By Chaya and Deni
A PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (various streaming services)
This acclaimed feminist thriller was written, directed and co-produced by Emerald Fennell. Excellent acting from star Carey Mulligan as Cassie, and from supporting actors like trans actor Laverne Cox as Cassie’s best friend. This role was underdeveloped and continued a racist tradition of having a Black person in a film to prop up the main white character but have little life of their own. Chaya thought the film’s first half was creepy, and we both had questions about where it was going and how it was getting there. As a revenge fantasy about a survivor of sexual assault and the lack of punishment for abusers, one often had to suspend belief. The ending seemed particularly contrived and objectionable. Reviews of the film left us with a more negative reaction. Mary Beth McAndrews, a sexual assault survivor, writes in RogerEbert.com that “Every move Cassie makes is in memory of Nina [Cassie’s sexually assaulted best friend]…. But Nina’s voice is never heard… a sexual assault survivor [is] being stripped of her personhood.” Very problematic film.
Nomadland is based on Jessica Bruder’s book of true stories about older adults who lost their homes and/or jobs in the 2007-09 recession and took to the road in RVs and vans in search of short-term jobs. Fictional character Fern lived in the real town of Empire, Nevada, where all the residents, including Fern and her husband, worked at a gypsum plant. Fern’s husband dies, the plant shuts down and she hits the road in her van seeking work traveling around the American west, meeting other nomads at campgrounds and jobs. A number of real-life nomads appear as semi-fictionalized versions of themselves. Unfortunately, the film emphasizes empathy for unconventional choices over acknowledging real life economic conditions that cause people to end up in these circumstances. These conditions are not personal but a function of capitalist exploitation. The Amazon warehouse scene makes working there look sort of fun; WBAI reviewer Prairie Miller wondered whether “Amazon allowed filming there as long as criticism of their worker exploitation was totally off the table.” From Ricardo Gallegos in La Estatuilla: “To fill its ranks, Amazon uses ‘CamperForce,’ a cunning and aggressive recruiting strategy focused on attracting thousands of ‘nomads.’… They are cheap labor and due to their nomadic condition, it is very difficult for them to join together to create unions….” It sounds like the book was more authentic about economic conditions. Nomadland won Oscars for director (Chloe Zhao), actress (Frances McDormand as Fern) and picture. Sappy and exploitative. There was a good movie to be made here, but this wasn’t it.
MARE OF EASTTOWN (HBO/HBO MAX)
Kate Winslet is at the top of her game starring in this suspenseful 7-episode series full of twists and turns. Winslet plays Mare Sheehan, the police detective in a small town outside Philadelphia investigating the murder of a young woman. Mired in personal adversity, Mare is often abrupt and not good at playing well with others, but she’s committed to solving cases and very good at it. Winslet totally immerses herself in the unglamorous role, and the supporting cast headed by Jean Smart (Designing Women; currently starring in Hacks, an acerbic comedy on HBO Max) and Guy Pearce (The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert; Mildred Pierce) are also excellent. We’re hoping for a second season.
NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS (HBO)
This movie by director Eliza Hittman was spot-on honest and intimate, beautifully acted, filmed and directed. A young working-class woman, Autumn (sterling performance by Sidney Flanigan) has an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy and can’t get a local abortion in Pennsylvania so her cousin/good friend Skylar (excellently played by Talia Ryder) helps her travel to NYC for an abortion. The film is slow, holding the moments of their journey, their connection and emotions, as well as the elements of class and gender that affect access to needed health care. It is unapologetically supportive of a young woman’s right to sexuality and choice. The Supreme Court recently agreed to hear an abortion rights case from Mississippi that would mostly ban abortion after 15 weeks. With a domino effect nationally this would further decimate choice for most women. Many of us remember the Roe v. Wade victory and what it took to get there.
DEAR COMRADES (review by Cole) (2020, director Andrei Konchalovsk; available on Hulu)
This excellent film provides a fascinating insight into Soviet life during the early 60’s post-Stalin thaw. Based on real events, the movie depicts factory workers’ militant reaction to wage cuts and price increases and the corresponding response of Lyudmila, the protagonist who functions as a low level Party bureaucrat.
