Thursday, January 15, 2015

Selma, Human Capital, and Predestination

             We Shall Overcome … At Least in This Film
                                   Reviews by Ken Burke
                                                    Selma (Ava DuVernay)
In early 1965 Black Americans took a courageous stand in über-racist Alabama, demanding an end to restrictions on their voting rights, with a focus here on M.L. King.
[Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ superbly insightful reviews.  This is how we write, so as to explore what must be said as art transcends commerce (although if anyone wants to pay us for doing this ...); therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when ready to be transported to—well, wherever we end up.

We also encourage you to check your tastes against ours with the summary of Two Guys reviews, which we update with each new posting (please note that Two Guys critic Ken Burke is a bit odd—in more ways than one—using a 5-star-rating-system but rarely going to the level of 4 ½ or 5 stars, reserving those rankings for films that have been or should be acknowledged as time-honored masterpieces so that a 4 is about the best you can hope for from star-stingy Ken).  But we ask you to be aware that the links we recommend within our many reviews may have been removed or modified without our knowledge.  Other overall notations for this blog may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage.  Now, onward to illumination; you may want to protect your eyes from the dazzling, radiant brilliance.

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AND … at least until the Oscars for 2014’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, February 22, 2015 I’m also going to include reminders in each review posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2014 films made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists and which ones have been nominated for and/or received various awards.  You may find the diversity among the various critics and the various awards competitions hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competition-award-winners (which usually pales in comparison to the even-more-noticeable-gap between box-office-success, which you can monitor here, and what wins the awards)—but as that less-than-enthusiastic-patron-of-the-arts, Plato, noted in The Symposium (385-380 BC)—roughly translated, depending on how accurate you wish the actual quote to be—“Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder,” so your choices are as valid as any of these others, especially if you can offer some rationale for your decisions (unlike many of the awards voters who simply fill out ballots, sometimes for films they’ve never seen).

To save you a little scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe winners for films and TV from 2014.
 I realize that all of these opening statements may put you to sleep before you even get to the reviews, but I’ve found, via feedback, that I need to say them somewhere to avoid repetitious explanations, yet if I put it all at the end hardly anyone ever reads it before asking for those same answers so thanks for wading through all of this opening drivel and now on to what you came for.
What Happens: You could get what you need to know about the public events of this film from a history book as easily as from my summary (although the private ones—especially the interactions between civil rights icon Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. [David Oyelowo] and President Lyndon Baines Johnson [Tom Wilkinson] are still up for debate, as you can explore here), but essentially what we see in Selma is the ongoing anger of mid-1960s African-Americans with having been guaranteed basic human rights in this country, both by Amendments to the Constitution and by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (passed in a combination of acknowledgement that institutional racism had gone on far too long in the U.S.A. after the mid-1860s Civil War and a national sense of remorse over the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a slowly-emerging-champion of equality for all American citizens), yet still being denied the fundamental right of the vote in Southern states where tactics such as poll taxes and absurd voter registration requirements prevented most poor, undereducated Blacks (which segregation practices had guaranteed there would be plenty of) from being added to voter rosters.  Working with the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and—somewhat—with the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), many of whom resented what they saw as Martin usurping their previously-organized-voter-recruitment-efforts in Selma, Dr. King and his entourage headed to a hotbed of flagrant racism (led by Sheriff Jim Clark [Stan Houston] and other locals), Selma, AL (where King hoped to get news coverage of protests feeding on the frustration of a 50% Black population where only 2% of the voters were Black, despite the city’s “100% Human Interest” claim on its billboard) to aid in the organization of a 50-mile-march of the disenfranchised from Selma to the state capitol, Montgomery, to directly challenge the “segregation forever” policies of Governor George Wallace (Tim Roth).

