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Maybe not a good time at the movies, but a timely time

Some relevant movies open this week, including I Am Not Your Negro and Fire at Sea

I Am Not Your Negro works as a cultural artifact.
I Am Not Your Negro works as a cultural artifact.

How does the old curse go? “May you live in interesting times”? It is certainly an interesting time. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Each side is forever seeing further evidence of the other’s insanity, each side is increasingly convinced of its own righteousness.

Movie

Strike a Pose **

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Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan’s tender documentary about the male dancers on Madonna’s 1990 Blonde Ambition tour follows them up onto the stage (where Madonna’s motivational mantra was “Give me more of you”), behind the scenes for the behind-the-scenes documentary <em>Truth or Dare</em> (where she famously dared one dancer to French kiss another on camera), and then behind <em>those</em> scenes, where they deal with the darkness that comes after the spotlight (and the star it follows) has moved on. With one exception, they are gay, and while they supported their boss’s pride-inflected “Express Yourself” cause, they weren’t consulted on her tactics. For some, those tactics proved traumatic. The film isn’t overly interested in gory details, however; it prefers to push a narrative of hope and healing, so much so that it concludes with a reunion dinner wherein The Queen of Pop is absolved <em>in absentia</em> and — <em>sigh</em> — everyone joins in another round of Truth or Dare. Well, almost everyone.

Find showtimes

I yammer like this because I’m still not sure if I think I Am Not Your Negro — Raoul Peck’s attempt to inject James Baldwin’s 20th-century notes on race and America (as opposed to race in America, because he’s got plenty to say about America that isn’t connected to race) into our 21st-century conversation — works as a movie, a piece of art. But as a cultural artifact, it’s something worth considering at this particular moment...

Put it this way: I was appalled at the physical assaults and vandalism that accompanied the Berkeley protests against cultural agitator Milo Yiannopoulos. (My son is a student there, so it’s sort of local news for me.) And I know that Mr. Yiannopoulos is a troll who says appalling things because he wants to rile people up for the sake of a reaction. I think it’s unfortunate that his opponents took the bait, just like I think it’s unfortunate that the Women’s March stooped to Trump’s level of vulgarity.

Movie

Red Turtle <em>(La Tortue Rouge)</em> **

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If you’re going to strip away the dialogue from your animated castaway story and then use it to tell a bare-bones (hollow-shell?) fairy tale, you had best be offering some arresting visuals. And also maybe some stirring personal relationships. And a little quiet comic relief might be nice. Happily, director Michaël Dudok de Wit is ready with all three. The imagery is a masterful composite of watercolor washes and precise linework — or at least, their computer-generated equivalents — and de Wit takes full advantage of the fact that he doesn’t have to lug an actual camera underwater or into the sky to get his big shots. The struggle between man and turtle gets very personal and stirring indeed, especially in its resolution. And the darting crabs that observe everything with an eye towards eating it are effectively (and economically) deployed. It’s possible that you will feel slightly underwhelmed by the end, even as you murmur to yourself, “Well, that was lovely.” But underwhelmed is not quite the same as disappointed, and it’s good to feel some blood pulsing under the skin of a Studio Ghibli production.

Find showtimes

And then I see this film, wherein Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X calmly discuss diametrically opposed viewpoints on how to combat institutionalized racism and violence, and Baldwin articulates his anguish over same on an evening talk show, and I think, “This is valuable.” Not because I think I’m in a position to tell anybody to settle down, but because...well, take it away, Arnold.

But enough yammering. Strike a Pose was a very humane look at six men looking back at their brief moment in the spotlight — at once political and personal. The Red Turtle was wonderful to look at, if a little less wonderful to look back on. And Mifune: The Last Samurai miffed its chance at serious cinematic investigation.

Movie

Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare) ****

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Lampedusa, located 70 kilometers off the African coast and 120 kilometers from Sicily, has become a landing point for over 400,000 African and Middle Eastern migrants, all believing they’ll find safe harbor somewhere in Europe. Having spent months filming on the island, director Gianfranco Rosi returns with this quietly observed historical document driven by dual narrative-movers. Samuel spends his days decimating cacti with a slingshot. Unable to drown the nausea associated with mal de mer, it’s doubtful the 12-year-old boy will follow in his fisherman father’s footsteps. He could grow up to find employment with the film’s other center of attention, the Italian Coastguard. But their empathy can extend only so far given the sheer size of their thankless task. Stripped of a manipulative score and wheedling narration, the film forces the viewer to confront the images head on. Who needs voiceovers when a director’s camera has this much to say?

Find showtimes

The Ring was the last movie in memory to leave me so creeped out that I hesitated before walking into a dark room after seeing it. I’m pretty sure Rings isn’t going to be able to match that, and I’m not at all sure it’s worth finding out. You probably already know if you want to see that one.

Speaking of timely politics, Scott spent some time previewing some more films from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival this week and took note of three entries. He also gave a rave review to the refugee docudrama Fire at Sea. But Alone in Berlin, which looks back on some impressive citizen activism in Nazi Germany, failed to move him.

Today he plans to treat himself to a double feature of The Comedian and The Space Between Us. I’ll post links to the reviews in the comments as they come in.

