Archive for Oscars

AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 11, 2018 by cdascher

American_Beauty_posterI put off watching this movie for a while – I won’t lie. A movie I deeply loved when it came out and several times subsequently. It was quite honestly daunting and disturbing to me to think about sitting down to watch a film in which Kevin Spacey, an actor we now know (through the bravery of fifteen people and counting) to have sexually assaulted and violated people in their teens and early twenties throughout his career, lusts after a teenager.

In the era of #MeToo, silences are being broken and people are feeling less afraid to name behavior many of us as survivors have known for decades. People in positions of powerful often abuse that power and prey on others. #MeToo and #TimesUp are helping to shed light where it has been desperately needed.

This cultural moment sadly made me remember all the experiences of sexual assault and abuse I’ve had, particularly as a woman who ran a label and played in bands for years. I am heartbroken to say that more than once I have been sexually assaulted or abused by men within the world of music I have treasured so completely. I know what power imbalances look like. I’ve been public in some cases, and kept it quieter in others. Hearing all of the people currently coming forward has flooded me with memories – and in some cases I’ve chosen to revisit some of those past violations with those who perpetrated them. I often feel like it is a wonder I wasn’t run off from music completely – and I know I am not the only one.

As you can imagine, I might not be in the mood to watch Spacey drool over his teenage daughter’s friend amidst the tedium of his life in the suburbs. Drab and gray, his character Lester Burnham hasn’t felt alive in years in this film until he encounters his teenage daughter Jane’s friend Angela. Annette Bening is Spacey’s co-star in the film, playing his materialistic, Type A wife Carolyn. Their marriage has become miserable and loveless at the outset of this depiction, directed by Sam Mendes and written by Alan Ball. Continue reading

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12 YEARS A SLAVE (2013)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 4, 2018 by cdascher

12 yearsIt was like a scene from middle of the previous century, like something from an old civil rights documentary. A column of angry marchers – mostly male, uniformly caucasian – carrying torches and chanting racist slogans, converging on an American town. But this wasn’t dusty archival footage; this happened in 2017, five months before I write this. The animus behind this gathering of far-right groups was the planned removal of a statue from a local park, a statue of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee. So just what sort of society was it that these extremists were so intent on venerating the memory of?

12 Years a Slave is the story of a real man, Solomon Northrup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a 19th century resident of New York state who was lured by a false promise of employment, kidnapped and illegally sold into slavery in the American South. He is purchased by a man named William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), then, after an altercation with Ford’s overseer, sold to the sadistic Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), all the while struggling to find a means to communicate his situation to his contacts in New York.

12 Years a Slave is a breathtaking work – literally. I could barely breathe throughout most of the film. It is painful to watch, but necessary – highlighting a time in our nation’s history that has set the stage for the enduring structural racism we see today as well as the cultural and individual racism. Ta-Nehisi Coates often writes about how we are a nation based on “pillage and plunder” – this powerful cinematic work brings that squarely to light. The film was directed by Steve McQueen, who I recently learned spent time in Iraq as an official artist documenting the horror of the war there. I mention this because I think McQueen is deft at depicting endless, brutal violence as both horrific and somehow mundane – the fabric of everyday existence under slavery.\ Continue reading

THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2017 by cdascher

P00292H.jpg“My heart wants to sing every song it hears.”

I can’t tell you how many times I watched this film as a child with my sister. We were obsessed with every actor, every plot twist, and every song (well, maybe not the one the head nun sings – “Climb Every Mountain” was an awkward skip track in the movie for us and we would giggle at the weirdness of delivery as we would fast forward our way through). It was a treat to get to watch this with Mouse for the first time. Even David seemed to get excited for some of the songs – he recognized “Do a Deer” from his Rhythm Babies music class which was an added bonus!

I don’t know how you talk about this film without just saying it is a must-watch classic. I will say, though, that I did recently read a piece on “Edelweiss” that posed some questions about potentially troubling connections it could have to nationalistic white identity. In the film, that song plays the role of a beautiful, defiant protest anthem, so it was sad to grapple with. I still need to do a little digging on that. However, my heart exploded watching the Captain, father of the Von Trapp family, tear up a Nazi flag. Very appropriate for the world we currently live in.

I want someone to make me a GIF of Christopher Plummer pulling down the Nazi flag tearing it apart so I can watch it over and over. Get on it, readers!

