Race (2016)

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

Race

Station: Sports Biopic
Time Travel Destination: 1933-1936 Ohio and Berlin, Germany
Conductor: Stephen Hopkins

“There ain’t no black and white. Just fast and slow.”

One man can change the course of history. In 1936, that man was Jesse Owens.

Director Stephen Hopkin’s biopic Race (2016) explores the pivotal years when Owens begins his track and field career at Ohio State University in 1934 to when he won an four gold medals for the United States at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics. The journey in between is a fascinating story of a talented young man given the opportunity to practice his talent while also facing the hardships of growing up black during the Great Depression. He faces prejudice at every turn. It’s through the support and tough love he receives from his coach that Owens is given a platform to shine.

Stephan James stars as Jesse Owens. We watch Owens progress from an unskilled runner with a natural talent for speed to a highly-trained master of short sprints and the long jump. Owens carries a big weight on his back. He has a big family to support as well as his girlfriend Ruth (Shanice Banton) and their daughter Gloria. He’s the first in his family to go to college. And not only that, he represents all his fellow African-American men and women through his glory as an athlete but to also fight against prejudice and racism not only in his country but also in Nazi Germany. This is no small feat. Owens has a monumental task in front of him and we are there to root him on.

“A man has to present an image to the world.”

The title of this movie Race has a double meaning. It represents Jesse Owens’ track and field career and also being African-American in a time of systemic racism. The film explores both aspects of Owens life and how running helped him transcend prejudice. Not only would Owens break records in his sport but he also paved the way for African-American athletes to come.

I was quite impressed with Race (2016). Star Stephan James did well by Owens in honoring his legacy and portraying a young talented man who had this overwhelming burden to bear. The portrayal is complex and James plays Owens in a highly sympathetic manner. I very much enjoyed the relationship between Owens and his coach Snyder, played by Jason Sudeikis. I’ve only seen Sudeikis in comedic roles so it was great to see him in a drama playing a mentor. Little is known about the actual historic figure so what Sudeikis brings to the table is what we all hope their relationship would have been. James and Sudeikis play off each other effectively on screen and I looked forward to each new scene with the two. I was also particularly taken with the real life Luz Long and Jesse Owens friendship as portrayed by David Kross and James. I immediately went to research this online and the portrayal in the film is very close to what happened in real life. Long was a German track and field athlete who helped Owens even though it went against Nazi ideology.

Race2016B

race2016c

“God spared you for a reason.”

Jeremy Irons, one of my favorite actors who has frequently graced the screen in many a period piece, plays Avery Brundage, the US Olympic Committee chairman who negotiates with the Nazis. Barnaby Metschurat plays Joseph Goebbels as a cold, calculating Nazi who is annoyed by Germany’s need for having the United States at their Olympics. He draws the audience’s necessary anti-Nazi ire. I questioned the storyline about Leni Riefenstahl, the Nazi filmmaker played by brilliantly by Clarice van Houten. I wondered in the filmmakers were too lenient with her portrayal as a more sympathetic figure.

Visually this film does it’s best to represent the mid 1930s as it would have looked. It’s history CGI’d with a sepia filter. Much of what we see is layered so it feels more fantastical than real. But because the story is based on true events this really doesn’t take away from the movie’s message. The 1930s style costumes are magnificent and I was particularly taken by the colorful wardrobes worn by Shanice Banton and Chantel Riley. Clarice van Houten dons finger waves, cloche hats, blouses and equestrian pants.

Race

Tournage RACE

Race put me through the ringer emotionally. I went through the gamut of experiencing joy, anxiety and anger and I spent most of the final 30 minutes of the film streams of tears coming down my face. This is an amazing film because it’s an amazing story.

unnamed

Race (2016) is available to rent from DVD Netflix.

Advertisements

The Young Karl Marx

unnamed

Station: 19th Century Political Biopic
Time Travel Destination: 1843-1848, Cologne, London, Manchester, Paris, Brussels, Ostend, etc.
Conductor: Raoul Peck

 

The Young Karl Marx

“In early 1843, Europe, ruled by absolute monarchs, wracked by crises, famine and recession, is on the verge of profound change.”

On the heels of his critically acclaimed documentary I Am Not Your Negro (2016), director Raoul Peck brings audiences something vastly different but still as potent in its political message. The Young Karl Marx (2017) tells the story of two German philosophers: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, their friendship, trials and tribulations and the birth of Communism and Marx’s Communist Manifesto. August Diehl stars as Karl Marx, the headstrong and arrogant writer who is constantly getting in trouble for his radical ideas. Struggling to make ends meet for his growing family, Marx is battling the internal struggle of his passion for social justice and making a decent living. His partner is his equally headstrong wife, former socialite Jenny von Westphalen-Marx (Vicky Krieps), who gave up her comfortable life for the love of Marx and his ideas. They try to make a go of it in Paris but are soon exiled from France. In the meantime, another young philosopher Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske), lives a conflicted life in Manchester, England. He works for his father, a successful mill owner and tyrant to his workers, and is constantly butting heads with him. Inspired by outspoken worker Mary Burns (Hannah Steele)’s protest of his father’s treatment of the mill workers, Engels seeks out justice. Marx and Engels meet and become fast friends. Over the next few years they fight for the proletariat and against the bourgeoisie. They know something big is about to happen and won’t let anything or anyone get in their way.

