“BlacKkKlansman”

“BlacKkKlansman” is another film to remind us that “Reconstruction” after the Civil War was never completed, and that our current President is pushing the other way and deconstructing any progress made in thwarting racism.

Director Spike Lee uses the storyboard foundation of a true tale. Ron Stallworth was a black cop in the 1970’s in Colorado Springs. Denzel Washington’s son John David Washington plays Ron, and he is easy to identify with as he joins with a  white, Jewish policeman ( Adam Driver) to infiltrate the KKK.

The 1970 garb of safari jackets, the “air karate”, and the put-downs like, “You think you are hot shit, but you are a cold fart” are fringe worthy, period details. Ditto for “I can dig it.” Funny for some; embarrassing  for others. The music like “Happy Days” , both ironic and loud, is used to drive emotional points; but, it can be overpowering. Subtle is not the tone used  in this film. And why should it be!

I love the large portraits of black student union members being moved by Stokely Carmichael’s speech. The young need to know that Kwame Ture ( Carmichael’s name choice) was the philosopher who coined the term “black power”. This is black power that does not need white help.

Topher Grace plays a smarmy David Duke that hits the mark. He speaks of the “ real America” and “America First” in direct correlation to D. Trump. Felix and Connie are Duke followers and so full of hate that their  “take America back” connotes lynchings.

The last two minutes of the film is tear producing as Lee shows real  footage from  current 2017 white supremacy activism. The screen frame of “Heather Hegel: Rest in Power” and the upside down flag are images that dampen any hyperbole that Spike Lee used to make viewers laugh earlier in the film.

This is a righteously angry film that I hope will get more than the African metal targets running to the polls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“ Three Identical Strangers ”

Tim Wadle’s new documentary ‘Three Identical Strangers” is shocking. What is even more shocking is that we have to wait until 2066 for the scientific ending. This is a closure that I will not live to see, and neither will the triplets, Bobby, David, nor Eddie. Wadle, a British film wonder, starts the story from its mid-point and captures us in its follow-the-dot-geometry.

The film relies totally on interviews, news clips, and videos. The first speaker is 56 year-old Bobby Shafran . He tells the story of when at 19, he discovered an unknown twin. His  first day at a small community college in the Catskills would bewilder and then ,ultimately, make him famous.

If college students in 1980 led to one brother, ( Eddy Galland, who had attended the same college the year before) , the press played up their reuniting. Another sibling saw his face doubled in the newsprint, and his birth date, July 22, 1962, led to the triplets reuniting. Eddy’s adoptive mother joked, “oh, my god, they are coming out of the wall!”

David Kellman joined his brothers and they became the press’s darlings.  On every late night talk show, they even had cameo appearances with Madonna in the film, “ Disparately Seeking Susan” (1985). They were twenty-four-years-old at the time. Enjoying their fame and their togetherness. We see them at Studio 54, and partying galore.

Even in the middle of all the distractions, coincidences kept surfacing. All triplets lived within a hundred mile radius. Bobby, Eddy, and David each had an older sister, 21. Each smoked the same cigarettes; all were wrestlers.

There were difference, too. Bobby’s adopted family was the most affluent. His mother was an attorney and his father a Long Island physician. Eddy was raised in a middle class milieu with teachers. David’s family bridged the class divide as immigrants and store keepers. None of the Jewish parents knew that their son had siblings. After the initial joy of reunification ebbed, they became irate that they were not told at the time when the boys were all adopted at six months. One parent said he would have adopted them all to keep them together.

The Louise Wise Jewish Adoption ServiceLawrence Wright, was the agency all three family’s used. All six of the triplet’s parents went to the agency to get answers together. It was a rainy night, and David’s father returned to retrieve his forgotten umbrella in the agency. He saw the Board of Directors toasting each other with champagne just like they had “dodged a bullet”. Something was amiss.

Lawyers would not take the case. They had too many clients using the agency. The boys, too, were curious. Eddy led the search for their birth mother using the public records in the New York Public Library. They met their alcoholic mother, but it was not a romantic story: “a prom night knock-up”.

