“All Is True” Recounts an Unknown Period of Shakespeare’s Life

How much do we really know about William Shakespeare? We know that he was born in Stratford-upon-Avon. He was educated at Kings New School.  He married Anne Hathaway at 18 and had three children with her. And most importantly he wrote at least 37 plays between 1590 and 1613.

Kenneth Branagh’s “All Is True” examines the last dark decade of Shakespeare’s life and what has been speculated about his last years. In this last decade, Shakespeare had quietly retired to his birth home of Stratford-upon-Avon with his wife and two daughters. His beloved son Hamnet died of unknown cases in 1596. The death of his son is the seed narrative for “All Is True.”

The films open with Shakespeare’s beloved (Kenneth Branagh) Globe Theatre burning to the ground with Shakespeare watching accompanied by a very young boy. Shakespeare returns to his home in Stratford-upon-Avon and attempts to mend his tedious relationship with his wife and two daughters.

Shakespeare’s oldest daughter Susanna (Lydia Wilson) is married to a self-righteous doctor John Hall (Hadley Fraser) while his younger acidic daughter Judith, brilliantly portrayed by Kathryn Wilder, and his wife (Judy Dench) have remained at the family home in Stratford-upon-Avon. Dench and Wilder are two opposite sides of the same coin. They have both experienced the fame and absence of Shakespeare while responding to absence in different ways. Dench refuses him access to the marital bed and Wilder bitterly criticizes almost everything he does. This is the household that Shakespeare in his later life must settle down to.

At the core of this uneasy family reunion of sorts is Shakespeare’s mourning over the death of his son Hamnet, Judith’s twin brother. Believing that his son possessed a great talent for writing, Shakespeare continues to bemoan Hamnet’s death many years after his son’s passing. Judith has become a bitter shrew believing that her father would have preferred her death over her twin brother, and Anne, Shakespeare, has settled done to a frustrated existence of mundane normalcy.

Though “All Is True” is a slow-moving film, Branagh has done an excellent job at recapturing the norms and attitudes of post-Elizabethan England. His Shakespeare is both wise and blithely unaware at times. Having spent so much of his time being a man of the stage, the pedestrian humdrum life of Stratford-upon-Avon is a relief from the hustle and bustle of London, and at other times a lifestyle to be tolerated. Reintegrating himself into family life is proving to be tedious at best. And often, Branagh’s Shakespeare is treated like a stranger in his own home.

Dench’s Anne Hathaway is a resolute and tempered matriarch who has written her own narrative about the circumstances of her marriage and the death of her son. Her narrative is her only truth. No other truth matters.

While Dench and Branagh’s characters are fully fleshed out portrayals, it is Wilder as Judith that really gives viewers insight into norms and morays of post-Elizabethan England. Women are just an appendage to men with no real power or consequence. And they wear their unhappiness like a heavy shroud.

Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures

Though “All Is True is not for a mass audience, Branagh does give an interesting perspective on Shakespeare’s last days with an interesting twist on his sexual preference thrown in for good measure.  The challenge is if audience will really care about this depiction of William Shakespeare. Hmm, it is a hard call.

“All Is True” is a Sony Pictures film, directed by Kenneth Branagh. “All Is True” opens in select theaters on May 10.

 —William S. Gooch

“The White Crow” Examines Nureyev, the Early Years

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There is no doubt that Rudolf Nureyev was a legend in and out of the ballet world. At the peak of his career in the 1960s and 70s, Nureyev was a larger than life character that traversed the worlds of dance, theatre, film and celebrity. No other dancer, until Nureyev, achieved the international stardom and media proliferation that was a constant companion to his unbelievable stagecraft.

