Oh you lucky NYC/LA denizens… you’ll have such a leftist cinematic feast set before you this weekend, my mind is spinning… (plus a few scraps for us Conservos)…
1. The Perfect Game:
In between these sappy bookends, the film recounts how down-on-his-luck Cesar (Clifton Collins Jr.), having quit his job with the St. Louis Cardinals because of discrimination, molded a rag-tag group of Monterrey, Mexico kids into a champion squad, a task mainly accomplished by making them run lots of laps and having faith in God. Perseverance, sermons from Cheech Marin’s man of the cloth, and kindness toward others are put forth as the easy-bake ingredients necessary to succeed, with The Perfect Game preaching open-mindedness right up until the tale’s conclusion. But by that point, the team—heckled by numerous white redneck caricatures—has been joined by a kindly African-American preacher (John Cothran Jr.) and a tough-cookie female reporter (Emilie de Ravin) to form a triumvirate of persecuted minorities. No doubt some of these particulars are true, but they’re conveyed via so many sloppy clichés and truisms that every moment is smudged with screenwriter W. William Winokur’s blunt fictionalizing touch.
And as they play their way through 1957 Texas and Kentucky, on their way to Williamsport, they face racism, “wetback” insults and the like across America’s bigot belt.
The Perfect Game is as much about sports trophies as a triumph over the rampant racism and sexism of the time. And that rare film for children presenting problem-solving solutions other than violence, and which has much to impart to adults as well as kids about coping mechanisms in a not always welcoming world. Directed and co-written by William Dear, The Perfect Game stars Clifton Collins Jr. as Cesar, a gifted ball player who can’t seem to get to first base in more ways than one, with the St. Louis Cardinals. Stuck in a dead end job instead as locker room attendant with the Cardinals because he’s shunned as a Latino despite his athletic talent, a disgusted and bitter Cesar returns to his poverty stricken Mexican village where he toils in an iron foundry, and drowns his despair in alcohol. […] Though fairly conventional as athletic competition on the field, the film is a powerful tale as it plays out between games, a kind of progressive journey north into the dark heart of Jim Crow and a shameful US buried history, as experienced through the traumatized but resilient hearts and minds of these underdog kids in more ways than one. […] Added to that heady and heartfelt mix is Emilie de Ravin as Frankie, a ridiculed cub reporter for daring to infiltrate the good old boys club at her newspaper and not get married instead. And though consigned to covering Little League as a joke, she eventually figures out how to play the game her way while exposing Jim Crow, and get even with the macho overbearing boss back at the office. […] Lou Gosset Jr. as yet another baseball outcast who knows what it’s like to have a gift but live in the shadows of the professional sports world
2. The Joneses:
…this vicious but clever and highly entertaining indictment of American consumerism masquerading as the American dream will convince you the right people can sell you anything that ticks, flashes, rings, pops, purrs, hums or sparkles—anything except happiness.
When you first see the all-American Joneses, they are pulling into the lush, lime-colored lawn of their perfect new house—which looks like a centerfold in Architectural Digest—their eyes glistening with possibilities. Mom and Dad, named Kate and Steve (Demi Moore and David Duchovny); their curvaceous, drop-dead daughter, Jenn (Amber Heard); and their hunky son, Mick (Ben Hollingsworth), are ready to do some damage. After a perfect dinner that looks prepared by the winner on Top Chef, they all don their tailored designer pajamas, say good night like the Waltons and head for their separate bedrooms. Before you can say “Lights out,” the perfect daughter strips naked in the dark and slips into bed with her perfect dad, ready for some perfect hot-and-heavy incest. Mom furiously switches on the light, declares they’re not having any of that nonsense this time around and sets things right. Yes, the Joneses are too beautiful and perfect to be true, and it doesn’t take long to find out what their groove is, or what they’re up to. When you find out, get ready to pick your jaw up off the floor.
THE JONSES, SEE, are not a family at all. In fact, they don’t even know each other. They’re a team hired by a newfangled covert-marketing firm called Life Image, whose clients hire the company to push the coolest, newest products and sell lifestyles. The Joneses are a unit posing as the cast of The Donna Reed Show to create high-end demands for everything from golf clubs to frozen sushi. Every member of the unit has to carry their share of the load. Their goal: to seduce everyone they meet into becoming titans of “gimme, gimme” and create a ripple effect to convert naïve dupes into selling their products for them. Kate throws lavish parties to turn the neighborhood wives onto Sam’s Clubs. Steve, a former car salesman who thinks he can con anybody, hits the golf course to sell sporting goods. Jenn becomes a classroom cosmetics queen; Mick’s new buddies buy out the latest in digital wide-screen TV’s. Lauren Hutton is the tough executive who arrives every 30 days to evaluate their progress with computer graphs and edgy pep talks: “You’ve been here two months and everybody’s drinking your Kool-Aid.”
