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The Assistant (2020)
The Assistant (2020)
2020 | Drama
Julia Garner's performance (1 more)
The tension that manages to be created through a portrayal of the mundane
Dialogue is often difficult to understand (0 more)
The movie seems to have a lot of haters on IMDB (a rating at the time of writing of 5.9)... but I refuse to follow "the pack" on this one... I thought it was great. It manages to make the mundane incredibly tense. This is this first (semi-)fictional feature from documentary-maker Kitty Green.... and in my book she does a knock-out job.

We first meet Jane (Julia Garner) at 'God-knows-what-o-clock' in the morning as she arrives at her workplace - a New York film-production company. First to arrive every morning, she turns on the lights, turns on the screens, makes the pot of coffee and cleans off stains from her boss's couch. The stain isn't coffee. A lost gold bracelet is recovered.

For we are in a truly toxic working environment here. 'The boss' - clearly modelled on Harvey Weinstein - is a bullying tyrant who can reduce Jane and her two male assistants (Jon Orsini and Noah Robbins) to quivering wrecks. "WHAT THE F*** DID YOU SAY TO HER" barks the boss down the phone at Jane, after she has had a perfectly reasonable phone conversation with the estranged Mrs Boss.

The toxicity is pervasive though throughout Miram..., sorry...., 'the company'. Jane is almost invisible to her other co-workers who don't give her eye-contact even when she's talking to them and barely register her presence when sharing a lift.

But bullying and workplace toxicity is just part of this story. A steady stream of starlets arrive in the office, like meat deliveries to a butcher. In a chilling sequence, the photocopier churns out photos of beautiful actresses.... a paper-based equivalent of swiping-left or -right in the selection process. None of the "if you... I will" discussions are shown, but they don't need to be: the inference is clear.

Jane is smart, slim and pretty... but not in an obvious 'Hollywood way'. "You'll be OK..." says a co-worker "you're not his type".

But someone who distinctly is "his type" is Sienna (Kristine Froseth), a "very very young" aspiring waitress-come-actress from Boise, who suddenly and unexpectedly arrives as a "new assistant"... to be promptly put up in a swanky hotel room. It's time to act... and Jane approaches the company HR manager (Matthew Macfadyen)....

An old Spielberg trick is to increase tension by keeping the "monster" hidden from view: cue the tanker driver from "Duel" and (for most of the film) the shark from "Jaws". Here, the boss is felt only as a malevolent force and never seen on screen. It's an approach that works brilliantly, focusing the emotion on the effect he has on those flamed.

There is also recognition that these powerful people are also hugely intelligent and manipulative. Seeing that Jane is a valuable asset, the public berating is sometimes followed up with a private email apology.... dripping a few words of encouragement and praise like a few drops of Methadone to a drug-addict.

This is an excellent movie and thoughtfully and elegantly directed. Following a normal day in Jane's work life.... albeit a day where perhaps the penny finally drops... is immersive and engaging. And at only 88 minutes long, the movie never outstays its welcome.

The performances are first rate. Julia Garner is magnificent, and in a year where the Oscars will be "interesting", here's a good candidate for Best Actress I would suggest if not Best Picture. Garner's an actress I'm unfamiliar with: the only one of her previous flicks I've seen was Sin City 2.

Also oily and impressive is Matthew Macfadyen as the HR manager. There's also a sparse but well-used score by Tamar-kali.

The one area I found poor was in the sound design. It's clearly filmed in an office environment, rather than on a sound stage, and unfortunately the combination of the acoustics and the New York accents makes some of the dialogue really difficult to hear. An example is a discussion between two co-workers in an office kitchen, which was completely indecipherable for me.

Should I watch this? In my view, definitely, yes. It's chilling and an insight into the terrible ordeal that many professional women in the film industry, and other industries, have had to put up with before the "Me Too" lid was blown off (and many probably still do). The most telling line in the film? At the end of the "Thanks" in the end-titles: "All those who shared their experiences".

(See the full graphical review at One Mann's Movies here https://bob-the-movie-man.com/2020/05/24/one-manns-movies-film-review-the-assistant-2020/ . Thanks).
  
