The MOCHA Column

By Deni and Cole

MOVIE REVIEWS

QUEEN AND SLIM (review by Deni)

Melina Matsoukas, in her feature directorial debut, has created a moving and provocative road movie drama that stays with you long after the credits roll. The film features excellent acting by Daniel Kaluuya (Slim) and Jodie Turner-Smith (Queen) as two Black people who go out on a date at an Ohio diner, only to have things turn quite terrifying when they’re stopped by a white cop on the drive back and they’re forced to go on the run. First stop is New Orleans to see Queen’s uncle where they also meet Goddess, played by trans actor Indya Moore (who so magnificently plays Angel Evangelista in Pose). As the movie develops, Queen and Slim become heroes to many in the community and you hope against hope for a happy ending. But Hollywood this isn’t. There are some parts that seemed less than believable and the heterosexual sex scene went on longer than necessary but this film is definitely one to see if you can. 

And here’s an interesting recent tweet from Indya Moore in speaking of 45 supporters: “they care more about making as much money possible for the last 20 years of their life than the welfare of children and families on earth in the next 20 years. Thats why they hate bernie sanders. We’ve been indoctrinated to be so afraid of free health care, academia & clean earth.” 

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (reviewed by Deni)

This film is based on a true story of a jaded reporter sent to do a story about Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers of tv fame), the relationship that developed between them, and the ripple effects of their connection. Sometimes I like Tom Hanks, sometimes he’s annoying. Liked him in Castaway, annoying in Philadelphia. As Mr. Rogers, he was ok, slightly cloying to match that part of the film. (Though Lisa commented to me that she found Hanks’ acting in this kind of creepy which detracted from Mr. Rogers character and I can see what she means.) I liked the film enough, it was exactly what I thought it would be like which is refreshing. Matthew Rhys played real-life reporter Tom Junod, and Susan Kelechi Watson played his insightful and supportive wife. Their story brought a layer of complexity and strong acting to the film. Chris Cooper was the reporter’s dad – he’s always a treat to watch. I didn’t grow up with Mr. Rogers but I have to say that after seeing the documentary about him last year, I kind of got the allure a bit more. This was definitely a feel-good film, unless the whole idea of Mr. Roger and Tom Hanks bugs you…

THE GOOD LIAR (review by Deni)

With main characters played by Helen Mirren (Betty) and Ian McKellan (Roy), I anticipated a lot from this crime thriller but unfortunately, it didn’t live up to that. McKellan plays a career con-man going after Mirren, a wealthy widow. There are lots of twists and turns but from the get-go, the film doesn’t seem that believable and you figure out pretty quickly that things aren’t what they seem. (The filmmakers claim you’re SUPPOSED to realize that which sounds a little self-serving to me…) Chicago Sun Times reviewer Richard Roeper said it well: “The more we learn about the main characters, the less we believe they’d do the things they do.” It was annoying to have Betty/Helen play such a seemingly duped woman. I don’t want to throw in spoilers in case you happen to see it but the story line leading up to the denouement grew more bizarre and not in a good way. Also, the violence in the film seemed totally unnecessary and the ending was unclear, but by then, who cared? To remember how great these actors can be, rewatch Mirren in Calendar Girls or Gosford Park and of course McKellan’s fabulous role in Gods and Monsters. 

Now for the two movies that pretty much everyone else seems to have liked:

PARASITE (review by Deni)

Ok, this film got a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes, so I guess I’m officially part of the 1% (not in an “Occupy” way of course…) It was hard to find a review critical of the film but I found myself in some good company with The New Yorker and The Nation. Most thought this South Korean comedic/satirical film written and directed by Bong Joon-ho about class conflict playing out between a poor and a rich family was excellent. I thought there were some good things about it like the great cinematography, including striking visuals of sets, locations, and lighting, which often doubled as metaphors for the film’s message (metaphors were a big serio/comic theme in the film). The acting was excellent. But from the film’s beginning, I was uncomfortable with the director’s tone and portrayal of the poor/working class family which seemed kind of snarky. The filmmaker seemed to be saying “Things are really bad for these poor people and so easy for these rich people, maybe it shouldn’t be that way so maybe these loser poor people can find a way to enter into the lives of the rich and ultimately, flip things around.” But as The Nation states in its review: ‘“Parasite” is essentially a conservative movie, looking with bitter dismay at an order that falls short, a sense of law and of social organization that functions efficiently but misguidedly—that needs, in effect, more and better order.

