Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jim Fouratt's REEL DEAL: Movies that Matter, December 2014. Nightcrawler, Foxy Merrkins,

Jim Fouratt's REEL DEAL: Movies that Matter, December 2014.

It is snowing big pictures and stunning performances this month. Yikes. But first I would like you to take part in our REEL DEAL: Movies that Matter Readers Poll - Best Films of 2014. I would love to know what you liked! Please participate: here is a link to your own personal ballot: REEL REAL READERS BALLOT 2014   OR copy, clip and paste into browser:  http://Google/forms/kovTln53xg The poll is open 12/1-12/20.


NIGHTCRAWLER - Director Dan Gilroy

Dan Gilroy's debut film should grab the gold come award time. His Michael Mann- inspired look at Los Angeles, and how tabloid journalism, first invented by the supermarket rag The National Enquirer, has drenched television news reporting,  re-channeling it as an ugly aesthetic, is a stunner from start to finish. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Lou Bloom, an updated version of Sammy Glick who, desperate for a job and to make his mark, loses all sense of a moral compass in his willingness to be first on a criminal scene and/or horrible accident, filming it regardless of the circumstances so he can get it to the a local TV station in a ratings battle. 

 His TV news contact is a former TV actress who segued into an on camera reporter job till she reached an age where a fresher younger face was wanted, and then segued into production. Played by a still stunning Rene Russo, she too is desperate to keep her job. It’s TMZ time, except the focus is crime not celebrity. But it is a paparazzi ethic that challenges and saturates the film. Just as the Mexican drama Miss Bala showed how drug cartel money was destroying the moral and social fabric that underlie Mexican traditional values, Nightcrawler takes the same hard look at how sensationalized news has blunted the moral compass of the consumer, and upended professional news standards and professional ethics. Gyllenhaal is simply brilliant in his portrayal of the ends-justify-the-means performance. He lost over 30 lbs. to capture the praying mantis-in-heat bug-eyed look of Lou Bloom. Also outstanding is Rez Ahmed (Reluctant Fundamentalist) who captures the inner conflict of what I assumed is an undocumented worker in desperate need of a job, who Bloom pushes to the max when his inner instincts tell him to stop. Don't miss this film!

Foxy Merkins - Director Madeleine Olnek

The legacy of intelligence, wit and humanity that have always been the touchstones of the very funny films of Woody Allen is present in Foxy Merkins, invading the creativity of director Madeleine Olnek. Allen took for granted the universality of his story telling located in the secular Jewish, educated conclave of Upper West Side academics and professionals. Olnek too takes for granted the ordinariness of her characters and the universality of their experiences, while situating her stories in a Sapphic-centric world of downtown New Yorkers. This is serious fun that has a desperate human identity crisis at root. And like Allen it’s usually neurotic, and yet hilarious frame after frame after frame. Olnek seems to have watched a lot of Frank Capra films, resonating with his interest in “ordinary “ people. She has also learned well the John Waters low budget ethic of how to charm an audience. She appears to want to break out of cult status, but on her own terms. She is a Sundance returning artist. Her last film Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same would have been huge on the adventurous midnight movie circuit of my youth, but those date-night palaces have disappeared like all the indie movie houses that held the weekly midnight ritual. A merkin is a covering for female genitalia to protect and keep warm in cold weather. (And no, I had never heard of a merkin before either.)  Olnek uses a company of actors many of whom come out of the WOW and Split Britches theater community. In Foxy Merkins it is the actor and co-writer Lisa Haas, a most unlikely looking movie star, who we follow. Haas has a body somewhere between Marie Dressler and Kate Smith and the innocence and sense of wonder of “the little tramp” mixed with the spunk of Jean Arthur and the pathos of Giulietta Masina .  Haas is about as far away from the bully energy of Melissa McCarthy as one full-bodied woman can be. This is the story of how this lesbian is taught the tricks of survival in a cruel city, with increased economic pressures, by a straight woman (the comedic actor Jackie Monahan (a mash up of Sandra Bernhard and Candy Bergen ) who she meets and bonds with in a 14th Street diner.  Sisterhood is indeed powerful. She educates Haas as well as the audience to dumpster diving, the 42nd St Port Authority as a sleep over spot, shoplifting as a celebratory act of survival and Talbots (the clothing store) of all places. The Talbots' sidewalk is the pick up place for their sex work (women only) that helps keep them in food and cosmetics. Haas may be the bravest actress working in indie films today. Her no shame willingness to let us see and know her character is breathtaking.  Oh, and did I mention hilarious? Cinephiles alert: the references are seeded through out the film ...and extra treat for those who care about such things. Let me just say once "GUS"! Yes, Olnek takes an incisive look at how bodies are commodified and sex becomes commerce, where the ends justify the means, with a refined casualness and a smart and wicked smile. . And it’s very very funny!

