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kenmorefield

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  1. In a video discussion provided to critics with the advanced screener of Hillbilly Elegy, director Ron Howard admitted to having trouble finding the through story in J. D. Vance’s popular memoir. Howard added that he was somewhat skittish about the book’s sociopolitical angle but wanted to film it because the people in it acted like his own extended family. That stance is certainly understandable, but it’s unfortunate because it moves away from the primary reason most people were interested in the memoir in the first place. As domestic melodrama, Hillbilly Elegy is a somewhat conventional tale of the effects of drug addiction with a side of Horatio Algereseque rising from poverty. The book garnered attention because its appearance in 2016 purported to offer insights into the culture of economically disadvantaged white voters who propelled Donald Trump to the presidency. The film version’s focus, then, would be something like retelling United 93 as a family profile of the passengers without any reference to them getting on the airplane. One of the first scenes in Hillbilly Elegy features a young J.D. finding an injured turtle on the road. He picks it up and, rather than helping it, moves it to a different location. This is, of course, the worst thing you can do for a turtle. I thought for a second that perhaps this was meant to be a metaphor for the book as a whole: James (or Hillbillies) are the turtle and well-meaning but ignorant people who intercede do more harm than good. If it was a metaphor, the film seemed unaware of it, even having the young J.D. spew some facts about turtle anatomy to demonstrate that he knows more than the average poor kid. Maybe he does, but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And knowledge isn’t wisdom. The film’s narrative is told with parallel storylines. The adult J.D. is on the brink of escaping poverty but hasn’t landed the first important law-school job yet. He’s called back home to help his mom (Amy Adams) who has relapsed into addiction. The flashbacks tell of how J.D. grew up in the shadow of that addiction and, with the intercession of his grandmother (Glenn Close), escaped it financially if not emotionally. I give the film marginal props for having the courage to make the young J.D. a … less than angelic kid. He says he wants to live with grandma to get away from mom and then blames grandma for butting in and taking him away from mom. For anyone who has any sort of experience with child protective services, this makes sense. J.D. waffles between a survival instinct and survivor’s guilt. The problem, though, is that we understand this internal tension far, far quicker than the film expects us to, so it keeps underlining the same motivations and points long after we’ve grown impatient with the storytelling. The best scene in Hillbilly Elegy — the only one that worked for me — is when the young J.D. complains that he can’t do his math homework without an $84 calculator. After grandma buys it for him, he throws it out the car window during an argument driving home. Grandma kicks him out of the car and tells him he can’t come home without it. He thinks this is tough love of some sort, but later he oversees the proud family matriarch literally begging Meals on Wheels for whatever extra food they can give. After that, he starts behaving, doing chores, working on his homework. It is not a particularly subtle scene, but in a movie this on-the-nose, it’s the closest thing we get to showing rather than telling. Amy Adams is fine, and so is Glenn Close. They manage to avoid making their characters stereotypes even though a title like Hillbilly Elegy practically announces that stereotype is the point. The title has that sort of aggressive embrace of the moniker while the story expresses ambivalence. At best, Vance’s attitude toward his culture of youth (as presented in the film since I haven’t read the book) can be described as love-hate. More accurately, it’s probably tolerate-hate. Or feel-compassionate-towards-but-still-hate. That’s great for a sermon illustration on the virtues of perseverance. For a drama with Oscar aspirations, it’s too earnest and completely safe. I think the film is so worried about us not having an uplifting cinematic experience that it never risks presenting the ugliest parts of Vance’s culture as unmitigatedly ugly. Drug addiction is never presented as an escape from a painful reality, it is just something that happens to every family, almost at random. Honestly, I’ve seen more penetrating social analysis in a handful of Jack Reacher novels. View the full article
  2. I went in with moderate expectations because the set up seemed stilted to me, and I feared there would just be a collection of position=paer speeches. But I was surprised how much this movie stayed with me. The performances are quite good, I think, and post-election, I appreciated the introspective quality of the characters even more. I said in my review, I think it finds the sweet spot between deconstruction and regurgitation. http://1morefilmblog.com/2020/11/10/one-night-in-miami-king-2020/