Things go south when one envious neighbor (beautifully played by Gary Cole) tries to keep up with the Joneses, goes bankrupt and commits suicide. And the game plan weakens when the family begins to show a human side. Steve tries to be a team player, but his heart gets in the way. Every time he moves closer to the conjugal bed, Kate puts him in his place as the gang leader, with lines like “This is business. I’m your boss. I don’t need to be friends.” Like moving prisoners from one lockup to another, the company tries to change the cell, but it’s too late. To sell lifestyles, you have to sell yourself, and the Joneses don’t know who the hell they are. Jenn is involved with a married man; Mick creates a scandal at school when he turns out to be gay; and Mr. Jones has already fallen for Mrs. Jones. The biggest mistake is when the fake family begins to act like a real family. Only a cad would tell you how it ends, but believe me—a meltdown is inevitable.
The Joneses is a cross between alternate-universe dynamics and a reality TV show, with relevant things to say—about the vulgarity of possessions filling the hole where self-value should be, especially in a recession—and compelling performances to say them with. Surprising, inventive and crisply, merrily written and directed by Derrick Borte, The Joneses is a brisk, captivating entertainment. Think Ozzie and Harriet on speed.
A terrific new film about capitalism’s tipping point
He may work for the Fox Business Network, but financial guru Dave Ramsey is usually right, and never more so than his mantra, “Don’t keep up with the Joneses. The Joneses are broke.”
If we have learned anything from the recent financial meltdown, it’s that America’s consumerist addictions are both pathological and fixed. It’s true that lower-income households’ indefatigable belief that they will some day be rich keeps them poor, but it’s also true that blue-chip corporations feed that delusion on a daily basis by dangling carrots of upward mobility on TV, in print ads and, with the help of lobbying efforts, literally everywhere you turn. Have you been advertised to at a urinal yet? I have.
This need for product-driven betterment, and the cynical research behind it, infects the rich just as easily. In The Joneses, the startlingly adept debut from writer-director Derrick Borte, David Duchovny and Demi Moore play the Joneses, a seemingly perfect and wealthy family with two kids (Amber Heard and Ben Hollingsworth) who move into a sprawling mansion in an unnamed suburban town and immediately inspire the envy of the other residents. They have all the newest gadgets, wear cutting-edge fashion and drive fresh-from-the-factory sports cars. They seem to have it all, and they’re delighted to tell you about everything they own, and how it can improve your sex life/golf game/high-school popularity.
These Joneses, it turns out in a brilliant cautionary twist, are salesmen, corporate plants employed by a market research company in order to spread the viral word about retail products in the most viral sense.
Taking their cue (and key phrases) from Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point – “The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts,” goes Gladwell’s law – these Joneses are both the “persuaders” and the “mavens” in one attractive, sexy package. They must use their demonstrative powers to coerce their neighbors – or “connectors” – to buy, buy, buy even if they can’t afford to keep up. It’s the anthropomorphization of capitalism in your own backyard.
The story beats are familiar: Duchovny and Moore develop feelings for each other, the kids get in trouble and the need to confess looms. “This family is fucked up,” admits Duchovny. He’s not wrong. But Borte’s polished treatment of the material feels confidently in service of his point – it’s an assuredness that reminded me of David O. Russell – and the actors involved commit to their situation wholeheartedly and entertainingly. By the time it all comes crashing down (and it must in a cautionary tale like this), the consequences never feel forced or false. To co-opt a stupid phrase that trumpeted a particular Oscar nominee last year, this is the actual “movie of the moment,” only that moment has lasted for 30 years and we’re only now waking up to a simple reality: the system is fixed.
here’s a conservative review of the movie from Joe Bendel at Big Hollywood
3. Exit Through The Gift Shop:
To the jangly guitars and Spandau Ballet-esque crooning of Richard Hawley’s “Tonight The Streets Are Ours,” Exit Through The Gift Shop opens with a montage of willful destruction of private property. Sometimes it is a clever tweak on obtrusive advertising, sometimes it is just random, destructive spray paint on anything in the can holder’s path. It is an apt metaphor for the film that is to follow. It bounces between clever and abhorrent, but always with an eye toward entertainment. […]
Exit Through The Gift Shop tells, in its own unique way, the story of 21st Century street art. It is a comedy, an adventure, an expose, a commercial, an unashamed bit of posturing and, at times, one of the most infuriatingly/innovatively “meta” motion pictures I’ve ever seen. […]
The film is credited to Banksy, the most secretive and, in my opinion, clever of the underground, not-quite-legal artists on the “scene.” The bulk of the footage, however, was shot, independently, by a man named Thierry Guetta. We travel with him as artists flee street cops and Disneyland security, all in the name of making a subversive statement. […] It is also twistedly inspiring. The film all but begs for its audience to go out and dangerously break some law.
