Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Insult and Hostiles

                             Hate Thy Neighbor as Thyself

                                                        Reviews by Ken Burke
                                The Insult (Ziad Doueiri, 2017)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): In contemporary Beirut a small squabble between a Palestinian Muslim construction crew supervisor and a Lebanese Christian apartment dweller escalates when the latter becomes nastily-uncooperative leading the former to curse him, for which he angrily demands an apology which is not forthcoming.  As tensions mount over the next few days, the heat’s turned up when the Palestinian, bitterly insulted by the Lebanese, punches him hard enough to break a couple of ribs.  Soon they’re in court with verbal hostilities continuing to the point where the judge dismisses the case.  However, the Lebanese car-repairman needs to continue to work (against doctor’s orders), collapses one day from carrying a heavy battery which leads to his pregnant wife’s too-early-delivery, the child precariously on life-support.  Of course, the men return to court, this time with lawyers, where the bulk of this powerful drama plays out, allowing audiences who may know nothing of the fierce Lebanon Civil War (1975-1990) to learn of crucial aspects of that time through rhetoric and flashbacks, even as tensions mount across the country based on incendiary testimony in the trail.  While I highly recommend The Insult as a great lesson in humility and humanity, no matter what culture is involved, it may prove almost impossible to find as it’s currently playing in only 10 theaters in northern North America, but maybe its recent Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film will help it get much wider distribution.

Here’s the trailer:  (Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate that same button on the full screen’s lower right or your “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)

If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who’d like to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify such give-away sentences/sentence-clusters thusly: 
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
What Happens: In contemporary Beirut, Lebanon (with crucial flashbacks/references to important events many years ago) we witness a powerful display of antagonisms roiling the Middle East today as the culmination of eons of distrust, hostility, outright hatred when a Muslim Palestinian refugee working as a construction crew foreman has a run-in with a Christian Lebanese man that escalates beyond an offensive phrase spewed in immediate anger to a courtroom drama threatening to result in wide scale violent protests by a despised minority against their harboring government.  Yasser Salameh’s (Kamel El Basha) crew is working in Tony* Hanna’s (Adel Karam [winner of the Volpi Cup for Best Actor at the 2017 Venice International Film Festival]) neighborhood doing repairs of building code violations when some water splashes down on him from Tony’s improperly-constructed, upper-story drainpipe; the crew alerts Tony to their needed work but he forcefully dismisses them.  They fix it anyway to allow proper drainage, followed by angry Tony attacking the pipe with a sledgehammer shouting they have no right to do anything to his apartment.  Yasser calls Tony a “fucking prick” further infuriating a man who obviously has no use for Yasser or his fellow refugees, most of whom are living in state-run-camps, with Tony as a representative of Lebanese who feel these supposedly-fellow-Arabs have ruined their host country.

*You might find his name spelled “Toni” in various reviews of The Insult, but I can offer no resolution as it’s presented with both an “i” and a “y” in the official press kit, although most often as “Tony.”

 Under pressure from a government minister, Yasser’s boss tries to get him to comply with Tony’s demand for an apology which he begrudgingly shows up early one morning to deliver at Tony’s car-repair-shop, only to stand outside listening to an inflammatory anti-Palestinian radio broadcast followed by some direct harsh words from Tony (saying he wishes Israeli General/former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had killed all the Palestinians), leading Yasser to land some furious blows, breaking a couple of Tony’s ribs.  Soon they’re in court with Tony suing Yasser for damages, Yasser refusing to offer the also-demanded-apology even though he pleads guilty to the assault, Tony letting his constant anger (which, in private, also leads to conflicts with wife Shirine [Rita Hayek], who wanted to move from their neighborhood anyway, one of many sources of tension between them) get the better of him in remarks he makes to the judge (whom Tony accuses of sympathy toward the Palestinians), resulting in the case being thrown out.  As a result of working too hard (against his doctor’s advice but in desperate need of income), Tony collapses one day throwing Shirine into panic, inducing labor (she's had a previous miscarriage) with the child now on life-support.  This leads Tony to press on with an appeal against Yasser, hiring the prestigious law firm of Wajdi Wehbe (Camille Salameh), while Yasser is slowly, uncomfortably convinced to also take on representation on behalf of the constant prejudice shown toward his people (in the meantime he loses his job, as the situation’s become too publically controversial for that bureaucrat to tolerate).