FORCE MAJEURE  Director Ruben Astound

From Sweden comes this sophisticated look at a typical successful nuclear family on a ski vacation where an absent “dad” can be present for his two children and a “wife” can get the amorous attention she has been craving, but lacking, from her career-driven husband. It’s sort of middle class normal until a close encounter with an avalanche at breakfast leaves each emotional and traumatized.  Nothing is the same after the disruption exposes the inner life of the husband and wife that had been repressed. Whew! What happens to them is both a very serious look at marriage as an identity and a subtle total send up of the myth of marriage. A film for a married couple but not a date night flick.

The Circle - Director Stefan Haupt

The Circle is the kind of documentary I love. I learned something I did not know. In 1934 a group of gay men in Zurich formed a private social club to break their isolation and to publish a journal that would be in three languages. This club continued to meet despite the outside world of the 30's and 40's.  In 1948 the Das Kreis rented a pub in Zurich to house a club in which “homophiles“ from all over Switzerland could meet, exchange ideas and get to know one another.  The film focuses on a couple, Ernst Ostertag and Röb Röbi, who met at the club in the 1950’s and are still in a same sex relationship now institutionalized as marriage. Director Stefan Haupt mixed current footage of the couple, while recreating in a narrative form the club's history and the period when these two men met. The journal was read worldwide.  George Platt Lynes and Harry Hay both appeared in the pages. A complete set of the journal is in the US at Yale.  The Circle is not only a love story but also a discovery of how gay and lesbian people found ways to build community when homosexuality was a crime, as with the Matching Society in the US.  This is a remarkable story whose appeal is more than just historical. A couple who have been together for 58 years has something to say to couples of all ages and sexual orientation. What the film lacks in craft (which is minor,) is overcome by the actual history reclaimed.

Meet the subjects in a impromptu interview :

Foxcatcher - Director Bennett Miller

With a Stanley Kubrick eye for landscape and a Harold Pinter ear for the absurdist language of nightmares, Miller is back. Best known for Capote he ups his game and takes one harsh and scrumptious look at the rich and how they are different from the rest of us. They know they own the world and act on it. No, this is not about the Koch family but about the DuPonts. Adapting a best seller, Miller makes a dark gothic comedy of the machinations of suppressed desire and visions of grandeur only the wealthy can truly harbor.  The Dupont heir, a Little Lord Fauntleroy at 50, is delusional. He decides he will coach the US Olympic wrestling team. Accustomed to getting what his wealth can buy, he sets up shop on the family estate and gets the team and plays coach. Two brothers, gold medalists, are convinced to come, played in a remarkable career-turning performance by Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo, always a pitch perfect actor. Steve Carell is almost unrecognizable as the Dupont heir. Miller slowly fills the screen until we see a game of psychotic power being played out by Carell to salve his repressed sexual desires and to please his Mommy Dearest, the formidable Vanessa Redgrave. Although not central to the plot, a serious question is raised about the Olympic men of gold who are one day heroes and then are remembered only as statistics.


The 60's were a tremulous time and one of the most explosive issues with world wide impact started in Westchester NY when a middle aged white woman married and living the supposed perfect suburban life woke up one morning and decided she was mad and did not know why . She spent time asking her self "why" and spoke to other housewives in her community and they realized they felt invisible and not recognized for their intelligence and creativity. Her name was Betty Freidan.
In 1963 she published The Feminine Mystique. 43 years after the suffragettes movement had gotten he 19th Amendment to the US Constitution passed .It gave women the r right to vote.  A second wave of feminism was born in Betty Freidan's kitchen.In 1966 she formed NOW (The National Organization of Women). it was basically a white middle class movement until 1968 the year of political change. Women's Liberation exploded in the radical movements in the streets. Much of the initial organizing of this now called Women's Liberation was birthed right here in NYC with the formation of groups like Red Stocking  Feminism caught fire and not just with white,  middle class heterosexual women. SHE IS BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE IS ANGRY documents the time. While the complicated issues of who were the leaders and what did they want would take multiple hours of presentation, Director Mary Dore has created an important documentary that gives an overview to how they revolution in identity happened in the US. She puts in documentary form a wonderful introductory study guide to how feminism changed how women saw themselves and each other and their role in the world. Ideas spread like a pair fire across the US and later the rest of the world.  Through clips we meet some of the women who thought hard  and fought against sexism, shared information about oppression through a tool they developed called consciousness raising and published books about woman's bodies and health as well as sexism in the work place. Dore and her editor, Nancy Kennedy  have produced a visual timeline that indexes how a movement grew as a visual history.  Some may quibble about who and  what is not included .. and yes I thought about things like the Woman's Music Community and how it brought women together to organize around common feelings and the desire for change in how women saw themselves and their place in the workforce, political life and the family. But there can e and should be more films etc.. Bravo I say for this introductory lesson. Post-Modern education has often failed to tell just how the radical idea that all women in all cultures have the right to control their own bodies  and not the State, the Church, the Boss or their husbands. A perfect intergenerational film that mothers and daughters should see together as well as with their partners and their sons

(CC) Jim Fouratt 11/27/2014

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