"American Fiction," which we saw over the holidays (which seems like a year ago), is one of my favorite films of 2023 - a funny and perceptive satire that looks at racial preconceptions in America, but with a light touch that makes the movie enormously entertaining.
The protagonist is Thelonious "Monk" Ellison, played by the wonderfully exasperated Jeffrey Wright, a Black writer and professor in Los Angeles who is frustrated by his inability to be taken seriously as a novelist. Making things worse is the fact that novels catering to people's stereotypical views of Black culture are enormously successful.
Driven by exasperation, Monk decides to knock out his own version of such a novel, filling it with drugs, terrible men, violence, and awful dialogue; he entitles it "My Pafology." (He later renames it, just to see how far he can push the envelope, but I can't use that title here.) And then, go figure, it is a hit. Publishers start bidding on it. Studios start angling for the movie rights. And Monk's frustrations mount geometrically.
The cast is terrific. Aside from Wright, it includes Tracee Ellis Ross, Issa Rae, Sterling K. Brown and Leslie Uggams. "American Fiction" is pitch-perfect, a wonderful achievement by writer/director Cord Jefferson, working from a novel entitled "Erasure" by Percival Everett.
Go see it.
Count me among the minority of people who was disappointed in "Killers of the Flower Moon." I think that Martin Scorsese's effort to the conspiracy on the part of white men to kill members of the Osage Native American tribe and steal their oil rich land is well-intentioned and impressive. I think some of the performances are exceptional, especially Robert De Niro and Lily Gladstone. But the movie left me cold - it struck me as so clinical, so "classic" in its structure and approach, that there was very little emotional heat. It generates moral outrage, yes, but in the head and not the gut. Besides that, I thought that Leonardo DiCaprio delivered one of the worst examples of overacting that I can remember in such a film, which helped to ruin it for me.
"Killers of the Flower Moon" may be impressive, but I think its intentions are beyond its achievement.
One of the things about recovering from surgery is that you end up having time to watch TV. And while I figured I'd end up catching up with a bunch of series, I ended up catching a bunch of old movies that I'd not seen for awhile.
Stanley Kubrick's “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb" is 60 years old this week - it premiered on January 29, 1964. (The opening was delayed from November, after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, when studio execs decided a nuclear satire wasn't appropriate for the moment.)
It is extraordinary how good "Dr. Strangelove" is. The satire is sharp, the characters specifically etched by actors such as Peter Sellers (in three roles!), Gorge C. Scott, Slim Pickens and Sterling Hayden (and a very, very young James Earl Jones in a small role). The plot concerns how a rogue general with anti-Communist paranoia instigates a nuclear incident between the US and Russia. And when the general starts talking about how the Soviet Union is using fluoride in the water to pollute our precious bodily fluids - well, it sounds like some QAnon nut who has gone off his meds. Fabulous movie, and, amazingly, it is a crisp one hour and 35 minutes long. No fat, just lean, crisp, highly observant satire.
And then, I watched a movie that now is 50 years old - "The Sting" came out on Christmas Day 1973. I have fond memories of originally seeing "The Sting" in New York City when it opened, and for those of you who never have seen it, I will not rehash the plot here and ruin it for you. Suffice it to say that it is about con men and more con men, and stars Robert Redford and Paul Newman in their Hollywood heydays, along with a supporting cast that includes Robert Shaw, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Charles Durning, Harold Gould, Dana Elcar, and Robert Earl Jones (James Earl Jones' father). "The Sting" is pure entertainment, and aside from the fact that the best I can tell, the only surviving member of the cast is Redford (now 87!), "The Sting" hasn't aged a day.
Having watch movies that are 60 and 50 years old, I wondered about movies that might be 40 years old this year. It is a pretty good list, and includes "Ghostbusters," The Big Chill," "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," "Footloose," "Beverly Hills Cop," "Terms of Endearment," "Splash," "The Natural," "The Terminator," "Silkwood," and Star Trek III: The Search For Spock."
I think I have some choices.
That's it for this week. Have a great weekend, and I thank you again for your patience with my recovery from surgery.
See you Monday.