Friday, November 29, 2013


Jim Fouratt's REEL DEAL: Movies That Matter
December 2013

Quite frankly there are many major films of merit released in the last six weeks of the year to qualify for consideration in the upcoming awards season. Let me tell you about a few that, even in such vaulted company, may have become overshadowed by the enormous campaigns of the big contenders.  All of the films I will write about are worthy of your attention.

Let’s go to the movies !

NEBRASKA  dir Alexander Payne

Nebraska is like a slow drive through any Midwest rural town on a grey fall day after the trees have been stripped of leaves and color; where communities that have FOX's news channelled into their local donut shops and American Legion halls where retirees gather. The middle class dream has collapsed on itself and their children have fled elsewhere for work.

We meet a family where the father teeters on early dementia, (Bruce Dern in a remarkable performance anchored in discipline and focus) a wife (June Squibb) whose tart tongue masks a love as solid and impenetrable as a heart made of steel, and their two sons in dead-end jobs they are lucky to have. Dad receives a letter which he believes says he has won a million dollars (the magazine sales trap). Despite his wife and sons telling him it's a scam, he refuses to believe it and defiantly begins to walk to the big city to pick up his winnings.

Will Forte (making a huge leap from Saturday Night Live sketch  material to dramatic role lands perfectly) decides to let the old man have his journey and drives him stopping along the way in towns of his dad's youth where the rumor of his new found wealth jolts people into all kind of money-driven welcome. Sad, yes. Human, very. What elevates Nebraska from a Flannery O'Connor heightened character storytelling is the texture, tone, and skilled eye of Payne. His ability to understand and navigate the emotional and self-delusional terrain of ordinary people whose youthful dreams have all become the emotional expression of miles of flat landscape. Dern, Forte and especially Squibb are knocking on Oscar's door.

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS  dir Joel and Ethan Coen

The Coen brothers bring their uncompromising ability to re-create atmosphere to Greenwich Village at the early 60s at the peak of folk music gestation. Recreating a time and place to what was that is no more; a place with cheap walk-up apartments and basement coffee houses where musicians and poets who would become household names began.

Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) is a mediocre folk singer and a stand-in for all the musicians who set up and strike out. He is a loser in more ways than one. He sleeps around (sofa hopping), crosses the boundaries of friendship, including getting his best friend's girlfriend pregnant, much to her disgust (Carey Mulligan seething with contained contempt). Llewyn was in a folk duo but his partner jumped off the Washington Bridge. It is this death that is the subtext throughout the film with no one really getting over it while not talking about it. The Coen brothers’ attention to authenticity shines not only in the Village but also the Upper West Side European-style multiple room apartments that housed Jewish intellectuals and their families.

Casting is so perfect that Ellen Chenoweth is certainly deserving of the Oscar in the new Casting category. Just try to forget the pitch perfect Robin Bartlett in one of the many secondary roles as the amateur folk singing professor's wife. It is the ensemble work that holds and tempers this least misanthropic Coen Brothers work.

Both Nebraska and Inside Llewyn Davis are elegies to a disappearing America and are steeped in a soulful mourning for loss of the American middle class myth

A second look : 12/20 /13

A second look : 12/20 /13

INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS : 2nd look : the Coen brothers have their criticalglow but their recreation of the early 60's Greenwich Village Folk scene while picture perfect is as hollow as a plastic fruit ornament. How horrible that credible artist like Dave Van Ronk and Peter, Paul and Mary are referenced in every Coen Brothers interview as inspirations and than devolved into flat, unlikable character studies . Its not the actors or crafters fault, each is as always in a Coen Brothers film, point perfect,. The fault lies once again with the yes here soften but still misanthropic world view that underscores every Coen brothers film. Too many people are still alive that were a part of the actual explosion of Folk music culture for the Coen's too get away with their subjectivity of what actually was. Here Dave Ronk's ex-wife reacts:Terri Thal remembers and Sylvia Topp, wife of Tuli Kupferberg remembers. I moved to Greenwich Village in 1961. Other than capturing the "look" of both the Village and the Upper West Side,  the film troubled me as it did not reflect my memory of the period and the places and people I knew it  reputedly references. If craft is your reason for going to movies..than it sparkles. But as to authenticity ...oh Please ! Makes one wonder just what did the residents of Fargo, ND actually think of the critically acclaimed FARGO ?

Actually the documentary Another Day ANOTHER TIME : Celebrating the music of INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS  that the  Coen brothers made of the T-Bone Burnett produced Folk Concert  at Town Hall in September with its inter-generational artist roster captured the spirit of generosity and artistic competitiveness  a community of talented folk artist ranging from Joan Baez to Munford and Sons in concert generate. That is what I remember most about the the early 60's folk scene ... and surprise surprise the actor Oscar Issac holds his own onstage !