And though Nureyev career and life has been studied, dissected, and examined almost ad nauseum since his untimely death in 1993, very few of the many documentaries have looked closely at his childhood and his life before he became an international ballet star.In David Hare’s “The White Crow,” Nureyev’s life, before he become a media star, is carefully examined, from his poverty-stricken existence as a young boy in Ufa, Bashkortostan, Russia to his student life at the prestigious Vaganova Choreographic Institute in Leningrad, Russia to his escape to freedom at the Orly Airport in Paris in 1961. These previously unexamined years gives a unique view into the brooding personality of Nureyev. And though there is no doubt that Nureyev loved the spotlight and adoration of ballet fans, he was, at times, introverted, cautious, untrusting, and extremely arrogant. If any artist possessed qualities that could be found of both sides of the coin, Nureyev did.

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Oleg Ivanko as Nureyev possesses many of the qualities of a young Nureyev. He has a prodigious ballet technique, deep brooding eyes, the same flaring nostrils—a true sign of genius—and a high opinion of himself. In Ivanko’s Nureyev we also see an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and all things Western.What perhaps stands out most about Ivanko’s Nureyev is his obsession with making himself the Kirov Ballet’s premier danseur. In “The White Crow” we witness Nureyev’s unrelenting drive to make his technique and his artistry unsurpassable by any other dancer at that time. Interestingly, the male ballet star of the Kirov at the time of Nureyev’s defection was Yuri Soloviev (Serge Polunin). Soloviev was a classical dancer more in the vein of what the Kirov respected, unlike Nureyev wild, pantherine presence on stage. And though the authorities were putting all their hopes and press of Soloviev, Nureyev became the star of the European tour.

Much has been written about Nureyev’s relationship with Alexander Pushkin, his ballet teacher and mentor. Ralph Fiennes, who also directed this film, portrays Pushkin as a quiet, elegant man who is slightly cuckolded by his wife Xenia (Chulpan Khamatova), with whom Nureyev later had an intense sexual relationship. Fiennes superbly demonstrates how Pushkin’s measured by firm mentorship of Nureyev helped restrain some of his unruly behavior without watering down his artistry. Fiennes also brilliantly captures in this film the austerity and blandness of every day life in Soviet Russia and how something as magical as a ballet could bring fantasy and joy to the human spirit.; particularly, in a society where artistic freedom was carefully monitored.

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Perhaps, the most interesting aspect of “The White Crow” were the scenes where Nureyev (Oleg Ivanko) is exploring the seedier sides of Paris before his defection. Cases in point were smoky cafes with same-sex couples and back alleys with subversive characters. All these influences feed Nureyev’s curiosity and imagination, which made it only natural for him to defect, especially after his affront to KGB authorities was to end his career at the Kirov Ballet.

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With “The White Crow” audience will witness all the tragedy and passionate vibrancy that made s young inchoate Nureyev the great artist that the world would come to adore. Out of the seedling of talent, determination and boldness was borne a dance artist that forever changed the image of male ballet dancers. And “The White Crow” details how it all began!!

“The White Crow” opens in select theaters on April 26.

—William S. Gooch

“Mary Queen of Scots”: A Tale of Two Queens

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“A woman is like a tea bag—you can’t tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” –Eleanor RooseveltAnd like former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, both Mary Queen of Scots and Queen Elizabeth I exhibit unbelievable strength and fortitude during difficult political times. In Josie Rourke’s “Mary Queen of Scots,” challenging political conflicts bring out the best and the worst in both female rulers.

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“Mary Queen of Scots” explores the turbulent life of the charismatic Mary Stuart (Saoirse Ronan). Queen of France at 16 and widowed at 18, Mary defies pressure to remarry. Instead, she returns to her native Scotland to reclaim her rightful throne. But Scotland and England fall under the rule of the compelling Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie). Each young Queen beholds her “sister” in fear and fascination. Rivals in power and in love, and female regents in a masculine world, the two must decide how to play the game of marriage juxtaposed against female independence. Determined to rule as much more than a figurehead, Mary asserts her claim to the English throne, threatening Elizabeth’s sovereignty. Betrayal, rebellion, and conspiracies within each court imperil both thrones—and change the course of history.This film of two strong, independent royals interestingly coincides with 2018 being deemed ‘The Year of the Woman’ and a surge of female empowerment evidenced in the US 2018 Mid-Term elections where an unprecedented amount of female candidate ran and won federal and local offices. Though female empowerment during the Elizabethan era rested almost solely in the province of male sovereigns with women mostly being benign consorts who helped bring wealth and power to the throne, Mary Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor, respectively Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I, were decidedly different, having inherited their thrones because of a lack of male heirs. (At that time, England and Scotland were two separate kingdoms.)