We see the triplets each marry. We meet their wives, and see  Bobby, Eddy, and David start a SoHo restaurant. One brother commits suicide and things get very dark. A New Yorker magazine writer, Lawrence Wright, does some story research and opens a psychological study out of Columbia University funded by many powerful entities ,though it is not made definitively clear.

Abuse of power and investigative journalism now turn this film into a thriller that leaves you a very angry and incredulous. A Nazi-like experiment helped by a renown Jewish adoption agency abounds in irony. Families used like guinea pigs jar the psyche, especially, when Natasha Josefowitz, the famed Dr. Peter Neubauer’s research assistant, tries to justify their work as part of the times. A scientific community who put their needs in front of that of children never published the results of their monumental study. Sixty-six boxes of tapes, test results, home visits, charts etc.. were sealed and restricted. Yale University has Dr. Peter Neubauer’s research data to be opened  for viewing in 2066.

Nature or nurture debates, mental health heredity traits, all could have been the purpose of the decades long study. Playing with the lives of humans is very wrong may be the point of this film. A bizarre interview with Dr. Lawrence Perlman, who was a twenty-four-year-old participant on the study at the time, was willing to go on record that the project was ethically wrong. He still has his notes, but he left the study after twelve months. People were lab rats in the program’s design. Wadle’s documentary tells us that there are more controlled separations out there all in the name of science. What we see is manipulation of innocents by ego-driven entities. A sad tale well-told.

 

 

 

 

 

“ Sorry To Bother You”

“Sorry To Bother You” is a fresh satire that starts out imaginatively, and it assuredly has its values in the high niche; but somewhere the satire just loses its tone. I wanted to like this critically acclaimed movie more than I did, because I believe that greed and power are unbridled and welcomed by too many. Humor is a great way to curb a few deadly sins, and capitalistic critiques are needed these days. Even so,  “ Sorry To Bother You”’s  lack of polish and the poor frame lighting in most of the film distracted me from its message.

Production values aside, there was much that I liked. Who doesn’t wince at a sell-out?! And the actual dropping in of our protagonist telemarketer was hysterical. He interrupts lives by dropping in like the drone that he is.

Upworldly mobile desires are seen as complicity in the exploitation of workers. Contemporary society needs this critique. Going from a garage bedroom where the door flies up randomly to a minimalist chic abode has its understory of sold out unions and ghosted friends. Truth is told. The “ Royal View” is not so royal.

Director and screenwriter, Boots Riley, is promising. He is smart, value -laden, and imaginative. Add to this that he takes risks. His sci-if ass ending makes its point arrestingly. It is audacious! Financial glory is not worth selling your soul.

The story line draws you right in. Cassius Green ( Lakeith Stanfield ) needs to get out of his uncle’s garage and pay his back rent. He knows that there is something sick about  watching the reality show “ I Got The Shit Kicked Out of Me” all day, and the tv ads for “ Worry Free Lifestyle” seem too good to be true. Arnie Hammer plays its CEO as truly maniacal, by the way.

Cassius’s telemarketing interview is replete with bootleg trophies and awards. His poor self-esteem sizzles into initiative as he veers from “ sticking to the script”. With his briefcase and newly acquired “white voice” championed by a cameo from a laughing Danny Glover: “ Young blood, use your “white voice”, not Will Smith white.”  Cassius is moving on up from basement cubicles to the power-caller, golden elevator. The password at the VIP bar is “ upscale, elegant”.  The bulky headset is now blue-tooth slim.

Fun with names like “Debra DeBauchery” make their point humorously. The risqué earring messages of girl friend, Detroit, ( Tessa Thompson ) push into her performance art job where she twirls signs and more.

Humiliation is also in the genetic modification allotted by the corporation’s “ fusing caplets” . The future of labor is half donkey. Cassius sees the light and apologizes to his striking, union friends who emote,  “ you just get used to the problem. No body believes calling your Congressman works…”.

This film is relevant and affirmative but needs polish. Spike Lee, or John Singleton needs to mentor this hip-hop artist with a dream for film.

