Sorry to Bother You (2018) starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, & Danny Glover

NOTE: This post contains MILD SPOILERS for the film (now playing in select theaters).

If you liked Get Out (where Lakeith Stanfield had a small, yet crucial role), then I highly recommend this movie. If you love to laugh (yet don’t want to shut off your brain), check it out. My friend and I got tickets to an early screening w/ Q&A by director Boots Riley and actor Danny Glover (who was a surprise guest; he was in DC for an education conference). As w/ Blindspotting (currently in theaters), Sorry to Bother You was filmed in the quickly gentrifying city of Oakland, CA. While Blindspotting is a realistic slice of life film, Sorry (written/directed by first timer Riley) is a social satire w/ fantasy/sci-fi elements. That’s NOT something you see everyday! 

Cassius Green (Stanfield) is a broke 20-ish man in need of a job to pay rent on his uncle’s (Terry Crews) garage-turned-apt he shares w/ long-time girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson from Dear White People), a struggling artist who hold up signs (her day job). After some bluffing, he lands a job at a telemarketing firm where employees get paid on commission. An older co-worker, Langston (veteran actor Danny Glover; he grew up w/ Riley’s father), advises him to “use his white voice” in order to land more sales. Though skeptical, Cash gives it a try- it works! He gets Detroit and his best friend- Sal (Jermaine Fowler)- jobs as telemarketers. Along w/ new friend/co-worker, Squeeze (Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead), they plan to organize fellow employees, so everyone can get paid a fair wage w/ health benefits. Cash gets promoted to “power caller” (upstairs)- that’s when his problems really begin. 

It dabbles in commentary on media, society, race and working-class issues-so many poignant messages, some more successfully delivered than others.

I walked into this movie at an advance screening expecting something unique, but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer brilliance of this satirical masterwork. Hilarious from beginning to end while also subversive…

The film brings an interesting and unique take on the world minorities live as they are forced within a socioeconomic ladder. Cassius Green, played by Keith Stanfield, is faced with selling out and abandoning his friends. Through this the audience sees he is drastically changed as his success transforms him to the very thing he resented.

This movie is strange and extremely fast paced. The directing style is unlike any movie I have ever seen, and it moves just fast enough to keep you on your toes while not moving too fast for you to comprehend. There are so many themes within this movie, and all of them are shown within either a comedic context, a darker context, or both. All in all this is a movie about capitalism and how companies are driven to make money rather than care about the well-being of their workers. This is shown through more extreme absurdist examples as the movie goes on… 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

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Book Review: “American Dervish” by Ayad Akthar

Hayat Shah is a young American in love for the first time. His normal life of school, baseball, and video games had previously been distinguished only by his Pakistani heritage and by the frequent chill between his parents, who fight over things he is too young to understand. Then Mina arrives, and everything changes.

Mina is Hayat’s mother’s oldest friend from Pakistan. She is independent, beautiful and intelligent, and arrives on the Shah’s doorstep when her disastrous marriage in Pakistan disintegrates. Even Hayat’s skeptical father can’t deny the liveliness and happiness that accompanies Mina into their home. Her deep spirituality brings the family’s Muslim faith to life in a way that resonates with Hayat as nothing has before. Studying the Quran by Mina’s side and basking in the glow of her attention, he feels an entirely new purpose mingled with a growing infatuation for his teacher.

When Mina meets and begins dating a man, Hayat is confused by his feelings of betrayal. His growing passions, both spiritual and romantic, force him to question all that he has come to believe is true. Just as Mina finds happiness, Hayat is compelled to act — with devastating consequences for all those he loves most.

-Synopsis of the novel (Amazon)

As some of you know, I’m a V slow reader, BUT I managed to finish 75% of this novel (according to my Kindle)! I’ve been following this author for a few yrs now; in 2017, journo Bill Moyers said of Akthar: “We finally have a voice for our times.” One of my friends read American Dervish a few years ago; she didn’t recall ALL the details, BUT said that she’d never read something like this before. She passed it onto a friend, then that friend gave it to another. A newcomer to the book club said she also liked the book- subject matter and writing style. The moderator who read it 2 yrs ago said that this book goes into the issues faced by ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis), NOT only those particular to Muslims. 

WARNING: This post contains SPOILERS for the novel. 

