In the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, director Raoul Peck dramatizes writings by James Baldwin that interrogate the assassination (1963, 1965 and 1968 respectively), of dear friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Beginning his project "Remember This House" in June 1979, Baldwin wrote, "I want these three lives to bang against and reveal each other."

Through this powerful, poetic piece, Baldwin aimed to describe and expose the true history of America which is that of race, as he asserts. The thirty pages of notes Baldwin completed before his death in 1987 also indict class and religion from his astute perspective. Baldwin explains why he did not join the N.A.A.C.P., the Black Panthers, Muslim or Christian groups, and Baldwin's striking insights are as valid today as they were over three decades ago. 

Cross cutting between snippets of speeches by King and Malcolm highlights a virtual debate between their ideologies along with Baldwin's comments on Malcolm's appeal and his own dissent. Peck expands this presentation of Baldwin's ideas by interweaving archival footage of Baldwin holding forth on the Dick Cavett Show, speaking at a 1965 Cambridge debate, traveling with Evers, and targeted by J. Edgar Hoover's FBI. He juxtaposes photographs of demonstrations connecting civil rights protests to tragic, 21st century black killings, especially Ferguson and the Black Lives Matter movement. 

Further documenting Baldwin's thoughts and time are notes to his literary agent Jay Acton, his comments on Attorney General Bobby Kennedy's disappointing meeting with Raisin in the Sun author Lorraine Hansberry, and some elegant shots that bring Manhattan and other locales to life. Clips from and comments on racist Hollywood films and advertisements add further content and context to this impressive overview of black history and these momentous individuals. Interspersed throughout the film, Samuel L. Jackson eloquently reads Baldwin's words. A most fitting tribute, especially in black history month, I Am Not Your Negro screens in an exclusive engagement at Landmark's Tivoli Theatre.

 

  

Receiving composer Nico Mulhy's music June 2015, with a premiere date of September 24, newly appointed dance director and choreographer Benjamin Millepied creates a new thirty-three-minute ballet for the elite Paris Opera Ballet. Documentarians Thierry Demaizière and Alban Teurlai follow Benjamin, as he's usually called, every step of the way beginning thirty-nine days before the performance.

For those who love behind-the-scenes analyses, especially of creative work, Reset offers a rich and detailed overview at almost two hours running time. Using the countdown of the days as the chapter headings, suspense builds as Benjamin works with the sixteen young dancers he's chosen from the 154-member company, the costume designer, administrators and assistants, the stage manager and the lighting designer, the orchestra and the composer, and the threat of a technicians' strike. What emerges is the critical importance of Benjamin's personality to set the mood, to offer guidance, and he is remarkable.

A principal dancer himself for twenty years in the NYC Ballet, he gracefully models the moves he wants. Benjamin makes clear that he values, above all, the dancers enjoying making music with their bodies, not feeling oppressed by a military atmosphere, and letting their personalities shine through. Ben also explicitly confronts racism, determined, he says, to shatter it, asking, "If art can't be an example for society, where are we heading?" For their part, dancers express their fear of judgment, their need to please, and the struggle to "be your own person." 

The camera is a fly on the wall watching Ben work in offices and rehearsal rooms up to the premiere as he interprets Nico Mulhy's Clear, Loud, Bright, Forward, the title of his project. Intercutting moments from the performance with rehearsals makes striking connections of the ballet's evolution in this insightful inspection of the creative process.

Reset screens at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium Friday, February 3 through Sunday, February 5 at 7:30 each evening.

 

Folds of red fabric. Red nails. Red kitchen wall. From the first -- but not the last -- sight of all this red, Pedro Almodóvar glides away from his source material. He based the double-story of the title character on a conflation of three short stories, written in 2004 by Canadian Alice Munro.

Munro's stories read more beige than primary colored, but Almadovar's stunning film streams forth in reds and blues and yellows. He takes a mature woman, confronts her with a slap from her past, and he follows her to closure. Julieta lives rather serenely in Madrid with her lover, Lorenzo. They have plans to move to Portugal.

