The Garden Left Behind


Tina looks out at a world that isn’t kind to trans women.

(2019) Drama (Uncork’d) Carlie Guevara, Edward Asner, Michael Madsen, Danny Flaherty, Anthony Abdo, Alex Kruz, Tamara M. Williams, Miriam Cruz, Dawn Young, Bernadette Quigley, Brock Yurich, Sidiki Fofana, Amanda M. Rodriguez, Pablo González, Ivana Black, Lea Nayeli, Tym Moss, Kristen Parker Lovell, Devin Michael Lowe, Christine Nyland, Adam Kee, Sarah Skeist. Directed by Flavio Alves

 

Some of the most vulnerable members of our society are trans women of color (see Trivial Pursuit below) as well as undocumented immigrants. Both are subject to discrimination and sometimes, even violence.

Tina (Guevara) is transitioning woman who is in the early stages of the process. She lives with her arbuela (grandmother), Elaina (Cruz), in New York City. Tina supports them driving an unlicensed cab. Her grandmother is having a hard time coming to terms with her grandchild’s journey, often referring to her as Antonio, her birth name, but Tina seems to accept that her grandmother is set in her ways; besides, there is undeniably much love between the two of them. It literally is them against the world.

Tina does have a support system of trans friends, particularly Carol (Williams) who is outspoken, particularly when one of their group is brutally beaten up by cops. As Carol shepherds Tina through the process of interviews with an older white doctor (Asner) who Tina doesn’t quite trust enough to open up to, she also infuses Tina with her activism.

A good thing too, because Tina’s long-term boyfriend (Kruz), a Wall Street jerk, is mainly there for the sex and is somewhat ashamed of Tina or more properly, ashamed of his own desires. Tina is also unknowingly being stalked by a bodega clerk (Abdo) who has issues of his own, which inevitably comes to a head.

The film definitely has its heart in the right place as it looks realistically and unflinchingly at the issues besetting both trans women and undocumented immigrants, from the uncertainty about getting insurance and employment, to the ever-present specter of violence; there is a segment when Tina is selling her car that drips with menace. It isn’t that the buyer is overtly aggressive, it’s just the potential for violence seems very close to the surface. These sorts of things are what trans gender women live with daily, and the movie is at its best when it puts its emphasis on these.

I also give the film kudos for casting trans actors in trans roles; it is refreshing that a low-budget indie film is able to do that when much larger Hollywood productions seem uninterested in doing so. Perhaps the AMPAS inclusion guidelines will change that, something I wholeheartedly endorse.

But with inexperienced actors comes another set of problems. Guevara is a very expressive and passionate actress, but her line readings can be stiff and the timing a little off. This is mostly an inexperience thing and I do believe that as she gets more comfortable in front of the camera, she’ll start loosening up somewhat but for now, it is noticeable.

The climax is quite moving, and I loved the relationship between Tina and Elaina; Miriam Cruz does a wonderful job portraying the kind of Latin grandmother I’m very familiar with. The characters are very realistic, although I think that the character of Chris was sadly underdeveloped, considering the part he has to play in the film. Another review I read suggested that Chris shouldn’t have been developed at all but rather just show up at the end, an idea I found intriguing. It certainly would have been more effective than the half-assed development he got.

This is a flawed film, but most of its flaws are honestly made; there is also a good deal here to recommend it. The movie is certainly topical, and while the ending is rather dramatic, it is nonetheless a sad fact of life in the trans community. I look forward to bigger and better things coming from the filmmakers as well as the cast.

REASONS TO SEE: Covers issues of two groups that are badly discriminated against.
REASONS TO AVOID: Guevara’s line reading is fairly stiff.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity including gay slurs, violence, sex, nudity and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: 2018, the year this was filmed, was the deadliest year for transgenders ever; nearly all the victims were women of color.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: DirecTV
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/2/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews, Metacritic: 55/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Lingua Franca
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Bombardier Blood

Cured


LGBTQ rights are human rights.

(2020) Documentary (Story Center) Barbara Gittings, Dr. Frank Kameny, Kay Latusen, Lawrence Hartmann, Ron Gold, Dr. Richard Pillard, Charles Silverstein, Richard Socarides, Don Kilhefner, Rick Stokes, Dr. John Fryer, Gary Alinder, Richard Green, Sally Duplaix, Harry Adamson, Robert Campbell, Dr. Saul Levin, Evelyn Hooker Directed by Patrick Sammon and Bennett Singer

In an era when progressive politics have taken a beating and there seems little for liberals to feel good about, one thing that is a case close to the heart of every self-respecting leftie is LGBTQ rights. It wasn’t that long ago where staying in the closet meant survival; people who came out were hounded, their careers were ruined, they became pariahs and outcasts. Gay men and women weren’t allowed to be teachers; many of them weren’t allowed to attend church. They certainly weren’t allowed to marry people of the same sex.

