Archive for the ‘James McEnteer’ Category

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by James McEnteer

Best Picture IMHO

Oscars So White?

The Best Picture nominees are all artistically accomplished productions. “Rocky 7,” aka Creed, may or may not deserve to be among them. But Michael B. Jordan’s performance in the lead role is a glaring omission from the Best Actor category, especially considering Sylvester Stallone’s nomination for Best Supporting Actor in that same movie.

Stallone deserves a nomination. So does Jordan. Writer/Director Ryan Coogler also merits a Best Director acknowledgment for reviving the moribund Rocky franchise with fresh energy. What about Spike Lee’s audacious and timely Chi-Raq? Or the dynamic Teyonah Parris?

Beasts of No Nation suffers from a double disadvantage in the eyes of the Academy, with a black cast in a foreign land. (Like Straight Outta Compton!). Idris Elba has been recognized by the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes, but not the Oscars. This oversight recalls the Academy’s inexplicable failure to honor David Oyelowo’s riveting portrayal of Martin Luther King in last year’s Selma.

 

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These omissions reflect much more poorly on the motion picture establishment than on the snubbed artists. A boycott is a viable protest. But the Academy itself needs revision. Not affirmative action categories (Best Minority Actress in a Comedic Role) but a revolution in thinking that more accurately reflects the country in which we live and its rich, diverse artistic community.

Of the eight Best Picture nominees, I have a clear favorite. Running quickly through the field: The Big Short is a star-studded tutorial on the horrific mortgage loan bank scams of @ 2008. Expertly acted and deeply informative, the movie asks us to sympathize with the smart insiders who made a bundle predicting the inevitable financial collapse. But that sympathy is a hard sell.

 

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Bridge of Spies is an earnest, Spielberg/Hanks rehearsal of a real-life Cold War spy exchange between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. Mark Rylance makes for a memorable Rudolf Abel. Watchable if unexceptional.

Brooklyn is a gorgeous, bittersweet coming-of-age story with Saoirse Ronan growing before our eyes from wretched waif to worldly woman, who falls in love with her native Ireland only after committing her life to the United States.

Mad Max: Fury Road is a wild ride through apocalyptic wastes, exhibiting director George Miller’s mastery at a whole new level of the genre he created. He richly deserves his nomination, as does the intense, astonishing Charlize Theron.

 

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The Martian is a technically splendid post-modern Robinson Crusoe tale with Best Actor nominee Matt Damon as the sole inhabitant of a planet, reflecting the secret feelings of some Hollywood stars.

The Room is a harrowing, claustrophobic saga of a kidnap victim and her young son in prolonged captivity. To its credit, this film offers an unblinking look at the emotional complications the two face after their escape. Brie Larson dazzles here, as does Jacob Tremblay.

 

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Spotlight is a terrific, old-fashioned journalistic procedural with a splendid cast. Against the odds, scrappy reporters get the goods on the entrenched political-religious powers of the Boston establishment. While I admired this movie, I was even more engaged by another journalism film, Truth, starring Robert Redford as Dan Rather and Cate Blanchet as his producer, Mary Mapes. A cautionary tale, this film was probably not nominated because it does not have Spotlight’s “happy ending.” And the probable perp, Karl Rove, is still at large.

Which brings us to The Revenant, a tale of revenge based loosely on historical events. But the direction and cinematography elevate this simple plot to an allegorical level. The elements of light and water are mesmerizing and seductive. The harsh retributive human world, where treachery is the norm, love is under constant threat and friends and generosity are rare, plays out in brutal, bloody inevitability before the cold, impassive natural world.

Leonardo DiCaprio, who hardly ever leaves the screen, is transcendent here as Hugh Glass, heartsick, dispossessed, wounded, abused and left for dead, driven to survive and keep moving by the only thing he has left: vengeance. He takes us with him on his painful, frightening journey. We feel every frigid plunge he takes into racing waters, every bite of raw meat he gobbles to stay alive.

 

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Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu’s decisión to make the movie in a real wilderness was a gamble that pays off handsomely with its authenticity, beauty and menace. Emmanuel Lubezki exploits the natural elements to highlight the tragedy of violent human interactions. The battle action sequences convey the fear and confusionn of these fierce encounters.

In a recent article, a university professor condemned The Revenant as “a film that glorifies settler colonialism.” This seems to me a misreading of the movie. Glass marries a Native American woman who bears his child. He grieves her death at the hands of white soldiers. Neither the French nor the Anglo trappers are romanticized as anything other than mercenary. Native American leaders in the film castigate all the Euro-settlers as trespassers and thieves.

Iñarritu does not sugar-coat the murderous habits and consequences of the intruders into the North American wilderness. Quite the contrary. Can a film be raw and bloody, yet beautiful and elegiac? The Revenant shows that it can. For its moral and aesthetic complexity, in a stark setting with a simple plot, this film deserves to take home all the Oscar gold it can carry.

