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Movie Review: “Sweet Country,” Directed by Warwick Thornton. 113 minutes

sweet-country-premier

My movie buddy and I are suckers for anything Australian. I think it’s the way they subsidize their movies that gives them such an intelligent edge. This one is more of a character study and an exposition than a story, even though there’s more than enough action.

The movie claims to be based on actual events in 1929. An indigenous man kills an Anglo, then goes on the run. Moviegoers may have seen wyly outlaws evade posses and madmen dying in salt deserts before, but seldom told with this much plain grit.

The indigenous characters are largely inarticulate and given to local idioms. The film has to use subtitles for some of their dialogue. There is a lot of symbolism that is open to interpretation, but one theme is clear throughout: racism. Like any story revolving around racism then as now, those dancing around the theme included the decent, the indecent, and the willfully ignorant.

The chase through the outback gives the filmmakers and the moviewatchers wonderful opportunities for vista viewing. The old John Ford westerns have absolutely nothing on this Australian cowboy movie.

But it’s the characters that matter. Moviewatchers get a solid inside look at these realistic settlers and their near-slave employees. Degradation and inspiration are there in handfuls. Warwick Thornton and his Australian team have made us a gratifying movie that is to be taken seriously and thoroughly enjoyed. The price of a ticket seems hardly enough to repay them.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 AM Central Time on Saturdays. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site,

Book review: Glenn Frankel, “High Noon. The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic.” Bloomsbury, New York

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There aren’t any actual good guys that I know of in the story about the American film blacklist. There are just bad guys, to one degree or another, and victims. The main character in this book is Carl Foreman, who wrote “High Noon” and saw it through. According to the book, Foreman’s views were shaped by the anti-communist witch hunt going on at the time (1952). Foreman was one of the victims.

The plot of the movie, as you know, concerns a lawman under pressure from a gang of killers. He can’t find anyone to back him up, but he can’t figure any way out of it either. So he has to face almost certain death alone. He survives (it’s still a Hollywood movie) and is embittered about the law (the system?) and about the people he had considered his friends. He dumps his tin star and rides away. The town becomes a ghost town, just as it deserved.

The town in High Noon is a metaphor for Hollywood. I’m old enough to remember when the movie came out, and I’m also old enough to remember the schlock that passed for American films afterward. Rock Hudson flirted with Doris Day in every other movie for the next ten years!

I’ve read several books about the witch hunt that is sometimes called the “McCarthy period.” I liked this one because it names a lot of names of the name namers. It doesn’t equivocate as to who was profiting by turning in their friends, who was lying to begin with, and who found some way around it. Foreman was one of those last ones. He was a victim to be sure, but he came out of it better than many former Reds. He managed to avoid naming any names, too, according to the book.

A lot of fuss is made over film star John Wayne, who was one of the biggest red-baiters in Hollywood. This may have been because many of the people he was victimizing had served honorably in World War II, while Wayne ducked it and made his fortune playing war heroes. Wayne hated “High Noon” and Carl Foreman. There’s an interesting interview on YouTube in which Wayne tries to cover his venom with a patriotic veil.

I also liked the film analysis in the book. Several artists did what has to be their best, or way up there nearly best, work in this movie under difficult circumstances. I can’t think of a better performance by Katy Jurado or Lloyd Bridges. Lon Chaney Jr, who ruined his image by playing The Wolfman over and over, was especially outstanding. Gary Cooper played Gary Cooper for the 1000th time, but it’s hard to think of a better version! If you’re curious about Cooper’s role in the witch hunt, you’ll get your answer in this book.

The book offers a lot of answers about this terrible period in American history. The questions continue to overshadow the answers, especially “Will it happen again?”

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3 fm in Dallas every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

 

 

 

Movie Review: The Insult, Directed by Ziad Doueiri. 112 minutes

The_Insult_(film)

It’s not just about two strangers quarreling over home repairs. OK, that’s how it starts. But this is one of those movies where a little personal incident illustrates universal pain.

We’ve been reading about the turmoil in the Middle East for a long, long time, but what’s it like for the people living in it? That would probably be very hard to explain.

You Gotta Love Movies

The wonderful thing about The Insult is that it doesn’t exactly explain it. It just takes you through that other world and lets you feel it.

If you have already chosen sides, or if you think you have chosen sides, you may have to re-evaluate. You may find out there are more than just a few sides. I kind of like to think that the protagonists in this movie, even though they are at war with each other, both represent a side of their own — decency.