Part of the issue was that homosexuality was classified as a mental illness. Gay men and lesbians were treated using psychotherapy and sometimes more barbaric methods, including shock treatment and aversion therapy. The monolithic American Psychiatric Association, comprised mainly of older white men – had decreed it so and in their official manual of mental illnesses. This label perpetuated discrimination against the LGBTQ community and early leaders such as Dr. Frank Kameny of the Mattachine Society and Barbara Gittings of the Daughters of Bilitis realized until this changed, they would never be able to achieve equality in this society. To make this change meant they had to change the minds of the APA and with doctors like Charles Socarides at the forefront, there didn’t appear to be much chance of that.

However, as those leaders looked into it, the case for the APA began to look extraordinarily thin without nearly any backing evidence. In the meantime, researchers were discovering evidence using approved scientific methodology that homosexuality was far from being a mental disease but a healthy expression of sexuality.

The fight wasn’t an easy one and those early pioneers were risking everything to be involved in the fight. It was a serious career risk to even be identified as an ally of homosexuals and people could end up without a career, or worse. But some people did step out of the shadows and into the light, and they did pay the consequences but for the most part, these people became heroes in the early gay liberation movement and helped pave the way for the kind of acceptance that the LGBTQ has gotten from mainstream America that was unthinkable even a decade ago. While there is still plenty of way to go, this documentary shows in a well-thought-out manner how that fight took shape, with plenty of archival footage, interviews both contemporary and recent with those that took part in changing the mind of the APA (which finally happened in 1973) and those descended from the principals who are no longer with us, like Barbara Gittings’ partner Kay Latusen, and Richard Socarides, the son of the psychiatrist most vehemently against declassifying homosexuality as a mental illness – and, ironically, gay himself.

The movie celebrates people of courage both gay and straight who are largely forgotten by the mainstream society, but nevertheless are as important to the LGBTQ equality movement as Dr. Martin Luther King and Rep. John Lewis were to the African-American civil rights movement. Given that the gains of the last ten years are threatened by a strengthening conservative and evangelical segment of our society, these people should be remembered in order to inspire others to step forward and take up their torch.

The film recently played Outfest, the most prestigious LGBTQ-centric film festival in the world. It is also scheduled for Outshine, the Miami LGBTQ film festival in the coming week. While the movie doesn’t have a distributor (yet), it will continue to play festivals and special screenings. Keep an eye out for it.

REASONS TO SEE: Told in a methodical and intelligent manner. Reminds us of some forgotten heroes. A timely reminder of how far the LGBTQ movement has come.
REASONS TO AVOID: Needed to clarify the direct line from declassifying as a mental illness to the right to marry triumph for those whose sense of history is not acute.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as some disturbing imagery of shock therapy.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The American Psychiatry Association first classified homosexual as a mental illness in 1952.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/31/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: For the Bible Tells Me So
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Centigrade

We Are the Radical Monarchs


The youth speak truth to power.

(2019) Documentary (PBS/POV/LadylikeAnayvette Martinez, Marilyn Hollinquest, Isa Noyola, Indelisa Carrillo, Laticia Erving, Rene Quinonez, De’Yani, Diana Martinez, Cheryl Dawson, Dulce Gareta, Stacey Milbank, Eduardo Garcia, Lupita Martinez, Alicia Garza. Directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton

 

The San Francisco Bay Area has long been a hotbed of progressive ideas and thought, a region whose watchwords are “tolerance” and “acceptance.” When community organizer Anayvette Martinez’s daughter Lupita expressed interest in joining the Girl Scouts, Anayvette had reservations. She was concerned that her daughter was growing up in a world in which girls of color were marginalized and made to feel inadequate. Standards of beauty and success were (and are) almost all oriented towards the viewpoints of European descendants.

She wanted her daughter not to be an outsider, but at the very center of the organization, but she was certain that could never happen in the Scouts. So she and her close friend Marilyn Hollinquest – who like Anayvette is a single mom who identifies as lesbian – decided to form an organization in which young girls of color were shown that they were just as important, just as worthwhile as any other person. Thus, the Radical Brownies were formed.

The group eventually changed their name to Radical Monarchs (although not explicitly mentioned in the film, I would imagine that the GSA had some concerns with the group using the name “Brownies”) which is more meaningful; like the butterfly which is in their logo, the Radical Monarchs promote the beauty of color and symbolize the butterfly emerging from its cocoon.

The film follows the first Radical Monarchs troop from 2015 through 2018, documenting the formation of a second Bay Area troop and the financial challenges faced by both young mothers as they balance the needs of the organization with the needs of their full-time jobs and of course the needs of their children as well. If ever the term “supermom” was deserved, these two ladies deserve it.

The girls are taught the joys of activism and their meetings are almost like school classes in which various social subjects are taught, from the need for Black Lives Matter to body image to social justice. And yes, the girls get badges for completing the work in each module. The founders mention the inspiration of groups like the Black Panthers, the Brown Panthers and other radical groups (the uniforms of the girls include a brown beret and vest that is reminiscent of 60s radical chic) which of course will no doubt set alarm bells ringing among more conservative viewers.

