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Movie Review:

The Old Man and the Gun, Directed by David Lowery, 93 minutes

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It’s a Robert Redford movie beginning to end, but Sissy Spacek has a single close-up that is worth the entire movie. I guess I had always thought that the way she beams off the screen had something to do with her unfailing youth, but now I know it wasn’t that. Whatever it was, she was great then and she’s great now!

The movie is an old-style semi-documentary gangster movie overlaid with the Robert Redford charm. The dates of events are given to make it more “authentic,” and indeed there really was an old gentleman bandit that was captured around the Dallas area, and he really did have a dramatic back story.

You know it’s a pretty good movie because Redford doesn’t make any bad ones. I’d like to say that there are some eternal themes or important messages, maybe about aging gracefully, to take home with you, but that’s probably not true. This is a movie for people who are crazy about Robert Redford, have been for decades and always will be.

And Sissy Spacek, too.

–Gene Lantz

I’m still on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” 89.3 FM in Dallas at 9 Central Time every Saturday morning. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review

“The Sisters Brothers,” Directed by Jacques Audiard. 121 minutes

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There’s some really terrific shooting scenes in this movie. It takes place in 1851, and the two cold-blooded professional murderers who are the heroes of this film do not have the traditional movie gun, the Colt 45 Peacemaker. The ones they have throw sparks and nasty sounds as well as lead. I don’t think I’ve ever seen better shootout scenes.

There’s a Dallas Angle: La Réunion

Another good thing about the movie, something that makes it more authentic to me, is the central idea of something that was going on in Dallas, Texas, during the period. One guy, and only one guy because everybody else in the movie is a cold blooded murderer, has a dream of going to Dallas and joining a socialist colony there. What makes it so authentic is that there really was a socialist colony forming right outside Dallas in the early 1850s. Wikipedia tells the story very well, even though they are a little too definitive about the dates when it started and when it ended.

The one man with his socialistic dream gives contrast to some of the characters and, to a small extent, tends to humanize others.

More Good Things

One could not ask for better actors than Joaquin Phonenix and John C. Reilly. One could not ask for more interesting scenes of horses running across rough western terrain. Some of the dialogue was outstanding.

On the Downside

We appreciated the effort to make an authentic western, but my movie buddy and I didn’t really like “The Sisters Brothers.” I think the problem was explained in a radio interview where the main star, John C. Reilly, explains that it was a labor of love. Apparently, they loved every scrap of film so much that they couldn’t cut anything out. They left everything in — every unrelated, going nowhere, irrelevant detail.

The result is a meandering movie with plot lines and asides going higher and thither. If they had tightened it up and put it into focus, it might have been a horse opera of worth.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON 89.3 FM “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9 Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review

“Bisbee 17,” Directed by Robert Greene. 124 minutes

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My movie buddy and I ordered tickets as soon as we heard there was a documentary on the Bisbee Deportation. Good thing we did, because they only scheduled three showings in our town. Most towns won’t get to see it at all. I wonder if they will show it in Bisbee, Arizona?

People who like artsy, independent movies for their own sake might like the film. People who judge movies on their effectiveness probably won’t. People who just want to see some honest working people’s history revealed at last will be glad they made “Bisbee 17,” but even then, I’m not sure they will like it.

The Wikipedia version, just telling the story straight, is a better way to find out about the forced deportation of 1,300 striking miners on July 12, 1917. I have always wondered how they carried it out, but the movie explains that very well.

The Phelps Dodge Mining company and its stooge sheriff deputized over 2,000 men. They made sure to get the Anglo-Saxons because they were targeting virtually every man who wasn’t. They armed those deputies and then started arresting all strikers and anybody who might support them, even people who only attended one meeting “just to listen.” One deputy arrested and deported his own brother, according to the movie, and never saw him again.

Then they marched everybody down to the railroad and loaded them on cars to nowhere. The sheriff announced that he would kill any who returned to Bisbee. The compliant (complicit) railroad company took them out into the desert and stranded them there.

