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Sacrificing Harvey Weinstein

The downfall of movie studio executive Harvey Weinstein following articles earlier this month in The New Yorker and the New York Times alleging sexual assault and harassment not only demonstrates Hollywood’s hypocrisy, though it certainly does that. What’s happened in the two weeks since the Weinstein claims first emerged has major, possibly ominous, implications for due process, free exercise of speech and the press, and moviemaking. So, I don’t think the scandal’s sudden consequences are necessarily positive. I doubt that the fundamental cause of sexual assault and harassment will be named and eradicated as a result. Indeed, I think the Weinstein scandal is more likely to embolden the worst plans by regressive, Puritanical, anti-sexual leftists and conservatives alike.

It’s impossible to fully account for Hollywood’s hypocrisy here. It’s exhausting to contemplate. I think of Hollywood’s rationalizations for behavior by Roman Polanski, Mel Gibson and Bill Cosby. Or Hollywood’s calls for prison reform and Judeo-Christian notions of forgiveness and its denunciations of anyone making moral judgments of anyone else about anything, such as Islamic law and its impact on gays, women and rape victims. I think, too, of the left’s constant cries about a “rush to judgment” to find guilty the accused murderer O.J. Simpson, whom a jury found responsible for the deaths of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson. Unlike Harvey Weinstein, the people for whom rationalizations were made were actually arrested, tried and convicted or legally held accountable.

Not Weinstein. Hollywood’s campaign against him is unprecedented. Whatever one thinks of Weinstein’s guilt, never has so much been said so publicly without substantiation or confirmation or arrest, trial or conviction that’s lead to such huge and devastating impact on one’s life, work and legacy — and industry.

This week, Viacom-owned Nickelodeon fired Loud House creator Chris Savino after women made claims of “sexual harassment, unwanted advances, [and] inappropriate behavior” against the animator, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Savino, who has neither been charged with a crime nor named in a lawsuit, was terminated after someone used the hashtag #MeToo. The future of Amazon’s microstudio is in question after its CEO resigned following post-Weinstein claims of abuse. The Weinstein Company’s existence is also in question.

Speech, too, is suddenly suspect and can lead to castigation. An actress made a claim in public against Hollywood studio mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, asserting that he made a comment to the press decades ago, a claim which Katzenberg denies. He apologized to the actress for something he says he did not say.

Harvey Weinstein apologized, too, for bad behavior he admits. He did so immediately after the October 5 New York Times article was published. He hired a women’s rights lawyer. He pleaded for help, guidance and forgiveness. He pledged to seek rehabilitation (and, according to People, he’s in treatment). In other words, he did everything Cosby and Polanski did not do. However, Weinstein denies doing anything non-consensual. Is it possible he’s innocent of some of the charges? New York City law enforcement investigated a claim and, after examining the results, declined to press charges. Linda Fairstein, a women’s advocate and early pioneer against sex crimes, came to the conclusion that at least one claim against Weinstein was without merit. The former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor told the New York Times that she had determined a complaint was unfounded.

Time cover

None of this slowed the mass media assault on Harvey Weinstein. Though I can’t recall that the press has ever been as explicitly biased and unified in a campaign against an accused individual against whom not a single charge has been filed in court — on the contrary, the press generally sought to report the side of the accused, too, in cases and/or claims against Simpson, Cosby, Polanski, Gibson and others — only Harvey Weinstein has been unequivocally pronounced a predator, as Time‘s cover proclaims with neither doubt nor scrutiny.

I tend to believe people who claim to have been assaulted or harassed, though I’ve been wrong. I am dubious, however, of the herd mentality.