Yes the things that make a movie memorable are all elements that make Dallas Buyers Club one of the best films of 2013. There are some remarkable performances by a ensemble cast lead by Matthew McConaughey- Ron Woodroof, Jared Leto- Rayon, in a breakthrough performance that finds the brazen humanity and sassy refusal to be anyone but vself in the face of derision as a homosexual and a cross dressing trans person, Jennifer Garner- Dr. Eve Saks as the conflicted Aids doctor and Denis O'Hare- Dr. Sevard, as the play-it-by-the-rules AIDS doctor and many secondary players . Storytelling that brings to life in an actors'dream script the complicated , messy tragedy of AIDS in the dark days of thousands dying and quilts made remembering them before they disappeared forever.

It took 20 years for the script written by Craig Borten and Melissa Wallack to be brought to the screen. By making the lead character ( Ron Woodroof) based on a real person who is a homophobic sex and drug addict (behavior many PWAs also shared (no,not all)) that made it finally possible to be made. DALLAS BUYERS CLUB it is the most important film about the people who got and get sick with AIDS ( Ok the race and gender representation can be debated) It is a hanky movie with a much needed gallows humor to balance the sadness and anger .See it!
    But there is something more I want you to know about: The new campaign to rewrite AZT history.
I am not surprised to see the attacks on DALLAS BUYERS CLUB from AIDS Inc and the
TAG activist boys who the FDA let in to sit at the table (read Elinor Burkett chilling history of this cooperation THE GRAVEST SHOW IN TOWN) . Its the AZT defense gang telling us how wonderful the cancer drug was that proved to be in fact carcinogenic and was withdrawn from the market. Until AIDS hit and it had a new new life it was suggested by its manufacturer for those incurable people facing a fast moving AIDS death. It was a leading AIDS activist, Martin Delaney the founder of Project Inform, who proposed that all healthy gay men in SF be given AZT with its DNA changing effect and its serious side effects as a prophylaxis (and that same kind of protocol is being proposed today by the Centers for Disease Control with a current equally serious aids drug. The program is called PREP ), The defense of the FDA by Peter Staley, the pin up star of Plague is reverberating in well place stories around the country is shocking as it rewrites history. So lets go back in time to the days that AZT is the only approved drug. The “take it or die” days. When the singer and founder of the National PWA Coalition Michael Callen compared AZT to draino and refused to take it. He with the support of his Doctor Joe Sonnabend gave birth to the first Buyers Club, the NYC PWA HEALTH GROUP.

Both SF and NYC had buyers clubs organized by People with AIDS who wanted to live; who cared about the quality of their lives that for the most part AZT was ruining. Alive but at what cost? I was on the founding Board of Directors of the NYC PWA Health Group's Buyers club. Neither it or nor the San Francisco buyers club was set up as profit making business such as in the movie and I don't recall in NYC non-gay PWA's being involved in setting it up. What the film gets right was the dismissive way AIDS doctors disrespected the right of PWA's to make an informed choice over what they would or would not do or take..And AZT was proving to be a nightmare with many people on it dying horrible deaths. Yes some people thrived, although it was anathema back them to suggest that all bodies were not the same and would not respond in the same way to all treatments. But most, like the Matthew McConaughey

character in Dallas Buyers Club were made sicker by AZT. Yes there were many treatment straws desperate people wanting to live were grabbing at ...and some had promise and gave hope.

I think there is more authenticity to the portrait of PWAs that I knew and loved in Dallas Buyers Club than the dishonest fairy tale construed by David France in that terrible PLAGUE film. The two doctors in the film rang true to me. Denis O'Hare captured the desperate desire to find a cure that put data above the quality of life of any individual PWA. Jennifer Garner 's role honors all those health care provides who knew they were failing by sticking to protocols officially designated as the only treatment allowable treatment. These health care providers saw that the side effects of AZT upclose and saw how the Buyers Club gave individuals not only hope but also choice over their treatment their participation in their treatment. 
It was the Denver Principals issued by PWAs at the 2nd International Aids Conference in Denver role-modeled this change in the relationship of the PWA with the AIDS industry growing up around people dying. Dallas Buyers Club also also breaches one very taboo subject: SEX. PWAs wanted to be sexual beings and were grappling with this reality when no one in AIDS inc want to talk about it. Again it was Michael Callen, his lover, drummer Richard Dworkin, his fellow PWA the sex worker Richard Berkowitz along with Dr Sonnabend who had the courage to talk about how to have sex in their radical essay HOW TO HAVE SEX IN AN EPIDEMIC Dallas Buyers Club captures all of this and from the point of view of people with AIDS desperate to live. Some like Michael Callen as in the case of Ron Woodroof survived years longer than the death sentence they had been given. All of this is in Dallas Buyers Club...and it is an inspiration for any person or their family facing a health crisis who demands to know ALL their treatment options and how to make informed treatment choices..and be supported by their health care provider in their informed choice. It is not just about AIDS... and what is remarkable about this film is it resonates not only death but the humor of looking death in the face and saying ..hold it . I am not ready.