“An Israeli Love Story”

The film “Sipur Ahava Eretz Israeli” is based on a mono-drama written by Pnina Gary. It is a true love story which took place in Palestine before the establishment of the State of Israel. 1947 is captured well, both politically and personally. Our protagonist, Margalit, ( Adi Bielsky) is a young 18 year old, still living at home and dreaming of an acting career. Her love interest, Eli, ( Aviv Alush)  is 24 and a soldier. Eli Ben-Tzvi’s father will become the second President of Israel. Pnina Gary is now 90, and an acclaimed Israeli actress. In “An Israeli Love Story”, she is Margalit.

Margalit’s relationship with her parents, who are immigrants from the Ukraine is sweetly well-developed. She is a typical teen with flawed social planning skills, and likewise, adept at  last minute changes. Margalit thinks nothing of bringing a strange boy, who she just met home for dinner. Since, his car broke down he is offered to spend the night in one of the outbuildings. Her father sees immediately how taken she is with him. He tells his refugee stories about being with the Russians and having to blow their soup to move the worms and insects away. Margalit can not wait before sharing this with her girl friend. They laugh together about predictable parents.

Scenes with the bee hives and her father’s entrepreneurialism, as well as, her mother’s cooking show Margalit as a loving daughter, who is supported by her parents’ love. The holding of the shoulders takes on touching significance throughout the film.

Many of the camera shots have Margalit with her back to a wall. Initially, before the beginning flashback, we see and hear her reading a letter from Eli’s inconsolable mother, Rachel. When we hear of their cherished bond as lovers of Eli, we know that a sad end awaits us.

Dan Wolman’s direction plays well with metaphors of earnest action and impassioned imagination even when one seems backed against an immovable force. The tone is one of dark tranquility meshed with a call to live.

Refugees disembark in the dead of night, and Eli helps in the boat transport. Margalit sees him with a female worker and dismayed, botches her efforts to bring blankets as directed. She is inefficient at humanitarian efforts when her heart is broken. She opines dramatically to her friend, “ I don’t exist for him!” Young girls are understood by both the screenwriter and the director, here.

The cinematography is best during the courtship, which does ensue after many attempts on Margalit’s and her friend’s part. Reflections in moving bus windows of the trip to the kibbutz , and scenes in the orchard, the  hayloft, and the two on horseback  are lovely.

Major themes of war and peace are shown through the recitation of poetry. Biblical verses take on chilling revenge pronouncements: “The sword of Saul return not empty.” The humanities are shown as effective agents of social change on the more peaceful side.

Scenes where Arabs and Jews mingle and interact are shown. Ironically, trespassing boundaries cause the most contention. The herds of Bedouin sheep keep eating the kibbutz planted vegetables.

The kibbutz living is hard on Margalit. She does not like the sharing of property, whereas Eli believes that private property would ruin everything about the communal structure of the kibbutz. Eli is patient to a point with Margalit. He admits that sharing does not come naturally. Eli is committed to the kibbutz, and he tells Margalit in no uncertain terms that he is part of the people living here.

“ I am not leaving this place.” They agree to take a break to think over their commitments.

An actor in Haifa, who Margalit has admired openly after attending his play, invites her to see a favorite singer. He has predatory intentions, and she is embarrassed by her innocence in almost being duped.

Eli comes for Margalit at her parents’ home, and she is in Tel Aviv. She later goes to him and they reunite.

Preparations for Eli and Margalit’s wedding is full of embroidery, baking, cracking eggs, music and high expectations. Listening to the country by country vote on Israeli statehood is a nice touch. Over the radio we hear, “ France, yes; Greece, no; Haiti, yes; Brazil, yes; Yugoslavia, abstention ; United States, yes; etc… History is being made while the Bedouin flocks are in the fields again. When Eli and brigade leave to chase them off, Eli is cautious. They are ambushed.

Coffins and a stoic graveside scene is next. Margalit drops to her knees and is raised up by her father as he holds her shoulders to steady her.

