Friday, August 24, 2018
Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You may be a satire of such a situation but boy, he doesn't pull any punches. Following Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfield) as he works a nondescript job as a telemarketer, he learns a technique in how to succeed in business without really trying. But will he be able to handle what his job expects of him?
It may have been written during the Obama administration but Sorry to Bother You has all the markings of what's wrong with this current one. Similar to Get Out and Dear White People (both of which also featured Stanfield and Tessa Thompson, respectively), the matter of race is explored too -- or rather, how those who aren't white are essentially screwed over time and time again. (Boy, how that happens to Cassius repeatedly here.)
And there's the matter of Sorry to Bother You's third act. Without giving anything away, all that can be said is that it turns the preceding two acts on their heads. Suffice to say that the events of the third act won't be forgotten after you see them unfold.
Sorry to Bother You shows immense promise from Riley as a film director and storyteller. All of the names attached to the film's cast feel right at home in their roles (Armie Hammer in particular), no one feels out of place. And to reiterate the previous paragraph, you won't forget that third act after you see it.
My Rating: ****1/2
Monday, August 6, 2018
Joan Micklin Silver's Hester Street provides two such perspectives from someone who's made themself at home within American culture and someone who has a harder time in doing so. The former applies to Yankel (Steven Keats) -- who has rechristened himself "Jake" -- and the latter is his wife Gitl (Carol Kane), who has recently arrived from Russia with their son. But he's gotten a mistress during their few years apart...
Silver was moved by Hester Street's source novel -- Abraham Cahan's Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto -- because her parents were Russian Jews, prompting her to tell this story. (As well as changing the title, she changed the story's point of view from Jake to Gitl.) She felt it served as an ode to her heritage, and that's why Silver wanted this story to be told.
Their names aside, there are noted differences between Jake and Gitl. He has all but discredited his faith in favor of living the American way whereas she holds the one thing from the old world close to her heart. Were it not for their son, their relationship would have been over long before their emigration took place.
Hester Street is very much Silver's sonnet to where she came from, yes, but it's also a story of those who strive for a new life. Whether it's the past century or this current one, many of us have that desire to begin anew. But very seldom do we all achieve that possibility, especially one with a happy resolution.
My Rating: ****
Three years after the murder-suicide, Bob Fosse made Star 80, a reference to Snider's vanity plate on his Mercedes Benz. Fosse was no stranger in depicting the cost of fame, be it fictional (Cabaret), factual (Lenny) or semiautobiographical (All That Jazz). But when it's a story that ends in bloodshed, that's where comparisons to his work end.
The film may be based on real events but several names and details were changed, some of them for legal purposes. A number of Stratten's real-life acting jobs were re-titled but the most telling tweak is that Aram Nicholas (Roger Rees) is clearly Peter Bogdonavich, whom Stratten was having an affair with at the time of her murder. (Bogdonavich himself -- who called the film inaccurate -- didn't want Fosse to tell this story because Fosse didn't know the full extent of it.)
Mariel Hemingway may be (pardon the expression) the star attraction of Star 80 but Eric Roberts is the real main draw. By many accounts, Snider was as much of a hustler in real life as he's depicted here. And boy, Roberts really knows how to sleaze it up. (Hugh Hefner even said Roberts was dead-on in his portrayal.)
Star 80 has that lingering sadness to it, knowing that Stratten's successes are tarnished by her ultimate fate. If anything, it serves as a how-to for identifying relationship red flags. Had Stratten known them early on in her courtship with Snider, she might be alive today...
My Rating: ****1/2
With the help of his trainer Army (Mickey Rooney), Rivera tries to find some steady work outside the ring. His manager Maish Rennick (Jackie Gleason), however, has a number of debts to some bookies so he wants to Rivera to keep fighting. But what does the fighter's future hold?
There's a weariness to Requiem for a Heavyweight that shows an empathy to Rivera's situation. With a script penned by Rod Serling, that tiredness and cynicism make all the more sense. (Just watch The Twilight Zone or Seven Days in May.) The film's not in the mood for bullshit.
Now this version of Requiem for a Heavyweight has some noted changes from its original teleplay. (The lead character's named Harlan McClintock, for starters.) And the conclusion for the film is decidedly more depressing on many fronts. (But again, with Serling at the typewriter, that's not a surprise.)
Requiem for a Heavyweight is definitely not the kind of uplifting picture most boxing films were the previous decade. With Serling's shrewd views on full display, the film shines a sad light on those in Rivera's small circle. And as some episodes of The Twilight Zone showed, not everyone gets the happy ending they seek.
My Rating: ****