Neither of them really wants to become symbols of deep seated anguish and national hostility. The characters really grow on the viewer, no matter what kind of baggage we brought into the theater.

Unless you really can’t stand movies in multiple foreign languages, or if you hate courtroom drams, I think you’d like this one.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio 89.3 FM in Dallas every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site.

 

 

Book Review:

Schrecker, Ellen: Many Are the Crimes. McCarthyism in America. Little Brown and Company, Boston, 1998.

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I remember the 1950s like white bread: bland, not nourishing, and an important part of every meal. Books, movies, and all things cultural talked about “the American way” as if it were the best of all worlds and the best ever created or imagined. Socialism was never mentioned, except in a pejorative way in movies like “I Married a Communist” or “I Was a Communist for the FBI!” We did not smoke dope in Muscogee, or anywhere else as far as I knew. We kept our hair short and our minds shorter.

It has taken many years for me to realize that the wasteland of the 1950s was created deliberately. Too bad I didn’t have Ellen Schrecker’s book in 1953! It would have saved me a lot of personal anguish.

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Schrecker details important aspects of the anti-communist crusade from World War I to modern times. Except for a brief period during World War II, when the United States and the Soviet Union were wary allies, the crusade was relentless.

Schrecker is an academic, so don’t expect her to take sides. She’s just reporting what happened. Academics are afraid to take sides. However, the sheer immensity of the government-run effort to destroy civil rights, civil liberties, and any kind of resistance speaks for itself.

The author reminds us often that she doesn’t sympathize with the communists. She stands on the high ground of impartiality, and, in a way, that makes the facts about the  FBI and the other zealots even stronger.

Schrecker doesn’t shrink from pointing out that a great many of the tactics implemented by the FBI and taken up by other government entities were illegal. A great deal of the testimony against communists and liberal thinkers consisted of FBI-solicited lies. J. Edgar Hoover is hardly the only guilty party. Schrecker doesn’t spare the intellectuals and liberals who all-too-easily jumped on the anti-communist bandwagon. She also doesn’t spare the right-wing union officials who cashed in when, with government help, they drove the militants out of the American union movement.

I’m particularly interested in what happened to the American unions after 1947, when the anti-communist and anti-union Taft-Hartley law was passed. Unions resisted it at first, but here’s what Schrecker says on page 380: “…by the early 1950s, most of the nation’s unions had adjusted to the law and abandoned their struggle against it. It was a serious mistake. Taft-Hartley created an unfavorable legal environment that forced the entire labor movement onto the defensive. Unable to employ the aggressive organizing tactics that had been successful in the 1930s, unions found it difficult to expand. As a result, by the 1970s, when the postwar boom began to falter and the well-paid blue-collar jobs of the members began to disappear, labor was unable to mobilize either the political or the economic clout to protect its earlier gains. It’s numbers dropped… Instead of reaching beyond its traditional white male constituency in the heavy industry and skilled trades of the Northeast, Midwest, and West, the labor movement turned inward and raided its own left wing.”

On page 382: “Its rupture with the left hastened its transformation from a movement to a bureaucracy…. Once the left-wingers were gone, organized labor lost its dynamism….”

The saddest of the tragedies throughout this long, detailed book comes on the last page when the author considers “Can it happen again?” “…the process through which McCarthyism came to dominate American politics is infinitely replicable.” In less academic language: Yes, it can happen again.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. If you’re interested in what I really think, look at http://lilleskole.us.

 

 

 

Movie Review, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” Directed by Martin McDonagh. 115 minutes
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There are supposed to be at least five stages of grief, but Mildred Hayes is stuck at number two — rage. She is out to get a certain transgressor and she’s willing to take on the town’s law enforcement — and the town itself! The plot is too good to spoil here, but let me make a couple of comments about the value of the movie.
There’s an art experience here that everybody can relate to. It involves the viewpoints of the good, the evil, the young, the old, the comfortable and the discomforted. My movie buddy and I picked the movie of course because of its star, Frances McDormand. Just as we expected, she is absolutely wonderful as Mildred Hayes. The surprise for us was how terrific the entire supporting cast was. Woody Harrelson was far better as a caring and sympathetic man than he usually is as a rough and tumble sardonic stereotype cowboy, even though he’s still, as he often is, a cop.
Best of all is the villain, well, sort of a villain, played by Sam Rockwell. We usually see Rockwell playing characters who are insane, but they are usually cleverly so. In “Three Billboards,” he’s not only insane but also cruel, chauvinistic, and stupid. The actor carries it off beautifully. His lowly character becomes, I think, the best example of the many examples that show what this fine movie is about — being fully human.
–Gene Lantz
I’m on http://knon.org/workers-beat every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you want to know what I really think, look at http://lilleskole.us 

