Archive

art

Movie Review:

“Green Book,” Directed by Peter Farrelly, 2 hours, 10 minutes

The Green Book is an important part of American history. It was used to help African-American motorists locate the few places where they might rest. I think that one reason that “Green Book” has continued to sell tickets over several weeks is that people are slow in finding out what it’s about.

There are a lot more good reasons to see the film. Acting by the two main characters is outstanding. Viggo Mortensen plays a street smart nightclub bouncer from New York, while Mahershala Ali plays a delicate Leningrad-trained classical musician. Both are up for Golden Globes awards. The movie is up for best picture, and Oscar-buzz has already begun. The 1960s music is wonderful. The pacing is so good that viewers go beyond ignoring the extra length and wish it could go on longer. There are four, count ’em four, union logos in the final frame!

Few movies can claim so much authenticity. It seems to be strung together by family stories from Mortensen’s character, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga. Someone named Nick Vallelonga gets some of the screenplay and producer credit.

Tony Lip apparently drove a sensitive Black musician through a tour of the Deep South in 1962. His main qualification for the job came from his experience as a tough guy. Tony was required to stay in all-white motels, while his employer had to use the Green Book. It isn’t hard to imagine some of the problems they encountered, but you have to see the movie to realize how well this period, these problems, and these two wonderful characters can be brought to life! If your tastes run toward American history, civil rights, or just great film-making, you don’t want to miss Green Book.

–Gene Lantz

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

My astute movie buddy found out that Texas Women’s University was staging Bertold Brecht’s play, “Mother Courage” in nearby Denton, Texas. She bought tickets immediately, thereby providing a genuine educational experience for me.

My own experience with Brecht had never gone much further than listening to Bobby Darin’s 1960s rock song, “Mack the Knife.” But I knew he had been a communist and was a German who opposed Hitler. This play was written about the time the Nazis invaded Poland. The play doesn’t mention Hitler nor WWII, it is set in the Thirty Years’ War in Europe in the 17th century. But then,”M.A.S.H.” was set in Korea, but it was about Vietnam.

Wikipedia says, “Mother Courage is considered by some to be the greatest play of the 20th century, and perhaps also the greatest anti-war play of all time.” You should try to see it if you can, but not because you’re going to like the title character. Or not because you’re going to like anybody at all in this play. They’re not heroic nor self-sacrificing, not physically beautiful, not charming, not tremendously insightful nor clever. They are just people. In other words, this is not an American play. As far as I know, Hollywood has never shown the slightest interest in filming it.

Apparently, Bertold Brecht didn’t believe in cultivating emotional transference between his characters and the audience. He felt that nothing should get in the way of the basic art experience between audience members and the entire performance. He wanted to make his point. In this case, his point was that war is an awful thing benefiting no one, and perhaps adding that people who try to exploit war deserve help the least.

Mother Courage and her children sell food and sundries to Protestant soldiers, or sometimes to the Catholics, in the devastating religious war underway. The thing that she and others in the play dread most is the possible ending of the war. It would cut off their livelihoods. This message is more than obvious in a conversation between two Swedish soldiers in the first scene. The rest of the play enlarges the theme, like a map of battle zones, by sticking pins in it.

Movie Review:

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

oldmanwith-a-gun

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

sistersbrothers

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

bisbee17

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.

lizzieborden

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.

michael-moore

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.