Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Guest Review)


Three Billboards is a complex film that brings out complex feelings in its audience. Here's one reflection of the film by TFG's daughter, Maddisen, a social justice warrior:

Many leftist reviewers targeted Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, with claims that Officer Dixon’s “redemption arc” represented a problematic humanization of racist officers — a group that many leftists deem undeniably deserving of dehumanization, myself included.

There’s no question that as a whole, government officials and police officers have targeted and continue to target people of color in our country, and as a group deserve to be dehumanized and held accountable for the systemic racism thrusted upon our social operations. But the key theme in this need for accountability can be seen in the words “group,” “systemic,” and “whole.” It is when groups become individuals that I, even as a leftist, will form a separation. As much of a cop hater I am, I still will recognize the need to humanize Willoughby and Dixon.

It was precisely the point of the film and was beautifully presented: human potential.

I am no denier that privileges exist in white men, and I was wary when seeing the film knowing that white men, especially white officers, were given a platform of any kind. But again I point out, it was not these men as officers that were given the spotlight. The spotlight was given to the humanity of the men, the individuality, and the struggle that their own lives held, as people in general. We were given a glimpse into the men’s views of the world; their unique perspectives and what shaped them as racists, be it illness, poverty, lack of education, or years of abuse. What I will not do is justify their racism; what I will do is understand it. I do believe there is a difference — justifying it excuses the behavior, but understanding it gives us a causal factor that leads us to a solution.

That’s exactly what I saw in Three Billboards; their stories gave us an understanding of the men’s convictions, and Dixon’s redemption gave us a glimmer of hope. His struggles and his racism should have never made their way into his career as a police officer; that’s a problem in the way we choose and train our officers, and their philosophy as a group. But individually, it was important to humanize him to give us an understanding. There is hope in understanding; when causes are found, solutions are more attainable.

As for humanizing Dixon, I’m reminded of the short scene that almost felt out of place, though was important for the overall theme of forgiveness. When Red Welby and Jason Dixon are paired as hospital roommates, Welby acts as expected when he realizes it is Dixon under the bandages. But at the end of the scene, Welby pours Dixon a glass of orange juice, pointing the straw in his direction, as a sign of humanity on Welby’s part, and a sign of acknowledging Dixon’s humanity as well.

There are a few prime examples, like the hospital scene, of holding the group accountable instead of the individual: Mildred’s anger is my favorite. In my favorite scene of the film, Mildred is at the police station with Chief Willoughby after drilling a hole into her dentist’s thumb. Mildred is spouting cop-insults, “ex-cop, ex-wife beater – what’s the difference?” But then, Willoughby accidentally coughs up blood onto Mildred’s face. We can see the shock, the worry, and the embarrassment in his eyes as he says to Mildred, “I didn’t mean to. It was an accident.” And Mildred replies, “I know, baby. I’m going to go get someone.”

Mildred sees the humanity in Chief Willoughby in this moment – she separates his evil doings as an officer and moves to tend to his needs as a human being, all while we see the painful humanity in his eyes.

Another obvious example of this is when Mildred burns down the police station. She calls the station three times to make sure nobody is inside. This is because she is attacking the group, the evil cop society, rather than the individuals that make it up.

This is why I love Mildred’s anger in the film, and I believe her anger is the perfect force to drive humans to not only show their potential, but to strive, even if only a little, to achieve it as well.

Mildred’s anger was successful because while she was glaring and obvious in her anger, she knew when to not use it. Mildred’s anger forms the entire purpose of the film, which was to show that anger can coincide with acknowledging someone’s humanity, and thus we are all people, capable of being human.

So as a cop-hating leftist, I will say that we can hate cops justifiably, and simultaneously understand each other’s views of the world. There is room for progress and there is room for growth. And while personal responsibility is not to be neglected, there is some blame to place in our society as a whole for the evil in the world. Sometimes, taking a step back to acknowledge the humanity in people can give us some hope.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

2018 Academy Awards: Shoulda, Coulda, Will Win Edition

The Oscars are upon us! The red carpet is laid, the designer duds form fitted. It's time to get to the nitty-gritty -- who's gonna win. 

Here's The Film Geek's Shoulda, Coulda, Will Win pick-ems for 2018:

Best Picture

Shoulda: "Call Me By Your Name" is beautifully shot and scripted, takes its time to tell a very emotional story, has remarkable acting and great cast chemistry. Contains at least three powerful scenes that move the audience. 

Coulda: "Get Out" is a real long-shot, but people love a long-shot. I'm hedging a bit, because it's not a close-to-perfect flick, but it could surprise us down the stretch.

Will Win: "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." Unforgettable individual performances and emotional content told simply. It's an academy member's dream movie. 


Lead Actress

Shoulda: Sally Rodgers, "The Shape of Water." Every moment she is on-screen is a jewel.

