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Movie Review:

“Capernaum,” Directed by Nadine Labaki, 121 minutes






Tough guy

The hero is a tough, profane, street-smart guy. But he’s not from New York’s Lower East Side as in our usual gangster films. He’s not from Capernaum either. It was an ancient city where Jesus and several of his disciples once lived. Jesus put a curse on it when he left, and that’s probably why the film maker chose the name for this story that takes place in the dusty slums of Beirut.

The tough guy says he might be 12 years old, but he looks 8. He’s already stabbed a bad guy and is serving a five-year prison sentence when he first begins to explain his story. The story is about someone so tough that he bears the worst of betrayals and deprivation. He even makes the horrible lives of refugees and other underground non-persons better than they would have been.

The villains are the tough guy’s parents, the human traffickers, the system of misery, and most of the people he meets. One of the most heart-rending lines in the entire movie is when he expresses his surprise to another child, “Your mother is even worse than mine!”

The star of the movie is the genuine article. He’s a Syrian refugee named Zain Al Rafeea.  His resolute little angel face tells most of the story. He and the film are winning international awards.

We had seen one other Nadine Labaki film. “Caramel” was about a beauty salon operator with relationship problems, not about misery and poverty. Both films, though, have a certain inventiveness that makes me think that Labaki is a trailblazer. She’s a young woman. According to the credits, her face is the first one you see in this film, so watch for it if you’re curious.

I think Labaki had some sympathy with movie audiences when she started writing this screenplay. I think she smoothed off some of the edges to make it a happier, or less miserable, viewing experience. The truth about the world’s children is almost certainly worse.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” program 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

Film Review: “Who Will Write Our History,” Written, produced and directed by Roberta Grossman. Based on the book by Samuel Kassow

For Holocaust Remembrance Day in Dallas, people from all over the city gathered at the historic Texas Theater to see this documentary about the Warsaw ghetto and the small group of historians who risked their lives to document the tragedy.

They wrote down everything they could, and they saved photos, drawings, and printed (by the German occupation) materials. Then they wrapped it the best they could and buried it. The resulting account was dug up after World War II and constitutes a day-by-day account of the horrors they bore. The film says that the complete Warsaw Archives were buried in three separate parts of the ghetto, and that only two of these treasures have been found so far.

The documentary film has a lot of the footage that the occupiers shot, still shots of some of the archives, plus testimony and narration. It is interspersed with docu-drama film to make a seamless presentation that makes sense. Or rather, it makes as much sense as anything concerning the holocaust does.

We must cry when we remember, but remember we must. The film was shown all over the world on January 27. Its tour continues.

–Gene Lantz

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

Movie Review: “On the Basis of Sex,” Directed by Mimi Leder, 2 hours

My movie buddy and I enjoyed the biopic about Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s early days in the fight for gender equality, even though it was formulaic and predictable from the beginning to the powerful ending where the real Ginsberg mounted the Supreme Court steps.

The movie is very timely as it hit theaters just as Ginsberg was missing her very first sessions while battling lung cancer. The last report I saw said that she had beaten cancer once more and was back on the job. The documentary, “RBG,” about her had just closed a week or so before this dramatization was available. Another reason that the movie is so timely is that the Supreme Court has been making headlines for years as it cleared legalities out of the way for the ongoing power-grab of the plutocracy.

Only Ginsberg’s early legal efforts, and especially her first big trial before the Supreme Court, are covered. But the inference is that she went on to win more and more gains for women. We were pleased that the movie didn’t try to give all the credit to the legal system, but made the point that people change things before laws recognize it.

In discussions after the movie, we talked about the Equal Rights Amendment, which both of us fought for in the 1970s. It passed in Congress but, like any constitutional amendment, it had to be ratified in the states. We came close but we didn’t win, or rather we haven’t won yet.

The ERA would have overturned all the many statutes and case precedents justifying gender discrimination in America. Ginsberg’s approach, in the movie, was to tackle them one-by-one, and that’s what she and others have been doing. The movie implies that we’ve been winning all this time and will continue winning until gender equality is fully achieved.

But, so far, it hasn’t happened.

Why Not?

Women live longer and consequently outnumber men in America and on the planet. If they could get together, even vote together on women’s issues, they would win. But the truth is that they don’t.

Texas has had two outstanding women candidates for governor in the last two elections. Both were outstanding for their stands on women’s equality. Neither one of them won, and neither one of them got all of the women votes. I think that both of them, like Ruth Bader Ginsberg and maybe even like Hillary Clinton, made some progress; but so far no victory cigar!

Frederick Engels, in the 19th century, wrote that women were the first oppressed class, mostly because their oppression coincided with the birth of written history. Both written history and women’s oppression came about because surplus wealth was beginning to be produced. Men took that wealth and developed writing to account for it. They developed women’s oppression in order to make sure that their heirs were biologically theirs.

Engels said that women’s oppression would end in future society because women would be in the workforce and fully as productive as men. I think that’s been the case so far. The laws didn’t change first. What happened first was that women established their power and their rights in the workforce.

Union Women Are Far Ahead

Most American workers aren’t organized into unions, but the ones that are practice women’s equality rather thoroughly. As our working people attain more power, women’s equality will at long last attain its final goal.

Meantime, let’s keep marching!

