Another Round

I’m not really sure where to start.
A quartet of washed up, middle aged school teachers decide to conduct an experiment.
The film starts with what I can only assume is a common Denmark drinking game. Two people grab a crate of beer and begin running around a lake. At each bench, they are to down a bottle of beer and keep going. Penalties if you vomit. But, if I understood correctly, the penalty is waived if you and your partner both vomit.
On a whim, the four men discuss the theory posited by Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud, that a blood alcohol level of 0.05% will make one more creative and relaxed. After an emergency meeting held for Martin, played by Mads Mikkelsen, in which his students and their parents express concerns that they are not learning anything in his class, and thus at risk of not passing their graduation exams.
Thus begins the illconceived psych experiment by four middle aged men to see if drinking alcohol increases their performance.
One can see where this might go. And obviously there is so much wrong with this idea. But in the name of Churchill, and Hemmingway, is there something to alcohol and brilliance? And as ridiculous as it sounds, it really was a well done film. The director, Thomas Vinterberg, known for films you probably haven’t heard of, has been nominated for the Oscar for Best Director.
While the film seems like it is going to be jokes and drunken ridiculousness, and indeed there were some wonderful drunken scenes, it is also a serious film. It isn’t shy about showing how alcohol and alcoholism can be destructive when not under control.
But honestly, the greatest thing I think I took away from this film was: I wish I had graduated high school in Denmark.

Promising Young Woman

I really have to say that, I think this was an absolute near perfect film. The story, while somewhat extraordinary, is one we don’t hear enough of.
A young girl is raped while in college, and nobody believes her.
This story happens far too often. One summer I did some extensive reading on rape injustice. From universities, to the army. All covered up so someone can save face. Football players who got off easy so they could keep playing. Army soldiers handed down light justice to keep the platoon together. And always, the woman was treated as a liar or the cause of the problem.
This film is just uncomfortable enough to make you sit up and watch. You want to like these characters, to almost root for them, but then you remember that they are not good people. You want to be shocked by the main character, Cassie, this avenging angel, but you can’t. The prime characteristic of a psychopath, the thing about them that makes your skin crawl, is their absolute lack of remorse or feeling. Cassie feels almost too much. And it is that well of emotion that keeps you on her side. Her heartbreak, and her hatred, and her loneliness.
This is a film for women who hate men. This is a film for women who fight for equality. This is a film that will make you hug your daughters. This is a film for anybody who believes in justice. In an odd way, this is a sort of vigilante superhero film.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Another Black America struggle film, veiled in the jug band notes of blues music. Based on a play by August Wilson, about the real blues singer, Ma Rainey. This film plays like a stage play, with it’s various small room settings and deep monologues. The style of acting feels more suited to the stage, than the big screen.
Truth be told, the story is simple, if a little boring. I felt it hard to find myself backing any character, because they neither seemed wholly good, nor wholly evil. While they are all slightly broken from one White America experience or another, none of them seem really to be fighting for the cause. Levee, the young horn player is driven by his desire to make exciting music. With both his parents torn away at a young age, he struggles with being a proud, strong black man, and the understanding that to go anywhere in life, he needs the white man to open the door for him. And Ma, the strong woman whose unique voice has given her some recognition. Her voice is her leverage. As opposed to Levee who needs the white man to pay his ticket, the white man needs Ma to make their money. And Ma knows this.
It sounds more dramatic than it ends up being. Or maybe I lost focus somewhere. But what people will watch this film for are the two leads. Viola Davis as Ma, the large, demanding, woman with sweat between her breasts, and dark makeup smudged around her eyes. A woman who’s going to be told what to do by no one. And Chadwick Bozeman, known for being the sexy prince of Wakanda in Black Panther. This was his last film. Critics commend him for both throwing himself into his work right up until the end, and particularly this role, for literally giving it his all, because he knew he had nothing left to lose.
People will watch this film for him. He is shockingly skinny compared to his buff super hero role. But his acting is lacking for nothing. I always believe that when an actor no longer becomes recognizable to me as their real life identity (not necessarily just visually), that they have maximized their acting potential for that role. In essence, done a stellar job. And not once did I see Chadwick Bozeman acting the part of Levee, the horn player. From the very first moment he enters the screen, he simply is Levee.
He was posthumously nominated for the Oscar for Best Lead Actor. While he is up against some stiff competition, I have a fear that the Academy will feel pressured to award him. There will also be pressure to award Steven Yuen, the first Asian American to be nominated for Best Actor, now due to the growing publicity of the increased Asian Hate Crimes since last March.
Pressures aside, his role was phenomenal. A testiment to what the world was robbed of on August 28th last year. If you watch this film for nothing else, watch it for him.

