“Twentieth Century Woman”

Mike Mills’ movie, “Twentieth Century Women”, is the perfect movie to capture what this decade of over-scheduling mothers has lost~ that “go with the flow” feeling. Mills as writer/director and graphic artist perfectly captures the late seventies when we understood that being in perfect life-control  was an illusion.

Annette Bening completely inhabits her role as Dorothea Fields, a single mother with a budding, teenage son ( Lucas Zumann). Her easy live-in-the-moment style as boarding-house matron is challenged by her anxiety over providing what her son Jaime may need. His rebelliousness in forging creative excuses to skip school being one danger sign. He hands in a note that says he is doing volunteer work for the Sandinistas.  She asks for help from her two tenants: Abby (Greta Gerwig ) and William ( Billy Crudup). Julie ( Elle Fanning) adds to the commune by frequently sleeping platonically  with Jaime. This is a paen to  beautiful eccentricity. ( Cynthia, Caroline, Sheila~ I thought of you.) We have lost that ” live in the moment” vitality by over-planning.

Billy Crudup, as William, would be seen as a slacker in today’s age. “Why doesn’t he start his own renovation company? ” , a 2017 entrepreneur might ask. His hunky looks and hippie sensitivity remind me of a few men from my past. He makes his own shampoo,  and no doubt his own candles. One of my favorite scenes is where he attempts to show Dorothea how to meditate.

Nostalgic as this film may be for some, it brings to question the idea that success at any cost will disappoint.   Self-interest has its limits for happiness. Raising a child takes the village, and communal aid should be offered as support. While never preachy, “Twentieth-Century Women” holds up these values. Losing  them is not a good idea.

The cinematography is quirky in this film, often a frame within a frame. The interior sets with backdrops of colorfully painted walls show Dorothea’s bohemian flair. The initial aerial shot of teal green tidal pools  is as unusual as the almost animated, hand-colored  VW beetles zooming the winding roads of Santa Barbara.  Director Mills was a graphic artist and it shows.

Bening seems effortless inhabiting Dorothea ~ wearing Birkenstocks, chain-smoking Salems, and  exhibiting Mother Earth flair. She invites everyone to dinner. Her voiceovers pick up the details of the day. She has read ” Watership Down” and hyperventilated in ecstasy when  President Jimmy Carter gave  his ” Crisis of Confidence” speech. She is delightful to watch.

Elle Fanning is the scaffold-climbing Julie. The daughter of a therapist mother, Julie likes to play therapy like Jeopardy. Bening delivers an understated, ” Do you know that you are not actually a therapist?” with witty aplomb. Again, she is delightful to watch.

Greta Gerwig is Abby, a punkish feminist who introduces ” Our Bodies Ourselves” and Scott Peck’s glimmerings to her housemates. She is being treated for cervical cancer and occupies herself with photographing artistic shots of her few possessions. Again, Bening is terrific as she chastises Abby for feeding her son hardcore feminism that is just too much for him.

Lucas Zumann is a sweet Jaime. He explains away most of his mother’s ideas and actions by saying that she was a Depression baby. He routinely checks the stock markets with her. He worries that she is depressed and wishes to foist him off on others. He wishes her to be happier. Dorothea helps him bleach his hair and metaphorically practices breathing in and letting go. She laments that only others get to see her son out in the world as a person.

Dance and music interweave with the small details of boardinghouse life. Voiceovers tell us what becomes of each character. This is truly a 1970’s film. Nothing much happens but the flow of life, and that is enough.

Continue reading “Twentieth Century Woman”

“Spotlight”

See “Spotlight” for its incredible cast. Stanley Tucci should get an Oscar, Liev Schreiber does incredible understated work,too. The question of why every major news organization will not pay for a permanent investigative team should be asked. This is journalistic drama that seeks to spotlight the truth.

Mark Ruffalo and Michael Keaton shine a bright light on the sullied reputation of the Catholic Church and the lawyers that try to protect its coffers and its dark secrets. Bully Crudup and Jaime Sheridan play these  legal types well for more great casting.

Investigative journalism is being lauded at the same time that it is currently dwindling. This film shows us hard-working and passionate truth-seekers. Their spirit is invigorating, their service admirable and their success redemptive.

Directed and co-written  by Tom McCarthy, the film’s copy machines,  water coolers,carts of hanging files and  office clutter  can get drab. The golf  and baseball and running scenes ditto. Where this film shines is in the showing of abuse of power: both physical and spiritual. Though the heavy  gold cross worn by Cardinal Law ( Len Cariou )  over his black cassock is over the top and more akin to a Hip Hop rapper.

The cast lets us see just enough of their own pain when interviewing the now grown victims. One of the most touching scenes was Ruffalo’s face as he enters a Catholic Church to see children singing “Silent Night”. He morally can not keep this story quiet, even  when 53 per cent of the Globe’s subscriber base is Catholic. They will be interested. They will have their stories.