 Previously, as shown in this version of the events (and disputed by many supporters of President Johnson as inaccurate to his stance on this issue), King had met with Johnson to secure support for a Voting Rights Bill but was put on hold as LBJ wanted to first pursue his ambitious “War on Poverty.” (Assuming any truth, and spokespersons from both side of the issue claim it—rather than dramatic license—to this interpretation of historical events, one could claim—and many from the more conservative wings of both the Democratic and Republican parties have—that current President Barack Obama made a similar decision in cashing in all of his well-accumulated-2008-“poliical-capital” on health-care-reform rather than some sort of jobs-creation-project, but history will have to sort that out, as well as verify as best it can ever be known what the true dynamic between King [who remained under FBI surveillance until his death in 1968] and Johnson was, despite the ultimate passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act [sadly, with certain key provisions of it weakened in 2013 by the 5-4 vote led by the conservative majority of our current Supreme Court.)

 The first attempt at the march came on Sunday, March 7, 1965 but was considered to be an illegal assembly by local authorities so the marchers were viciously beaten by county sheriffs and state troopers, preventing them from crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge out of Selma on what has come to be called “Bloody Sunday,” with the only positive aspect being its coverage on national TV resulting in a flood of supporters, Black and White, to Selma for another attempt on March 9.  Yet, when no opposition from local law enforcement barred their passage of the bridge, King hesitated, knelt in prayer, then turned back (fearing a trap further down the highway where the marchers would be cut off on both ends, allowing the sort of massacre that King could not condone for the protection of his followers), greatly disappointing the marchers.  A bit later, with a federal judge barring local authorities from preventing the protests along with federal troops providing protection from angry White hecklers, plus Johnson having sent the Voting Rights Bill to Congress on March 15 in response to the horrified national reaction to the previous attack on innocent citizens, the eventually-25,000-strong-march finally began, reaching its destination on March 25, where a huge, victorious rally capped by King’s speech against White privilege leaves us with the impression that courage, determination, and the eventual triumph of the “arc of justice” will eventually overcome the mindless bigotry that unjustly demeans anyone seen as “the other” by the dominating members of a society.  However, the reality of how this struggle for true acceptance and equality in a culture still stewing (at times boiling over) with racism is noted with the closing credits where the song “Glory” (noted below as my Musical Metaphor for this film) cites the ongoing racial tensions in a nation where unarmed Black men are consistently being killed by White police, yet White prosecutors and White-dominated grand juries continue to find no reason for indictments of the officers in such circumstances (see this article for some commentary on the unintended-but-relevant-resonances between the late 2014 release of this film and the ongoing protests over police/grand jury actions in Ferguson, MO and NYC earlier last year, as well as many other useful details about the film).

So What? The release of Selma couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time (shown ironically in this photo where these protesters have their hands behind their heads in a gesture of “Arrest me if you must,” as compared to the “Hands up, don’t shoot” posture of today, indicating how some aspects of our “law enforcement” have “progressed” from clubs and dogs to more active use of guns), given the national attention in fall 2014 on the still-hostile-attitudes between Blacks and Whites in many of our communities (not to mention tensions involving Hispanics, Asians, and American Indians, where similar situations occur but just don’t make it to mainstream movies except for the occasional opportunities to present similar social-justice-infused-biographies, such as with Cesar Chavez [Diego Luna, 2014; review in our April 30, 2014 posting], as well as those about conflicts between gays and straights like Milk [Gus van Sant, 2008] or The Imitation Game [Morton Tyldum, 2014; review in our December 23, 2014 posting]).  Whether the messages of Selma can be widely embraced in our increasingly hostile times, that human rights are truly that rather than governmentally-decreed-privileges and that such rights can (at least we assume) be regained through nonviolent means, remain to be seen as our increasingly multicultural society (like those in Europe, going through their own confrontational crises, often brought about more by clashes between Muslim and Western values but with ethnic tensions also involved as more immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East seek relief from the violence in their home countries but then bring in terrorist influences from the more radicalized among them) continues to roil in turbulence as opposing social factions interpret the existence of “the other” (for whomever the dissenters may be) as a danger to their desired way of life.  Admirably, the inspirational tone of this non-hagiographic-film (which admits that King had affairs that brought great strain upon his marriage—as presented by some superbly-restrained-but-effective-comments from wife Coretta Scott King [Carmen Ejogo, marching with Martin in the photo just below]—shows bluntly how King had his own doubts at times whether his focus on new laws was really accomplishing anything regarding education and jobs, while acknowledging the bargaining-and-maneuvering that goes on when legislation is at stake, no matter the social propriety of its content [just as “Honest Abe” is shown shamelessly wheeling and dealing to secure passage of the anti-slavery 13th Amendment to the Constitution in Lincoln [Steven Spielberg, 2012; review in our December 28, 2012 posting]) calls for respect for King’s methods but admits that turning the other cheek often results in both sides of your skull being bashed so that would-be-society-challengers need to be prepared to face that reality.

