Saturday, February 24, 2018
The writer and director of this film, Ruben Östlund seems fascinated by the life cycle of a bad decision. A well-to-do museum curator Christian (Claes Bang) who is handsome, successful, and likable is at the center of this movie, and the bad decision is his to make. His cell phone is stolen and he takes it upon himself to get restitution. He knows the building it is in, so he writes a threatening letter, and stuffs every mailbox in the building, thereby setting a ball of consequences in motion.
Then there is the question of what is art. The “square” of the film’s title is a new art installation, a simple physical border (four meters by four meters) that’s etched in front of the museum and proclaimed to be “a sanctuary of trust and caring ... within it we all share equal rights and obligations.” The ramifications of Christian's distraction with his escalating mistake is to allow a number of future mistakes to occur, Why do people get away with behavior if it is thought to be art? Why does no one act? The movie is a bit of performance art itself, raising more questions than it answers.
Friday, February 23, 2018
This one may be a tad heavy handed, but I think it rings true. A family has a deaf child, one who has gradually lost her hearing and it seems that no one really noticed until she did not comply with them. The fact that she never talked seems to have eluded them, and continues to elude at least the mother. She so desires a normal child that she is willing to let her deaf child be miserable. And alone, completely alone. It is so sad and so believable that this is my choice to win in this category.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
The film’s protagonists are Thomas Sung, his wife Hwei Lin and their four daughters—Vera, Jill, Chanterelle and Heather—owners of Abacus. Thomas, a Chinese immigrant himself, founded the bank in the 1980s to provide credit to fellow community members who struggled to obtain loans from traditional lenders. It was a practice that made them vulnerable, but that also served their community in a way that traditional banks could not.
However, in 2009, by which time daughter Jill had taken over running Abacus from her father, the bank discovered one of its loan officers had been forging information on mortgage applications and sought kickbacks from a borrower. Instead of burying the misconduct, they brought it to the attention of regulators. That was an error that came back to bite them. Their culture dictated that when wronged, you fight for your honor, and so they spent a small fortune fighting the government.
The film explores the why of it, as well as raising frank questions about fairness, and the prejudices that might have driven the prosecution.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
However, if there was an award for the bleakest family depicted in an Oscar nominated movie, this would win. That is saying something, because the competition in that category is remarkably stiff, what with I, Tonya and The Florida Project in the mix. Frankly, Frances McDormand's character in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, who says angrily to her daughter "I hope you get raped" in response to her daughter saying that would happen to her if she could not get the car, and then it does actually happen isn't even in contention this year. This is the worst.
It was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category, and it comes to us from Russia. The reviews that I read ahead of time take a 10,000 foot view on how it reflects on the state of the modern Russian state and the culture therein. That may well be the case, but for me it was hard to focus on that because of how completely horrible the two parents of this shy and awkward preteen. What unfolds after they fight over who will take him in the divorce is both shocking and believable.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
The internment of Japanese Americans was one of the most blatant restrictions on civil liberties in our history. Two months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 ordering all Japanese-Americans to evacuate the West Coast. This resulted in the relocation of approximately 120,000 people, many of whom were American citizens, to one of 10 internment camps located across the country. Traditional family structure was upended within the camp, as American-born children were solely allowed to hold positions of authority. Some Japanese-American citizens of were allowed to return to the West Coast beginning in 1945, and the last camp closed in March 1946. Ansel Adams, a Western photographer best known for his photos of national parks, provided some of the best lasting images of this time.
Monday, February 19, 2018
From his first inaugural address:
By the article establishing the executive department it is made the duty of the President "to recommend to your consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." The circumstances under which I now meet you will acquit me from entering into that subject further than to refer to the great constitutional charter under which you are assembled, and which, in defining your powers, designates the objects to which your attention is to be given. It will be more consistent with those circumstances, and far more congenial with the feelings which actuate me, to substitute, in place of a recommendation of particular measures, the tribute that is due to the talents, the rectitude, and the patriotism which adorn the characters selected to devise and adopt them. In these honorable qualifications I behold the surest pledges that as on one side no local prejudices or attachments, no separate views nor party animosities, will misdirect the comprehensive and equal eye which ought to watch over this great assemblage of communities and interests, so, on another, that the foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality, and the preeminence of free government be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its citizens and command the respect of the world. I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my country can inspire, since there is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness; between duty and advantage; between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity; since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained; and since the preservation of the sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered, perhaps, as deeply, as finally, staked on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Frogs and toads abound in this remarkable short by six talented French artists, all of whom are in touch with their playful side if the trailer is any indication. The film uses the amphibians as narrative devices for exploring a scene and creating a puzzle that hooks the viewer with a slowly unfolding story. Impressive work has been dedicated to creating the external pool and shrubbery and the internal dining room and study. The quality of CG work is outstanding, including attention to materials, photorealism, lighting and physics simulations. Aesthetics and composition are a pleasure to watch. The story is told wordlessly, as the toads and frogs hop through the indoors and outdoors.
What makes the film work so well? The unfolding surprises of the background story help create suspense, hooking the viewer and slowly changing the tone and theme of the film to a genre movie. They also create a contrast with the animal kingdom, which is completely oblivious to it, and continues on its own parallel narrative lines. An emphasis on irreverent humor and creativity adds a lot of spice to the short.
Saturday, February 17, 2018
The movie tells the story of the Pentagon Papers, choosing to focus on two key players in the unfolding battle between the free press and a White House that struggled to keep the secrets of how our government handled the Vietnam War under wraps. The two central figures of this story are Kay Graham (Meryl Streep in a beautifully nuanced and decidedly unsexy performance. She is breathtaking), the beleaguered publisher of the Post, doing a good job that too many men around her consider her incapable of doing, and Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), the editor of the Post, and the man who never questions whether of not they should publish. The courts are used by the Nixon White House in an effort to shut down a press that is free and open.
Sound familiar? The story is at once of a challenge to the free press in 1971 but also reflects on what is going on in 2017. As the President of the United States challenges different journalistic institutions, mostly through his Twitter feed, but also in speeches, and “truth” seems to have become a looser term than ever before, “The Post” is designed to be viewed as a commentary on today as much as yesterday, maybe even more. It’s fascinating to consider a film this well-constructed and packed with talented performers that would have played completely differently just two years ago.
Friday, February 16, 2018
This film, nominated in the Short Action film category, is a reenactment of an averted school shooting. It will not likely change any minds, but it is a powerful statement none-the-less.