Then Julieta runs into Bea, her estranged daughter's former best friend, who tells her that the daughter Antia lives in Switzerland with three children. Julieta drops Lorenzo and removes to the apartment she had with Antia, hoping for a connection. To while away her time, Julieta starts a journal, its white pages, as white as a sheet on a dead body. They are a great contrast from the red of her nails as she sensually smooths the pages at the inner seam. She writes her memories of meeting Antia's father, of their love, of his love for a sculptor, of Julieta's for her daughter, and of her daughter's for Bea.

To portray the young and old Julieta, Almodóvar cast two actors, Emma Suárez and Adriana Ugarte. Suarez plays the older Julieta; Ugarte, the younger, spiker-haired blonde version. Because Julieta moves in and out of time, each actor also moves in and out of the story and the decades, and Almodóvar handles this trick effortlessly. Also notable is Inma Cuesta as Ava, the sculptor (although the erotic works are actually sculpted by Spaniard Miguel Navarro).

Julieta interprets a woman's complex story, something Almadovar does so well, through a series of still lives: red frosting, a blue sweater -- a fine film.

 

 

 

Chilean director Pablo Larraín tackles Chile's Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda in Neruda. That simple title belies the multi-layered, impressionistic interpretation of 1948 events when the committed Communist Neruda outfoxed Chilean authorities who had outlawed the Communist Party. What could be a simple, suspenseful hunt for impeached Senator Neruda becomes, in Larraín's artful film, a salute to Neruda's audacious defiance.

Most recently known here for Jackie, Larraín explores both Neruda's political allegiance to the Communist Party and his hedonistic, egotistical eccentricities. At Telluride, where I first saw the film, Larraín called "Neruda" an anti-biopic. Indeed, not an endearing man, especially to his wife Delia, Neruda soon becomes wildly impatient with being forced to hide in various retreats. He flees cross country for Argentina, evading the obsessive police inspector Óscar Peluchonneau. An invented character inserted as Neruda's dark twin, Óscar engages through voiceover narration in imaginary dialogue with Neruda, exposing, Larraín asserts, "the corrupting influence of ideology." 

At Telluride Larraín also spoke of one idea dominating each of his films:  Tony ManeroPost MortemNOEl Club. Here, he said, it is "love and the blood of our language." As Neruda wrote under this, his pen name, "If nothing saves us from death, at least love should save us from life." In fact, he composed most of Canto General during this time, an inspirational work Larraín describes as "a political tome . . . full of fury and flights of fancy, as well as terrible dreams and cosmic descriptions of an angry and desperate Latin America in crisis." 

Luis Gnecco presents a complex, self-assured portrayal of Neruda, a brash, bombastic political poet. As the official in pursuit, the chameleon-like Gael García Bernal is Neruda's mirror image: Disciplined versus agitated, focused instead of distracted, implosive as opposed to explosive. And Mercedes Morán makes the artist Delia a significant contributor to Neruda's poetic and political life. "Neruda" the film presents a provocative, creative, energetic portrait.

In Spanish and some French with English subtitles, at Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Theatre.

 

 

In the fully competent hands of director John Lee Hancock, who also directed The Blind Side and Saving Mr. Banks, The Founder tells the story of Ray Kroc, the putative founder of McDonald's. The film is entertaining but not revelatory enough. There's little doubt an even more horrifying story lies beneath.

The film begins with Kroc's spiel. Kroc is a 52-year-old salesman with a history of failure (just ask his wife). Now, Kroc is selling a multi-teated mixer for shakes. He appeals to the potential buyer's ego as much as to his business strategy. He is rejected over and over. Then, his secretary reports an order for six of those mixers, so Kroc drives from St. Louis to San Bernardino to see who placed such a big order -- and why.

He finds the McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac, and he observes their operation. The brothers even show him the Speed-ee system they've devised. Kroc knows a good thing when he sees it. He's especially attracted by the bright yellow arches that Mac designed for the store in Phoenix, and he sees those arches as complements to the flags that fly and the crosses that mark cityscapes across America.

The Founder tightropes across a minefield. By casting Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the film replaces a conscience with a good face, making it harder to boo the man for his actions, from hanging up on his partners to actively lying about his dealings, which include referring to himself as the founder of the restaurant. Keaton works his magic as Kroc works his. Well cast as the brothers McDonald are Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch, solid and stolid men with common sense. Linda Cardellini and Laura Dern star as Kroc's serial wives. John Schwartzman's cinematography and Robert Frazen's editing add filmic interest to this juicy biopic.

 

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