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Related through their ancestor Henry VII, though divided by religious affiliations—Mary being a devoted Catholic and Elizabeth a confirmed Protestant—both Mary and Elizabeth wore their respective crowns in a man’s world. And Josie Rourke highlighted this struggle—whether factually or fictionally—brilliantly in this film.

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Rourke also managed to take the well-known historical fact of Mary Queen of Scots’ struggles with her throne and with Elizabeth I and inject a modern sensibility into a film that could have been just another dusty journey down a historical path. Rourke’s infusion of modern elements includes diverse, multiracial casts with black ambassadors and aristocrats, as well as Asian and Latin courtiers. Initially this mélange of diversity was a bit offsetting, but after a short time, due to the incredible script and acting chops of the cast, the cast diversity began to actually add to the film.You cannot talk about historical dramas without looking at the costumes. Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne was historically accurate and revelatory with her costume choices in this film. Understanding that bold color was a luxury that even most royals didn’t have access to, Byrne attired the cast, for the most part, in the neutral colors of black, grey, white, with some occasional blue tones in for good measure. Only Queen Elizabeth I’s costumes exhibited a small injection of bold color. Byrne also did a great job with Queen Elizabeth I’s headdresses and Mary’s battle attire was both powerful and feminine at the same time.

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Costumes and multiracial casting aside, this movie would have had a powerful impact with the well-skill abilities of the two main characters. Audience members will readily sympathize with Mary’s (Ronan) almost insurmountable task of ruling a divided Scotland, and the many obstacles to her sovereignty. And Robbie skillfully demonstrated Elizabeth’s transition from a young female ruler to a woman who had no choice but to defeminize herself in order to rule the throne.“Mary Queen of Scots” displayed the inordinate sacrifices that both rulers made in order to be sovereigns. And in the end, neither Mary nor Elizabeth won. Mary lost her life, and Elizabeth gave up her right to womanhood.

“Mary Queen of Scots” opens in limited release on December 7.

—William S. Gooch

The Most Authentic Callas: “Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words”

What is to be said about opera legend Maria Callas that hasn’t always been said? Not much. There have been several documentaries and movies her life—“Callas Forever,” “Maria Callas: La Divina: A Portrait,” Callas Assoluta,” “Maria Callas: Life & Art,” and “Maria Callas: Living and Dying for.” So, is another documentary or movie about La Callas necessary?

Perhaps, Tom Volf’s documentary “Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words” will give Callas’s diehard fans a reason for another film about the great diva. “Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words” is the first documentary where Maria Callas tells her life story in her own words. The entire documentary is told through performances, TV interviews, home movies, family photographs, private letters and unpublished memoirs—nearly all of which have never been shown to the public—the film reveals the essence of an extraordinary woman who rose from humble beginnings in New York City to become a glamorous international superstar and one of the greatest artists of all time. This documentary is a loving portrait of one of history’s most extraordinarily talented women, told in a way that is revelatory, unprecedented, and authoritative.

Interestingly, “Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words” is perhaps the most authentic reflection on Callas’ life and there is no doubt that Callas’ life was a life that great dramas are made from. From her up from the almost bottom in the Bronx—most people don’t know that Callas is actually a New York native—to the beginning of her operatic career in Greece to her dramatic weight loss, to her becoming a style icon in the manner of Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren to her reputation as a difficult diva, to her affair with Aristotle Onassis everything is documented through interviews and photographs in the diva’s own words.

