Category Archives: Movies

Aretha’s Amazing Grace

 

Although it was only released in 2018, in 1972 a professional film crew filmed an amazing 2 concerts in a small  Baptist church in Los Angeles, where Aretha Franklin decided to return to her roots as a gospel singer.  The film is called Amazing Grace. This was no mega-church. Franklin had starred as a gospel singer from a very young age. She started out accompanying her father on his traveling religious revival shows and later she began recording songs in his church as the age of 14.

The 1972 concert was delivered at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts a suburb of Los Angeles California, and was backed by the Southern California Community Choir. As the leader of the choir and singer in his own right, James Cleveland said, it was not a concert it was a religious service. To me there is no finer religious music than southern African-America gospel. That is what religion is all about. That is why I like the gospel hour every Sunday during the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

Despite the fact that the film was directed by Oscar award wining Sydney Pollack, who appears from time to time in the film, the filming was botched and the words were not properly synchronized with the images. Yet despite that, the night was (in my opinion) a miracle, and a second miracle occurred more than 40 years later when producer Alan Elliot worked out the technical problems and released the film in 2018. In the film there’s even a brief glimpse of a young Mick Jagger catching the Holy Spirit. Apparently Charlie Watts was also in the film, but I failed to recognize him. Perhaps that was because he did not yet show the years of his own heavy abuses.

The cinematography is simple or even amateurish, devoid of tricks or magic. But magic was not needed. The voice was all the magic anyone needed. Let me acknowledge at the outset that not all agreed with my enthusiasm. I saw it with my lovely wife and 4 friends.  Some of our group were not as impressed as I was. But they can write their own blogs. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone Magazine agreed with me.  He wrote, “And here she is, barely saying a word to the congregation, knowing instinctively that her singing is all that matters when the time comes to worship and to preach. That truly is amazing grace. How sweet the sound.”

Some of our group was disconcerted by Aretha’s passivity in front of her father. Why was she so passive? She said hardly a word. It is one thing to let your singing voice do your talking but was there more to it than that. At one point during the performance, her father, leaped onto stage to wipe her face because she was sweating so profusely. Aretha on the other hand was entirely meek and mild. All except her glorious voice. It rang loud and true.

Some of our party were disturbed when thanks to Professor Google we learned that Aretha’s father the Baptist Minister, C.L. Franklin, was ushered into the church to fawning applause. He was treated not as a minister, but a God. And we all know by now what happens when religious leaders are treated like gods. Exploitation or abuse is often quick to follow. Apparently that is what happened with Aretha’s father.

According to Aretha’s biographer, David Ritz, her father, a sweetly smooth talking Baptist Minister had more than a roving eye, particularly for young girls. It was said that the people of his congregation adored him, but kept a close eye on their young daughters when he was around. Ritz claimed in his book Respect: The Life of Aretha Franklin, that his church services often transformed into bacchanalian orgies. “It was the point where Saturday night merged into Sunday morning and sin met salvation at the crossroads of African American musical culture. High on the Holy Ghost, dancing in the aisles of New Bethel, the saints celebrated the love of Christ,” Ritz wrote. “High on wine and weed, the party people celebrated the love of the flesh.”The Washington Post, reported it this way:  “Ray Charles once visited the church and, despite his own propensity for promiscuous sexual experiences, was shocked, according to Ritz”.

Did an overbearing if not abusive father cow Franklin into submission? I don’t know.  What I know, is that, Aretha Franklin, the legitimate Queen of Soul, had a voice that allowed her to escape any attempt to constrain her. Remember though that I know nothing about music. I just know I liked it a lot. Watching her perform, I agreed with what Travers said, “It’s the closest thing to witnessing a miracle — just some cameras, a crowd and a voice touched by God.”

The congregation and guests were also worth seeing. The guests included the voluptuous African-American singer Clara Ward proudly strutting into the church dressed to the nines and absurdly covered by a heavy mink coat on a hot L.A. night. I enjoyed watching the choir leader who was a close match for Franklin’s rational exuberance and some of the dancers were so good, to use a phrase of W, B. Yeats and Don Henley we could not tell the dancer from the dance. The members of the congregation and choir were often off their seats waving, dancing, and singing with joy.

If you want to see a miracle go see the film at Cinematheque in Winnipeg or a good theatre near you.