Batman Begins (2005)
Batman Begins (2005)
2005 | Action, Mystery, Sci-Fi
Batman has always seemed to make great viewing and with the darker takes on him of the past to decades, great movies. This was a real treat though. It’s almost a rational take on an irrational super hero. Christopher Nolan has managed to give Batman a human face and the world he inhabits a sense of scale and realism. But that’s not to say that it is lacking in the sense of the theatrical.

Back in 2005, the hype for this film was building, with a new take on the old comic hero taking shape. Though I must admit that the design of the new Batmobile didn’t look cool to me, but I loved the concept of rooting him in a real world. The other questionable point was that lack of the big hitters in terms of the villains. The Joker, Penguin, Riddler and Catwomen were dumped in favour of The Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul, with only one that I, as the un-indoctrinated in comic book lore, that I had heard of being The Scarecrow.

But this was not to be a typical Batman film in any sense of the word. In June 2005, Batman was reborn and not only had the career of an independently styled filmmaker, Christopher Nolan blown into the big leagues but Blockbusters had just been redefined, an event not dis-similar in effect t those of Jaws and Star Wars in the 1970’s.

Batman, a Warner Bros. cash cow for decades, was about to cross all the main lines within the industry and a blockbuster with art house sensibilities and real intelligence was about to born. It’s not the first, but it opened the door for Nolan and his like to change the way we think about movies of this kind. It doesn’t seem to be that long ago that Marvel was dominating cinemas was some first-rate adaptations such as X-Men, Spider-man and the underrated Hulk, which in many ways may be classed as a prototype for this, with art house direction from Ang Lee.

The plot of Batman Begins isn’t really that important though that’s not to sell it short. It’s a highly developed and conceived story, packed from the opening frame to the 140th minute, but it’s simply the perfect blend of the evolution of Bruce Wayne into Batman, and the usual diabolical plans of the super-villain, only it doesn’t feel like that when you’re watching it. It feels like a well judged story about a traumatised young man, struggling to come terms with his parents murder, and his place in the world.

Luckily for him, his family are billionaires and his butler is Alfred, or more importantly, Michael Caine! There are of course a whole host of contrivances to explain how Batman’s image was forged, how the Batcave was created and where the Batmobile came from, but no-one’s suggesting that this a documentary. This is a more grounded and psychological approach to the story of a nutcase who dressed up like a bat and fights crime without a single superpower to his aid.

But it’s how Nolan brings all this together that works so well. He addresses things so subtly that you can end up missing them if you blink, or at least fail to see them coming. Wayne is turned into a flamboyant excentric to maintain a distance from his friends, if he even has any. The Batcave never ends up looking how we’d expect either, but it is full of bats if that helps and he does park his car there.

It is not until The Dark Knight that we see a Batcave of sorts and that isn’t even in the grounds of Wayne Manor. So, the direction, conception and writing are great, what about the casting? Christian Bale is Wayne/Batman for me, though the animatistic tone to his voice maybe a little overdone, but I do get it. Katie Holmes is the weakest link and am glad that she was recast for the sequel. The rest of the players are first-rate and this may well be on of the best casts ever assembled for a single film in my opinion.

Gary Oldman, so understated as Lt. Gordon, Caine as Alfred is perfect; Liam Neeson is on top form, which he isn’t always, let’s face it and Morgan Freeman, like Oldman and Caine can seemingly do no wrong. Then there’s Hans Zimmer‘s collaboration with James Newton Howard for the score which is one of Zimmer’s best. Howard is an able composer and he clearly provided many of the excellent emotional riffs, but it was Zimmer who brought this together with his dominant, strident style, colossal beats and pacing.

The look and sound of this film sets it apart from so many of its brethren. Batman Begins is a truly original, relentless and groundbreaking movie that is the best of the comic book movies by a mile, but not necessarily the best comic book adaptation. Spider-man or Watchmen for example, may qualify for the fact that they more literally reflect their respective sources but Nolan’s masterpiece is a blueprint as to how film should tackle such adaptations.

And yes, that’s right; Batman Begins is a masterpiece if ever there was one, though a slightly lesser one in comparison to its own sequel, The Dark Knight which may have completely rewritten the handbook.
  
