Movie Review: Hamilton (2020)


Title: Hamilton
Release Date: July 3, 2020
Director: Thomas Kail
Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures | 5000 Broadway Productions | Nevis Productions | Old 320 Sycamore Pictures | RadicalMedia
Summary/Review:

Five years after first hearing the Broadway cast recording of Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop history musical inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, I finally get to see what the performance actually looks like.  And I didn’t even have to pay $500 for a ticket!  This movie is made up of stage performances filmed over three shows in 2016 much like one of my all-time favorite Broadway-shows-become-movies, Camelot (1982). The high-quality film and steady-cam work enhances an already great stage production.

Since it seemed that most everyone I know was already watching this movie yesterday, I’m sure no one is waiting for my review.  Still, I do recommend watching it even if you’re skeptical about all the fuss. The story is somewhat loose with historical facts, but it needs to be recognized that this is a story for our times as much as it is history. The cast is predominately people of color who claim American history – all too often considered white history – as their own. Hamilton and Lafayette probably never considered themselves immigrants, for example, but in Hamilton they identify as such because the show is tying them into a longer story of the American experience.

Anyhow, there’s probably nothing more I can say about Hamilton that hasn’t already been said.  I like it, I love the music, I love the deeply human performances from the cast.

Rating: *****

My Favorite Songs of 2020, So Far


We are halfway through the year 2020! Only halfway, you say? Yes! But all things considered, there has been some good music from this wreck of a year.  Here’s a list of 20 songs I love from 2020.

If there’s a song that you think belongs on this list, let me know in the comments.

“All That” by Sparks
(also consider “Lawn Mower” and “Onomato Pia“)

“Antifa Dance” by Ana Tijoux

“Anyone Can Play Guitar” by Midwife

“Be” by Mourning [A] BLKstar
(look forward to a full review of the band’s album The Cycle in the coming weeks).

“Clean Kill” by Coriky

“Daily Jobs” by Bee Bee Sea

“Devil Put the Coal in the Ground” by Steve Earle & The Dukes 

“Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa
(also consider “Boys Will Be Boys” and “Break My Heart“)

“Emotional Devotion Creator” by Peel Dream Magazine

“Finally // beautiful stranger” by Halsey

“IN IN IN” by Zebra Katz

“Is There Something in the Movies” by Samia

“Mansplain” by Thick

“Never (Lagos Never Gonna Be The Same)” by Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela
(also read my full-album review for Rejoice)

“Phenom” by Thao and the Get Down Stay Down
(also read my full-album review of Temple)

“Shameika” by Fiona Apple
(also read my full-album review of Fetch the Bolt Cutters)

“Take a Piece” by The Big Moon

“Take What You Can Carry” by Mia Doi Todd

“Tenebrist” by The Ballroom Thieves
(also read my full-album review of Unlovely)

“The Low” by Jonah Mutono

“walking in the snow” by Run the Jewels
(also read my full album review of RTJ4)

Book Review: Letters to The Hall of Presidents by Guy Hutchinson


Author: Guy Hutchinson
Title: Letters to The Hall of Presidents
Publication Info: Independently published (May 22, 2020)
Summary/Review:

I saw this as a bargain for Kindle and thought it might be cute.  It turns out that these were not actual letters written to Walt Disney World’s Hall of Presidents but a humor book where the author makes up letters from school students to the Presidents and their response.  It’s only 99 pages with a lot of illustrations, so I read it anyway.  The problem with this humor book is that there is nothing in it that is funny. In fact, I kind of hate it.

Rating: 1/2 star

Movie Review: Juno and the Paycock (1930)


Hitchcock ThursdaysFollowing up on my Classic Movie Project, I made a list of ten Alfred Hitchcock movies I wanted to watch or rewatch. I’ll be posting reviews on Thursdays throughout the summer.

Title: Juno and the Paycock
Release Date: 29 June 1930
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Production Company: British International Pictures
Summary/Review:

Hitchcock’s second sound film is an adaptation of Irish dramatist Seán O’Casey’s play about a working-class Dublin family during the Irish Civil War (which took place less than a decade before this film was made). Loafer Captain Boyle (Edward Chapman) avoids work and drinks with his friend Joxer (Sidney Morgan), while his wife “Juno” holds down a job to support the household. She calls him the “Paycock” because he is as vain as a peacock.

Their son Johnny (John Laurie) lost his arm in the war against the English and suffers from PTSD.  Their daughter Mary (Kathleen O’Regan) is on strike from her job. A young man named Charles Bentham (John Longden), informs the Paycock that his family inherited a fortune from a cousin, while also romancing Mary. The family makes many big purchases on credit before discovering that Bentham made an error.  The film ends in tragedy for them all.