Free  Solo

 

 

I watched the documentary film Free Solo about the promise of Alex Honnold to climb a massive slab of granite called El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. It is a granite monolith about 3,000 ft. (900 m.) from base to summit. It is a massive hunk of rock. Free solo is a mountain or rock climbing technique that means the climber ventures forth entirely without safety equipment of any sort.

At the outset let me say it: I am a chicken. I would never do anything remotely like what Alex Honnold did. I have not the slightest desire to even try.  I also want to admit at the outset that I am fearfully afraid of heights. I get queasy just thinking about what he did. I got queasy watching rock climbers with ropes and equipment climb a rock mountain in Zion National Park 2 years ago. For me, I would have a hard time standing near the edge of the summit, let alone anywhere on the face without ropes or equipment.

I was scared of watching the film because I had been told that anyone who was scared of heights probably should not watch. I wondered what might happen to me from the comfort of my couch as I watched it. How cowardly is that?

I have only seen rock climbers once. That was 2 years ago in Zion National Park. We were beside what I thought was a massive monolith. We saw the climbers from the ground and looking up they appeared as miniscule people. Frankly, I could hardly watch them from down on the ground. I thought the climbers were nuts. And they all had ropes.  In the movie Free Solo I learned that this free solo climb in Zion was an easy preparation for El Cap. Nothing to it was Honnold’s attitude. To me that seemed incomprehensible.

It is interesting to note that Honnold was going to climb with a film crew following every step, often from a safe distance. That must have added to the pressure.

I found one thing very interesting in the film. Alex said, “in free soloing you come as close to perfection as you will ever get, because even the slightest mistake means you will die.” I always think the pursuit of perfection is insane. This type of perfection is even crazier. Perfection, as they say is the enemy of the good. I would add it is the enemy of sanity.

I admit to some unease about the film interviews with Alex. Was the purpose to glorify the attempt? If so I do not want to be a part of it. I think it is a crazy thing to try. No it is an insanething to try. I hope the film does not lead others to try it too to grab some glory. The glory could be short-lived.

The first person to climb El Capitan climbed it together with a partner  in 47 days using “siege” tactics. This means they climbed expedition style using fixed ropes along the length of the route linking established camps along the way and using  aid climbing with ropes, pitons, and expansion bolts to make it to the summit. Even then it took nearly 2 months.

It was ascended again 2 years later by a group of 4 in 7 days. Today it usually takes a group of fit climbers about 4 to 5 days to do it. In 1975 a group of 3 climbers did it in 1 day.

The first solo ascent (not free solo) was accomplished in 10 days in 1968. In time some climbers sought ways to climb El Cap either free or with minimal aid. On June 3, 2017 Alex Honnold completed the first free solo climb of El Capitan without any protective equipment whatsoever. The film is about that climb. He ascended the Freerider route in 3 hours and 56 minutes.

The filming was spectacular with some fabulous 360°shots.  A number of times I was almost ill watching. Remember I’m a chicken.  It was that intense when he made some moves that required stunning body twists and holding himself with a thumb or a couple of fingers and a quick movement of a foot for a slight toe-hold from one tiny ledge to another. Imagine holding yourself up with a thumb? Or a toe? It really seemed like an impossible achievement.

Even though the cameramen at times had to look away as well, one of them said, “Alex is having the best day of his life.” Was he? Why? I really don’t get it.

I personally have no need to seek out thrills.  I don’t want to support it (even though I paid to see the film). I would not want to encourage anyone to take such chances for no real purpose.

Now I know there is nothing gained by me going to photograph wild flowers, or writing this silly blog, but at least I am not putting my life in danger. I get lots of excitement from traveling the world of ideas. I would rather venture forth in the world of ideas than climb a mountain, or walk across Antarctica, or run 29 miles in the Sahara desert. Each to our own. I don’t say my puny achievements are better. They are just better for me.

It was interesting to me that no one in the film encouraged Alex to climb the mountain free solo. Not one person. His girlfriend clearly would have preferred him not to do it, but I also felt perhaps she enjoyed soaking up some of the glory surrounding Alex. She did not stick around to watch him climb. Alex admitted he did not have to do it.  He chose to do it. Even after months of preparation by him and the film crew he said, “I know I could walk away from it, but I just don’t want to.”  He wanted to try it, knowing he might die in the attempt. But he gave no powerful reason for doing it.