Movie Review: “Suburbicon,” Directed by George Clooney, 105 minutes

It's a lot of movies

Matt Damon and Juliana Moore star in a movie that could have been named “Hunter for a Raisin in Pleasantville”

 

Kudos for the team who made “Suburbicon” for having four, count ’em, four union logos after the credits: Producers Guild, Sag-Aftra, Teamsters, and IATSE. That’s just one of the film’s many good features. We liked this movie.

In the next-to-last scene, I realized that it was a comedy. If I had known that all along, I’d have enjoyed it more because it’s really a pretty good comedy. The problem, and the probable reason that it is setting records for tickets not sold, is that the film makers also weren’t sure it was a comedy. It might have been a murder mystery, a civil rights drama, or a horror story. “Suburbicon” has elements that could be compared to some really great movies such as “Night of the Hunter,” “Raisin in the Sun,’ and “Pleasantville,” If you saw those movies and liked them, you’ll also like parts of “Suburbicon” — but you probably won’t enjoy the entirety as much unless you follow my advice: “Think of it as a comedy.”

The original script was from Joel and Ethan Coen. But the film’s credits show two other writers jumped in and added their alien ideas. That was unfortunate, because the Coen brothers have an unbroken string of smash hit comedies. I wanted to see this movie because I love George Clooney and admire the way he trades in his matinee-idol image for self-sacrificing humor. I also admire leading man Matt Damon for playing super hero secret agents one day, then sappy zoo-buying dads the next. He takes it even further this time. I also wanted to see the movie because I firmly believe that no one, no matter how hard they try, can poke enough fun at the 1950s in America. Even if it did nothing else, “Suburbicon” moves to the top of anti- sterile, racist, anti-communist, cold-war hysterical, 1950s movies!

The plot: Two pre-adolescent boys, one anglo and one Black, play a little baseball together in a perfect little all-white suburb in the late 1950s. Then there are mobs and murders right and left. Some of it fits right into whatever you may think of as the plot line, and some of them don’t. You’ll enjoy the movie as we did if you keep in mind “It’s a comedy!”

–Gene Lantz

I’m on http://knon.org/workers-beat every Saturday at 9AM Central Time. If you’re interested in what I really think, see http://lilleskole.us

Three hours after we went into the theater, we emerged dazed and questioning.

Movie Review: “Blade Runner 2049,” Directed by Denis Villeneuve, 163 minutes

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The last hour, or so it seemed, was the credits. The more the graphics arts in a movie, the longer the movie credits. My movie buddy always sits through to the final frame, because she wants to know if it was union-made or not. This one had three union logos at the end: Sag-Aftra, Teamsters, and IATSE.

Frankly, I loved every minute of it and would still be sitting there if it had gone on, but I suspect that this movie, like the 1982 Blade Runner, will undergo some cutting and re-cutting before they’re done. The original was one of the greatest accomplishments in movie sci-fi of all time. That’s not because of the incredible graphics. I suppose the incredible graphics award will go to one of those Transformer movies. It’s the way that all the elements of the movie, including music, backgrounds, special effects, acting, stunts — all of it — come together to produce a moody symphony.

Like the first movie, this one is basically a hard-boiled detective story set in a horrible future world dominated by corporations whose greed has left the planet barely inhabitable. Near-human android slaves (replicants) have all the jobs. There is no happiness in either group. There’s no sunshine anywhere at all. It’s as grim as if the Trump Administration had lasted until 2049.

I may have to see the film again, because I caught a number of tributes to other movies and other art forms, and there were probably a lot that I didn’t catch. And like all good sci-fi, there were some really great philosophical and moral questions raised by the replicant-killing Blade Runner, the not-so-bad replicants that he didn’t kill, the evil replicants that he did, and the even-more-evil corporation at the root of it all.

—Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio every Saturay at 9 AM Central Time. If you want to know what I really think, click here.