At her theater sessions, Margalit has directed her troupe to practice again and again: not only with words, but with action. When one of her key actors was shot on patrol, the theatre troupe had asked for a break. Margalit, like a soldier, told  them that they would  carry on in the same way with the same tempo. Life would  go on. This is true as the film ends, also. Margalit is seen at the rural bus stop, ready to begin again.

“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot”

“ Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot” is about a paraplegic cartoonist, and it is replete with fine acting.  This bio-pic stars the talented Joaquin Phoenix. Phoenix is in almost every frame, and he seems to inhabit John Callahan the way he did Theodore Twombly in the fabulous “Her”( reviewed Feb. 10, 2015),  and in Joe, the damaged marine and former FBI agent, in “You Were Never Really Here” ( reviewed June 2, 2018). It is Oscar time for Joaquin ! He inhabits Callahan like he did Johnny Cash in “Walk The Line” ( 2005) with humor, pain and alcoholic  isolation.

Rooney Mara, our star’s real life partner, plays his romantic interest. As a Swedish nurse and therapist, and later a flight attendant, she opens John to moments of joy without which the film would be too depressing, like when at an Alcoholic Anonymous group session, Kim Gordon as Corky says, “ Maybe life is not as meaningful as we think it is.” The therapist responds with, “ That’s quirky.”

Jack Black is a great Dexter, the passed out driver of the 1970’s baby blue Beetle” that changes Callahan’s life. Jonah Hill is extraordinary as A.A. mentor, Donnie Greene. 1970 West Coast speak is alive and well.

Gus Van Sant, of “Good Will Hunting” ( 1997) fame wrote, directed and edited “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot”. Based on a true tragedy like his “Milk” (2008), Van Sant could have used help on the editing. Much of the film seems like long monologues of excuses, pity, and grief, and subsequent forgiveness lessons. I would have liked to have seen more of Callahan’s creative work in cartooning and songwriting. There was too much adolescent partying and silly antics portrayed. Teenage behavior can get boring, even making fun of the song “ Blowin’ in the Wind”. Rachel Welch’s private parts as “god” hits a new low for the famous.

Some of the best scenes are watching Phoenix gleefully accost strangers on the street and in libraries and in donut shops sharing his cartoons. His attendant Tim, as an abusive enabler, is more difficult to watch as is John’s hospital despair as doctors review his chart and seem to forget he is there.

Lots of film time is taken up with Step #12. We see  John rolling out  “forgivenesses” to friends, past teachers, a shirt store owner, Dexter, social workers and bureaucrats. and crossing their names off his list. By the time Callahan forgives his forever absent mom, we are tired.

The last playful scene asks us if John Callahan grew up before he died. I will leave that to the viewers.

“Shelter”

Who doesn’t love a spy thriller?! In the Israeli film “Shelter”,two women,Lena and Naomi,play a trust game that coils and recoils. The audience responses in kind and is whipped into a tense frenzy that has most at the end verbalizing, “that was some plot”.

Based on the novel “The Link” by Shulamit Hareven, director Eran Riklis focuses on the women’s relationship and all the “Mirrors of the Soul” ( 1965) that Khalil Gibran’s poem elicits: “ Life is an island in an ocean of solitude and seclusion”, “ If I saw your face, I would imagine looking into a mirror.”

The Mossad, Israel’s MI5 or CIA, is shown to have preternatural keenness for insight and strategy. No matter how spy savvy you think you are, this plot will dazzle. Deceiving with lies and false seeming, this agency has trapped us as well. And we have to admire it and the film that displays its ways.

The female narrative is bound with maternal gristle and the idea that everyone seeks shelter in these times of terrorism. Most of the film’s action takes place in a safe house in Hamburg, Germany. Naomi ( Neta Riskin) is a Mossad operative with a back story of grief. Her husband had been killed by a bullet that was targeting her. She has been on leave for two years. Now, she has been asked to use her skills to protect another woman, a Lebanese turncoat of Hezbollah. Golshifteh Farahani is Lena. In her red silk robe and gauze-bandaged face, she oozes loneliness and cynicism. She believes she will be killed. Naomi tries to settle her fears even when wrong phone numbers harass them and a man on a balcony stares at their windows. Naomi, herself using the name Claudia, becomes disoriented on a daily coffee run. The camera circles her and we see her fears in terms of white vans and masked men. She knows how easily “ things get out of control”. Images and sounds of commuter trains racing down tracks heighten this metaphor beautifully.