Certainly, there is no doubt that the sexual assault and harassment claims published in the New Yorker, written by ex-MSNBC host Ronan Farrow, and the New York Times are extremely disturbing and, if the claims are true, monstrous. And Weinstein, who claims he is innocent of the worst allegations, is, as I’ve said, bearing severe consequences. Yesterday, he was denounced again by his longtime creative partner, director Quentin Tarantino. He was similarly condemned by artists ranging from the melodramatic Meryl Streep (Suffragette, Into the Woods, The Iron Lady), who praised Weinstein as “God” in 2012, to the great Judi Dench (Philomena, Victoria & Abdul). Channing Tatum (Dear John) and Apple went back on previous agreements with Weinstein. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revoked his membership. The Producers Guild voted to condemn him. France seeks to revoke his Legion of Honor. Weinstein has been terminated by the company he’d founded. His wife reportedly took the kids and left. Police in New York, London and Los Angeles are investigating certain allegations.

Only three show business outcasts, Lindsay Lohan, Oliver Stone (JFK, Snowden) and Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), who married his adopted child, each of whom have worked with Weinstein, expressed varying degrees of sympathy for Weinstein. They were promptly vilified. Mayim Bialik, an actress who describes herself as an Orthodox Jewish feminist, was similarly attacked and forced to apologize when what she wrote about sexual harassment (for, surprise!, the New York Times) failed in the minds of feminists to pre-exonerate women of any wrongdoing under any circumstances.

Many rightly and astutely condemn the accusations against Weinstein, which range from peculiar, vulgar and inappropriate at best to sexual harassment and rape or sexual assault at worst. But, this time, the fact that these are allegations is downplayed by the press. Even recently accused and fallen Fox News principals such as the late boss Roger Ailes, host Bill O’Reilly and recently promoted host Eric Bolling, whose son was found dead within hours of his father’s termination, were bestowed by the dominant media with the qualified ‘alleged’ most of the time.

But the left-wing dominated and conservative-driven press have both banded together against Harvey Weinstein. The left stands against him from the feminist-statist-collectivist perspective, using the scandal to denounce contracts, men in positions of power and to show that they can take down one of their own, not merely right-wing TV hosts and businessmen. The right’s against him from the traditionalist-statist-religionist viewpoint, using the scandal to denounce Hollywood and movies, Democrats in positions of power and to prove that they, too, can pile on a presumed serial sexual harasser, abuser or rapist. As the left did with O’Reilly, conservatives attack Weinstein for settling with accusers, as if merely being accused of sexual harassment, and especially reaching a settlement, is tantamount to proof of one’s guilt. The conservative Weekly Standard refers to “Harvey Weinstein’s long record of sexual harassment” as if it’s an established fact.

It isn’t, at least not yet, and taking assertions as facts is a mistake, even for conservatives and especially for a serious magazine.

Caricature of Weinstein as killer clown from “It”

Leftists, who calls themselves liberals and progressives, a term which dates to anti-capitalist Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, make that distinction when the accused fits a particular altruist-collectivist agenda, such as government-imposed quotas or new laws mandating egalitarianism. A wealthy, white male capitalist such as Weinstein — I mean, really look at this caricature, which appears on the cover of a Hollywood trade publication — does not qualify for that status (particularly if he’s Jewish). So, I suspect the longtime Democratic Party donor and activist is being sacrificed not for his transgressions, though I know that some on the left are sincere, as for his being caught and convenient. According to almost everyone in Hollywood, especially film journalists writing about how they knew how bad he was and why they, too, did and said nothing about it, knew or had heard about Harvey Weinstein’s improprieties. What persuaded the pack mentality press and their enablers in movie publicity departments to come out is that the claims against Weinstein were already reported in the New York Times, the left’s arbiter for whether, what and how to think. What the Times gains from aping the National Enquirer in pseudo-journalism ought to be clear. Previously accused men were either targeted for character assassination or disclosures (depending on who you tend to believe) through coordinated social media campaigns — I think all of the Fox News personalities, including two who survived, were initially targeted by the left — or reports of the claims were widely known.