 We can only hope that this remarkable testament to courageous action will remind those of us who have forgotten or don’t know enough yet of how these struggles for social equality are hard-fought, hard-won but can be accomplished (when the will to change is finally manifested by all concerned) through other methods than looting and other violent retaliations, how national leaders are simply flawed-but-driven-individuals who need to be honored for what they accomplish (LBJ as well, despite his hardheaded, destructive policies on the Vietnam War) rather than be recast as saints or incessantly belittled in a storm of ratings-driven-controversial-media-stories, and that grand accomplishments come about when individuals are willing to sacrifice themselves (sometime ultimately) for the greater good rather than work for what personal rewards might await them (we have a focus in this film on the hard-working leaders of movements such as the Selma march, but it only mattered because so many nameless participants in these chronicles of history were willing to take part as well).  One other minor “complaint’ lodged by some against this powerful film is that (somewhat like with 12 Years a Slave [Steve McQueen, 2013; review in our November 14, 2013 posting]) many of major stars (DuVernay, Oyelowo, Ejogo, Wilkinson and Roth) are British, bringing up the relevant question of why essential stories of American history that focus on African-Americans have to be made and/or be populated by Brits (obvious exception: Spike Lee’s Malcolm X [1992], Get on the Bus [1996], 4 Little Girls [1997], When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts [2006]), but—with no answer to that central question—I certainly don’t fault DuVernay for turning to Englishmen (and women) for casting purposes, as all of them turn in outstanding performances (although I can’t say that the individual Southern accents of Wilkinson and Roth fully ring true for me, hard as they may be trying, but I'll honor poetic license).

Bottom Line Final Comments: It’s hard for me to be fully objective about this film because I was a teenager in Texas when its events were taking place, where I quietly supported the cause of the Civil Rights Movement as a response to the blatant racism that I saw doled out to Blacks and Hispanics on a daily basis (admittedly, though, as a high-school-junior in the beach town of Galveston, I was more concerned with getting dates for the upcoming weekends and the return of lazy summer weather).  Raised with what I was assured were the universal values of Christian love and tolerance, as well as American individual freedom (upheld by that daily pledge to the flag to support “liberty and justice for all”) I never could understand the rationale of bigotry, segregation, and intolerant attitudes toward human beings being treated as if they were some form of inferior species.  Added to that my pride in having a “real Texan” (Eisenhower was born there but moved away too soon) as President, as well as being overjoyed that he—a powerful Southern politician, of all people—was championing the cause of Civil Rights in a manner that seemed more aggressive than what I’d hoped for under the JFK-RFK regime, I, like many who’ve published their opinions of Johnson’s role in our mid-20th century-cultural-transformation, was somewhat put off by this film’s depiction of him as being more a roadblock than an ally of King’s glorious ambitions, although some
with claims to know the facts better than I do support the film’s presentation.  Trying to put all of that aside in the name of artistic license regarding a filmmaker’s need to provide crisis and resolution for the sake of effective dramatic narrative structure, though (you could easily say that the protagonists had plenty of villains already in the Alabama power structure and the anti-King attitudes of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover [Dylan Baker]—whose advice to LBJ to “dismantle [King’s] family” is later illustrated by recordings sent to Coretta’s Atlanta home phone intended to reveal Martin with his various mistresses—but I can see how it’s even more effective for your story to have the President of the United States brought around to the timing of your agenda, as that gives much greater legitimacy to the victory), I do find Selma to be a powerful statement of the horrible attitudes and events that made the Voting Rights actions necessary, coupled with excellent acting from all concerned and a structure that builds proper tension even when the outcome is well known (or should be, but if the influential Texas State Board of Education gets their revisionist way on how events are to be interpreted in the schoolbooks of many states, not only will they have Moses as more of an influence on the U.S. Constitution than he ever was but they also might try to cast Wallace as the hero of the event simply because he refrained from sending Alabama troopers into all-out war with the marchers and the National Guard that LBJ had to send to protect them).

