4 minutes | Feb 8, 2016
Dennis Morton Picks Three Favorites from 2015
By Dennis Morton Long ago I realized that most of the films I enjoy never make it to that overly exalted Academy status. Occasionally I’m asked to name my favorite movies of the year. It’s not an easy question. I don’t pay much attention to lists like that. I don’t even know which films have been nominated for this year’s Academy Awards. But this year, just for kicks, I decided to make a list of the movies I most enjoyed in 2015. I came up with nine or ten that I knew I’d never tire of re-watching. Let me share with you the three at the top of that celluloid heap (oops – it’s a digital heap now). I’ll toss third place laurels to Amy Schumer’s comic masterpiece – Trainwreck. She wrote the script and stars in the film. She even names her character Amy. For most of her post-pubescent life, character Amy has followed her Daddy’s dictum, i.e. – that ‘monogamy isn’t realistic’. Amy maneuvers through a small army of sexual partners. She lives and works in The Big Apple, so the pickings are good. But one day, on assignment for the trashy magazine she writes for, she meets a sports doctor. Among his current patients is LeBron James. Egged on by LeBron, the doc and Amy enter into strange territory. Trainwreck is not about a wreck, but about re-training oneself. It’s smart and hilarious. Second place on my list goes to the recently released Youth. Director and script writer Paolo Sorrentino is a brilliant man and he imparts much of that quality to more than a few of the characters in Youth. The film is primarily about the lives of two highly accomplished old men – one, a retired composer/conductor and the other, a still working film director. Life long friends – even the lives of their grown children are deeply entwined. Youth brims with scintillating conversation. But what I like best about the film is how cleverly Sorrentino demolishes popular myths. To name a few: that movie stars are dimwits, that children are incapable of serious and informed conversation, and that beauty queens haven’t a brain in their gorgeous noggins. At one point, the newly crowned Miss Universe praises an actor for what he considers one of his lesser roles. He says something rather snide to her and she responds that she appreciates irony, but not when it’s drenched in poison. Youth is filled with moments like that. It’s a great film. And finally, at the top of the heap, is Ex Machina. This is a film about a moment that many of us are fascinat
3 minutes | Jan 29, 2016
Screening: The Education of Auma Obama
By David H. Anthony | KUSP - Event info On the second week of February, Santa Cruz shall be afforded a rare opportunity. On Wednesday February 10, Nigerian born Branwen Okpako will be present at a free public screening her widely acclaimed 2013 film, The Education of Auma Obama, about the Kenyan half sister of Barack Obama, at the Landmark Nickelodeon Theater, at 7:30 p.m. Director Okpako will be fielding questions following the screening. The following day Thursday February 11 Okpako will be screening her 2000 TV documentary Dreckfresser, Dirt for Dinner at 10 am in Coll 8 240 for my History 30, The Making of Modern Africa. Dirt for Dinner is a 2000 about Sam Njankuo Meffire, son of a Cameroonian exchange student in East Germany and a German mother. Both The Education of Auma Obama and Dirt for Dinner treat the subject of African emigration to Europe in general and Germany in particular. Branwen Okpako, herself of mixed heritage, is the daughter of a Nigerian father and a Welsh mother. After college in Wales and Bristol in the UK Okpako studied film in the German Film and Television Academy and lived in Germany before relocating to the US. Okpako currently teaches at Hampshire College. At 6pm Okpako will be discussing her work and showing excerpts of her films for the Living Writers Series in Humanities Lecture Hall on the UCSC campus. Few topics are of greater concern than immigration and Branwen Okpako has devoted years to the subject, not only intellectually, but as one who has lived in the space between Africa and Europe. Since embarking on her film career she has dedicated the majority of her artistic and family time to elucidating stories of Afro-Germans. Moreover, she is herself the mother of Afro-German children. These details give a level of depth to the immigration debate that leaves viewers profoundly moved. Having seen both Dirt for Dinner and The Education of Auma Obama, I eagerly urge you to be present to witness the craft of this gifted cineaste.
2 minutes | Nov 6, 2015
Listen to the review by David H. Anthony above, and read the transcript below. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cogsXjU8VNg Recent juxtapositions of "television" and "news" seem oxymoronic. What matter are ratings, audience numbers, market share, key metrics to assess and increase profitability of the enterprise. Truth, a new docudrama revisiting a decisive transitional moment marking a shift of tv news from a principled profession to a corporate commodity, explores these issues. Truth reconstructs events surrounding a 2004 story seeking to address questions concerning the military service record of then President George W. Bush. Centering on 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes and veteran news anchor Dan Rather, Truth recreates the intense high stakes gamble their team took to research and relate to America a potential election year blockbuster. For Truth this began the end of CBS News as a voice of conscience, sounding the death knell of truth speaking to power, in mass media and politics. As Mapes and staff try to track down leads casting doubt on pilot Bush's air national guard tenure, “old man” Rather serves as on-camera point person. Director James Vanderbilt’s screenplay, based on Mapes' memoir, Truth and Duty: The Press, The President and the Privilege of Power, is fast-paced, edgy and engaging. The story is the true star. Truth aspires to take on big ideas: The right of an informed citizenry to know; the responsibilities of journalists, and the risks facing investigators daring to question entrenched corporate and state power. Simply stated, it is David vs. Goliath. This is summed up in Dan Rather’s clear closing comment, a coda for Truth and all that urgently remains to be done: “Courage.”