The strikers were with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). They were supposed to have been represented by the Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers but union complacence gave the energetic IWW a chance to move in. It’s not in the movie, but one of the main IWW organizers was my personal hero, Frank Little. Little ducked the deportation and went on to another copper miners’ strike in Montana, where he was lynched less than 3 weeks after the Bisbee Deportation.

The artistic movie man took advantage of the centennial re-enactment of the Bisbee Deportation to film the local people preparing for and carrying out their re-enactment roles. As they were all Bisbee people, most of them were also the descendants of the perpetrators. Many of them still held the same racist, chauvinist, jingoistic beliefs of their forebearers and said so in the movie.

Maybe the best scene is when one outraged man speaks to a planning meeting of Bisbee citizens and says, roughly, “Some of you are saying we have to tell ‘both sides’ of the story! That’s like telling ‘both sides’ of the holocaust!” He made a good point, but the re-enactors didn’t listen. The movie man didn’t, either. That’s the problem with “Bisbee 17.”

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON 89.3 FM “Workers Beat” talk show every Saturday at 9 Central Time. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

 

We always assume that Lizzie Borden was guilty of the axe murders of her father and stepmother.

Movie Review:

“Lizzie,” Directed by Craig Macneill. 105 minutes

Chloe Sevigny produced this film and carries almost every scene as the central character. She does a fine job of acting, but Kristen Stewart deserves tremendous credit not only for a fine acting job but also because she keeps stretching her capabilities by taking on more and more diverse roles. In this one, the vivacious star of all those “Twilight” movies plays a mousy little immigrant housekeeper.

The real Lizzie Borden was never convicted of all that whacking, but the literary Lizzie, it seems, will forever be guilty until proven innocent.  Recently, she’s also become a feminist trailblazer. She wouldn’t have acted out so murderously, we are given to understand in the movie, if she hadn’t been repressed in the 1890’s. I think this movie makes that point very well through the drama itself, through the tension we in the audience feel on Lizzie’s behalf, and decidedly not because of sermonizing.

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After the movie, you might want to decide about Lizzie’s culpability and motivations on your own. Wikipedia has a good treatment. You might also want to check out the 1975 made-for-TV version starring another very good and versatile actress named Elizabeth Montgomery. It’s free on YouTube. It’s also very good.

We liked the movie. It had a lot of tension and, all the way through, seemed very honest. Also, there were three union logos in the last frame.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program 89.3 FM at 9 AM every Saturday Central Time. They podcast them on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

I enthusiastically recommend the content and ideas in Michael Moore’s new documentary, but I can’t actually recommend the movie.

Movie Review:

“Fahrenheit 11/9” Written and Directed by Michael Moore. 2 hours 6 minutes.

Michael Moore of Flint, Michigan, is probably the greatest satirist since Johnathan Swift. While his latest and most ambitious movie fulfills its purpose in illustrating virtually everything that’s wrong in Donald Trump’s America, it also highlights the inadequacy our response.

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In Moore’s defense, one might say that listing today’s evils is necessarily a long and grim task. However, such length and such anger don’t fit well into a moviegoing experience. “I felt like I was getting beat up,” was my movie buddy’s summary.

Three or four, or maybe four or five, separate documentaries would have carried the message and made the point better. I wouldn’t mind a feature-length documentary on the scandal of lead poisoning in Flint, or on comparisons between Trump and Hitler, on the Florida teenagers’ response to school shootings, on the failures of our electoral system, and most certainly I wouldn’t mind a feature length documentary on the wonderful school employees of West Virginia. But trying to cover them all, and even more stuff, in one continuous documentary film?

Moore’s over-ambitious project took so much time that it squeezed out all the room that he used in his earlier films for humor. There are some great laughs in “Fahrenheit 11/9,” but only a few.

That’s not my main complaint.

Where Is the Solution?