But those scandals failed to dislodge Fox News, hastening the left’s long, historic march toward merging with religionists, traditionalists and conservatives and bringing the merger to a kind of climax. Not in an explicitly coordinated conspiracy to target a Jewish capitalist “fatcat”. But Harvey Weinstein is the perfect sacrifice for both conservatives and leftists. The left gets to claim credibility in tossing out one of its own and in grand fashion while advancing an anti-capitalist, anti-individualist agenda. The right gets to notch a win on the scoreboard after a series of losses (chiefly, the embarrassment of Trump) and reinforce its assault on Hollywood as the root of all that Judeo-Christianity regards as evil — namely, sex. In this sense, secular Miramax and its successor, The Weinstein Company, with its slate of Hollywood’s best movies, is absolutely ‘guilty’ as charged.

Whatever the merit of the women’s claims, which I tend to believe and hope leads to greater awareness and discourse about these serious and complicated topics, Harvey Weinstein’s fast, epic downfall makes faster the fusion of the New Left’s and conservatives’ political agenda. The result is likely to be accelerated momentum toward a common, sinister goal: total government control of the arts, starting with movies. The left supposedly wants power for the sake of the so-called underprivileged. So does the right. Their battle over which favored group is underprivileged (and, therefore, warrants power over movies), Christians or women, for instance, comes next.

Gone are calls for admission, disclosure and remorse. That ended with NBC News’ defrocked nightly anchorman Brian Williams, another powerful white media male who, like Harvey Weinstein, made mistakes and who, like Harvey Weinstein, immediately admitted wrongdoing which is what detractors used to say they want. But they don’t and remorse is never enough. As with their united opposition to civil discourse courtesy of Starbucks, conservatives and the left seek submission, humiliation and power.

Observe that, in most of the coverage about Weinstein, there’s rarely a mention of even a few of his movies, which might at least provide context for why his alleged power abuse matters and what’s at stake with the end of a pioneering movie studio and the 150-plus people who work there. Note that disclosures of sexual abuse by Terry Crews, James Van Der Beek and Corey Feldman were ignored by conservatives, who, following the Catholic Church same-sex pedophilia conspiracy, don’t acknowledge religious sexual abuse, and by feminist-leftists, who tend to minimize or don’t acknowledge men as victims.

Whether every rotten and disgusting claim against Harvey Weinstein is 100 percent true, the nation is impoverished by the lynch mob mentality and its disproportionate response to claims of injustice. Why should a studio be boycotted within two weeks because its ex-boss is accused of behaving badly? On what grounds? Think of all the female sex predators — the guilty, convicted pedophiles and predators — and consider what’s happened to their lives, careers and institutions. I just read an article written with sympathy and understanding about the woman who as a teacher seduced a male child student and, later, married him. Not a word in that article about institutional sexism and sanctioning of sexual abuse of boys or who knew what, when and why.

Gretchen Carlson, the beauty contestant turned Fox News hostess whose claims against Roger Ailes led to a settlement and started a wave of claims against the men of Fox News, wrote in Time that she seeks to “prohibit the forced-arbitration clauses that are embedded in many employment contracts.”

Conservative Carlson’s proposal if enacted would constitute a violation of private, consensual relationships and contract law. But the rationale for prohibiting arbitration — that state-sponsored controls on how people choose to live, work and trade will magically change people’s bad behavior — is identical to the basis for the left’s longtime solutions.

Besides, the left asserts, might makes right. In a statement, the Academy celebrated its expulsion of Oscar-winning Harvey Weinstein by boasting that he was rejected by a vote “well in excess of the required two-thirds majority.” The Academy, which has initiated no action against members accused of serial rape and sued for sexual assault (Cosby), convicted of drunk driving before lashing out against Jews, gays and women and pleaded no contest to a charge of battery against an ex-girlfriend (Gibson) and those who plead guilty to a sex crime involving a 13-year-old girl (Polanski, who fled the country), added that they expelled Weinstein “to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over.”

Reporting on the Academy’s expulsion, the New York Times, which had initiated the campaign against Weinstein with its Oct. 5 article, which had no clear editorial impetus other than as a random expose, admitted that “no charges have been filed against [Weinstein]” adding that “[p]ressure had been building on the academy to purge Mr. Weinstein.” No admission that it was pressure that the Times had applied.