What is most evident in this documentary is that though Callas was a very complicated woman whose life and career was just as complicated as the woman herself is that Callas was totally invested in the complications in her life and her passions. “Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words” is perhaps the first documentary that records in an artist own words the angst and frustrations of a great artist torn between career, family life and personal obligations.

Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classic

And though there is some sadness and regret in this film due to Callas’ tragic life and untimely death at the age of 59, there are some great footage of her performing great operatic roles—Norma, Tosca, Lucia di Lammermoor—as well as great interviews with Dick Cavett, particularly after her breakup with Onassis. There is also great footage of Callas’ fans queued outside of the old Metropolitan House in New York City.

For those Callas diehards this is a must-see film. In “Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words” still lives and lives, through her own words.

Photos by REX/Shutterstock (25089c) MARIA CALLAS WITH PHOTOGRAPHERS
VARIOUS – 1968

“Maria by Callas: In Her Own Words” is directed by Tom Volf and opens in limited release nationwide on November 2.

—William S. Gooch

“The Happy Prince”: A Different Oscar Wilde

It is not uncommon for an actor to change their appearance for a role. Often this transformation, if the script is good and the film is well directed, can render an Oscar nomination, if not an outright win. Looking back who can forget Charlize Theron’s transformation to the serial killer/man hater Aileen Wournos in “Monster” or Alfred Molina putting on a lot of weight when he played Frida Kahlo;s husband, Diego Rivera, in “Frida?” And what about the late Philip Seymour Hoffman drastic alteration of his body and visage to portray an effete Truman Capote in “Capote.” (In retrospect by Theron and Hoffman won Academy Awards for their characters in “Monster” and “Capote.)

In Sony Classics’ “The Happy Prince” so does Rupert Everett morph his well-chiseled physique into a bloated, oversized, sotted, mess of a man in an attempt to give visual relevance to Oscar Wilde in the last years of his life. In past films. Everett mostly portrayed urban, sophisticated, body-beautiful men who always had the last quip and were the love interest of both women and men alike. Everett’s Oscar Wilde is far removed from the well-heeled gay characters that Everett has portrayed over the last two decades. His Wilde is desperate, morose, down-on-his- luck, and lost in menage of remembrances past and unfulfilled opportunities.

Though “Happy Prince” is written and directed by Everett, Everett ingeniously mines out a performance that is stocked full of nuance and depth. He even manages to project beyond Wilde’s miserable state of a penniless outcast who depends on the kindness of friends, fellow miscreants with an occasional rent boy thrown in for good measure. In spite of Wilde’s pitiful state, Everett injects a wealth of charm and vibrancy coupled with Wilde’s incomparable wit into his portrayal.

In a cheap Parisian hotel room, in declining health, Wilde looks back on life, his fall from grace, his imprisonment, and his many loves—Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie) and Wilde’s wife and two children. His retrospection details good times and great losses; his life as a libertine and dandy of sorts, as well as the fame that came with the production of his plays and written works.

“The Happy Prince” includes a stellar cast that includes Colin Firth, Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson, and Edwin Thomas. Still, “The “Happy Prince” is a star vehicle for Rupert Everett. And with his portrayal of a downtrodden Oscar Wilde, we get to see Oscar Wilde in a different light, and how deep Rupert Everett’s well of talent can go. With “The Happy Prince,” Rupert Everett proves he is much more than a pretty face with a British accent. Is there is Oscar nomination in the works? Fashion Reverie thinks so!!

Photos courtesy of Sony Classics

“The Happy Prince” is distributed by Sony Classics and opens in limited release on October 10.—William S. Gooch

Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco

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It is amazing how one person can touch the lives of so many people. Antonio Lopez is just that person. Though Lopez only lived to the ripe age of 44, his influence in the fashion industry is immensely important and still felt thirty years later.The documentary “Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco” carefully and brilliantly details Antonio Lopez’s rise from humble beginnings in Puerto Rico, and later the Bronx, to his prolific, though short, career as a fashion illustrator and designer. Interestingly, Lopez’s ascent in the fashion industry—in the mid 1960s—came at time when there were few people of color in positions of influence. Still, Lopez with his magnetic charm was never an outsider, always pushing the proverbial fashion envelope, ultimately expanding fashion’s palette of what is beautiful and relevant.