One of these interviews is with Fr. Paquin,who rationalizes that he never got pleasure from his actions. He is whisked off the front porch like a dim-witted child by his protective sister. With steeples in the background, we learn this dottering man was himself raped. More rationales like “people need the Church” are spouted. It is even stated that the new Jewish editor of “The Globe” doesn’t care about the city of Boston like we do. Ties and loyalties are strained. Excuses like “I was doing my job” are snidely answered with “Yeah, you and everybody else !”

Lifting the seal of documents when  “The Church thinks in centuries” is key to the case. Twenty grand for molesting a child makes a cottage industry of priestly abuse for attorneys. Private mediation leaves no paper trail and horrific abuse stays under wraps. Tucci plays an outsider, Mitchell Garabedian,an Armenian.He says that many are culpable: “it takes a village to raise a child, and a village to abuse one”. Tucci is so good at his part that we want to research this man and celebrate him as pure, not just eccentric! Recent articles have him “robbing the Church” as if it was an ATM machine.

The film ends with three scrolls of world cities where child abuse by priests were found. The systemic metric of six per cent of all priests as abusers is documented on the big screen,and the words of the psycho-therapist ex-priest (Richard Sipe) who studied pedophilia and its scandals for thirty years begs for the Church to get on the right side of its systemic problem by either rethinking celibacy or at least halting phony official designations in transferring recalcitrants. The resignation of Cardinal Law and his placement in Rome to an honored position tells us that more change needs to come in the institutional Church.

 

 

 

 

“The Stanford Prison Experiment”

“Good Apples in a bad barrel”~Zimbardo

Billy Crudup’s voice declaring Mastercard’s ability to improve your life as “priceless”,does not prepare you for his role as Dr. Philip Zimbardo, the author of “The Lucifer Effect”. Nor does Crudup’s acclaimed title role on Broadway in “The Elephant Man” pave the way for his portrayal of a prideful academic whose “mock” prison perpetuates the devil in man.

Under the direction of Kyle Patrick Alvarez,Crudup is able to channel the renown psychologist as he loses himself in his quest for significant publishable data. Fingering his goatee and watching his volunteer subjects,Zimbardo is not likable in this film. He is not the winner of The Vaclav Havel Foundation Prize or the challenger of the American Correctional System. He is the perpetrator of an experiment that would be against the law today. This is a docudrama of his redemption and of the stoppage of his clinical experiment after only six days.

“The Stanford Prison Experiment” opens with the pleasing sounds of the typewriter. A Want Ad is being written and duplicated in 101 copies. Fifteen dollars a day will be paid to emotionally-stable college males,who participate in a psychological study. The interviews begin. Guard or prisoner roles are queried;role selections are made by a coin toss; head shots are taken. Formal arrests are made. Prisoners are blindfolded. Sunglasses and uniforms are given to the guards,dresses of numbered sackcloth to the prisoners. Day one begins with ad-libbed orders from the guards: “hands on the wall”, “feet wider”,”strip”, “shut up”, “clothes to the right”. Billy clubs are out and lice spray is sprayed. “Mr. Correctional Officer” is how warden and guards are required to be addressed. One guard who uses an accent like the Southern official in the movie “Cool Hand Luke” (1967) later reminds me more of  the movie “Deliverance” as he has the men pretend to sodomize each other with the image of camels humping.

Line-ups are excruciating with role-call intimidations,sleep interruptions,bogus exercise punishments and finally violence. Revolt is attempted,as are escapes. The cinematographer’s use of slow motion is very effective in capturing the robot-like circumstances of the rule bound group. Letters are written to perspective visitors,visitors commune,groups are divided and cell mates change. A priest is called on to counsel in Day Four. He is not trusted by Zimbardo,who feels he may call a lawyer and halt the experiment, thus nullifying any cogent results.Yet, the priest tells our psychologist that he is doing a good thing:”Boys of privilege should know what prison is like.”

A colleague of Dr.Zimbardo questions his research and the rather “frightful site” of the mock prison. He asks if an independent variable or simulation is being used to validate his research. Zimbardo spews invective at this challenge.

Day Five finds two prisoners released after a breakdown and a parole hearing. One consultant is a black man who served time in Rikers. He was selected to “legitimize the project”.He treats the prospective parolee with indifference and realizes that they all have become part of this demonstration.”I enjoyed it ( the power). You can’t imagine how that makes me feel.”

The mastermind of the 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment redeems himself with the aid of his fiancée, a former student and psychologist at Berkley. He becomes a distinguished PBS Series teacher/host in “Discovering Psychology” and holds teaching positions at Yale,Columbia, NYU,and Stanford. His understanding of sadistic abuse and the ease of abandoning morality under certain conditions led to his role in the Abu Ghraib investigation in Iraq. Zimbardo’s  book “Psychology and Life” is in its nineteenth edition. He has evolved from academic egotist to a champion of social bravery. The film never tells us this,but we see his frightened eyes, the tears, and the head-holding pain of awareness,and his stepping up to halt evil when he sees it.This is not a fun film, but an instructive one. How do good people become evil ? How is the evil within each of us manifested ? Do we need more martyrs to a cause? This is a cerebral film about the baseness of humanity. Submissiveness and power are central to the theme.