3 minutes | Oct 13, 2015
Film Review: ‘Dying to Know’
Listen to the review by David H. Anthony above, and read transcript below. https://vimeo.com/76348497 When the fabled nineteen sixties really began remains an open and lively question. Decades do not necessarily gain their identities simply by changing nines to zeroes or zeroes to ones. In the opinion of filmmaker Gay Dillingham in Dying to Know: Ram Dass and Timothy Leary, ex-Harvard Professor Timothy Leary and his colleague and erstwhile compadre, Richard Alpert, later renamed and reinvented as Baba Ram Dass, played major parts in this root and branch transformation. Dying To Know tells their sagas in parallel in their twilight years, as Leary is actively dying of cancer and Ram Dass, an innovator in the realm of consciousness, turned attention to the hospice movement, then suffering a series of strokes, confronts his own mortality. The film situates Leary and Alpert within the tumultuous times to which they both responded and contributed. Key to their role in changing thought and behavior of a new generation struggling to emerge from Eisenhower era Cold War conservatism and cultural conformity is the investigation of psychotropic or mind altering drugs like psilocybin, a natural psychedelic byproduct of hundreds of mushrooms, and most notoriously, lysergic acid diethylamide-6, LSD. Leary and Alpert conducted scholarly investigations of properties and effects of hallucinogens under controlled conditions on clerics, academics, authors, inmates and agreed to Harvard regulations stipulating restrictions to graduate students. The trials both liberated and manacled Leary and Alpert. The latter proved literal for Leary, especially after a 1963 Harvard Crimson expose by undergraduate investigative reporter Andrew Weil, today a guru in studying mind expansion techniques, foretold an end to their university careers. Yet both Ram Dass and Leary were survivors with astonishing abilities to recover, reconfigure, recalibrate and recreate their personae. They each demonstrated the tenacity and resilience of the seemingly limitless minds whose imaginative powers they dedicated and sacrificed their ivory tower reputations to probe. The high risks inherent in their experimentation helped usher in novel approaches to living. These were informed by everything from psychoanalysis to yoga and meditative practices and “traditional” disciplines and shamanic healing practices associated with the vast world beyond the boundaries of European psychology, p
4 minutes | Sep 22, 2015
Film Review: ‘Grandma’
Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, and read it below. https://vimeo.com/131365575 Just in case you’re late for an appointment, or you’re about to exit your car, let me suggest that you not miss Grandma, which stars the inimitable Lily Tomlin. It’s a fabulous flick. Now then, if you have a few minutes, let me suggest why Grandma is such a very fine film. In the first place: the script. Paul Weitz not only directs Grandma, but he wrote the script. Weitz is a straight white guy who has written a movie about a broken-hearted, ageing lesbian, and her granddaughter. Men are practically absent from the film. With the exception of a nine or ten minute scene in which Sam Elliot’s character recounts an ancient and brief relationship with Tomlin’s character, males are few and far between in Grandma. The women Weitz has created easily carry the film. The few men, who show up sporadically, are mostly guys who help keep a very old car on the road. The movie is billed as a comedy, and it is often very funny, but it’s a lot more than that. I can’t count the number of scenes in which tears, my tears, were close at hand. Lily Tomlin is amazing. Her character, Elle, is so believable, and in such barely disguised pain that I found myself commiserating with her, in spite of her nasty verbal tantrums. Elle is a poet whose only book was published decades ago. It received enough kudos that she was able to nail a handful of part time teaching gigs at various universities. But recently, those gigs have been few in number. And we learn, early in the film, that Elle’s partner of almost forty years, Violet, has recently died. It was an expensive death and Elle insisted on paying all the medical bills. Consequently, when Elle’s granddaughter, Sage, shows up seeking some modest but immediate financial assistance – Elle is without the means to provide it. So, together, Sage and Elle set off in search of the necessary moolah. They have about a half a day to find it. Elle’s grief over the loss of Violet is manifested in a ubiquitous bitterness. It’s a bitterness that has destroyed a very recent relationship with a much younger woman, a woman enamored of Elle’s poetry. And initially, it would also appear to be an impenetrable barrier to a healthy relationship with her granddaughter Sage. But a granddaughter in need turns out to be a pivot point in Elle’s life. How this happens is at the heart of the movie. I mentioned the quality of the script
3 minutes | Sep 9, 2015
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine
Listen to the review by David H. Anthony above, and read it below. https://vimeo.com/134869718 At the beginning of his documentary Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine, filmmaker and narrator Alex Gibney asks why so many were moved by the October 5, 2011 death of the former Apple CEO at the age of 56. It is a timely, vital question that moves this incisive and poignant reflection along. Alex Gibney’s 128 minute film is one of several posthumous attempts to unravel the complex odyssey of the innovative entrepreneur who perhaps more than anyone else has been credited with helping bring the world into an intimate relationship with digital communication via personal computing. For Apple aficionados, Steve Jobs looked larger than life; Gibney’s layered juxtaposition of vintage footage and cogent interviews suggests that this was precisely how he wished to be seen. His world was creative and controlled. Intentionality, invention and personal reinvention lay at the heart of this tale. Ironically, connections forged through Jobs’ serial innovations, while creating new online communities had a collateral effect of increasing isolation. Gibney and his interlocutors state that such contradictions were consistent with Jobs the person and that they powerfully mirror what digital age consumers seek. Gibney retells the now legendary saga of Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and the wonders wrought in a Palo Alto garage, itself now something of a shrine. The film makes clear that innovations rarely happen with the mythic grandeur that characterizes the memories we may have of them. These were always team efforts, facts obscured by power plays and effective marketing ploys. Jobs was never alone in innovating. He had to have people in the trenches to see to it that his ideas came to fruition. Moreover, regardless of how it started as the anti-IBM, Apple quickly grew to be as formidable a capitalist tool as its rival. Subverting a dominant paradigm, it effectively replaced it with its own. Utilizing revolutionary imagery, Apple effected a positional succession. In its ascent, Apple, with Jobs at the helm showed its corporate face, doing what he saw as in its interest, with literally global implications. It changed the world. Full disclosure: This text was generated on Apple devices. The writer had to concede that he drank the kool aid. Although his retinue of Apple products is comparatively modest, few of the company’s campaigns escaped notice. Even a brief inventory o
0 minutes | Sep 3, 2015
Film Review: ‘The End Of The Tour’
Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, and read it below. https://vimeo.com/132880237 'The End Of The Tour' is a film about a writer, about two writers, actually. And, it’s a rather difficult film to write about. That’s because almost the entire film consists of one long conversation between the novelist David Foster Wallace and the Rolling Stone journalist David Lipsky. Even if one could write fast enough to record snippets of their exchanges, it wouldn’t be a good idea, because you would inevitably miss a gem while you were scratching a line or two onto your notepad. One of life’s greatest pleasures, for me, is to listen to intelligent people converse. 'The End Of The Tour' is, therefore, one long pleasurable experience. Well, I’ll have to qualify that, slightly. Often, the talk turns to painful matters. And while that isn’t ‘pleasurable’, it is always fascinating. Wallace is portrayed as a man almost overwhelmed with insecurity, and wholly aware of it. In fact, his awareness, and compulsive articulation of it, is at the heart of the film. Many years ago it hit me that an actor has to be pretty smart to play the role of an intelligent character. So – hats off to Jason Segel, who plays David Foster Wallace and to Jesse Eisenberg, who plays David Lipsky. I’ve yet to read anything by either Wallace, or Lipsky, but I’m already a fan. If smart talk is your cup of tea, try a sip of 'The End Of The Tour'. I predict you’ll drink the whole pot.
2 minutes | Sep 3, 2015
Film Review: ‘The Prophet’
Listen to the review by Dennis Morton above, and read it below. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3p7s2kusjs Khalil Gibran is one of the most famous poets in history. His book, 'The Prophet', has been translated into dozens of languages and reportedly has sold over 100 million copies. To put that in perspective, consider that the typical first printing of a book of poems in The United States, even books written by relatively well known poets, ranges from 500 to 1,500 copies. And while it’s true that poetry is not America’s favorite literary genre, to say the least, the numbers do give you a sense of Gibran’s enormous popularity. What used to be called ‘cartoons’ are now referred to as ‘animated features’ by the PR folks in Hollywood. Neither appellation does justice to this film, which borrows its title from Gibran’s book. This film is an amalgamation of three arts, beautiful music – especially Yo Yo Ma’s cello solo; passages from Gibran’s book, read compellingly by Liam Neeson; and, astonishingly gorgeous moving illustrations. There were dozens of scenes which almost literally took my breath away. To weave the visuals, the music, and the poetry together, into a rather terrifying story line, is no small feat. Salma Hayek played a major role in creating 'The Profit', and she also provides the voice for the hard working single mom who is the housekeeper for the poet Mustafa. Mustafa is a ward of the state. His crime, as he tells us, is poetry. It’s a poetry so powerful that it frightens the authorities. I haven’t mentioned that 'The Prophet' is directed and written by Roger Allers, of The Lion King fame. You can’t go wrong with this one. Don’t miss The Prophet.