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James McEnteer is the author of Shooting the Truth: the Rise of American Political Documentaries, Praeger, 2006. He lives in Ecuador where DVDs are 7 for $10.

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zombie crowd

 

How mass media enable the Zombie Apocalypse

By James McEnteer

 

When Mitt Romney rose from the grave of his own hypocrisy and insular privilege to oppose Barack Obama, even Americans who dislike Obama’s policies voted for him anyway, simply because he was a live human being.

 

Zombies dominate our nation’s airwaves. They have already devoured much of our rational public discourse and now threaten our social sanity. Zombies are hot commodities. They sell. That’s why they cannot be stopped or killed. Some editors and producers understand that zombies carry dangerous mental and moral infections that may already have doomed civilization as we (used to) know it. But profits outweigh the risks of parading zombies in prominent places.

Two factions promote the prevalence of zombies in mass media: True Believers and Snarky Ironists. Believer media managers feature the living dead as hosts or guests to flaunt their twisted catechism. Media Ironists recognize zombies for the frightening freaks they are, but trumpet their grotesque views anyway to whip up outrage and energize their often demoralized “normal” base.

Unsurprisingly, many True Believers are zombies themselves, like Roger Ailes, who presides over the Fox zombie empire. Ailes spent decades promoting undead candidates such as Nixon and Reagan and Bush, all of whom were morally moribund before entering the White House. Like all zombies, Ailes has never had any actual ideas, only tactics, an obsession with ratings, and an urge to rule.

He employs other soulless creatures like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, who substitute truculence for wit and shrillness for substance. Such tactics mesmerize the gullible and unwary, who fall under the zombie spell as their minds disintegrate and they too are doomed to wander empty-headed over the earth.

So-called progressive media are as guilty as Fox for promoting the zombie agenda. Salon and Raw Story and Talking Points Memo cannot resist quoting the mindless, outrageous comments of zombies such as Pat Robertson or Rick Santorum or Donald Trump, just to stir the pot. For liberal media, zombies are the freak show that helps lure rubes and readers into the main tent.

Irrational assertions by Robertson or other undead “ministers” who pretend to speak from religious conviction make for hilarious and/or infuriating headlines in otherwise supposedly rational publications. Robertson’s pronouncements, that Ivy League schools are preventing God’s miracles in America or that feminism causes women to kill their children and practice witchcraft, are simply too wackola not to report.

But this mockery — often in bold headlines — still spreads the soul-destroying zombie creed. And even ironic renderings of zombie madness have actual consequences. Consider Newt Gingrich. Though politically dead since the last millennium, when he resigned from Congress in disgrace, Gingrich was kept artificially “alive” long years after his political demise by constant exposure on cryogenic “news” programs, enabling his 2012 zombie candidacy for president.

Fox sustains political zombies long after their sell-by dates in public life: Sarah Palin and Dick Morris and Herman Cain are some of Fox’s dead talking heads. Other mumbling, unkillable corpses haunt radio airwaves, like Oliver North and Mike Huckabee. Sunday morning TV talk shows feature zombie panels grilling zombie guests, though it’s likely only zombies watch these shows.

The Republican presidential primary season was a veritable zombie jamboree. When Mitt Romney rose from the grave of his own hypocrisy and insular privilege to oppose Barack Obama, even Americans who dislike Obama’s policies voted for him anyway, simply because he was a live human being. That could have been his campaign slogan: Obama. He’s not a zombie.

Americans are still hungover from the Bush-Cheney zombie era of death and detention. We watched horrified as humans degenerated into zombies in front of our eyes, like Colin Powell at the United Nations. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Woo — their names still sends shudders down the spine. Or the echo of their strange incantation: “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud…”

The legions of political zombies who haunt Congress — McConnell, McCain, Hatch, Inhofe, Chambliss, Graham, et. al. — are a media cliché. Who keeps voting these creatures into office? Apparently others of their kind. Many so-called “reality” shows are mere zombie voyeurism: Survivor Housewives of the Jersey Shore. Shoot them, they get back up and keep coming.

For the common weal, it’s time for a mass media ban on zombies. True Believers cannot be dissuaded from their soulless course. Fox will be Fox. But progressive and mainstream media must cease offering zombies platforms to spout their venomous anti-life invective, even for scornful laughs. Exposure prolongs the power of the undead. Let them perish in a well-earned oblivion.

There is no reason to hear from — or about — the Westboro Baptist Church ever again. The living dead should not be given space to proselytize for their anti-human views, even when presented as freaks or perverts. Or from preachers of anti-gay sermons who turn out to be gay themselves. Religious hypocrisy is old news. Let Pat Robertson rant and rave only in the catacombs under the 700 Club.

