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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

These are my three co hosts from
Don is on the left is is the co chair for Reno-Sparks NAACP.  He is a lobbyist and a canvasser for Election 2016.
Albert is from Cathedral City, CA and is an activist.  He worked for the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Jon is the music leader at Church on Pearl in St. Monica.  He trains youth in music and also does street ministry.
Jane Hoffman is a political scientist, teacher and civil rights leader.

Here is a link to our Sunday night episode:

Monday, September 12, 2016


You were a happy, smiling child robed in innocence
a love unbound secure in your parent's arms and everlasting embrace
...until one day a man with an ungodly desire made a bad choice 
the gift you gave me was tears and to learn about who you were and what you loved
Your parent's pleas became my prayer
you blended into my memory
and the prayers like wishes became a incantation of better things to come
I look at your face frozen in time but the spirit of laughter goes deeper than the picture I see
Your life is a testimony to a love that sustains with tears that fall in the crevasses of our hearts
I once lost a child, too, to failed surgery
God will restore to us what we lost on earth
The angels reach down from heaven and restrengthen the weakened bones of those who cry out in grief
Your body rested close to home
the conviction of radiance of your pure image finally broke the burden of silence to reveal a battered conscience
to never forget but continue in courage
Your face embedded in all things good
the freedom to ride your bike without fear
and the honesty of confrontation
You stood up to that man as he chose darkness over light
but your name stands throughout decades of time to remind us of the instrument of life that perpetuates eternal joy.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Tribute to Winona Ryder in the movie "The Letter"

Winona needs no apologies: Review of the “The Letter” (2012)

In the back corner of City Lights Bookstore, Winona Ryder is probably chewing up on the poet of the decade in a dark red beret, with the ghost of Bukowski by her side.  She breathes into your soul, “Fan or not, I don’t need your approval.”  Seam-lined in all her semi-decade artsy film reviews is a certain pitiful thought: whatever happened to wonderful Winona?
Winona has made some good films in the last few years, including playing the nemesis of Natalie Portman in “Black Swan” and the wife in “Iceman.”  She doesn’t care about living up to her teenage glory.  I recently watched a Lionsgate film on Netflix called “The Letter.” Winona plays a distraught playwright trying to re-work her script in a kind of human-like lab of experimental actors.  Her re-writes overshadow the paranoia she develops, especially when her male lead, who is her boyfriend Raymond (Josh Hamilton), seems to favor Anita, played by actress Marin Ireland.
This is the kind of film where you have to second-guess which scenes are fantasy and which are reality.  It appears as though Raymond is her rock, the boyfriend she can depend on, as the scenes progress.  As the movie develops, Winona’s character, Martine, spirals into fantasy scenes that are dark and compelling.  She sees a pirouette doll with no eyes that captures her onstage. She lies under a tree with shimmering leaves while a character played by James Franco kisses her on the cheek and plays with her loyalty.  There are a lot of poetic pauses in the film to fill the lens of the audience, the interpretation of the design.
The basis of the movie is deception.  The more she tries to analyze the movements of her actors while they utter the lines she wrote, the more she questions their sincerity.  She starts imagining her boyfriend falling for Anita.  It seems like a case of insecurity or paranoia, until her fantasies and delusions get more exacerbated.  She runs into a college friend in a coffee house.  That night, she dreams the friend got killed in a car accident right after they conversed at the coffee house.  The police come to interview her the next morning.  They play audio found at her friend’s in which she was arguing with a boyfriend.  The scene is so real that it jars her whole consciousness.  But the next thing the audience learns is that it was part of her imagination.
The movie becomes frustrating at certain points because one does not know where it is going.  The playwright writes a play.  She changes the story with re-writes based on her paranoia and observation of actors in rehearsal.  She weaves her greatest fears into the lines, including sexual innuendos between characters.  There is no ending.  A character in the play toys with the women.  James Franco makes a sexual advance to an actress named Elizabeth played by Dagmara Domincyzk.  He fingers her to full-blown climax in an office while they are waiting for Martine to come back.  She basically says “Thanks for the affection” like it was an electronic Hallmark greeting.
James Franco’s character, Tyrone, is supposed to be the antagonist in the film.  He is successful in the play never getting off the ground to performance, but the director of “The Letter,” Jay Anania, never fully defines in his script what Tyrone is after.  It seems Tyrone wants to break up Raymond and Martine.  He almost seduces Martine at the end of the film.  A blogger named Bruce in a fan letter to Winona writes, “You must’ve been insane to sign on for this maddeningly abstruse drama, underwritten and underdirected by Jay Anania, head of the directing program at NYU’s graduate film school.”  Anania had James Franco as a NYU student.  Many reviews undercut Anania’s capability as a director and also accuse him of using his pet students to his advantage.
At the end of the film, we find that Winona had been involuntarily subjected to some digested drug from South America that causes delusional brain hallucinations and alters her mind.  It appears that Tyrone gave it to Raymond and she somehow ingested it airborne.  It is kind of an anti-climactic ending to a slow-moving, action-lacking film.  For psychological thrill-seekers and Winona forever fans, it is a must see, if only to solve what the damn 94-minute encounter is about.  Forty percent of the film is Winona twiddling her hair with penetrating eyes observing the actors onstage as she continues to re-write their movements and words.  Twenty percent of the film is dreamscapes and hallucinations with no definitive outcome.  James Franco gets girls but not “the girl.”  It appears that Raymond ends up with Anita.  Winona is just Winona, creating more mystery and alluding to the fact that you will never know her, onscreen or off.   Still, you must keep trying.