Through Guetta, we meet folks like Shepard Fairey, who later became famous for his Obama poster (though he was already an underground star for his satirical-fascist image of wrestler Andre the Giant). Guetta follows Fairey and others on their midnight guerrilla-art missions, videotaping their exploits for a doc he plans to make.
Check out the scene where Banksy is “installing” a blow-up figure of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner in Disneyland and Guetta gets hauled off by a gang of Uncle Walt’s goons or the shot of millions of counterfeit tenners with Princess Di’s face on hidden in Banksy’s studio.
Poor, poor Banksy. Four stars for Britain’s most fashionable, Left-wing, renegade artist from the Daily Mail film critic! I feel I’m spray-painting graffiti all over his street cred.
Possibly because I am one of the more notorious lick-spittle running-dogs of the capitalist bourgeoisie, Banksy’s small army of publicists chose not to invite me to a preview of his first movie, but in the adventurous spirit of urban guerillas everywhere I smuggled myself in. And I enjoyed it.
Exit Through The Gift Shop purports to be a documentary by the world’s most bankable graffiti artist, about the street art movement in general, and in particular its video chronicler and biggest fan, an excitable and deeply improbable French nutcase called Thierry Guetta.
Like all the best anarchists, Banksy does not claim the director’s credit – no one does – but he appears to be the film’s driving force and pops up during it as a mysterious hooded figure with a digitally altered voice that makes him sound like the long lost love-child of Darth Vader and Kathy Burke.
He explains how he came to meet Guetta and inadvertently helped unleash him on the world as a fully-fledged artist, despite Guetta’s lack of art training or, indeed, any noticeable talent.
We are told that Guetta has become a huge commercial success despite being unencumbered by creative ability or possibly because of it, under the name ‘Mr Brainwash’, mainly through selling blatant rip-offs of work by Banksy himself and other fashionable folk, especially Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Shepard Fairey.
I am in no position to say whether Guetta’s story is a true one. Many times during the movie, I was reminded of Orson Welles’s F For Fake (1973), a film about a hoaxer that was, in fact, a hoax itself.
But Banksy’s rueful account of the monster he himself created has the ring of poetic truth.
It captures like no film before the reality that every explosion of subversive art eventually leads to a sellout of its ideals, sometimes by no-talent opportunists like Guetta, or more frequently by talented opportunists and rampant self-promoters like – well, Banksy, whose own attacks on capitalism have earned millions at auction.
And now here I am giving Banksy the ultimate in undesired praise, a favourable review in the Left’s most routinely reviled newspaper.
Sorry, Banksy, whoever you are, but I like your energy, your sense of humour and your lovehate relationship with the gullible admirers of everything labelled anti-establishment or avant-garde, all the more so if it’s ridiculously over-priced.
Though it’s credited as a Banksy picture—as in the ever-elusive U.K. graffiti ninja whose puckish, anti-capitalist and anti-authoritarian stencils have appeared everywhere from metropolitan billboards worldwide to the West Bank barrier wall—the film ostensibly began with him tapped as its on-camera subject.
4. Nobody’s Perfect:
In an occasionally amusing, even upbeat documentary about people born with deformities because their mothers took the drug Thalidomode while they were pregnant, Niko von Glasow, himself a Thalidomide victim, pulls together twelve people on an unusual project. To have them “come out” in the most graphic way, all would get photographed nude, their tiny arms, or miniature legs could be seen by all passersby as the posters would be exhibited in a public square in Germany.
Most of the Thalidomode babies were born in Germany from mothers who, while pregnant, took the drug between its release in 1957 until 1961 when it was banned. The drug was not properly screened before its release and was being used by these women to reduce the feeling of morning sickness, typical of pregnancy’s ill effects. Some women may have taken only a single such pill, but that’s all that was needed to produce babies with deformed arms and legs, while the luckier kids might be missing only their thumbs. […]
Andreas Meyer represents the guy who is most political, most focused on the arrogant way that the Grünenthal Corporation, developer of the drug, never apologized and fought any settlement to the limit, forcing the victims in a class action to accept a fraction of what they should have received. He notes that Grünenthal’s head chemist started experimenting on Jews in the Krakow concentration camp during the Second World War.