 ⇒During the course of the appeal (closely watched throughout the country) we learn many things which further complicate this already-impactful-plot: (1) Yasser’s attorney, Nadine (Diamand Abou Abboud), is the daughter of Tony’s incendiary barrister so there’s a family struggle going on here as well, Nadine both seeing validity in Yasser’s actions and needing to separate herself from her father’s demeaning opinion of her courtroom skills; (2) Tony’s ongoing hatred of Palestinians traces back to when he was a boy in 1976 during the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) in which many in his Damour village were massacred by leftists and Palestinians; (3) Yasser also has a history of suppressed fury, as he was in a refugee camp in Jordan in 1971 where his people were treated cruelly, causing him to attack a cook who was threatening a starving boy, resulting in the man being since then in a wheelchair.  Both sides in the courtroom battle use these past incidents to condemn or justify behavior in the present conflict, with Tony and his lawyer suddenly caught up in anti-Israeli-anger based on Nadine repeating Tony’s Ariel Sharon comment in her arguments (Yasser refused to do so during the first trial), with follow-up-insults from Wajdi intended to be in Tony’s defense but instead branding him as a Zionist, leading to Palestinian riots against every aspect of his case (this leads the country’s Christian President to call both men in for an attempted resolution but to no avail).  Ultimately, closure comes when Yasser shows up one night at Tony’s garage, tosses some fierce language at him, then Tony delivers furious blows to Yasser’s midsection—likely evening the score on broken ribswith Yasser finally saying “I’m sorry” as he walks away.⇐

 ⇒Next day, the 3-judge-panel decides (2-1 vote) Yasser’s not guilty, with our sense both men have come to understand each other and their mutually-terrorized-heritages better (indicated in an earlier scene when both left the courthouse, found themselves parked next to each other, Yasser’s car wouldn’t start but Tony drove back to do a quick fix for him with hardly a word exchanged; in another plot point of peace between these antagonists Tony and Shirine’s baby stabilizes, implying a rocky start but eventual stability of new generations of such long-entrenched-warring-factions).⇐

So What? According to press kit notes, director/co-screenwriter Doueiri (of Palestinian-French heritage himself) based the initial events of The Insult on an incident where he argued with a plumber, spewed an obscenity at him, tried to apologize but was refused, which led to the man being fired by his boss bringing Doueiri around to the position of defending the plumber.  He decided to expand this event into a culture-clash-courtroom drama because such stories “afford scriptwriters a single place in which to pit two antagonists against each other. It’s a sort of modern take on the western [an interesting comment, given the 2 films under review in this posting], but played in a closed setting. Dramatically, a trial can be very rich when brought to the screen. This is what I tried to achieve given that this movie describes a sort of duel between Tony and Yasser. [… ¶ …] Both want the justice system to restore their honor. This is why I don’t see The Insult as a tragedy. It is absolutely optimistic and humanistic. It shows the paths that can be taken to achieve peace.”  As noted, his film occurs against the background of the Lebanese Civil War which resulted in thousands of deaths and displacements with the pro-West Christian government fighting left-wing Arab groups, including the Palestine Liberation Organization, as well as incursions from Israel and Syria.  Of that bloody conflict Doueiri says: “The war in Lebanon ended in 1990 with neither winners nor losers. Everyone was acquitted. General amnesty turned into general amnesia. Discussion is needed, not to reopen old wounds from this conflict, rather to close them definitively. It is our duty toward future generations.”  The Insult could hopefully be seen as not just about internal Lebanese problems but more generally an appeal to any disputing parties not to allow themselves to continue recycling old grudges, reliving ancient history, but instead realizing that in many conflicts there are legitimate grievances for both parties (or for all sides when the clashes become more complex) that need to be considered, listened to if any progress is ever to be made.
Bottom Line Final Comments: This film is enjoying some extremely solid support (95% positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, finalist nominee for Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film) along with some setbacks (71% average score at Metacritic [normally lower than RT, although this is notably less; however, it’s based on reviews from only 18 critics, offering 13 positive and 5 mixed results, so this score could easily be taken with the proverbial “grain of salt”—probably not kosher salt, though]; a paltry $143.7 thousand gross at the domestic [U.S.-Canada] box-office, but that’s based on a tiny cluster of 10 theaters so far [lucky for me 1 of them’s in my Berkeley, CA extended neighborhood] after being in release for 3 weeks although that may improve due to the recently-announced-Oscar-nom).  It’s biggest problem, though, came at the Palestinian Days of Cinema festival when it was banned from being shown because of Doueiri’s “traitorous” act of filming his previous The Attack (2012) in Israel.  I found The Insult to be a worthy, deeply-humanistic filmgoing experience which I highly recommend as being a very relevant counterstatement against the increasing terribly-troubled-times all over our planet where cultural divisions are hardening, refugees from horrific violence in their homelands are being treated like crap (even if they don’t come from Donald Trump’s atrociously-designated “shithole” countries) no matter where they try to settle, racism of various sorts is becoming more public (sadly, along with more-tolerated if not actively-encouraged attitudes) in a good number of societies on many continents, all in the name of “America (or, fill in the blank with your country’s name) first!”  You may not get much of a chance to see The Insult unless it’s market penetration drastically increases—or you may not want to, if you have entrenched attitudes about Jews, Arab Christians, or Palestinians that would make it difficult to view these interpersonal/cultural clashes without your emotional “red lines” being crossed—but, short of such limitations, I encourage you to seek out The Insult at least on video when you get a chance in that it contributes to the types of intercultural dialogues severely lacking in today’s world.