Lopez, singlehandedly, used his familiarity with urban and street culture and infused his illustrations with that specific influence. This was perhaps the first time that major fashion publications had a person of color in their employ that paid homage to diversity and urban culture.

“Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco” gives a purview into how the worlds of urban street culture, pop music, and the downtown arts scene were beginning to influence the fashion industry. Lopez was at the epicenter of this particular cross-pollination of cultures and infused his art and craft with this mélange of influences.

From his fashion illustrations that demonstrated that black and brown is beautiful to his renderings that expressed male sexuality and sensuality in ways that were both erotic and sophisticated, Lopez helped forge a new consciousness in fashion that went beyond the fashion elites and well-heeled ladies with deep pockets. And this documentary gives credence to Lopez’s mastery of fusing a plethora of pop cultural experiences.

Director James Crump carefully examines Lopez’s unique ability to excavate inchoate talent and pushing that talent to the forefront of fashion. Without Lopez there probably would not have been a Grace Jones, Pat Cleveland, Patti D’Arbanville, Corey Tippin or Jerry Hall. And it was Lopez and his partner Juan Ramos that sparked that creative fire and sensibility in Karl Lagerfeld early in his career. Without Lopez and his coterie of creative merry people, perhaps, Lagerfeld would not have developed into the genius who could masterfully combine a variety of influences and popular trends into a seamless expression of beauty and adventure.

Blending video footage, photographs, Lopez’s fashion illustrations, disco music and some very well-placed interviews from Jessica Lange, Grace Coddington, Bill Cunningham, Pat Cleveland, Joan Juliet Buck, Andre Leon Talley, Corey Tippin, Bob Colacello, and others, James Crump artfully creates the mood and motivation of the late 60s and 70s. This collision of cultures and aesthetics is set against the backdrop of New York City and Paris. In fact, Crump creates such well-collaged kaleidoscope of images, sounds and colors that is almost like being in the New York City and Paris of Antonio Lopez. Still, Crump does not leave out some of the vices that drove Lopez’s creative genius. Though these vices—sex, sex, and more sex—are not the focus of the documentary, Crump does detail Lopez’s excesses without simulating titillating voyeurism.

Sadly, like many artists of Lopez’s ilk, his glorious flame burned out way too early, succumbing to HIV/AIDS in 1987. Though Lopez is gone, he most certainly is not forgotten. And “Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco” shows us why!!

“Antonio Lopez 1970: Sex, Fashion & Disco” is currently playing at the IFC Center in New York City through October 4.

—William S. Gooch

The Old and the New Collide in “Crazy Rich Asians”

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Film critics knew it would happen. We just didn’t know when. We all understood that is was time overdue for a mega box office Asian film that put Asians as the main characters and spoke to the growing number of wealthy Asians globally.It has been 25 years since the US has had an Asian film—“The Joy Luck Club”—with a majority Asian cast. And though “The Joy Luck Club” had a stellar Asian cast and did well at the box office, Hollywood did not really stand up and take notice and nor did “The Joy Luck Club” spur Hollywood to invest dollars in other Asian films with a mainly Asian cast.

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That said; 25 years after “The Joy Luck Club” things have changed. Asians are the largest group of new millionaires and billionaires globally. And “Crazy Rich Asians” reflect this new wealth demographic. Though most Asians are not wealthy, in fact, globally, most Asians live below the poverty level; this fact did not stop Hollywood from producing a cinematic look in the luxury lifestyles of the Asian one percent—and in “Crazy Rich Asian’s” case, Asians from a former British colony, Singapore.“Crazy Rich Asians,” a romantic comedy based on Kevin Kwan’s novel, centers on Chinese American Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a New York University economics professor, who travels with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Rachel does not know that her boyfriend’s family is the wealthiest and most esteemed family in Singapore.