Still, the young girls are very well-spoken and thoughtful. I don’t get the sense that they’re merely parroting the concepts that the troop leaders are trying to teach; one gets the impression that these girls have given it some thought and have brought their own life experiences into their way of thinking, as brief as those lives have been to that point. The girls are even brought in to address the Oakland city council regarding a bill that would protect renters and while it has a bit of the school project to it, the sincerity of the girls is nonetheless heart-warming.

In fact, Fox News has done some pieces on the group and no less a talking head than Sean Hannity professes that the youngsters are being “indoctrinated” which, for those looking for a lesson in semantics, should note that when a parent teaches their children the values of evangelical Christianity, the Second Amendment rights and conservative economic philosophy, that’s instilling their children with values. When a parent teaches their children the values of social justice, tolerance for those different than themselves and the importance of activism, it’s indoctrination. Words are important, aren’t they.

Several times during the film the founders remark that they have been swamped with requests to start troops all over  the country, but they don’t have the financial viability to do it yet (although they have since received a grant that will keep the group going at least through the end of 2020).

Knowlton seems to be overly-fawning at times and while at one point one of the young girls talks about whether white girls would be made welcome in the group, while it’s never explicitly said one way or the other there is a strong sense that they wouldn’t be, which seems to perpetuate a culture of exclusion and an us vs. them mentality. I get that groups like this are desperately needed for young girls of color to find an opportunity to develop, and bond with other girls and that there are plenty of similar groups that white girls are welcome to join. But the tough question that’s never asked is how do we ever learn tolerance of other views when we aren’t exposed to them? How do we learn to be inclusive of others if we’re going to keep our children segregated? I don’t know that is the intention of the leaders of the Radical Monarchs to create a divide but it’s a question that deserves to at least be addressed, and it simply isn’t.

Still, this is an inspiring group of young ladies who seem well-poised to be the activists and leaders of tomorrow. If you think that those protesting social injustice now are just going to go away, you may find it troubling (or comforting) to know that the next generation is already learning the ropes. The struggle continues, and will continue until girls like this get the respect, opportunity and equality that they deserve. That we all deserve.

The film is streaming on the PBS website for their documentary series POV up through August 19, 2020. You can click on the link below to view the film. Check with your local listings to see if the film will be broadcast again on your local PBS station.

REASONS TO SEE: Inspiring watching young girls of color being taught to stand up for themselves.
REASONS TO AVOID: Somewhat hagiographic.
FAMILY VALUES: Some of the topics discussed here are on the adult side, although the troop leaders discuss them with their young charges in a mature and safe manner.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Radical Monarchs were founded in December 2014 as an alternative to the Girl Scouts, with an emphasis on subjects of interest to the Black and Latinx communities.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: POV
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/25/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet, Metacritic: No score yet
COMPARISON SHOPPING: O Beautiful
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
The Grand Unified Theory of Howard Bloom

After Parkland


This is what grief looks like. as Victoria Gonzalez remembers her boyfriend Joaquin Oliver.

(2019) Documentary (Kino-LorberVictoria Gonzalez, Sam Geif, Andrew Pollack, David Hogg, Rebecca Boldack, Manuel Oliver, Anthony Gonzalez, Dillon McCooty, Emma Gonzalez, Lauren Hogg, Brooke Harrison, Patricia Oliver. Directed by Emily Taguchi and Jake Lefferman

 

The massacre at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Valentine’s Day, 2018 has had a kind of staying power in the imagination. 17 students died that day, and 50 more were injured. Nearly every student and family of those students were affected in a real way by the crime.

While other school shootings have come and gone in the national consciousness – when did we become so blasé about them that they have become just another news story? – Parkland has lingered in the public eye, largely because the students, rather than grieving privately, decided to become activists to create sensible gun laws. They have taken on the NRA and the Republican Party and while they have made some slight inroads, their goals of banning military-style semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 have yet to materialize.

But even that isn’t necessarily what After Parkland is about. The movie which began as a Nightline assignment, is about how the survivors went about rebuilding their lives and carrying on as best they could. Senior David Hogg became one of the faces of the Parkland shooting for his outspoken criticism of the federal government for failing to act and helped create a foundation that organized events like March For Our Lives which many readers may have participated in. However, the film is more intimate, choosing to assume that we all understand the politics. We see how the shootings affected his younger sister Lauren, who lost four friends in the gunfire. We see his mother gruffly fending off the news media as David walks in from the parking lot to the first day of school two weeks after the shooting.

Much of the film revolves around Joaquin Oliver, a 17-year-old who was one of those who didn’t survive. We see his father Manuel, who fled the political turmoil of Venezuela only to lose his son to senseless violence in America, continuing to coach Joaquin’s basketball team in honor of his son’s memory. We see Joaquin’s best friend Dillon McCooty, who tries carrying on, wearing his uniform number in his memory and taking it upon himself to will his team to a championship. We also see his girlfriend Victoria Gonzalez hide her devastation; “I’m good at putting up a front,” she remarks offhandedly as people remark on how well she’s handling it. In a particularly touching sequence, McCooty takes her to the prom, trying to make it as special as possible for her. We get to know Joaquin through home movies and the testimony of his friends better than any of the victims.