District 9 (2009)
District 9 (2009)
2009 | Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller
Aliens made first contact twenty years ago as they parked their mother ship over Johannesburg, South Africa. These aliens are incredibly insect-like while their facial features are similar to a prawn, which is where their derogatory nickname comes from. When the aliens are found on their ship malnourished and basically on the brink of death, they were transported by the MNU (Multi-National United) to camps down in Johannesburg. These camps were soon fenced off to separate the aliens from humans and labeled as District 9. As time went on, however, the camps became slums and the aliens became bottom feeders as they spent most of their time digging through the trash.

The MNU, who have no interest in the well-being of the aliens, decide they should relocate 1.8 million aliens to a new camp, District 10, located outside the Johannesburg city limits since the people of Johannesburg think the aliens have worn out their welcome. Wikus van der Mirwe is put in charge of evicting the aliens, but it's soon revealed that the aliens have been searching and building towards something the past two decades. Wikus is just trying to do his job the best that he can until he's exposed to a black fluid that was stored in an alien canister. Soon after, his world is turned upside down and he becomes the most wanted man in the world.

District 9 is one of the most advertised films of the year, probably due to Peter Jackson's involvement. The film seemed to materialize without much of a trace beforehand a few months ago with that first teaser trailer that included the interrogation of one of the aliens. A viral marketing campaign began as images of new posters and production stills found their way onto the internet. The buildup was giving the impression that it was one of the most incredible and original sci-fi films to ever grace the screen and, truth be told, it might just be.

The film starts off a bit slow at first using that documentary-style you've probably come to expect from the trailers, but the tension begins to rise as we begin to see more and more of the "prawns." It doesn't take long for things to get interesting and you know the film is building towards something big once the evictions start and Wikus is exposed. The most entertaining aspect of the film is the alien technology. When we're introduced to one of their weapons, wondering how much damage it's going to cause is half the fun. Then when you finally see it come into play, it's nothing short of extraordinary. The film definitely earns its R-rating. F-bombs are littered throughout the film, but it all seems like a natural response to the circumstances of what's happened with District 9. The gore is pretty ridiculous, too; ridiculous in a good way. Humans explode as blood and body chunks splatter everywhere. It's insane how many scenes make you go, "AUGH!" or "OHHHH!" in the film.

Everything else is top notch, as well. The actors are all pretty much unknown, which was a great route to take with a film like this. Not recognizing anyone in the film made it a lot more believable. There really isn't a bad actor in the bunch either, but Sharlto Copley as Wikus steals the film since we're around him the entire time. The scenes where he's on the phone with his wife are generally rather heartbreaking as you feel for what Wikus is going through and it rides on his performance. The story is also pretty incredible. It starts off rather simple with the aliens just wanting to go home and the MNU wanting to keep them around so they can discover the secrets of their technology, but it slowly unravels into something more. Perhaps the biggest element of the film is its special effects. They have to be rather astounding to make these aliens and their technology believable. Since Peter Jackson is involved, you can pretty much expect the CG to be superb. There was a scene or two that mainly involved one of the alien ships being a big part of the scene where the CG was noticeable. The effects looked generally as realistic as they needed to be 95% of the time though, which is a big thing in a film like this. Bad CG can ruin a good film. I Am Legend is a great example, but it's safe to say that most people won't find an issue with it in District 9.

District 9 is quite possibly the best sci-fi film I've seen in a long, long time. The only film that really rivals it is Moon, but I never thought 2009 would be such a good year for the sci-fi genre. District 9 delivers with incredible action sequences, fantastic special effects, a great story, and superb acting. I have no doubt in my mind that it'll be in my top five films of the year. It isn't every day that a film lives up to its hype, but this one surely does that and then some.
  
End of Watch (2012)
End of Watch (2012)
2012 | Drama
8
8.6 (14 Ratings)
Movie Rating
Director/Writer David Ayer (Street Kings, Training day) once again takes us into the world of the Los Angeles police department in the new movie End of Watch. Only this time rather than go in the corrupt police officer direction he has gone before, Ayer instead takes audiences on a honest and somewhat realistic emotionally charged ride along with two young and confident LAPD patrolmen.