  3. At several moments during Regina King’s One Night in Miami, I found myself thinking the film was working better than I expected. I kept waiting for its rickety structure of dramatic monologues stitched together to collapse, but it never did. “Worked better than it should” is, of course, a critical cliché, and a pretentious one at that. What I mean by it is that I don’t typically appreciate movies where characters are mouthpieces for socio-political arguments and the plot is largely limited to a single setting. They can come across as a classroom lecture in narrative form. Yet this one didn’t, so what made the difference? Kemp Powers, who also penned the screenplay for Pixar’s upcoming Soul gives us mostly two hours of Cassisus Clay, Malcolm X, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke in a hotel room talking about what it means to be Black. I say “mostly,” because each character is given one scene major scene outside of the insular narrative. Brown discusses football with an affable racist, Clay pushes back on his trainer expressing concern for their financial backers, and Sam Cooke goes on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to sample a new song. These scenes are in and of themselves minor, and they may seem a bit on-the-nose. Yet they provide important contrast for the discussion among the Black men — who they are and how they speak when they are alone with each other is informed by but separate from the public personae. Clay is younger, surprisingly humble, and deferential to the men he looks up to. Brown is less worried about being physically intimidating and less guarded. Cooke, conversely, is more prickly with his private critics than he can afford to be when working in an industry depends upon his remaining likable. Malcolm has more self-doubts and worries about the loyalty of those in his movement than he can show when in public. We’ve had films and countless profiles of these men before, so a film like this one has to find the sweet spot between deconstruction and regurgitation. By focusing on a snapshot in time, it does just that. The most important part of the title is that this is “one” night. Humans are complex beings that evolve over time. Consequently, the film doesn’t have to be convincing in every detail, it just has to be plausible. The characters don’t have to exactly mirror the figures we’ve drawn in our minds’ eyes, they only have to be broad sketches of them. The themes of double-consciousness and hyper-consciousness are not unique to African-American literature, but they are understandably common in the narratives of any oppressed or subjugated group. People in such positions don’t just look out at the world, they also try to stand apart from themselves, constantly checking what they project to the world and how the world reacts to it. That history of double-consciousness could make the film seem voyeuristic, but it largely doesn’t. It’s not as though the film is revealing secrets that the men keep hidden from the rest of the world. Rather it shows facets of the same people that are too often obscured because we only ever see them in one light. Also, given the trend in contemporary American politics towards radical subjectivity — the insistence that one’s beliefs or fears are real even when they are contrary to external evidence — there is something brave and, yes, I’ll say it, American, about the film. No matter how big a following these men have in sports or music, or politics, they are beholden to explain themselves to one another, to answer challenges, to admit the flaws in their own positions and the truths embedded in the conduct of those they disagree with. What could have been an awkward collection of caricatures morphs throughout the length of the film into a narrative that surprisingly tells us a lot about celebrities we think we already know and, even more surprisingly, about ourselves, One Night in Miami was the opening film for Filmfest 919. It arrives in theaters this December. View the full article
  4. I'm very much a fan, though that's no surprise given my affinity for all things Tykwer. Seasons 1-3 available from Kino Lorber. My review:
  5. Although 2020 has seen a limited number of theatrical film releases, it has nevertheless provided cinephiles with many options for DVD and streaming experiences. For fans of Tom Tykwer, Kino Lorber’s new box set of Babylon Berlin is one of the year’s highlights. Seasons 1 and 2 are available now, with a separate set of Season Three discs coming in November. Tykwer’s filmography includes high-energy thrillers like Run Lola Run and The International as well as more somber, pensive fare such as Perfume: The Story of a Murderer and the sadly underrated Heaven. The director has cited influences as varied as John Carpenter and Krystof Kieslowski, which may make his style hard to pin down. As Tykwer explains in the wonderful documentary Lubitsch in Berlin, it is that proverbial touch which he has been attracted to and trying to emulate for much of his career. One point of obvious comparison to Lubitsch is that Tykwer’s films often occupy an emotional space permeated with deep melancholy but occupied by those who have not yet surrendered to despair. That preoccupation is well on display in Babylon Berlin, and the series works equally well as a period melodrama and a portrait of people (and a broader culture) battling against not just political forces but also their own emotions wrought by seeing the world around them drifting towards insanity. In some ways, of course, that’s a very postmodern theme, but as the connection to Lubitsch suggests, Tykwer sees postmodernism flirtation with nihilism not something new but rather the newest iteration of an age old struggle to find