The movie doesn’t have any of Hitchcock’s stylistic devices and in fact is filmed very much like a stage play.  The act breaks are even discernible. The Paycock and Joxer feel like comic vaudeville stock characters, and much of the acting is melodramatic.  I don’t know if this is due to a English director taking on an Irish play and adding his prejudices to it, but the movie is very unsympathetic to the Irish working class.  I haven’t seen or read O’Casey’s original but the elite moralism seems opposite of what I’d expect from a socialist dramatist.

Rating: ***

Alfred Hitchcock Movie Reviews:

Monthly Mixtape – June 2020


Welcome to summer with a small selection of tunes you can rock out and/or dance to.

Bee Bee Sea :: “Daily Jobs”

Bee Bee Sea, described as a garage-psych band, are a trio originating from Castel Goffredo, Italy. They sound, though, as if they came straight from London in the late 70s.

Haim :: “Los Angeles”

This is the opening track from the new album Women in Music Pt. III, by the trio of sisters from – you guessed it – Los Angeles.

Baronhawk Poitier :: “Temperado Tornado”

Baronhawk Poitier, a producer/DJ from Washington, DC, provides the beats to get you out onto the (socially distanced) dance floor.

Public Enemy :: “State of the Union” (featuring DJ Premier)

The legendary hip hop group from Long Island, NY are joined by DJ Premier to take a direct shot at Donald Trump and his campaign of hatred and violence against the people of our country.

Zebra Katz :: “IN IN IN”

Zebra Katz, stage name of rapper Ojay Morgan, explores “social issues surrounding race, sexuality, and the black experience” through fast rhymes and a dense sonic environment.

 

Previous Mixtapes:

 

Movie Review: Birth of a Movement (2017)


TitleBirth of a Movement
Release Date: February 6, 2017
Director: Susan Gray and Bestor Cram
Production Company: Northern Light Productions
Summary/Review:

This documentary is about William Monroe Trotter, a civil rights leader and newspaper editor in Boston in the early 20th century.  Raised in a well-to-do family and Harvard educated, Trotter advocated for more radical civil rights activism than his peers such as Booker T. Washington.  He participated in founding the NAACP, but ultimately did not find it radical enough.

The documentary is also about D.W. Griffith, the groundbreaking filmmaker, who made the first Hollywood blockbuster in 1915.  Released 50 years after the end of the Civil War and based on a novel  called The Clansman, the film was eventually re-titled Birth of Nation. The movie depicts the Civil War through a sympathetic portrayal of the insurgent Southerners.  The post-war Reconstruction is depicted as a time when bestial, sexually-aggressive Black men (portrayed by white actors in blackface) ran rampant until the Ku Klux Klan restores order.

The movie gained widespread acclaim and opposition as Griffith opened it in cities across the country, and even held the first ever film screening in the White House for President Woodrow Wilson.  Knowing that Boston had a history of supporting abolition and Black civil rights, Griffith targeted the city for an opening knowing that success there would lead to widespread distribution of the film.  Trotter organized massive protests against the film’s opening at Tremont Theatre across from Boston Common.  While the protests failed to stop the screening, Trotter’s protests did invigorate a new direction for Black civil rights activism.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Freedom is a Constant Struggleby Angela Davis


Author: Angela Davis
Title: Freedom Is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine, and the Foundations of a Movement
Publication Info: Haymarket Books (2016)
Summary/Review:

This books collects several interviews with long-time activists Angela Davis as well as some articles and speeches.  The downside to this collection is that she touches on some of the same issues in each of the pieces (as you would expect of someone delivering speeches to new audiences) but the format of this collection doesn’t allow the reader to see Davis delve deep into any of the issues.

Davis reflects on the Civil Rights movement and feminist movies, her involvement in each, and their accomplishments.  She also compares it to the revival of activism in the Black Lives Matter movement that rose out of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri against the police killing of Michael Brown.  Davis urges the reader/listener to recognize the intersectionality of movements and that Americans need to broaden their scope to include global crises in their activism (with a particular emphasis on Palestine).

Davis always offers harsh truths but is never disparaging of efforts towards revolutionary change that are incomplete.  Instead she encourages the reader to keep trying and keep struggling.  I’m particular impressed by her reflections that Black Americans truly defined democracy since they are the ones who advocated for true freedom, which is more than civil rights.  I have had this book for some time and to my shame only got around to reading it now, but I’m glad I’ve read since it speaks to issues that are front and center in the current moment.

Favorite Passages:

Trying and trying again. Never stopping. That is a victory in itself. Everyone and everything tells you that “outside” you will not succeed, that it is too late, that we live in an epoch where a revolution cannot happen anymore. Radical changes are a thing of the past. You can be an outsider, but not outside the system, and you can have political beliefs, even radical ones, but they need to stay within the bounds of the permissible, inside that bubble that has been drawn for you by the elites.


