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Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Peanut Butter Falcon - The Movie Soars into Your Heart and Sticks to the Soul

This majestically shot film is much more than an odd couple, buddy road trip.  It tips its sails to Huckleberry Finn.  Directors/screenwriters Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz have framed together an odyssey that grapples between good guys and bad guys.  It unveils kindnesses & understanding that puts mankind in the same boat and keeps humanity afloat.  The unlikely heroes of this endearing saga are Zack (Zack Gottsagen) and Tyler (Shia LeBeouf). Both young men are on the run.  Zack (a Down syndrome actor) has escaped the confines of a senior living center where he's been wrongly relegated by the state.  Despite the loving care from the facility's social worker Eleanore (Dakota Johnson) Zack has unfulfilled dreams of a young man.  He feels imprisoned with only "old people".  His roommate (Bruce Dern) empathizes with Zack and assists his escape tho denies any culpability.   The other unlikely anti-hero, Tyler (a stupendous Shia LeBeouf) supports himself by poaching from other fisherman's traps.  The two connect when Zack stows away on Tyler's small motor-craft when Tyler is fleeing the murderous wrath of those he's stolen from.  John Hawkes plays one of the vicious men in ruthless pursuit for revenge.  Tyler reluctantly takes Zack under his wing as they travel together on a harrowing Mark Twain adventure with many dips and surprising curves.  Eleanore is ordered to find Zack and bring him back.  The symbiotic bond between Tyler and Zack swells from a whirlpool into immense solicitude.  Their growing friendship helps heal Tyler's painful ordeal and provides Zack with "life experiences that make for a good story to tell."  The makeshift family formed between Eleanore, Tyler and Zack is touching & tenable.  Not all is smooth sailing but along way they encounter winsome individuals who offer warmth & hospitality  Comparing this film to Twain's masterpiece "Huckleberry Finn" is lofty but defensible.  Jim & Zack were viewed by society as sub-human (not to say Jim's heinous treatment equates to Zack's).  Needless, both were unjustly pegged and constrained.  Huck and Tyler (both outsiders) view Jim & Zack as equals, friends and   deserving of their rightful freedom.  Huck & Tyler help secure their friend's journeys.  The crepuscular scenes aboard the make-shift raft run parallel to "Huck Finn."  "The Peanut Butter Falcon" soars on its stunning cinematography, superb acting and powerful storytelling.  Its superhero strength stems from its expansive heart.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

British Dir Gurinder Chadra's Blinded by the Light - Is so Bad it Should've be Seen

"Blinded by the Light" is so wrong for so many reasons.  The ingredients in this botched film are so  better than the combined cliched, interminable MTV video which ends up going nowhere.  Dir. Chadra (b. Kenya 1960) is a British film director whose film have dealt intelligently with issues pertinent to British women of Indian heritage.  The Pakistani women are delegated to abject, submissive subjects.  Sarfraz Manzoor (b Pakistan 1971) is a British journalist & doc. filmmaker whose semi-autobiographical book "Greetings from Bury Park" the film is based. The premise here is of a young Pakistani boy, Javed (Viveik Kalra) who immigrates to the UK with his family & the father's dreams for a better life doesn't start a fire but offers a spark for an uplifting coming of age story & family saga.  The Javed's father (Kalvinder Ghiri) plays the overbearing patriarch/martyr who forbids Javed & his sister from parties & social norms enjoyed by their peers. The father son uprising is not surprising nor their teary eyed conciliatory reckoning endearing.  The film is one overly long platitude that is cloying and pathetic.  Javed's dreams of becoming a writer which are spurned on by Springstein's music, a prof. who nurtures his potential and an aberrant, elderly neighbor.  The setting is in a banal urban town outside London; it ain't got nothing to offer.  Javed believes his ticket out from the town which ain't going nowhere is through his writing & education.  The film is ambitious in its political messaging.   The epoch of unrest is set in the UK '1986/7 under Thatcher with rising unemployment & racist xenophobia.  The protests & prejudices lack impact.  The father's ongoing quip to associate with the Jews because they're successful is a joke here somewhere.  Springstein's lyrics are plastered on screen ain't got nothing to say that isn't facetious rather than impactful.  Javed's  song & dance number with his girlfriend and on-lookers is gag inducing.  I liked the performance by Kalra although his omnipresence grew tiresome.  His friend Roops (Aaron Phagura) added welcomed relief.  Unfortunately, Javed's dad is a boorish stereotype and becomes a farcical figurehead.  Glory days - let this wearisome film pass you by.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco - Wistful Longing and Lasting Friendships

