Gullah culture, netmaking and baskets. “I wanted to weave with images.” Too sleepy and abstract for me post-lunch, a a hodgepodge of media and ideas, though it came together in the second half. Kind of an American The Territory as the whites terrorize and murder then grab land. The director’s dad had been a minister who survived a mass shooting at his Charleston church – it gets around to this gradually across its abstractly-named chapters. Susan Alcorn opened on pedal steel.
A corny white insurance agent, family man, workout nut, kinda racist, happily obnoxious to women and everyone else, wakes up Black one day. He freaks out, and his wife calls him a white supremacist while he focuses the blame on his sun lamp and tries to figure out how to whiten his skin again. I watched this on MLK Day, which I suppose might make me a bad person, but it’s good – a goofy but not stupid comedy (usually you get neither or both).
Lead actor Godfrey Cambridge had an excellent year, also starring in Cotton Comes to Harlem. When he goes out in public he’s hassled by cops (“He stole something – we don’t know what it is yet”). Finally his wife and boss and neighbors reject him, but he comes to terms with himself, starting his own business and plotting to lead the next Black revolution.
Finally getting to Dumont’s debut. Parts of this movie about a dimwit boy in a nowhere town look familiar from Lil Quinquin – a yard where they fix up their car even looks like a location from that movie, and there’s a character named Quinquin. But this was before Dumont had learned to be funny or unpredictable, from his punishing slow art cinema days. Maybe the crappy marching band was supposed to provide levity, but in the end it’s simply no fun to watch a crappy marching band. This doesn’t give me much hope for L’Humanité – I’m guessing that’s as misleading a title as this one, which follows a kid who Dumont wants to portray as a sensitive soul, with his epilepsy and pet finch and cute girlfriend. But the kid’s also a horrible racist, and finally catches the Arab guy he’d seen hanging around with his girl, and uses his head as a soccer ball. The non-pro actors in this stayed non-pro. I was surprised to recognize the finch-song contest from Arabian Nights.
Nicholas Elliott for Criterion:
Rather than a description of the film’s contents, the title is an unusually active element of the viewing experience, a riddle that prompts the viewer to see beyond the low horizons of Freddy’s existence and imagine how the spiritual might be reintroduced into this context. In the trickiest of ways, Dumont titles the film to prime us to look for good where there is evil. Yet he does not ask us to like Freddy, only to accept that he exists…
Seems like a pretty faithful adaptation of the 1929 novel, according to the wikis, right down to the ambiguous cause of Ruth’s fall from a high window at the end. Really well visualized by Hall (British actress, star of Christine) and acted by protagonist Tessa Thompson, husband Andre Holland, and frenemy Ruth Negga. Also the first movie I’ve watched at someone else’s house since Batman Returns seven years ago (unless we’re counting the cabin).
A good haunted house movie, much scarier than the 1970’s one, with some good demons and a new twist: the couple can’t move out of the extremely ghost-filled house because they’re Sudanese refugees who barely survived a treacherous boat ride that killed their daughter, and have been placed here by the government, their only chance to stay in Britain. He’s Sope Dirisu of the Snow White and the Huntsman sequel, and she’s Wunmi Mosaku of Lovecraft Country and the Wyatt Russell episode of Black Mirror. Ghosts in the house, crows in the walls and thugs outside, nowhere to hide. When he’s scraping off all the wallpaper and pulling out the wiring, and she’s trapped in the maze of their housing complex, I start wondering if they died at sea and England is hell, but they’ve got other secrets: their “daughter” was a girl they kidnapped to get preferential treatment while escaping. But instead of hell-vengeance, the wife kills the witch and they patch up the walls to please the housing people, and try to live in relative harmony with their racist neighbors and house full of spirits.
Double-featuring with Cotton Comes to Harlem, this is set in some of the same locations, driving past the Apollo during opening titles. And it’s a grim, joyless take on the same sort of story – cops and rival criminals all looking for stolen money, with a pair of cops as our heroes. This one replaces the humor and nudity with extra violence and racism, and yes it kills racist corrupt terrible cop Anthony Quinn in the final moments, but I got the feeling it wanted us to see this as a dark/unhappy ending.