While the story in this film is as simple as two cops over reaching their pay grades causing them to get on a drug cartels hit list. The film is more like an unrated extended episode of the TV series Cops, focusing on the everyday encounters of our heroes as they patrol south central LA. These encounters range from calls for lost children, domestic disturbance, and noise violations, albeit a bit exaggerated in these and several other incidents. Still the various types of encounters cause the film to feel like a true ride along into the lives of these LAPD cops. Additionally the use of the handheld “found footage” film style works surprisingly well at giving the movie that TV episodic style that makes the overall experience feel realistic. That being said, there are a few scenes where it is not clear who is holding the camera or where the shot is coming from, however these scenes are barely noticeable because of the excellent performances by our protagonists that keeps our interest on what they are saying and doing on screen rather than who is holding the camera.

Officer Bryan Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal, Source Code) is our main protagonist of this movie. The ex-marine turned cop has to take an art elective in his pre-law studies and decides to take a documentary film class and take us on the inside of the LAPD. Gyllenhaal ‘s performance embodies Taylor as the good natured ambitious officer wanting more in his life of relationships and career. It would be easy for this character to be the traditional good cop in movies like this however given the found footage film style we instead find that Taylor, while good, can also be a complete “jerk” cop who is quick to anger and use brutish force when he deems necessary. This only helps solidify the rawness and reality of this film which pays a nod to the difficult nature of this job for real life police officers. Gyllenhaal gives yet another outstanding performance in his career causing us to grow attached to his character and respect him.

In addition Michel Pena (Crash) delivers a fantastic performance as Taylor’s partner and best friend Officer Mike Zavala. Pena embodies the other side to Gyllenhaal’s “jerk” cop by with his own good natured, simple man who is quick to become a bull when pushed. No more is this better shown in a scene where Zavala and a gang member get into a war of words and caused Zavala to drop his gun and badge and fight man to man to settle their dispute in the “street” way. Thus earning respect from that particular gang member.

Together Gyllenhaal and Pena share the screen wonderfully. Their relationship seems effortless and natural as if they were actually partners and best friends. You can tell they are having fun on set working together and it shows in their performance together as they really get a sense that they are more than partners and friends but are in fact, brothers. Their relationship and characters are only developed further as we watch Taylor pursue a deeper intellectual relationship with scientist Janet (Anna Kendrick, Up In The Air) and Zavala through the birth of his first born from wife Gabby (Natalie Martinez, Death Race). Kendrick and Martinez give believable performances as love interests to our heroes that show us a more human and softer side of these testosterone filled officers who will do whatever it takes to uphold the law. Throw in a strong supporting cast of other police officers led by Frank Grillo (Warrior) who plays the LAPD’s sergeant and you have a performance where we not only care about our heroes but we see the brotherhood of the police force in general.

One thing that I was not expecting from the film is the amount of moments where the audience literally laughed out loud. That is not to say that this is a comedy, in fact it is far from it. But the quick witted jokes and verbal jabs by our onscreen partners help alleviate some of the heavy emotional scenes of the movie. I felt that these characters used that good natured humor to keep themselves from going off of the deep end in handling all of the gruesome encounters they witness. These well placed laughs helped the audience deal with these gruesome scenes as well and helped strengthen our bond with these brothers.

All in all, this movie is a buddy cop film on steroids. While there is not much of a traditional story arch, this helps develop the realistic feel more like an unrated extended episode of Cops. That being said Gyllenhaal and Pena deliver a fantastic performance together. They have a real connection that makes you believe they have been partners for years and consider each other brothers. Add in a solid ensemble cast and the overall experience is worth the price of admission. However those who grow motion sick from found footage films may want to stay clear as there is a definite lack of steady cam
  
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Kirk Bage (1775 KP) rated Roma (2018) in Movies

Mar 2, 2020 (Updated Mar 3, 2020)  
Roma (2018)
Roma (2018)
2018 | Drama
The photography (0 more)
Nothing (0 more)
I watched Roma exactly a week ago today. And although I knew 20 minutes in that I loved it, and at the end that I really loved it, I have taken that time to let it settle within me in before coming to write about it. Some films are so good that you have to do that: let it sink into you fully, before doing anything so trivial as judging and comparing them. Roma is incomparable! I have never seen anything like it, or felt as deeply moved by a film in a long time.

