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Sunday, January 12, 2020

"Knives Out" Go See It. It's Fun.

"Knives Out" is an old fashioned movie-movie. The plot runs like a good watch. Big name stars play over-the-top characters. The set is a weird and creepy mansion. There are surprises and suspense right up to the final scene. If you want to have some fun at the movies, go see "Knives Out."

A rich mystery writer (Christopher Plummer) is found dead. A masterful detective (Daniel Craig) is called in to investigate. An all-star cast makes up the suspects. You get to watch James Bond and Captain America face off. The resolution is not what I expected and not anything I've seen before. And that's really all you need to know. I went into the movie knowing almost nothing except that friends really enjoyed the movie. You will, too.

GG's "Little Women" = "Pride and Prejudice" + Wokeness - Alcott

Greta Gerwig wanted to make an American version of "Pride and Prejudice." Well enough, but she shouldn't have titled it "Little Women." Her movie of that title betrays Louisa May Alcott's book.

As in British adaptations of Jane Austen novels, there is much attention paid to pretty young women, pretty dresses, mansions, and lush landscapes in the US and Europe. Again, as in Jane Austen adaptations, women's lives revolve around men and romance. Who will marry whom? It's a courtship game of musical chairs. You don't want to be the one who is left standing at the end, so you grab the best, richest man you can before someone else grabs him.

Gerwig wants her characters to appear "woke" amidst all their marriage obsessions, so she has a character deliver a shrill feminist manifesto every ten minutes or so. Amy is given a speech that could have been lifted word for word from Emma Thompson's script for "Sense and Sensibility."

These speeches are not true to the book or to Louisa May Alcott's life. In fact it was Alcott's male editor, Thomas Niles, who encouraged her to write "Little Women." Her publisher published many women writers, including Emily Dickinson and Julia Ward Howe.

Even as Gerwig's "Little Women" is built around women yearning for Mr Right, every time a man touches a woman she swats his hand away and shrieks something like, "I don't want you! I want to write! Paint! Pose in this pretty dress!" Denying women's attraction to, and relationships with men isn't feminism, it's brittle, artificial, Hollywood wokeness.

Because Gerwig's so-called "Little Women" is about romance, the main characters are much older than they are in Alcott's book. In the book, the girls are 12, 13, 15, and 16. In the movie, Saorise Ronan is 25, Emma Watson is 29, Florence Pugh is 24 (and looks 30), and Eliza Scanlen is 21. And boy do these women look like women, not at all like girls.

What's more, not one of them is American. They belong in an Austen adaptation, not in the original, and prototypical, "American girl" story. No matter how good they are as actresses, they never conjure the brisk, flinty New England soul beneath their costumes and studied American accents. At least Katherine Hepburn, a Yankee, was able to do that in the 1933, George Cukor adaptation.

Louisa May Alcott was steeped in New England Transcendentalism. This movement was tough and demanding. It's why her family was so poor. They were trying to reach human perfection. The Alcott family lived for a time on a vegetarian commune called Fruitlands that was so strict that they wouldn't even allow themselves to use cattle to plow the land. That self-righteousness is inescapable in Alcott's writing, her life, and "Little Women."

"Little Women" is not a book about pretty women, pretty dresses, and pretty mansions. It's a book about trying to grow up to be a role model of human ethical excellence. Poverty is a very big theme in "Little Women." This is a book about people surviving starvation, cold, and malnutrition through sheer force of will. Greta Gerwig used stripper Cardi B as inspiration when making her "Little Women." It shows.

Gerwig, for reasons I can't begin to fathom, decided to tell the story dyslexic style. Scenes are jumbled. A character dies, and then is seen alive again. I don't see how this adds anything to the final product.

I don't know if Meryl Streep is overacting or if everyone around her is underacting, but when she's onscreen you think, "There's Meryl Streep, the great actress." Takes you out of the story. Timothee Chalamet is supernaturally gifted. He is brilliant and quivering with life and believable in every scene he is in. He deserves a much better movie. Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, and Chris Cooper are all terrific as the publisher, the March family patriarch, and the rich next door neighbor. Ironic that the best performances in this man-bashing film are by male actors.

Obnoxious Character v Obnoxious Movie: "Uncut Gems"

Spoiler alert. This review reveals the end of "Uncut Gems."

Someone needs to tell the Safdie Brothers, the writers, producers, and directors of "Uncut Gems," that there is a difference between an obnoxious character and an obnoxious, unwatchable movie. Case in point: "Death of a Salesman." Arthur Miller's classic play depicts a man who, like Howard Ratner, is a desperate, unlikable loser, but the power of the play is that it makes you care about Willy Loman and see Willy Loman in people you know in real life. In "Uncut Gems," you just want Howard Ratner to meet his inevitable end quicker so that your suffering can stop.

"Uncut Gems" is all about Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a greedy, scheming, shallow, disloyal, irrational gambling addict and gem merchant. He works in Manhattan's diamond district. The movie is loud with a nonstop, intrusive soundtrack that was devised by CIA torture experts.

The film begins with a grisly scene in an African gem mine. Black bodies sweat, strain, and are injured. The camera lingers on an open wound. The movie is reminding us that Howard's profits are built on the suffering of the exploited poor. In the US, Howard sells his tacky baubles to African American clientele, including a basketball player.

The movie switches to Howard's colonoscopy. Yes, you get to see the inside of Howard's colon as his doctor narrates. Does it enhance your viewing experience to see the inside of another man's intestines? Your tastes differ from mine.

Once the movie gets started, you see Howard struck and humiliated by loan sharks. Eventually he is stripped naked and locked in the trunk of his car. His must call his estranged wife, who regards him with complete disdain, to rescue him. I guess watching all this would be satisfying to sadists.

Eventually Howard's schemes result in his being shot to death. The end. You just spent two hours of your life watching a loud, obnoxious movie about a character you can't like, respect, or care about.

Howard is a living embodiment of negative stereotypes of Jews as greedy shysters. Josh Safdie said in an interview with Slate, "Howard is the long delineation of stereotypes that were forced onto us in the Middle Ages, when the church was created, when Jews were not counted toward population, and their only way in, their only way of accruing status as an individual, as a person who was considered a human being, was through material consumption. That was the only way in. And I think what’s happened over the years is it’s kind of morphed and almost turned into Kabuki theater. Because as assimilation has accrued, the foundation, the DNA of the strive has become kind of cartoonized in a weird way. What you’re seeing in the film is a parable. What are the ill effects of overcompensation?"