NOTE: The following topics/questions (which my book club discussed) can be found here: https://www.bookbrowse.com/reading_guides/detail/index.cfm/book_number/2649/american-dervish

Do you think that one has to reject one identity in order to embrace another? What choice does Hayat make? What will the result be?

I think that children and adolescents (such as Hayat Shah, the protagnist/narrator) can often feel this way; my book club agreed w/ this comment. For Hayat, he identified as a Muslim, at least as a preteen boy. His goal was to be a hafiz (someone who knows the Quran by heart), though his father was dead set against this plan. Akthar said in several interviews that he was V interested in Islam as a child; he convinced his (secular) parents to take him to the local mosque and allow him to study the Quran. 

Hayat’s mother and father have a difficult relationship. In fact, all of the relationships between men and women in the book are complex, often troubled. What might the author be saying about such relationships within this culture?

Back in Pakistan, Mina’s first marriage turned sour b/c of her abusive mother-in-law. Her husband didn’t do anything to stop this, so Mina made the drastic decision to go to the US (w/ her son Imran). She couldn’t go back to her parents; they had urged her to stay w/ her husband’s family (she was rejected in her time of need).  

The newcomer to our group said that there were messed up power dynamics between Hayat’s parents; his mother (Muneer) didn’t have a job, so his father (Naveed) has all the money (thus the decision-making power). The ONLY relationship that was positive was between Hayat’s mom’s best friend, Mina, and his father’s friend/colleague, Nathan. They have an old-fashioned courtship, under the watchful eye of Muneer for about a year. This is a kind of fix-up, though based on mutual respect and admiration. Mina and Nathan talk re: books and ideas, share meals, and grow to love each other. When Hayat asks why they can’t be alone, his mother explains that Mina is a Pakistani woman, so “dating” is out of the question.

Hayat’s mother has grown angry and bitter b/c her husband drinks (secretly, he thinks) and cheats on her w/ white women. The women are possibly nurses at the hospital where Dr. Shah conducts research. Hayat’s mother, Muneer, refers to the other women as “mistresses” and “prostitutes.” Her view of white women is thus very negative, though she has a positive view of the Jewish people (incl. Nathan). In one scene, Muneer says that she’s raising Hayat “like a little Jew” (so that he’ll grow up to love and respect women).

Do you think it’s valid and/or authentic for male authors to write about feminist issues? What was your feeling about the portrayal of women in American Dervish?

Yes, someone can be “a male feminist,” my friend said quickly. Akthar said that he was inspired by the women in his life, incl. his own mother (a medical doc), his aunts, and various Pakistani immigrant women from the community of Milwaukee, WI (where he grew up). 

What are the different visions of Islam portrayed in the book?

Naveed (a man of science) has a contempt (perhaps even hatred) of Islam; this is echoed in Disgraced, where Amir even hides his origins. Naveed makes fun of Nathan when the younger man shows an interest in the religion. After Mina and Nathan’s break-up, he declares to his son that he “never wants to see you w/ that book [the Quran] ever again.” On the flip side, Mina wants to know more re: Islam; she studies and also teaches Hayat for a time. She is BOTH religious and spiritual, explaining to Hayat that it’s the “intention” of an action that counts. 

What did you think of the relationship between Islam and Judaism in the novel?

This is a tough one (IMO), b/c in this novel, these religions are put at odds w/ each other. Mina rejects Nathan (a cultural Jew) b/c he doesn’t want to convert to Islam. After all, he had a shocking/scary experience the one time he attended the masjid. Naveed warned him, BUT Nathan’s curiosity and love for Mina compelled him to give this religion a chance. Muneer, who had such high hopes for the pair, is disappointed when they don’t marry. She saw Nathan as a decent man and great choice for Mina, even though he was white and Jewish. I feel that Muneer wanted her friend to have a better life than herself. 

 

Lady Bird (2017) starring Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Timothee Chalamet, & Lucas Hedges

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the film.

