Mudbound


In Mississippi, things are always black and white.

(2017) Drama (Netflix) Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Mitchell, Mary J. Blige, Jason Clarke, Jonathan Banks, Lucy Faust, Dylan Arnold, Rob Morgan, Kerry Cahill, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Rebecca Chulew, David Jensen, Geraldine Singer, Floyd Anthony Johns Jr., Henry Frost, Peter Schueller, Roderick Hill, Cynthia LeBlanc, Samantha Hoefer. Directed by Dee Rees

 

The generation that fought the Second World War has been called the Greatest Generation and who am I to argue? The fact remains however that not everyone in that generation was treated greatly. The African-American soldiers who fought for freedom were ironically denied it when they returned home. It would be 20 years before the Civil Rights era would be able to effectively call attention to the plight of African-Americans in a meaningful way.

Jamie McAllan (Hedlund) returns home from fighter pilot duty to his brother Henry (Clarke), their dad Pappy (Bans) and Henry’s wife Laura (Mulligan) trying to make things work on a farm that is literally a muddy bog especially when it rains which it does frequently in Mississippi. Henry sees the land as a symbol of his failures. Constantly denigrated by his racist father Henry isn’t a bad man but he is a weak one living in the shadow of his popular younger brother. Jamie though is partially broken; suffering from PTSD after his war experiences,

Also coming home from war is Ronsel Jackson (Mitchell) but to far different circumstances. His father, preacher Hap Jackson (Morgan) is a sharecropper on Henry’s land – well, kinda Henry’s land – who is exploited terribly by Henry who uses Hap as labor regardless of whether Hap is needed on his own farm. When Hap’s mule dies, Henry lets Hap use his own mule – for a price, a hefty one that benefits Henry who is having financial problems of his own. However, it not only adds a burden to Hap’s debt it makes it harder for him to pay it off. On top of it all Ronsel is back to being treated like a second class citizen after getting a taste of freedom in Europe. It is somewhat ironic that he is treated better in the country he helped conquer than in the country he fought for.

Jamie strikes up a friendship with Ronsel; the two men have shared experiences that bond them together. However, a friendship between a white man and an African-American man is simply not done in that time and place. It threatens the social order, and there are horrific consequences  for that.

After making a big splash at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Netflix purchased the film which has been one of the most prestigious in its current library with no less than four Oscar nominations (Netflix gave it a brief theatrical fun to qualify it). Critics fell all over themselves praising the movie as you can see by their scores below and there is certainly much to celebrate in this film but to be honest, it is also flawed.

The movie is badly undercut by narration made by various characters in the movie. The narration is often florid and draws attention away from the movie, the worst kind of narration possible. I’ve always wondered why filmmakers don’t trust their audiences to understand the images and dialogue they see and hear. Narration isn’t necessary; it’s intrusive and redundant.

The flip side is that the movie is beautifully shot. It isn’t so much beautiful images – the poverty and the rain-soaked mud fields aren’t what you’ll see on the average screensaver – but Rachel Morrison, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer, gives the images a dignity that uplifts the movie overall. And then there are the performances – few films are as well-acted as this one. Blige as Florence, the wise and compassionate mother won most of the kudos (and the Oscar nomination) but for my money it was Mitchell who was actually the real deal. Fresh off his triumph in Straight Outta Comption Mitchell is the moral center of the film. He is a man of pride but he’s also a man of compassion and conscience. He is able to respect a white man despite the wrongs done to him by white men; he is able to feel sympathy for his friend and the demons that haunt him. He is haunted by many of them himself.

The narration is a major problem that prevents me from really loving this film. To the good, it is a timely reminder that we live in an era when America was great according to the slogan. It wasn’t terribly great for those who weren’t white though, and that is part of what those sloganeers are attracted to. The attitudes that shape the movie have never gone away completely; they only went underground until 2016 when our President emboldened those who identify with Pappy to express their racism openly.

There is much good here although as I said this is a very flawed film. Any Netflix subscriber, particularly those who like their movies to be thought-provoking, should have this on their short list of must-see films on Netflix. It’s one I think that bears repeated viewings. Rees is certainly an emerging talent who has plenty to say. Now if we can just get her to stop using voiceovers…

REASONS TO GO: The cast is uniformly wonderful. The cinematography is downright amazing.
REASONS TO STAY: The voiceover narration is a bit obnoxious.
FAMILY VALUES: There is violence of the war variety as well as a graphic depiction of racially-motivated violence, profanity including racial epithets as well as some brief nudity and sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Blige became the first person ever nominated for an acting Oscar and best song Oscar for the same film, and Rachel Morrison was the first woman nominated for a Best Cinematography Oscar.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/3/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 96% positive reviews. Metacritic: 85/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Giant
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Silencer

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Rock of Ages


Rock of Ages

Julianne Hough prepares for her next scene in the Broadway version of “There’s Something About Mary.”

