Well, I think it really is our Bank Street neighbor’s fault. As head of Miramax years ago, Harvey Weinstein came up with a sure-fire way to catch the attention of both the Golden Globe voters and the new avants in indie land with their anti-Oscar spirit attitude in step for a perfect set-up for the march to Academy Award nominations and more statues to line his wall. However, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, with a potential 100,000 votes, stole the spotlight from the 200 members of the Hollywood Foreign press who are the total voter base for the Golden Globes. His success with Shakespeare in Love upended the awards rule book and Hollywood had a whole new game plan. Now, any critic and/or public movie-goer is for three months, drowning in quality popular films or art house gems that come and go before one can catch one’s breath or take the time for some critical thinking. Front load those hot indie, foreign and blockbusters to the fourth quarter and then at the end of September, start the chatter with one teaser a week running in LA and NY. Then, pitch wide with your blockbusters, the turkey and yule week when everyone wants to hide out from family and shopping at least one night. This includes Flight, Les Miserables, Skyfall and the dreadful Anna Karenina.
LET’S GO TO THE MOVIES:
Flight dir Robert Zemeckis
Denzel Washington does his, by now expected, intense masculine role playing as the pilot who miraculously lands a plane while lit to the heaven in a terrifying crash sequence. What makes it interesting is that it is the first film since Leaving Las Vagas to really capture the reality of denial of substance abuse and the consequences that must be paid. Denzel luxuriates in the role, but we have seen all his actor tricks just one too many times. The real stand out is Don Cheadle playing a race invisible corporate lawyer brought in to defend the airline. No spoiler here, the excellent script presents more complications post landing for high flying pilot.
Skyfall dir Sam Mendes
Gone is the elegant charm of the master spy and in its place we have a well groomed pit bull puppy of a man played by Daniel Craig. The core of the story is not sex and espionage but ageism as M, played by Judi Dench, is the emotional fulcrum of this perfectly respectful Bond escapade. This time, the villain is played by Javier Bardem as a bleach blond former Brit agent all swished out in revenge as a game land. Oh my! Bond has become like Martinis, a pleasure addiction and an intergenerational participatory sport.
Life Of Pi dir Ang Lee
They said it could not be done – make a movie from a book with one character lost at sea with a voracious Bengal tiger as his only companion. However, leave it to Lee and his understanding of the new digital magic tools including CGI (green screen replaces real time action and a subtle use of 3D) to make the impossible and scary believable. Underpinned with Buddhist spiritual teaching, the film flows across the screen like the Russian river at its most soothing calm. It exists above, beyond and below the reality of a world in crisis. The young man and his tenuous relationship with his tiger both entertains and avoids the unpleasant reality of a real world in crisis. Parent alert – as animal friendly as it may appear, it is not for little kids unless you want to traumatize them the way Bambi did a couple of generation ago. This is an adult parable devoid of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll…and stunning to view!
Silver Lining Playbook dir David O. Russell
Russell has always been able to infuse very serious life situations with an almost obscene sense of humor. He uses smart, adult, disgusting humor to locate the humanness of people in crisis. In this film, he takes on mental illness and both buffoons and individualizes two people who simply are different because of either bi-polar or Asperger syndrome. Mental health issues affect not only the subject but everyone that encounters them. Russell adapted, with author Matthew Quick’s help, the novel of the same name.
Bradley Cooper gives one of the best performances of the year as a fuck-up who lost his teaching job and wife because of his being out of emotional control. His mother is played by Animal Kingdom’s lascivious mom Jackie Weaver. She shows us that she is not a one trick pony and rescues her son after eight months from the psychiatric hospital without telling his dad (Robert De Niro). He wants to come off his meds and that makes him act crazy. However, he meets his match in Jennifer Lawrence and she single handedly snatches the film out of the hands of Cooper and De Niro. Untreated mental health disease is a full human tragedy and everyday disaster. Russell nuances each scene with contradictory emotions. De Niro is so finely tuned, you hardly notice a master at work. Glad David O. Russell made it back from his own personal battlefields. He looks at America with clear eyes and compassion, but is no way a sentimentalist.
Argo dir Ben Affleck
While critical of how our government set up the Iranian hostage situation that propelled Reagan’s election, Affleck does something few of the serious post 9/11 and Wall Street exposure dramas do. He show us what it means to be an American who cares about people over politics. The story is revelatory about how, despite foreign affairs policy blunders, we put our soldiers and diplomats in high risk. Affleck, as director and lead actor, skillfully navigates between critique and wonder as a rescue mission of some of the Embassy hostages takes shape and allows the audience to be genuinely excited. The same kind of feeling that makes one feel good when hearing about Occupy Sandy in the Rockaways or neighbor helping neighbor on Staten Island.
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House of God dir Alex Gibney
When I went to see Maxima, I thought I would be in for more tragic abuse stories. However, Gibney had another agenda; it was dangerous.
He wanted to expose the institution and its leaders who protected the perpetrators and had little concern for the victims. Gibney exposes the systematic cover up of priests from the Bishop level and exposes Pope Benedict XVI, the current Pope, as being the person, in his previous Vatican position, who oversaw all cases of sexual molestation of children worldwide.
We learn how Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) as head of the Propagation of the Faith, put avoiding scandal over dealing directly with the abuse of power and the lasting damage done to the victims. We learn of the failed programs to treat priests, not through mental health treatment, but through prayer and meditation. Ratzinger thought he could solve the problem by declaring homosexuals unfit for priesthood. The perpetration of girls was not addressed directly.
It is shocking to see and Gibney amply shows us, where protecting the priest and the institution took precedent over protecting the perpetrated and truth and fairness. His principal subjects are two very different priests, one Father John C. Lawrence who ran a Catholic boarding school for deaf children, and the second, the head of a Mexican Religious order which also ran schools for the deaf. When charges of sexual abuse arose, their prodigious fundraising abilities made them protected at the highest levels of the Vatican.
Gibney has always been interested in showing how abuse of power and the protection money buys. Gibney’s documentaries at their core deal with the abuse of power, coercion and the power of money.
Shockingly, he also makes the link between the then Bishop Timothy Dolan now Cardinal Dolan of NYC in his own cover up of sexual abuse and the attempt to stifle charges. We learn of the Servants of the Paraclete, who treat wayward priests and whose founder once declared, “there is no cure for pedophilia.”
To his credit, Gibney does have an adult Catholic priest in a committed homosexual relationship talk of the power of coming out to enrich his spirituality and sense of purpose. Roman Catholics will be disturbed by what is revealed. Yet I was reminded of the Pharisees who turned against Jesus to protect their own wealth and political relationships with the powers that be. Jesus, the story goes, sweeps them out of the Temple. Like Wall street in its undoing of Spitzer, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House of God proves the Catholic Church as a human, not spiritually run institution and it seems to be calling for a broom brigade to help DEAF POWER clean house.
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