What is the morality of a person doing something as crazy as this so we might behold his achievement? I don’t know. I don’t think I want to encourage it, but I guess I did. I don’t know why. Chris did not want to see the film because that would be like encouragement to others to try it too.

Honnold also said he did not want to die in front of his friends who were filming him. None of them wanted to do anything to distract him. They were very careful to avoid that while filming him. It must have added a serious element of extra danger to do what Honnold did with a film crew constantly around him. He even said he was tempted to just do it all alone one day without all the fuss. Just sneak out int he morning and do it. But then no one would know you did it. Why should that matter?

Honnold also claimed he was doing it “for all the right reasons”. What could that possibly mean? He did not explain. Can you conceive of a right reason? I can’t. Even Honnold admitted that it seemed odd to him to say he was doing it for the right reasons when he was climbing with an entourage of a crew.

At the end Alex said, “What a journey.”  That was his summation. That is a pretty prosaic statement for such an amazing achievement. That leads me to think that the entire effort was actually entirely banal. There was no good reason to do. He could not explain one. I don’t think there was one. Hannah Arendt wrote when she covered the Nuremberg Nazi trials after World War II that evil was banal. Sometimes that is true.  But I would add that so is spectacle. Spectacle is banal. Sports achievements are all ultimately banal. It may be briefly fun. But there is no important reason for them. There is no good reason, other than to have some fun and get in shape and experience some competition. Extreme sports achievements are all, in my opinion, banal.

         I know you have to be brave to do what Alex Honnold did. I don’t have that kind of courage. None of it to be precise. But you also have to be brave to dissent from the almost unanimous opinions of your friends or community. You have to be brave to strike out on your own on new lines of thought. You have to be brave to speak up when someone else is espousing racist views. You have to be brave to attack your own convictions because you never know where that will lead you.  That is the kind of bravery I wish I had.

Academy Awards 2019

 

This is probably one of the stupidest posts I have ever made. And that is saying a lot in view of some of my really stupid posts.  I have seen all the films nominated for Academy Awards plus one other that is relevant, If Beale Street Could Talk.  So based on this limited knowledge I will predict the Best from some fo the top categories that I have seen.  As a result I can’t predict Glen Close because I did not see the film she appeared in but today I heard an expert say she was a lock.

Cinematography—A Star is Born

Sound Editing–Black Panther

Sound Mixing– Black Panther

Production Design–Black Panther

Costume Design–Black Panther

Best Original Song–Shallow, A Star is Born

Best Document Feature–RBG (the only one I saw, but I liked it a lot)

Best Foreign Language Film–Roma

Film Editing–Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Original Screenplay–Roma

Best Original Score– Black Panther

Best Adapted Screenplay–If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Original Screenplay–Roma

Best Supporting Actor–Adam Driver, BlacKkKlansmen

Best Supporting Actress–Regina King, If Beale Street Could Talk

Best Actor–Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody

Best Actress–Lady Gaga, A Star is Born (I liked her best of all the films I saw)

Best Director–Roma  Cuaron

Best Picture–Roma

 

 

 

Black Panther

 

I know this movie is hugely popular. Even the critics liked it. But I just didn’t like it. I know I was prejudiced going in. I really don’t like superhero movies. I know that is heresy, but there it is. I am sick of computer generated films and, this is genuine apostasy, I am getting tired of action movies. I grew up on action movies, but I can’t remember the last one I liked. I think action movies have run their course. Time for something new.

I understand that this film is one in a long series of movies based on Marvel comics. I don’t think I have seen any of them. Based on this movie, the best of the series I am told, I don’t want to see anymore. I’m done.

I know this movie was made largely by African-Americans. That is wonderful. Now I know that they can make movies that are just as bad as  movies made why whites.

Chris and I have been on a wonderful project: to see all the films nominated for Best Picture by the Academy. The beauty of such a project is that we watched some movies we might not have watched except for that. This was the last one we saw. In my opinion it was also the least worth seeing.

Super heroes never die; Super hero movies should die.

BlacKkKlansman

 

 

 

The film BlacKkKlansman written by Spike Lee and others and also directed by Lee, is based on a memoir written by Ron Stallworth in 2014. The film is set in the early 1970s and tells the story of Stallworth who was the first black African-American detective in Colorado Springs. Amazingly Stallworth infiltrated the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan (‘KKK’) by posing as a white supremacist on the telephone. When face-to-face meetings were necessary his colleague at the Police Department, also amazingly, was  a Jew, but nonetheless stepped in to help out posing as Stallworth.  He showed up at meetings in the basement of a KKK member whose wife served cheese and crackers to those planning racially based attacks.