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Excited about visiting Asia for the first time, Rachel is not prepared for the rigors of Singapore’s elite class and in particular the expectations of Nick’s disapproving mother (Michelle Yeoh). Feeling out of place, Rachel reaches out to college roommate Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina), whose family is a part of Singapore’s garish nouveau riche, for support and a quick lesson in the morays of Singapore’s elite class. What ensues is a layered romantic comedy that gives insight into the East meets West culture of Singapore and a universal love story about the clash of culture and class.Director Jon M. Chu gives audiences an inside peek into how very rich Asians live, outside of the US, and how Western culture has permeated Asian countries. And though this film is very funny, particularly the scenes with Awkwafina upstaging, in a good way, almost every actor in sight, Jon M. Chu touches on some very important elements of Asian culture that, in spite of Western assimilation, has not been uprooted. Michelle Yeoh represents those old world values; values that contradict Western attitudes toward individualism and personal achievement. Rachel, who was born in the US, is pitied against these old world standards and most find a way to adapt.

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At first glance, “Crazy Rich Asians” is formulaic and could be about any wealthy ethnic group grappling with fading, old world values and the inchoate morays that can accompany great wealth. However, at closer examination, Chu is asking audiences to re-examine neo-liberal concepts of wealth and status. In this way, “Crazy Rich Asians” has more depth and texture than more recent films of this ilk.Interestingly, Jon M. Chu displays an excessive amount of the Western influences of decadence, greed, and individualism compared to his examination old world Asian values of family, saving face, and sacrifice. Perhaps, Chu is saying that these decadent Western influences don’t work so well outside of Western countries, making folks a little schizoid and crazy. Or, at a deeper level Chu is demonstrating that old social norms die a hard death or never really disappear.

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Whatever Chu’s motivation, “Crazy Rich Asians” is a lot of fun and a great addition to the end of summer blockbuster season. Standout performances, and there were many, include Awkwafina’s (Goh Peik Lin) over-the-top, hip hop–embellished portrayal of Rachel’s college roommate; Michelle Yeoh’s dogmatic, steely portrayal of Nick Young’s mother; Constance Wu as the Chinese-American girlfriend caught between two worlds; Lisa Lu as Nick’s stoic grandmother, and Ken Jeong as Goh Peik Lin’s nouveau riche dad.”Crazy Rich Asians” opens nationally on August 15.

—William S. Gooch

Boots Riley Gets it Frighteningly Right in “Sorry to Bother You”

                                              Image courtesy of nymag.com

What can be said about Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You”? A lot can be said. There is humor in this film, a love story, juxtapositions of wealthy elites against the working class, and most of all a phantasmagorical surrealism. All these disparate elements and sub-stories are all rolled into one surprisingly cohesive story. Which is a testament to how good of a writer and storyteller writer/director Boots Riley is.Known mostly as a political activist and lead vocalist of The Coup and Street Sweeper Social Club, Boots Riley in his directorial debut has spearheaded a film that is apt for our current, tumultuous political climate. “Sorry to Bother You,” though infused with humor, metaphor, and satirical commentary on the growing rift between economic elites and everyone else, is still entertaining in spite of the film’s harrowing message.

“Sorry to Bother You”—which some film critics might deem a science fiction comedy—follows the journey of a young African American telemarketer, Cassius Green, as he adopts a Caucasian-sounding sales pitch and rises to the top of the sales/marketing ladder. During his ascent Cassius Green is faced with choosing the wealth and creature comforts of his recently acquired success or helping his fellow workers organize a labor union. (Consider the play of words with Cassius “Cash” Green’s name that references money and sports icon Cassius Clay aka Mohammad Ali. And like Cassius Clay, Cassius Green has a ‘eureka’ moment that changes is ideology and life perspective.)