Two men in a bar contribute to the betrayal theme as one operative says, “ We take care of our people.” Only to have his companion retort that, “ She is not one of our people.” We know this safe house is a poker game, but we do not know the players or the stakes. Meanwhile a bonding birthday scene has Naomi and Lena preparing to say goodbye. Lena kisses Mona and then explains, “ I needed to see how you tasted. Maybe you will stay with me forever. Maybe I will stay with you.” Church bells toll and one bag is packed.what happens next is fast and bloody.

When Naomi’s face is seen on the German news, she flees with a grazed arm wound and the knowledge that she must find Lena’s friend in Cologne. We think we have the ending flushed out when Naomi heads to Beirut, Lebanon, as no less than a computer engineer. Mossad has used revenge as “ a very good motivator” in a Christian cemetery with nuns at chapel prayer.

Just like his earlier film, “ The Lemon Tree” ( 2008), where a Palestinian widow tries to keep her ancestral lemon grove from the hands of the security driven Minister of Israeli Defense, Riklis has used unique human experience to forge relationships that need to be formed. “Life need not be an island in an ocean of solitude.” Nuanced female bonding and spy strategies galore make this a surprising, cynical, and unnerving film. How others are played to get desired results leaves the uninitiated a tad glum, just like most British spy thrillers.

“Leave No Trace”

Paranoia and love play key roles in the compassionate film “Leave No Trace”. Beautifully acted and well-written, we come to understand the damage war has on the psyche, and how unprepared our young soldiers are for the emotional havoc war exacts.

Our setting is Portland,Oregon, but much of the film is watching survivalist maneuvers in a National Park. We see rain water gathered on plastic sheets, moss squeezed for its moisture. Mushrooms and berries are foraged, and egg shells are scattered over young lettuces. Branches are feathered for fire starts, and important objects like birth certificates and baby teeth are buried and hidden for safe-keeping. Hard work is balanced by the beauty of sun-filtered shadows and dew-dampened webs.

Ben Foster is Will, our veteran PTSD sufferer. He is father of a 15 year-old girl, who lives under make-shift shelters with him deep in government-protected land. “Tom” is an introductory role for Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie. Their father- daughter relationship is delightful to behold. In slow almost motionless vignettes, we see them practice hiding from the park rangers or anyone who might report their trespassing over-reach of public land. It is against the law to make one’s home here. Much of their efforts involve covering their tracks. ”Leave No Trace” is an apt title.

“Moving On” becomes their literal mantra. A mantra, that ironically Will and many of our veteran soldiers can not emotionally accomplish without psychiatric help. The effort to help our duo is half of the film. Director Debra Granik is perfect at capturing social workers, veteran counselors, and understanding compatriots and citizens trying to ease Will and Tom back into civilization. Ayanna Berkshire and Dale Dickey play roles that are both insightful and compassionate. Writers Granik and Anne Rosellini provide a more graceful tone than  in their earlier, outlier film,” Winter’s Bone” (2010), starring then another newcomer, Jennifer Lawrence.

There are so many nuanced scenes that will stay with you: bunnies being shown at a Young Farmers of America fair, bees covering a trusted keeper’s hand, an army sack filled with food hung on a tree branch.

War is trauma and this film reminds us of that. How do we turn boys into killers and then leave them hanging with the baggage? When Tom tells her Dad sweetly that “ the same thing that is wrong with you, is not wrong with me”, and her Dad responds with his loving, “ I know”, we are at the climax of the film. Walking backwards has never been more heart-wrenching. The audience is in the hand of this extraordinarily moving film. All nature is trembling with them. As for the haunted soldiers hiding, their weight becomes ours. This is a “do not miss”, filmgoers.