I signed off our last entry expressing gratitude we’d ‘sort of’ pulled something lighter from the Randomizer. And yes, The Sound of Music is easier to take in than Platoon; a family oriented musical about finding love and happiness, photographed in beautiful bucolic locations. But there is an unmistakable dark current through the movie: the rise of National Socialism, culminating in the film’s third act concerning Austria’s annexation by the Third Reich and the von Trapp family’s escape.  A few years ago, Nazis seemed like stock baddies from a bygone time. Now their presence in the movie feels a lot closer to home. It may be unrealistic to think America is going to turn into Nazi Germany sometime soon, but we have seen the rise of political movements that embrace scapegoating, contempt for democracy, fawning servility toward authority figures, and overblown macho personae – the characteristics of the worst modern governments, like the one depicted in the film. Continue reading

PLATOON (1986)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2017 by cdascher

Platoon_posters_86Long before I was born, my grandfather crossed the ocean to join a war that had already been ongoing for years. Nations had allowed authoritarian strongmen to take control of state, and they in turn waged war on their neighbors. From what I understand, the fighting had pretty much ended by the time my grandfather arrived, but judging by the photographs my grandmother showed me, he was able to see the awful results of these criminal states. With its global scope, good vs. evil narrative and large set piece battles, screenwriters found the Second World War readily adaptable, and movies about the conflict appeared early and often. When the subsequent generation went to war in Southeast Asia, putting it onscreen was a more complicated affair. The films that did appear focused less on battlefield heroics than on the moral and psychological complexities of the conflict. Then, a decade after Saigon’s fall to the communists, Hollywood produced perhaps that generation’s definitive statement on the Vietnam War: the unsettling Platoon.

The movie starts with Private Chris Taylor (Sheen) arriving in Vietnam to take his place in an Army infantry platoon. With an ineffectual lieutenant in command, de facto leadership falls to the platoon’s NCOs, particularly the brutal Barnes (Berenger) and compassionate Elias (Defoe). After Barnes’ crimes bring the two into open hostility, the men of the unit align with one or the other, initiating a war-within-a-war; combating the enemy while distrusting one another.

I think this is the most I have ever liked Charlie Sheen. In fact, this may be the only time I have liked Charlie Sheen. His character, Private Taylor, is relatable, human and engaging. I had a hard time getting excited about watching this film. The world has felt so heavy and violent and defeating, and the idea of sitting down to watch a movie about a grueling, devastating, unwinnable war did not exactly feel like how I wanted to spend my free time. However, Platoon did a good job of showing the confusion and desperation that militarism breeds. The characters are interesting and strong. None of them are perfect; they are engaging in large part because of what they bring out in each other. As awful as he was, I couldn’t take my eyes off of Barnes, for example. Continue reading

THE APARTMENT (1960)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 6, 2016 by cdascher

apartIn general, I am not a fan of rom-coms, though there are a few – usually of the Ten Things I Hate About You/Better Off Dead/Can’t Hardly Wait ilk that I will enjoy at least marginally. I certainly don’t watch a lot of rom-coms in black and white. I was, however, pleasantly surprised with our most recent Oscar winner The Apartment (1960), featuring Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon.

The film tells the bleak tale of C.C. Baxter (Lemmon), a lonely bachelor who lends out his apartment to a number of higher-ranking men at his work to help facilitate their extra-marital affairs. They dismissively refer to him as “Buddy Boy,” and he is often left in the rain or sleeping on a park bench while they are posted up in his abode. He continues in this arrangement in the hopes – which they fuel – of moving up the corporate ladder. Instantly though, I felt humiliated for him at the entire prospect. To make matters worse, the head of personnel, Mr. Sheldrake, learns of the setup and offers to make the career advancement an immediate reality but only if he can also get in on Baxter’s apartment borrowing.

A bright spot in Baxter’s days comes in the form of interactions with Fran Kubelik (MacLaine), a beautiful and independent elevator operator. The other men joke that no one has been successful with her romantically, wondering at it. In a few exchanges, we see a genuine rapport between Baxter and Kubelik. He eventually even works up the nerve to ask her on a date. She demurs, telling him she has plans to meet up with another man, but then agrees to meet him after. To our horror, we realize soon she is meeting up with Sheldrake, with whom she had previously been having an extramarital affair. Worse still, Sheldrake lays it on thick, promising to leave his wife for her. She ends up standing Baxter up, and going back to Baxter’s apartment (unbeknownst to her) with Sheldrake. In the scene where we see Baxter waiting alone at the theater for her, there is a heavy sadness. I found myself just yelping, “no, no!” I think this gloom and pitiful irony was what made this film more engaging to me than a run-of-the-mill flowers-and-sunshine rom-com.