The Young Karl Marx

The Young Karl Marx

Peck’s biopic could have easily been called The Young Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels because it focuses almost equally on both historic figures. However, it would have been a convoluted title and Marx is the one whom is best known to contemporary audiences. While you don’t have to be pro-communism to appreciate the political message of this film you do have to have some interest in liberal philosophy, political history and social justice. Even Peck within the confines of the movie, leaves room for doubt. In one scene Arnold Ruge (Hans-Uwe Bauer) warns Marx to not follow in Martin Luther’s footsteps, when Luther broke down Catholic dogma only to help usher in an equally intolerant religion. I thought this to be quite powerful.

I consider myself very liberal so I was fascinated by the story of these two important 19th century figures. If you enjoyed Elizabeth Gaskell’s social justice novel North & South (or its mini-series adaptation), about the working poor of mill town Manchester, England around the same time of Engels and Marx, you’ll want to see The Young Karl Marx. Especially if you have an interest in the political message of that story and want to explore it more deeply.

Written by Pascal Bonitzer and Raoul Peck, the original screenplay really hones in on a dark time in European history. I was especially impressed in the character portrayals of Marx and Engels. These are two figures caught in conflicting worlds. Marx is torn between stability and his passion. Engels is caught between his bourgeoisie upbringing and his desire to help the proletariat. Both Diehl as Marx and Konarske as Engels play their parts with great tenacity and attention to detail. I was particularly impressed how the filmmakers incorporated two strong female characters in what could have solely been a movie about two men. Actress Vicky Krieps, best known for her stand out performance in the Academy Award nominated Phantom Thread (2017), is a delight as Marx’s wife Jenny. Even when she hangs out in the background she makes her voice heard and everyone, especially Marx, respects her for it. Mary Burns, played by Hannah Steele, is feisty, brash and outspoken and Engels falls head over heels for her and rightly so. In the movie they marry but in real life Engels felt marriage was repressive construct of culture and they were lifelong romantic partners instead. In the film though you still get a sense that their union is anything but ordinary.

The Young Karl Marx felt as real as a biopic set in different parts of Europe could possibly be. Lots of on location shooting helps. Peck and his team filmed in France, Belgium and Germany. There is a keen attention to period detail and I always felt like I was thrust into the world of 1840s Europe and not a movie about 1840s Europe. But one thing that stands out about this film is that it’s trilingual. German, French and English are spoken interchangeably throughout the film depending on the location, circumstances and characters in the scene. This is truly European. I myself am trilingual (English, Spanish and Portuguese) with many family members in Europe who all speak more than one language. I love that Peck’s film embraces multiple languages instead of having one language pretend to be all three. The end result is an exercise in attention and comfort with subtitles that is truly worth the effort.

The film ends a month before Revolutions of 1848. It’s a time capsule of just a few years in Marx and Engels’ lives but an important one that helps us begin to understand what is to follow.

Raoul Peck’s The Young Karl Marx is a powerful, multi-lingual biopic that explores inequality and class struggles within the context of the lives of two influential philosophers. Highly recommended.

The Young Karl Marx debuted in New York and LA last week and a national roll out is to follow.

 

The Millionaires’ Unit: The First U.S. Naval Aviators in World War I

The Millionares' Unit Poster

Station: Historical Documentary
Time Travel Destination: 1914-1918 WWI America and Europe
Conductors: Darroch Greer & Ron King

The Millionaires’ Unit (2015)

“Have you ever had your wildest dreams come true?”

The sheer bravery of these men was astounding. With aviation still in its infancy, they learned to fly at a time when taking to the skies was highly unpredictable and dangerous. These pioneering aviators were a group of affluent and well-educated young men who felt that they should use their privilege for the greater good. They decided early on during World War I that they would master flying in case their country needed them. Up until this time the United States was neutral in the war. There was no call to action. They were driven by their own volition and profound sense of duty. The only thing they wanted in return: honor. They were the first Yale Unit, aka The Millionaires’ Unit.

 

The First Yale Unit of WWI
The men of the first Yale Unit and their mascot.