In an interview introducing his film, Michael Moore said that its purpose was to get people to vote this November. But that isn’t clear at all in the movie. Even if it were clear, for whom would Mr. Moore have us vote? In this film, he lambastes the Democrats almost as much as the Republicans. That can only lead people to do exactly what Moore tells us not to do, stay home on November 6.

At one point, one of the characters featured tells people to join unions. But another part of the movie disparages unions.

Apparently, the outraged Michael Moore wants us to be outraged, but what does he want us to do about it? Many Americans are already outraged. Somebody needs to tell them to join unions and other progressive organizations and fight for a progressive program with a real, long-term social solution.

Otherwise, we’re just a bunch of simple-minded outraged anarchists.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program at 9 AM central time every Saturday. They podcast on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.

Movie Review: “The Captain (Der Haptmann)”.  Directed by Robert Schwentke. 1 hour, 58 minutes.

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Just as you learned from the trailer, the movie is about a low-level German deserter who masquerades as an officer during the final two weeks of World War II. Toward the end of the movie, one learns that it’s a true story about a young man named Willi Herold.

Before that, you spend nearly two hours wondering and watching Willi pull off his incredible masquerade. Not only does he convince everybody he meets that he really is a high-level German officer with direct instructions from Hitler; but he convinces everybody watching the movie that he is one of the worst stereotypes of a monstrous Nazi in a monstrous war.

And we are never actually told his motivations. We really don’t know where to put Willi Herold, and he doesn’t tell us. Is he doing everything he does because he knows he is close to death and is living in a state of panic? Or is he just a terrible person who sees a chance to do something awful?

Also, we are never actually told whether we are watching a farce or a horror movie. Some scenes are as grim as any war movie ever filmed, maybe worse. Other scenes are so downright wacky that they might be some kind of movie tribute to Federico Fellini, the great Italian film maker who used realism only part of the time.

My movie buddy and I agreed that the movie was well made and that it is important. A work of art is defined as something that changes you, but it recognizes no obligation to guarantee the nature of the change.

The actors in “The Captain,” all of them set free to portray the far extremes of human emotion, are simply wonderful. The music and the shiny black and white cinematography melt the audience into the screen. My movie buddy and I agreed that we felt the need to seek out someone who would explain what we had just seen. Or maybe what we really need is somebody to sit us down and carefully explain Nazi Germany and World War II.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat,” 89.3FM in Dallas, at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. They podcast it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site

Movie Review:

“Never Going Back,” directed by Augustine Frizzell, 1 hour 26 minutes

“Puzzle,” Directed by Marc Turtletaub, 1 hour 43 minutes

This is the year of the women in movies as well as elections. My movie buddy and I caught two better-than-average films this weekend.

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Jessie and Angela are two wild teenaged waitresses in “Never Going Back.” Agnes is a straightlaced housewife in “Puzzle.” There are light moments, but neither movie is a comedy. Both of them ring true as comments on the lives of contemporary American women.

Jessie and Angela are parent- and school- free waifs just about to turn 17. They live with Jessie’s older brother. He is a stoner and aspiring drug dealer. He has even less sense than they do. He tries to borrow money from them while they save up to spend a weekend on the faraway beach in Galveston. The movie, takes place in Garland, Texas,  next to Dallas.

The viewer would probably respect the young women a lot more if they weren’t such zany outlaws, but he/she would probably care for them less. I worried about them all the way through the film.

I wasn’t worried about Agnes in the other movie, but I was pulling for her. As the film begins, she is taking care of men, her husband and two nearly grown sons. Before that, she took care of her father. “You’re the boss,” she cheerfully tells her husband at one point.

But Agnes has a secret. She’s taken up competitive jig saw puzzling with an exotic man in the big city. Agnes guides herself through big changes, but she is never entirely out of control. One admires her all the way through the film.

Both movies are well done. The music is particularly good, and the acting is outstanding.

For moviegoers who are interested in women as victims and women as rebels, these are two pretty good movies.

–Gene Lantz

I am on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program every Saturday at 9 AM Central Time. If you want to know what I really think, check out my personal web site