I’d have liked to see more coverage on exactly how this drug works in the human body to cause such damage. What does come across perhaps partly resulting from the Thalidomide disasters of the late fifties is the attention our own U.S. government pays to Big Pharma. If you’ve been watching the commercials for Cialis, Viagra, on how people now trust their hearts to Lipitor and the like, you may have noticed that more time is taken up with announcements of harmful side effects than on the virtues of the drugs. As the Cialis people say on TV, “If you have an erection lasting more than four hours, consult your health care provider.” Why? To be congratulated and envied? This is all to the good and obviously the drug makers would not be putting this information into TV spots unless forced to do so by the FDA.
The documentary, however valuable in information, could use Michael Moore’s wit to relieve some of the monotony of the talking heads, the bane of documentaries in general, and also to get across a more effective broadside against the corporation that continued sending out its product months after its gruesome side effects were publicized.
5. No One Knows About Persian Cats:
Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi puts aside Kurdish themes for a topic that would appear even more politically sensitive in Iran: the underground music scene. This bold piece of docu-fiction, an open protest against censorship and the repression of individual liberties, will no doubt make waves in Iran, where its only hope for release is on black market DVD.
While the director is on record as loving music—eating, sleeping, listening to it throughout the day—his principal objective in making this film is to underscore the unreasonable repressions of the regime, led by the stolen election of Mahmoud I’minneedofjihad. While driving through in Tehran’s traffic jams, the duo are stopped by the police who confiscate their dog, as dogs and cats may not legally be taken outdoors. “Filthy,” says the policeman off-screen, as he seizes the dog through an open window and speeds away. The most humorous scenes find motormouth Nader pleading with a judge who wants to sentence him to a stiff fine and 75 lashes, and one in which a rock band sorrowfully admits that a few cows on one singer’s small farm refuse to eat or give milk while the band rehearses. We actually see a pair of bovines looking at each other as if to say “What’s with these guys?”
6. The Secret in their Eyes:
He visits his former office, greeted by Judge Irene Menéndez Hastings (Soledad Villamil), a woman for whom he has been carrying a torch for a quarter century, unexpressed because of class differences (she is a Cornell graduate, he has only high school). A long flashback to 1985 brings us to the investigation of the rape-murder of Liliana Coloto (Carla Quevedo), a 23-year-old newly married to Ricardo Morales (Pablo Rago). The police seem unusually eager to close the case, to the extent that they beat confessions out of two innocents, but Espósito and his bumbling alcoholic assistant, Pablo Sandoval (Guillermo Francella), doggedly pursue the case to the disgust of the chief judge, who is so opposed to a re-opening that Espósito and the magistrate come to physical blows. Something’s rotten in the state of Argentina—at a time that a junta will do anything to get at rebels believed by the government to be terrorists./“El secreto de los ojos” intrigues by similar means, is more complex, bringing in the politics of the extreme right-wing government at a sad time in Argentina’s history
Secret proposes political messages about present-day Argentina’s difficulty in reckoning with its history of violence, as well as a note or two about the country’s dependence on the States. These points help separate the movie from the bulk of junky cop flicks, but a bad film’s bad no matter what language it speaks.
7. Have You Heard from Johannesburg?:
Projected as fourth in a six-feature epic, chronological overview of the struggle against Apartheid — but finished first because this section’s U.S. focus facilitated funding — “Have You Heard From Johannesburg?: Apartheid and the Club of the West” provides an engrossing look at grassroots activism making a global difference. Latest docu from Connie Field (“The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter,” “Freedom on My Mind”) is a straightforward, well-shaped mix of interviews and archival footage. Beyond fest play, the feature seems most suited for pubcasting, with the complete series sure to stand as an important educational tool and historical record.
While the series will commence in 1948 with the first United Nations session, “Club of the West” focuses on the early-to-mid-1980s, when the Reagan White House clashed with U.S. public sentiment. Reagan, seemed to view South Africa’s government as a friend, to many eyes enabling a blatantly racist system. He insisted proposed economic sanctions would only hurt “the very people we’re trying to help.” Pic charts growing Stateside opposition to that view, culminating in the dramatic, internationally influential 1986 Senate override of the President’s veto.