                                     Image courtesy of theatlantic.com

At first glance, “Sorry to Bother You” is reminiscent of Spike Lee’s attempt in the late 1980s and early 90s to make socially relevant films that commented on race, class, and social mobility. (Riley even uses some of Lee’s cinematic techniques.) Still, Riley’s foray into cinematic expression is different from Spike Lee because there is a lot more humor and Riley’s metaphorical, phantasmagorical images, though harrowing and rooted in science fiction, when examined more closely, those images reflect accurately the times we are living in. Which in some ways makes those metaphorical references tangibly eerie.There are some very strong performances and standout moments in “Sorry to Bother You.” Though Danny Glover has a small supporting role as a fellow telemarketer, he almost singlehandedly is the deus ex machina of this film, expertly providing the momentum to push the film forward. Omari Hardwicke as Mr. _________ is brilliant as a clandestine character that aids Cassius Green in his transition from worker drone to successful marketer. And LaKeith Stanfield as Cassius “Cash” Green brings nuance and depth to Cassius Green nerdy, and ship-without-a-sail character. Stanfield also craftily navigates Cassius Green’s evolution from aimless worker drone to informed citizen.

                                         Image courtesy of syfy.com

Standout scenes include, but not are not limited to, the scene where nerdy Cassius satisfies his rap music thirsty white co-workers by shouting the N-word every two seconds; Cassius stumbling upon equine/humans in the men’s room, and Cassius becoming more sexually appealing after he becomes more successful, even though his physical appearance has not changed. And even more impressive is how strategically Riley handles crowd scenes, a real accomplishment for a first-time director.In this current political climate, one would wonder how “Sorry to Bother You” has achieved nationwide release. Perhaps, this film slipped through cracks because of its criticism of capitalist elites and big business and not the Trump Administration directly, even though they are one in the same. At any rate, “Sorry to Bother You” is a film that must be seen.

                                       Image courtesy of theatlantic.com

In “Sorry to Bother You, we finally have a film with a strong people of color cast that makes you think. We need many more films just like this!!”Sorry to Bother You” is playing in cinemas nationwide.

—William S. Gooch

Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat

The fashion industry is experiencing a retrospective glance back at 1980s street style and culture. This nostalgic reverie, if you call it that, plays out mostly in an reinterpretation of 80s street style evidenced in re-imaged track suits, big hoop earrings, an explosion of 80s–inspired sneakers, fanny packs, and a reinvention of glammed-up New Jack and Jill Swing.

Prior to urban culture becoming a part of the mainstream there were forces in play that gave seed and flower to a political and cultural movement that was the direct antithesis to white privilege. Jean-Michel Basquiat was at the epicenter of this shifting tide, putting his on stamp on the art world and what was to become hip-hop culture. Though his life was cut short by drugs and excessiveness, Basquiat’s impact on the art world urban culture is still felt thirty years after his untimely death. “Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat” successfully examines Basquiat’s burgeoning talent before he took the art world by storm and New York City as the backdrop to Basquiat’s genius.

                                            Image courtesy of okplayer.com

As a 16-year old homeless youth Jean-Michel Basquiat’s New York City was a city that had been ripped apart by urban decay and blight and financial insecurity. White flight and the financial crisis of the late 1970s had left New York City bankrupt with few resources to buffer the growing tensions bubbling under the surface. Yet, this lack of resources served as a creative petri dish for a growing urban culture and style that would include rap music, changing fashion trends, and a new direction in art. Director Sara Driver brilliantly juxtaposing New York City’s declining infrastructure as an inspiring landscape for Basquiat’s nascent brilliance.

