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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Network (1976) starring Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Peter Finch, & Robert Duvall

Last week, Future Tense (a program of the New America foundation) had a free screening of this classic film. Julia Turner, editor-in-chief of Slate magazine, introduced the film, then did a brief discussion/Q&A afterwards. I regularly listen to her on the Slate Culture Gabfest. Director Sidney Lumet and screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky claimed that the film was NOT meant to be a satire, BUT a reflection of what was really happening. 

This is not a psychotic episode. This is a cleansing moment of clarity. I’m imbued, Max. I’m imbued with some special spirit. It’s not a religious feeling at all. It’s a shocking eruption of great electrical energy. I feel vivid and flashing, as if suddenly I’d been plugged into some great electromagnetic field. I feel connected to all living things. To flowers, birds, all the animals of the world. And even to some great, unseen, living force. -Howard explains to Max (after his on-air breakdown) 

This film follows TV execs (at UBS, a fictional network) ready to do anything to boost ratings—incl. sacrificing journalistic values and cashing in on veteran news anchor, Howard Beale (Australian actor Peter Finch) who goes off-script during one night’s live broadcast. A young/ruthless Director of Programming, Diana Christensen (played w/ scenery-chewing gusto by Faye Dunaway), wants to exploit this for the good of UBS (and her career). After all, Howard’s rantings garnered high ratings (esp. for a news show). Howard is NOT fired, but given a new show; he quickly becomes a media icon, drawing millions of viewers to UBS and influencing their everyday behaviors. 

Diana starts up a relationship w/ an older news producer, Max Schumacher (iconic leading man William Holden). Max is concerned about his old friend Howard’s mental health, yet also attracted to Diana’s energy and beauty.  Diana also seems to have some sort of alliance w/ a higher-level exec, Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall). There is coldness, yet also sly humor, in Duvall’s performance. Lumet told Dunaway that he would edit out any attempts on her part to make her character sympathetic and insisted on playing her w/o vulnerability. This portrayal of a female on the up-and-up is problematic, esp. in out modern society, which Julia noted. Dunaway also has a GREAT wardrobe in this film; I esp. liked the books and coat (which we see in the reunion scene w/ Max on the street). 

The movie won four Academy Awards and became a fixture of pop culture. Beatrice Straight (who plays Louise, the long-suffering wife of Max) has the briefest performance ever to win an Oscar (Best Supporting Actress). The well-known character actor- Ned Beatty (who plays Mr. Jensen)- remarked that actors should never turn down work b/c: “I worked a day on ‘Network’ and got an Oscar nomination for it.” Aaron Sorkin has claimed that Chayefsky, particularly his script for Network, were inspiration for his own writing. Roger Ebert added the film to his Great Movies list and said it was “like prophecy. When Chayefsky created Howard Beale, could he have imagined Jerry Springer, Howard Stern, and the WWF?” The audience I saw it w/ would ALSO add Donald Trump to that list; there were MANY (knowing) laughs!

[1] The scenes between old chums Finch and William Holden are some of the best written scenes in any American movie until the Coen brothers emerged. Finch is superb, superb! And Holden, at the end of a legendary career, gives a performance of such ferocious sincerity…

[2] The performances are just as brilliant as the social commentary. Each actor becomes so absorbed into their characters that you can’t even tell they’re acting. It feels like you’re watching these people in their daily lives, interacting and becoming more and more corrupt. 

[3] This is certainly a film for the history books. Every connoisseur of film should be exposed to this movie at some point in their life. If you happen to be cynical, then you will love every minute of this movie as its stark view of life in the 1970’s (and onward) touches the hard of even the hardest of cynics. For those educators out there, GREAT film for classes on Media and Politics.

-IMDB comments

Love & Friendship (2016) starring Kate Beckinsale & Chloe Sevigny

My friend and I recently saw this at the Jane Austen film festival held annually on the grounds of Dumberton House (Washington, DC). You can watch it w/ Amazon Prime. This is the first movie based on Austen’s epistolary (letter format) novel Lady Susan (1871), which uses a name from another of her novels- Love and Friendship. It’s well-made (though w/ low budget of $3M), funny (w/ both subtle and obvious humor), and a fresh take on the beloved author’s work.