Not that it didn’t get attention at the time of its release, it did, receiving 10 Oscar nominations and winning 3, for best foreign language film, director and cinematography, but it certainly wasn’t seen by as many people as it should have been, despite its presence on Netflix from the start. Having digested it now, and spending some time reading about how and why it was made, I feel a slight mission to recommend it to as many people as I can.

Based on Alfonso Cuarón’s own childhood in Mexico City, and his memories of his family and especially their housemaid, Liboria (Libo) Rodriguez, to whom the film is dedicated, it is a masterpiece labour of love that few directors ever achieve or even attempt to make. After a strong career of exceptional films, including Y Tu Mamá También, Children of Men and Gravity, it was the box office and critical success of the latter that gave Cuarón carte blanche to go and make whatever project he chose. Where many might have been tempted by the big money of superhero or fantasy movies (for which he had some experience with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) he went back to his roots and shot a very personal non-English film, in black and white, where no music exists except that which occurs naturally, and on the surface not much happens.

At least it feels like not much is happening, such is the naturalistic, almost improvised (although it wasn’t) style and pace; shot with a lens capturing detail and nuance with some of the most beautiful photography I have ever had the privilege to see. Truly, an awful lot is happening, but you have to feel and experience it, not simply be told it by the narrative. It takes a while for our Hollywood conditioned brains to accept this at first, and many might come to it and give up half an hour in because of that challenge. I can promise, however, there is not a single thing boring about this film, unless humanity is boring.

Oscar nominated lead Yalitza Aparicio as the shy, loving maid, Cleo, was not an actor before this film. She auditioned and was hand picked by Cuarón from hundreds of young women, without knowing who he was or what the film was about. Apparently, the film was shot in sequence so as not to confuse her emotionally on her extraordinary journey. She is so unassuming and natural that part of you falls in love with her immediately. In time, we almost come to forget we are watching an act at all, and almost become her, such is the empathy she evokes.

Which isn’t an easy ride, as we watch her be gently and then cruelly ignored, mistreated and used; climaxing in one of the most astonishingly painful and jaw-dropping scenes imaginable, and then a scene of such powerful redemption and humanity it instantly breaks the heart and lifts the soul. All the while she never asks for attention or love, but is just herself: a young woman living a difficult but beautiful life in a country and time full of turmoil, prejudice and social change.

The recreation of Mexico in 1970 is so breathtaking, it is hard to imagine at times we are not watching a documentary from that era. But, it is the detail the lens chooses to capture that reminds you this is a visual poem and a love-letter to a time, a place and a family far away in history and the memory of one man (represented by ten year old Carlos Peralta as Paco). At times it evokes the work of the very greatest film artists of all time: Bergman, Fellini, Hitchcock etc. Not one image is wasted or insignificant, from the reflection of the sky in water, to the dog-shit constantly lining the driveway. Everything is chosen and meaningful in the full context of the work.

There is no awkward exposition, no dramatic moments milked for all they are worth, no sequences of heightened excitement that manipulate us; simply truthful moments that hang in the air for what they are, leaving us to decide how we relate to them without ever preaching or teaching us how. In that way, it is a work of such maturity that I doubt many living directors could emulate it at all. The closest comparison I can think of is the personal passion Spielberg put into Shindler’s List, but really it is a moot comparison, and in fact owes much more to films like Haneke’s The White Ribbon.

Can it be faulted? Well, yes, certainly. But, honestly, I don’t see the point in trying. It is as close to perfection a small story of this kind can be. Importantly, I think it is an open film, that allows us to take from it whatever we like, relating to our own experiences and cares. For me, it said that any pain and hardship can be overcome, as long as there is love and beauty walking by its side. A message of no small importance. If you haven’t seen it, I urge you to do so. If you have, then please keep spreading the word. I believe it to be a genuine classic that will endure the criticism of many decades to come. Without a doubt in my mind something very special indeed.
  