The Trial of the Chicago 7

I think this probably ends my 60’s era civil rights movie fest. Not because it was bad, but because it’s all so heartbreaking.
Watching Muhammad Ali refuse to be drafted because he honestly had no idea what the war was even for. Watching Malcolm X raise his voice for equal rights and to be murdered infront of hundreds of people with no clear answer as to why. Watching people like Fred Hampton fight for black equality and be murdered for it.
This movie, touches on all of that. This movie is shaped by all of that. At first I felt a little bit shocked and offended that there was so much humour at the beginning of this movie, when it is such a serious situation. But it lulls you in. The humour is almost what builds the characters for you. Such a vastly differing group if people all on trial together.
And it was all just a show, and kind of sickening.
I want to have more words for this movie, but I’m really not sure what to say. So I suppose, simply put, it is a powerful story.
It seems like through this all, the theme is that everyone has a voice, and that we should all find the strength to use it, even when the chips are stacked against us. Because what we all know, absolutely know, to be right in our hearts, is worth standing up for.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

I did it! Snyder Cut achieved ✊🏼.
I maintained strength and never laid eyes on the blasphemy called Justice League. I had faith in my heart of hearts that such travesty would be corrected. And thus was born The Snyder Cut.
Long as heck. And I am somewhat conviced that at least an hours worth of the film is in slow motion. Not Flash style slow motion, there was plenty of that, this was dramatic moment slow motion. Alot of it. And truth be told, I do believe this film would be amazing on the big screen. Despite the fact that Snyder chose to present it in 4:3. I’m not even sure that anyone even still owns a 4:3 tv…
One thing I think this film had going against it was, as opposed to The Avengers, that had plenty of preceeding films to set its characters up, this film had to introduce a lot of characters in a short period. And don’t get me wrong, I think it did an adequate job of it. Unless my own personal knowledge of each superhero biased my opinion on that.
I will say that to watch this film, you really need to watch Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I know that you don’t want to, I know youre dubious of Ben Affleck playing Bruce Wayne, but you have to just suck it up and do it. It may be 3 hours of your life, but otherwise you will feel like you have been dropped into an episode midseason of Game of Thrones. Good luck. And lets be honest, Ben Affleck is no Christian Bale, but he’s really not bad. Have faith in Snyder, Dawn of Justice was his set up for the much awaited Justice League. (And I waited for a long time.)
There are no small characters here. Everyone has an important part to play, and they play it to their maximum.
The epic 4 hour film is broken up into some 6 chapters, though there doesn’t really seem a point to each break, they are likely for ease of bathroom breaks and snack replenishment. The “epilogue” proved confusing to me, but clearly is a whiff of something more to come.
I enjoyed it. I love when forces come together for a greater good. Slow motion scenes and all. Perhaps they are in excess to remind us of every moment. To experience every moment, because you never know when you’ll lose your chance. Snyder stepped away from this project due to personal tragedy. It is commendable that he came back to finish it, to see his vision through. In some ways, perhaps he showed a bit of his own superhero strength.