 In Selma’s opening scenes we get the essence of what the film will explore for the next 2 hours:  We begin with King in Oslo, Norway in 1964 awaiting the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, fretting that he doesn’t deserve it (my parents didn’t think so either, but that’s a very different story).  Following this calm depiction of accomplishment, we cut back in time to the Birmingham, AL 16th Street Baptist Church where a normal 1963 Sunday gathering is viciously interrupted by a bomb that kills 4 little girls who have no reason to be brought into the violent world that confronts their beleaguered parents; finally, we see Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey) attempting, once again, to simply register to vote as a resident of Selma but instead her application is rejected because while she was able to recite the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution as well as answer reasonable questions, even though they’d never be put to White voters in order to get added to the rolls, she wasn’t able to name all 69 Alabama county judges, a task I seriously doubt this condescending clerk (or even Gov. Wallace) could do from memory.  This simple juxtaposition of recognition for “noble” work, cruel killings, and hopeless frustration tells us all we need to know to understand why the full rights of legitimate citizens needed to be better protected from the racists who ran the environment that I grew up in (but was protected from as long as I kept my mouth shut about my own beliefs—however, as shown in Selma, some White supporters of the march weren’t so fortunate, such as James Reeb [Jeremy Strong], a White minister from Boston who was killed by local rednecks), just as the hostility that bred such intolerance needed full national counteraction, as it would take generations of distancing from such attitudes for it to ever erode in the South (or all over the country, as we’ve been horribly reminded recently) on its own (I’m not sure the South will ever be fully redeemed from its miserable heritage; LBJ knew that he was sacrificing the Democratic Party in that region for a generation by pushing the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, but decades of exploiting the Republican “Southern Strategy” that began with Nixon has now put reactionaries fully in control of the former-Confederate State Houses for the foreseeable future).

 As I noted before, I’ll just close out these Selma comments with my Musical Metaphor for this fine film, “Glory” (from the soundtrack, a song written by Common [also in the cast, as James Bevel, SCLC’s Director of Direct Action] and John Legend; recent winner of the Golden Globe for Best Original Song and a likely Oscar contender) at com/watch?v=HEFRP LM0nEA (this video has a good bit of footage from the film as well, whereas "Glory" is used there to give aural support to the final credits so I don’t know how many viewers stayed around to listen to it).  With 10 slots to fill for the Best Film of the 2014 releases, I can’t imagine that Oscar voters won’t include Selma, a cinematic statement very high on my still-in-progress list of the best of the year (with my main regret being that DreamWorks and Warner Bros. currently have copyright claim to King’s speeches in anticipation of a future Spielberg project so that this director had to construct King-like-speeches for her film rather than being able to use originals)—however, never assume anything, as was noted in this article about how Selma’s DuVernay failed to make the Directors Guild of America’s nominee list—despite universally-high-praise from critics (99% at Rotten Tomatoes, 89% at Metacritic; more details in the links far below)—possibly because Paramount chose to not send DVD “screeners” to guild members, only Oscar (and the U.K.’s BAFTA) voters so that busy directors may not have had time to watch Selma in their at-home-downtime (it didn’t make the finalists’ lists for the Screen Actors Guild or the Producers Guild of America awards either, maybe for the same reason).
Short(er) Takes

