Monday, June 22, 2020

BOOK VS MOVIE: Black Klansman/BlacKkKlansman

In this current political climate, it's hard trying to immerse one's self in something besides the news. On the one hand, staying informed of what's happening in the world is important. But on the other hand, so much information can be taxing on anyone and a break is appreciated as well as recommended.

Sometimes reading or watching works pertaining to current events can help. One could draw parallels to how the events in work compare to real life, especially if said work is from or set at least half a century ago. You can see either how things have changed or seldom shifted at all. Either way, the result can be interesting to uncover.

Ron Stallworth's memoir Black Klansman in particular chronicles his days at the Colorado Springs Police Department as the first Black detective on its force. Several years into his tenure, he does something that raises more than a few eyebrows: he joins the Ku Klux Klan (to infiltrate it with a white officer as his cover). And Stallworth remains very matter-of-fact in his writing, seeing no need to embellish what happened. That said, he's rightly pissed off when faced with racism.

If Stallworth shied away from mentioning racism he might've faced on a day-to-day basis, then Spike Lee sure as hell tackles it head-on. Tweaking several details from the memoir, Lee's adaptation shows how Black people are still dealing with this bullshit decades later. He also shows that this current wave of social justice isn't a new occurrence; this has been happening for years.

So which is better: Stallworth's memoir or Lee's film? Both have their own strengths though they seem firm in their belief that law enforcement is who to rely on for change in society. If the past few weeks have proven anything, it's that the mass population has a much louder voice than those with authority. After all, to quote Rosa Parks, it is better to protest than to accept injustice.

What's worth checking out?: The movie.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Irishman

For decades, Martin Scorsese has been practically synonymous with the gangster movie. Whether it's his big break Mean Streets or his Best Picture winner The Departed, audiences will regularly get their money's worth from them. So how does his latest The Irishman fare?

Indeed, the film does feature other Scorsese gangster movie figures like Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci (in a complete 180 of his other Scorsese roles), and Harvey Keitel as well as being the director's first time working with Al Pacino. But to reduce both the film and the five aforementioned men's careers to this niche genre wouldn't do either of them justice. If anything, both focus on life and its flaws.

Don't expect The Irishman to be filled with guns a-blazin' and geysers of blood as you would with Goodfellas and Casino. (Granted, it does have those but not on the same scale as the earlier films.) This entry in Scorsese's oeuvre is more driven by conversation, much like his contemporary Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. But like with his gangster pictures from the 1990s, the passage of time is crucial to the story as well.

For some shrewd reason, there's been a lot of pieces on both the lack of lines for Anna Paquin (three lines consisting of seven words) and the overall small offering of female characters in Scorsese's films. The former makes sense if you pay attention to Peggy's character arc; she's witnessed firsthand what her's father capable of so her persistent silence speaks more volumes than any dialogue could. As for the latter, such thoughts were clearly written by those who haven't seen what Sandra Bernhard, Teri Garr, and Joanna Lumley had to offer in The King of Comedy, After Hours, and The Wolf of Wall Street respectively.

The sense of finality in The Irishman implies that this may be the last time we see Scorsese make something of this scale. That same sense during the third act seems more poignant with its aging leads. If this were to be Scorsese's last -- be it with gangster movies or his entire career -- it'd be a fitting swan song.

My Rating: ****1/2

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

There's a sense of serendipity in that the same year Wonder Woman finally got the big-screen treatment with her own movie, the story behind her creation also got within Hollywood's grasp. But don't expect the standard clean-cut biopic execution. No, her backstory is much more...sexually driven.

Angela Robinson's Professor Marston and the Wonder Women chronicles the path of studious William Moulton Marston (Luke Evans), his brash wife Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), and their research assistant Olive Byrne (Bella Heathcote) as their relationship goes from professional to romantic. But how many risks are they taking with this ménage à trois?

What Robinson depicts in her film is a keen awareness of the change in social mores. Obviously, the relationship between the Marstons and Byrne brought scandal upon its discovery (at least as far as the film shows), and the sexual overtones and bondage themes in the early Wonder Woman comics William wrote met much of the same. Nowadays, attitudes towards such matters have softened considerably. (In short, our protagonists were ahead of their time.)

Anyway, the lead trio of actors very much hold their own, be it by themselves or when sharing the screen with each other. (Perhaps coincidentally, Hollywood never really seemed to know what to do with Evans and -- save for Christine the year before -- Hall prior to this.) Hopefully, we'll be seeing more of the like from them in the near future.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women focuses on mostly forgotten but seminal figures of the comic book world, yes, but Robinson shows that they were so much more than that. They were people with their own strengths and flaws, not ones who were infallible as you'd normally see with lesser works in the same genre. Quite simply, they were as human as anyone else who'd lived.

