Movies: I am not Your Negro and 50 Shades Darker

 

I recognize that one couldn’t have two more opposite films than the Award winning and Oscar nominated “I am Not Your Negro” and the potentially Razzie Award -sweeping “50 Shades Darker” but that’s what I saw this week.  My only excuse is that I like variety in my film viewing and these two films couldn’t be more different!

I am Not Your Negro

“I am not Your Negro” is an Oscar nominated documentary that is based on a thirty-page unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin which focuses on his relationships with Medgar Evans, Martin Luther King and Malcom X.  The documentary, directed by Raoul Peck, explores not only Baldwin’s view of the world at the time in his written word (read eloquently by Samuel L. Jackson) but as articulated by the author in an interview on the Dick Cavett Show. Not only does Peck capture Baldwin’s views but he intersperses historical footage from the sixties with that of modern day Ferguson and the Black Lives Matters movement to provide a chronology of how American history has created the racial divisions so fundamental to our everyday existence.

Personally, I found the footage of Dick Cavett to be fascinating.  For those of us who remember the show, Cavett was the intellectual liberal of the talk show circuit at the time.  He invited many authors and scholars to dialog with him and to hear him asking Baldwin about “the Negro” was disturbing.  For those who are unfamiliar with Baldwin, he was a brilliant author and paragon of the Civil Rights movement in the sixties.  I read several of his works in high school along with many of the authors referenced in the film.  He was also gay as mentioned briefly by J. Edgar Hoover in the segment where we realized that the FBI was building quite a file on Baldwin.  While “I am not Your Negro” provides a short glimpse into his life, this film made me wish for a more comprehensive biography.

As American navigate through the serious racial divides in this country, “I am Not Your Negro” reinforces why despite Civil Rights gains and an African American President, the history of Black enslavement, suppression and racism can’t be forgotten nor minimized in the Black psyche.  The scenes of segregation and violence towards African Americans in this film won’t allow the viewer to think that it can. The film won’t let whites be oblivious to the history and focus only on their perceptions of racism in today’s world.  This history defines we are and every white American should watch it to help  understand the current environment.  It is timely and important.

50 Shades Darker

The original “50 Shades of Grey” wasn’t horrible.  It had a female Director (Sam Taylor-Johnson), a professional screenwriter who could work around the book’s dreadful dialogue and the emergence of a fresh new face (Dakota Johnson) who gave the lead character some unexpected gumption.  The end result, while dominating the Razzies, was that the film did well at the box office and maintained its credibility with book fans.  This occurred despite a distinct lack of chemistry between the two leads and one-sided nudity (all Johnson) and no orgasms which in a sex movie was more than peculiar.

None of that occurred with 50 Shades Darker.  The female Director was replaced with a male with an undistinguished set of credits.  The professional screen writer was replaced with author E.L. James’s real- life husband (not a professional screen writer) and Jamie Dornan was still in the film. Let’s talk a minute about Dornan.  In the first film, his Christian Grey was pretty much the same serial killer that he played in the TV show the Fall (which by the way, I thought he was really good in).  There was no chemistry between the two leads and Dornan, although boring, probably played Grey relatively closely to the book description.  In the 2nd film, Grey is smiling all the time, has day old facial hair and  seems totally relaxed.  This is in stark contrast with the character in the books who remains incredibly intense, dominating and would never laugh and smile let alone not shave in Book 2.

Bottom line, the movie is missing the only redeeming qualities of its predecessor and is boring with a weak script that goes nowhere in the middle of the film.  The leads continue to lack chemistry despite being clearly more at ease with each other and Dornan again has sex with most of his clothes on although this time with a ripped torso.   It is hard to believe a movie could win more Razzies than the original 50 Shades but this movie certainly deserves to.  Even for the most ardent book lovers, the film is going to be a disappointment.  Don’t think the third movie will be any better as it was filmed at the same time as this film with the same Director, Screenwriter and actors.  Run don’t walk away from this film that is running about 8% on Rotten Tomatoes.

 

 

 

 

TV: Fall TV slowing down: The Durrells in Corfu, The Affair and the Fall.

Just a few shows finishing up and beginning as we wind down the fall season and wait for things to start back up in January.

