Most people know about César Chávez's leadership of the United Farm Workers (the UFW); fewer recognize the contributions of Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the UFW and the person Chávez thanked for keeping him honest through all the years they struggled to gain humane conditions for those exploited by the agribusiness industry. Director Peter Bratt's documentary Dolores should remedy that oversight.
Writer/producer/director Bratt's chronological presentation is packed with informative archival and contemporary interviews, news footage, and photographs. It traces political connections with well-known individuals from Robert Kennedy to Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem to President Barack Obama, who acknowledges he adopted Dolores' mantra, Si, Se Peude -- Yes, We Can, at the ceremony where in 2012 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
This splendid film recognizes the legions of men and women who stood with Dolores in challenging the slave wages, inhumane working conditions and sexism. Beginning with organizing in California's Central Valley in 1962 through decades of strikes and boycotts, Dolores fought on the front lines, building coalitions even as the government at times acted against their legal strategies. And yet, she fought on, including being instrumental in beginning the environmental justice movement that included banning DDT and advancing the feminist agenda.
During the years that Huerta devoted herself to activism, she had eleven children, ten interviewed here. Several of her sons and daughters speak candidly about the pain growing up without their mother fully involved in their lives, with Dolores herself expressing regret and recognition of what her commitment to activism entailed.
Juana Chavez, one of Dolores' daughters, says, "Women cannot be written out of history. It will never change if we keep quiet." This documentary recognizes Dolores Huerta's rightful place in labor's struggles, a woman who at 87 continues to support community organizing through the Dolores Huerta Foundation. The film Dolores has won several audience and best documentary awards. At Landmark's Tivoli Cinema.
Victoria and Abdul defines the biopic "based on a true story." Not one single false step. No blurred foci. Under Stephen Frears' impeccable direction, Lee Hall's script, based on Shrabani Basu's remarkable research, shines into the far back reaches of the theater. The cast, topped by Dame Judi Dench, acquits itself beautifully.
Only in recent history have the journals of Abdul Karem turned up and, then, only as Basu was mid-research on the life of Queen Victoria's closest clerk during the last 12 years of her life. England, starting with the Queen's family, her retinue, and household, was not best pleased that their monarch was interested in befriending a brown man. And not just any brown man, but a brown one with a deep commitment to his Muslim faith and two wives shrouded in full-length burquas. Abdul became not only her munshi, her teacher, but also her confidante in matters Indian. He taught her Urdu, which she demanded to learn as Empress of India, over which England had ruled for 40 years. It was meet and right.
Frears' most recent works include The Queen and Philomena, among many laudable titles. His understanding of farce shows beautifully as he pricks class consciousness throughout Victoria and Abdul. He also aptly balances the script of Hall, who has shown his fine way with a pen in works from Billy Elliott to War Horse. And then there's the acting. Dame Judi is, of course, the best as she rises from a fat, arthritic old lady to a woman starched under the adoring eye of Abdul, played so well by Ali Fazal. Eddie Izzard, Tim Piggott-Smith, Michael Gambon, and Fenella Woolgar are commendable. Danny Cohen's cinematography is breath-taking as is the production designed by Alan MacDonald. Victoria and Abdul rises to this occasion.
Let's say you never imagined the results of one gun shot on a community or a couple or a culprit. Let's say you are woefully ignorant or willfully unlettered in the violent world around you. But, let's say, you want to learn, to pick up just a skosh of information about the consequences of violence.
Plus, you're open to experimental film. Then, Shot is for you. Or for social studies classes of 6th graders for whom clichés are still fresh and discussable. For you and them, Shot works.
A couple, Mark and Phoebe, are breaking up, kind of like the couple in the beginning of the recently released film Stronger. Miguel, a bullied boy, falls for the seduction of a gun to get back at his antagonists. In examining this possibility, Miguel shoots the gun into Mark's lung. Mark hits the ground, and Miguel hits the streets.
Director Jeremy Kagan records both male's reactions in real time. He splits the screen to show the victim stunned and lying on the ground as his nearly divorced wife screams for 9-1-1. In the other half the screen, Miguel tries to get rid of the gun, to get help from his mother and his priest, and to shed his guilt. In the other half the screen, Mark is prepped for surgery after a ride in an ambulance, complete with singing.
Then, Kagan moves these three lives forward by five months to a climactic end. Kagan's work goes all the way back to Heroes in 1977 and includes The Chosen. He has a point to make with "Shot" about the gun violence that kills 90 people a day in America.