The Post (2017)
The Post (2017)
2017 | Biography, Drama, Thriller
Landing the Hindenburg in a Thunderstorm.
What a combination: Streep, Hanks, Spielberg, Kaminski behind the camera, Williams behind the notes. What could possibly go wrong?
Nothing as it turns out. After, for me, the disappointment of “The BFG” here is Spielberg on firm ground and at the height of his game.
It’s 1971 and the New York Times is in trouble for publishing what became known as “The Pentagon Papers”: a damning account of multiple administration’s dodgy dealings around the Vietnam War, put together by Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood, “Star Trek: Into Darkness“) and meant for “posterity” – not for publication! Watching from the sidelines with frustration at their competitor’s scoop are the Washington Post’s editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks, “Bridge of Spies“, “Inferno“) and the new owner Kay Graham (Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins“, “Suffragette“). With immaculate timing, Graham is taking the paper public, so needs the newspaper embroiled in any sort of scandal like a hole in the head. But with the US First Amendment under pressure, will Graham and Bradlee put their business and their freedom at risk by publishing and being damned?

Bradlee (Tom Hanks) and Graham (Meryl Streep) in the Washington Post’s newsroom.
Both of the leads play characters that are quite strikingly out of character from their normal roles.
In a seamingly endless run of ‘kick-ass’ women in the movie driving seat, here I expected Streep to be in full “Iron Lady” mode, but in fact she starts the film as quite the opposite: nervous, timid, vascillating. For although the story is about “The Washington Post” and “The Pentagon Papers”, the real story is about Graham herself (Liz Hannah’s script is actually based on Graham’s autobiography). In many ways it’s about a woman, in a male world, overcoming her fear and finding her own voice. As has been demonstrated in many recent films (“Hidden Figures” for example) the working world for woman has changed so markedly since the 60’s and 70’s that it’s almost impossible to relate to these chavenistic attitudes. Graham is repeatedly downtrodden as “not good enough” by her underlings within earshot, and then thanks them “for their frankness”. When the women folk retire at dinner, to let the men-folk talk politics, Graham meekly goes with them. Even her father, for God’s sake, left the newspaper not to her but to her (now late) husband! It’s no surprise then that she is coming from a pretty low base of self-confidence, and her journey in the film – as expertly played by Streep – is an extraordinarily rousing one.

The real deal: Ben Bradlee and Kay Graham.
Hanks, normally the guy you’d most like to invite round for dinner (@tomhanks if you happen to be reading this sir, that’s a genuine invitation… we make a mean lasagne here!) also plays somewhat outside of his normal character here. As Bradlee, he is snappy, brusque and businesslike. Although I don’t think he could ever quite match the irascibility of the character’s portrayal by Jason Robards in the classic “All the President’s Men” – who could? – its a character with real screen presence.

The similarities with Alan J Pakula’s 1976 classic Watergate movie – one of my personal favourites – don’t stop there. The same sets that were once populated by Redford and Hoffman are gloriously reproduced with Spielberg and Janusz Kaminski delivering great tracking shots through the newsroom. (Watch out for Sacha Spielberg – daughter of Stephen and Kate Capshaw – who also turns up there delivering a package).

The scoop revealed: Odenkirk, Hanks and David Cross get the low-down.
The supporting cast includes Sarah Paulson (so memorable in “The Trial of O.J. Simpson”) as Bradlee’s wife Tony, Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing”, “Get Out“) and Tracy Letts (“The Big Short“) as two of Graham’s board advisors and Jesse Plemons (“The Program“, “Bridge of Spies“) as the lead legal advisor. Particularly impressive though is Bob Odenkirk (“Breaking Bad”) as Ben Bagdikian, Bradlee’s lead investigative reporter on the case: all stress, loose change and paranoia in his dealings with the leaky Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys).

Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) ordering a drink for himself and his travelling companion.
In a memorable piece of casting Richard Nixon is played by…. Richard Nixon. Although a silluohetted Curzon Dobell stalks the Oval office, the ex-president’s original phone recordings are played on the soundtrack. (There, I knew those recordings would be useful for something… thank heavens he kept them all!)

The film also demonstrates in fascinating style the newsprint business of yesteryear. When I click a button on my PC and a beautifully laser-printed page streams out of my Epson printer, it still seems like witchcraft to me! But it is extraordinary to think that newspapers in those days were put together by typesetters manually building up the pages from embossed metal letters laboriously slotted into a frame. Brilliantly evocative.

Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) takes a risk.
If Spielberg has a fault, it is one of sentimentality – something that is pointed out in Susan Lacy’s superb HBO documentary on Spielberg (something I have yet to write a review on, but if you like Spielberg you should definitely seek out). Here he falls into that trap again, with an unnecessary bedroom scene between Graham and her daughter tipping the screenplay into mawkishness. It’s unnecessary since we don’t need the points raised rammed down our throats again. It’s something repeated in a rather bizarre final scene with Graham walking down the steps of the supreme court with admiring woman – only woman – watching her. These irritations tarnish for me what could have been a top-rated film.

But the movie is an impressive watch and older viewers, and anyone interested in American political history will, I think, love it. The film, especially with its nice epilogue, did make me immediately want to come home and put “All the President’s Men” on again… which is never a bad thing. Highly recommended.
  
Those Bones Are Not My Child
Those Bones Are Not My Child
Toni Cade Bambara | 1999 | Crime, Mystery, Thriller
8
8.0 (1 Ratings)
Book Rating
A different type of True Crime book (1 more)
Things you probably didn't know about the case
Writing transitions are confusing (1 more)
Smash poetry breaks up the flow
Toni Cade Bambara, a writer, documentary filmmaker and screenwriter, gives True Crime readers a unique viewpoint of the real Atlanta Child Murders. Bambara mostly writes from the eyes of Marzala, a mother of three whose oldest son goes missing during one of the worst murder sprees in Atlanta's history. Marzala and her family were not actual people during this time- - - all of them are based off of parents and siblings of the real victims. Not soon after Marzala does everything she can with the police to find her son, she joins a group of African-Americans that are outraged by the lack of progress to catch who is killing Atlanta's black children. This group forms what is called STOP (a citizen-run task force). For the majority of the book, Marzala with most of the black community in the area typed out letters to prominent government officials asking for help to stop the murders, also using Vietnam vets in the area to use their tracking skills to keep an eye on suspects, and investigating buildings that police refused to believe had anything to do with the childrens' disappearances and/or murders, which Bambara did an amazing job putting all the real facts together of the actual community members that were involved with this at the time. This story is upsetting, but enlightening on how politics may have caused so many children to be murdered. This is a story no reader will ever forget.

 

Bambara writes not in a normal narrative - - - just telling a story from specific viewpoints, but she often breaks off into smash poetry to depict a character's state-of-mind, which, sometimes can be off putting for the reader, breaking the flow of the story. Yet, the use of smash poetry combined with the era and the heart breaking subject at hand, separates Those Bones Are Not My Child from every True Crime book I have ever read. But a note for fans of True Crime, this story is from the view point of the victims' families and the search they went through to try and catch the murderer(s), unlike most TC books, which follow the police through the investigation leading to, usually, the capture of the perpetrator. From living in Atlanta during the time of the murders, Bambara was able to reconstruct the life of a black family in 1980's Georgia, while focusing on the effect these terrible crimes had on the surrounding community. Bambara did an amazing job on what most writers cannot.

 

The amount of characters, specifically the fictional ones, are very well created. She describes just enough to give readers the ability to tell them apart, showing every now and then from their own viewpoints. Out of all the characters, I came to really like Zala's two other children: Kenti and Kofi. One particular scene shows the strain of Sonny's disappearance on their family: " Zala parked the comb again and sat back. 'Listen, you two.' Kofi dropped down onto his knees. 'The police and the newspapers don't know what the hell is going on, so they feel stupid, because they're supposed to know, they're trained to know, they're paid to know. It's their job. Understand? But it's hard for grown-ups to admit they're stupid, especially if they're professionals like police and reporters. So they blame the children. Or they ignore them and fill up the papers with the hostages in Iran. Understand? And now... Jesus... they've got people calling those kids juvenile delinquents.'

'Don't cry.' Kenti tried to lean into her lap and got pushed away.

'They don't know a damn thing and they act like they don't want to know. So they blame the kids 'cause they can't speak up for themselves. They say the kids had no business being outdoors, getting themselves in trouble.'

'You let us go outdoors.'