meaning in the midst of harsh circumstances. The protagonist is Gereon Rath, and after a brief but ambiguous set up that suggests he is seeking treatment at an indeterminate time in the future, the series flashes backwards to Berlin in 1929. Rath has been transferred to the vice division of the police, and much of the opening episode involves a raid on the underground production of pornographic films. His partner is a bit more brutal – in him we see hints of the Nazi regime to come. But that isn’t all that separates the partners. Rath has secrets of his own, including why he was transferred and what he is really looking for. At the police station he means Charlotte (Lotte) Ritter, an attractive and determined woman who is doing all that she can to keep her family afloat – without much help from anyone else. When Lotte is getting dressed up we think she might be prostituting herself, but she is actually looking for any way to get noticed by the bureaucrat who might offer any one of the twenty ladies waiting in line some secretarial work. Ironically, the work she gets is tagging photos in the “murder squad,” so that detectives can look for commonalities between crimes. In the pilot’s best scene, Ritter and Rath bump into each other (the most cliché of all meet cutes), each spilling crime photos on the floor. As they sift through the pile, neatly separating murder from sex, violence from vice, neither flinches in embarrassment, though one comment towards the end signals a belated concession that something about the encounter isn’t normal. The scene is emblematic of the whole, and its quintessential Tykwer. People trapped in an elaborate mousetrap getting glimpses of the artificiality of their roles and indeed their lives. The pilot also introduces a plot thread of Trotsky loyalists who are smuggling something – we know not what – on a train making its way inexorably towards Berlin. I admit to finding that storyline less interesting, but Tykwer understands the mechanics of genre entertainments, such as building mystery and suspense through the slow approach of…something. Pilots are always challenging because they must introduce both characters and storylines. Babylon Berlin’s does both well. By the end of the first episode, you will either have seen enough or be eager for more. I was definitely in the latter category. View the full article
  6. Kino Lorber is offering 8 free movies to stream between now and November 15: https://kinonow.com/series/anniversary-binge
  7. It is admittedly difficult these days to separate the pleasure of having any new movie to watch from the pleasures induced by a particular film. That caveat aside, I could not have asked for a better choice than Chloe Zhao’s Nomadland as my first theatrical film experience in over six months. While theaters in North Carolina just reopened this month, spikes in COVID-19 have discouraged me from heading to them. It has only been with the opening of a new drive-in theater in connection with Chapel Hill’s Filmfest 919 that I felt I could enjoy one of my favorite cultural activities while having a reasonable amount of control over my environment. Nomadland is a star vehicle for Frances McDormand. She rises to the occasion as she always does. This time, she plays Fern, a Nevada woman who lives out of her car and becomes a modern-day nomad when her seasonal job is finished. Her job was the last weak tie to a place she no longer needs to be and doesn’t particularly want to be living in. The problem, of course, is that America is big, and absent conventional reasons to settle in a particular place, choosing any place feels arbitrary. McDormand gives a layered performance, and writer/director Chloe Zhao’s screenplay eschews flashy Oscar-bait speeches in favor of a steady accumulation of quiet, observational moments. It is the tone of Nomadland that persuades the viewer to lean in. On paper, films about homelessness sound angry or strident, but this film is more about the sadness and loneliness that accompanies alienation than it is a civics lecture about the economics of poverty. There are a few confrontational interactions between Fern and her sister, but in them, Fern is angrier at circumstances that force her to ask for help than she is at her sibling. Her sister comes across as genuinely worried for Fern rather than upset at her unwillingness to become a dependant adult. One of the most effective ambiguities in Zhao’s script is whether or not Fern is drawn by something positive in the nomadic lifestyle or merely thrust into it by material conditions. She’s afforded several opportunities to escape her fate, first from her sister and later from a male nomad with his own safety net who would like Fern to be part of something a little more stable, a little more permanent. That the film doesn’t resolve that ambiguity one way or the other could lead to some complaints about it being cryptic, but I was satisfied with the presentation of these opposing forces in one woman’s life. McDormand makes Fern interesting and real, and by the end, I had less of an opinion about what she ought to do and more of a genuine curiosity about what she would do. View the full article