Movie Review: Blue is the Warmest Color

Blue is the Warmest Color

Like the warm color that filters out of undefined sky, blue is a soothing color. Yet blue in reality is a cool color, the kind that makes you shiver so slightly when its intensity is mixed with ice.  That personifies the character of Emma, played by French actress Lea Seydoux, the seduction magnet who allures Adele from the safe world of high school in “Blue is the Warmest Color.”   Based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh, the movie follows a confused school girl named Adele, who has bee-stung lips and reckless hair and becomes the orifice of social testing grounds of love, lesbianism, and sexual definition.  Director Abdellatif Kechiche took on adult subject matter and implanted it into a 15-year-old teenager who has no moral compass but does have sexual urges that determine her direction into the world of who wanted her vs. what she would have.  Adele, played by Adele Exachopoulos, is subtle in her expression and wise beyond her years.  Her resistance to her character and frigidness to the world in the beginning scenes open the door to layers of emotional conditioning.
One cannot speculate about whether Kechiche is unraveling the confusion of an adolescent or exposing experimental sex as a socially acceptable art form.  Some scenes work, others don’t.  The movie starts out with Adele’s lunch mates rating male students in the cafeteria.  They determine that Thomas, a hottie one year above her, is hooked on her.  A few weeks later, Thomas and Adele go on a date.  By the second date, they are in bed. She enjoys sex but not to the point where she craves him again.  Her confusion is accentuated by her passing a blue-haired girl in the street on her way to meet Thomas.  She has a fantasy about it at night.
Adele and Thomas end their short-lived tryst and she moves on to another classmate, locking lips with the new girl.  The other girl is caught in the moment and tells Adele the next day it was nothing, sending the lead female into a tailspin.  She is emotionally unspun at this point and goes tearing into the night with her male best friend Antoine, a gay classmate played by Benjamin Siksou.  He is a real asset to the movie, an anchor to Adele and a person who can always draw out what she is feeling.  Adele’s other friends are less forgiving.  Alma Jodorowsky, who plays Beatrice, is French film dynasty, the daughter of a director.  Her lunch room antics cast doubt on every high school girl’s purity, including the premonition they have slept with everyone they look lustfully at.  Beatrice accuses Adele of sleeping with Thomas before she does and of going down on a woman before it happens, and openly calls her trash when she doesn’t get the answer she wants.  There is also a scene where homosexuality and lesbianism are shamed by the high school group.  Beatrice is perhaps sexually frustrated herself, leading her to want to know everything about everyone before they can get into a position of confessing.
The movie is interspersed with philosophical and literary dialogue reserved for only the finest minds of French salons derived from the Enlightenment period.   Adele must explore topics of tragedy in literature and life as her teacher tries to explain that disappointment is inevitable.  In science class, a teacher challenges Adele and her classmates with the notion that natural laws are fixed yet can be compared to vices.  Although the science teacher emphasizes that vices are choices that are pivotal to abandoning morals, things like gravity are forces that are constant.  One student says, “Gravity is a vice you can’t avoid,” turning the teacher’s precept on its head.  The teacher asks the students what a pathological scruple is—adhering to a moral transcription that cannot be altered or challenged.  The students say natural laws are like vices: there is no fixed morality in the universe.  Dialogue like this cannot be found in American teenage movies.   “Reality Bites” and “Breakfast Club” come the closest to challenging the moral order.
Not only does Adele have to cope with a bipolar sexual strategy, but she debates the relevance of Sartre with her would-be lover, Emma, who is an art student.  Emma only spits out half-truths about art, image, and meaning.  She opens Adele to a new world and does not rush the sex.  Adele likes the subtlety of her new, slow-moving attraction, but as an impulsive teenager she can’t always control her urges and responses.  She wants Emma but needs a guide to define what she needs.  Emma and Adele take a walk through a museum in which they observe naked female statutes and paintings of naked, full-bodied women.  There is a foreshadowing that questions whether attraction to the same sex is natural or against the grain of universal order.   The director leaves the interpretation to the audience.
The movie has meaningful scenes and dialogue smattered with raw scenes of meaningless casual sex and the pain of growing up.  It’s hard to imagine a thoughtful 15-year-old so wise about literature but so unsure of her sexual impulses.  It leaves one feeling that it was just the will of the director, who wanted a visualization of two women engaging in sexual identity, a visual tapestry for the satisfaction of the adult world that has pawned them into an era of Enlightenment merged with the indulgence of cheap vices.  A teenager cannot really understand what will bring her true satisfaction.  Grade: B