We also meet Andrew Pollack, father of Meadow who also died in the tragedy. He testifies before such figures as President Trump and Education Secretary DeVos, Pollack’s rage at the government’s failure to protect his daughter in a school setting barely contained. He tells us that he used to have a great life, but now he can’t smile anymore. He almost dares the filmmakers to ask him anything; “If I can take the death of my daughter, I can take anything.” He sets out to build a park playground in his daughter’s honor. He also sidesteps politics, saying firmly but politely that school safety and not gun control is his central issue.

Some might disagree with his focus, but it’s really hard to given what he has lost. Filmmakers Taguchi and Lefferman admirably remain in the background, generally just following their subjects around or letting them vent to the camera. While the activism is certainly a part of the story – it feels to a large extent that it is a coping mechanism for some – this is a movie about people, not politics. This will likely elicit a few tears and much sympathy and even some empathy. I know that some of us try to avoid anything that reminds us of these sorts of tragedies which have continued to occur in the wake of Parkland. I can certainly understand wanting to turn away, but a part of me thinks that maybe we should face it and wallow in it. Maybe if the outrage reaches a sufficient level, change will be forced to occur. If that could happen, maybe the 17 lives snuffed out almost before they started might not have been lost in vain.

REASONS TO SEE: Raw and very powerful. Shows the immediate aftermath of the shooting and how it affected those who lost friends and family. Uses the survivor’s own words to tell the story.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be a trigger for those who have been affected by a school shooting.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, adult issues dealing with grief and some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: More than 100 venues around the country, including the Enzian here in Orlando, are taking part in a one-night only special screening of the film. Various organizations will be participating, hoping to start a dialogue that will lead to meaningful change –  there will also be voter registration being conducted. For those who can’t make these special screenings, the movie will be available for streaming on Hulu starting February 19th, and on DVD and Blu-Ray from Kino-Lorber on February 25th.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/11/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 72/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Song of Parkland
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Suspiria (2018)

The Lavender Scare


Before the rainbow.

(2017) Documentary (Full Exposure) Frank Kameny Glenn Close (narrator), Zachary Quinto, David Hyde Pierce, T.R. Knight, Cynthia Nixon, David K. Johnson, John D’Emilio, Lillian Federman, John W. Hanes, Carl Rizzi, Peter Szluk, Jen Totka, Vince Ferrence, Rev. Bruce Forbes, Joan Cassidy. Directed by Josh Howard

Most of us are aware of the strides that the LGBTQ community have made in recent years in asserting their rights and gaining mainstream acceptance. To truly appreciate how far they’ve come, however, it is important to note where they came from.

During the so-called “Red Scare” during the late Forties and Fifties, Americans became convinced that every echelon of our society had been infiltrated by communists and that our way of life was under immediate threat. That belief was amplified when the Russians detonated their own atom bomb in 1949, much sooner than most experts thought they should be able to. It was (correctly, as it turned out) assumed that the Russians had gotten help – from spies or traitors smuggling nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.

This gave rise to one of the most shameful periods in our history, when constitutional rights were routinely violated in the name of national security, when scum like Senator Joseph McCarthy and Roy Cohn both rose to power. Most remember how the McCarthy hearings went after communists in Hollywood as well as in government service. Few remember what happened to the gay community.

President Eisenhower, in one of his first acts after taking office, signed an executive order banning homosexuals from working for the government. The thinking went that those with socially unacceptable sexual preferences were vulnerable to blackmail (although there is no evidence that this ever occurred in America). This led to investigations of people who would be accused of being gay or lesbian.

During the Thirties and Forties, many gay men and lesbians came to Washington to get government jobs which were plentiful. There was tolerance for their lifestyle and there were plenty of bars that catered to that clientele. They were cautiously uncloseted but this very freedom would be worked savagely against them as regular attendance at a gay bar would be enough to get you fired; most went quietly, not wanting to let their secret get out. Most were aware that they would have a hard time getting employment for the rest of their lives.

People would be brought into a room by a pair of federal ages without any legal representation. Their accusers would never be identified; they would be badgered and humiliated, and left little choice but to resign otherwise their secret would come out. Most went meekly into the night.

Not Dr. Franklin Kameny, though. An astronomer for the Army Map-making Corps, he was unceremoniously fired from the job he loved. Not about to take this lying down, he became an activist fighting for the rights of homosexuals; his chapter of the Mattachine Society (an early gay rights organization) was the most in-your-face chapter of the society, with Kameny organizing picketing, demonstrations and marches. In 1963, he became the first openly gay man to testify before Congress and he brought lawsuit after lawsuit trying to overturn the unjust laws which he was remarkably unsuccessful at, although nobody could doubt his intelligence and bulldog tenacity. However, Eisenhower’s executive orders banning gays from government jobs were  finally overturned by President Clinton in 1995.