(2012) Musical (New Line) Julianne Hough, Diego Boneta, Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Malin Akerman, Bryan Cranston, Mary J. Blige, Will Forte, T.J. Miller, Kevin Nash, Jeff Chase, Celina Beach, Dan Finnerty, Angelo Donato Valderrama. Directed by Adam Shankman

 

Maybe I’m a bit of a music snob – all right, there’s no “maybe” about it – but my idea of fun isn’t watching a cover band butcher the hits of classic rock. However, someone had to convince a Broadway producer and then a Hollywood studio that people would love to see it. Thus began a musical that has been a huge success on the Great White Way but would that success translate to the big screen?

Sherrie Christian (Hough) is a bright-eyed blonde travelling from Tulsa on a bus to make it to the bright lights and big city dreams of L.A. And of course the first thing that happens is she gets her suitcase stolen – the one with all her record albums in it, autographed of course. Sherrie is a rocker chick, a lacquer haired blonde who dreams of Night Ranger, Poison, Whitesnake and Journey. She lives for the hard stuff.

Her mugging is witnessed by Drew Boley (Boneta), a barback with dreams of rock stardom. He is a good-hearted sort and when he hears her story, he arranges with his boss Dennis (Baldwin), owner of the world famous Bourbon Club on the Strip, to give her a job as a cocktail waitress. She comes at a critical juncture for the Bourbon. The club is in financial chaos, owing a sizable tax bill. However, help is on the way – Stacee Jaxx (Cruise), the superstar front man of Arsenal, has brought his band to play their last show ever at the Bourbon before Stacee heads out on his own solo career.

Stacee’s oily manager Paul Gill (Giamatti) tells Stacee that he will be interviewed by a Rolling Stone reporter, one Constance Sack (Akerman), one who might have a bit of an agenda and one who isn’t overly awed by Stacee’s sexual attraction. In the meantime, the new mayor (Cranston) and his shrill wife (Jones) who may have a personal vendetta, are taking aim at the Bourbon and are out to shut it down so that the Strip can be cleaned up for rich developers to make a mint on.

Of course things don’t go as planned, everybody kind of goes their separate ways including Sherrie and Drew who have become a couple, but a misunderstanding tears them apart. Of course, this being a musical, we know that a happy ending is in sight and rock and roll will save the day.

I have a thing about Broadway musicals that take pre-written songs and plug them into a cookie cutter plot. Mamma Mia kinda got away with it because it was all the music of a single band and as such meshed together well. Hear, there are a bunch of different acts (with a lot of Poison songs, but also from such bands as the ones previously named as well as Starship, Twisted Sister and Bon Jovi.

The problem is that the songs are played pretty much without any passion. Rock requires it, and this has all the energy and passion of canned elevator music. It’s just loud guitars instead of soft strings. Most of the cast do their own singing and it’s probably better than we have a right to expect. In fact, the acting is pretty solid to but with two notable – and fatal – exceptions.

Hough is best known for her stint on “Dancing With the Stars” and she also has a surprisingly sweet voice (she’s done a country album to this point). However, her acting is not quite up to the same standards. Her Sherrie is kind of annoying, to be honest but at least that’s better than Boneta, veteran of Mexican telenovelas who is simply bland. His character isn’t particularly well-defined to begin with but Boneta adds nothing to him. His voice is pleasant enough but lacks the power to really deliver on his songs.

This is really a mess. It’s not the fault of Cruise who gives a performance that reminds me of his work in Tropical Thunder but without the clever dialogue. The leads are attractive but don’t really deliver any personality, something this project desperately needed. The plot is forgettable and while the songs are good, there really isn’t anything that distinguishes them in the musical numbers from the dancing to the settings. Hough, who is indeed a talented dancer, is even given a turn as an exotic dancer – and yet she almost never dances here. Talk about a wasted opportunity – in fact this whole movie really can be counted as one.

REASONS TO GO: Ummm…you like bar cover bands?

REASONS TO STAY: Some really wooden performances. Uninspiring musical performances. Just a mess in every sense.

FAMILY VALUES: A whole lot of sexual innuendo including some fairly graphic kisses and making out. Lots of drinking – LOTS of it – and some implied drug use. Then there’s the foul language…not a ton but enough to be noticeable.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scenes set below the Hollywood sign were actually filmed in Pompano Beach, Florida in a landfill. The real Hollywood sign is fenced out and no public access is permitted.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/26/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 41% positive reviews. Metacritic: 47/100. The reviews are unaccountably mixed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Mamma Mia!

’80s ROCK LOVERS: Several stars of rock in the 80s make appearances in the protesters-rockers confrontation near the end of the scene. Among those singing “We Built This City” are Nuno Bettencourt of Extreme, Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon, Debbie Gibson (yes, that one), Sebastian Bach of Skid Row, and Joel Hoekstra of Night Ranger.