Terrorism is France; brave actions of Lassana Bathilly

Am I Charlie? I am Lassana Bathily

If my freedom were ever at risk or if my choices to express that freedom were limited, I probably would not be drawing a Muslim in a turban with a Jewish star on his ass.   Many of the cartoons at the liberation newspaper coined Charlie Hebdo were not funny or even mind grappling.  They were downright crass.   The offices were fire bombed in 2011 and they did receive threats over the years.  Charlie Hebdo’s executive editor Stephane Charbonnier quoted Emiliano Zapata “I’d rather die on my feet than live on my knees.”  \

Remarkably so, any number of journalists can stand by their credo but the carriage of the message comes through in the heart of the intended core of the subject matter.  What was Charlie Hebdo’s message?   Was it just to diffuse different sects of the Catholic, Jewish and Muslim faith by alternately making them look bad each week?  Was subscription to an organized book of truth (People of the Book) who lay claim to the Abrahamic promises all potentially misguided? To lay blame on the publisher himself may be a dangerous task.  To fully understand that mind to lips to pen can exert an invitation to death is potentially the most lethal element of modern debate.

 The Huffington Post made the argument that Hebdo’s edgy challenge on right wing French values are legitimate when pushing the boundaries of collective social principles.   Liam Smith wrote “We must recognize the value that comes from pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable, of breaking taboos, of standing up to thugs. Not to do so speaks to a form of cowardice only supplanted by the news outlets who have refused to show the cartoons and the even more pathetic attempts to justify that decision.”  I was able to google the cartoons and find at least 100 images.   On a more intimate scale, Salah Khadr, a London based editor of Al Jazeera, wrote “I am Al Jazeera” challenging his employees to ask if this was “really an attack on ‘free speech,’” discuss whether “I Am Charlie” is an “alienating slogan,” which promotes the conflict between European values vs. clash of extremist fringes.  Khadr wrote“ Defending freedom of expression in the face of oppression is one thing; insisting on the right to be obnoxious and offensive just because you can is infantile.”  The rest of the world who somehow evenly grafted the phrase into geographic strongholds of “Je suis Charlie” vs.  “Je ne suis pas Charlie” created a hemispheric divide between countries subscribing to Judeo-Christian exaltation vs. Muslims who may or may not condone the violence seems decisively clear.  All the prominent members of NATO were at the French unity march last Sunday on January 11, 2015.

