Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Review: Harlan County, USA (1976)

* * * *

Director: Barbara Kopple

Everything you need to know about the situation in Harlan County, USA, Barbara Kopple's Oscar winning documentary about striking coal miners in Kentucky, can be summed up in the words of Norman Yarborough, then President of Eastover Mining, when asked about the living conditions of the miners, who live in company housing with no water and no electricity: "We were attempting to move our people - and these are our people, they're my people - to move our people, to upgrade our people into trailers, upgrade our people into better housing, better conditions because it will make us better people when we are able to do this." These aren't the words of an employer; they're the words of an owner in a slavery system or a lord in a feudal system, words of oppression disguised as words of benevolence. It was a situation bound to explode sooner or later and it did, right in front of Kopple's camera, which not only captures the violence but also became a target of it in this powerful, sometimes horrifying, documentary.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Netflix Recommends... The Seven Five (2014)

* * * 1/2

Director: Tiller Russell

Tiller Russell's The Seven Five, a documentary about a major NYPD police corruption scandal during the 1980s and early 90s, is a film as infuriating as it is entertaining. It's entertaining because many of the people involved and who participate in interviews with Tiller, including main "character" Mike Dowd, are really great, charismatic storytellers. It's infuriating because it tells a true story about massive police corruption that was allowed to go on for years as a result of the police code of looking the other way when it comes to the actions of a fellow officer, and because the film itself, good as it is, can't help but further the self-aggrandizement of the subjects, some of whom seem pretty impressed with themselves and proud of what they were able to get away with even as they're expressing remorse for some of their misdeeds.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday's Top 5... 2015's Low Key Gems

All the big guns will soon be out for Oscar season, but before we get into the thick things, check out some of these smaller (and wonderful) movies from earlier this year:

#5: Appropriate Behavior

A romantic comedy (sort of) about a woman struggling to get over her ex and trying to reconcile her own desires and way of life with the expectations of her very conservative family. Star Desiree Akhavan also wrote and directed the film, which is a genuinely funny and fresh take on a well-worn genre.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Ten Years Later... Walk the Line (2005)

Director: James Mangold
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Reese Witherspoon

So, here's the thing. I don't think I've watched Walk the Line since it first came out 10 years ago, but in the years since seeing it for the first time then and rewatching it recently, I've seen Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story a few times and, as it turns out, that has completely ruined me for this Johnny Cash biopic. Basically, every time Robert Patrick showed up as Cash's father, I half expected him to shout, "Wrong kid died!" (and I had completely forgotten how close he comes to actually saying that), and every time Ginnifer Goodwin showed up as Cash's first wife, I couldn't help but picture Kristin Wiig as the prototypical biopic "first wife" who stands in the way of her husband achieving his dreams and does nothing but complain and get angry. That's not really fair to Walk the Line, but it's certainly a testament to how thorough a parody Walk Hard really is.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review: Spotlight (2015)

* * * *

Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber

In a perfect world, we could all at least agree that children are deserving of protection and that their safety should take priority over everything else. That we don't live in that kind of a world, that we live in one where people who exploit and abuse children can be not just shielded from prosecution but given multiple opportunities to perpetuate abuse, proves that we still have some evolving left to do. The story told by Tom McCarthy's Spotlight is not surprising - the specific story on which the film is based was well-publicized and there have been so many other stories of systematic sexual abuse by priests that that's now the first thing many of us think of with respect to the Catholic Church - but it's nevertheless shocking to see in action the workings of a conspiracy of silence and the abuse of institutional power undertaken to keep the ugly truth hidden. Yet Spotlight is no David and Goliath tale of taking on a massive, powerful entity and defeating it; rather, it presents itself as a story in which there is a lot of complicity to go around and even the protagonists aren't necessarily without some guilt in helping to perpetuate the silence and, by extension, the abuse.