Director Josh Howard seems to subscribe to the Ken Burns school of documentary filmmaking, using actors (including Hyde Pierce as a young Frank Kameny) reading letters and journal entries of those affected by the persecution of that era, supplemented by interviews with historians as well as those who still survive from that era. There’s also a lot of archival footage, both of pre-Stonewall gay life and anti-Gay propaganda pieces popularizing the myth that gay men are child molesters. The narration of Glenn Close brings everything together nicely, offering up context.

Some of the interviews are heartbreaking, such as Joan Cassidy who aspired to be the first female admiral in the United States Navy but who didn’t dare look for advancement lest her sexuality be discovered. Some are hilarious such as postal employee Carl Rizzi offering smarmy federal agents a better picture of himself in drag for their files. Some are reprehensible, such as the audio interview with investigator Peter Szluk who takes great delight in his accomplishment of ruining lives.

If there is anything that the film gets wrong is that it tends to be repetitive, making a lot of the same points over and over again despite a fairly short 1 hour and 14 minute length. That’s okay to a degree but repetition gets amplified the shorter a film is.

Kameny, who is interviewed here late in life, didn’t live to see the Defense of Marriage Act overturned in 2013 (he died in 2011) but chances are he would have growled “We still have a long way to go” before tilting at another windmill and he’s absolutely correct on that account. Gay rights remain very tenuous and fragile; already there is legislation that seeks to undo all that is done, particularly in red states. There is still plenty of anti-gay behavior out there and the struggle to end repression for our gay brothers and sisters is ongoing. It behooves us to take heart however, in that the cause has come a long way. The efforts of men like Frank Kameny are important to note, if just to remind us that we need more people like him in our society even now.

REASONS TO SEE: The celebration of a largely forgotten but important figure in early gay activism. Lots of nifty archival footage.
REASONS TO AVOID: Despite the compact length the film is repetitious in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as sell as adult thematic material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was based on and inspired by the book of the same name by historian David K. Johnson
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/11/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Before Stonewall
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Oceans 8

Matangi/Maya/M.I.A.


No matter what the pose is, hip hop star M.I.A. is a controversial figure.

(2018) Music Documentary (CineReach/Abramorama) Maya Arulpragasam, Diplo, Ben Bronfman, Kala Arulpragasam, Spike Jonze, Arular Arulpragasam, Sugu Arulpragasam, Kali Arulpragasam, Justine Frischmann, Nick Huggett, Lynn Hirschberg. Directed by Steve Loveridge

 

In this age where everything is divisive, there are few more polarizing figures than hip-hop superstar M.I.A. To some, she is a terrorist supporter (her father was one of the founders of the Tamil Tigers who fought against oppression of her ethnic group in Sri Lanka). To others, she is a hero standing up for the victims of genocide in her native Sri Lanka. For others, she’s a brilliant musician, combining elements of world music and hip-hop. To some, she’s a dilettante who lives in luxury while railing against poverty.

The truth is that M.I.A., born Matangi Arulpragasam but nicknamed Maya early on in her life, is all of those things. She has always been her own person, refusing to be put in a box. As a child her mother and remaining children (she talks early on how two of her six brothers were killed in Sri Lanka) immigrated to England where she encountered racism and abuse for her refugee status. She spent much of her early life, like most teens, trying to figure out what her place in the world was and early on determined not to be pigeonholed.

Music has always been a refuge for her and although she went to art school with the intention of being a filmmaker and indeed started out making music videos for Elastica and other bands of the era (she and Elastica frontwoman Justine Frischmann became close friends) it was her mash-ups of various beats and ethnic sounds that caught the attention of XL Recordings and with an in-yo-face performance style and unforgettable songs became one of the biggest stars in the world.

She has never been shy about expressing herself; invited by the NFL to perform at halftime of the Super Bowl, she expressed her disillusionment at America by flipping the bird to the cameras for which she was sued by the NFL which was eventually settled. A crude gesture, sure but that’s M.I.A. all over.

Loveridge utilized old home movies and videos (as a teen she was a compulsive recorder of life events) as well as behind the scenes access to create a portrait of a very complex and often difficult woman. She has a voice and a platform and something to say and her activism is on display in an often hagiographic documentary but at the same time she really doesn’t give a rat’s behind what the world thinks about her – yet she seems driven to having as much exposure as humanly possible. Is it so she can get her message across? Maybe…it’s hard to know sometimes what’s hype and what’s real.

My big issue with the documentary is that it jumps all over the place, both in a chronological sense and a thematic sense. At one point we see her with one fiancée, then in a scene or two later she has a different fiancée and is pregnant without any transition. It’s jarring and while I don’t think we necessarily have to delve that much into her personal romantic life, there should be some flow there and that’s what this documentary lacks.