 I felt a sense of world division as the former allies of WWII bonded in arms and a gaelic spirit to demonstrate the disapproval of the brutal killings. There was a subliminal line drawn of a broken world order that bled through old tempered scars.  I had a sense of dignity that Russia and Ukraine joined the ranks.  Yet I do not want to be aligned to an international coalition or in this case, one religion of solidarity.  I believe “I am Lassana Bathily.”   Lassana Bathily was the 24 year old Mali-born Muslim grocery clerk who hid a group of frightened shoppers inside the Jewish store Hyper Cacher before sneaking out through a fire escape to speak to police.  The store was attacked by gunman Amedy Coulibaly who killed 4 people and attempted to take more hostages to protect the two men who had killed 12 people at Hebdo’s offices the previous day.  He stated that we are all in this together.  Jews, Christians and Muslims must unify because we are all in the same crisis. 

The question is how did the crisis begin and where will it end?  No killing can increase the integrity of one’s soul or attitude.  I believe we should all desire to be like Lassana Bathily who protected lives while surrounded by death.  His actions while in a crisis drove him to heroism.  By breaking down the barriers and accepting people where they are at and eliminating labels that draw defense is the only way humanity as a whole can come out of this crisis.   One’s true identity is in the action of generosity and curiosity, reaching a little further to find out who that stranger is without trying to identify or label them. 

The Short Life of Simone Battle

Celebrity Death Wish

I once met Lauren Bacall at Spagos in West Hollywood.  She would have never dared to die before ripening to legendary.  This year, at age 89, she finally did.
2014 has been a banner year for celebrity deaths.  Next to texting and driving, being on reality singing competition may now be in the top 10 causes of death.  Simone Battle was found at 8:30 a.m. hanging in her closet.  Cause of death: suicide.  Success must have a downside.  After she became a finalist on Simon Cowell’s “X Factor,” Battle was later signed on to a girl group and was also showcased in a video with Pitbull.  After she left the show, her talent was noticed by Robin Antin, who formed the Pussycat Dolls.  Looking to form a second generation of the group, Robin put together the all-girl group G.R.L.  The group was made up of Simone, Lauren Bennett, Emmalyn Estrada, Natasha Slayton, and Paula van Oppen.
No one fully knows the reason why Battle killed herself.  It is simply just tragic and confusing.  It’s not my position to judge, but she was on her way up while so many other actresses, actors and singers who come to Los Angeles never make it.  Simon Cowell wrote on Twitter, “I am so sad to hear about the news Simone Battle has passed away. She was such a fun nice person. It’s such a loss. Rest in peace Simone” on September 6, 2014.
Battle sang an audition at Simon Cowell’s house for “X Factor” using the song “Help” by the Beatles.  There was a vulnerability in that performance and a spin on the ’60s song that could move one to tears. “Help me get my feet back on the ground, would you please, please, help me.”  Did anyone try?  That’s the question.
Another reality death this year was Michael Johns, age 35, who died of a blood clot.  He performed on American Idol, Season 7.  Skye McCole Bartusiak, only 21, died of an apparent epileptic seizure on July 19, 2014.  She was a television and film star who played Rose Wilder, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, in “Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder.”  She was also in the hit independent film “Pineapple.”
Beyond the youthful deaths, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams, and Joan Rivers have all recently died.  Like Simone Battle, Robin Williams died of suicide.  It is unclear what brought him so much sorrow when he provided the world with so much joy.  Phillip Seymour Hoffman relapsed with a heroin addiction. Hoffman’s death may have been an accident caused by “acute mixed drug intoxication, including heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines and amphetamine.” However, he had a needle in his arm.  Both Williams and Hoffman left three children behind.
Brittany Murphy died of a long-term eating disorder in 2009, and shortly thereafter her husband, Simon Monjack, died. Later reports stated that both Murphy and Monjack died of pneumonia and anemia.  Murphy also had a toxic strain of over-the-counter prescription drugs.  Her mother suspected she died of toxic mold in her apartment.  A new movie was just released on Lifetime about her full life story.  Michael Jackson also died of self-administered drugs, with years of using illegal drugs normally reserved for surgery.
Fame has a new meaning now.  Fame is not the ticket to paradise; it is learning to wrestle new demons.  Apparently, it is not a triumph for all.  The Hollywood Golden Era is long over.  Between reality stars dying on the rise and established celebrities dying in mysterious ways, crippled and alone, it makes one wonder at the complexity of the human condition.  Fame is not the sole ingredient of happiness.