Nor should media cover the mad posturings of notoriety-sucking undead like Donald Trump. Yes, Trump has completely missed the point of what it means to be human. But how often do we need to see him demonstrate that? Trump is like a race car driver with no brakes or pit crew, careening in circles. We watch him, waiting for his wheels to fly off, hoping no bystanders are seriously injured.

When you start to notice them, zombies are everywhere. We tend to take them for granted. But giving them free rein is a fatal mistake. Zombies won’t be content until they convert every last one of us to their ghastly ghetto of ghouls.

We’re fast approaching an apocalyptic tipping point. If we lived there we’d be home now. And we almost are. Klaatu barada nikto.
 

James McEnteer is the author of Shooting the Truth: the Rise of American Political Documentaries (Praeger). He lives in Quito, Ecuador. Read more of James McEnteer’s articles on The Rag Blog.

 

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That movie’s too expensive! Knock it off!

by James McEnteer

Straight to Video

“I’d like to thank the members of the Academy. Or at least, one of them…”

You won’t hear that speech at the upcoming Oscar ceremonies. But movie fans in Ecuador, where I live, and in many other so-called “developing” countries, have reason to be grateful to certain members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: the pirates among them.

Those of us residing off the reservation read about and see clips from the latest Hollywood – and some international – features and documentaries on the internet. But few of these films ever make it to local cinemas here in Quito. As in many U.S. cities, Quito theaters are mostly clustered in malls, where action blockbusters and animated confections tend to crowd out more provocative fare.

There are occasional exceptions. We were able to see Scorsese’s aesthetically splendid Hugo and Spielberg’s breathless Adventures of Tin-Tin here in 3-D last year. The Life of Pi is playing right now with the options of 3-D or cheaper 2-D, subtitled or dubbed. I managed to catch Argo as it sped through town. But I was the only human in the theater.

It’s frustrating to read about interesting films in The New York Times or Salon or The Guardian or other online venues, knowing that most of them will never get to our portion of the planet. Unless of course they are nominated for one or more Academy Awards.

DVDs of nominated films are sent to the several thousand members of the Academy for their voting consideration. One or more of those members apparently markets his or her copies to pirates. And almost overnight, Quito video stores leap quantumly from their usual offerings of old or second-rate stuff to Oscar-level fare.

Several dozen films – all nominated for best picture, best director, best actor, etc. – have suddenly appeared in handsome cases with the highest quality cinematic reproduction. The only drawback, negligible really, is that occasionally throughout the course of the movie, a phrase such as “For Your Consideration” appears to remind Academy voters why they got their free copy.

Of course these movies are not free to us. We have to buy them. But the prices seem fair: two dollars each, three for five dollars or seven for ten. We’ve been buying fistfuls of films lately to sate our movie lust after many months of cinematic austerity. My son always enjoys the moment when the FBI anti-piracy warning appears on the screen since all our videos are pirated, from pirate stores.

Does this make us criminals? Copyright thieves? Video vampires? The USA makes a fetish of protecting intellectual property rights. Partly because entertainment is among the few products our country manufactures anymore. And partly because our government tends to represent corporate interests over those of individuals. Do they go too far? Ask the parents of Aaron Swartz.

Before Harvey Weinstein importunes some National Security types to come knocking on our door or to close down the pirate video stores of Quito (and many other cities worldwide), let’s talk money. The median income of Ecuadorian citizens is about ten percent that of USA residents. By law, the minimum wage here is $300 a month.

Should actors and producers be compensated for what they do? Absolutely. But how much? I’ll guess that Mr. Weinstein earns something beyond a decent living doing what he does. I don’t begrudge him a penny of it. I’m grateful for his production and dissemination of movies. But I’m not worried about his financial well-being. He’s living among the stars, not on the edge of an economic abyss.

Movie-Piracy

Would Brad Pitt prefer more fame or more money? That’s the choice. I recently saw and enjoyed his performance in Killing Them Softly. He’s a terrific actor. Of course he did not earn any royalties from the copy I bought in Quito. But many of his films do not play local theaters. (Tree of Life? No way.) And most movie fans here would be unwilling or unable to pay non-pirated rates for a DVD.

Netflix streams to Latin America now. We tried them out for a free sample month. But their online selection to our zone is a fraction of what they offer in the USA. You’d almost think they were afraid someone might pirate their output.

I am willing and able to spend five or six dollars for a theater ticket here to watch a movie. But stimulating films at the mall are few and far between. Were it not for the pirate video stores – the only Blockbuster there is – I would not be able to indulge my pleasure in wonderful movies like Moonrise Kingdom or Beasts of the Southern Wild. A real Blockbuster would fail here, as many of their outlets are failing across the United States.

So I would like to thank the member or members of the Academy who are making extra cash by breaking the rules and letting many more millions of film fans around the world enjoy the current Oscar contenders.

May the force, but not the police force, be with you.

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