With the can of worms now opened, the Academy either now must define its own membership ethical standards, conduct membership morality detection and expel those who violate the moral code — or be dismissed and disregarded as having no moral credibility. Either way, it is compromised as an arts and sciences academy.

Cautioning against jumping to conclusions about Harvey Weinstein fell to film director Woody Allen — who, incidentally, has been offered membership in Hollywood’s academy and refused — who warned that Hollywood’s and New York’s purge “could lead to a witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself. That’s not right either.” Woody Allen is right, though, predictably, his comment lead to another woman writing another op-ed in the New York Times titled “Yes, This is a Witch Hunt. I’m a Witch and I’m Hunting You”.

In yet another recent Weinstein-themed Times article, it’s being reported that “a spreadsheet listing men in the media business accused of sexist behaviors ranging from inappropriate flirting to rape surfaced last week and was circulated by email.” This lead one media writer to conclude that: “Things do get complicated when you start lumping all this behavior together in a big anonymous spreadsheet of unsubstantiated allegations against dozens of named men.”

Today’s contender for monster of the moment, however, is Harvey Weinstein, and, while he appears to have earned his monster status, it is important to keep in mind which movies his studios have produced.

Miramax and The Weinstein Company movies, as I’ve written for years, are among the most thought-provoking, serious, controversial, enlightening and joyful movies of the last 40 years.

This list is partial: Scream, The English Patient, Cop Land, Good Will Hunting, The Mighty, The Human Stain, Shakespeare in Love, The Cider House Rules, The Founder, The Shipping News, An Unfinished Life, The Others, Iris, Chicago, Cold Mountain, Finding Neverland, Carol, Shall We Dance, The Aviator, Sin City, Dirty Girl, My Week with Marilyn, The Iron Lady, Silver Linings Playbook, Fruitvale Station, Gold, Django Unchained, The Butler, The Giver, August: Osage County, Woman in Gold, Macbeth, Roald Dahl’s Esio Trot, Sing Street, The Artist, Lion, The King’s Speech, Chocolat and Benedict Cumberbatch in a new movie about an industrial contest between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison, The Current War, which now may never be seen.

A critic for the Los Angeles Times chimed in this week to reduce Weinstein’s role even in making movies to a mere “knack for putting golden statuettes in the hands of talented people.” And pop singer Tom Jones, whom at least one actress has told the press had a reputation for making unwanted sexual advances, told the West Coast Times that he “has little sympathy for abusers. “If you’ve done something wrong, you’ve got to pay for it, or prove that you haven’t done anything wrong,” [Jones] said.”

In reality, you can’t prove a negative. With left and right merging and threatening to create a huge, new commission to control companies — Disney-owned Lucasfilm (Star Wars) boss Kathleen Kennedy proposed a new commission composed of “lawyers and legal scholars, sociologists, psychologists, feminists, activists, and theorists” to monitor Hollywood‘s work behavior — the opportunity to admit wrongdoing if you think you might be wrong, show remorse and argue that you deserve a second chance because you’ve earned it by doing work that demonstrates good character and that you’re capable of recovering — as Harvey Weinstein and Brian Williams did — may disappear.

In Weinstein’s case, in less than 14 days.

I keep hearing, from Oprah and others, and reading, in New York Times op-ed after op-ed, that this proposed post-Weinstein power shift and unmitigated assault on a man’s character and wiping out of his legacy, including that which he achieved for the good, is not about Harvey Weinstein. It’s about the allegedly assaulted and harassed women, it’s asserted. To this point, an online writer who covers show business for observes in an intelligent commentary that

Trying to erase Harvey Weinstein’s legacy will not erase the harm he’s done. Pretending Weinstein was never a part of those TV shows and renaming his company won’t negate what he allegedly did — both to the women he targeted and to the people he enlisted into helping him do it. Weinstein didn’t operate alone when it came to acting out his alleged patterns of intimidation, harassment, and abuse. The fact of the matter is, he couldn’t have. He didn’t just need willing accomplices; he needed a culture that thrived on intimidation and dismissed the vulnerable, and he got it in Hollywood.