Joe Talbot's stunning debut film "The Last Black Man in San Francisco" earned him the Best Dir. Prize at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.  Talbot was born & raised in the city by the bay for which this beautiful shot and poignantly acted film pays homage.  This tender and heart rendering film emphasizes the ever changing city.  It casts its light on the rancid water in the bays, homelessness, deterioration of its structures, impoverished populations and gang violence.  This languorous film is seen mostly through the eyes of  Jimmie Fails, a skateboarding squatter who pines for the Victorian home he maintains was built by his grandfather just after WWII.  There's a scattering of colorful characters that add luster to this luminescent landscape.  We find a street preacher, an aspiring artist/playwright and his blind father played by Danny Glover.  There's a colorful & loud neighborhood gang of tough talking thugs with little else to do.  The contained plot of Jimmie's commitment to care for and obtain this beloved home in SF becomes a courageous odyssey through a visually stunning city filled with unforgettable faces.  The acting by Fails and Jonathan Majors as Mont is phenomenal.  Their enduring friendship shores up the others dreams and lifts the film into a profound realm.  There are no individual villains in this film.  Patience, dignity & kindness are oftentimes the traits shown.  The malefactor is the passage of time & apathy rendering too often lives meaningless.  The blind eye of society's deterioration is highlighted into kaleidoscope focus.  Talbot wrote, directed and produced "The Last Black Man in San Francisco".  This will not be the last we see from a budding filmmaker of immense talents.

Friday, August 16, 2019

THE FAREWELL Well Written & Dir. by Chinese/Amer. Filmmaker Lulu Wang

THE FAREWELL "Based on a True Lie" is an affecting film about a Chinese family whose beloved matriarch, Nai Nai (a marvelous Zhao Shuzen) has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer & given a life expectancy of several few weeks.  Nai Nai is the only one out of the loop amongst her family to be informed she's not long for this world.  Her 2 sons & sister believe it's a kind lie and in her best interests.  One son  emigrated to Japan the other America to raise their families.  This beautifully shot and artfully framed movie serves as a paradigm for comparing western/eastern philosophies as well as generational divide perspectives.  Billi (Awkwafina) born in China moves with her Chinese parents to NYC at a young age.  Billi is bi-lingual with a wry sense of  humor, inner strength and tenderness.  She's struggling to make it one her own but it's arduous in the city that never sleeps.  She's close with her mom & pop.  She's home often to do her laundry and bicker with her folks.  Her parents have been known to bicker & battle with boozing.  Still, there's a lot of love to go round in this family dramedy  to keep the film on keel between melancholy & merriment.  The film muses on familial bonds, diasporas/assimilations and cultural differences between east & west.  Many scenes are shot around the dinner table the central hearth & heart of the family unit. The wedding banquet is a bonus of delectable nuggets crammed with whimsy & charm.  Dir/screenwriter/producer, Lulu Wang (b China) is an Amer. filmmaker.  Wang has an astute & artistic eye that captures the beauty in the mundane and momentous moments in life.  What remains constant is change and steadfast connection with the ties that bind.  Expecting an epiphanous ending?  Ha! Ha!  Think again.  No lie, this movie is generous in spirit, not everything is about money.  Life's burdens are lifted when carried by family.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

SF MoMA Chamberlains & Bove - Crushed Crumpled and Tired Sculptures

Amer. born artist John Chamberlain (1927-2011) and Swiss born artist Carol Bove (b. 1971) are both sculptors who share many commonalities.  Both sculptors work with metals and found objects and are highly regarded artists whose arts have been shown in top art museums and installed in outdoor public spaces.  The SF MoMA has a gallery that has combined the works of both artists which draw comparisons and yawns.  Chamberlain is best known for his large, colorful sculptures that incorporate scrap metal, galvanized steel; most stemming from the detritus of crashed or crushed autos.  Chamberlain reassembles the metal scraps which are often painted and colorful into abstract expressionist works that resemble what they are - calamitous debris from discarded cars that resemble heaps of scrap metal; just juxtaposed I suppose to engage the viewer to see destruction as construction - tragedy as ingenuity.  Chamberlain's works over his prolific career have at times drawn me into his formidable shapes that soften what could be seen as harsh metals crushed by happenstance together.  Looking in on the exhibit at SF MoMA, I found the large scale works tired, looking like something pulled from a garbage heap of scrap metal.  Bove, brings a fresher, more whimsical approach with her vivid but limited color palette and fewer combined forms creating a more solid, intentional shape. Still, the use of serendipitously found objects (hmm) and crushed and folded forms also feels outmoded and banal.   Perhaps, the sculptures are best suited to outdoor venues as they seemed musty inside MoMA's gallery.