It’s with ticklish glee, then, that you watch Love & Friendship live up to every possible expectation you could set for it, opening out the adulterous games of Austen’s surprisingly risqué text and elaborating on them with impish, often breathlessly funny verve. It’s flat-out hilarious… Gliding through its compact 92 minutes with alert photography and not a single scene wasted…

Excerpt from The Telegraph 

The daughter of an earl w/ little money, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale- check her out in Emma), visits her brother- and sister-in-law, Charles (Justin Edwards) and Catherine Vernon (Emma Greenwell), w/ little advance notice at Churchill, their country estate. Catherine is quite anxious/unhappy; years ago Lady Susan (the widow of her older/deceased brother-in-law) tried to prevent her marriage to Charles. Also, Lady Susan (though considered old-  mid-30s) has the reputation of being one of the biggest flirts in England (more likely, just their social circle). She owes debts to many merchants in London. Among Lady Susan’s conquests in London is the married Lord Mainwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin).

Catherine’s genuine/handsome younger brother Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) arrives a week later, and despite Catherine’s  warnings, soon falls under Lady Susan’s spell. She messes w/ his affections for her own amusement, as well as upsetting Catherine. Her closest friend, an American woman, Mrs. Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny),  recommends she marry the eligible Reginald ASAP. Lady Susan considers him to be greatly inferior to Mainwaring. 

Too old to be governable, and too young to die. -Lady Susan comments re: Alicia’s older/respectable husband, Mr. Johnson

Frederica, Lady Susan’s 16-year-old daughter, tries to run away from school when she learns of her mother’s plan to marry her off to a wealthy/stupid young man, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). She stays at Churchill where her aunt and uncle come to like her (her character is totally unlike her mother’s). Sir James shows up uninvited, much to Frederica’s distress; she still doesn’t want to marry him (though she doesn’t hate him as a person). Lady Susan isn’t having it, telling Frederica that she doesn’t know how much worse their lives could be. After all, they need a permanent home and security, so she should obey her mother. 

…Tom Bennett, whose scene-stealing efforts should make him every bit as much of a star, grins and grins and understands nothing as the biggest stooge of the lot…

Excerpt from The Telegraph 

Frederica even goes to the local church alone, asking the kind young parson re: the commandment to “honor thy mother and father.” One day, Frederica is crying in the parlor, and Reginald asks her to tell him what’s wrong. She begs Reginald for support, feeling she has nowhere to turn, as her mother has forbidden her from telling her aunt and uncle. Reginald is shocked to learn that Lady Susan would want her daughter to marry such a dolt as Sir James! 

Facts are horrid things! -Lady Susan declares to Alicia

Lady Susan returns to London; Reginald follows her, still in love. One day, he goes to see Mrs. Johnson and deliver a letter from Lady Susan. He finds the inconsolable young Lady Mainwaring (Sophie Radermacher) meeting w/ her former guardian, Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry, in a rare serious role). After reading the letter, Reginald finally learns Lady Susan’s true character (she came to London to be alone w/ Mainwaring)!

Lady Susan ends up marrying Sir James herself, and allows Frederica to live at Churchill. As Catherine always wanted, Reginald and Frederica grow closer, fall in love, and marry. At their wedding reception, we see a very pregnant Lady Susan, Sir James (still clueless), and Lord Mainwaring (her lover) all looking quite satisfied. Of course, Sir James is NOT the father! 

Lady Susan has few parallels in 19th-century literature, according to scholars. She is a selfish, clever, VERY attractive to men, and unashamed of her relationship w/ a married man. She has an active role in the her life story; she is NOT just beautiful, BUT intelligent and witty. Her suitors (incl. Reginald and Sir James) are much younger than herself. The ending includes a reward for morality; Frederica is praised for her “virtue” in a poem written by Reginald. While Alicia has to sail back to Connecticut (a punishment) w/ Mr. Johnson, Lady Susan is settled into a comfortable life w/ a husband she can control.

Blindspotting (2018) starring Daveed Diggs

Daveed Diggs was one of the actors in the ensemble of Hamilton; he played BOTH the Frenchman Marquis de Lafayette and founding father Thomas Jefferson. He also recently played Jonah Johnson, the younger brother of Rainbow on the ABC family comedy Black-ish. With this funny, smart, and VERY thoughtful indie film, he carves out a new space for himself-  leading man (as well as writer, poet and shrewd social commentator). Diggs (who is biracial and raised Jewish) is tall, muscular, w/ large expressive eyes- assets to ANY male actor. However, unlike the men of typical Summer action films, he’s NOT afraid to show (messy) emotions. 