Finales:

The Durrells in Corfu (PBS)

The Durrells in Corfu ended it’s first season with Louisa realizing her finance Swen is gay and instead of having a wedding, chose to have all of their friends just come anyway and party away. This season saw the family survive their move to Corfu encamped in a house with no electricity and thousands of miles away from friends and family. Corfu is a light series that was fun to watch for 6 weeks amidst the craziness of the Presidential campaign. The scenery is stunning and the family interesting enough to keep coming back each week. I’ll definitely check in with them next year assuming the show returns.

Premiers:

The Affair (Showtime)

Let’s just say I was not enthralled with this season’s premier of the Affair. The entire hour was about Noah (Dominic West) with a couple of brief interactions with Helen (Maura Tierney). No Joshua Jackson, and no Ruth Wilson although a new love interest (Juliette) for Noah was introduced played by Irene Jacob. Noah is the most despised character in this series and having to watch him for an hour was tough. His story takes place 3 years after the he was convicted of manslaughter in last season’s finale. He has completed his prison sentence, moved in with his sister and is teaching a course at a N.J. university.

Noah is clearly estranged from Alison and although Helen attempts to reconcile with him, he isn’t interested. His oldest son ignores him and Noah doesn’t really seem to care. He meets Juliette and she doesn’t seem to pass judgment on him which attracts him to her. There are some very uncomfortable moments with Noah and one of his students that was just creepy and unnecessary. There is also a mysterious character stalking Noah and some flashbacks to some violent moments in prison. All of this should help provide some tension to this season while giving us some good flashbacks.

I’m going to stick with “The Affair” for the time being. I understand next week’s show is a Helen/Alison split which covers what each of them were doing during the time Noah was in prison which is much more interesting to me. Apparently the rest of the shows this season are split between characters, which is good news. Above all, what I really want to know is who Alison’s Baby Daddy is! I would really like the Affair to return to the excellence of the first season but I’d settle for just a better year than last. 

Streaming:

The Fall (Netflix)

I completed the third and likely the final season of the Fall on Netflix and it was a satisfactory conclusion to the three-year Belfast Strangler arc. This dark story of misogyny, rape and murder is complex and nuanced. On one hand, it is one of the few shows with violence against women that also focuses on the victims. It is also different from other crime procedurals in that we know the murderer from the beginning and it is the detective played by Gillian Anderson that must find out who is behind the rape and murder of all of these Belfast women.

The final season moved slowly, but with deliberate pace. Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) recovered from his injuries in the Season 2 finale without any memory of the last six years. It is unclear whether he was lying or not, but the memory loss presents legal issues related to his prior confession and whether it will hold up. Despite Spector having been caught, he still presents a threat to anyone around him thus maintaining the fear factor in this psychological thriller.

I’m really tired of the whole violence against women thing as a plot device in so many shows so I have mixed feelings about the Fall. On the plus side, it is very well done and both Gillian Anderson and Jamie Dornan are excellent. The Spector character never is positioned to elicit any sort of sympathy from the audience which is also good. There are no redeeming or sympathetic aspects of his personality. He is to be hated and feared at all times.  Yet there is a lot of violence in the first two seasons and it is a lot to take in.

Jamie Dornan and Gillian Anderson are great in this show. Dornan’s arc is done but I could see bringing back Anderson as Stella Gibson for another investigation. She is a complex and flawed character and could easily generate storylines for several additional seasons. I recommend this show to those who are interested in seeing a well-done British crime series unless they are not interested in another show focused on violence towards women.

TV: Rectify is back along with some new Netflix additions (The Crown and The Fall and Black Mirror)

 

Premiers:

Rectify (Sundance)

Rectify, one of the very best shows on television, commenced its fourth and final season (the first 3 seasons are on Netflix) last week with Daniel (Aden Young) leaving his hometown of Paulie and settling in Nashville. Just to regroup, Daniel Holden is released after 2 decades on Death Row for the rape and murder of his high school girlfriend. As one would expect, those years in isolation have taken a toll on him and he is a damaged soul. The first three seasons take place over a few months as Daniel tries to reintegrate with his family and town with little success. At the end of Season 3, he leaves Paulie.