 I’m blending these other 2 films together because they share a common narrative trope of purposely keeping plot elements from the audience, setting up intended confusion as well as allowing us to slowly discern what’s happening as we begin to understand the stories’ progressions from their various focuses on specific characters (like with Gone Girl [David Fincher, 2014; review in our October 9, 2014 posting])I reiterate my Spoiler Alert warnings, however, because Human Capital is just now opening in my San Francisco area so it may be debuting in your market as well, while Predestination is already playing but presents such an unexpected twist that you’ll hate me forever for revealing it if you want to see this one for yourself.  Now that you’ve been properly forewarned, onward to the combo review which deserves a title of its own.
There’s Something Happening Here, What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear
                           Human Capital (Paolo Virzì)
Study of complex human relationships between a middle- and an upper-class family as financial and romantic entanglements complicate the search for a hit-and-run killer.
                          Predestination (Michael and Peter Spierig)
A convoluted story of time travel and gender identity (even more's involved but no spoiler here) with a focus on preventing a mad bomber from killing thousands in 1975.

What Happens: Italy’s Human Capital (adapted from Stephen Amidon’s 2004 novel of the same name but set in Connecticut) begins with a man bicycling home after working late at a huge Christmas Eve party, only to be run off the road to his death by an SUV; the rest of the film slowly allows us to understand who did it, why, and the many psychological costs to a number of people directly and indirectly involved.  After that brief prologue, we retrace the steps of 2 families central to the crime, with the narrative presented in 4 chapters, the first 3 focused on specific characters.  In “Dino” we meet middle-class Dino Ossola (Fabrizio Bentivoglio), a struggling real-estate-agent with a need for more income to support his second wife’s—Roberta (Valeria Golino)—impending twins; he sees his opportunity through the (high-priced) prep school and (convenient) romantic connections between his teenage daughter, Serena (Matilde Gioli), and the son—Massimilliano (Guglielmo Pinelli)—of rich hedge-fund-manager Giovanni Bernaschi (Fabrizio Gifuni), along with the chance opportunity of becoming Giovanni’s tennis partner.  Soon, Dino’s borrowed 700,000 Euros (on falsified collateral) to invest with Giovanni (who secretly detests this crude interloper but tolerates him because of the kids, except neither father knows that they’ve basically broken up, at Serena’s decision, although Massimilliano refuses to accept it).  In other chapters focused on Giovanni’s wife, Carla (Valeria Bruni Tedischi)—a former actress desperate to save an old theatre in their town near Milan, which she convinces Giovanni to buy for purposes of restoration and her new career as its artistic director—and Serena, we gradually come to understand that, despite suspicions that drunken Massimilliano was the driver of the death car, it was really Luca (Giovanni Anzaldo), a young patient of psychologist Roberta’s, now involved in a steamy affair with Serena.

 Ultimately, Luca is convicted of manslaughter (after attempting suicide because he was already on probation after taking the rap for hashish possession to protect his doper, foster-parent uncle) but is visited in jail by a loving Serena; Dino is saved from disaster (when the markets don’t flow as Giovanni had predicted so that his investment tanks) by selling Carla the info about Luca (in order to protect her son) for enough to clear his debts and procure his anticipated profit; Carla’s dreams are also shattered when Giovanni’s business downturn forces him to sell the theater, but ultimately the rich survive and prosper, ironically because of Giovanni’s success at the expense of Italy as a whole as his calculated investments in failed markets pay off so his family continues to thrive, with even Carla happily accepting their comfortable fate; but only in the final “Human Capital” chapter do we get a clear chronological flow of events unlike the well-crafted misunderstandings and assumptions used to keep us off-track previously, enhancing our fascination with what's really occurred here.