The portrait of the Klan members is not flattering. Their racism seems impossible. How could people have the crazy ideas they had? I kept thinking that Lee ought to have made a film about covert racism instead of the easy target of the KKK. After all there can’t be any racists like that anymore, I thought.  Yet the more I thought about the film the more I realized that is not true.  Many of the Klan members expressed views that seem to have come directly from Trump. They said that they just wanted American First and wanted to make it great again. By which of course they meant they white and non-Jewish.

Stallworth said the US would never elect someone “like Duke”, the leader of the Klan.  We as the audience experienced a hush at this point, knowing how in 2016 they did exactly that. Such racism is alive and “well” in the U.S as it is in Canada. Canada just picks a different target–indigenous people.

I was particularly affected by the racism of the women in the film.  One of the KKK members was affectionately hugging his spouse while she coos about how grateful she is that after all these years they are finally going to “kill some niggers.” She loves her husband for giving her this glorious opportunity. And then there were women watching a racist film at a Klan meeting who responded viscerally to a scene where a black man was lynched by a “brave” mob of whites. Watching it, as we cringed, she yelled, “String em up,” reminding me of how Trump’s female supporters would shout out at Trump rallies at the mention of Hillary Clinton, “Lock her up.”

The film ends with a shock. Lee included actual video footage from the 2017 Unite The Right Rally in Charlottesville where various white supremacists, including David Duke the Klan leader, marched the streets of the city Virginia. The march included self-identified members of the far-right, alt-right, neo-Confederates, neo-fascists, white nationalists, Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and others. The white supremacist marchers chanted racist and antisemitic slogans, carried semi-automatic rifles (Virginia is an open carry state), Nazi symbols including the swastika, and of course, Confederate flags. Many wore Trump “Make America Great Again” hats.

The footage of the rampage was shocking. It showed men violently attacking counter protesters and a car mowing down pedestrians. About 40 of the counter protesters were injured and 1 was killed. One of them was paralyzed as a result of the attacks.

Not that all the counter protesters were without blemish. Some of them egged on the supremacists. These days it is sadly not uncommon for Leftists to forget that people who disagree with them also have freedom of speech.

After that the film switched to a few of Trump’s reactions to the events. Trump did not clearly criticize the white supremacists, but instead said, “There were good people on both sides.” The two sides were hardly equivalent.

It’s not surprising that after Trump’s comments Duke the KK leader  responded by calling the protests “a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We’re going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump.” After Trump’s subsequent tweets Duke thanked Trump for telling the truth and the fact that he “condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Anitfa.” Later when Trump did finally criticize the white supremacists, Duke reminded Trump to  “take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.” Duke knows a racist when he sees one, even if millions of Trump supporters either don’t or don’t care.

I was wrong.  This is  an important movie. Clearly such blatant racism is not a thing of the past. It is the “history of the present” to use an expression by Pankaj Mishra.

The film closed quietly with a simple but dramatic image: the American flag lying upside down, gradually turning from full color to black and white. As seems to be happening so much in America (and Canada too), many people don’t seem to see in colour any more. Everything is black and white. The extremes are winning. I hope I am wrong about that.

Roma

 

This movie is difficult. It is shot in black and white, but there is no black and white in the film. Everything is grey. That makes it a great film. So far, I think it is the best of the movies nominated this year for best Picture.

This is a movie in which dog shit plays a prominent role. I am not kidding. And that is one of the things I liked best about the film. I think there is a sly commentary there about the wealthy family for whom the main character, Cleo an  indigenous domestic  works. domestic.

In the opening scene we see water repeatedly sloshing over some tile. Later we realize this is being done by Cleo to clean up the dog shit in the tiny garage attached to the family house. The family dog continually confined to the garage is like Cleo constantly tied to the family. The dog has nowhere else to go to attend to business. Soon after Cleo has finished cleaning the garage Dr. Antonio the owner of the home arrives in his fancy new car and drives right over a piece of dog shit. His car is soiled but he does not know it, or he doesn’t care. Cleo will clean it up. In this way the movie is quietly launched.

It took a while for me to appreciate what was happening. I kept thinking about that dog shit. It bothered me. I think the director and writer of the film, Alfonso Cuarón intended exactly this result. The dog shit was important. I didn’t think I would ever say such a thing.