Assessments of the geopolitics of the Cold War (the U.S. long considered the ANC “terrorists propped up by the Soviets”; Mandela was imprisoned in 1962 with the CIA’s help) and big-business interests are further illuminated by the thoughts and deeds, whether awe-inspiring or appalling, of activists, politicians, and titans of industry. In Johannesburg’s vast accretion of anecdotes, history is indelibly etched. White-maned Conny Braam, an anti-apartheid activist in Amsterdam, recalls arranging floppy disks to be clandestinely transported between Mandela and Tambo via sympathetic KLM flight attendants. The former chair of Shell Oil defensively demands of his offscreen interviewer, “No holier than thou, please.” Archbishop Tutu remembers the reproach he delivered to Reagan: “Mr. President, your history is bad.”
8. Handsome Harry:
A manipulative memory lane road movie more focused on enforced penitence for the characters and viewers alike than plot points, Handsome Harry, despite superb performances, feels like an unconvincing, self-conscious narrative agenda that was essentially created to scold just about everyone on and off screen for bad behavior. Along with a nearly anthropological scornful indictment of heterosexual male species culture as pathological when not simply peculiar. Which may leave perplexed audiences to feel less uplifted, than guilty as charged.
dismantle social myths about masculinity./in the way Harry and his navy buddies blot out their youth or wince at its memories. As middle-aged men, they don’t lament lost innocence but the principles and friendships they allowed themselves to betray./These actors show vulnerability in their physicality with each other and their complex relations to women.Their different levels of bonhomie recall the insight of Bob Rafelson’s 1970s films as well as a post-Cassavetes sense of exposure—but with a different acceptance of male openness that, like La Mission, reflects a changed perspective on masculine behavior./Director Bette Gordon presents the actors’ sensitivity with tactful insight and appreciation reminiscent of Katherine Dieckmann’s very fine Diggers. Gordon doesn’t indulge peacocking like George Clooney’s directors; she provides a context for rethinking masculinity that connects with the actors’ candidness.
9. The Cartel:
But Bowdon is admittedly less snarkier and ingratiating than Moore, if not as an artist then as a journalist, and The Cartel becomes gripping when it stops dishing facts and Bowdon begins to unload on the Garden State’s education system for shamelessly rejecting all but one of 22 applications for charter schools in 2008 (and for the flimsiest of reasons), and on teacher unions for their callous disregard for the physical and academic well-being of students trapped in schools with no means of bailing. Tenure policy gets a well-deserved beat down, as do Democrats (excepting the occasional lone wolf like Diane Feinstien) for opposing school vouchers, because the practice, at least on the surface, doesn’t appear to align with their liberal sensibilities; their belief that allowing kids in zip code schools to use vouchers in order to go to private or charter schools will have an adverse effect on those students who stay behind is handily refuted by research that Bowden intelligently presents.
But where the film really comes alive is in its giving a human face to those affected by the state’s thuggish education system, documenting the heroic efforts of a volunteer school devoted to the livelihood of students from especially bad school districts like Camden, revealing the tearful results of a lottery that will determine whether Newark parents will get a chance to send their kids to charter schools, and extolling the heroism of teachers like Beverly Jones for taking a stand against a system without fear of retribution. The cronism and nepotism that’s institutionalized in the state’s education system is shocking and revealed by Bowdon with sympathetic regard for the students. The Godfather-like graphic theme applied to the film’s title may be corny, but it’s fitting all the same, because you leave the film believing, and ardently so, that people like NJEA president Joyce Powell are nothing but mobsters.
A union-busting doc with an adamant—if not quite apolitical—focus on the children slipping through the cracks, The Cartel uses New Jersey as Exhibit A in its case against this country’s crooked education system. Though it is first in education spending, New Jersey has an abysmal dropout rate and equally dire testing scores; director Bob Bowden cites what a former school superintendent calls “rampant, pervasive, institutionalized” budgetary corruption and a deeply entrenched, self-interested teachers’ union as the culprits. Bowden, a former local television reporter and anchorman, pulls together a familiar repertoire of talking heads, man-on-the-street interviews, remedial graphics, and stilted B-roll, and ultimately this information-packed indictment plays like a feature-length “in-depth” news segment. Moving loosely from angle to angle—the tenure system, the plot against voucher programs, the stonewalling of charter schools—The Cartel makes up for what it lacks in style and structure with selective but stone-cold facts. Although a school-district president rolling up to a budgetary hearing in a white limo and an administration parking lot clogged with luxury cars are undeniably good gets, Bowden’s strength as a documentarist is more evident in the patience and logic with which he makes an argument for a state and a system in desperate need of reform.
go here for the political content in this week’s new dvd releases…