Movie Review – The Year of Living Dangerously

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)
Written by David Williamson, Peter Weir, and C.J. Koch
Directed by Peter Weir

In a complete coincidence, I am currently reading The Jakarta Method: Washington’s Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World by Vincent Bevins. I’m just about four chapters in but am already learning a lot about Indonesia and the part the CIA played in completely destabilizing that country. However, I was completely unaware that this film is specifically about the coup attempt in that country in the mid-1960s. This immediately raised my radar, wanting to see how the picture treats its communist characters. Will they be nuanced, developed participants in the story or faceless monsters like orcs in Lord of the Rings. Is this a movie influenced by anti-communist Western propaganda or an honest telling of what was happening in Indonesia?

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Movie Review – Gallipoli (1981)

Gallipoli (1981)
Written by David Williamson & Peter Weir
Directed by Peter Weir

Set around a decade after Picnic at Hanging Rock, Peter Weir’s Gallipoli continues his interest in looking at the so-called “wonder of civilized society.” He does it this time by making a war film that spends a large chunk of its time looking at the characters on their way to the war. His purpose is to examine ideas closely related to white Australian culture that might not be immediately familiar to people outside of the continent. One of these is the idea of ANZAC, the belief that Australians and their cousins in New Zealand possess unique traits that set them apart from their ancestral lands. In many ways, this is the myth of American exceptionalism Down Under. Weir also knows that you cannot talk about war in this era without addressing male friendship and how profound that love can be and how easily it is abused.

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Movie Review – Quo Vadis, Aida?

Quo Vadis, Aida? (2021)
Written & Directed by Jasmila Žbanić

In July 1995, Bosnian forces took the city of Srebrenica. This was part of the Bosnian War, a three-year civil war that followed the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Ethnic and nationalist groups fell into conflict; proto-fascist forces targeted Muslim populations. The Bosnian War is a complicated subject to talk about, just purely from how complex the internals of these regions are. It was never a clear war with one side versus another, but lots of smaller players as well. Quo Vadis, Aida? tells a very personal story about one of many brutal events that saw the mass culling of people while the United Nations/NATO seemed powerless to do anything. Through this story, we’re forced to contemplate what it would be like to then live beside the very people responsible for such swaths of deaths. 

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Book Update – September/October 2021

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

We live at a time when much of the world we assumed was permanent is being shown as transitory at best. Unsustainable systems of living are falling apart before our eyes reminding us how dead-eyed consumption charging into the future will lead to our deaths. Science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler saw humanity headed in this direction back in the 1990s when Parable of the Sower was published. The book is set in the distant future of 2024 and is told from the perspective of Lauren Olamina, a young Black woman living outside of Los Angeles. Her deceased mother’s use of drugs during pregnancy imbued Lauren with hyper-empathy, meaning she experiences the sensations and feelings of others. In a crumbling world full of violence and rage, this is a very horrible thing to have. 

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Movie Review – Ragtime

Ragtime (1981)
Written by Michael Weller and Bo Goldman
Directed by Milos Forman

In 1905 the United States was in a period of change. This is known as The Gilded Age when rapid economic growth for some Americans experienced a significant increase in wages. This was due to the explosion of industrialization across the country and led to many European immigrants traveling across the Atlantic with the promise of a better life. Black Americans benefited as well and began to see some increase in their wealth yet were still subject to Jim Crow laws. White Americans, as always, took more than everyone else and were able to grow their middle class and create some of the first Captains of Industry, multi-millionaires whose wealth gave them immense power. This time was also known as Ragtime, named after the popular musical style which featured a syncopated rhythm. As with almost all popular music in America, it was originated by Black people before becoming popular nationwide.

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Movie Review – Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof (1971)
Written by Joseph Stein
Directed by Norman Jewison

By this time in his career, Norman Jewison had become dismayed over the political climate in the United States. It was clear that the government was meeting the multiple cultural uprisings and movements with hostility and brutality. He decided to move his family to England, which is where his subsequent few productions were based. Having gained considerable clout for his work on In the Heat of the Night and The Thomas Crown Affair, Jewison was offered to direct a film adaptation of the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof. The themes of Fiddler seem right in Jewison’s wheelhouse, but it was his first musical, so that aspect of the film remained to be seen until its release. The result is one of Jewison’s best pictures.

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Movie Review – Casino

Casino (1995)
Written by Martin Scorsese & Nicholas Pileggi
Directed by Martin Scorsese

After the success of Goodfellas, both with audiences and critics, it was reasonably sure Scorsese & author Nicholas Pileggi would collaborate again on something. Five years later, they told another true story of organized crime and its deleterious effects on people’s lives in Casino. Like Goodfellas, the movie focuses on an outsider to the Italian Cosa Nostra, a Jewish man with a remarkable ability to gamble and win big. Unlike Goodfellas, Casino feels more epic in scope. These people deal with amounts of money that are far beyond what Henry Hill ever got his hands on. The story is also more balanced with its three central cast members in a way that Goodfellas never really did.

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Movie Review – The Last Temptation of Christ

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Written by Paul Schrader
Directed by Martin Scorsese

It’s absolutely fascinating to see two artists who have delivered masterpieces (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) so spectacularly bomb a film. I think it’s especially interesting because this was such a passion project for Martin Scorsese. He first read Niko Kazantzakis’s novel while filming Boxcar Bertha for Roger Corman in 1972. In turn, Scorsese gave the book to Schrader, and the two planned to make this as the follow-up to The King of Comedy. Right-wing fundamentalist Christian groups and Catholic morality organizations started letter writing to complain about the production, and Paramount pulled back. 

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Movie Review – Education

Education (2020)
Written by Steve McQueen & Alistair Siddons
Directed by Steve McQueen

During the 1970s, it was discovered that some London councils were secretly following an unwritten policy to push Black children out of mainstream schools and into “subnormal” schools that were underfunded and poorly staffed. This practice was exposed by Bernard Coard, an education activist from Grenada who worked as a teacher in England. He found that this policy had a long-term effect of making children “neurotic about their race and culture.” This was yet another in a long line of exposure of systemic racism in Western culture directed at Black minds & bodies.

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Movie Review – Mangrove

Mangrove (2020)
Written by Steve McQueen & Alastair Siddons
Directed by Steve McQueen

The summer of 2020 was a season marked by the continued spread of COVID-19 and a massive civil unrest movement that came out of a reaction to the state-sanctioned murders of a growing number of Black people in America. What followed in major cities across the country were all-out police riots with hordes of uniformed officers revealing what brutal thugs they indeed were. The media narrative pushed was that there were riots, but in hundreds of videos released across social media, anyone could see that these attacks from police were made on peaceful demonstrators who were being very direct about their thought on law enforcement in America. Steve McQueen reminds us that this is not merely an American phenomenon or even something specific to our point in history. Police and the justice system are inherently racist, and they cannot be engaged in good faith.

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