 In Predestination (a 2014 Australian film but considered a 2015 release in the U.S.; based on a 1959 Robert A. Heinlein short story, “’—All You Zombies—‘”) even more of the essential information is kept from the audience until it’s thrown like a beaker of acid to shock us into awareness at the very end, legitimately leaving viewers to ponder how its chief events are even possible, with the understanding that we’re in a sci-fi mode where time travel has produced, in this case, the sort of anomalies that physicists and philosophers could spend lifetimes arguing about.  So, with one last, compassionate Spoiler Alert warning to you, here’s the premise:  A government Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke, an actor still basking in associated-Boyhood-Golden Globe-glory), whose present would be 1992, has spent his career trying to figure out who the Fizzle Bomber (a strange name not appreciated by this homicidal maniac) was who killed 11,000 NYC people in March, 1975, although the Agent has been successful in time-traveling (with an odd device that looks like a violin case) to other situations, preventing other crimes.  As this film opens he’s on the trail of the Bomber but is badly injured while preventing a more intense detonation so the new Hawke face we see has been surgically implanted as part of his rehabilitation.  On a final mission before retirement he goes to 1970 to work undercover as a bartender where one night he meets a young man, John (Sarah Snook), who makes a living selling stories to Confessions magazine under the pen name of The Unmarried Mother but has quite a story to tell about being born in Cleveland in 1945 as orphan Jane, being impregnated in 1963, having her baby stolen from the hospital in 1964 while learning that she was born with both female and male organs but her female vitals were injured during delivery so she’s been reconstructed as male, cursing her seducer for bringing on all of this misery.  Our Agent allows John to travel back to 1963 in order to take revenge on the mysterious father, but our first shock comes when we realize that John is in fact the man he intended to kill, so he’s the one who impregnated the younger female version of himself—but it gets weirder!  As the story progresses we further learn that the Agent stole Jane’s baby, then took it back to 1945 to the orphanage to be raised as Jane, so that she literally gave birth to herself by means of “her” own semen in a seemingly-impossible twist of events. 

 If you’ve been able to digest all this, then you can probably accept that John, once he understood his own convoluted past, was willing to join the Temporal Agency where he’s actually the Hawke agent that we’ve been simultaneously following as this version of his older self.  Just to complete the circle, though, our complex Agent finally finds the Fizzle Bomber at a NYC laundromat in March, 1975, only to discover that the Bomber is just an older version of himself, obviously suffering from a form of dementia and psychosis that’s allowed him to justify the heinous deed soon to come as an excuse for motivating the various time-trips that saved many other lives.  Not content with that scenario, the Agent kills the Bomber to prevent his (own) monstrous act, then retires in 1975 NYC, even though his life, through younger John, will somehow loop past there and back again (I guess).

So What? Human Capital does a successful job of demonstrating how miserly storytelling can create very successful tensions and confusions that allow us—as the supposedly “omnipotent” audience—to experience the events of the narrative in the same manner as most of the characters because we don’t know enough about the full context of situations, only what we’ve been shown from limited viewpoints.  Within the complex of character understandings presented to us, only Serena knows the truth throughout most of what we see in the film because only she and Luca were there and conscious (she drove drunken, passed-out Massimilliano home in her stepmom’s borrowed car—normally Serena gets around on a bicycle—after she was called to get him out of a party where he was drowning his sorrows over not winning a prestigious school award; Luca drove Massimilliano’s van back to the Bernaschi mansion, accidently swerved into the man bicycling in the dark [he was a worker at that awards celebration, to completely interconnect all of the events here]), yet because the main storyline is told several times from various perspectives we don’t even meet Luca until Chapter 3, after we’ve spent quite a bit of time on the deteriorating situations of Dino’s money troubles, marital tensions in both families, and the beginnings of a later-abruptly-terminated-affair between Carla and a local university theatre professor, one of the board members of her intended revival project.  There’s plenty of evidence to assume that either drunken Massimilliano or Serena, through circumstances that aren’t clearly revealed yet, was driving the deadly SUV, so we can effectively suffer along with the 2 families as each assumes the worse about their respective kids.