Thieves dressed as cops rob a money room, killing everyone in it, and the Italians in charge want revenge – “We have to teach them a lesson, or we lose harlem.” Anthony Quinn is very mad that Yaphet Kotto is put in charge of his investigation, meanwhile Italian gangster Nick is reminding Black gangster Doc who pulls the strings, and the rest of the movie is Nick torturing the Black thieves and Anthony brutalizing Black suspects, while Yaphet and Doc stand by uncomfortably.
One weird thing about this movie: each character states their age aloud, I think the point being that everyone’s slightly desperate because they’re past the age when they should’ve been advancing in their organizations – or I’m giving the screenwriter too much credit.
I liked Paul Benjamin as the murderous lead robber (who throws his share of the cash to a playground full of kids as he’s dying) – he’d later play one of the three shit-talking corner guys in Do The Right Thing. His girl Gloria would play Maya Angelou’s sister in Poetic Justice, and Italian torturer Anthony Franciosa would star in Tenebre. Connections with Cotton: Doc’s enforcer Chevy led Cotton‘s five-man Black Berets group, and the robbers’ getaway driver Antonio Fargas (the first to die, after being extremely uncareful about throwing stolen money around) was in Putney Swope, which was shown playing on a marquee in Cotton. Shear followed up by replacing the fired Sam Fuller on The Deadly Trackers, which now I have even less incentive to watch.
It’s Cannes Fortnight 2021! I was gonna watch this anyway, eventually, then noticed there’s a new Gaspar playing Cannes this year, so “eventually” became now. In in the mood for some cinema after taking things easy post-True/False, rounding up some recent Cannes titles I missed, and some by this year’s crop of directors.
Wonked-out closing/opening credits sequence, then the camera spirals and weaves around a courtyard, Massive Attack’s La Protection Centrale. I didn’t know what was happening for a good long time, the I Stand Alone guy philosophizing with anonymous Frenchman Albert Dupontel (a war survivor in A Very Long Engagement), but it becomes clear as the movie woozily whips us through the rest of the story in reverse order. I was gonna say it takes us from one sordid scene to another, but that’d be underselling one of the most extremely sordid films of the last twenty years. I read a piece recently, thought it was by Charles Bramesco but can’t find it now so who knows, calling Promising Young Woman a weaksauce take on the rave/revenge story, and it came to mind a few times while watching this, a decidedly strongsauced rape/revenge story, because is that such a desirable thing? Is the point to seek out the most extreme rape/revenge cinema? Ultimately, the “time destroys all things” thesis, the film title and the reverse-action gimmick framing the horrors had me appreciating this much more than, say, Revenge, though I can’t feel naughtily transgressive about liking a movie that comes highly recommended by every critic I respect.
“Lenny’s a racist, but he’s one of the good ones.” Filipe’s short letterboxd review kept coming to mind, “the overall absurdism does have its moments and Morris’s anger comes through,” especially when the movie ends with cops and feds getting cheerfully promoted for destroying the lives of cool weirdos. Lead weirdo is Moses, who runs a black militant duck farm. Agent Anna Kendrick is looking for people to set up to take credit for saving the world from terrorism I guess. The feds determine Moses’s crew is no threat, but after Moses sells fake uranium to nazi cop Jim Gaffigan (!), the higher-ups get involved and everybody below goes to jail.
Danielle Brooks (Clemency the same year) gives Santa a touch-up:
Afrika nails informant Kayvan Novak (Four Lions):
Sometimes when you’ve fallen behind on the ol’ blog, you realize that thirty movies ago, you took no notes on a movie that consisted mostly of essay readings by powerful actors, with newly photographed and stock footage visuals, written as a letter to the author’s teenage son about systemic racism. Katy wanted to watch it in case her students, assigned the book to read, try to get away with only watching the movie. Good film – Forbes had previously worked on a doc miniseries on a slam poetry competition, and appeared in a Grand Theft Auto game.