The movie will be making an appearance locally on October 1st at the Enzian Theater for their South Asian Film Festival and while the movie is British in origin, certainly the ongoing crisis in Sri Lanka is a big part of this film as is the music of the Tamil culture. What you end up thinking about M.I.A. – disingenuous huckster using her message as publicity for her musical career, or committed and passionate activist desperately trying to bring the plight of the Tamil people to the mainstream Western media – is up to you. I’m not here to review her life, only her documentary and I find the film massively flawed, although the story of her life is compelling enough. Unlike documentaries however, real life doesn’t get the opportunity to be fixed in the editing bay, something this film desperately needed. M.I.A. seems to have done better in that regard than the film about her did.

REASONS TO GO: The activism of M.I.A. is very much to be admired.
REASONS TO STAY: The documentary isn’t very well-organized; at times it feels like it’s jumping back and forth all over the map.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, some disturbing images and a good deal of smoking.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Loveridge met M.I.A. at film school; this is his first documentary feature.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/29/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 87% positive reviews: Metacritic: 69/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Amy
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
American Dresser

A Greater Society


This is what difference makers look like.

(2018) Documentary (Deranged Squirrel) Ruth G. Weber, Fred Genetti, Tamara Gussman Stine, Howard Finkelstein, Jack Mendelson, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Charlie Crist, Nan Rich, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Mitch Caesar, Bruce Bandler, Ronny Sydney, Minerva Nazario, Karen Hoffman, Jack Shifrel, Tony Fransetta, Jeff Johnson, Ted Deutch, Ashley Walker. Directed by Stacy Goldate and Craig A. Colton

Down in Broward County in South Florida, just north of Miami is Wynmoor, one of many retirement communities in the area. California developers opened the facility back in 1973, marketing it mainly to residents of New York City and the Northeast in general, wooing residents with sunshine, modern amenities and sea breezes. Their advertising campaign worked; more than 4,000 residents live there now, many of them of the Jewish faith.

The Jewish community in New York City tends to be progressive; many lived through the depression and the New Deal of FDR. All of them lived through the 60s and Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society” which tried to address poverty, racism and rising medical costs. While the New Deal established Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and the Voter Rights Act came out of the Great Society. In fact, the title of the movie is a play on LBJ’s ambitious program.

When Wynmoor opened, Broward County was largely a Conservative bastion although at the time it was mostly Dixiecrats that made up the voter rolls. Since then, Southern conservatives have moved to the Republican party as the Democrats became champions of civil rights and other things that the Old South was less than fond of. The arrival of large numbers of progressive elderly from the Northeast swayed the county from red to blue.

This fascinating documentary, which premiered at the Florida Film Festival earlier this year and is now making its way onto the Vimeo streaming service, looks at the residents of Wynmoor during the 2014 midterm elections when Rick Scott was running for re-election as governor. It starts with the primaries when former Republican governor Charlie Crist was running against Nan Rich, leader of the Democratic party in the Florida House of Representatives and a grandmother herself, which appealed to many of the voters at Wynmoor who saw in her someone who understood the needs of their age group but also their desire to provide the services they rely on for their children and grandchildren in the years to come.

Much of the emphasis focuses on the Wynmoor Democrat Club which true to its name supports Democratic candidates and makes sure that residents of that party get out and vote. The stereotype of the elderly is that they tend to be conservative and suspicious of change; nothing could be further from the truth and it is refreshing to see the liberal activism that goes on in a group of people who could easily just take a dip in the pool, play some shuffleboard and in general just enjoy their golden years. It means something when someone who has earner their retirement nevertheless gets out and appeals for people to vote.

There is a Republican club as well, led by the knowledgeable Jack Mendelson who has a sunny sense of humor and a propensity towards driving his wife crazy. Despite being such an engaging subject, he gets a whole lot less screen time than his liberal counterparts who are, to be sure, equally fascinating, particularly Fred Genetti, a handsome man pushing 70 at the time of filming who only reluctantly gets active in the election but proves to be very good at it, and Ruth Weber, a 98-year-old woman born during the Woodrow Wilson administration who is still sharp as a tack and as passionate about politics as anyone a quarter her age. Conservative viewers may well find the disparity insulting, but the truth is that the Democrats appear to be much more active at Wynmoor than the Republicans.

In fact, Wynmoor is so important to the Democrats that often luminaries of that party stop by the complex to campaign, including Joe Biden, Debbie Wasserman Schultz (then-chairperson of the Democratic National Committee) and both candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial primary. The documentary labels the activist seniors as kingmakers and they aren’t far wrong.

The pace of the film is a little bit slow, but it seems to mirror the lifestyle of the residents and is perhaps a nod at the target audience. The filmmakers certainly display the power of organization and that coming together as a community matters. The filmmakers engage in a lot of talking head interviews but not as much as you might think. They use political cartoons to set up the political history nicely and the footage of the seniors going about their day is genuinely interesting.

This is a different kind of political documentary. Although it leans a bit left, it is by no means out there to extol one side over the other. Red or blue, there is a lesson in what these seniors accomplish and in their genuine love for their country and its future. Every vote matters and these citizens are well aware of that fact. Particularly in a midterm election year where so much is riding on the outcome, it seems a particularly timely film that anyone who thinks their vote doesn’t make a difference should check out.