“Parasite” is far from a comprehensive or complete vision of South Korean society or even of modern capitalism in its over-all social and cultural sense. Rather, it’s a well-tuned mechanism for an ultimately modest and moderate lament, a reasonable filmmaker’s flirtation with extreme modes of expression and emotion that, nonetheless, relentlessly pull back to a moderate norm. It’s neither nihilistic nor utopian, neither revolutionary nor visionary; it wishes and shrugs.’

I wouldn’t say don’t see it, but maybe don’t go with the high expectations I had…

KNIVES OUT (review by Deni)

I like a clever murder mystery whodunit as much as the next person but the charms of this Agatha Christie homage somewhat eluded me. There was a good ensemble cast (I do love Toni Collette and Lakeith Stanfield) and the sets were fun. But I did think it was a bit full of itself and racist (white man knows all in the end). There were entertaining parts but it was kind of annoying and too long. It was directed by Rian Johnson who did the sci-fi film Looper, which I also think I didn’t like. And pretty much everyone else did. Hey, at least I’m consistent!!

BOMBSHELL (dir. Jay Roach) (review by Cole)

This docudrama traces the history of sexual harassment at Fox News and the women’s decision to go public with regard to the abuse. The tale is quite absorbing and Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron, Margot Robbie and John Lithgow all deliver excellent acting. On the positive side, it is encouraging to see a feature film tackle sexual harassment in the workplace. What detracted from my enjoyment of the film, however, was the knowledge that the women featured in the movie had no hesitation while at Fox to promote the network’s reactionary politics; that fact somehow undermines the portrayal of the commentators as feminist heroines. 

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DARK WATERS (dir. Todd Hayes) (review by Cole and Deni)

The film compellingly recounts Rob Bilott’s decades long fight against the Dupont chemical company. A somewhat obscure family connection motivates Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), an attorney with a firm that represents chemical companies, to represent a West Virginia farmer who claims that runoff from an adjacent landfill has poisoned his cattle. Dupont essentially owns the farmer’s home town; local officials refuse to investigate and the farmer’s family is ostracized as a consequence of their litigation. Bilott obtains a settlement for this client, but his interest is piqued and he digs deeper. The process of further litigation reveals that the corporation’s own tests confirmed the chemical compound’s toxicity. 

The movie skillfully depicts Bilott’s deep dedication to combatting Dupont, the impact of this struggle on his personal life and his frustration at the delay in obtaining justice for his clients. We’re a little perplexed and/or disappointed that, aside from one brief scene of a courthouse demonstration, there’s no description of any popular activism supporting Bilott’s efforts, or any other portrayal of environmental justice activism. Similarly, the film only minimally acquaints us with the community members exposed to the toxin. In a tokenistic approach to diversity, Hayes included one African American in a bit part; that character’s purpose was to demonstrate that not all of the firm’s attorneys were on board with going after Dupont. Ruffalo displays his characteristic excellent acting; Tim Robbins is similarly impressive in his supporting role as Bilott’s supervisor. We wish the movie had presented a more sympathetic view of Sarah (Anne Hathaway), Billot’s spouse. While she is at times supportive of her husband’s work, she alternatively comes across as a stereotypical nagging wife. More acknowledgment of her obligation to bear the brunt of the responsibility of parenting the couple’s three sons would have been welcome. A somber tone pervades the film, which may diminish its popularity with a broad audience. We, however, really liked it and recommend it.