The cast starts with Noah Wylie, very effective as Mark, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. as Miguel, also seen recently in Spiderman. Malcolm-Jamal Warner plays an amusing EMT, and St. Louisan Sarah Clarke plays a doctor. Shot is not sophisticated, but it is truthful, which is, after all, the basis of most clichés.
September 20, 1973, at the Houston Astrodome, Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs played a tennis match that meant a great deal to the 50 million U.S. spectators, 90 million across the globe. As Billie Jean said at this year's Telluride premiere of Battle of the Sexes, she felt she'd seriously hurt women's fight for equality if she lost.
We know she won in glorious fashion. What we don't know are the behind the scene crises that husband and wife directors Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris so intelligently illuminate in their multidimensional portraits of Billie Jean and Bobby. King, then 29 years old, and Riggs, 55, both tennis legends, embraced the moment, enjoying the circus while understanding its import. In fact, before this famous match, fighting for pay equity, Billie Jean and eight other top women tennis players defied the US Lawn Tennis Association, presided over by a chauvinistic Jack Kramer, and initiated the Virginia Slims Circuit.
In this milieu, it would have been temptingly easy to demonize the compulsive gambler Riggs. But he, like any good con man, has a charm and energy that complicates his sexist persona, and the film captures that. For her part, while King had steely determination on the court, she was adrift and confused at the time in terms of her sexual orientation. At Telluride, King elaborated, saying that tennis was her retreat, for when competing, everything else fell away and that was all she had to focus on.
In The Battle of the Sexes, from the art direction (and all the awful clothes) to the language to the film stock and even the old Fox movie logo--every detail expresses the '70s. In some ways, it looks so dated, and in others, it seems only superficial details have changed, holding up a mirror to today. That's one reason Faris and Dayton worked hard to get original Howard Cosell commentary, to show how important it still is to learn to respect women. And notably, King's supportive husband Larry, a prince of a guy, is never depicted as mean spirited.
As King, Emma Stone has her walk, verbal inflections, and spirit. Steve Carell is a marvelous chameleon who shape shifts through Bobby's moods. Providing superb support are Sarah Silverman, Alan Cumming, Bill Pullman, and Elisabeth Shue. Battle of the Sexes is a feat of terrific storytelling with important subject matter. At area cinemas.
One of the better ways to grasp a tragedy, in this case the Boston Marathon bombings, is through the experiences of individual victims. On that April 15, 2013, Jeff Bauman went to the legendary race's finish line to root for his ex-girlfriend Erin. He had the misfortune of standing next to one of the two homemade bombs.
Bauman lost both his legs from the knees down. A man in a cowboy hat, captured in a photograph that became an iconic image representing strangers aiding the injured, helped save Jeff after tourniquets stopped his legs' hemorrhaging. Most of us know the story of Jeff's fight back through a multitude of challenges, psychologically as well as physically; and we can anticipate the film's trajectory.
What distinguishes Stronger is the care with which it presents Jeff's fight, including in the film physical therapists and hospital staff that actually worked with Bauman. We come to understand more fully the battles facing him, his family, and friends. But Jeff is not a Dudley Do Right angel without demons before and after his tragedy. In fact, one of the recurring motifs is "Just show up!" since Jeff didn't always do so, as Erin points out, leading to her breaking off their relationship in the film's first scene. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to restore a traumatized adult, and the Boston Strong pitch in through diverse activities, showing that attention, and even fame, brings its own trials.
As Bauman, Jake Gyllenhaal disappears into the role, giving an Oscar worthy performance, one of restraint that levels a much stronger impact than emotional excess would. Sentiment here is honest, earned and deeply moving. Miranda Richardson as Jeff's mother Patty and Tatiana Maslany as Erin communicate their own complex reactions. I wish Jeff's supportive friends had received more attention; they remain a bit too much Boston stereotypes (partying, cursing) and more sophisticated depictions would have enriched the loyalty they showed, despite their apparent need for education about the trauma's aftermath as well. Jeff faced a torrent of conflicting emotions he had to navigate.
Still, director David Gordon Green knows exactly where cinematographer Sean Bobbitt should put the camera; often an unusual, powerful perspective; for example, and notably, the scene when the dressings are removed from Jeff's knees. Green wisely saves the most horrific bombing images and the most clichéd triumphant ones until the end, leaving us with an upbeat finish but also a depth of knowledge about the difficult, zigzagging path to get there. At its core, Stronger thereby delivers a fine tribute to the human spirit. At area cinemas.