It is essential to resist the depiction of history as the work of heroic individuals in order for people today to recognize their potential agency as a part of an ever-expanding community of struggle.


It’s very interesting that during the commentary on Ferguson, someone pointed out that the purpose of the police is supposed to be to protect and serve. At least, that’s their slogan. Soldiers are trained to shoot to kill. We saw the way in which that manifested itself in Ferguson.


The civil rights movement was very successful in what it achieved: the legal eradication of racism and the dismantling of the apparatus of segregation. This happened and we should not underestimate its importance. The problem is that it is often assumed that the eradication of the legal apparatus is equivalent to the abolition of racism. But racism persists in a framework that is far more expansive, far vaster than the legal framework. Economic racism continues to exist. Racism can be discovered at every level in every major institution—including the military, the health care system, and the police. It’s not easy to eradicate racism that is so deeply entrenched in the structures of our society, and this is why it’s important to develop an analysis that goes beyond an understanding of individual acts of racism and this is why we need demands that go beyond the prosecution of the individual perpetrators.


I fear that if we don’t take seriously the ways in which racism is embedded in structures of institutions, if we assume that there must be an identifiable racist… The “bad apples” type of… …who is the perpetrator, then we won’t ever succeed in eradicating racism.


But if one looks at the history of struggles against racism in the US, no change has ever happened simply because the president chose to move in a more progressive direction. Every change that has happened has come as a result of mass movements—from the era of slavery, the Civil War, and the involvement of Black people in the Civil War, which really determined the outcome.


Many people are under the impression that it was Abraham Lincoln who played the major role, and he did as a matter of fact help to accelerate the move toward abolition, but it was the decision on the part of slaves to emancipate themselves and to join the Union Army—both women and men—that was primarily responsible for the victory over slavery. It was the slaves themselves and of course the abolitionist movement that led to the dismantling of slavery. When one looks at the civil rights era, it was those mass movements—anchored by women, incidentally—that pushed the government to bring about change. I don’t see why things would be any different today.


At this point, at this moment in the history of the US I don’t think that there can be policing without racism. I don’t think that the criminal justice system can operate without racism. Which is to say that if we want to imagine the possibility of a society without racism, it has to be a society without prisons. Without the kind of policing that we experience today. I think that different frameworks, perhaps restorative justice frameworks, need to be invoked in order to begin to imagine a society that is secure. I think that security is a main issue, but not the kind of security that is based on policing and incarceration. Perhaps transformative justice provides a framework for imagining a very different kind of security in the future.


Optimism is an absolute necessity, even if it’s only optimism of the will, as Gramsci said, and pessimism of the intellect. What has kept me going has been the development of new modes of community. I don’t know whether I would have survived had not movements survived, had not communities of resistance, communities of struggle. So whatever I’m doing I always feel myself directly connected to those communities and I think that this is an era where we have to encourage that sense of community particularly at a time when neoliberalism attempts to force people to think of themselves only in individual terms and not in collective terms. It is in collectivities that we find reservoirs of hope and optimism.


Deep understandings of racist violence arm us against deceptive solutions. When we are told that we simply need better police and better prisons, we counter with what we really need. We need to reimagine security, which will involve the abolition of policing and imprisonment as we know them. We will say demilitarize the police, disarm the police, abolish the institution of the police as we know it, and abolish imprisonment as the dominant mode of punishment. But we will have only just begun to tell the truth about violence in America.


As many times as I’ve spoken during Black History Month, I never tire of urging people to remember that it wasn’t a single individual or two who created that movement, that, as a matter of fact, it was largely women within collective contexts, Black women, poor Black women who were maids, washerwomen, and cooks. These were the people who collectively refused to ride the bus.


But freedom is still more expansive than civil rights. And in the sixties there were some of us who insisted that it was not simply a question of acquiring the formal rights to fully participate in a society, but rather it was also about the forty acres and the mule that was dropped from the abolitionist agenda in the nineteenth century. It was about economic freedom. It was about substantive freedoms. It was about free education. It was about free health care. Affordable housing. These are issues that should have been on the abolitionist agenda in the nineteenth century, and here we are in the twenty-first century and we still can’t say that we have affordable housing and health care, and education has thoroughly become a commodity. It has been so thoroughly commoditized that many people don’t even know how to understand the very process of acquiring knowledge because it is subordinated to the future capacity to make money. So it was about free education and free health care and affordable housing. It was about ending the racist police occupation of Black communities. These were some of the demands raised by the Black Panther Party.


