Cinema

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

'Enemy of the People': The Phrase's Ironic and Instructive Literary History

Posted By on Tue, Feb 21, 2017 at 5:05 PM

IMAGES COURTESY OF WIKIMEDIA
  • Images courtesy of Wikimedia
In a recent tweet, Trump called the press "the enemy of the American people." Days earlier, though he didn't use the phrase, he made a similar accusation about our courts when they ruled against his Muslim ban. I'm sure Trump had no idea he was quoting the title of a 19th century play, An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen, in his tweet, nor could he know how ironic the play's title is or how clearly it reveals his intentions. The "enemy" in the play is a man who dared speak truth to power. Power, as it often does, did everything it could to suppress the truth.

We're not very familiar with Ibsen these days, but we know Steven Spielberg, and most of us have seen Jaws. The opening of the movie is based loosely on Ibsen's play.

Late one night in Spielberg's little tourist beach town, we see a swimmer killed by a shark. When the coroner confirms to the police chief that it was a shark attack, the chief decides to close the beaches until they're safe. The mayor disagrees. It's the beginning of the summer tourist season, he says, and closing the beaches would be disastrous for the town's economy. The mayor convinces the coroner to change the cause of death, to say the swimmer was caught in the blades of a boat's propeller — in other words, to lie. The mayor forbids the police chief from closing the beaches. It takes two more shark attacks before the mayor acknowledges that the police chief was right and closes the beaches, which is when the hunt for the Great White begins.

Ibsen's original Enemy of the People has a similar setup. A small town's economy is based around its health baths. A local doctor discovers that the water is contaminated and writes an article which he submits to the editor of the local paper. The editor is eager to print it, both to report the problems with the baths and to use it as a way to expose the corruption running rampant in the town's government. But the mayor intervenes. He convinces the editor that printing the truth would be bad for the town, so the editor pulls the doctor's article. In its place, he runs a statement by the mayor praising the quality of the baths.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Cinema Clips: XX

Posted By on Mon, Feb 20, 2017 at 11:15 AM


Four women direct short films in this horror anthology.

Most notably, Annie Clark of the band St. Vincent (My hero!) makes her film directorial debut with a segment called The Birthday Party, where a frantic mom (Melanie Lynskey) panics when she finds a corpse just before her child’s birthday. The segment looks great, is acted well, and features some great sound and St. Vincent music.

As a piece of horror, it’s a bit of a failure (it’s more jokey than horror), but the segment does show that Clark can direct performances and pull together the technical parts. It’s just not scary.

Things get creepier in an Evil Dead sort of way with Don’t Fall, where some desert campers come into contact with demonic forces after seeing some sketches on a stone wall. There isn’t much of a story to the segment, but the scares come fast and furious once somebody gets possessed.

The other segments (The Gift and Her Only Living Son) deal with starvation, parenthood and the antichrist, and they also have their moments. Nothing in this anthology is groundbreaking, but there’s enough here to warrant watching if you are a horror or St. Vincent fan.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Cinema Clips: I Am Not Your Negro

Posted By on Tue, Feb 14, 2017 at 1:05 PM


Writer James Baldwin’s unfinished book Remember This House gets a documentary three decades after his death, and it’s a powerful one.

Baldwin is seen in speeches he gave in the sixties, one of them on The Dick Cavett Show, and the civil right’s leader’s words prove absolutely prophetic in retrospect.

Director Raoul Peck’s Oscar nominated film uses Baldwin’s narration (effectively voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) to recount the stories and missions of Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers and Malcolm X, and how each man worked to overcome segregation and racial bigotry in the sixties. The historic Baldwin appearances, along with Jackson’s delivery of his words, make for a film that feels all too present. And that’s unfortunate, given that these words of hope for a better world were often delivered near fifty years ago.

Peck utilizes footage and photos of Rodney King, Trayvon Martin and more to illustrate that the struggle continues, and has entered a new era of difficulty. Hearing Baldwin’s words today makes it seem unfathomable that he died so long ago.

Given the current state of things, you would think these were the recitations of a man who just watched the latest news reports on CNN.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Cinema Clips: John Wick: Chapter 2

Posted By on Mon, Feb 13, 2017 at 12:00 PM


A whole lot of people get shot in the face during this worthy sequel to the 2015 breakout hit John Wick.

Keanu Reeves—totally bummed out Keanu Reeves—returns as the lone assassin, originally brought out of retirement after somebody killed his dog and stole his car. Many deaths later, Wick is back in his stylish home, with a new no-named dog, intent upon burying his guns and taking a long break. No such luck. A man from the past shows up with a marker, giving him a killing assignment that will take him to Italy and have him facing off with the likes of Common (It turns out Common is built like The Terminator and makes for a good villain. Oh, wait…he’s sort of the good guy. Wick is actually a villain). Balletic violence begins and never ends.

This time out, Wick is wearing some sort of bullet proof lining under his suit. He was unstoppable before, but now he can take a bullet! Reeves is the perfect guy for this role, physically believable as an aging, unstoppable assassin, and pretty great with the stoic line deliveries. He’s in one mode for this movie, and that mode is badass. You really only need one movie like this every couple of years, and trying to copy the grandeur of the Wick films with other characters or stories seems pointless.