The Father

What an absolutely astounding film. With a stellar cast.
This film, about a man, Anthony Hopkins, as he goes through dementia. What makes this film so amazing, is that you go through it with him.
Originally based on a French play, you get that flavour. With the limited scenery. And I feel that that absolutely lends itself to the film. When rooms change, you feel the confusion and unfamiliarity. Yet, still feel something familiar.
Earlier this month, I watched the Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci film Supernova, also a film about a man going through dementia. What Supernova did was pull at the heartstrings for those who are left behind, lost in the deteriorating mind while still standing right there. The Father brings you into the very fear of the person experiencing the dementia.
I have always had a tender spot for dementia and alzheimers, knowing that it is in my family. I have always empathized with those moments when one opens their eyes and have no idea what they are seeing.
When I was 10, I remember my aunt and uncle went to visit my grandparents in england. My grandad had been diagnosed with alzheimers, and I recall my uncle recounting to us my grandad walking into the kitchen and yelling because he didn’t know who my uncle was. I was terrified, if he couldn’t recognize my uncle, who had been married to his daughter for years, how would he ever know me, who he had only met a handful of times?
This film is a nugget that one might easily overlook, but for the mental health field, and for anyone, absolutely anyone who has a mother, a father, a grandparent, that they love and care for, this film will open your eyes to the struggles that will, without a doubt, come. But one has to remember that they are still the person you love.
When my grandad walked into the kitchen I braced myself. He took one look at me and said, “well hello there my little love.”

Judas and the Black Messiah

The very otherside of the coin of all the 60’s civil rights movement movies/documentaries I’ve been devouring.
While I have been mostly focusing on Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali, and the Nation of Islam, the Black Panthers, while fighting for the same thing, seemed more about actions than words. I had been lulled by the speeches of Malcolm X, and the words of James Baldwin, and the confidence of Martin Luther King Jr., that I wasn’t prepared for what comes when words aren’t enough. Action.
But what also makes this movie different, is that it follows the story from the FBI side. And it shows how far they would go, and by what means they would use, and how scared they were of losing power.
Deaths like Malcolm X, and Sam Cooke remain mysterious, but also suspicious. And movies like this, and the US vs Billie Holiday, show how easy it was for the government to plant informants into these people’s lives. And when they finally let the hammer fall, how easy it was to justify their own means.
I wonder what would they say, if Malcom X, Sam Cooke, Martin Luther King Jr, and Fred Hampton, saw our nation now, over half a century after fighting, and giving their lives for the cause they believed in.

Ali

I wanted to appreciate this movie more. And maybe if I had watched it at the beginning of my ‘One Night in Miami’ phase, it would have been more impactful. But for a movie about Muhammad Ali, I was surprised by how little it actually portrayed.
I had seen interviews with Ali before and was struck by how… simple he seemed. In truth Ali only had an IQ of about 78. Which does not take away from what made him iconic. But what that fact informs for me is why he spoke with no filter. Trash talking without a thought for any consequences. But it was also his brash and loud nature that made him stand out.
His low IQ also informs, for me, his… mutability? He was influenced into the Nation of Islam, becoming a face for them, and parroting their teachings, despite the fact that in essence, the teachings of the Nation of Islam ran very contrary to his own personal morales and beliefs.
Ali was a lover. Of everyone. While the murder of Emmett Till greatly effected him and he fought for black rights, he loved everyone. And this film did not even toe that aspect. Case and point, he had 4 wives, countless infidelities, and some 11 children.
And while people argue that his IQ meant nothing, he was smart in the ring. They talk about how he moved in such a unique way that opponents couldnt even touch him. The only strategy the movie portrayed was patience and endurance. In multiple fights, the strategy appeared to be: tire the opponent out, then punch him really hard.
This was 3 hours of my life, and I am not trying to say this was a bad movie. Misleading, maybe. Malcolm X was a big influence on Ali’s life, and we barely see their relationship at all. Ali became a huge civil rights movement activist. Will Smith’s performance of Ali was outstanding, it would have been impressive to see even one of his talks at a university, advocating for human rights.
I guess what I mean is, there was so much more to Muhammad Ali than just his boxing, and this film did him a disservice by leaving that out.