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I Am Not Your Negro works as a cultural artifact.
I Am Not Your Negro works as a cultural artifact.

How does the old curse go? “May you live in interesting times”? It is certainly an interesting time. Things fall apart; the center cannot hold. Each side is forever seeing further evidence of the other’s insanity, each side is increasingly convinced of its own righteousness.

Movie

Strike a Pose **

thumbnail

Ester Gould and Reijer Zwaan’s tender documentary about the male dancers on Madonna’s 1990 Blonde Ambition tour follows them up onto the stage (where Madonna’s motivational mantra was “Give me more of you”), behind the scenes for the behind-the-scenes documentary <em>Truth or Dare</em> (where she famously dared one dancer to French kiss another on camera), and then behind <em>those</em> scenes, where they deal with the darkness that comes after the spotlight (and the star it follows) has moved on. With one exception, they are gay, and while they supported their boss’s pride-inflected “Express Yourself” cause, they weren’t consulted on her tactics. For some, those tactics proved traumatic. The film isn’t overly interested in gory details, however; it prefers to push a narrative of hope and healing, so much so that it concludes with a reunion dinner wherein The Queen of Pop is absolved <em>in absentia</em> and — <em>sigh</em> — everyone joins in another round of Truth or Dare. Well, almost everyone.

Find showtimes

I yammer like this because I’m still not sure if I think I Am Not Your Negro — Raoul Peck’s attempt to inject James Baldwin’s 20th-century notes on race and America (as opposed to race in America, because he’s got plenty to say about America that isn’t connected to race) into our 21st-century conversation — works as a movie, a piece of art. But as a cultural artifact, it’s something worth considering at this particular moment...

Put it this way: I was appalled at the physical assaults and vandalism that accompanied the Berkeley protests against cultural agitator Milo Yiannopoulos. (My son is a student there, so it’s sort of local news for me.) And I know that Mr. Yiannopoulos is a troll who says appalling things because he wants to rile people up for the sake of a reaction. I think it’s unfortunate that his opponents took the bait, just like I think it’s unfortunate that the Women’s March stooped to Trump’s level of vulgarity.

Movie

Red Turtle <em>(La Tortue Rouge)</em> **

thumbnail

If you’re going to strip away the dialogue from your animated castaway story and then use it to tell a bare-bones (hollow-shell?) fairy tale, you had best be offering some arresting visuals. And also maybe some stirring personal relationships. And a little quiet comic relief might be nice. Happily, director Michaël Dudok de Wit is ready with all three. The imagery is a masterful composite of watercolor washes and precise linework — or at least, their computer-generated equivalents — and de Wit takes full advantage of the fact that he doesn’t have to lug an actual camera underwater or into the sky to get his big shots. The struggle between man and turtle gets very personal and stirring indeed, especially in its resolution. And the darting crabs that observe everything with an eye towards eating it are effectively (and economically) deployed. It’s possible that you will feel slightly underwhelmed by the end, even as you murmur to yourself, “Well, that was lovely.” But underwhelmed is not quite the same as disappointed, and it’s good to feel some blood pulsing under the skin of a Studio Ghibli production.

Find showtimes

And then I see this film, wherein Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X calmly discuss diametrically opposed viewpoints on how to combat institutionalized racism and violence, and Baldwin articulates his anguish over same on an evening talk show, and I think, “This is valuable.” Not because I think I’m in a position to tell anybody to settle down, but because...well, take it away, Arnold.

But enough yammering. Strike a Pose was a very humane look at six men looking back at their brief moment in the spotlight — at once political and personal. The Red Turtle was wonderful to look at, if a little less wonderful to look back on. And Mifune: The Last Samurai miffed its chance at serious cinematic investigation.

Movie

Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare) ****

thumbnail

Lampedusa, located 70 kilometers off the African coast and 120 kilometers from Sicily, has become a landing point for over 400,000 African and Middle Eastern migrants, all believing they’ll find safe harbor somewhere in Europe. Having spent months filming on the island, director Gianfranco Rosi returns with this quietly observed historical document driven by dual narrative-movers. Samuel spends his days decimating cacti with a slingshot. Unable to drown the nausea associated with mal de mer, it’s doubtful the 12-year-old boy will follow in his fisherman father’s footsteps. He could grow up to find employment with the film’s other center of attention, the Italian Coastguard. But their empathy can extend only so far given the sheer size of their thankless task. Stripped of a manipulative score and wheedling narration, the film forces the viewer to confront the images head on. Who needs voiceovers when a director’s camera has this much to say?

Find showtimes

The Ring was the last movie in memory to leave me so creeped out that I hesitated before walking into a dark room after seeing it. I’m pretty sure Rings isn’t going to be able to match that, and I’m not at all sure it’s worth finding out. You probably already know if you want to see that one.

Speaking of timely politics, Scott spent some time previewing some more films from the Human Rights Watch Film Festival this week and took note of three entries. He also gave a rave review to the refugee docudrama Fire at Sea. But Alone in Berlin, which looks back on some impressive citizen activism in Nazi Germany, failed to move him.

Today he plans to treat himself to a double feature of The Comedian and The Space Between Us. I’ll post links to the reviews in the comments as they come in.

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