Images of Fab Five Freddy, Jim Jarmusch, and Lee Quinones courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Starting with Basquiat’s minor dalliance into graffiti art with the street tag SAMO, Driver’s “Boom For Real” follows Basquiat’s evolution from a talented street teen to a young artist who combines mixed media to take the art world by storm in the early 80s. Driver ingeniously weaves in interviews from friends and collaborative artists like Fab Five Freddy, Jim Jarmusch, Patricia Fields, Lee Quinones, Luc Sante, and others to paint, almost figuratively, a portrait of who Basquiat was and who he was going to become. Driver also brilliantly distilled how Basquiat moved between the worlds of urban culture, the downtown art and culture scenes, expertly absorbing and manipulating those worlds to his own best advantage. On the surface from this documentary, Driver almost concedes that Basquiat was an operator and hustler; yet, Basquiat exposed the insincere privileged art world of that time, where some artists were “making art on their parent’s dime.” Basquiat would have none of that, mainly because he was not that privileged. What he did do was demonstrate that there was relevance and beauty—though sometimes dystopian in nature—to what was going on in urban young people of color’s mind and experiences and that the larger world should take notice. Pat Fields, who carried some of Basquiat’s one-of-a-kind clothing in her store, said it best, “He came to conclusions based on his own philosophies. Most people just aimlessly walk around.”Basquiat represented the artist as an alienated, disenfranchised youth that had a strong point of view, making art based on their own terms. And the rest of the world be damned. This in your face, almost anachronistic approach to his art made Basquiat in odd character, but interesting to folks in NYC’s downtown culture scene. And once his art got the right focus and venue, it just took off.As one interview subject expanded toward the end of the documentary, “He did it. He gave it to them his way. He showed it’s possible!!””Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat” is currently playing at the IFC Theater in NYC until May 23.

—William S. Gooch

Blockers: An Adult and Teenage Sex Comedy for the 21st Century

Anyone familiar with the teenage sex comedies of the 1980s understands that most of the 80s teen sex comedies—The Last American Virgin, Porky’s, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Private Lessons, and Little Darlings—where about getting laid or dealing with the virginity obstacle. It was formulaic, frequently low budget, oftentimes archetypal, depending on your age, very entertaining, and box-office gold until market saturation crept in.

Blockers seeks to take advantage of the continued teenage angst of what to do about unwanted sexual inexperience as seen through the eyes of three female senior high friends who make a pact to get rid of their virginity on prom night. What does differ in the 2018 version of formulaic teen sex movies is that the main characters in Blockers are the parents not the teenagers.

Parents sentimental super jock John Cena, overprotective Leslie Mann, and liberal, chilled out Ike Barinholtz form a posse to prevent, or ‘cock block’ their gal pal daughters from losing their virginity on senior prom night after discovering a text message on Mann’s daughter’s Katherine Newton’s laptop. Teaming up all three parents go through a series of high jinks, guffaws, and realizations has they attempt to foil the gal pal pact.

Though Blockers does differ from 80s teen sex comedies of its ilk, there are some obvious archetypes and story lines. There is the nerdy character that has a horny flip side. In this case it’s Cena’s daughter played by Geraldine Viswanathan. There is also the constant drinking and drunken stupors always found in 80s teen sex films. Lastly, there has to be one anal sex reference. (John Cena is comedy gold in this scene.) And there is the awkwardness of first-time intercourse similarly found in 80s teen flicks. Which is surprising with the current expanded liberal attitudes toward sex and sexual orientation.

Still, there are some differences from 80s teen sex comedies. Family composition in Blockers includes mixed marriages and relationships. We also witness kinky sexual games, not by teens, but from the adults. There is the deciphering of emojis and teenage guys with man buns. The introduction of same sex coupling is not so new, but the general liberal attitude toward gayness is.Blockers is not a movie to look to great screen performances, but teen sex comedies rarely are. However, but as an escape vehicle Blockers might just do the trick. And in these very uncertain times where absurdity is the order of the day and the emperor has no clothes, escape is a very good thing!!

                                            Images courtesy of Universal Studios

Blockers cast includes Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz, Katherine Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon, and is directed by Kay Cannon. Blockers opens nationwide on April 6.

—William S. Gooch

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