Why is this show so special? Why do many of the best TV critics declare it not only one of the best shows of the decade but of the last 20 years? There are many reasons but it is a show that focuses on its characters all of whom are complex, realistic and struggle with life’s choices and moral dilemmas. These characters have evolved over the course of the show through the good and bad decisions they make. Rectify moves slowly, capturing all of the subtleties and nuances of the impact of Daniel’s release. The audience bonds with these characters – their strengths, weaknesses and moral choices.

The first show of the final season revolves totally around Daniel. We don’t see the rest of the family.   He moves to a half way house and is able to obtain a menial job. He struggles with the rules and structure of both. By the end of the show, he has made some progress and connections but it is a difficult journey.  I’m assuming that how Daniel tries to put his life back together with some meaning beyond a subsistence level job will be the focus of this season. I’m sure we will also explore how his relationship with each of him family members evolves with him being removed from their everyday life. His family is back in Episode 2 and they are pretty much where we left them last season. We may never know if Daniel murdered his girl friend or not nor is that important to the show. I’m going to relish every moment of this final season which is sure to be one filled with hope, setbacks and tears along the way.

The Crown (Netflix)

The Crown dropped its first season this week. It is the dramatization of Queen Elizabeth II‘s early years as Queen. It begins with her marriage to Prince Philip in 1947 and goes from there. I don’t think this is award winning drama but having watched the first few episodes, it is a welcome change to the Netflix dramas reviewed below. It is also a wonderful way to escape the election madness we are in the midst of. Claire Foy who was terrific as Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall is perfect in the role of Elizabeth. Despite the well established reticence of the members of the Royal family,  she is able to express so much through her eyes and facial expressions. Also in the series is John Lithgow as Winston Churchill, Daniel Betts as Prince Philip and Jared Harris as King George VI.

For those who are intrigued by the British monarchy, this will appeal to you. There obviously isn’t anything new or exciting and the history is very recent but the costumes and jewelry are quite impressive.  The Crown is quite good and is a drama that is actually enjoyable to watch. 

The Fall (Season 3) Netflix:

The first two seasons of the Fall were incredibly intense but very good. Gillian Anderson is a brilliant police detective trying to catch a serial murderer played by Jamie Dornan (yes, 50 Shades of Grey Jamie Dornan and he basically plays the same character in both). She is ultimately successful by the end of Season 2 so I’m not sure where season 3 is going or if it will be the final one. There is a shootout in last season’s finale, which results in Dornan’s character Paul Spector, being critically injured. Most of the first episode this season is like a Grey’s Anatomy case while the doctors frantically work to save his life while blood spurts everywhere.

The Fall is a very sober crime drama that delves deeply into violence against women and male rage. It is not for everyone. The Director intersperses the crime element with lots of slower moving dialogue and complex relationships which sets it apart from many of the ones out there.  I’ve only seen the first episode of what I presume will be the final season but if you are interested in British crime dramas and in a mood to handle the subject matter, the Fall has many moments of brilliance and is a compelling drama.

Black Mirror (Netflix)

Black Mirror is a British anthologies series that has been picked up by Netflix. It originally premiered in 2011 with the third season dropping on Netflix this past Friday. Seasons 1 and 2 are also available on Netflix so I thought I’d start at the beginning to check out this highly regarded show. I really knew nothing about it when I clicked on Season 1, episode 1 which was about a British princess who was kidnapped and the ransom demanded was that the British prime minister have sex with a pig on live national TV. The second episode is a futuristic one about a guy living in a cube with streaming entertainment comprised of about eight very strange shows. He is with people trying to get on a talent show. Each day they emerge from their cubes and get on stationary bikes where they log points, which will ultimately be used to get on the show, I think. I guess if they don’t make it on the talent show with three Simon Cowell-like judges, they stay on their bicycles and in their cubes forever? I have fallen asleep twice trying to get through it which is never a good sign.

Because you can watch any of the episodes in any order (at least in the first two seasons), I may research which episodes are supposed to be the very best and try again but I suspect that this might not be the show for me. In the meantime, the Crown dropped so I put this one on the back burner while I binge on the British Royal family.