The movie begins with a probably unnecessary but happily brief scene of Lyudmila and her married lover where the possibility of food shortages is introduced. While dismissing the rumors as foundationless and disparaging the rumormongers as counterrevolutionaries released by Khrushchev, she without hesitation exploits her position to jump a line of consumers and obtain ample food, cigarettes and liquor not available to the proletariat. A stalwart Party member, she defends salary reductions and inflation in the face of a neighbor’s recollection that prices dropped under Stalin.
Meanwhile, emboldened by the new liberalization, the factory workers stage a spontaneous strike. Carrying red flags and portraits of Lenin and with the acquiescence of the soldiers that have been summoned for crowd control, the workers march to the local Party office to seek redress; unsatisfied with the response — or lack thereof — they occupy and trash the office. Senior Party officials and military leaders then arrive from Moscow. The hierarchy members’ perspectives are diverse — a minority notes that the workers are exercising their constitutional rights and that the army’s purpose is to defend rather than attack the populace. However, a more authoritarian viewpoint prevails. A curfew is imposed, the town is sealed off and residents are forced to sign nondisclosure agreements regarding the conflict. While initially advocating harsh penalties for those challenging the Party’s actions, Lyudmila wavers when learning that her daughter was among the strikers — and is now missing. She pines for the years of Stalin’s reign when the issues seemed to be clearcut and asks what she might believe in if not communism.
Any further recounting would constitute a spoiler, but I’ll note that the film ends with Lyudmila’s statement “Things will get better.” The viewer may well speculate as to the meaning of her remark.
I found the characters and the chronicling of events to be quite compelling; the use of monochrome mirrors the somber nature of the work. It doesn’t seem fair to view the film as anti-socialist, but rather a poignant commentary on the perils that the absence of a democratic communist party presents in creating an equalitarian revolutionary society.
LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE (Hulu)
Premiered a year ago but we just watched it. Deni really liked the book by Celeste Ng. The 8-episode series dealt with race and class issues in the context of different families, but had many plot changes from the book. It also included queer issues and high school bullying and being different. Excellent acting by leads Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington and by the whole cast in general, especially the high-school age actors. Unfortunately, the show became progressively melodramatic in the last two episodes and the final episode was particularly overblown. It also really changed the ending from the book, not in a good way. Worth watching but not quite as good as it could have been.
SF FILM FESTIVAL–4 OF THE MANY GREAT FILMS DENI ZOOMED
I’M FINE, THANKS FOR ASKING Directed by Angelique Molina and Kelly Kali. This pandemically made film (funded partly by stimulus funds) features Kali as Dani, a recently widowed hair stylist mom now houseless, trying to convince her 8 year old daughter that they’re camping for fun. Lots about class, race, gentrification, great writing and cinematography, a bit too long and somewhat oversentimental but also had bite and wit. Gave very real sense of her life in the pandemic as she tried to get them a place to live. Available on Vimeo
BAMBIRAK Short film by Zamarin Wahdat. Beautiful acting (especially Kailas Mahadevan) and writing about Afghani father and daughter immigrants in Germany. I loved the daughter doing karate. There was an intense episode of racism in the flower store where the father works and how he has to deal with it in terms of his work and relationship with his daughter. Extremely moving.
HOMEROOM This was my first Peter Nicks film – he also did The Force (Oakland PD) and Waiting Room (Oakland’s Highland Hospital) to great acclaim. This film was about Oakland H.S. senior class of 2019-20 during the pandemic. It was amazing with great politics about police out of schools, students organizing after George Floyd’s murder, and the struggles of poor and working class families to support their kids’ education in the pandemic. The film’s looking for a distributer, hope you get to see it.
DORETHA’S BLUES A short beautiful film by Channing Godfrey Peoples (director of the highly rated Miss Juneteenth) about a singer whose son was murdered by police, and how the memory of that was brought back for her by cops getting off for the murder of Michael Brown. Very moving.
BITS AND PIECES
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER?