Oh.... I got bounced from the board of the PWA Health Group when I objected to a very serious treatment protocol that could be proven fatal  if not administrated by a professional health care person. I was over ruled and bounced! And that defined for me the difference between being sick and being told you were dying and being healthy and caring.

Four films about the triumph of capital!

Capital, Money is the Master dir Costa-Garvas

Renowned Director, Costa-Garvas, (Missing, Z, Amen) turns his sophisticated and incisive eye on the velvet-wrapped cut throat world of international banking. The financial firms who collectively are more powerful than any individual government and their hedge fund CEOs. At this level of capitalism, it’s all elegance laced with killer competition. Winning trumps any ethical or moral filter. Costa-Garvis shows how this winner-take-all gamesmanship is played with all the gentle savagery of a private school lacrosse team playoff.

Gabriel Byrne plays a rising executive whose loyalty is only to himself. When at a family gathering, the patriarch calls him out for betraying workers’ solidarity, Byrne simply smiles and leaves. Think if you will, Larry Ellison. Bill Gates, and Steve Jobs. All of them after making the fortunes that allowed them to do and buy anything they wanted to continue to play at the highest cut-throat level because winning becomes the single pleasure unsated.  Capital shows the nice Wall Street face of financial dons and the new mask for organized crime,

THE COUNSELOR  dir Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott has never been afraid to lift the scab of the respectable veneer of business (American Gangster), space (Alien) or war (Black Hawk Down).  In The Counselor, he takes a hard look at the violent underpinning of the business of international drug dealing; the manipulation of people for profit and the conspicuous consumption of material goods. Michael Fassbender brings his sleek, cool persona to the role of a counselor, engaged to Penelope Cruz, who has no idea of the sinkhole of deception when he is seduced into saying yes to a one time business arrangement with a stylish cunning drug lord (Javier Barden).  Enter Cameron Diaz, the most wicked female character we have seen in action drama since the earliest days of an ambitious Barbara Stanwyck. Diaz fleshes out the man- and woman-eating beauty who can as easily paint her nails as she can gun down anyone who stands in her way.

The Counselor sheds the mask of civilized hedge fund game-playing to reveal the insatiable, immoral desire to use and/or abuse anything that stands in the way of being the richest drug leader in the cartel. It is a chilling and disturbing look at how capitalism works in the free market drug world.


Academy Award winning director Alex Gibney followed Lance Armstrong for four years documenting his comeback fight to win the Grand Prix of cycling. Lance, a cancer survivor was an inspiration to the world of a man who would not give up until he won back his title. Nothing, neither a personal relationship, friendship, legal proceedings nor accusations of drug doping would undermine his goal. Like a functioning sociopath, he kept his eye on his goal. All that matter was winning. He would do anything to win. Finally, after years of denial, he was forced to admit he lied. He had been doping all along.  Gibney lost his feel-good hero modeling story and had to refocus on Armstrong's guiltless betrayal of his fans and violations of multi-million dollars endorsement contracts.

Armstrong's spinning to somehow admit to doping while appearing to be sorry only for the fact he got caught is just like Wall Street mortgage dealers and CEOs of financial services industry when their dishonest tactics were exposed as the world economy fell. So far, for this betrayal of the public trust no one, including Armstrong, has gone to jail. Rich people simply reach into their deep pockets of tax-sheltered funds knowing paying fines is their get out of jail card.

Gibney's integrity shines through. The Armstrong Lie reveals just how infectious this libertarian survivable of the fittest philosophy has penetrated not only sports put the actual career goals of many a smart, young educated student in the West today.

NARCO CULTURA dir Shaul Schwarz

This first time director fearlessly looks at the most recent version of the American Dream: how Latino youth on both sides of the Mexico /US borders are romantizing gun-toting drug dealing killers as role models. The yearning for lifestyle rewards from drug trafficking financial gains is seducing youth with few options to choose other than a life of crime over low paying service jobs.

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The ruthless competition between the Mexican drug lords spills over the border and the body count is in the hundreds. Like last year’s Miss Bala, Narco Cultura shows the devastating effect the drug war and its profits are having on undermining the very core values of hard work and respect for others that has been a cornerstone of Latin life and replacing it with a winner-take-all ethos regardless of the loss of life and/or property.  This is a portrait of capitalism at its most brutal expression.

note: a version of this Reel Deal: Movies that Matter was published in print Westview News Dec 1st 2013)
(cc) jim fouratt

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