 In Predestination the audience is given even less about the true complications of the protagonist’s (Or should that be protagonists’ ?) situation so that we can be put in the mindset of Jane/John/ Agent/Bomber, where each stage of this individual’s morphing identity has no consciousness—at least until the crucial revelations occur—of what is to come so that even when John realizes that he’s the once-detested sex partner of Jane or when the Agent travels back to 1970 to first co-exist with his John manifestation, neither John nor the Agent knows how they will transform into older versions of themselves that will continue to push this complex, convoluted life into even more complicated directions.  Add to that the ongoing imponderables of how you can mate with yourself to create yourself, as well as kill yourself while you go on living.  (Not to mention what becomes of this character after we see him as 47-year-old Agent [Hawke] in 1992 until he ages further, then goes back to 1975 in his Bomber mindset [also Hawke, with aged makeup—unlike his natural aging in Boyhood [Richard Linklater, 2014]], just as his Agent character goes to that same year from 1992—if he kills the older version of himself in 1975 but then the 47-year-old remains in that era how long will he eventually live and how will he eventually die?  None of this is even hinted at in the film, although more crazy complexity is hardly needed at this point.)

Bottom Line Final Comments: As I write this, the Oscar nominations for 2014-released-films haven’t yet been announced so I don’t know which ones will be competing for the Best Foreign Language Film prize (although I certainly hope that Ida [Pawel Pawlikowski, 2014; review in our June 3, 2014 posting] will be among them), but I do know that Human Capital was Italy’s submission for consideration, so clearly the deciding body there was very enamored of this high-stakes-guessing game, a film I definitely enjoyed and recommend, even if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decides to see otherwise.  In the closing graphics we learn that the title refers to the term that insurance companies use to determine the policy worth of a person who dies through violent means—as did the worker whose sad fate begins this interesting story—based on a combination of factors including standard life expectancy, anticipated earning capacity, etc.  What can’t be calculated, along with the emotional impact on a killed person’s survivors (an aspect of life’s circumstances not explored much here), is how manipulated factors can alter that accumulation of “capital,” as with how Giovanni and Carla come out smelling like roses (even as she brushes aside her own ruined dreams in order to better partake of the benefits of his) based on the collective misery of others (suggesting an alternative title, Human Collateral), including Dino who gambled (he thought, on a sure thing) and lost, saving himself only through a chance glance at his daughter’s laptop and extortion of the Bernaschis, leaving us with the sense that fate can be blindly cruel just as it can offer unexpected compensation (the seemingly strong connection between outcasts Serena and Luca, despite the personal humiliation that both of them have suffered).

 Predestination, on the other hand, might be considered by some to be too absurd to even exist as a fictional story, but I was intrigued by its mind-bending-situations of parallel existence of multiple versions of one’s self (which we’ve seen in other circumstances, most famously—although only briefly—in the comical Back to the Future series [Robert Zemeckis; 1985, 1989, 1990], with a dramatic version more recently in Looper [Rian Johnson, 2012; review in our October 5, 2012 posting]), here given the added multi-dimensions of this character’s seeming self-creation [Talk about a “chicken or egg” conundrum!]), which may seem too cutely-calculated after the fact but is still quite fascinating to observe in story progression.  In trying to find a single Musical Metaphor for these 2 films I came up empty so I decided to offer 1 for each:  Human Capital deserves “Money (That’s What I Want)” (written in 1969 by Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, sung by Barrett Strong, as the first [and very-appropriately-titled] hit for Motown records), so here’s The Beatles’ version in a live performance from sometime in the mid-1960s (along with Spanish subtitles, the closest I could find to Italian—hey, it sort of got me through a needed conversation with a train station agent in Genoa once, so don’t scoff) at (from their 1963 U.K. With the Beatles album, the 1964 U.S. The Beatles’ Second Album).  Then, with all of the identity confusion in Predestination I decided on Neil Diamond’s “I Am … I Said” (from his 1971 Stones album) at, given this song’s concerns with the singer’s past and present no longer working properly to serve his unraveling needs of self-understanding.
 That’s all for this week, but I’ll be back soon with a couple more late 2014 releases—Still Alice (Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland) and Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson)—along with a much-more-selective-taste one, The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland), also from 2014, also just now getting a wider release.  Maybe I'll also have some comments on the new Oscar nominations.
If you’d like to know more about Selma here are some suggested links: (43:00 press conference with director Ava DuVernay, producer Dede Gardner, and actors David Oyelowo, Jeremy Kleiner, Oprah Winfrey [also a producer], Tim Roth, Common, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Egojo, and Andrew Holland; if you’d like to watch some documentary footage of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, AL here’s a 6:37 capsule of it at, vignettes taken from the TV documentary mini-series Eyes on the Prize [Henry Hampton executive producer, 1987-1990]) 