REASONS TO GO: Weber and Genetti are both engaging personalities. The filmmakers turn stereotypes of the elderly on their ear. The filmmakers give time (although far from equal) to both sides of the aisle.
REASONS TO STAY: The pace may be a little bit slow for some
FAMILY VALUES: There is some brief mild profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Both Goldate and Colton primarily work in the editing bay for other projects; this is their first project as co-directors.
BEYOND THE THEATERS:  Vimeo
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/21/18: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Final Year
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Bel Canto

An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power


Al Gore checking out the effects of climate change directly in the Philippines.

(2017) Documentary (Paramount) Al Gore, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Donald Trump, John Kerry, Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin, Marco Krapels, Tom Rielly. Directed by Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk

 

Climate change has been a hot button topic in this country ever since Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth brought his slideshow to the mainstream back in 2006. Now, more than a decade after the fact, the follow-up looks at what has been done to combat the crisis and in a lot of cases the answer is “Not a lot.”

We see Gore giving speeches and preaching largely to the choir; some folks on the other side of the aisle listen indulgently but really facts and figures aren’t making much headway with them. Gore shows himself to be a tireless worker for the cause; there is no denying his commitment to change nor his willingness to go wherever needed and do whatever needs doing. It’s good to know that there are people like Gore in the planet’s corner.

On the other hand, there are some terrifying images; Gore on a glacier that is melting away, wading in high tide waters in the streets of Miami with fish swimming placidly by. Filmed largely during the 2015 Paris Climate Change Summit where the historic accords were signed and through the 2016 election, we see Gore’s optimism at the signing of the Accords turn to dust when Trump, who is heard early on outlining his belief that climate change is a boondoggle meant to bilk American industry and the American government out of billions of dollars. Knowing that every other nation on the planet has adopted the Accords and we remain the naughty children who actually want coal for Christmas may be depressing as hell to left-leaning viewers. However no matter what side of the aisle your politics are you can certainly appreciate how extraordinary it was to get so many industrial nations to agree on one thing as they did at the Accords.

Right-leaning viewers – if they even bother to view this at all – may look at it as propaganda and in a very real sense it is. There is no doubt what the point of view of the film is or its opinions regarding the subject but while this could easily be a depressing “state of the planet” address (and parts of it are just that) there is a lot of hopefulness here. The filmmakers take great pains to describe how all of us can take action right now and still have a major effect on our planet’s health. However, there is no doubt that the federal government will continue to be part of the problem so long as those who favor profit over survival are in power.

REASONS TO GO: There is no doubt that Gore is committed and passionate on the subject of climate change. Rather than just presenting terrifying facts, the film gives some real world ways in which the crisis can be addressed. Some of the images are absolutely stunning.
REASONS TO STAY: Climate change deniers will likely find this offensive.
FAMILY VALUES: Children may find the themes and some of the images frightening.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it received two standing ovations.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Paramount Movies, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/30/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 79% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Chasing Ice
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
The Hitman’s Bodyguard

All Eyez on Me


Everyone wants to rap with ‘Pac.

(2017) Musical Biography (CODEBLACK) Demetrius Shipp Jr., Danai Gurira, Kat Graham, Hill Harper, Annie Ilonzeh, Lauren Cohan, Keith Robinson, Jamal Woolard, Dominic L. Santana, Cory Hardrict, Clifton Powell, Jamie Hector, DeRay Davis, Chris Clarke, Ronald Brooks, Jarrett Ellis, Erica Pinkett, Rayven Symone Ferrell, Josh Ventura, Chanel Young. Directed by Benny Boom

 

Tupac Shakur remains one of the most vital and influential artists of the 20th century; while there have been documentaries on his brief but meteoric life, there hasn’t been a biopic up until now. Shipp as ‘Pac is a dead ringer for the late rapper and displays at least some of the charisma that Tupac possessed; some have groused that Shipp is not even close in that aspect but that’s like bitching about a match because it isn’t the sun. For my money he did a pretty decent job and has nothing to be ashamed of.

The movie is a touch over two hours long and sadly you feel every moment of it. We get little sense of Tupac the artist and instead we spend a whole lot of time seeing Tupac the party animal. The movie reinforces a lot of the stereotypes Middle America has of rap culture – the misogyny, the violence, the drugs and alcohol and the conspicuous consumption. At no point during the course of the movie do we see Tupac actually creating anything; mostly we see him railing against the forces that were against him, hanging out with his boys and getting in confrontations with rivals. We get the highlights of his turbulent life and most of the soundtrack is made up of his more pop-oriented songs which may serve as a nice introduction to those unfamiliar with his work but will likely frustrate his fans.

Shakur is one of the most important artists of the last decade of the 20th century and his genius reverberates through modern rap without any let-up since his 1996 murder (which remains unsolved to this day) at the age of 25. He deserves a film that is as powerful as the music he created, but this isn’t it. What this is however is a fairly bland introduction to the life and music of Tupac and for now it will just have to do.