FINAL RATING: 2/10

NEXT: Lola Versus

New Releases for the Week of June 15, 2012


June 15, 2012

ROCK OF AGES

(New Line) Tom Cruise, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Julianne Hough, Alec Baldwin, Malin Akerman, Paul Giamatti, Russell Brand, Mary J. Blige, Diego Boneta. Directed by Adam Shankman

A small town girl and a big city boy meet and fall in love to the soundtrack of classic rock at a Sunset Strip club that is in crisis. The club is in financial difficulties and is relying on the concert by superstar Stacy Jaxx to help them out of it, but they are beset by blue-nosed housewives protesting the debauchery of rock and roll in general and the club in particular. Just another Saturday night on the Strip, don’t you know.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Musical

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, suggestive dancing, some heavy drinking, and language)

Hysteria

(Sony Classics) Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Jonathan Pryce, Rupert Everett. Back in the 19th century, women were often diagnosed with something called female hysteria, which had to do with basically being horny without being able to do anything about it. This would lead to the invention of the mechanical vibrator, the godsend of lonely housewives everywhere. This isn’t a true story – but there are some elements of the truth in it.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for sexual content) 

Something From Nothing: The Art of Rap

(Indomina) Ice-T, Kanye West, Chuck D, Eminem. Actor-rapper Ice-T takes us on a personal journey into the roots of rap, the newest musical art form, and dissects the roots, speaking with a variety of artists about their creative process. Along the way he displays the cultural influences of rap music not only on the lives of the African-American community from where it originated, but on America as a whole.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: R (for pervasive language including sexual reference, and some drug content)

That’s My Boy

(Columbia) Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Leighton Meester, James Caan. A 12-year-old boy has an affair with his teacher and gets her pregnant. She goes to jail, his parents disown him and he’s stuck raising a kid while being a kid himself. Years later, he’s never really grown up and is in trouble with the IRS for never having paid his income tax. He needs $40,000 or he’s going to jail himself. His now-grown kid is a wealthy man now and might be able to bail him out. His son is getting married and didn’t invite him – they’ve been estranged for years – so he’s going to have to do some relationship building in order to pull this off. Maybe along the way he’ll find some responsibility – and his uptight son might loosen up just a little bit.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for crude sexual content throughout, nudity, pervasive language and some drug use)  

New Releases for the Week of September 11, 2009


 

Peek-a-boo!!

Peek-a-boo!!

9

(Focus) Starring the voices of Elijah Wood, Jennifer Connelly, Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover. Directed by Shane Acker

Humankind is extinct, wiped out by machines of their own making. If you thought that’s the next Terminator film, you’d be wrong. That’s how this feature animation begins, which is based on an animated short that was a critical hit on the festival circuit a few years back (Da Queen and I caught it at the Florida Film Festival and can testify that it is one of the finest animated shorts we’ve ever seen, completely creative and imaginative). Nine ragdoll creations, given the breath of life by a human genius, are all that remains of Homo sapiens. They must find a way to survive against the marauding machines, bent on their destruction. Discovering a way to beat the machines is the key to the survival of civilization.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for violence and scary images)

My One and Only

(Freestyle) Renee Zellweger, Logan Lerman, Kevin Bacon, Chris Noth. Ann Devereaux leaves her philandering husband in search of a new mate more worthy of her, with her teenage sons in tow. However, wealthy men who are loving and loyal are in short supply in 1953 and her feminine charms have lost a bit of luster since she was last single two decades prior. As a parade of suitors come and go, the boys go through a series of increasingly less glamorous living arrangements the three come to rely on each other more than they ever thought they could and Ann provides them with a different future than they could ever have imagined.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and language)

Sorority Row

(Summit) Briana Evigan, Leah Pipes, Rumer Willis, Jamie Chung. When a prank goes horribly wrong, five sorority sisters agree to keep the inadvertent death of a sister hidden. Unfortunately, an unseen, homicidal monster seems to know all their hidden secrets and is picking off the sorority girls one by bloody one. Following a recent trend, this is a remake of an Eighties horror film, The House on Sorority Row.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and partying)

Thirst

(Focus) Song Kang-ho, Shin Ha-kyun, Kim Ok-bi, Kim Hae-sook. From the director of Oldboy and Lady Vengeance comes this sensual, ultra-violent vampire film. When a priest receives a transfusion with tainted blood, he is forced to exist in the half-life of a vampire. When the wife of a friend comes to him begging to help her escape from her life, he enters a carnal world of desire and sensation that is at odds with his long-held faith, creating a war within himself that can only end in tragedy.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for graphic bloody violence, disturbing images, strong sexual content, nudity and language)

Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All By Myself

(Lionsgate) Tyler Perry, Taraji P. Henson, Mary J. Blige, Adam Rodriguez. When Madea, the pistol-packing grandma from previous Tyler Perry films catches three young kids robbing her home, she packs them off to live with their only relative April, who wants nothing to do with them. She’s a self-centered nightclub singer who sponges off her married boyfriend and lives for her own immediate gratification, until a Mexican immigrant enters her life and shows her that true love may be possible, but only if she can give up her selfish ways. Can she choose love over material things?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material involving a sexual assault on a minor, violence, drug references and smoking)

Whiteout

(Warner Brothers) Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Tom Skerritt, Columbus Short. The lone U.S. Marshall assigned to Antarctica is confronted by the first murder on the frozen continent. She is drawn into a mystery that she must solve before winter sets in and strands her in the darkness with the killer. Based on the Oni Press graphic novel.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for violence, grisly images, brief strong language and some nudity)