Monday, August 12, 2019

HBO Doc the Rock Dwayne Johnson "Rock and a Hard Place" Boot Camp Offers Hope

"Rock and a Hard Place" is a doc. film by multiple Acad. Award nominated directors Matthew O'Neill and Jon Albert.  Originally filmed in '17, it's available on HBO.  The film follows 38 young convicts of serious crimes given long time sentences who are given a 2nd chance to turn their lives around. They're enabled to revoke their sentences upon completion of a 16 wk. Boot Camp Corrections and Rehab Program in Dade County, FL.  Dwayne Johnson, a.k.a. "the Rock" is the producer.  He appears in the beginning & end of this film.  Johnson had a peripatetic upbringing & was no stranger to getting in trouble with the law.  By the time he was 17 Johnson had been arrested for fighting, theft and check fraud.  Johnson credits finding sports as one of his outlets and motivations for changing his life.  "Rock and a Hard Place" is both a painful movie to watch not just for the arduous & oftentimes harsh treatment of these young men, but for the heart breaking knowledge of what led these teens to commit violent felonies destroying their lives as well.  The 38 youths assigned to Dade County Boot Camp have received a major reprieve by the judges who handled their cases.  We don't know what went into the decision making process.  We do know it's now up to the individuals to take this opportunity & training to turn their lives around by adhering to the rigors, demands & guidance given.  We get to know some very intimately.  The cameras are somehow invisible in this locked down facility which demands extreme obedience & discipline.  Not everyone uses this tough but liberating 2nd chance.  The police/military staff & social workers hew are not the enemy, far from it.  The main drill sergeant is a heroic human being whose objective is to see all in this program succeed.  This 2nd chance may be the first chance to some for hope for their future and a vision for what that entails.  As the officer says "No one says in 10 years I want to be in prison, homeless or poor."  But  without a viable support system or productive alternatives, that is where many end up.  Of the 38 that entered the book camp, 5 did not graduate.  Two who showed promise made the worst decision possible.   Their stunned bunkmates calculate what this will mean in terms of incarceration.  As for recidivism, Dade County Boot Camp has a 10% rate v. 70% on the national level.  This is a must see doc. film that gets up close & personal and in your face.  Programs like this that prove there is a way for young people to know their lives matter and what they do to with their lives matter.  At graduation Johnson says  "Now go out there & do good in the world."

Bob James, David Sanborn, Marcus Miller DOUBLE VISION Redeux - COOL JAZZ in Sonoma

No need to adjust your vision or your hearing, Thursday night at Weil Hall in Santa Rosa, legendary jazz artists Bob James, David Sanborn and Marcus Miller reunited on stage for the first time since recording their Grammy winning album "Double Vision."  James on keyboard, Sanborn on sax & Miller on bass guitar dazzled the packed auditorium & filled the outdoor venue with crowds picnicking & celebrating this fortuitous classical jazz performance.  Miller told a spellbound audience, the 3 had collaborated on this album back in 1986 "back when I was 6".   Joking aside, this landmark recording with the collaboration of these immensely talented artists stands the test of time.  There was plenty of good natured ribbing on stage between the musicians oftentimes at their own expense.  This added an aura of good natured camaraderie, cool jazz listening and dancing.  This concert invited dancing in the aisles, in your seats and on the lawn.  James recalls recalled working on this jazz fusion album in '86 at a time when new age music was becoming more mainstreamed "...and taking away their audience."  Multi-award winning composer, arranger & keyboard artist, James' musical genre includes jazz, smooth jazz & fusion jazz.  The epoch for new age may have had its day but "Double Vision" is the kind that aligns with legendary musical artists that James, Sanborn & Miller have also collaborated with including Sarah Vaughn,  Freddy Hubbard, Grover Washington Stanley Turrentine, Maynard Ferguson & Quincy Jones.  It was Quincy Jones who discovered James in a music competition while he was a college student at MI and quickly signed him.  Sanborn was described by critic Scott Yanow as "the most influential jazz saxophonist on pop, R&B & cross-over of the past 20 years." ('00). Sanborn has earned 6 Grammys, 8 gold albums & 1 Platinum album and  given a hall -pass for the intermittent squeaks that emanated from his sax.  After all, the superstar is pushing 80.  He was very disarming.  He said "I'm not a prolific composer like Bob or Marcus and I haven't been too lucky in love.  But, the few times I've had a girlfriend they'd ask me to write a song for them.  So, there's Bernice, and there's Maude and there went those relationships.  The next time my girlfriend asked me to write a song for her I titled it 'It's You' so you'll know."  He then delighted us with performing "It's You."  Billy Kilson on drums killed it.   Larry Braggs on guest vocals was an added bonus to this jazz bonanza.  Braggs sang "Since I fell for You" written by Miller originally for Al Jarreau.  Braggs, a founding Tower of Power member gave us a fabulous rendition.  "Double Vision is considered by many as one of the most successful & influential albums in the jazz genre.  "Hot funk cool punk, even if it's old junk"* this was one swinging, winning evenings of cool jazz and a lot of fun.
*Billy Joel