  8. The singular thing about Harry Chapin is not that he promoted causes in and through his musical performances but that he managed to do so in a way that endeared rather than alienated him from most listeners. Perhaps that is a consequence of the fact that the cause about which he was most outspoken – world hunger – is viewed as non-partisan. But Chapin still talked about wealth and class disparities with the sort of rhetoric that would most likely receive pushback from some segments of the contemporary social and political landscape. He didn’t just argue that poverty was bad or painful, he also argued (at least in the double-album I grew up with) that the middle-class had to do more for the poor because the wealthy were greedy and selfish. http://1morefilmblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Harry-Chapin-2-725x1024.jpeg It is possible that the public response to Chapin – almost universally positive – can be ascribed to his having lived in a less polarized time. I do not think that is all of it, though. Harry Chapin: When In Doubt, Do Something, illustrates that he also had charisma and an authentic, compassionate personality that people responded to positively. Nowhere is that more evident than when other musicians offer their remembrances of the folk singer. Billy Joel tells of how Chapin the headliner talked up his opening act when Joel was opening for him. His point was not that everyone should do this, it was that Chapin often went above and beyond what was required. Pat Benatar beams when she talks about Chapin wandering into a club where she was performing and inviting her to audition – even while forgetting his money and leaving her to pick up the tab! Nobody seemingly has a bad word to say about Chapin – not fellow musicians, not his family (who kicked him out of the band and forced him to go solo), not even the record producers. Another endearing point about Chapin (and the documentary) is that whether performing or giving interviews, he is always smiling. He comes across as relentlessly upbeat, a polar opposite of the caricature of a burnt-out do-gooder or an angry prophet. Although he did not speak about religious convictions driving his causes, his dedication and demeanor have much to teach people of faith about how one can be a zealous advocate while expressing positive aspirations rather than only critical condemnations. Even though I have been familiar with Chapin long enough to own his double-album of live performances on cassette tape, the film still managed to tell me a few things about him that I didn’t know: which songs are autobiographical, which performers he helped break into the business. It was a treat to get to see what some of his band and brothers looked like. Mostly, though, this is a celebration of the man and his life more than it is a critical inquiry or complete summary of it. As an angry, politically polarized year draws to a close, it sure is nice to be reminded that we have always had good people among us who are willing to share their hearts as well as their passions and their convictions. Harry Chapin: When in Doubt, Do Something is currently screening digitally and at select theaters. It will be expanding to other cities in October and November, 2020. View the full article
  9. The board just did a software update, and I noticed that under the "staff" tag that 10-15 people are listed as "moderators" who are not. I'll try to fix this tomorrow -- I suspect I know what's causing it. If you see or notice any other glitches, please post here or send me a PM.
  10. So, I was screening this in my world literature course, and somehow, through several viewings, I had never quite caught Fiona's line in the confessional, "You think what happened to me is unimportant." Obviously, the film's themes are not dependent on any one line, but I take the inference that something specific happened to Fiona, I assume a rape, that precipitated her suicide attempt. This certainly reinforces the visual juxtaposition between Fiona and Jack at the end of the film (their faces merge in the reflection of the glass) and suggests to me one reason why Jack could hear something from Fiona that he couldn't from James...they share an experience. To the extent he knows or realizes some shared pain in her, it also falsifies his justification for killing James, that James never cried for the victims....
  11. I attended my first movie since March...a drive-in in Chapel Hill for Nomadland as part of local film festival. I wasn't quite prepared for how good it would feel. Helped that the movie was great. Only one person got within six feet of me, the ticket taker at entrance who was masked up. (All the employees were.) Just had to roll down my window enough to get ballot. Sound was over radio, but I had a guest, so we left windows open just for precaution but other cars around didn't have windows open. I'd feel comfortable going back. It was good to be at the movies. Helped that the movie was pretty great, too.
  12. A muted recommendation for Martin Eden, the French adaptation of Jack London's novel. I actually thought something gets lost in translation, but it is refreshing to see a movie that is unapologetically left-leaning as to capitalism. My review: http://1morefilmblog.com/2020/10/16/martin-eden-marcello-2019/
  13. Hi mando, What a delightful post, thanks for circling back and letting us know you found the answer. I was reminded of my own attempts for many years, to discover the title of a song I heard on the radio that had the line "The devil is my savior..." in pre-Internet days. Everyone kept telling me based on my description that it was "Goodby Stranger" by Supertramp, and I said, "no that's not it." But it was. Sometimes Google makes such quests less Romantic than they used to be.