THREE MOVIE REVIEWS from the Duluth Reader Weekly

Frankie & Alice

With all the talk recently about famous people transgendering, no one ever thought of a story idea where a lead character has a multiple personality disorder and transfers between a female Black housekeeper to a debutante, Southern white aristocrat, crossing racial composition.   No one had to reach for that poignant storyline because Geoffrey Sax, a Canadian filmmaker, took a true story portraying a woman who suffered from a dissociative identity disorder and presented it onscreen.  Halle Berry, a seasoned actress, was able to command all three personalities wrapped into one person including a 7 year old genius who had an IQ aptitude of 156.   The real African American Frankie, who grew up in Savannah,  Georgia in which her mother was a servant in a white household, had at least two traumatic teenage experiences that split her personality into fractured states.  She fell in love with the prominent white family’s son, ran away with him, and got pregnant by him.  This happened when she was age 15 in 1957 in the Deep South.  Two deaths resulted from that social risk and taboo tryst.  Her boyfriend died in a car crash while she was distracting him in the front seat.  She later gave birth to his child and her mother killed the infant after she delivered it a motel no less.   There is a lot of pivotal positioning within the Murdoch family in one of the opening scenes as Francine (Frankie) Murdoch seems to be the mother’s favorite when she visits her on her birthday and presents her with an elegant mother’s necklace featuring two birthstones for her two daughters.  Chandra Wilson who plays Maxine Murdoch, Frankie’s sister, seems to have the full time burden of caring for her mother in their South Central home while Frankie scoots in and out of their lives as a go go dancer who makes good money and is the centerpiece of men’s lust at a sleazy strip joint in Hollywood.  Phylicia Rashad plays the forgiving mother who seems to embrace Frankie’s every whim and affection.  Frankie also lies frequently to her mother, saying she is attending college or going off to Florida when she is not. After the first scene with her mother, the tables turn when it shows the darker side of Frankie’s existence.  She rakes in hundreds of dollars a night stripping but can’t seem to pay her rent.  She looks through her checkbook and realizes she has spent too much money on a high end gown at a Beverly Hills boutique.  Her landlord pounds on her door to let her know the rent check bounced again.  Fantasy diversion is present in Frankie’s life as she desires to escape the reality of her demeaning position as a stripper.  She dresses up and goes out to clubs, presenting her alter ego Alice as someone who is above Black lower and middle working class.   She leaves the bar one night with a popular bartender who is really just a one night stand.  She steps on one of his kid’s toys and spirals into a hallucinogenic state, flipping out at him and cracking his head open with a vase.  She walks into the street and crumbles in two way traffic.  The cops mistake her for a junkie.  She gets a 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold and finds herself in a Los Angeles County mental hospital.   A perceptive psychologist played by Swedish star Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd (Dr. Oz) taps into her beauty and presence as she reels him in with her Southern drawl played by her alter ego, Alice.  Alice is the Southern belle who has little toleration for Black people.  Halle Berry seems to have mastered the detachment of self-loathing of her own race as she projected the underbelly of her dual white heritage.  Within the framework of her persona, one sees to only perceive the characteristics of the white woman she intends to possess.  Contoured by her outspokenness in the county mental ward when interacting with her peers, she dances to funky 70s beats while the community television in the lounge shows American Bandstand and Motown favorites.  Frankie can be free in that moment.  The set costume designer personifies that era well through Frankie’s wardrobe.  As the movie progresses, Dr. Oz develops a chalkboard of her primary 3 personalities which displays differences.  She is left handed as the white woman with a lower IQ of 102.  She is right handed as the Black woman with a impressive IQ of 152.   She has 20/20 vision as Frankie and Alice, but Genius, the 7 year old, needs glasses because she is near-sighted.  Genius’ IQ is 156.  Frankie smokes but Alice doesn’t.  To take an IQ test and score differently means that Frankie had to be of those separate minds to embellish her expectations while being that person.   The movie moves along at an acceptable plot driven pace but it is the nuances and quirkiness of the characters that hold the audience attention.  Dr. Oz drifts off with 70s style headphones with jazz any chance he gets.  His doting secretary can never quite penetrate his melancholy and emotional distance.  His primary companion is his cat.  As a doctor, he has a nice home but detaches from materialism as he obsesses about helping his most complex patient, Frankie.   Frankie, who comes off self sufficient in the first few scenes of the movie as a chain smoking, self liberated woman who stands up to intrusive men, later cracks in her Southern Belle gown as she is admitted a second time to the county mental hospital after attempted to stab a wedding guest at her former lover’s (Pete)  sister’s wedding.  After seeing Pete’s sister at the wedding, Frankie seems to have blackout moments that put her in a translucent state.  She is charged with assault with a deadly weapon but is later committed to the County mental hospital under certain research conditions.  The head psychiatrist is not thrilled with her presence and notices the obsession of Dr. Oz.  He questions if Dr. Oz is really treating the patient for her own benefit within the County budget or if it’s his personal pet project.   The psychiatrist releases Frankie after the criminal charges are dropped without notifying Dr. Oz.  He goes and finds Frankie after visiting her mother and sister. The final climax in the movie comes when Dr. Oz puts Frankie in a hypnotic state.   Halle Berry shows her full range of acting skills as she demonstrates childbirth, the traumatic death of her boyfriend, Pete, and the subtle extinguishing of the life of a newborn by the hands of her mother.   That epic moment comes as the screen shows a flashback of Frankie giving birth in a motel as the mother takes a crying baby, smothers it and wraps it up for the garbage.  Trauma of this nature makes it evident that many people could be candidates for mental health issues beyond their grasp, taking one in fateful directions.   Geoffrey Sax handled the material well and the aspect of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) with his scrupulous subject, Halle Berry.  Berry herself has had to straddle the dual world of Black and White ancestry.  He talent led her to the first Oscar for a female Black lead in Monster’s Ball.  The more psychologically twisted movie parts she takes on such as  Gothika, the clearer vision we have of a fully embraced actress that can create dimensions in the audience imagination to grip them for weeks after her commanding spell she has on all who embrace her skill and charms.
(with Halle Berry)

