Film Review: Flint (dir by Bruce Beresford)


Undoubtedly, there’s a great and important film waiting to be made about the Flint water crisis.  Unfortunately, the new Lifetime film Flint is not it.

As I watched Flint last night, it occurred to me that it’s been a while since the Flint water crisis made the national news.  For a few weeks in 2016, it was all anyone was talking about but then the governor of Michigan announced that he wouldn’t be running for President and the media promptly deserted Flint.  I think most people in the country assumed that Flint now magically had clean water.  In reality, Flint hasn’t had reliably clean water since 2014.  Earlier this year, it was announced that Flint’s water quality has returned to acceptable levels but residents were still advised not to use it until all of Flint’s water pipes had been replaced.  When one looks at the coverage that the crisis has received, one gets the feeling that the media stopped caring once it became apparent there wasn’t going to be an easy and quick solution.

That’s the thing with this crisis.  There is no easy way to resolve it and it’s not a happy story.  Even when all of the pipes are finally replaced (which will be 2020 at the earliest), it’s not going to be a happy ending as much as it’s just going to be an ending.  The citizens of a city were poisoned because a bunch of civil servants wanted to save money.  There’s no way to spin that into a positive.  Even if the people of Flint are no longer drinking contaminated water, that doesn’t change the fact that they once did and no one in power seemed to care until they had no choice but to pretend to be outraged.

Flint is a well-meaning film but it’s immediately handicapped by the fact that it’s a Lifetime film and, therefore, has to take a Lifetime approach to the material. which means that things have to end positively.  The film does a good job of showing brown water running out of taps and detailing why clean water is a necessity.  And the film also deserves some credit for including a note informing us that the pipes in Flint are still in the process of being replaced and that the citizens are still being told either use filters or bottled water.  But, too often, the film turns what should have been a modern-day horror story into a simplistic story of “you go girl!” activism.  When the film should be angry, it’s merely annoyed.  When the film should be furious about the present, it’s too busy being optimistic about the future.  Instead of really exploring what led to the crisis in the first place, the focus of the film is on city council meetings and the cartoonishly slick mayor getting voted out of office.  “Yay!” the movie seems to proclaim, “Sucks about the poisoned water but at least everyone got to bond and now we have proof that democracy works and the government really does care!”

(There’s even two scenes where a city councilman tells the activists to keep fighting, the movie’s way of saying, “See!  Not all politicians are bad!”)

Oh well.  I don’t want to be too critical because, while the movie may have been strictly by-the-numbers, it at least tried to remind people about what’s going on in Flint.  That’s certainly more than the national media’s doing these days.

A Movie A Day #265: Hoodlum (1997, directed by Bill Duke)


1930s.  New York City.  For years, Stephanie St. Clair (Cicely Tyson) has been the benevolent queen of the Harlem underworld, running a successful numbers game and protecting her community from outsiders.  However, psychotic crime boss Dutch Schultz (Tim Roth) is determined to move into Harlem and take over the rackets for himself.  With the weary support of Lucky Luciano (Andy Garcia), Schultz thinks that he is unstoppable but he did not count on the intervention of Bumpy Johnson (Laurence Fishburne).  Just paroled from Sing Sing, Bumpy is determined to do whatever has to be done to keep Schultz out of Harlem.

When I reviewed The Cotton Club yesterday, I knew that I would have to do Hoodlum today.  Hoodlum and The Cotton Club are based on the same historic events and both of them feature Laurence Fishburne in the role of Bumpy Johnson.  Of the two, Hoodlum is the more straightforward film, without any of the operatic flourishes that Coppola brought to The Cotton Club.  Fisburne is surprisingly dull as Bumpy Johnson but Tim Roth goes all in as Dutch Schultz and Andy Garcia is memorably oily as the Machiavellian Luciano.  Hoodlum is about forty minutes too long but the gangster action scenes are staged well.  Bumpy Johnson lived a fascinating life and it is unfortunate that no film has yet to really do him justice, though Clarence Williams III came close with his brief cameo in American Gangster.  (Interestingly enough, Williams is also in Hoodlum, playing one of Shultz’s lieutenants.)

One final note: Hoodlum features William Atherton in the role of District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey.  Atherton plays Dewey as being a corrupt and sleazy politician on Luciano’s payroll.  In real life, Dewey was known for being so honest that Dutch Schultz actually put a contract out on his life after he discovered that Dewey could not be bribed.  I am not sure why Hoodlum decided to slander the subject of one of America’s most famous headlines but it seems unnecessary.

Here’s What Won At The SAG Awards


Howdy, y’all!  The SAG Awards were given out tonight but I did not see it because I was busy down at City Limits Texas, watching Joey Green and Luke Wade and gettin’ my country on!  (Boots and denim, y’all!)  So, I missed the show but I can still post the winners!  Spotlight won the SAG equivalent of Best Picture so it looks like right now, the best picture race is pretty much between that film and the PGA winner, The Big Short.  But what if George Miller or Alejandro Inarritu ends up winnin’ at the DGA?  This Oscar race is gettin’ as unpredictable as a cow chewin’ magic mushrooms.  Yee haw!