 In attempting to conclude this review with my usual tactic of a Musical Metaphor (offering one last perspective on what's just been discussed, yet from the viewpoint of my equally-cherished-aural-arts) I as well may offend some sensibilities by choosing a song from a highly-respected Jewish singer-songwriter, the late, great Leonard Cohen, but his now universally-famous “Hallelujah” (from the 1984 Various Positions album) found at (a live performance, lyrics available below the YouTube screen [you might also be interested in k.d. lang's version, because it was sung at the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada before an estimated TV audience of 3 billion]) seemed appropriate to the themes of The Insult with its Old Testament allusions (which have great relevance for Christianity and even some importance for Islam although not, of course, as much as the contents of the Quran for people whose faith is based in those later scriptures just as others honor the older ones) along with its contrast of the uplifting chorus to the harsh realities of statements such as “Love is not a victory march It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah […] There was a time you let me know What’s really going on below But now you never show it to me, do you? […] You say I took the name in vain I don’t even know the name But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?”  (If you want more, you can go here for a very extensive analysis of the song, using a lengthy excerpt from the Alan Light book, The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of ‘Hallelujah’ [2012].)

 Or, if you’d just prefer to focus on the tragedies that keep The Insult’s main characters apart (along with the cultures they represent) you might want to stay in the rejection-zone of Phil Collin’s "In the Air Tonight" (from the 1981 Face Value album), which was my initial consideration, given the mounting hostilities barely softened by any sort of full reconciliation in this film, but I moved on to Cohen because his song offers light in contrast to the inevitable darkness plus I’d used Collins’ tune 3 times already (I guess I must have reviewed some gruesome films) and didn’t want to get too repetitious in my official choices (this marks my first use of “Hallelujah”).  Besides, if you want bitterness, anger, and hatred you can easily get a huge dose in my next review awaiting you below.
                                Hostiles (Scott Cooper, 2017)
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): In the very late 19th-century Old West a well-honored Indian fighter/Army Captain is given the most distasteful near-final-duty he can imagine when he's ordered to ride with a dying Cheyenne chief and his family back to their home in Montana for the patriarch to spend his final days after having been a prisoner for several years.  Both men hate each other, see the other as a brutal butcher, but have no other choice if the chief wants to die in peace, the Capt. wants to avoid court-martial.  Along the trail north from a fort in New Mexico they come upon a burned-out ranch house where the only survivor of a brutal Comanche raid is a grief-stricken former wife and mother who agrees to join the mini-caravan after her family’s properly buried.  Soon this group’s also attacked by these crazed murderers (according to escorted Chief Yellow Hawk), with the prisoners helping to fight off the attackers, so that slowly—with great difficulty—the White and Native mortal enemies come to a place of begrudging acceptance, which will be needed as more difficulties hinder them the further north they go.  With the understanding you’ll need to endure some bloody violence throughout this film (if you choose to watch it), I recommend Hostiles as an impactful—although probably a bit too obvious in exposition—attempt to recapture the meaner underbelly of the glory days of the Hollywood western, with lessons in tolerance that make for a natural pairing with the contemporary elements of The Insult.

Here’s the trailer:

       Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.

What Happens: We begin in 1892 with a lone ranch house in the vast wilderness where a young family’s trying to survive, seemingly in isolation, as Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike) homeschools her 2 little girls, husband Wesley (Scott Shepherd) tends to their horses.  Suddenly a small band of blood-thirsty Comanches swoops in, kills them all (except Rosalie, who manages to hide in the nearby woods, still frantically clutching the baby already dead from random gunfire), steals the horses, burns down the house.  From there, we shift to Fort Berringer, New Mexico, where Capt. Joe Blocker (Christian Bale), a celebrated Indian killer (he’s proud of it, with a grim attitude toward this enemy) is ordered by his commanding officer, Col. Abraham Biggs (Stephen Lang)—carrying out the higher order of President Harrison—to escort 7-year-prisoner Cheyenne Chief Yellow Hawk (Wes Studi), sick with cancer, back to his home in Montana to die.  Blocker attempts to defy the order, given his hatred of the White deaths this American Indian warrior (“a butcher” he says) caused over the years, but he’s convinced by the argument that the distasteful journey’s better than being court-martialed, losing his pension so close to retirement.  Along with a few other soldiers (including Master Sgt. Thomas Metz [Rory Cochrane], weary, even troubled, by his 20 years of systematic killing or imprisonment of the Natives, confiding such agony to Joe [although if you attend a screening like the one I saw you may not hear all the dialogue at times as much of it’s delivered in a quiet, intimate manner not all that clear to my ears]), Blocker sets out with Yellow Hawk, son Black Hawk (Adam Beach), daughter-in-law Elk Woman (Q’orianka Kilcher), granddaughter Little Bear (Xavier Horsechief), unmarried daughter Living Woman (Tanaya Beatty) 