Cleo’s job is to clean up the family messes. That is a big job for this upper middle-class family. When we first see the house the main floor is immaculate and filled with books. It seems this is a highly civilized family. That is an illusion. The upper chamber is what the family is about and it is a mess. The children leave “stuff” lying around everywhere, just like the dog. Why clean it up when Cleo is there to clean it up? Some of the kids even eat hail that landed on the garage floor where the dog shits.  The children play with guns, like the student revolutionaries we later see.

Dr. Antonio is frequently absent. Later his wife Sofia realizes he is having an affair. The family life is a melee, like the revolution initiated by the students. People are shot for no reason. It is morally chaotic like the house is in moral chaos. If this is the revolution, start it without me.

During the riot, Cleo’s water breaks and she takes a ride to the hospital but gets caught in a traffic jam as a result of the chaos. In the hospital there is another melee, and she delivers a still-born child. Her child is a lifeless as the the child of the revolution.

There is also a scene at the home of Sofia’s friends that again emphasizes the moral confusion. The house has dead animals, kids running around entirely unsupervised, a dog walking through the house, and ducks fornicating in the alley. There is no order. All of this is followed by a wild forest fire that people are futilely trying to put out with tiny pails of water, and puny water hoses, or even wine glasses. Children are trying to help but no professionals are in sight. One man, perhaps intoxicated or drug-crazed, stands around doing nothing to help, and oblivious, in a highly flammable coat of grasses.  It is pandemonium.  And not least it is moral pandemonium.

Things are not much better at with the peasants. Their party is also a melee. Fermin, Cleo’s boyfriend who impregnated her denies patrimony and runs away a second time after threatening Cleo. As if he would have anything to do with a servant!

The children go as a group to a movie Marooned, but no one is more marooned than they are. On the way they look at porn magazines in the public street. No one cares. Back at home the children fight and throw rocks inside the house. Again, the servants must clean up the mess.

More dog shit appears on the garage floor. Sofia, Dr. Antonio’s wife, drunkenly drives a new car into the narrow garage badly scraping both sides repeatedly. Is this shiny new car the real baby of the revolution? Another melee. Again she drives over dog shit. Dog shit is ubiquitous.

After everything settles down for a while, the family goes to the beach so the father can take out his stuff from the house while they are gone. Sofia, the mother, leaves the children to swim with Cleo as a life guard. But Cleo can’t swim! The mother goes to check her car instead. The car that is more important than her children. Cleo though no swimmer, magically rescues the children from drowning.

In the end, Cleo confesses she did not want her child to be born.  It is all a mess. It is all dog shit. Who can clean it up? The family is marooned.

A Star is Born

 

 

A life without surprises is a paltry thing. Today I was surprised. Very happily surprised.          Each year in Arizona Chris and I have had a project–to see all the films nominated for best picture for the Academy Awards. It has been fun. One of the great benefits has been that we have a seen a lot of films we would never have seen otherwise. Sometimes we have dragged ourselves kicking and screaming to the theatre.  Today was one of those days.  I really wanted to see On the Basis of Sex, the film about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s career as a lawyer fighting sex discrimination cases in the US. I still want to see that. But we could not make when it was showing near us. So our second choice, was A Star is Born. I’m sure we never would have gone to see it were it not for our project. Thank goodness for the project.

The storey is about country/rock singer (Bradley Cooper) with substance abuse issues who takes on a young woman (Lady Gaga) who works in a restaurant, but sings at night in Trans Bar.  The woman has talent and he becomes her mentor and drags her on stage to sing over her objections. And the rest is history.

This film surprised us. I liked many things about it, but particularly the singing. First, Bradley Cooper. He was pretty good. How can a movie star be a singer too? How does that work? I have so little talent and he has so much. How can that be?  I really enjoyed his portrayal of the substance abusing country/rock star. It was a great performance.

Then comes Lady Gaga. I have to say I really knew little about her. I would not even have recognized her. I had never paid attention to her or her music. I always thought Lady Gaga was shallow. I thought her name sad it all. That shows you how ignorant I was. Iam the one who was shallow. That is a bit hard to admit. Once again I have to be humble. As everyone knows, I have no good reason not to be humble, yet I have a hard time with it.