Anita - A documentary of Anita Hill

Awkward and offensive.  The words and testimony of Anita Hill trailed through the echoed sound-trapped chamber of the ancient building beyond the microphone while her soft doe-like eyes resounded a brazen tale of workplace inappropriateness that ranged from descriptive male parts to the mention of misplaced pubic hair.  The documentary “Anita” written, produced and directed by Freida Mock was vacuum packed contents revealing pressure stoked Senate Judiciary confirmation proceedings  to investigate the true character of Clarence Thomas, a nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, hand-picked by George H.W. Bush in 1991.  The clash of the farm raised youngest girl of 13 from Oklahoma with respective Southern Baptist manners to the nostril flaring commanding presence of Clarence Thomas was a study in contrasts in itself.  The documentary opened with a fire of questions Anita Hill was submitted to by a conservative crop of Senate members who had the gender equality bent of a rusty rake.  Anita Hill was submitting testimony out in the open about her experience as a subordinate employee under Clarence Thomas in the Department of Education and the EEOC where they both worked.  There was an FBI leak to the public about her allegations against Mr. Thomas in the workplace and it landed her in the spotlight under stinging lights to a body of aging white men, all elected officials.  She was sincere about her purpose to present Clarence Thomas as a person who had blotted morality to the point where his judgment may be impaired to undertake the most prestigious level of court decision making in the country.    Professor Charles Ogletree, a Black lawyer who was the lead attorney at the Harvard School of Law decided to stand by Professor Hill as there were no men of her own race who would.  After all, she was damaging the potential reputation of the first male Black nominee to the highest court in the land.  Many of her colleagues tried to sway her not to testify.  Ogletree stated “She’s been sexually harassed most of her professional life and she had to keep it a secret like so many women.”  That didn’t stop Howell Heflin, Democratic Senator from Alabama to ask “Are you a scorned woman?  Do you have a martyr complex?”  Those searing words fell upon the audience like a ton of stonewalled bricks.  Anita Hill’s perplexed glaze at the body of men who were both invoking and questioning her practically put her in a paralyzed position.  That, coupled with the presence of senators like Alan Simpson of Wyoming who cross examined her like a defendant, asking how she dared to follow Clarence Thomas to the next government assignment after he had treated her so badly.  He said, “I have papers sent to me from all over the country in the form of letters and faxes, even from Tulsa from her classmates saying ‘Watch out for Anita Hill.’”    The movie started out with that raw testimony and descriptions like Long Dong Silver and the size of Thomas’ self proclaimed penis as he tried to lure Anita into his sexual orbit.  A breach she may have made was not reporting it as they were both civil rights appointees to protect similar cases of age, race, gender and other categorical discrimination situations.  The film director Freida Mock took edited chunks of interviews one on one with Hill twenty years later to fill in the pieces of her life and demeanor that was not necessarily to be public in scope or revealed at the time.  Anita Hill was a private person in the rural sense she grew up in.  She was teaching contracts at the University of Oklahoma in Norman by the time the legacy of Clarence Thomas brought her in the limelight.  The move unraveled her life from a back aging process.  The closer to the end of the film, the more we learned about her childhood.  Her family is close.  She has a white boyfriend currently.  It showed Anita giving a tour of the family childhood farm.  Her mamma called her stubborn and it showed excerpts of her attending her niece’s wedding in an Oklahoma Southern Baptist church.  The back reel process was similar to the life of Benjamin Button.  The legacy of the conflict between Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas which was a private matter that became public was representative of more than one kind of struggle.  