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s Workers Beat program 89.3 FM 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: “Shoplifters,” Directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda, 121 minutes

A family that steals together,
feels together

This isn’t a Hollywood movie with a given gimmick, heroes, villains, and a romantic ending. It is a delicate, multi- layered garment that must be pulled back gently to reveal its true design. It earns its honors and awards without any trumpets nor fanfare.

It’s not really about theft, even though the impoverished Japanese family gets a lot of its basic necessities that way. It’s not about poverty, slums, or sex either. That’s just the setting for a story about universal themes of love, commitment, and, above all, family.

My movie buddy and I found the subtitled movie slow for the first hour and a half, even though we kept picking up nuances that intrigued us just enough to keep us in our seats. The last half hour explains everything and pushes every tiny circumstance into hard questions that challenge everything we have thought and felt about the little group of shoplifters and thieves.

I guess that’s art.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio’s “Workers Beat” program 89.3 FM in Dallas 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: “Vice,” Directed by Adam McKay, 2 hours 12 minutes.

As the young Dick Cheney and the old, Christian Bale was heavy
Christian Bale was skinny in “The Machinist”

Even if you lived through the Bush-Cheney years and don’t think you need a refresher course, you will benefit from seeing “Vice.” It concretizes our understanding of the many things that are wrong today. Dick Cheney was not the first nor the last Republican to warp our laws in the service of dark money, but he is certainly in the running for the worst.

The movie credits him with paving the way for dishonest network television, tax giveaways, fraudulent wars, distortion of justice, and torture, among other things.

So many are the chronicles of Cheney’s crimes that the movie, despite its length, has little time for drama. It is almost a documentary. The time-saving method of using a narrator to hurry us through events has to be employed. Even within that hurried framework, though, the actors are magnificent. Christian Bale again shows his dedication and ability by being both the wastrel Young Dick and the overweight criminal old Dick. Amy Adams, as Dick’s Lady MacBeth, is outstanding. Several headliners take minor roles, or even cameos, to get the historical drama on the screen.

It was not completely amazing to see that Brad Pitt headed a list of film producers, especially if one also went across the movieplex to see the outstanding civil rights film, “It Happened on Beale Street,” where Pitt is again the lead producer. Pitt apparently is committed to progressive filming.

There are a lot of surreal moments in the film. They’re extremely humorous in a macabre sort of way. Some of the critics have blasted McKay for taking short breaks from serious treatment, but I think he did it the way it had to be done. When listing the crimes of Cheney, we have to laugh to keep from screaming.

–Gene Lantz

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

Movie Review: “Roma,” Written, directed, and filmed by Alfonso Cuarón. 135 minutes

“When I was little, we had this wonderful servant…”

Nearly all movies are about rich people. The women wear low-cut gowns and the men spiffy tuxedos. Every now and then, somebody walks on stage to bring them tea or take their hat. Every now and again, the servant gets one line which is often a wisecrack. They’re only props in the movie.

“Roma” begins with a servant. As soon as I saw her, I hoped the movie was going to be about her and not about the affluent people who command her every thought and motion. For once, my hope was realized!

Her peers call her “Manita,” but the employers call her “Cleo.” She has to overcome difficulties that are just as bad, probably worse, than theirs. She depends on them completely. My favorite line in the movie was “Are you going to fire me?”

When I was young, I once sat in a booth at the Hamburger King with four high school girls. They were dissing a girlfriend whose family servant had yelled at them for some bad behavior. “I’ll never forget her name,” said one of the girls that I didn’t know very well. Then she spat the name with disgust: “Evelyn!”

The one girl I did know well, who knew me, and was looking directly at me, said, “Good thing it wasn’t Gladys, wasn’t it Gene?” My mother was a scrub woman who had worked for that family. Nobody ever made a movie about her.

But, thank goodness, somebody made a movie about Cleo and it’s getting rave reviews everywhere. The few criticisms note that the story isn’t really told from Cleo’s point of view, but from that of one of the children she served. She doesn’t get to say a lot, and she doesn’t really explain anything. She endures. From the bosses’ perspective, that’s what servants do.

We loved the movie. I’m especially grateful for it. Oddly, subscribers to Netflix can watch it at home even while it’s sweeping up awards in theaters.

–Gene Lantz

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

It’s not about religion, nor about lack of religion

The Netflix Cowboy Epic, “Godless,” is spectacularly awful. The spectacular part is the truly wonderful scenes of horses and raw nature. The costumes are excellent. The blood and gore is spectacular. There may be more dead bodies created on-screen than in any movie I’ve seen. There are at least 100 murders and maybe another 50 combat deaths, all committed with gleeful abandon. 

The awful part is the stereotyped characters. Believe it or not they actually present a whore with a heart of gold and a gunfighter of great repute who wants to hang up his pistols. There’s a straight-shooting widow woman, there’s a charming child (who, believe it or not, idolizes the gunman), a sheriff trying to overcome a reputation for cowardice, a Bible-spouting unscrupulous villain, an amoral newspaperman, a native sidekick — just about every stereotype I’ve ever seen in decades of watching Westerns. Just to make sure you know that they will stoop to everything, they sprinkle it with unrelated nudity.

After the ultimately predictable carnage near the end of the series, I began to get even more uneasy with the plot. “Please God,” I remember saying, ‘Don’t let him ride off into the sunset!”

The advertisements give the impression that there’s going to be at least a nod toward feminism. After all, it’s supposed to take place in a town without men. No such luck! It’s a male-dominated shoot-em-up, just like all the others. It’s a spectacular one, though!

–Gene Lantz

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