In 2002, an artistically inclined seventeen-year-old girl comes of age in Sacramento, California. IMDB synopsis

This (must-see) film was written and directed by indie actress Greta Gerwig (who is in her early 30s) and the long-time girlfriend/collaborater of writer/director Noah Baumbach. In interviews, Gerwig has referred to her protagonist, Christine (Lady Bird) McPherson, as a much more rebellious teenager than herself. Like Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan- 24 y.o. yet able to create a VERY convincing 17 y.o.) Gerwig was raised in Sacramento and attended Catholic school. This film is tightly-edited, thoughtful, complicated, yet VERY easy to relate to on many levels. The mother-daughter relationship is what’s being stressed in trailers and reviews; it’s also about friendships, dating, identity, and learning to appreciate what you already have in life.

Lady Bird (“the name I gave myself”) says she comes from “the wrong side of the tracks,” but lives in a warm, colorful, modest house w/ two loving parents, psychiatric nurse Marion (Laurie Metcalf- famous for her role as Jackie on Roseanne) and recently laid-off computer programmer, Larry (actor/playwright Tracy Letts- also seen in The Post). Her older brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues- an Australian of Malaysian heritage), and his girlfriend Shelly (Marielle Scott) live at home also; they’re recent college grads working at a local grocery store. There is a thread if economic uncertainty and unemployment/underemployment in this film. Marion works double shifts at her hospital to make ends meet.

To enhance her college applications, Lady Bird decides to go try out for the school play, along w/ her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein- younger sister of actor Jonah Hill). Unlike the waif-like Lady Bird, Julie is a bigger girl who is somewhat insecure, yet VERY supportive/warm. Julie gets the lead in the play; Lady Bird gets a role, BUT is more excited about one of the boys who in the theater program, Danny (Lucas Hedges from Manchester by the Sea). Danny is sweet and respectful; he and Lady Bird spend a LOT time together, meet each others’ families, and say “I love you” to each other. It’s a BIT of a shock (yet NOT improbable) when their relationship comes to an end.

Though Lady Bird is disappointed and hurt, she finds interest in another boy at school, Kyle (Timothee Chalamet from Call Me By Your Name), who plays in a band and enjoys reading. Unlike Danny, Kyle is mysterious and perhaps a too selfish/full of himself. Lady Bird grows distant from Julie (too bad) and becomes friends w/ a popular/pretty girl, Jenna (Odeya Rush), who dates one of Kyle’s friends. Lady Bird puts on a different image/attitude in front of her rich clique of friends.

Marion worries re: her daughter’s future; Lady Bird’s grades aren’t that great, though she dreams of going to a East Coast college (or anywhere to escape Sacramento). Also, her attitude is changing (NOT for the better), as she stands on the edge of adulthood. BOTH women are tough, strong-willed, yet love each other VERY much (though they can’t always express it well). Lady Bird’s soft-spoken dad is willing to listen to her concerns, BUT he’s also going through his own struggles, too.

 

Carol (2015) starring Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, Sarah Paulson, & Kyle Chandler

This film was an awards show darling a few years back, BUT I didn’t get around to seeing it until last week (on Netflix). The film (made for less than $12 million) received a 10 min. standing ovation at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival -WOW! The woman who wrote The Price of Salt– Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Two Faces of January, Strangers on a Train, etc.)- was a friend (later in life) to the screenwriter of Carol, Phyllis Nagy. The Price of Salt was inspired by a blonde woman in a mink coat who ordered a doll from Highsmith when she was working as a temporary salesgirl in the toy section of Bloomingdale’s in New York City during the 1948 Christmas season.

Director Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven; HBO’s miniseries Mildred Pierce) has a deep interest in stories w/ strong women and unlikely love. His style was inspired by Douglas Sirk, who was known for “women’s pictures” (Imitation of Life, Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, etc.) Carol is quite an effective film w/ regard to its look: period costumes and hairdos (wigs), musical score (by Carter Burwell, frequent collaborator of the Coen brothers), beautiful cinematography (by Edward Lachman), and thoughtful directing style. Carol was shot on Super 16 mm film to resemble the look and feel of photographic film from the late ’40s/early ’50s. There is shooting through windows and using reflection.

What I found lacking was the dialogue; I found out that some other viewers felt the same. I expected more deep conversations between the two leading characters, 21 y.o. clerk, Terese Belivet (Rooney Mara- wide-eyed yet wise beyond her years), and 30-something housewife, Carol Aird (Cate Blanchett). However, it wasn’t hard to relate to Terese, who feels uneasy and unsophisticated when hanging out w/ Carol (w/ her fur coat, jewels, and manicured red nails). Terese wants to work as a photographer; she is more of an observer, letting life happen to her.

