another favorite film noir device.

Bob has gone straight for 20 years but he is on a losing streak and is broke, so he decides he needs to go for one last scheme - to rob a casino in Deauville for 800 million francs. He gathers together a group of accomplices...and all appears to be going as planned until Paulo spills the beans to Anne to impress her.  And Anne spills the beans to Marc.  You remember Marc, he's that pimp that Bob unceremoniously threw out of his apartment.

So now there is the girl, the pimp who has it out for him and a crazy heist scheme - a perfect storm for Bob.

When Marc, the pimp, gets arrested he makes a deal with the cops and now our anti-heroes have to deal with what transpires when the snitch snitches.

Gorgeous to look at, this film captures the beauty of Paris in the 1950's.  The camera angles are unique and the soundtrack is a variety of styles from French bistro to jazz to romantic.

Directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, this is French film noir and a precursor to those later films like "The Usual Suspects," where everything starts to go wrong and you yell at the screen, "No, don't tell that guy your plans!" or "No, don't make that decision!" Well, I yell at the screen anyway.

But just when you think everything is going to go wrong, it turns out not to be one of those films where absolutely everything goes wrong.  There is a big ironic twist..

Why it's a Must See:"[Melville is] the director who paved the roead for Sergio Leone, John Woo, and many others...[This film] is nostalgic and burlesque, yet filled with compassion and an accurate and respectful attention to places, objects, words, and the dreams everyone is entitled to live with."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Stanley Kubrick once said that he decided to give up making crime films after seeing "Bob the Gambler." 

Rosy the Reviewer's a winner in more ways than one!
(In French with English subtitles)

***The Book of the Week***

Tippi: A Memoir by Tippi Hedren (2016)

Actress and animal rights activist, Tippi Hedren tells her story.

Today Tippi Hedren is probably best known as Melanie Griffith's mother and Dakota Johnson's grandmother or for her animal rights activities -- that is, if you even recognize her name at all.  But in the early 1960's she was a hot actress and the muse of Alfred Hitchcock, starring in "The Birds" and "Marnie."

Tippi never wanted to be an actress.  She was a model and loved doing that but when Alfred Hitchcock saw her in an ad for dish soap, he found her and signed her to a contract.

If you know anything about Hitchcock, you know he had a thing for cool blondes - Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Martha Heyer were all his muses.  He signed Hedren to a personal contract and to star in "The Birds," a great opportunity for any actress, let alone an unknown.  Hitchcock and his wife coached Tippi and worked tirelessly with her to bring her acting up to speed. Unfortunately for Hedren, she didn't know that Hitchcock was madly in love with her, and he made his intentions known, constantly staring at her, harassing her, and eventually trying to kiss her.

After having made it clear to Hitchcock that she was not interested in him, Hitchcock turned the tables on her and began torturing her psychologically and even physically.  In one of the most important and horrific scenes in "The Birds," Hitchcock told her the mechanical birds were not working and she would have to perform a scene using live birds.  He made her do the scene over and over until she was bloodied and even the cameramen were appalled.

Hitchcock is also known for his fastidious planning that went into preparation for his films.  Everything was worked out in advance and he didn't take kindly to actors voicing their opinions.

"I'll never forget asking Hitchcock while we painstakingly worked on the script and my performance, 'Knowing what's happened to the farmer and Annie, knowing that the whole town's under attack and that the birds have surrounded the house, why in the world would I climb those stairs and go into that bedroom by myself? To which Hitch replied after careful thought, "Because I told you to."

Likewise, she writes before the filming of her second film, "Marnie:"

"I still remember Hitchcock telling me that he'd signed Sean Connery to be my leading man.  I wondered out loud how I was supposed to play a frigid woman opposite Sean, of all people. To which Hitchcock replied after a long pause, 'It's called acting, my dear."

That is classic Hitchcock.  His actors were merely pawns in his grand scheme.  .

Eventually Hedren was able to get out of her contract with Hitchcock, and though she continued her career to some extent, she never again had the kinds of roles she had in "The Birds" and "Marnie."  She realized that her rejection of Hitchcock was a death sentence to her career. Hitchcock had set out to ruin her career and he did.

During the course of her career and her second marriage, Hedren developed a keen love of animals, especially lions, and the second half of the book is about her and her husband's attempt to make a film called "Roar," about African lions, a film that turned out to be a dangerous undertaking.  She also shared her life as a single mother, and her work as an animal activist.

The first half of this book - Hedren's early life, her acting career and dealings with Hitchcock - was riveting and fascinating; the second half - her efforts to get the film "Roar" made and her animal rights work - not so much.

So I have learned something about myself reading this book.  There is a side of me that is really shallow.  I like the juicy Hollywood stuff and am bored by stories of meaningful work. I will have to work on that.

Rosy the Reviewer says...if you love juicy Hollywood stuff, the first half of this book is for you.  If you are not as shallow as I am, and you love animals, you will probably like the second half as well.

Thanks for reading!

See you  Friday

"Some TV Shows You Should Know About: 2016 Edition"


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