I thought her singing and acting was outstanding. Again how can she have so much talent while a nice guy like me has so little? It doesn’t seem fair but no one ever promised fair. I particularly liked her song “Shallow”, which she wrote and they  performed. I have been told that all the singing in the movie was live. Well it certainly was real!  The impromptu performance  transforms her life. The song is not shallow. It starts as a duet but Lady Gaga raises the bar for the last exuberant solo verse including the line I really liked, “We’re far from the shallow now.” That’s exactly it. What a great surprise.

The Favourite is not my Favourite

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The Favorite is another movie nominated for best picture. At first I thought the movie was largely a waste of time and effort.  Then I mulled it over. I think it did deliver  an important message, especially for these times we live in.  The movie demonstrated  that absolute authority is not pretty, nor are the sycophants that suck up to it. It is important to remember this at any time we encounter absolute power, or even its ugly little sister, like that of Donald Trump and the Republican sycophants  that suck up to him. This is a very good time to think about that. The Favourite is not my favourite movie, but it has it’s good points.

If Beale Street Could Talk.   

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If Beale Street Could Talk is not an outstanding film, but it is a good one. Based on a novel by the same name,  by one of America’s greatest writers, James Baldwin, this movie tells the story of 2 young black lovers from Harlem, Fonny and Tish. Fonny is falsely accused of rape and is placed in jail without bail very early on in the film. Tish is only 19 and is already pregnant when Fonny is put in jail. Tish’s family hires a white lawyer to defend him and her mother tries to get evidence that would support Fonny’s case.

The root of the film is love–parental and romantic. It is love that drives the film and floods it with warmth. The love between Trish and Fonny is palpable, as is the love between Trish’s family and the couple. The love from Fonny’s family, except for the father, is pretty thin gruel, diluted as it is by religion. Fonny’s   family evoked a familiar Baldwin theme–how racism frequently turned its victims, especially black men, into self-hating monsters that lash out at the only ones they could–i.e. their own families. Black people too often attack the ones they love the most because they are incapable of attacking those who oppress them. Warmth from family is desperately  needed to hold back the cold of prison and the American “justice” system.  That system is the background for the film, and it is not a pretty one. For the sad fact is that the criminal justice system is not a just one for black Americans.

Trish makes a telling remark early in the film. She says, “We were told we weren’t worth shit, and looking around us we saw the proof that it was true.” The reality of the American criminal justice system is that starting around the time that the book on which the film was based, mass incarceration as a result of ‘law and order’ politics was beginning to fill American jails, primarily with black men. In recent years in America 65% of convictions are against blacks who only make up 20% of the population.

Last year while we were in Arizona Chris and I heard a talk with Cornell West who rages against this system.  I heard him say on the radio one time, “If you don’t speak out against such injustice the rocks are going to cry out.” He also pointed out that “Every 28 hours for the last 7 years a black or brown man, woman, or child in America was murdered by the police or private security guard services. And the reason West said was because black lives are devalued. Black lives don’t matter. That was even though a black President led America at the time.

One of the real values of this film, is that it puts such facts in your face. This is particularly brought home during the family meeting between Fonny, Trish, and their young son in prison. Prison is the background to their “family life.” The couple lives in a toxic atmosphere of racial suppression. That was what life was like in America at the time. How much has it really changed?

The movie offered no facile solutions. I appreciated that. Such “solutions” would not have been honest. Fonny was in jail at the beginning of the film and he was still there when his young son came to visit him there with his mother.

The movie showed some “good whites” like the woman storekeeper who tried to defend Fonny and the Jewish landlord who was kind.

Yet Fonny’s friend, another young black man, asked if Malcolm X was right when he rhetorically asked if the white man was the devil? Fonny’s friend after describing briefly his woes in prison commented, “The white man sure does hate niggers.” I would apologize for using this word, but it was used in the movie. Scrubbing it would not be honest. That is also the way young black men would talk at that time in that situation.

Are such uncomfortable question like this not entirely appropriate when more than half of black men without a college education go to prison at some time in their lives? Or when you consider that there are more black men in American prisons than there were enslaved during the height of slavery? In America black lives often don’t matter, at least to whites. In America, as in Canada, racism still lies at its core. Until it is expunged and redeemed there is no hope for either country.