I Am Not Your Negro

Damnit, there is literally so much about this documentary that was beautiful. I admit that I have never read any James Baldwin, but he speaks to my very heart.
It is disheartening that in the 60s there were such powerful and resounding voices demanding equality. Loud enough to scare to US government. It is disheartening that in the 60’s there was the Watts Riots, and 30 years later there was the L.A. Riots, and 30 years later George Floyd was killed. It is disheartening that James Baldwin wrote this memoir in 1987, about the civil rights movement in the 60’s, and yet he could have been writing about the world today.
I wish that there were such voices that could speak for Asian-American equality, such voices that could speak for Native American equality, such voices that could speak for Muslim-American equality. And if there are, it is unfortunate that I have not heard them, because I am sure that alot of other Americans haven’t either.

Malcolm X

I wanted to get alot more out of this than I feel I did. After 3 hours and 20 minutes, I have to remind myself that this isn’t a documentary. This was simply a rendition of his life. The mystery of his death still open. Likely suspect, the Nation of Islam. But also suspected, and hinted at here, the American government, scared that one man had so much influence and power.
The truth is, he was kind of a lost soul. Not even 100% black himself. His father was murdered, and his mother couldn’t care for him. He was given an education, but told he’d never get to use it. He dreamed of being a lawyer, but turned to crime. He went to jail. He found religion, and through that a father figure, who nurtured and encouraged him. He clung to that, perhaps believing what he preached, or just repeating, to keep his father figure happy. Until he began believing in more. Malcolm X was too brilliant for his own good. In his younger years, he did one better on his criminal mentor, and eventually, he exceeded his mentor, Elijah Muhammad. He was cast out, and like a child angry at their parent, he fought back. He reverted back to his impulsive nature. He attempted to drag Elijah Muhammad’s name through the dirt, revealing him as a fraud. Like all fundamentalist religions, the Nation of Islam believed their leader to be infallable. And like all fundamentalist religions, there are extremists. But, while it is entirely possible that the Nation of Islam was responsible for his murder, it is also not unlikely that it could have been the FBI. Angry at a black man for using his voice, and ready to do whatever necessary to staunch riot mentality. Not unheard of for them to use embedded black informants. He stated that the white superiority had traded in their sheets and hoods in for police uniforms.
This movie came out 5 months after the ’92 L.A. Riots.

The Trials of Muhammad Ali

I admit an embarassing amount of ignorance. I admit to knowing very little of Muhammad Ali. (Case and point, that his real name was actually Cassius Clay.)
While I find organized religions to be… a bit frightening, Muhammad, while always a strong man, seemed to gain even more strength through his belief in the ideas of The Nation of Islam.
I also had no idea that The Nation of Islam was so… extreme in its beliefs in its infancy. While all religions must start somewhere, The Nation of Islam was fully against integration of blacks and whites in America. They were fighting for white suppression and black superiority.
Like Billie Holiday, Muhammad Ali had found a way into the world of white people. He had the unique opportunity, as an African American, to use his voice.
And like Billie Holiday, when he began to use his voice to stand up for what he believed in, people were not happy.
After refusing to be drafted to the Vietnam War, for religious, and honestly, personal reasons, the government was not happy. He faced a huge fine and possible jail time, as well as being stripped of his heavyweight champion title and boxing license. An attempt to pull him out of the public eye. Just as had been done when they refused to give Billie her cabaret license back.
I find this fascinating. And embarassing, as an American. All I had known of Ali was that he was a world class boxer, and, randomly, that he had saved someone from jumping out a window once. I had known that he was an upstanding human and a hero. Now I know that he was also extremely brave, and bold, and a strong voice for black rights in America.

Minari

While watching this, I desperately wanted to join the outrage over it being categorized a “foreign film.” I wanted to curse the old white guys who see a primarily coloured cast and a subtitle and make the easy decision.
But the truth is, this is a foreign film. Yes, it takes place in America, but it is completely Korean. It is not a white perspective of Koreans, it is a Korean’s perspective of whites. The Koreans aren’t stereotyped and over the top Asian. It is the “hillbilly,” Christian, white people that are over the top.
It is completely a Korean story. It is the stubborn, duty bound father, and the suppressed but loyal mother, the halmoni (grandmother) who plays cards and swears, and the children, who, while stradling two worlds are both defiant, and respectful of their elders.
The film, while possibly underwhelming, is beautiful in that it is a story America never hears. It is a culture that America rarely really sees. This is the story of a Korean family who chase the American Dream. Immigrants who come to America for a better future. And the very real struggles that come with it.
And while its easy to watch the credits roll and remember that this is just a movie, this story was loosly based of the director’s own childhood.
This film might get pushed into the shadows, but for what it is, and what it means to Asian Americans, it will remain timeless.