BOOK REVIEWS (by Cole)

NO NO BOY by John Okada

No No Boy by John Okada deserves to be read. As you may know, young Japanese American men interned during WWII were subject to the draft notwithstanding their confinement; they were, however, required to complete a form where they (1) affirmed their willingness to serve and (2) rejected any allegiance to the Japanese emperor. The racism motivating this policy can be easily deduced in light of any parallel requirement that Italian Americans reject an allegiance to King Victor Emmanuel. Internees who declined to complete the form were incarcerated as draft resisters. The no no boys, as they were known, were frequently ostracized after the war by both society at large and the Japanese American community. The book chronicles the struggles of one such no no boy and examines the impact of the war and the consequences of the internment on the Japanese American community. It’s not an easy read — the tone is somber and the protagonist is at times unsympathetic – but the novelty of the issue makes reading the book worthwhile. When published in 1957, the work received little attention. Happily, No No Boyswas rediscovered by activists in the 70’s and is revered as an Asian American literary treasure.

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THE TESTAMENTS by Margaret Atwood

I’d anticipated reading The Testamentswith some trepidation. The Handmaiden’s Tale stands out for me as an incredibly compelling and memorable feminist classic and I feared that a substandard sequel would demean the status of the original book. Happily, my apprehension was for naught. Although a different work — the tone is less detached — Atwood has delivered a worthy sequel. The Testamentsis set 20 years into the future from the original novel’s period and is told from the viewpoints of three narrators – an aunt (you may remember the aunts as the female enforcers of Gilead’s patriarchal theocracy), a Commander’s daughter and the daughter of a Gileadan refugee. A three-narrator novel could potentially be a train wreck, but Atwood makes it work – she creates well-rounded but sympathetic characters and enticingly leads us to the point where their lives intersect. The book provides a credible description of the underground resistance as well as insights into how Gilead promulgated its ideology. Further comment would entail spoilers, so I’ll end with the prediction that fans of Atwood’s earlier work won’t be able to put this book down!

YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY by Steph Cha

Cha is a Los Angeles native and has previously authored the Juniper Song mysteries. Here, she shifts focus to explore the stormy relationship between the Korean American and African American communities in Los Angeles — both now and during the Los Angeles Uprising era. The novel draws inspiration from a historical incident in 1991 that involved a Korean-American shopkeeper’s murder of a black teenager in South Central. The narrative switches between the two time periods and alternates between the perspectives of the murderer’s pharmacist daughter and the teenager’s ex-con cousin. This back and forth sounds like a ride at an amusement park, but Cha executes it adroitly. Novels dealing with race usually describe a relationship between a person of color and a white person; the examination of relations between two communities of color is a refreshing change of pace. I particularly appreciated the portrayal of the white journalist whose career advancement was based on milking the teenager’s story. Reconciliation remains a thorny issue for many of us; Cha’s novel provides fodder for thought on that subject.

BITS AND PIECES

GOLDEN GLOBES GETS POLITICAL

Good politicswere refreshingly evident at this year’s Golden Globes award ceremony. Patricia Arquette voiced a heartfelt opposition to Trump’s saber rattling toward Iran. And in a forthright and compelling fashion, Michelle Williams expressed the need to defend reproductive rights. Thanks and kudos to both women for their willingness to speak out!

SHOCKER: WOMEN FILMMAKERS IGNORED

Wow, bet you’re reeling from that! Neither Melina Matsoukas (Queen and Slim), Greta Gerwig (Little Women), nor Lulu Wang (Farewell) were nominated for any of the big movie awards. And countless other women, trans folks, people of color left out once again. But hey, Awkwafina won a Golden Globe for best actress in Farewell! Glass half full, right??

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Author: lagai

LAGAI-Queer Insurrection is one of the oldest radical queer liberation groups in the U.S. We publish UltraViolet, a more or less bimonthly newspaper, which is mailed free of charge to over 1500 people, including over 800 prisoners. Our website is www.lagai.org.

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