REASONS TO GO: Shipp is a star in the making.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie concentrates too much on the parties and the thug life and not enough on Tupac as an artist.
FAMILY VALUES: There is all sorts of profanity, violence, sexuality, nudity and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Shipp’s father worked with Death Row Records as a producer and produced some of Tupac’s work near the end of his life.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/8/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 18% positive reviews. Metacritic: 38/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Straight Outta Compton
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Cars 3

The Lie (2011)


Your sins will find you out.

Your sins will find you out.

(2011) Drama (Screen Media) Joshua Leonard, Jess Wexler, Mark Webber, Alia Shawkat, Kelli Garner, James Ransone, Jane Adams, Kirk Baltz, Gerry Bednob, Matthew Newton, Holly Woodlawn, Tipper Newton, Kandice Melonakos, Germaine Mozel Sims, Michael McColl, Gwyn Fawcett. Directed by Joshua Leonard

I was once told as a young man by a mentor that being young was easy; everything is simple – black or white, right or wrong, bad or good. There is no middle ground in youth, he told me, no grey areas. Accountability and responsibility are notions that don’t apply to the young. Sooner or later however, we all have to grow up whether we want to or not.

Lonnie (Leonard) is reaching a crossroads in his life. He and his wife Clover (Wexler) have just had a baby and their life of activism and living by their own rules has been turned on its ear as their idealism collides with the realities of raising a baby – particularly in regards to the expense. Clover is considering a job at a pharmaceutical company that as far as Lonnie is concerned is the anti-Christ but whose benefits will make the job of raising their new addition feasible.

But Lonnie, stuck in a job he hates, isn’t on board with this. He’s a hippie in an age of consumerism and in a different age would have found a commune to hang out in with his family. Lonnie is in a crisis and he needs a day off to clear his head, so he just tells his overbearing boss (Bednob) that his baby is sick. Lonnie, now free of any responsibility, gets hammered with his best friend Tank (Webber), smokes a lot of weed and records some really bad rock and roll in Tank’s trailer.

It turns out so well that Lonnie takes another day and another day and another – until he can’t use that fib anymore so in a fit of panic he blurts out that the baby died. Suddenly the little white lie isn’t so white and isn’t so little anymore. This is one he can’t walk away from and one that sooner or later he’ll have to face the consequences for.

Based on a short story by T.C. Boyle, the movie ostensibly debates the question of whether it is okay to compromise one’s principles in order to survive, although that really isn’t it at all. It’s a question of whether one’s responsibility to family outweighs a lifestyle choice.

Leonard, whom most will remember from The Blair Witch Project, is generally a fairly charming onscreen personality and there are elements of that here too, but one wonders about the underlying story going on with the character. Lonnie talks a good game about discovering who he is, but from his actions he appears to be a stoner and a slacker who just wants to get wasted and do whatever makes him feel good. In other words, a selfish prick.

Wexler, who was so delightful in Free Samples, is the polar opposite. She has a baby to consider and the realities of life in Southern California staring her in the face. She realizes that it is time to grow up and make sacrifices, which is why she considers a job at the Big Pharma company. Her moments to shine come towards the end of the movie when the truth inevitably comes out, but sadly, her character (who may go down in cinematic history as the most understanding woman ever) reacts in a way that is counterintuitive to who she seems to be all along.

Webber, as the stoner best friend, provides a lot of the comic relief but also a lot of the film’s center strangely enough. “Dude,” he tells Lonnie in a kind of ironic coda, “You’ve got to stop running away from shit.” Which is, of course, precisely what Lonnie does and the filmmakers seem to embrace that as a viable alternative to, you know, life.

I was once the age that Lonnie is and I will grant him that things are different now than they were then but FFS you’re a dad, you’ve got to man up and grow a pair. One of the things that disturbs me about what I see in the current generation is that there seems to be an unwillingness to sacrifice for the greater good – that self-gratification is the be all and end all of existence. Now I am willing to concede that much of that is simply the flaw of youth and that it’s possible that experience and wisdom will counteract it but I don’t recall ever seeing this self-centeredness to this degree in any generation before. Wow, I sound like my own Dad, don’t I?

The point is that the movie seems to take the point of view that it is more important to be true to one’s own needs whether they are selfish or not than to be responsible for the life that one brings into this world and I simply can’t agree with that point of view – which is why I hate the ending so much because it hints that is precisely what the filmmakers think. Perhaps it is old-fashioned of me but I can’t recommend a movie that condones self-interest over responsibility. If you’re comfortable with that, you are more than welcome to seek this movie out and draw your own conclusions.

WHY RENT THIS: Examines the age old question of freedom vs. responsibility. Wexler and Webber are magnificent.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Can’t get behind a film that preaches accountability and celebrates that its lead character has none. The ending is absolutely mind-numbing.

FAMILY VALUES: A fair amount of foul language and some drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film’s official website gives visitors an opportunity to confess about a lie they’ve told which has been taken up by a number of people including at least one cast member.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3,000 on an unreported production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Be Good

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: The Good Heart