MillionairesUnit1

Directed by Darroch Greer & Ron King, The Millionaires’ Unit follows the story of the first Yale Unit from their early days training, to their enlistment in the U.S. Navy (the service branch during WWI that dealt in aviation), to their battles, the tragedies and the years after the war (watch the video of their 50th anniversary reunion here). This also serves as a history lesson about the early days of aviation history. The men of the Yale Unit included: F. Trubee Davison (founder), Robert Lovett, Davd McCullough, Al Sturtevant, John Vorys, Johnn Farwell, Albert Ditman, Artemus L. Gates, Erl Gould, Allan Ames, C.D. Wiman, H.P. Davis Jr., Kenneth MacLeish and others.

Their story is told through interviews with aviation historians, history professors, a test pilot, a former Secretary of the Navy, and the descendants, sons, grandsons, granddaughters, grandnephews and nieces of the men. Actor Bruce Dern, who is also a descendant of one of the Yale Unit men, narrates the film. In addition to the interviews, there is archival footage as well as photos, letters, diary entries and flight/battle re-enactments with trained pilots flying replica WWI planes. According to co-director Greer, these replicas were from director Peter Jackson’s personal collection. Greer went on to say that it was important to film on “the actual sites in America and Europe where the young pilots trained, flew, fought and died.” He wanted to tell a “character-driven story” with a strong sense of place.

MillionairesUnit2

MillionairesUnit3

The documentary was inspired by author Marc Wortman’s book by the same name. He is interviewed extensively in the film. Ron King picked up the book in 2006 and recognized his grandfather John M. Voyrus on the cover. He got in touch with Wortman and asked if a documentary was being made. Once he learned there was not, he set out to make one with his good friend Greer. King said,

“It reminds us of a time when people of privilege felt it was incumbent upon them to give back to the community who had afforded them so much. In this case, it was a group of young men who decided to put themselves on the line, defending the interests of the US in WWI. They did so with a spirit of high adventure…”

It took Greer and King seven years to make The Millionaires’ Unit. Extensive work went into research, re-enactment and funding. This was a passion project and it shows in the level of detail and thought that went into the final product.

This award-winning documentary is making it’s digital debut today. February 15th, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Albert D. Sturtevant who was killed when his plane when down in the North Sea. He was the first U.S. Naval Aviator killed in WWI combat.

You can watch the movie on Vimeo. iTunes and other digital releases to come in the near future.

The Millionaires’ Unit is a fascinating documentary uncovers the little known history of the first Yale Unit’s contributions to American aviation during WWI. This should be required viewing for anyone with an interest in aviation history. In fact, an history buff will find much to enjoy here.

Official Website

Brooklyn (2015)

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

Brooklyn (2015) Poster

Stations: Historical Drama
Time Travel Destination: early 1950s Ireland and Brooklyn, NY
Conductor: John Crowley

I’m the daughter of immigrant parents. My father traveled across the Atlantic from Portugal to Brazil before heading north and settling in the United States. When he married my mom, he brought her from the tropical climes of the Dominican Republic to wintry New England. For both of my parents the adjustment to their new lives must have been difficult. But they had to leave everything and everyone they knew behind to start a new and better life. While their sacrifice was ultimately worth it, they left a big piece of themselves behind.

Brooklyn2

Based on the novel by Irish writer Colm Tóibín, Brooklyn (2015) tells the familiar story of immigration but through the lens of young woman in the early 1950s. We follow the story of Eilis (Soirse Ronan). She lives with her sister Rose (Fiona Glacott) and mother (Fiona Glascott) and works a thankless job at the local market under the management of the tough-nosed Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan). Her sister arranges with Father Glynn (Hugh Gormley) for Eilis to make the journey to Brooklyn, NY where a room, a job and the chance to go to school for book-keeping awaits her. The adjustment is more difficult than Eilis imagines. Soon she meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), a young Italian man with an eye for Irish gals. They quickly fall in love and Eilis starts planting roots. When a major event happens back in Ireland and she travels back, she quickly settles back into her old life. Torn between her two homes, which one will Eilis chose?

Brooklyn is a story about what it means to leave your home and make a new one in a strange and far away new world. We see Eilis’s struggles; the long and difficult boat ride over the Atlantic, the crippling homesickness, prejudice, adjusting to a new lifestyle, new people and new work. There is a touching scene when Eilis helps Mrs. Keho (Julie Walters) and Father Glynn feed the poor and homeless of the community. Everyone in that room is Irish and there is a poignant sense of togetherness. One of the men stands up to sign an Irish song in the traditional Gaelic and I couldn’t help but shed a tear. There is a palpable sense of mourning for the lost country.

Brooklyn (2015)

This film is also a love story. It’s about the inherited love of one’s family and homeland but more deeply it’s about the joy of finding love in a new relationship. Eilis and Tony’s budding romance is so tender and sweet. It made me want to revisit those early days when I was falling in love with my husband. All those feelings are so new, so fresh and so electrified.