Carol is a BIT of a mystery to the viewer, as well as to Terese. It’s obvious to viewers that Carol deeply loves her young daughter, Rindy. The character of Carol was inspired by Virginia Kent Catherwood (1915-1966), a Philadelphia socialite 6 years older than Highsmith with whom she had a love affair in the ’40s. Catherwood lost custody of her daughter after a taped recording of a liaison she had in a hotel was used against her. Carol is risking much by falling in love with Terese, BUT she can’t help it, as she tells Abby (Sarah Paulson). The woman who seems to know Carol best, Abby had a much bigger role before the film was edited, Paulson said in interviews after the film was released. Abby is someone that I wanted to know more about; she isn’t afraid to assert herself in a male-dominated world.

The men in the story are NOT evil, BUT they are clueless. Terese’s long-time boyfriend, Richard (Jake Lacy), seems like a decent guy, though there isn’t much interest on her side. Richard is planning/saving for a big trip to Europe after they get married. I thought it spoke volumes when Terese gently refused to go to over to his family’s home on Christmas day. Danny (John Magaro), the young newspaper reporter who hits on Terese, turns out to be a supportive friend in time. Even Carol’s soon-to-be ex-husband, Harg (Kyle Chandler), is NOT painted as an all-out villain. I thought the actor did a fine job w/ the role, esp. in the more quiet moments (notice the pained expressions on his face). I think that Harg loved Carol, BUT he didn’t realize just how far she had gone from him (emotionally). When they were married, her life was all about him (as was expected of a housewife of Carol’s status).

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (NOW PLAYING) starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fischer, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, & Oscar Isaac

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the new Star Wars movie.

Growing up, mentorship, and the search for belonging (identity) continue to be themes in this sci-fi movie series. The Last Jedi is also re: growing old and regret (esp. when it comes to Luke and even Leia). Early filming began on Skellig Michael Island (off the coast of County Kerry, Ireland) in September 2015 w/ Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley. It was speculated by MANY fans that Rey is actually the long lost daughter of Luke. Being the prankster that he is, Mark Hamill made a comment, accidentally referring to Daisy Ridley as “my dau… I mean my colleague.” Luke wants no part of fighting, throwing his lightsaber over his shoulder (much to Rey’s dismay and surprise).

The island has some cute (new) creatures- the Porgs and “caretakers.” There are some touching moments (esp. for long-time fans) when Luke sees the Falcon (Han Solo’s old ship), reunites w/ Chewy, and bumps into R2-D2. Chewy can’t eat the roasted Porg b/c he feels guilty- one of the funniest moments in the movie. There is a good amount of humor in this movie.

There is more of lovable rogue Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac)- YAY! He’s in the cool battle at the start, along w/ co-pilot BB-8, and also makes fun of Gen. Hux (Domnhall Gleeson). You can’t deny the great chemistry between Finn (John Boyega) and Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), a new character. Tran did not tell anyone she was doing a Star Wars movie, instead saying she was working on an indie film in Canada. She even got some maple syrup to bring back to her parents. Finn and Rose go to an island like Vegas (and Monte Carlo); this was a quite different world for Star Wars

“This movie introduces new stuff into The Force” (as reviewers on Collider noted), such as the connection between Rey and Kylo Ren- formerly known as Ben Solo- (Adam Driver). These scenes were quite effective, thanks to the sound design, and the acting skills of both actors. I watched Driver on Girls (HBO); the more I see, the more I appreciate his acting. He is an unconventional leading man, not just b/c of this looks, but b/c he is easily able to convey confusion and vulnerability. Rey thinks that Kylo isn’t totally lost, though he’s trying to pull her over to the Dark Side of the Force. And did you hear re: how Driver didn’t know what “emo” meant (until recently)? Social media was buzzing about this.

Leia (Carrie Fischer- in her final role) finally uses the Force- I didn’t expect that! She had begun training as a Jedi shortly after the events of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983). Motherhood, and troubles in the Galactic Senate, caused her to cut that short. Fischer was also a writer; she helped Rian Johnson with the writing of the script for this film.