Blindspotting, co-written by Diggs and his long-time friend, Rafael Casal (a white Hispanic poet), is about working-class best friends in Oakland, CA. Urban life has rarely been shown like this; it has layers and depth that reflect reality. Diggs is Collin, a young-ish black man working as a mover, living in a halfway house, and waiting for his probation period to end. He has ONLY three days to go when the film starts; he is cautiously hopeful, BUT also somewhat anxious/nervous about what lies ahead. Casal is Miles, Collin’s mouthy/hot-headed white best friend/co-worker who is known for getting into trouble. Collin and Miles have always had each other’s backs, or so it seems; we learn more as the story goes on. Miles (who can be charming) lives w/ his long-time girlfriend- Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones)- and their biracial/pre-school age son, Sean. Ashley desperately wants to send Sean to a better school, BUT she needs a BIT more money each month. Miles, w/ Collin in town, sets out to work his hustle (being quite good w/ words). 

Police (and the quickly gentrifying community) do NOT see Miles and Collin in the same way. Though Miles is deeply loyal to his Oakland roots (w/ MANY tattoos as proof), he’s still a white man. In one of the early scenes, Miles finds a gun in a friend’s car and plays w/ it, laughing and joking. Collin (who is more of a thinker/quieter than Miles) can’t believe Miles’ nonchalant attitude. While driving the moving van home late one night, Collin witnesses a shooting. This event alters his life in ways that he never expected, BUT he has to stay out of trouble, and NOT give into anger. Miles doesn’t make things easy, though. Collin’s wise mother and his concerned ex-girlfriend/psychology student Val (Janine Gavankar- hailing from a prominent Indian film family) tell him to distance himself from his friend. Tensions brim w/in the community and between the two men, who come to realize that there are limits to even the tightest bonds.  Watch the trailer below! 

Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal’s 10-Year Journey to Get Sundance Opener ‘Blindspotting’ to Big Screen

Pygmalion (1938) starring Leslie Howard & Wendy Hiller

This isn’t exactly like My Fair Lady (sorry, if you’re looking for that)! There are NO songs (plus or minus, depending on the viewer), it’s in B&W, and considered a more realistic version of George Bernard Shaw’s story (inspired by Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea). In contrast to Audrey Hepburn’s Eliza, Brit actress Wendy Hiller (who some of you may know from the beloved Canadian Anne of Avonlea mini-series) is more of a plain Jane, though tall and elegant in bearing (when she has to be). Leslie Howard’s Prof. Higgins is younger (a plus, IF you want to play up the romance angle) than Rex Harrison. His speech is less showy, more matter-of-fact, yet still cutting (esp. towards Eliza).

Howard also co-directed this film (as I learned from TCM); he’s much more than Ashley from Gone with the Wind.  Though his looks and usual style of acting are NOT my favorite, you have to respect a guy w/ such a long line of (mostly well-made) films. There are a few points in this film where my attention drifted (just being real- it’s a ’30s film after all). I think fans of this story (and classics in general) should give it a watch. 

There’s lots of women has to make their husbands drunk to make them fit to live with. -Eliza explains at tea (to Mrs. Higgins’ guests)

Walk? Not bloody likely. I’m going in a taxi. -Eliza declares to Freddy when he offers to walk her home 

Some Trivia re: the Film:

Shaw was the first person to have won both the Academy Award and the Nobel Prize. 

The first British film to use the word “bloody” in its dialogue; this word was an expletive , so considered extremely vulgar.

In the British version, Howard says “damn;” in the American one, he says “hang” or “confounded.” This was a year before David O. Selznick fought the Hays Office over permission for Clark Gable to say “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” at the end of Gone with the Wind (1939).

The scene in which Eliza accidentally swallows a marble during an elocution lesson does not appear in the original play. During rehearsals for this scene, a pained expression came over Hiller’s face; when she spat out the marbles she had in her mouth she said, “Leslie, I’ve swallowed one!” Howard replied: “Never mind, there are plenty more.” This caused such amusement among the crew that it was added to the film, then later to its musical version, My Fair Lady.