This is true. I, too, have seen and experienced it firsthand. I’m glad people are coming out and writing and speaking about what happens in Hollywood, New York and anywhere assault and harassment takes place (how about Washington).

Proposed bans on arbitration and non-disclosure agreements and a commission to monitor, detect and control people’s business conduct will lead to worse, not better, working conditions. Jumping to conclusions and glorifying a witch hunt merely switches harassment from one sex to the other and compounds the real and irrational discrimination against today’s woman. That subculture in which people enable, ignore, compartmentalize, evade and sanction injustice must be rejected and, instead, people must honor and practice principles of justice. It is hard, but it can be done. Progress is possible but not in an atmosphere of spite, revenge and indiscriminate accusation. It means listening, not just talking, about sexual assault and harassment. At its root, progress requires the use of one’s reasoning mind, not belief in dogma from conservatives or leftists — or their new, ominously irrational hybrid of both.

Movie Review: The Snowman (2017)

The Snowman begins with a gripping, horrific setup. From there, the visually alluring movie piles on clues, suspense and gruesome implications. Much of what comes is implausible, particularly policemen and policewomen going it alone when they wouldn’t and/or shouldn’t, like horror movie protagonists stepping into darkness without calling for help. A good cast and stunning photography can’t save this grisly mystery from being too cryptic.

The hyponotic appeal of snow, distinctive patterns, importance of imprints, music and raising a brighter child are on vivid suggestion or display, each with a sense of purpose, throughout this dark serial killer tale, lead by Michael Fassbender (Macbeth, The Light Between Oceans, 12 Years a Slave, Steve Jobs), which in certain respects resembles Se7en (1995). The outstanding actor Fassbender plays an alcoholic cop in Oslo, Norway named Harry Hole (this is the character’s name, underscoring his sense of damage and misfortune). Hole is preceded by nine years in detective case work by Val Kilmer as a more expressive alcoholic cop. Their investigations pertain to the spree that spawns from that setup piece, which is striking, bizarre and detailed enough to spin the film’s puzzler: who is beheading fertile Norwegian women?

You get the why before you get a chance to put the pieces together to figure out whodunit. The Snowman is eerily, frighteningly coherent, not convoluted. Aided by straight, unscored scenes with cigarettes, snowballs and triggers and hints, it stays on a general track. Besides Kilmer, who’s always interesting to watch onscreen, and Fassbender, the able and ample cast includes Toby Jones (Captain America), Charlotte Gainsbourg as Fassbender’s ex, J.K. Simmons (La La Land, Whiplash) and a very natural and absorbing actress named Rebecca Ferguson (The Girl on the Train, Florence Foster Jenkins) as Fassbender’s young partner in solving the missing persons cases. Ferguson’s Katrine, the most sympathetic character, is given too little to do and her departure is distracting and unsatisfying.

Astute cinematography by Dion Beebe, who photographed Into the Woods, Memoirs of a Geisha and Chicago, makes the bluish-white The Snowman an eye-popping and mesmerizing motion picture. If only director Tomas Alfredson (2011’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) had held the screenwriters, adapting The Snowman from the bestselling novel, to the same standard. The camera glides over Scandinavia’s swirling snowdrifts and winding rails and roads and you want to indulge and let yourself get drawn deeper into the icy murder mystery, which recalls The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. But The Snowman‘s failures, gaps and stretches inhibit any indulgence.

Crime-themed films are generally both horror-driven and unceasingly abstruse. Alfredson deftly avoids horror, while neatly laying out the killer’s disturbing motives and expressing the movie’s redemptive theme. The Snowman‘s plot ought to have matched its pictures’ wondrous precision.