It was the open sore that launched the whole movement for companies to have sexual harassment policies established in the workplace.  It was a Black on Black miscarriage of justice in that it was a Black woman going public against an accomplished Black male who had worked hard to overcome barriers to achieve his own success.  There was an aura during the Senate Judiciary Committee that when Clarence Thomas spoke, the room was silent and the male committee members were attentive.  When Thomas unleashed his assault and shaming finger pointing at the Senate members saying that history has played out those old metaphors of a Black man bragging about his sexual prowl-ness which ultimately led to a high tech lynching on his character because that is exactly what the system would produce: an undermining of a successful Black man.  John W. Carr, a retired Black partner of Simpson, Thacher and Bartlett, stated “ What about the legal lynching of Black women? Thomas was groomed by the White House.  He was part of the establishment if not the establishment himself.  He was one step down from the President.“  Jill Abramson, the Executive editor of the New York Times said, “It was no longer the sexual harassment of Anita Hill but the racial victimization of Clarence Thomas.”  Abramson said “Senator Alan Simpson left it open by stating the truth is unknowable, we may never know who was told the truth and then reduced it to a he said, she said game.”    When Anita Hill flew back to Oklahoma, she was greeted by hundreds of supporters.  She said “Despite the high cost involved, it is worth having the truth emerge.”  A few days later when Clarence Thomas was elected to the U.S. Supreme Court by 52-48, she was interviewed outside her home.  She refused to comment on his victory but stated,  “This is an important dialogue and it should not end here.”  After receiving death threats, bomb threats, attempts by Republicans to dismantle her tenure at the University of Oklahoma and more, she eventually transferred to Brandeis University in Massachusetts where she taught women studies and public policy.  She has always spoken protectively and highly of her students.  Teaching was her model of perfection and utmost pursuit.  While speaking around the country and having honorary engagements in her name, gender equality has gone from a movement to an institutional thought line due to one woman’s bravery.  In a time when sexual harassment was not even a household name, Anita Hill opened the door for Americans to face themselves and their actions in the workforce.  Sexual harassment claims rose an average of 5,000 a year between 1991 when she gave her testimony to 1996.   Clarence Thomas may have received the throne of judicial authority but Anita Hill reserves the legacy of a reflective character of dignity that no smear campaign has been able to make an inroad in her long walk to freedom and what she says was “finding her voice.”  It’s a voice she’s had to fight for and one other women have embraced.   Grade A

“Good People”

Released on DVD/Netflix: Oct 28, 2014

The premise seems ordinary.  A young American couple transplants to London, England to engage in renovating the wife’s family home while living in a dump.  She is an elementary school teacher and her husband is a contractor.  Contrasted with the image of Omar Sy, a chiseled African god-like figure draped across the opening credits like a power lord of the new European world order.  Omar Sy plays Khan, not one to be usurped with as established in the first scene. Khan is trying to stay one step ahead of Jack Witkowski, played by Sam Spruell, your typical flouride free broken tooth blymie from South London neighborhoods such as Southwark or Croydon.  Jack Witkowski and his gang have stolen over 220,000 pounds of money and drugs from Khan in a strip joint no less.  One of Jack’s men turn on him, shoots his partner in the face and takes off with the money.  The staging is violent and there is little breathing room in this harrowing plot for the viewer.  Ben Tuttrle plays Francis Magee, the one who stole the goods. He is even a more down and out aging Londoner with a drug problem.