Brooklyn4

Brooklyn (2015)

Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn (2015)

Saoirse (pronounced Sur-sha) Ronan is mesmerizing in Brooklyn. She is so enigmatic and has such an inviting face that I couldn’t help but get lost in her beautiful eyes. Ronan reminds me very much of Ingrid Bergman. Both are incredible talented actresses but are also alluring on screen. Ronan is only 23 years old but already has an incredible resume including 3 Academy Award Nominations, including one for Brooklyn and another for her performance in last year’s Lady Bird.

This film has an eclectic mix of familiar faces and many relative unknowns. Fans of Mad Men will spot Jessica Pare who plays Miss Fortini, Eilis’ boss at the Brooklyn department store.

Jessica Pare in Brooklyn (2015)

Brooklyn (2015)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the exquisite detail that went into this period picture. Especially the costumes, oh the costumes. I wanted to steal practically every outfit costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux dressed Saoirse Ronan in. The palate is colorful and vibrant. The tones match the different seasons. Ireland and Brooklyn are steeped in rich hues which make the 1950s of both look like veritable dreamlands. It may not be the most realistic but for someone like me who revels in mid-century modern aesthetic, Brooklyn is a feast for the eyes.

I had one small quibble with Brooklyn. I felt like it took too long for us to fully appreciate why Eilis left Ireland for New York. Her situation didn’t seem dire enough for her to give up everything she knew for an opportunity with big unknowns. I wish that had been established a bit more early on in the story.

“One day the sun will come out. You might not even notice straight away it will be that faint. Then you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past. Someone whose only yours. And you’ll realize, that this is where your life is.”

DVD Netflix Brooklyn

Brooklyn (2015) is available to rent on DVD Netflix.

SaveSave

Django (2017)

DjangoPoster

Stations: Biopic, WWII Drama
Time Travel Destination: 1940s Paris, WWII
Conductor: Etienne Comar

Django (2017)

Available on VOD and iTunes on February 6th. List of upcoming screenings can be found here.

“Since the Americans left Paris, I’m the King of Jazz.”

Based on a true story, Django follows the story of celebrated Romani jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (Reda Kateb) as he tries to navigate the treacherous political climate of occupied France during WWII. Singled out for his incredible talent, Django and his Hot Club de France Quintet have been invited to go on tour in Hitler’s Germany. But the invitation isn’t voluntary and it comes with a rather strict protocol. Django doesn’t take it seriously until his lover and confidante Louise (Cécile de France) warns him of the possible ramifications of his actions. Django plans to flee Paris with his pregnant wife Naguine (Bea Palya), his mother Negros (Bimbam Merstein) and the fellow musicians who agree to go with him. The plan is to cross over into Switzerland but in German occupied territory that’s easier said than done.

Directed by Etienne Comar, Django (2017) is an atmospheric film that juxtaposes the beautiful music of a talented artist with the brutality of WWII. The film only explores a few months of Django Reinhardt’s but this is a crucial time  when he in grave danger but also at the apex of his career. Some have complained that we really don’t get to know Django but this film does tell quite a lot but in more subtle ways. For example, years before the story took place Django Reinhardt suffered burns to his hands and arms due to the flammable artificial flowers his first wife sold to feed the family. He had scars all over his hands and two of his fingers were paralyzed. Doctors told him he’d never play again. We get a glimpse about this part of his life through a scene when German doctors are examining him before his scheduled tour.

The cinematography in this film is stunning. There are some exquisite shots in this film. I was quite enamored with the first performance where we see Django and his quintet before in front of a glittery gold curtain. The camera pans around the musicians and the audience and often settles on Django’s hands as he performs his magic on the guitar.

Django4

Django1

Django2

The persecution of gypsies during WWII is not often explored so I was glad that this film went into depth on that matter. Although Django is Romani Gypsy, his status as a talented musician makes him an exception to the Germans only if he’ll follow their rules. If he doesn’t, he becomes an easy target for their wrath. The film is very adept at exploring the different facets of his culture, his personality and his life. The disparity between the countryside and the city, the performance halls and the underground night clubs show how this character navigated between very different worlds. From the very outset we learn that he can be a difficult guy, perennially late and can be both tough and loving to those in his inner circle.

This movie has received mixed reviews and been rather polarizing among critics. The film meanders much in the same way a jazz song tends to take its time so the listener can savor and take it all in. As a jazz lover myself I was comfortable with this pace and let the story take me along for the ride. There has been a resurgence in interest in Django Reinhardt and jazz nuts especially will definitely want to see this.

Django is a beautiful and atmospheric film that is in no rush to tell its story of a jazz legend in a critical moment in his life.