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin

Goodbye Christopher Robin means well. With gentle storybook strokes, the biographical motion picture about A.A. Milne, who created and wrote the Winnie the Pooh children’s books, plays from Milne’s traumatic soldiering in World War 1 to his books becoming a worldwide bestselling literary series and beyond. Shown through flashbacks of battlefields, courtship and an only child, with fear of war looming over England, her war veterans and their survivors, Milne’s reconciliation of his war trauma comes through writing what’s childlike.

Reconciling with the child upon whom his stories are based is the movie’s centerpiece. In the showing and telling, and parts of this uneven movie are magically shown and told, the audience gets a sense of the writer’s life. That living with a writer, as Mrs. Milne (Margot Robbie, The Legend of Tarzan) must do, is unbearable. That working for a writer, as the child’s nanny (Kelly Macdonald, Merida’s voice in Brave and Anna Karenina) does, is also a constant strain. That having a storyteller for a father, as the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Milne’s union does, both draws and repels his attention without ever fully gaining his guidance and love.

The child is the Pooh series’ basis, of course, for the character Christopher Robin. I’ll leave it to Goodbye Christopher Robin to spell out the complications of having that name and all it implies for his boyhood. Here, the boy is taken away with his parents to escape London’s triggers for his father’s post-war trauma to live in a cottage near the woods in Sussex. You can probably guess what follows, with stuffed animals, trips to the zoo, an imaginative mother and father, moonlight, sunrays and the wonder of them all blending into the woods. An origin story within the story satiates one’s interest in the Pooh tales; most details are dramatized here.

As Mrs. Milne, Robbie’s a bit overly dramatic or possibly miscast. Daphne Milne’s looks don’t age as persuasively as her husband’s (Domhnall Gleeson, Ex Machina, Star Wars, Brooklyn). As Milne, Gleeson is superb, catching the writer’s irritability, the soldier’s torment, the husband’s lament and the father’s pride. The script does not allow him to show the writer writing, which would have tethered Goodbye Christopher Robin to the tales in a way that director Simon Curtis (Woman in Gold) apparently and understandably wants to avoid.

The result leaves loose ends. Daphne, for example, tenderly helps her future husband to heal when she guides him in how to lead and again later when she instructs him not to plead. Yet their bond never quite seals.

The books’ illustrator, one of the more compelling characters, trails off and disappears. The main two actors who portray the boy at differing ages, Alex Lawther and Will Tilston, are excellent, however, the screenplay does not fully account for the abrupt change in character which merely marks the boy’s progression. His emergence should be the film’s pivot point. Goodbye Christopher Robin contains insights about being the child of a creator — especially about being born to a talented creator whose creation becomes a commercial success — fathering, mothering and nurturing and, in the end, it suggests that parenting as an ideal simply and strictly means preparing the child to live, which is harder than it sounds, particularly for the walking wounded of the Great War.

As a war veteran-writer-father’s fable of how Milne made the most of his moments with his son, fencing and playing cricket in the forest, for the wonderful, childlike stories of Winnie the Pooh, Goodbye Christopher Robin leaves something unfulfilled. But there are also not many movies about sons of men who went to war and lived to write delightfully life-affirming tales. This movie’s lacking, but it hits sweet spots along the trail. It might be considered a must by fans of the books.

Movie Review: Marshall (2017)

Depicting Thurgood Marshall as brash, fast-talking and arrogant, with a chip on his shoulder, some might even use the word “uppity”, especially in 1941 when the movie Marshall takes place, fall’s new biographical picture features Chadwick Boseman (Get On Up, 42, Black Panther in the Marvel Comics film series, such as Captain America: Civil War) in another fine turn as a man of ability.

Steeped in grainy, period detail with Ruth Carter’s costumes, a kind of reverence for black subculture and U.S. history and a mocking reference to “old Negro superstition”, TV director Reginald Hudlin does a skillful job, too, recreating a single, early marker in the life of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Marhsall was a lone lawyer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a historically enslaved and persecuted group of Americans that needed a legal defense different from whites because they were treated as lesser than whites.

