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Labor Day 2020: Thanks to Those Who Work

Posted on September 7, 2020 at 8:00 am

Today we pay tribute to workers, especially those who worked for better conditions for everyone.

Sally Field won an Oscar for “Norma Rae,” a real-life story about a courageous woman who helped mill workers form a union. It was inspired by Crystal Lee Sutton, a courageous advocate for workers’ rights.

Doris Day plays a union worker who falls for a new guy in management but doesn’t lose sight of the seven and a half cent raise the workers are bargaining for in the rollicking musical, “The Pajama Game.”

John Sayles’ “Matewan” tells the story of mine workers fighting for safer conditions.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qwEMIvDEFy4

“Harlan County USA” is a documentary about a strike by mine workers.

“Bread and Roses” is based on the real-life story of a strike by undocumented janitorial workers, with Adrian Brody as their lawyer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrDpd4sCswY

“Salt of the Earth” was inspired by an actual miners’ strike against the Empire Zinc Co. and the cast includes real-life miners who were involved in the strike

Mulan, Tenet, Antebellum: Critical Insights

Posted on September 6, 2020 at 12:00 pm

Some of the best writing about film I’ve read this week:

Copyright Warner Brothers 2020

Jackson McHenry on Vulture discovers that The Best Parts of Christopher Nolan Movies Are All the Dainty Snacks and Drinks.

His films are full of immaculately manicured and coiffed heroes who tend to sport expensive suits, nice watches, and a level of deep sadness about women who’ve died in their proximity. They rarely sit down for a full meal, but they often pause for a quick cup of a tea and maybe half a sandwich, often while delivering some bit of exposition to another character. Once you start noticing the number of conversations that take place over dainty drinks and appetizers in Christopher Nolan movies, you simply cannot stop. He loves a small, civilized repast, especially if it involves a silver serving tray, and his universe is full of angsty men having a cup of a tea and a little something to tide them over till later.

On Slate, Sam Adams explains “Tenet” as thoroughly and clearly as it is humanly possible. Here’s a sample:

The word tenet reads the same backward and forward, one of several references to reversibility embedded in the film. Andrei Sator’s surname comes from the Sator Square, a five-by-five grid of interlocking letters that reads the same in every direction. It was first discovered in the ruins of Pompeii, which is a location that Andrei’s wife, Katherine (Elizabeth Debicki), and their son seem especially keen on visiting.

The other five words in the Sator Square all turn up in the movie at some point: There’s Rotas, the name of the security company that guards Andrei’s warehouse in the Oslo airport; Opera, the location of the movie’s first set piece; Arepo, the name of the art forger whose bogus Goya Katherine, who works at a high-priced auction house, arranged to have sold to her husband, and which he’s now using as leverage to keep her from leaving him. And there’s the central word in the Sator Square, the axis on which it turns: tenet.

Tenet is also the word ten backward and forward, which becomes key to the movie’s climactic sequence, in which synchronized attack teams move through time in opposite directions on a 10-minute countdown, performing what the movie calls a “temporal pincer.”

“Mulan” director Nikki Caro talks about filming the battle scene in the New York Times. At Polygon, Petrana Radulovic writes about one big change from the Disney animated version. The scene where Mulan dramatically cuts her hair off with her sword does not occur in the live-action remake and the larger implications of the Eastern vs. Western ideas about characters.

Copyright Disney 2020

From an East Asian perspective, it’s pretty apparent why an independent Mulan wasn’t working well with the story. The idea of pursuing an individual destiny has been romanticized for male protagonists throughout Western canon. In adapting fairy tales like Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid, where female protagonists passively waited around and suffered, Disney found it empowering to reinvent them as active heroines taking control of their own destinies. But Mulan doesn’t draw from a history of male heroes embarking on journeys. The idea of striking out against family goes against the Confucian notions of the original ballad.

My friend and one of my favorite critics, Roxana Hadadi writes about “Mulan” for Pajiba. She calls the film “visually resplendent but narratively stifled.”

On paper, the representation politics of the film hold up—but they act in service of a story that is so adamant about traditional masculinity and nationalist loyalty that there’s literally no other plot. Niki Caro’s Mulan is grandly rendered but narrowly minded, and the film’s self-seriousness will make you long for the 1998 animated version’s subversive gender politics and sense of fun.