One Night in Miami…

This film, based on a stage play, was the first feature film directed by Regina King. About a meeting of 4 friends in Miami, in 1964. Boxer Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay), NFL star Jim Brown, Singer Sam Cooke, and Nation of Islam minister Malcolm X.
While simply, it is about them discussing their respective roles and influence in the civil rights movement. It strikes deeper into a conversation/debate/argument about black equality and the idea of staying true to oneself.
Though stated to be “based off true events,” while the meeting in Miami did happen, what happened in the motel room is mostly unknown. They did eat icecream.
In the film, Malcolm pushes all of them to stand up and fight for black equality, that they are the ones the world is watching. Muhammad, Jim, and Sam had all found success in a white world. He pushes the loose and joking Sam the most. Telling him that his voice has the power to move mountains. He prods at him, almost mockingly, that Bob Dylan’s Blowin in the Wind, speaks more to the struggles of African Americans than anything Sam has ever written, causing tempers to flair. Later, Sam concedes that he had always been jealous of the song, wondering why he hadn’t been the one who had written it. It is that song that spurs him to finally write something more than pop songs for white people. His song, A Change is Gonna Come, became an anthem for the civil rights movement.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Whenever I’ve had a hard day, or need to find a way to take some time to shut the world out, I always seem to put on Billie Holiday. Her music is deep, and soulful, and haunting.
And then I watched this film,
and WTF.
I had no idea, whatsoever, how horrible her life was. She was so broken and alone. She turned to singing and self medication. And the actual government dogged her every step until the day she died. And I wish I could say I was being dramatic, but they were there at bedside as she was dying.
Starting from her powerful song Strange Fruit. Admittedly, one I had never heard. A song about the lynching of African Americans. A thing the government wanted people to just quietly, not think about.
I remember at the beginning of the film thinking how up beat her music sounded. Not like the Billie Holiday songs I am used to listening to. By the end of the film, her music sounded much more slow and soulful. The more you get to know her, the deeper her music becomes. I think the film informs the music I had always felt in my heart.
While this film set itself up to be a powerful film about this famous artist’s stand for African American rights in the 40’s-50’s, it didn’t really end up being that in my eyes. True, it was her success and inspiration from performing the song Strange Fruit that brought her to the attention of the government. This film felt more of a look into the life and struggles of a strong, beautiful, black woman of her time.

Joyeux Noel

Everybody has their Christmas movies. White Christmas, A Christmas Story, Die Hard… And while I don’t watch this every Christmas, I still love this story best.
Not-so-secret secret confession: I love War movies. I don’t know why, but I always have. And while this one is entirely opposite of what one would envision a war movie to be about, I still love it just as much.
I had read about how war strips a man of their humanity. Their compassion and empathy. They are treated as robots in a machine, and are rewired to be as such. Kill the enemy, Win the War.
The beginning of this movie shows children from Germany, France, and Scotland, all reciting mantras teaching them who the “enemy” was, who must be killed. The movie goes on to show the three sides fighting against each other, as you would expect of a war movie.
But Christmas of 1914 was different. The three sides declaired a cease fire and spent Christmas together. Sharing drinks, singing songs, showing pictures, exchanging addresses and promises to keep in touch.
The War, the World, looms just outside their trenches, but for a short time, they all laid down their guns and became men again. And it is a story that warms my heart every time. Men who can open their eyes and see each other as equal, as real, flesh, blood, and heart.
And as of late, it is the sort of story we need. A reminder of what it really means to be human. Not the hatred, and anger, and violence. But the openness, and compassion, and caring. And Soccer.
This is my Christmas story of choice.
Joyeux Noel.