Enter Marshall, who’s riding rails to defend presumably innocent blacks when he’s not stirring up trouble with Harlem renaissance figures such as poet and Communist sympathizer Langston Hughes (Jussie Smollett, Empire), who may have been gay, and freethinking Republican Zora Neale Hurston (Rozonda ‘Chilli” Thomas), author of Their Eyes Were Watching God. With a beautiful, pregnant young wife who wants him home more often, Marshall feels the push and pressure of being a pioneer while trying to cash in on the change he seeks to enact.

As fictionalized here, and it is dramatized with liberties taken, including certain, key facts and that Boseman looks nothing like Marshall, Marshall teams up with white, Jewish lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad, Frozen, A Dog’s Purpose) and defends an accused Negro rapist (Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us) against his wealthy, white employer (Kate Hudson, Raising Helen, Almost Famous). It’s a highly controversial case with several discrepancies, an all-white jury and strict judge (James Cromwell, The Artist) presiding and, curiously, how it plays out under Marshall’s guidance contradicts current left-wing “rape-culture” dogma (read an account of the real life case with spoilers here).

The cast is outstanding and, while Marshall is episodic to the tee which will disappoint those who, like me, may anticipate a wider perspective, this applies to everyone, even supporting actors and Hudson, whose acting I’ve criticized in the past. Brown (This Is Us, Darden in the recent O.J. Simpson murder trial TV series) is among the screen’s best actors bar none and Cromwell (Surrogates, The Queen, Spider-Man 3) is at his best. So, I hope first-time feature director Hudlin makes this the first of a trilogy or something — if I dare to imagine a movie franchise based on men of the mind — about Marshall (Marshall 2: Brown v. Board of Education?) and, personally, I’d love to see spinoffs about Hughes and especially the underappreciated Hurston, though they play bit parts here. As fine a director as he is in working with his actors and establishing the scenes, and the set and production design are really fabulous, Hudlin trips with little details.

For instance, the prosecutor (blue-eyed Dan Stevens, the beast in Disney’s recent remake of Beauty and the Beast) is the stereotypical bigoted white villain. Also, I didn’t figure out that Brown’s character worked for the woman until well into the courtroom drama and I wanted to know at least a bit about Brown’s relationship with his wife, which I think might have added another layer to Marshall‘s humanist theme. As it is, however, Marshall marshals its impressive resources, including good music, with dignity and respect, and a degree of subtlety, which racist, tribalist and race-baiting critics are likely to miss.

With frankness about the NAACP’s self-serving aims, license in favor of Marshall’s role at the expense of Friedman’s and twists you might not see coming, stylish, clever plot points gently unfurl. One of them, with two men ultimately, simply disconnecting, as happens in life, accentuates the separatism.

The meaning of the movie’s lightbulb moment, which skillfully cuts to what catapults Thurgood Marshall from ambitious young lawyer to long-range thinking champion for the oppressed, may be missed if you don’t think twice. But my favorite scene entails a whites-only drinking fountain and the matter of fact way in which the title character selfishly serves and suits himself, living in — to paraphrase Ayn Rand — the future he fights for today. As with Clint Eastwood‘s Mandela movie, Invictus, 2009’s best movie, Marshall depicts Marshall in only his best and most heroic sense and it’s up to historians to sort fact from fiction. Here, America’s first black Supreme Court justice is portrayed in his younger years as marvelously intransigent. Look for an elegant ending courtesy of three characters in cameos by Trayvon Martin’s parents and their thoughtful attorney.

Movie Review: Blade Runner 2049

Denis Villenueve directs Jared Leto, Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford in a refined sequel to 1982’s Blade Runner with this fall’s simple and stylized Blade Runner 2049. The original movie, directed by Ridley Scott, who gets executive producer credit here, was more of a mood than a compelling motion picture as far as I’m concerned.