He lives in the basement of Anna and Tom Wright, the young American couple.  One day they find him dead and overripe with a most unpleasant odor.  Tom notices one of the ceiling squares off kilter in Ben’s apartment.  He finds stacks of rubber-banded money which he efficiently hides in his own domain.  At first, he stashes it in the stove when a knock alarmingly comes on the door.  It’s Tom Wilkinson, a police investigator named D.I. Halden, looking for Ben.  After scrambling to hide the newly found money, a roll of it is squarely sticking out on the edge of the stove door which the couple hopes to keep concealed.

The Wrights already get an inkling that they may be in too deep but refuse to give up on the idea that their twist of luck is beyond their cautious dreams.  Anna and Tom decided to be prudent and only pay necessary bills while hiding the rest.  Tom pays off the mortgage that is overdue and Anna sneaks some money to visit a fertility clinic.  While trying to maintain composure while diffusing the police investigator, their guilt sweeps through their minds while in bed late at night.  Masterful plotting and dialogue takes place between D.I. Halden with the Chief of Police Ray Martin played by Oliver Dimsdale. Chief Martin doesn’t seem to want D.I. Halden to leverage any inside information on difficult high risk cases.  Halden had a daughter die surrounding a controversial death and it has affected his performance.  Chief Martin seems to have more to hide than what Halden is eager to expose by wanting to finally nail Jack Witkowski who has accumulated many unsolved crimes in London.  One day, Tom Wright comes home and he is met by Jack Witkowski and his brother, Bobby.  Witkowski shows no mercy and automatically assumes Tom Wright is in possession of the money that is missing.  After all, he killed someone else in a bloody pool hall scene to just obtain the address.  At this point of the movie, the unnecessary violence is threat level orange.

The director could have made less graphic choices to unravel the plot beyond brass knuckles and bruised faces.  Psychological thrillers do not have to be executed with blood in each scene.  It raises the intensity of the scenes but there is a blood barometer on how much an audience can take.  (My standard limit is the torture scene with George Clooney in Syriana.)  Needless to say, after Tom is beat up handily, Anna comes home and is doomed to be beaten if she doesn’t reveal the location of the money.  She manages to trick Witkowski to thinking the treasure is hidden on the fifth step up from the basement then uses her stilletos to knock him a good one down the stairs.  Just then, D.I. Holden comes in to save the day.  The Wrights spend the night in the hotel and arrange a plan with the police to return the money.  D.I. Holden wants to nail Witkowski who has an inside protector on the police force, namely Chief Martin.  D.I. Holden knows he must handle this delivery carefully or his career is over.  On the day of the delivery, the park is full of children and joggers.  The Wrights are walking quickly with a tote bag to wait for their cue.  They have let Khan know what is going down as divergent loyalists to him after he explained to Tom Wright that is technically his money.  Khan masked his identity to hire Tom Wright for a contracting job but then came out with the truth once meeting him in person.  The Wrights have a lot of debt collectors and their survival is sketchy.  A police officer begins shooting but he is on Jack’s team and is only impersonating the law.  D.I. Holden gets shot and the Wrights think he is dead.  They run away with the tote after being chased by Khan and Witkowski’s people.  They end up at the renovated house they are working on in the country.  They hatch a plan with tools to collapse the floor and set up other booby traps.  Witkowski and his men show up with Wright’s invitataion.  He falls through the floor in a blade of pointed wooden spears.  His brother gets his feet nailed to the floor through the lower floor power tool handled by Tom.  The Witkowski’s have kidnapped Anna’s best friend and her baby who are the bargaining chip.

There are many bloody moments in the last scene as Tom gets stabbed by Jack before Jack plunges through the floorboards.  They are saved again by D.I. Holden who had snuck out the hospital.  The movie definitely has its moments of strength.  Kate Hudson plays Anna Wright in a believable tone, trusting of her husband, wanting a family but caught in the matrix of bad circumstances.  James Franco comes off as a loving husband with a few deceptive schemes to hide his lack of consistent employment from his wife.  The plot and pacing are executed well.  I thought there would be more to the story with the Khan character as the kingpin, maybe some international drug running undertones, but the action dominates the motives and the money gets recouped by law enforcement.   With an all star cast that contains two Oscar nominees (Kate Hudson, winner; Almost Famous) and Tom Wilkinson (In the Bedroom), the performances can glorify the gaps of a rather predictable script.   Grade B+