And Robert Daniels says that “Antebellum” is the worst movie of the year. His review may be one of the best of the year. “‘Antebellum’ is an unrepentantly violent film, and this entire sequence shows how it falsely equates shock value with empathy.”

In Antebellum, Bush and Renz desperately prod around in the dark, trying to discover the gravity of prestige slave movies like 12 Years a Slave. Slaves whistle “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in the cotton fields; one Confederate soldier calls another “snowflake”; grey-coats chant the Nazi refrain “blood and soil”; a statue of Robert E. Lee materializes on a foggy battlefield. The directors evoke these images as symbols, but don’t have the next-level horror-film ability to match symbolism with meaning. The narrative’s metaphorical thud resounds as loudly as the rolling sea.

In one of the movie’s few satisfying moments — and in a lyrically beautiful image — Eden rides a horse while wearing a Union coat and brandishing a battleaxe. She careens through Confederate lines, mouth bloodied and agape. But her uplifting revolution can’t redeem Antebellum’s grotesque wallowing and jangly script.

Hitchcock in Hitchcock Movies

Posted on September 5, 2020 at 8:00 am

Alfred Hitchcock fans loved to spot his cameos, which added a touch of whimsy to his thrillers. As time went on, he made sure they occurred early in the films to avoid distracting the audience. The biggest challenge he faced was in the movie “Lifeboat.” Unless he was going to play one of the characters in the title craft, how could he find a way to appear? The answer is delightful. He was on a diet at the time, and had lost a lot of weight. So, he created a fake ad for a diet medicine and had it in a newspaper that appeared in the film. People actually wrote and asked him where they could get some as it was so effective!

Here’s a compilation of Hitchcock’s cameos.

Doc5 Middleburg: 5 Highly-Anticipated Documentaries Premiere at the Middleburg Community Center, September 22 – 26, 2020

Posted on September 4, 2020 at 12:05 pm

CMP has announced its inaugural ​Doc5 Film Festival will take place at the Middleburg Community Center (200 W. Washington St., Middleburg, Virginia 20117) from Tuesday, September 22 through Saturday, September 26, 2020.

Doc5 is the traveling “little sister” to CMP’s flagship Doc10 Film Festival, which launched in Chicago in 2015 and has continued its reign as the taste-making festival in the Midwest, with dozens of titles earning Oscar nominations and trophies. CMP’s mission with its festival series is to celebrate independent documentary filmmaking and the filmmakers who tell those stories. Doc5 Film Festival is more intimate, bringing these incredible films on the large screen so film lovers in smaller communities and locales can watch them in a festival experience.

“We’re so proud of the success of our Doc10 Film Festival and we want to share the experience across the country,” said CMP’s ​Co-Founder and Board Chair, Steve Cohen​. “We’re really excited to launch Doc5 with a slate of film premieres especially curated for the film-lover community of Middleburg, Virginia.

Doc5 opens on Tuesday, September 22 with ​OTTOLENGHI AND THE CAKES OF VERSAILLES, ​which ​follows famous chef Yotam Ottolenghi on his quest to bring the sumptuous art and decadence of Versailles to life in cake form at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Director Laura Gabbert’s film credits include feature length ​No Impact Man and the popular Netflix series ​Ugly Delicious. ​OTTOLENGHI AND THE CAKES OF VERSAILLES perfectly captures the heights of human achievement and the frailty of decadence, adding taste as one more sense with which to experience the Met.

The festival closes on Saturday, September 26 with ​DEAR MR. BRODY, a story about how a 21-year-old hippie heir to a margarine fortune announced to the world that he would be giving away his $25-million inheritance to anyone in need. Set in 1970, Michael Brody, Jr. and his wife Renee were soon flung into a psychedelic spiral of events and overwhelmed by the crush of personal letters responding to their extraordinary offer. Fifty years later, an enormous cache of these letters are discovered–unopened. In this riveting follow-up to his acclaimed ​Tower, award-winning director Keith Maitland reveals the incredible story of Michael Brody, Jr. and the countless struggling Americans who sought his help.