My Rating: ****1/2

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Film and Book Tally 2019

Man, this year has been one of varied ups and downs. On the one hand, my blog turned ten and I got to travel a bit (albeit staying on the east coast); on the other hand, I didn't have much mental energy to watch or read a lot of things, let alone write. That being said, I still managed to indulge in a few things this year. The (very short) list starts after the jump:

Monday, October 7, 2019

Parasite

Have you ever envied someone's life? Sometimes it can be from the material goods that surround the envied person, other times it's because of how charmed their life appears. But to what extent would you be willing to go to achieve a similar life with less effort?

Bong Joon-ho's Parasite depicts such a situation. It opens with the Kim family just barely making enough to live on. An opportunity arises to help them but almost as quickly, they find ways to get more out of it. But how long can such a ploy go on?

Similar to Bong's earlier film Snowpiercer, Parasite shows a particular class struggle and how both parties behave. The wealthy seem practically oblivious to the fact that less fortunate people lust for what they have. Meanwhile, the latter is stuck in some truly atrocious living conditions so it's no wonder they're fighting (quite literally at times) for something better.

But to compare the two films is like comparing apples to oranges. Parasite is decidedly far more calculating than Snowpiercer. Bong -- knowing how to make a thriller with dashes of dark comedy -- applies this to his latest film and boy, does he succeed with flying colors.

Parasite is a wicked little picture in every sense of the word. It's one where going into it blind is best recommended (thus rendering this whole review null and void...). Anyway, be sure to see it before it gets spoiled for you; you won't be disappointed in the slightest.

My Rating: *****

Marriage Story

Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story opens with Charlie (Adam Driver) and Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) listing the many reasons why they love the other. But this isn't as heartwarming as it initially appears; they've written these reasons for the sake of marriage counseling. (Nicole then refuses to read them out loud out of embarrassment.) This kicks off the essence of the film.

That's not to say Charlie and Nicole's separation is a tumultuous one, far from it. They're still living under the same roof -- most likely for the sake of their son -- as they work out their differences. But after Nicole heads to Los Angeles to film a TV pilot (and hires a lawyer), that's when things get both complicated and ugly.

Par for the course of a Baumbach film, there are many moments that are just extremely uncomfortable to watch unfold. Granted, to see a marriage crumble follow suit by a bitter custody dispute is not something anyone wants to experience let alone witness. And what Baumbach captures is more emotionally devastating than what's found in his earlier work.

Both Driver and Johansson have been involved in bigger projects these last few years (he with Star Wars, she with the Marvel Cinematic Universe) so to have them in titles that rely more on substance than style is nice. (They've done others of the like as well but still.) Obviously those larger vehicles don't give them much of a chance to properly act so Marriage Story more than offers that opportunity (to Johansson especially).

Marriage Story certainly isn't date night material (much in the same vein as Gone Girl). With attention-grabbing supporting turns from the likes of Laura Dern, Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Hagerty, and Merritt Weaver, Baumbach also continues to show his worth as a storyteller. (Being written after his own divorce shows that yes, he knows exactly what he's talking about.)

My Rating: *****

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

One can never really know what goes on in someone's mind from first impressions. There are those whose personality remains impenetrable after knowing them for years and there are those who become an open book after spending very little time with them. But what group do you want someone to fall into?

This is something that Marianne (Noémie Merlant) encounters initially in Céline Sciamma's Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Commissioned to discretely paint Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), she finds her subject aloof. But as more time passes between the two women, something deeper grows between them.

In contrast to other lesbian-themed films from recent years (Blue is the Warmest Color, The Handmaiden, Disobedience), Portrait of a Lady on Fire is decidedly much better in depicting such relationships. The earlier films were adapted by straight men, the resulting sex scenes looking more like they were inspired by porn than the female-penned works they're based on. Meanwhile, Sciamma -- who was once romantically involved with Haenel -- prefers more of the sensuality from parting glances and brushes of fingers that her male contemporaries tend to eschew, something that directors like Dee Rees and Donna Deitch featured in their respective sapphic showpieces as well. (A good example of this is in a scene where Marianne and Héloïse point out the other's tics.)

Sciamma also plays with the use of color in Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Like the Technicolor-drenched films of Powell and Pressburger, she and cinematographer Claire Mathon toy with various contrasts such as the broad colors of Marianne and Héloïse's dresses against the pale walls of the home or silhouettes against the dusk sky. (There's another striking example best left for one to see themselves.)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire continues Sciamma's streak as a director. As she did with her earlier films, it maintains a nuance to its storytelling, not needing those big blow-out moments. And just a warning: the last scene will destroy you.

My Rating: *****