MEEK AT THE MOVIES : THE BUTLER ( 3 stars )

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^ Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker in “The Butler”

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In the wake of the George Zimmerman trial, you couldn’t ask for a better movie–or I should say, movies–to help carve out a common understanding at the middle of the racial divide. No matter how you took the Zimmerman decision, Ryan Coogler’s “Fruitvale Station” delivered an air tight version of the same story with the same tragic end, the main difference being that the shooting took place before an audience of cellphone cameras leaving no wiggle room for conjecture as to what happened between two men in the dark. But also, and more to the point, the “based on real events” docudrama eloquently tapped into the plight of a young black man struggling to succeed in a society reticent to give him a fair shake based on the color of his skin.

To underscore that, and for anyone who’s of the mindset that we’re beyond Civil Rights and Affirmative Action and that opportunity is out there for all to take on equal terms, sit through “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and see if you still feel that way. Perhaps the best way to describe “The Butler” is as ‘a short painful history of the black man in America.’ The film centers on one man, who for the most part, grew up a slave in the early part of the 1900s and went on to wait upon eight Presidents as a staff server in the White House.

True, slavery was abolished, by Lincoln and immediately after his death, in the mid-1800s; but on the cotton plantation where Cecil Gaines was raised in Georgia, the emancipated laborers and their progeny were still treated as little more than disposable property. As a boy, Cecil witnesses his mother pulled from the field and hauled into a shed for a brief brutal interlude with a scowl faced plantation owner, and when Cecil’s father says something about it in the aftermath, he’s given a bullet to the head for protesting the rape of his wife.

There are several such atrocities that percolate throughout “The Butler,” even after Cecil (Forest Whitaker) has relocated his family up north and begun his tenure under Eisenhower (Robin Williams). And as much of an opportunity as working in the White House would seem, Cecil has a stormy house to contend with. His wife, Gloria (Oprah Winfrey acting for the first time in over a decade) is an alcoholic and carries on an inappropriate relationship with the smooth soothsayer next door (Terrance Howard), and his eldest son, Lucas (David Oyelowo) disagrees with his dad’s ‘don’t rock the boat’ stance and becomes an outspoken political activist. During the Civil Rights preamble he’s arrested repeatedly for riding on the ‘Freedom Bus’ and gets into a tangle with the Klan, and later, syncs up with the Black Panthers.

“The Butler” effortlessly sails through time, chronicling the evolution of the country and Cecil’s family. Under each new administration there are junctures where Cecil gets his one magic moment with the President, including Kennedy (James Marsden getting a passing grade on the accent) who asks him about his son and his activities. The conversation, as the film has it, goes on to have some small effect in Kennedy’s push for Civil Rights. Now if you’re rolling your eyes a little at this, you’d be somewhat right, as Cecil Gaines is a fictitious representation of Eugene Allen, who really did serve eight presidents. Still, for all its contrivances “The Butler” presents an interesting and compelling conveyance of American history through eyes of one man, in a setting where every social movement has a profound impact. It’s purposefully staged (perhaps too much so) with Cecil on the inside and Lucas, the rebellious yell, on the counter culture fringe.

The direction by Daniels’s and Danny Strong’s script (based on a Washington Post article by former Boston Globe scribe, Wil Haygood) often comes heavy handed and maudlin, but what they’re attempting — to compact so much into so little — is buoyed and bound by Winfrey and Whitaker. The two work superb together, as people drawn to each other yet pulled apart (over the years) by politics, work, addiction and ideals. The home is where the heart is, and Daniels and Strong get it. The wide-ranging cast includes Cuba Gooding Jr., Lenny Kravetz, Mariah Carey, John Cusack as Nixon and Jane Fonda killing it as Nancy Reagan.

— Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies

MEEK AT THE MOVIES : A SHARLTO COPLEY TWO=-FER — ELYSIUM ( 2.5 stars) and EUROPA REPORT ( 2 stars )

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^ Sharlto Copley in Elysium, with Jodie Foster and Matt Damon

For blockbuster fans out there, still hungry for a real summer hit to carry you into the fall, I’m sorry to inform you that “Elysium,” Neil Blomkamp’s follow up to “District 9,” isn’t the answer– perhaps about as worthy an answer as was “Pacific Rim.”. What the South African wunderkind, who wowed audiences with his stark, inventive first film (it garnered several Oscar nods, including a Best Picture bid) now has conjured is something that’s less a new, grim re-envisioning of the not so distant future (it’s 2154) than a retooling of the film that made him an A-list name. Unfortunately, the new movie is addled, by everything bloated and boxed up that Hollywood brings to such a project when it gets its hooks deep into an upcoming auteur.

The plot moves like a whiplash. LA is now a wasteland reminiscent of the South African ghettos that the wayward aliens in “District 9” inhabited, while the rich reside on the lush, luxury ring-world (thank you Larry Niven!) of the title that’s just a twenty minute shuttle ride up into the sky. Up there, universal health care is a reality, they have medi-pods that can heal anything — cancer, the clap — and can even rebuild your face should it get shot off : that’s if your brain still works. To get a medi-pod to heal, you must be a barcoded citizen of Elysium, so if you live on Earth, you’re living in the new Third World, and there’s no grand social program to cover your ass.

Forget any type of political deeper meaning as in “Logan’s Run,” or even “Oblivion.” The perfect outer ups and the ugly underneath are just plot garnish, a notch above McGuffin status. Max (Matt Damon), the intrepid hero du jour, is an ex-con with a heart of gold (yes that cliché) who accidentally gets irradiated on the job and, without much remorse from his employer, is given a vial full of pills and five days to live. Most people would roll over or go out with a bang, but not Max. To get up to one of those cure-all tanning beds, all he’s got to do is get a Robocop exo-skeleton welded to his frail body, shoot down a shuttle with an RPG, download the contents of a billionaire’s brain and save the poor. Not so easy, but also not so tough, as the few people we do see up at Elysium are candy-assed effetes, with the exception of Jodie Foster’s icy ministry of defense, a gal who’s, pretty much, an unfortunate blend of Donald Rumsfeld and Tilda Swinton.

The real trouble comes in the form of Kruger (Sharlto Copley, the star of “District 9”) a covert assassin, who, while at the beck and call of the Elysian powers, would just as happily slit their throats. He’s the wild one in an otherwise predictable house of cards. The film looks great, and I hope that the next time Hollywood out Blomkamp, they take the gloves off and let him get to it.

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^ Sharlto Copley in “Europa Report”

It’s tired and clichéd, but “in space no one can hear you scream,” is a cinematic truism–and even if someone could hear you, what could they do? “Alien” defined the maxim and many over the years, for example the macabre, but mediocre “Event Horizon” (1997), have tried to follow Ridey Scott’s trail with little success. “Europa Report” goes into that charted territory, employing a battery of “Blair Witch Project” cams, except they’re not hand held by an imperiled victim-in-waiting, but by various affixed video surveillance equipment in a space craft on a deep space mission to explore a distant moon orbiting Jupiter.

The crew’s a generic, international smorgasbord. They’d all barely be discernable if it weren’t for their various nationalities and race (among them Sharlto Copley, who gets his second space mission this week). Director Sebastián Cordero nicely uses quartered screen imagery to jazz up the action, and on Earth there’s Embeth Davidtz barking out orders and giving background from the confines of mission control. The journey out feels like Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and when they get to Europa it turns “Blair Witch”—yeah there’s something out there on that frozen hunk of ice. “Europa” begins promisingly, but sails off an arty, jacked-up version of the “Lost Tapes” faux-documentary TV series that explores modern myth (blood suckers, sea monsters and poltergeists, oh my).

—- Tom Meek / Meek at the Movies

Insult to Sindustry?

funny photoA recent poll of 100 men, indicated that, 35% of the men polled were — or have been, jealous, intimidated, or insulted — by a partner’s request or  use  of “toy-play”, in the bedroom.

When asked why; The response that the thought of the query or blatant use and action of “toy-play” was just to taboo for Man-land.