'Of course I do, baby. We go lots of places, 'cause a lot of people fought hard for our right to go any damn where we please. But when the children go out like they've a right to and some maniac grabs them, then it's the children's fault or the parents who should've been watching every minute, like we don't have to work like dogs just to put food on the table.'

Kofi walked on his knees towards the bed, but he didn't lean on her like he wanted 'cause she might push him away. So he just put his hand on the mattress next to hers."

 

During the Atlanta Child Murders, victims were random, except for that they were children from the same neighborhood, and they were African-American. At first, police didn't believe a serial murderer was going around abducting children, but rather that 'poor, broken' families were killing their own. In the Prologue, Bambara shows that the victims' families and private detectives came up with more ideas of the motive than the police did:

" White cops taking license in Black neighborhoods.

The Klan and other Nazi thugs on the rampage.

Diabolical scientists experimenting on Third World people.

Demonic cults engaging in human sacrifices.

A 'Nam vet unable to make the transition.

UFO aliens conducting exploratory surgery.

Whites avenging Dewey Baugus, a white youth beaten to death in spring '79, allegedly by Black youths.

Parents of a raped child running amok with 'justice.'

Porno filmmakers doing snuff flicks for entertainment.

A band of child molesters covering their tracks.

New drug forces killing the young (unwitting?) couriers of the old in a bid for turf.

Unreconstructed peckerwoods trying to topple the Black administration.

Plantation kidnappers of slave labor issuing the pink slip.

White mercenaries using Black targets to train death squadrons for overseas jobs and for domestic wars to come. "

 

All of these theories are explored with evidence in Those Bones Are Not My Child. One scene in Part III, Zala's cop friend, B.J. shows up to her house to tell her to stop bringing attention to the investigation, " 'That Eubanks woman - - - your husband's friend? - - - she said you were bringing in the TV networks to blow the case open. I thought we had an agreement to keep each other informed. This morning I find out through the grapevine that you parents got a medium stashed in a hotel here in town, some woman who's been making headlines up north with cases that supposedly have the authorities stumped. If you knew how much work has been done on this case - - - no, listen, don't interrupt me. Then I find out - - - and not from you - - - that some of you parents are planning to tour the country cracking on the investigation. That's not too smart. And you should have told me.' " These two may have been fictional characters, but in Bambara's Acknowledgments, she states that all scenarios were true, and that she made B.J. to tell about the actual police officers who were involved with the investigation.

 

The tension between the police and the public is felt throughout the entire story. Despite all of the work the citizen task force put in, police arrested a man named Wayne Williams for the murder of two adult victims (who, due to their mental age, which was stated to be that of children, were placed on the victims' list of the Atlanta Child Murders): " Wayne Williams, charged with the murder of twenty-seven-year-old Nathaniel Cater and implicated in the murder of the other adults and children on the official list..." Zala, having worked for almost a year at the STOP offices, she, along with most of the community, doubt that Williams was a lone killer or even the killer at all. Williams never stood trial for the childrens' murders, but the police informed the public that he did it, case closed - - - although, after Williams' arrest, children were still being abducted and their bodies were still being found. Even after Williams' trial and the guilty verdict for two adult victims, some people stuck around to continue to investigate and claim Williams a 'scapegoat' of politics: " There were still pockets of interest and people who wouldn't let the case go. James Baldwin had been coming to town off and on; a book was rumored. Sondra O'Neale, the Emory University professor, hadn't abandoned her research, either. From time to time, TV and movie types were in the city poking around for an angle. Camille Bell was moving to Tallahassee to write up the case from the point of view of the STOP committee. The vets had taken over The Call now that Speaker was working full-time with the Central American Committee. The Revolutionary Communist Party kept running pieces on the case in the Revolutionary Worker. Whenever Abby Mann sent down a point man for his proposed TV docudrama, the Atlanta officials and civil rights leaders would go off the deep end. " At the end of it all, the questions still remain: did Williams kill all of those children by himself? Was he part of a pornographic cult that killed the children? Or is Williams completely innocent, and the murderer(s) are still out there? In Those Bones Are Not My Child, I guarantee you will be left questioning if the police were right.

 

All in all, the writing transitions can become confusing sometimes, especially the interludes of smash poetry, but I highly recommend this book to people who like the True Crime genre, especially of any interest in this specific case.
  
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