This time, Villenueve matches the moody, noirish dystopian cinema style to the story — also based on a novel by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick with co-screenwriters — and comes up with a more coherent and linear movie than any version of the predecessor. As with Villenueve’s other pictures, such as Sicario, Incendies, Prisoners and last year’s Arrival, you don’t want to think too much about what’s happening on screen. What you see is often enthralling, as with his other movies, but there’s a limit to what the pictures convey.

For instance, when a police boss (Robin Wright, Moneyball, A Most Wanted Man, Wonder Woman) throws a barb at her policeman K (Gosling), an android/replicant and ‘blade runner’ assigned to hunt down older model androids, essentially telling the expressionless young cop that he has no soul, you might be inclined to wonder what she has to gain by the jab. After all, if he’s got no soul, why bother to deliver the dig? If he does, on the other hand, insulting him might deplete his motivation.

But with terms such as pre-blackout, pre-Prohibition, slavery, “Soviet happy” and other little seeds planted throughout this long and visually arresting film, Blade Runner 2049 offers the constant promise of resolution. There must be a point to the action, lines and clues, right?

Nicely, and not too exhaustively, there is, with an almost archival deliberation of details, points and themes that show respect for Ridley Scott’s film without alienating the modern audience. I couldn’t tell you much about the original, except that I think the late Joanna Cassidy is terrific in it, but even I recognized Edward James Olmos when he shows up in the new movie. Villenueve balances Blade Runner‘s essentials without being confined.

One of his themes, however thinly rendered, is that one ought to be free “to be [left] alone” and, in this sense, the movie’s deserving of praise. The first act sets the future earth’s dystopian tone as K sets out to do his job, or, in a good line which taps the best and worst of how one should regard today’s cops: “Do your fuckin’ job!” Villenueve injects an urgency with slow-burn suspense amid the tone-setting and character-building. Besides Leto’s blind, villainous “industrialist”, though monopolist is probably a better term, a character in bangs and a ponytail who serves the sinister blind man (Sylvia Hoeks, evoking Genevieve Bujold and stealing every scene) makes a penetrating impression.

It’s in the second act that striking symbols, images and thematic nuances come into play, eerily playing on ghoulish news headlines with numbers, fires and ashes suggesting a holocaust. Add to this disturbing sense angry mobs, hiding places, implants, what might become a Trojan horse and, tossed in with product plugs for Peugeot and Sony, an explosive twist on getting a manicure. Villenueve alternates the action with quiet, slow plot progression, too, allowing a few scenes with a memorable memory maker to take root. All this and his usual attention to detail, from chipped paint and K’s clammy skin when he’s merging fantasy and reality with two women to the Salvador Dali-influenced surrealism in red with high heels suggesting Pierre Boulle’s absurdism ala 1968’s Planet of the Apes.

The third and final act begins with an inviting homage to better days, styled to a crisp Vegas casino piano bar neo-classicism, complete with flashes of Liberace, Marilyn, Sinatra and Elvis in moving pictures. This almost made me want to live in this film’s 2049. With an adorable old dog, it’s a wistful remembrance.

If it sounds terribly abstract, it’s because Blade Runner 2049 is, like Villenueve’s previous movies, too ponderous, deftly implanting seeds while crowding them so they don’t fully take root and bloom. I think this is a fundamental fault with the series premise, however, which revolves around a question, not an answer: what makes a man? Still, entire characters could have been cut to accentuate the idea.

That said, it’s stunning. Hangdog Ryan Gosling (The Notebook, La La Land, Lars and the Real Girl) is the stranger in this strange new land. Jared Leto (Dallas Buyers Club, Suicide Squad) and his accomplices dangle the prospect or threat of going “off-world”. The irascible, perpetually brow-furrowed Harrison Ford (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, 42, Cowboys & Aliens) reprises his original role (and is as bland an actor as ever). With waves, snowflakes and stairsteps symbolizing the constant war and peace of being human on earth — seeded with optimism — Blade Runner 2049 is something to see and ponder, if not to think too deeply about.