If you’d like to know more about Human Capital here are some suggested links: (for a trailer, not a bad quick summary of the main points of the entire film) (this video has nothing to do with Human Capital but there’s little out there about it so this is a quick economic lesson in the concept of human capital; if you want something more cinematically-related how about this little cluster of scenes from another greed-centric-film, The Wolf of Wall Street [Martin Scorsese, 2013; review in our January 4, 2014 posting], complete with original R-rated-dialogue at

If you’d like to know more about Predestination here are some suggested links: (If you think that Predestination is weird, check out this 8:48 video that “decodes” 88 messages in this film that supposedly refer to the Biblically-predicted end of the world ... or something like that ... I think; so, take it for whatever it’s worth—or not—to you)

As noted above, we encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, including our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our extremely-limited-level of technological control.

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile.    Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. I found Selma to be excellent in the introductory and ending scenes but only average over the rest of the film. While the acting and dialog were good, the screenwriting could have been crisper and the lack of big name American stars probably reduced the mainstream audience. The film really drags on much of the time; possibly a reason the director received no nominations. Many of the night scenes looked like they were shot on an iphone, really poor photography. It's time for a Schindler's List masterpiece focused on America's prejudices.

    I found the depictions of the south in the sixties to have significantly missed the mark; not in the look but in the feel. The audience is not transported into the time or the story. The subtleties of language and the real hatred of much of the white southern working class was missed. Give me Norman Jewison's 1967 In the Heat of the Night any day for the gritty,. sweaty, true to life vile that the south exhibited in those days. The depiction of George Wallace totally missed the mark (perhaps a dramatic portrayal by Ricky Gervais would have pulled it off). Why can't we see controversial modern day issues presented by Hollywood instead of something I have seen on PBS too many times already? I would hope Speilberg's future work becomes the definitive effort; perhaps incorporating the MLK story as one chapter of the bigger issue; the racial divide that still exists in America today.

  2. Hi rj, Thanks for keeping me honest here. While I did very much respect and enjoy Selma, possibly because it seemed time for someone to attempt a proper biography of at least part of MLK's life, you're right that director DuVernay's made a noble attempt here (as was done earlier—and ultimately more successfully—in 12 Years a Slave by another British director, Steve McQueen) to speak to a critical period of American history but the tone and the British actors just aren't quite as on the mark as they could be. Like you, I hope that Spielberg (or even Spike Lee, if he can bring himself to it) can someday do a more complete, compelling take on MLK and the larger, current context he speaks to that truly shows us the grittiness of the South that we know all too well. Ken

  3. To rj and everyone else, Both in the original review above and in this reply to rj's comments I made reference to director DuVernay as being British. I don't know where I got that idea (maybe because she cast so many Brits in major roles), but she's American through and through. This will serve as my correction for the comment above, but I'll go back into the review and remove that inaccuracy there.

    Anyone can make a mistake at any time, but this one is so completely ungrounded that I'll just have to wonder how it ever entered my consciousness nor why I was so sure of it that I didn't verify it the way I do every other damn remark I make in these reviews. Sorry for any confusion this may have caused. Ken