A lot of things come together to make The Apartment work, but the keystone is Jack Lemmon as the hapless and slightly dorky optimist Baxter. There is a pitch perfect blend of pathos and humor to Baxter that makes him the ideal stand-in for anyone who has ever found themselves the third wheel, or realized they’d moved just a little too late on the one they were falling for; not that I would know anything about that. He is so earnest in trying to get ahead at work and pursuing a gentlemanly romance. We just watch him, waiting for the world to grind him down. But he has a resilience that wouldn’t let me stop pulling for him. Continue reading

MY FAIR LADY (1964)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 7, 2016 by cdascher

my_fair_lady_posterToday’s Red Carpet Roulette is brought to you by the letter ‘H’.

A night in London, some time after the introduction of automobiles and electric lighting. Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn), an unrefined flower girl with a pronounced cockney accent, notices someone surreptitiously recording her words. It is linguistic professor Henry Higgins, making notes on her pronunciation, which draws the attention of Colonel Pickering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), himself an expert on languages of the Indian subcontinent. Snobbish Higgins decries what he sees as the degradation of English. After Eliza requests instruction in refining her speech, Higgins wagers Pickering he can pass her as a lady, and begins a grueling crash course to purge her street-level mannerisms.

This story is loosely based on the Greek myth Pygmalion, as many of you probably know. Pygmalion tells the story of a man who falls in love with a sculpture he has made, which then comes to life. In My Fair Lady, Higgins similarly takes on the task of “sculpting” Eliza – molding her in the image of a woman of high society, retraining her speech and even dressing her. He takes on a bet that he can eventually pass her off as such high society and that her history will not be detected. Throughout the course of his “training” of her he is often arrogant, dismissive and downright rude – though from time to time, in large part due to her unbreakable spirit, they manage to have a little fun along the way. As Eliza progresses and can sense her own achievements, particularly as concerns formal English, a rapport grows between the two of them.

OK, so it seems that My Fair Lady is a film adaptation of the wildly successful stage musical, that was itself an adaptation of a 1938 film, which was in turn an adaptation of Shaw’s Pygmalion.  I haven’t been this confused by a film’s lineage since Chicago. Continue reading

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935)

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2016 by cdascher

mutiny_on_the_bounty_xlgFrom the second we drew this film, I just kept singing the Beastie Boys’ lyric – can you blame me? Had that sweet drum beat in my head too – isn’t that the Zeppelin sample? I digress.

Clark Gable plays Fletcher Christian, Acting Lieutenant on the Royal Navy vessel the HMS Bounty under captain Lieutenant William Bligh. The ship is sent on a mission to the South Pacific to retrieve breadfruit trees to take to the West Indies to serve as food for slaves there. The film depicts a hostile, abusive Captain in Bligh – who I grew to despise within minutes. He orders flogging for the sailors left and right, and one man early on is beaten to death. As the story progresses and the ship nears its destination of Tahiti, Christian’s disgust at his superior continues to grow.

I myself did notice an almost total lack of rhymin’ and stealin’. Had Netflix sent us the wrong disc? No, this is it; 1935’s highly romanticized retelling of a real incident in the Royal Navy.

The first half of the movie is a study in contrasts between Bligh, who exercises cruelty on the crew seemingly as an end in itself, and the compassionate and upstanding Christian, until the latter reaches his inevitable breaking point. On the moral fulcrum sits Midshipman Roger Byam, a protege of Christian who is compelled by duty to oppose the mutiny and is stung by the personal estrangement it brings about with his friend and mentor. The other character I found interesting is the character of Hithiti, leader of the Tahitians, who functions largely as a foil for the odious Bligh. Hithiti, based on the archetype (or perhaps stereotype) of the noble savage, personifies the welcoming atmosphere of Tahiti and is everything that the English captain is not. He is generous, kind and fatherly. Whereas Bligh deprives his crew of basic necessities in order to pad his own expense reports, Hithiti is unburdened by even the knowledge of money.
Continue reading