The full slate of films featured at Doc5 include:
● 9/22: OTTOLENGHI AND THE CAKES OF VERSAILLES ​ (Dir. Laura Gabbert, U.S.)
● 9/23: THE SIT-IN: HARRY BELAFONTE HOSTS THE TONIGHT SHOW (Dir. ​Yoruba Richen, U.S.​)

● 9/24: TIME ​(Dir. Garrett Bradley, U.S.)
● 9/25: WHIRLYBIRD​ (Dir. Matt Yoka, U.S.)
● 9/26: DEAR MR. BRODY​ (Dir. Keith Maitland, U.S.)

CMP’s Chicago-based Doc10 Film Festival is known for its ancillary programming, including special talk backs with filmmakers and subjects, so audiences can expect some surprises during Doc5 Middleburg.
All screenings will be held outdoors to a capacity of 75 guests who will find it very easy to maintain a safe social distance in the venue’s large amphitheater. In case weather conditions force an indoor event, the festival will be moved indoors to a 50-person capacity ballroom that will still easily adhere to social distancing guidelines. Attendees will each receive swag bags with hand sanitizer, masks, and bug spray at the entrance.

Admission to each film is $25, or guests can purchase a pass for all 5 films for $100. These will be available online at doc5filmfest.org, and guests can also purchase tickets onsite at the venue’s concessions.

Mulan (Live Action 2020)

Posted on September 3, 2020 at 1:08 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence
Profanity: None
Nudity/ Sex: Implied non-sexual nudity
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended battle sequences, fights, swords, explosions, falling
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: September 4, 2020

Copyright Disney 2020
Disney’s live-action remake of “Mulan” is closer to director Niki Caro’s touching, both mythic and intimate “Whale Rider” than it is to the animated musical with Eddie Murphy as a quippy little dragon and Donny Osmond as a Chinese warrior.

Coming to us on DisneyPLus (for an extra $30) due to the pandemic, it gives us just a fraction — literally — of the grand vistas and meticulous framing Caro uses so beautifully in the film. This version of the classic story of a young woman who pretends to be male to join the military and saves the day with a brilliant strategic maneuver is more sober, ambitious, and grand in scope than the first version. Note that some of the characters and names are changed to further remove it from the original. And it is the first of the Disney live-action remakes of animated classics to get a PG-13 rating.

The movie recalls “Frozen” at the beginning, with two sisters, one with some special, almost magical skills. The young Mulan (Crystal Rao) shows determination and remarkable agility and skill as she chases down a runaway chicken with parkour-style acrobatics. Her father (Tzi Ma as Hua Zhou), is proud of the “qi” (life force) in her. But her mother knows that in their world the responsibility of the women is to attract a propitious husband. That does not require strong q. It is about modesty, decorum, and silence, almost the ability to disappear except when needed. Even Mulan’s father tells her that it is time to hide her qi so she can bring honor to the family.

Invaders come to China, led by Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee), with the help of a shape-shifting witch (Gong Li). Every family has to supply a warrior for the military. To protect her father, Mulan (Liu Yifei) disguises herself as a young man and joins up with the soldiers who are in training. She quickly volunteers to cover night watch to avoid the group showers. And she begins to prove herself with skill and determination.

Then comes the battle, the revelation of her true identity, and then another chance to save the day when she realizes that Bori plans to attack the emperor (Jet Li).

Director of Photography Mandy Walker shows us breathtaking vistas (New Zealand standing in for China in much of the film) and stunningly staged battles. The scenes in Mulan’s village are colorful but gritty enough to be authentically rural. And the production design is everything we expect from Disney, meticulously researched and gorgeously imagined.

The shifting of the storyline to focus on the parallels between Mulan and the witch, two women who struggle to express their essential qi in a world that has rigidly limited expectations for women gives the film additional depth. They are on opposite sides, but they recognize all they have in common. As in the original film, we see the literal constrictions and distortions in the clothing and makeup Mulan must put on to meet with the matchmaker. She is far more comfortable in the armor of a warrior.

Niki Caro keeps the film brimming with heart and sincerity so that even in the middle of battle scenes the focus is on what makes Mulan special — her dedication and loyalty even more than her skill and her qi.

Parents should know that this film includes extended peril and violence with battle scenes, swords, explosions, and hand-to-hand combat. Characters are injured and killed.

Family discussion: What is chi and how do you access it? Why did the matchmaker and the warriors have such limited ideas about women?

If you like this, try; the original “Mulan” and live-action remakes “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Jungle Book” along with Chinese films for older audiences like “Hero” and “House of Flying Daggers.”