Reeves has himself a brand new franchise, and this one is very ripe for the next story. It also has another Reeves franchise guy, Laurence Fishburne a.k.a. Morpheus, from The Matrix. Thankfully, this sequel is much better than The Matrix sequels.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Cinema Clips: Split

Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2017 at 10:13 AM


Writer-director M. Night Shyamalan has finally made his first good movie since Signs (2002) with Split, a down-to-the-basics, creepy thriller propelled by excellent performances from James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch).

The film reminds us that Shyamalan can be quite the capable director (and writer) when he isn't getting too carried away.

Taylor-Joy plays Casey, a high school outcast who attends a birthday party, and soon thereafter finds herself and two classmates imprisoned by a strange man with multiple personalities (McAvoy). In addition to the angry man that kidnaps them, he's a stately, mannered woman, a 9-year-old child and, well, a few others. One of those other personalities plays a big part in taking the film into other realms beyond psychological thriller.

McAvoy goes nuts with the role, and Shyamalan takes things into supernatural territories in a chilling climax. Taylor-Joy is quickly becoming the new scream queen, McAvoy’s work will surely stand as one of the year’s most fun performances, and Shyamalan finds himself back from the dead. Stay for the credits, which include a nice cameo.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Cinema Clips: Gold

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2017 at 9:00 PM


You have to give Matthew McConaughey an A for effort in his latest film excursion, the “loosely based on a true story” Gold.

McConaughey not only stars as wannabe gold magnate Kenny Wells, he also co-produced the movie, thinned his hair, put in some weird teeth and gained some weight for the role. Sadly, maximum effort doesn’t result in optimized return.

The movie is an uneven, confused endeavor, and McConaughey’s physicality comes off looking like a guy who’s in really good shape simply messing himself up for the few months it takes to shoot a movie. He doesn’t look like a real guy in the way Robert De Niro did when he destroyed his physicality for Raging Bull. He just looks slightly out-of-shape and made-up, which is distracting. Even if he looked like a fuzzy elephant wearing sunglasses, Gold would still be a bit of a mess, albeit a sometimes entertaining one.

Wells is a fictional character, and the film is based loosely upon the Bre-X gold scandal of the 1990s. The original scandal occurred in Canada, while director Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) brings the story to the U.S. It all winds up somewhat of a confusing muddle, with action bouncing all over the place. As for simple storytelling, there’s nothing new here, and the big twist isn’t a surprise at all.

The movie wants to be a jungle adventure movie and business adventure all in one, and the two don’t meld together well. It winds up feeling like four or five movies mushed together.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Cinema Clips: Toni Erdmann

Posted By on Mon, Feb 6, 2017 at 11:57 AM


Ines (Sandra Huller), a terse, corporate type is busy trying to conduct international relations involving big dollars when her dad Winfried (Peter Simonischek) shows up with a goofy wig and fake teeth as Toni Erdmann, corporate coach.

He throws a wrench in the works with his prankster ways, and Ines must learn to lighten up or reject the dad. The results, while a little predictable (and long winded) are fairly interesting thanks mainly to Huller, who anchors the sometimes silly film with a true sense of realism.

Her performance is top notch, and makes the film worth seeing. She also spends a good chunk of the film’s final act—which takes a major turn for the satiric—naked, which is pretty daring.

Simonischek is fun in the dad role, although his antics are sometimes a little too outrageous to buy in what is basically a serious movie about father-daughter relationships and coping in a cold business world.

Director Maren Ade might choose to use a little more restraint with future films (this movie would work fine at two hours and didn’t need nearly three to tell it’s story). While I’m not convinced any daughter would allow her father to mess with her at work in this fashion and is anything near realistic, it is a movie where make believe things happen, and a nicely enjoyable one at that.

This is Germany’s current Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Cinema Clips: Elle

Posted By on Fri, Feb 3, 2017 at 12:01 PM


Paul Verhoeven, who never really recovered from the delicious calamity that was Showgirls (although Starship Troopers was pretty good), tries his hand again at a female empowerment movie (Yes, Showgirls was supposed to be a female empowerment movie) and he fails miserably.

Isabelle Huppert labors away as Michele, owner of a company that makes terrible videogames. As the film begins, we see her victimized in a graphic assault scene that Verhoeven revisits again and again throughout the film. Michele takes an unconventional approach to the event and, as the mystery of who the assailant is plays out, the movie goes off the rails with weirdness.

I guess Verhoeven is shooting for satire here, but what he winds up with is a ragged, less glossy rehash of eighties flicks like Jagged Edge. It’s a bad mystery movie that’s trying to be shocking and even funny, but it all feels desperate and trashy. Huppert is a great actress, and she does all she can with what she’s given. Verhoeven, on the other hand, has basically lost it. Actually, he lost it a long time ago. Maybe another director could’ve made the strange elements balance out, rather than having all feel exploitive and wasteful.

I hate movies that revel in their cleverness when they are totally not clever. I also hate that the movie tries to explain Michele’s behavior towards her assailant as a product of her violent past. Also, you’ll guess the killer long before the movie is half over. This is garbage.

Yes, I know it’s getting a lot of awards and nominations. It’s still garbage.


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