Coulda: Saoirse Ronan, "Lady Bird." How does one emote so well using a completely foreign accent? That's some acting. 

Will Win: Frances McDormand,  "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." The Bethany College (WV) and Yale School of Drama graduate is a powerhouse. 


Lead Actor

ShouldaTimothée Chalamet, “Call Me by Your Name." He comes out of the gate fast and stays ahead of the pack through the finish line. A performance of a lifetime.

Coulda: Denzel Washington, “Roman J. Israel, Esq.” He carried a mediocre film on his back and turned it into something that was OK. 

Will Win: Gary Oldman, “Darkest Hour." This is Oldman's finest hour. He's so good, I forgot I wasn't really watching a bio-pic of Churchill. 


Supporting Actress

Shoulda: Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”

Coulda: Laurie Metcalf, “Lady Bird”

Will Win: Allison Janney, “I, Tonya”

The first of only two categories where, I think, the person who should win will win. Janney wins in a battle of emotionally distant mothers.


Supporting Actor

Shoulda: Sam Rockwell, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." His turn at a complicated, destructive deputy with a heart of gold was brilliant. 

Coulda: Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water." Funny, sad, desperate, enlightened -- all in one character!

Will Win: Woody Harrelson, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." Harrelson is one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood, and he's deserved nominations in many of the films he's starred in. The Academy often likes to reward actors like that with a supporting actor nod. This is his time.

Director

Shoulda: “The Shape of Water,” directed by Guillermo del Toro, is from start to finish a masterpiece. In every respect. Period.

Coulda: “Get Out,” Jordan Peele. The academy loves first time nominees. But not for Best Director.

Will Win: “The Shape of Water,” Guillermo del Toro. See above.

Finally, a shout out to “Heroin(e),” by Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon. This Best Documentary Short Subject nominee was shot in my hometown of Huntington, WV. It's focused on an increasingly bad opioid epidemic, yet illustrates hope. Watch the flick to see real heroes trying to save a city. 

I predict it will win, too. I'm a homer. 



Saturday, March 03, 2018

Call Me By Your Name

I didn't know anyone who was openly gay during the early 1980s, when I was growing up in central West Virginia.

Sure, I know now that some of my friends and classmates were gay. But back then -- in 1983, the year I graduated from high school and the year during which Call Me By Your Name takes place -- the idea that a classmate might be attracted to someone of the same sex was completely foreign to those of us who were straight. At least it was to me.

It wasn't that I was homophobic. I simply wasn't aware. 

I went about my life like most teens do: I spent time trying to figure out how to flirt with someone I liked; I retreated to my room to practice how I'd speak to, or act around, someone I wanted to impress; I experimented with sex and sexuality; and, I fell in love for the first time. 

I, and many of my friends, fell hard in love more than once. 

Its occurred to me, in adulthood, how lonely my closeted gay friends might have been in 1983, in that small town of less than 2,000 citizens. Not only because they had fewer romantic options and lived in a community that didn't consider their needs. But because most didn't get to experience as teens all those first-time events that help shape who we eventually become. 

And this was my greatest take-away from Call Me By Your Name. This is a coming-of-age film; the story of a young man exploring his sexuality, navigating the throes of first-time love, and using the lessons learned from that struggle to grow and mature.

It just so happens his first-time love is another male. 

Timothée Chalamet is remarkable as Elio, the teen who's trying to figure it all out. Watching Chalamet portray his character as confident and sexy while with his girlfriend, but insecure and sensual with Oliver, with whom he's fallen deeply in love, is like observing a rare masterpiece in an art museum.

It's so beautiful to watch that it feels like a privilege. 

What excites me most about Call Me By Your Name is that it's a coming-of-age romance any adult can understand. We've all been there at some point in our lives, whether we loved someone of the same or of the opposite sex. It should inspire and give hope to all of us, regardless of who we love.


Growing into adulthood is a tough path for anyone. But it's especially so for people who feel disenfranchised. The generation coming to age in the 1980s might have benefited by fewer Porky's flicks and more movies like Call Me By Your Name

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Hostiles

I grew up around members of the G.I. Generation. They fought in WWII, called by a sense of duty to do "the right thing." They served bravely, and their efforts saved thousands of lives.

But the Greatest Generation sure knew how to dehumanize their enemies.

I sat on the knee of many a G.I. and listened to stories of war. Many were riddled with words like Jap, and Nazi. Those stories typically employed or embellished stereotypical characteristics about their enemies to heighten suspense or create a laugh. They weren't alone in their use of dehumanizing language: the US used cartoons, posters, and public service announcements during wartime to bolster patriotism and dehumanize our wartime enemies. After all, it's much easier to kill an enemy if you believe they are something less than you are.

Something less than human.