Vice

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The film Vice is the far from unbiased story of Dick Cheney the controversial former Vice President of the United States. It opens up with scenes of the horrendous aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the United States. There were scenes of disbelief, panic, and astonishment everywhere, including in the government offices. I wish they had included the video of President George W. Bush reading a story to kindergarten children in a Florida school. Bush was told of the attack by an aide, as he was reading,  but Bush did not stop reading the story. He clearly was stunned, but had no idea what to do. So he just kept reading. I think this scene would have grounded this film.

The scenes that followed showed how the United States was maneuvered into attacking Iraq in response for reasons I will never understand. There really was no connection between Iraq and the attacks in the United States. Cheney however either believed in the mythic connection or just had it in for Saddam. The war had absolutely no discernable purpose. Iraq, unlike Afghanistan had little to do with the war on terrorism.  But Cheney wanted that war. Cheney always promised that weapons of mass destruction would be found, but that promise proved flatulent.

According to the film, the war resulted in the death of 600,000 Iraqis, mainly civilians, and 3,000 to 4,000 Americans. Other estimates have varied from much less than this to even more. Actual reliable numbers are hard to find. Before the war even started credible sources estimated that as many as 500,000 people in the country died as a direct result of sanctions levied by the US led coalition forces.

The numbers vary greatly. What is true and what matters is that a lot of people died as a direct result of this war and it was a war without any logical  purpose. Many of the deaths were suffered by children and other civilians. Of course, many wars have been initiated by elites for their own purposes, too often nefarious, while the price, the awful price, has been paid by grunts and their families. This alone is a darn good reason to be sceptical when the political leaders are braying for war.

Dick Cheney was instrumental in starting the war in Iraq. Many think that he was easily able to manipulate a young and inexperienced President to enter that war for reasons that remain opaque. Cheney was a former executive with Halliburton, a private American company that benefited greatly from contracts secured during and after the war.

The disproportion between Iraqi and American deaths was stark. It was a war by the richest, most powerful, and most technologically advanced country, and its allies, against a 3rd world country led by a cruel and vicious dictator. Few people in the United States were clamoring for this war. There were some extreme right-wingers who saw the corporate opportunities as a result of the war. Some of these were cronies of Cheney. This is the background to the film. I think it is important.

The film shows  Cheney as the great manipulator hiding and really, lurking, in the shadows behind George W. Bush. Bush is shown frankly, and not entirely without justification, as a boy beside the man, Cheney. Vanity Fair reviewer Richard Lawson bluntly dismissed the basic approach of McKay, when he said McKay’s film “issues at a busy, self-satisfied blare”

I found the shotgun approach of the film too scattered for my taste. But there were some fascinating parts. For example, I really enjoyed the scene with young Cheney and his mentor Donald Rumsfeld in the US Congress. After getting introduced to the inner workings of the political machine Cheney asks Rumsfeld, “What is it that we believe in?”  Rumsfeld is stunned at the absurdity of this question and he reacts by howling uncontrollably with laughter. What a stupid question.

I was amazed at how well Christian Bale, starring as Cheney, captured his physical dimensions. He evoked well his mannerisms.  He looked liked Cheney. He sounded like Cheney. He was Cheney. Admirable as this performance though was, it is not enough to make a great film.

Near the end of the film Cheney turns away from the camera, it seems and speaks instead directly to us the viewers. He shows no remorse for what happened. Only pride. He really believes he did the right thing and he did it for our benefit. To keep us safe. Sort of like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. I was not convinced in that film; I was not convinced now

One o the things the film showed was how Cheney believed in the absolute power of the President. Sort of like the current President.   This of course is deeply disturbing at this particular time in which America is led by a man who is the most narcissistic man I have ever seen, and who at the same time has very little knowledge, and is entirely satisfied with that state of affairs. Now that we have a much less thoughtful President than Bush (I never thought I would say that this was even possible), we must fear for America and even, the world.  In my own life I have proved over and over again, that life is hard when you are stupid. But when the so-called leader of the Free World and most powerful man the world is stupid, we are all in deep trouble. Life will be hard.

Unusually, as the credits were rolling,  and it appeared the movie was over, the film resumed after most of the audience had left. That was unfortunate for a short insert showed a focus group discussing the film, collapsed into a melee when a boldly opinionated right winger rejected the film as biased (which certainly could be true) and then ended up wrestling a feeble liberal on the panel. Meanwhile 2 other panellists discussed the most recent Fast and Furious movie completely ignoring the chaos beside them. You get the clear impression that this is where we are headed with our increasingly extremist society. Chaos. Thats sort of scary isn’t it?