ANYWAY, here’s the winners!

BEST PERFORMANCE BY A CAST ENSEMBLE – Spotlight
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE – Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Revenant”
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE – Brie Larson in “Room”
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE – Idris Elba in “Beasts of No Nation”
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE IN A MOTION PICTURE – Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl”
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A CAST ENSEMBLE IN A DRAMA SERIES – “Downton Abbey
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES – Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards”
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES – Viola Davis in “How to Get Away with Murder”
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A CAST ENSEMBLE IN A COMEDY SERIES – “Orange is the New Black
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A MALE ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES – Jeffrey Tambor in “Transparent”
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES – Uzo Aduba in “Orange is the New Black”
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ACTOR IN A TV MOVIE OR MINI-SERIES – Idris Elba in “Luther”
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A FEMALE ACTOR IN A TV MOVIE OR MINI-SERIES – Queen Latifah in “Bessie”
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A STUNT ENSEMBLE IN A MOTION PICTURE – Mad Max: Fury Road
BEST PERFORMANCE BY A STUNT ENSEMBLE IN A COMEDY OR DRAMA SERIES – “Game of Thrones
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – Carol Burnett

(By the way, y’all, I love you all…)

Here Are The Very Confusing SAG Nominations!


Spotlight

The nominees for the SAG Awards were announced earlier today!  The SAG Awards are usually one of the more accurate of the various Oscar precursors.  Because so many members of the Academy are also members of the Screen Actors Guild, the SAG Awards are usually a pretty good indication of what films are on the Academy’s radar and which ones aren’t.  Occasionally, an actor will be nominated by SAG and then snubbed by the Academy.  Last year, for instance, SAG nominated Jake Gyllenhall for Nightcrawler, Jennifer Aniston for Cake, and Naomi Watts for St. Vincent.  None of those three received any love from the Academy.  But, for the most part, SAG is one of the most reliable precursors out there.

And that’s why so many of us are in shock today!  The SAG Awards in no way resembled what many of us were expecting.  Other than Spotlight, none of the film’s that many of us expected to be nominated for best ensemble (the SAG’s equivalent of the Academy’s best picture) were nominated (and even Spotlight only received one other nomination, for Rachel McAdams who, up to this point, hasn’t really figured into the Oscar discussion).  The Martian was not nominated for best ensemble or anything else for that matter.  Creed was totally snubbed.  Brooklyn was nominated for actress but not ensemble.  Mad Mad: Fury Road was nominated for its stunt work and nothing else.  Helen Mirren received two nominations, for films that hardly anyone (outside of the SAG, obviously) was really paying any attention to.  Sarah Silverman received a best actress nomination for I Smile Back, which I hadn’t even heard of until about a week ago.  It’s an unexpected and strange group of nominees.

Keep in mind, it’s not necessarily a bad thing that the nominees are unexpected.  Beasts of No Nation and Straight Outta Compton will both receive deserved boosts in their hunt for Oscar gold.  At the same time, I have to admit that I wasn’t happy to see either The Big Short or Trumbo nominated for best ensemble because I know I’m going to feel obligated to see them and they both look so freaking tedious and blandly political!  But consider this: if The Big Short and Trumbo are both huge Oscar contenders, we may face a situation where both Jay Roach and Adam McKay are nominated for best director in the same year.  I think that’s one of the signs of the apocalypse and, at this point, I’m kind of ready to welcome the end of the world.

Anyway, here are the SAG nominations!  Look them over and, after the Golden Globe nominations are announced tomorrow, update your Oscar predictions accordingly.

Best Performance by a Cast Ensemble in a Motion Picture

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

  • Cate Blanchett – Carol
  • Brie Larson – Room
  • Helen Mirren – Woman in Gold
  • Saoirse Ronan – Brooklyn
  • Sarah Silverman – I Smile Back

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Rooney Mara – Carol
  • Rachel McAdams – Spotlight
  • Helen Mirren – Trumbo
  • Alicia Vikander – The Danish Girl
  • Kate Winslet – Steve Jobs

Best Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Motion Picture

Best Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series

  • Downton Abbey
  • Game of Thrones
  • Homeland
  • House of Cards
  • Mad Men

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series

  • Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones
  • Jon Hamm – Mad Men
  • Rami Malek – Mr. Robot
  • Bob Odenkirk – Better Call Saul
  • Kevin Spacey – House of Cards

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series

  • Claire Danes – Homeland
  • Viola Davis – How to Get Away with Murder
  • Julianna Marguilles – The Good Wife
  • Maggie Smith – Downton Abbey
  • Robin Wright – House of Cards

Best Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series

  • The Big Bang Theory
  • Key and Peele
  • Modern Family
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Transparent
  • Veep

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Ty Burrell – Modern Family
  • Louis CK – Louie
  • William H. Macy – Shameless
  • Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory
  • Jeffrey Tambor – Transparent

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Uzo Aduba – Orange is the New Black
  • Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie
  • Ellie Kemper – Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Veep
  • Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation

Best Performance by a Male Actor in a TV Movie or Mini-Series

  • Idris Elba – Luther
  • Ben Kingsley – Tut
  • Ray Liotta — Texas Rising
  • Bill Murray – A Very Murray Christmas
  • Mark Rylance – Wolf Hall

Best Performance by a Female Actor in a TV Movie or Mini-Series

Best Performance by a Stunt Ensemble in a Comedy or Drama Series

  • Blacklist
  • Game of Thrones
  • Homeland
  • Marvel’s Daredevil
  • The Walking Dead

Embracing the Melodrama Part II #102: Chicago (dir by Rob Marshall)


ChicagopostercastIt’s strange to refer to a best picture winner as being underrated but that’s exactly the perfect description for the 2002 film Chicago.

When Chicago was named the best picture of 2002, it was the first musical to take the top prize since The Sound of Music won in 1965.  Until the box office success and Oscar triumph of Chicago, it was assumed by many that a musical had to be animated in order to be successful.  After Chicago won, the conventional wisdom was changed.  Dreamgirls, Nine, Rock of Ages, Hairspray, Jersey Boys,  Into the Woods, Les Miserables, none of these films would have been produced if not for the success of Chicago.  It’s also due to Chicago that television networks are willing to take chances on shows like Glee and Smash.  And while I think a very valid argument could be made that we would all be better off without Glee, Smash, and Rock of Ages, you still can not deny that Chicago both challenged and changed the conventional wisdom.

And yet, despite its success and its continuing influence, Chicago is one of those best picture winners that often seems to get dismissed online.  Some of that’s because, by winning best picture, Chicago defeated not only The Two Towers (which is arguably the best installment in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy) but also Roman Polanski’s searing masterpiece, The Pianist.  Critics often point out that The Pianist won for best adapted screenplay, best actor, and best director but Chicago somehow managed to win best picture.  They suggest that the Academy was either worried about the implications of giving best picture to a film directed by Roman Polanski or else they were blinded by Chicago‘s razzle dazzle.  They argue that Chicago was merely an adaptation of an iconic stage production, whereas The Pianist and The Two Towers were both the result of visionary directors.

Well, to be honest, I think those critics do have a point.  The Pianist is one of the most emotionally devastating films that I have ever seen.  The Two Towers is the perfect mix of spectacle and emotion.  And yet, with all that in mind, I still love Chicago.

And it’s not just because of scenes like this:

Or this:

Or even this scene of Richard Gere tap dancing:

If you’ve been reading this site for a while then you know my bias.  You know that I grew up dancing.  You know that I love to dance.  And you know that I automatically love any film that features a dance number.  And, since you know my bias, you may be thinking to yourself, “Well, of course Lisa likes this….”  And you’re right.

But you know what?  Even if nobody danced a step in this film, I would still enjoy it.  (Though it would be odd to see a musical with absolutely no dancing.)  Chicago is not just about spectacle.  Instead, it tells a very interesting story, one that is probably even more relevant today than when the film was first released.

Set in 1924, Chicago tells the story of Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger).  Married to the decent but boring Amos (John C. Reilly), Roxie wants to be a star.  She has an affair with slrazy Fred Casely (Dominic West), believing that he has showbiz connections.  When Fred finally admits to her that he lied in order to sleep with her, Roxie reacts by murdering him.  Because Roxie is pretty and blonde and claims to have been corrupted by the big, bad, decadent city, she becomes a celebrity even while she sits in jail and awaits trial.

Also in the jail is Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), a nightclub singer who killed her husband and sister.  Roxie idolizes Velma but, after Velma snubs her, a rivalry forms between the two.  Roxie hires Velma’s lawyer, the slick Billy Flynn (Richard Gere).  During the trial, Roxie becomes even more popular, Velma grows jealous, and the only innocent women on death row — a Hungarian who can’t speak English — is ignored and executed because she doesn’t make for a good news story.

Chicago is a cynical and acerbic look at both the mad pursuit of celebrity and the pitfalls of the American justice system.  In its way, it’s the film that predicted the Kardashians.  (If Roxie had been born several decades later, it’s not difficult to imagine that she’d build her career off of a sex tape as opposed to murder.)  Renee Zellweger and Catherine Zeta-Jones are both sociopathic marvels in their respective roles.  Even Richard Gere, who, in other films, can come across as being oddly empty, is perfectly cast and surprisingly witty in the role of Billy.

Director Rob Marshall does a great job of making this stage adaptation feel truly cinematic.  At no point does Chicago feel stagey.  Perhaps Marshall’s smartest decision was to tell the entire film through Roxie’s eyes.  Every musical lives and dies based on whether it can convince the audience that it would perfectly natural for everyone onscreen to suddenly break out into song.  Chicago is convincing because, of course, Roxie would view her life as being a musical.

And did I mention that the film features a lot of great dancing?

Because it so seriously does….

So, yes, it can be argued that Chicago beat out some worthier films for the title of best picture of the year.  But, regardless, it’s still a good and memorable film.