Using language to dehumanize people  is a highly effective way to reach a political outcome, and it's used every day:

He's a Muslim is a phrase used in some parts of America to suggest things other than one's faith.

Describing someone as liberal, or conservative, no longer speaks only to the political views of the person. Those are terms used with a sneer of hatred.

The term evangelical invokes judgment: he's considered narrow-minded and judgmental by some; thoughtful and moral by others.

An atheist? She's either immoral or a humanist, depending on who you ask.

The language we use to describe people provides insight into what we think of them and, in turn, shapes how we treat them.

Scott Cooper's Hostiles effectively illustrates one important aspect of how we treat others who are different from us: it's easy to stereotype, marginalize, and mistreat as long as one stays emotionally distant. When we get close enough to know the person behind the stereotype we tend to see and connect with the person as a human being.

Those we dehumanize because of differences are viewed as human once we recognize our similarities.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Black Panther

On the occasional Sunday in the late 1970s, especially when the weather was warm, my father and mother would load us kids into the back seat of the car for a leisurely drive to the home of my paternal grandfather, in south-central West Virginia.

It was one of my favorite places to visit. Not because we were close, really. It was my favorite place to visit because my grandparents had cable TV. Being used to antenna television, anything more than three channels felt cosmopolitan to me. And it seemed that on most every Sunday visit I could find on that cable system an old Tarzan flick. Tarzan and the Amazons. Tarzan and the She-Devil. Tarzan and the Jungle Boy.

I loved them all.

It was only years later that I realized that all those beloved Tarzan flicks were really depictions of a white man overcoming the perils of living in a black society. Most Africans in King of the Jungle movies were portrayed as either animal-like in behavior, or stupid. The characters were stereotypes that Tarzan always outsmarted and outlasted.

And I ate that stuff up.

Tarzan wasn't unique. Most jungle-based adventures in movies, TV, and comic books featured a white savior overcoming challenges created by Africans. Tarzan, Shanna the Savage, Sheena the Jungle Queen, Lorna the Jungle Girl, The Phantom -- all heroic white people who either fought or saved black people portrayed as superstitious, dangerous, or both.

Marvel's Black Panther destroys those stereotypes.

Ryan Coogler's take on the comic book superhero is honest and caricature-free. Black Panther is the first adventure-based movie I recall that portrays Africans as real people -- with all the flaws and complexities that come with the gig.  Coogler shows that heroes can be morally strong and still have ego; that villains can carry out their skullduggery while retaining some aspect of goodness; that women can be beautiful and independent, and strong.

Black Panther is well acted, shot beautifully, and is a story told with tremendous special effects. What makes it a great movie, though, is that the film takes back the portrayal of Africans from white-majority owned Hollywood studios.

Coogler's Black Panther is a movie about people, relationships, and honor. And I can't wait for the sequel.




Saturday, February 03, 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I don't know anyone like the characters portrayed in Martin McDonaugh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. 

I don't know anyone like Mildred Hayes, who has been through -- and lives every moment reminded of -- tremendous tragedy. I don't have anyone in my life like Jason Dixon who, despite being deeply flawed and repugnant, I want to know better. I can't think of anyone in my inner circle of friends who'd stare down impending, life-altering personal catastrophe with the dignity and grace of Police Chief Willoughby.

But I want to know those people.

I wanna spend more time with humans who turn grief into action, even if that action is at times misguided. I need a friend who strives to be a better person, even though he doesn't have the skills to make that transformation alone. I gotta find someone who lives only in the present; who understands life is made up of moments, and who doesn't live with regret. 

If I could be around people like Mildred Hayes, Jason Dixon, and Chief Willoughby day-in and day-out I know I could be a better person. 

Three Billboards is that rare work of art that's complex and beautiful because of its simplicity. A portrait in which we can see ourselves, despite the painting being somewhat exaggerated. An examination of lives that few people live but, given the proper circumstances, many of us would.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri reflects the best and the worst of our society. But ultimately, if reflects our human potential. 





Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Shape Of Water

Guillermo del Toro proves -- again -- that he is a cinematic genius.

The Shape of Water is exactly what one might expect from a film conceived, nurtured, and directed by del Toro -- superb, innovative cinematography, a consistent thematic feel throughout, subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) dichotomies between characters, and vivid, richly saturated visuals.

You know the film is a fantasy, but del Toro makes the viewer feel that maybe the story really could happen!

The Shape of Water is the perfect example of a movie one must see in a dark, quiet theater.


The Post


Fir the life of me I can't understand why, in a movie about the Trump administration, everything looks as if it takes place in 1971.





Sunday, January 07, 2018

The Killing Of A Sacred Deer







Based on ancient play
Add modern twists, thrills, and fears
Acting is superb

Helpless, forced to choose
Due to past mistakes and sins
Someone has to pay

Distinctive, surreal,
Most peculiar from the start
Odd, yet enthralling