  14. Hi Stef, Might be worth reaching out to Evan to put you on the e-mail invitation list for when we do Zoom chats. (Usually once a month or so.)
  15. Well North Carolina re-opening at 30% capacity. What's the old rub of a compromise leaving both sides unhappy? https://www.wral.com/bars-movie-theaters-to-reopen-as-nc-moves-into-phase-3-of-reopening/19312728/
  16. BAM is a good source for film screening during pandemic: https://www.bam.org/programs/2020/bamfilm They are screening restoration of From the East: Chantal Akerman's FROM THE EAST (D'EST) Brand new restoration premieres exclusively at BAM A brand new restoration of Chantal Akerman's From the East (D'Est) (1993) premieres exclusively at BAM. Tickets are $10 for a one-week viewing period. The film has been newly restored by the Cinematek Royal Film Archive of Belgium. Visit BAMcinematek's virtual theatrical page here: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/fromtheeastatbam. "We're delighted to be working with Icarus Films to present this beautiful restoration of an extraordinarily empathetic work by one of the great filmmakers," said Ashley Clark, Director of Film Programming at BAM. This is one of 10 films by and about Chantal Akerman released by Icarus Films, whose collection includes No Home Movie (2015), Down There (2006), From the Other Side (2002) and South (1999). About the Film Traveling from the end of summer to deepest winter, from East Germany to Moscow, Chantal Akerman captures the sounds and images that touched her, following the thread of her subjective crossing. Without dialogue or commentary, From the East (D'Est) is an essential cinematic journey.
  17. Andrew, I think Christian mentioned this earlier, but the bulk of the Virginia Film Festival this year is going to be online, though it looks like there will be some restrictions to streams (some films North America only, others Virginia only). https://virginiafilmfestival.org/
  18. Dear Colleagues, I am open to having an Ecumenical Jury this year, but if we do, we would have to get started. Since Joel has taken point the last few years and is focusing on his Ph.D. studies at the moment, perhaps this is an idea that has run its course? Or is there someone else who wants to take a leadership role? As a reminder, the Ecumenical Jury was originally something I proposed when Christianity Today stopped doing its "Most Redemptive" or "Critics Choice List." The first year, the results were posted here and at my blog. For subsequent years it was at Image. Once Image sold the site I think it was at Transpositions one year but I think last year was just here. Anyhow, if anyone wants to see this continue, post here or send me a DM. If someone wants to take an organizational or leadership role, that would please me, but if nobody does, I''ll let it die. Unfortunately, I just don't have time to organize it myself, especially given that in recent years, there have been more participants who were outside of A&F and simply interacted with the foreperson.
  19. kenmorefield

    Dune

    While I am on a Siskel and Ebert kick, here's their pan of Dune:
  20. I mispoke at the Zoom meeting tonight. I went back and checked and it was The Great Muppet Caper, not The Muppet Movie which Ebert gave a "thumb's down"
  21. Interesting results from Pew Research Center. Only 51% of Americans surveyed say they would "Definitely" or "Probably" get a COVID-19 vaccine today if one were available. https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2020/09/17/u-s-public-now-divided-over-whether-to-get-covid-19-vaccine/ I guess that is a double whammy consequence of the science denial in out culture. The obvious effect of those who listen to politicians rather than health experts and the tier of those who fear that the administration will rush a trial or vaccine for political purposes and we'll have Thalidomide Part II or something....
  22. kenmorefield

    Cuties

    Haven't seen the film yet...not sure if I will...but the discussion made me think of this clip:
  23. kenmorefield

    Native Son

    Here's my review of the Kino Lorber 1951 restoration: http://1morefilmblog.com/2020/09/22/native-son-chenal-1951/
  24. If I went to a drive in, I don't see any real risk of contact with people. I suppose I'd want to see the layout for how condensed the cars are as far as aerosols in the air the air and whether sound is from external speakers or over the radio.
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