I tell you that in the United States we are at such a disadvantage because we do not know how to talk about the genocide inflicted on indigenous people. We do not know how to talk about slavery. Otherwise it would not have been assumed that simply because of the election of one Black man to the presidency we would leap forward into a postracial era.


For some time now I have been involved in efforts to abolish the death penalty and imprisonment as the main modes of punishment. I should say that it is not simply out of empathy with the victims of capital punishment and the victims of prison punishment, who are overwhelmingly people of color. It is because these modes of punishment don’t work. These forms of punishment do not work when you consider that the majority of people who are in prison are there because society has failed them, because they’ve had no access to education or jobs or housing or health care. But let me say that criminalization and imprisonment could not solve other problems.


We will have to do something quite extraordinary: We will have to go to great lengths. We cannot go on as usual. We cannot pivot the center. We cannot be moderate. We will have to be willing to stand up and say no with our combined spirits, our collective intellects, and our many bodies.

Recommended books:

Rating: ***1/2

Movie Review: The Aristocats (1970)


Title: The Aristocats
Release Date: December 24, 1970
Director: Wolfgang Reitherman
Production Company: Walt Disney Productions
Summary/Review:

I thought I may have seen The Aristocats as a child, but upon watching it for this review, I think I may have only seen some scenes of the movie.  The story is basically Lady and the Tramp (with cats) crossed with One Hundred and One Dalmatians (with cats). It clearly comes from the era when Disney didn’t know what to do next with their animated films.  Dutchess (Eva Gabor) and her three kittens are set to be heirs to their owners fortune, leading the butler Edgar (Roddy Maude-Roxby) to try to get rid of them.

Stranded in the countryside, alleycat Thomas O’Malley (Phil Harris) helps them back to Paris while wooing Duchess.  After dancing with Scat Cat’s (Scatman) jazz band, and some further hijinx, the cats are reunited with their owner and extract their revenge on Edgar.  The animation is limited for a Disney production although there is some interesting color and motion in the dance scenes.  Two floppy-eared dogs and a motorcycle play a part in some great comedic scenes.  On the downside there is a horribly racist depiction of a cat with the worst Chinese stereotypes.

Other than that, there is nothing really bad about The Aristocats, but there’s also nothing really good about the movie.  It’s just kind of is.

Rating: **1/2

Podcasts of the Week Ending June 27


The Politics of Everything :: The Political Power of Protests

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw talks on police killings and the effect of COVID-19 on Black Americans, Osita Nwanevu talks about how protests affect public policy, and Patrick Blanchfield explains how the police use language to obscure police violence.

What Next :: How the NYPD Gets Away With It

The story of what happened when a police car hit a Black child on Halloween in New York.  Read more in this Pro Publica article by Eric Umansky.


Movie Review: Just Mercy (2019)


Title: Just Mercy
Release Date: December 25, 2019
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Production Company: Endeavor Content | One Community | Participant Media
Macro Media | Gil Netter Productions | Outlier Society
Summary/Review:

This movie flew under radar when it was released last Christmas, but it was available for free on streaming networks in June, so I thought I’d check it out.  The movie is based on the true story of Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) and adapted from his book of the same name.  Stevenson is a Harvard-trained lawyer and as an idealistic young man we see him move to Alabama to begin the Equal Justice Initiative. With the support of local activist Eva Ansley (Brie Larson) he works to represent poor prisoners, including death row inmates, get proper legal representation.

The main plot of the movie relates to the case of Walter “Johnny D.” McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of white teenage girl  in Monroeville (a town the is shown to be proud of  its connection with Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird). Stevenson sees that Johnny D. was convicted primarily on the testimony of another prisoner, Ralph Myers (Tim Blake Nelson), who received a lighter sentence in exchange, and that witnesses who saw Johnny D at the time of the crime (including a cop) were not called at all.

I expect it is no spoiler to note that Stevenson will get Johnny D.’s conviction overturned, but the procedures and indiginities he has to go through still create a lot of tension. The early 1990s were a time when “tough on crime” was at its post-Jim Crow era peak, so its amazing that Stevenson is able to succeed (compare this movie with When They See Us, the story of the Central Park Five case happening around the same time). There is also a subplot involving another death row inmate, Herbert Richardson (Rob Morgan), a Vietnam veteran whose mental health was shattered by PTSD and is convicted for planting a bomb that unintentionally kills someone. Some of the most harrowing scenes in the film relate to Richardson’s case.

The movie falls back on some of the cliches of civil rights themed biopics, but it does stand a notch above them.  Jordan and Foxx are absolutely spectacular in acting their roles, and they are a joy to watch.  The movie also foregrounds the Black characters, so it avoids Hollywood’s predilection for “white savior” narratives.  If you haven’t seen this movie, check it out while it’s still free (although it would also be worth paying for).

Rating: ***1/2