Comedian Hari Kondabolu’s excellent 2017 documentary The Problem With Apu focused on Hank Azaria voicing the role of Apu, an Indian immigrant, on The Simpsons. Kondabolu laid out the issue that casting white actors as the voices of characters of color perpetuated racial stereotypes, exploited the characters for “humor,” and concluded that white actors shouldn’t voice the roles of people of color. Simpsons’s creator Matt Groening dismissed the criticism of the Apu character, stating “I think it’s a time in our culture where people love to pretend they’re offended.” OMG Matt. In 2018 Azaria said he was “willing to step aside” from the role of Apu, but it was a long wait—January 2020—until he finally decided the criticism was justified and announced he wouldn’t continue to be the voice of Apu. Several months later, the Simpsons’s producers announced they will stop using white actors to voice the roles of people of color. A slow ripple effect is causing some other animated programs to also stop. But seriously, Hank, you needed 2 years??
NAOMI OSAKA (ranked #2 in women’s tennis) won her first match at the French Open on May 30 and skipped the mandatory press conference afterwards. She was fined $15,000 and warned by all 4 grand slam tournaments of possible disqualification for skipping future press conferences. How dare she!!! She tweeted afterward about long bouts of depression since her 2018 match with Serena Williams and said that press conferences increase her anxiety. A day later she withdrew from the tournament. Gosh is it possible that the tennis world cares more about making money than how the athletes are treated? Osaka (father is Haitian, mother is Japanese) grew up in the US since she was 3 but competes for Japan. An increasingly present voice for social justice for Black people, she wore masks in the 2020 US Open with names of Black people killed by police to bring Black Lives Matter to the competition. Tennis is a predominantly white sport, and Osaka is creating her own way of dealing with racism as a professional athlete. Apparently she missed the memo that said professional athletes—especially females—can’t have agency. Warrior Steph Curry tweeted “impressive taking the high road when the powers that be dont protect their own. major respect.”
SF GIANTS CELEBRATE PRIDE
On June 5 the SF Giants are scheduled to be the first MLB team to use Pride colors in their June uniforms. The “Progress Pride” design will incorporate Pride colors into the SF logo on their caps and jerseys. What’s the “Progress Pride” design you may ask?? In 2017 black and brown stripes symbolizing queers of color were added to the original rainbow flag. In 2018 pink, light blue and white from the transgender pride flag were also added to create the “Progress Pride” flag. The merch opportunities seem endless. Apparently the SF Giants got the memo that it’s a market, not a movement.
WNBA LESSON LEARNED?
During a recent WNBA game, Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller made an offensive remark to a referee about the weight of an opposing team’s player. We’re sure it never crossed his mind there could be repercussions. Ha!! Maybe Miller learned that saying, “C’mon, she’s 300 pounds” was not persuasive. Surprisingly, it was also considered unacceptable. Miller was fined $10,000 and suspended for a game. The player he derided, Liz Cambage, said, “Don’t ever try to disrespect me or another woman in the league.” That’s a 4 point shot!!
GEORGIA ON MY MIND
In 47 states, bills have been introduced restricting voting access: limiting voting by mail, stricter voter ID laws, curtailing early voting/automatic/same day voting registration, reducing ballot drop boxes, and taking people off voter rolls. Georgia’s new law is especially hard on absentee voters and voter registration, and even makes it illegal to bring water to someone waiting in line to vote. In response, actor/director Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua (Training Day, The Magnificent Seven) moved the production of their in-progress film Emancipation from Georgia to New Orleans. Speaking to institutional racism they said, “We cannot in good conscience provide economic support to a government that enacts regressive voting laws that are designed to restrict voter access. The new Georgia voting laws are reminiscent of voting impediments that were passed at the end of Reconstruction to prevent many Americans from voting.”
Or maybe that’s graduation caps off to Paxton Smith, Dallas high school valedictorian, who ditched her pre-approved graduation speech to deliver a rousing cry against Texas Republicans and their new horrendous anti-abortion measure which would block abortions after 6 weeks. Paxton said to the crowd, “I cannot give up this platform to promote complacency and peace when there is a war on my body and a war on my rights. A war on the rights of your mothers, a war on the rights of your sisters, a war on the rights of your daughters. We cannot stay silent.” The Mocha Column gives her an A+!
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