The survey taker’s insinuated that — “It is in indirect insult to the size, effectiveness, and over all satisfaction, of their “equipment”.

OUCH ego crusher? or Help with your lover? Though every man who took part had a slightly different way of portraying his distaste for The Bedroom-Battery-Buddy, one truth remained TRUE — Most feel that they are just “Not enough”.

Top 5 irrational insecurities

  1. The women in question — are DISSATISFIED on some level.
  2. That the toy in question is either a replacement, or “the something missing”.
  3. That she will be able to satisfy herself better than he can.
  4. That he is packing less than heat in his “nether-regions”…..
  5. In the more severe of the irrationality — some guys even believe ” that toy-play ” is — The beginning of the end.

“WOMAN’S VIEW” — as to why that is absurd………. or not….

  1. The woman is merely trying to spice things up — where-by, keeping YOU interested…..
  2. She is genuinely trying to alleviate some of the “pressure” you may feel to satisfy her — thus making your job easier and more enjoyable.
  3. In “some” cases woman stated — “that their sex drive is much higher than her other half, by filling her “excess need” — you can relax, and NOT feel as if you are slacking or not fully satisfying her.
  4. “IF” she was not happy or content with the “hardware” — she would have fired you, and begun shopping for a more “adequate upgrade” — let’s just say she adopted Home Depots motto of, “You can do it, we can help”.
  5. An (inside secret) admitted by 25% of woman polled said they felt — “inferior or inexperienced” — when compared to their partner. By learning what excites them — solo or with you, they feel a bit more confident in their “abilities and super-sexy-sheet-skills”. Be happy and perhaps a bit grateful she cares that much….. She’s a keeper…..

What is the consensus here?

TALK TO EACH OTHER…. Honesty really is the best policy. He’s thinking one thing — you’re thinking another — and the truth and solution lie somewhere in the middle of BOTH of your truths……. FIND IT or BUZZ OFF.

buzz lightyear

    :Heather Cornell

THE BEST EVER : FRIDAY NIGHT @ PORTUGUESE FESTA – NEW BEDFORD

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^ Hathaway Street welcomes you

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“The best ever.”

That’s how The Local Vocal’s editor, Heather Cornell, described this year’s Friday night bash at the annual Madeiran Festival held in and by Blessed Sacrament Parish, the tall-spired, Iberican Gothic cathedral that sits on Acushnet Avenue north of downtown New Bedford.

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We were there, too; walking through the huge crowds of happy people — of all ages, skin colors, shapes, and fashion tastes — listening to the bassline humm of a strobe-lit rock band; drinking sangria and eating cacoila and pork butts at the food pavillion; tapping foot to the music of a screaming, hip-hoppy blues rock ensemble on the Madeira Avenue stage; shopping T shirts at the concessions on Hathaway Street; and — maybe best of all — walking up and down Davis Street, Whitman Street, and Madeira Avenue, past the Club Porta Delgada and St. Michael’s — vroomed by motorcycles — between rows of multi-deck houses in, on, and in front of which one met ordinary people celebrating life, tight shorts, tank tops, and the neighborhood.

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^ tambours and guitars led processional through the crowd. Love those caps !

This was what a Festival should be. A celebration of one’s self, one’s community, one’s tastes and enjoyments, in the heart of the neighborhood and not pushed off to some bland park on the outskirts. A Festival squeezed in among where people actually live — that’s how they do it in Europe, in cities where people live cheek by knee in buildings that hug each other; living among cooking aromas wafting past cigarette smoke, bumping on slang conversations, sliding over a multitude of immigrant dialects. Obviously it works here in Massachusetts too.

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^ screamy blues-based hip hop rock band. Where DID they get those caps ?

The Festival continues today and tomorrow. A schedule of events and locations can be found at the Festival website. It would be a really really unfortunate decision if you decide not to come to it and be part of it. So just come. You will be Madeiran for a day — maybe longer.

NOTE : the Festival lives outdoors. If it rains, you’ll get wet. And you won’t mind it one bit.

—- Mike Freedberg, for The Local Vocal

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