 Not far away from the fort, though, Blocker challenges Yellow Hawk to a dagger-duel to the death, which the old man rejects (seemingly not playing into Joe’s desire to kill him on the spot, much as Yasser in The Insult didn’t want to publically escalate his situation by repeating Tony’s Ariel Sharon-based-slur), so he and his son are put in handcuffs instead.  Along the way, the group comes upon the ruined Quaid residence, finds half-crazy Rosalie still carrying her dead baby, offers to take her with them for a bit; she accepts after the rest of her family’s buried, which begins to calm her down.

 Soon the crazed (so says Yellow Hawk with no sympathy for these wild men, a threat to his family) Comanches are back, killing one of Blocker’s men (Timothée Chalamet in the very minor role of Pvt. Philippe DeJardin), seriously wounding another (Buffalo Soldier Cpl. Henry Woodson [Jonathan Majors]), but some of the attackers are killed as well (including by the Hawks, even with their restrictive chains—which are removed after the other invaders race off).  As the group continues along they find the remaining Comanches dead, with Blocker convinced Yellow Hawk and his son slipped away during the night to exact this revenge.  ⇒The next stop is Ft. Winslow, Colorado where Woodson’s left to recuperate but Rosalie will have no access to a stagecoach to take her back East so she chooses to continue on with Blocker’s troupe, now including convicted criminal Sgt. Charles Wills (Ben Foster), needing to be taken to another post along their way where he’ll be hanged.  Blocker’s disgusted with him, but as they talk, with the prisoner chained to a tree one night, Wills says he reveled in his murders of the Indians, can’t believe Blocker’s having any doubts about his own storied past of killings.  Tragedy strikes again later when the women are washing the dishes in a nearby stream (Rosalie’s previously accepted the peace offering of a dress from the Native women as this forced-together-tribe’s becoming more integrated, although Joe’s the only one who speaks the Cheyenne language) then are captured by some wandering fur traders before being rescued by the combined forces of soldiers and Indians.  Another night, during a downpour, Blocker’s taking and offering some solace in Rosalie’s tent when Wills manages to escape, only to be later caught and killed by Metz, who then takes his own life.  Finally, the remaining members of the group (with the Indians willingly staying with the only 2 soldiers left to “guard” them) reach their Montana destination of the Valley of the Bears where Yellow Hawk dies, but when the others are burying him the next day old rancher Cyrus Lounde (Scott Wilson) and his 3 adult sons arrive to demand the body be taken off of their land.  A shootout ensues, with only Joe, Rosalie, and Little Bear left alive.  As this story wraps up, Rosalie and the girl board a train in Billings for Chicago and a new life, but just as it’s leaving the station Joe hopes onto the back car, obviously to join them.⇐

So What? For those who still have a fondness for the Western genre shown by mainstream Hollywood for so many decades, you immediately get a sense Hostiles will transport you back to that territory with its widescreen format, location shooting in wide-open-but-remote-landscapes (with impressively-rugged-scenery), but then you quickly find that unless your interest was in the more-violent-versions of this seminal American story coming in the wake of the grotesque-slaughter-scenes of The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969) this current story is more grim, racist, hostile to the best concepts of humanity than you might expect, although it does find its intended level of uplift by the end.  For those of us with an academic background in cinema, the western has long been seen as the quintessential American tale, pitting the 19th-century-Manifest Destiny-drive to “civilize” the vast realm of the West (pushing railroads, telegraph lines, and cites from Atlantic to Pacific) against the ideal of the frontier, the vast wilderness epitomizing personal freedom, independence, mulligans from misdirected-life-decisions that characterized how Americans wanted to think of themselves, even as they acknowledged the reality of how those open plains would eventually need to be fenced in, paved over if the society was truly going to continue on a path toward economic opportunity (except, of course, for the displaced Natives, the disenfranchised African former slaves, the imported Asian laborers).  This “garden vs. desert” dichotomy fueled our national imagination for decades, celebrating the personal freedom aspect earlier in Hollywood’s translation of this ideal (some would say “delusion”) with such classics as Stagecoach (John Ford, 1939) and Red River (Howard Hawks, 1948), then acknowledging the required closing of the frontier (Shane [George Stevens, 1953], The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence [Ford, 1962]) along with the deadly cult of violence accompanying that closure (High Noon [Fred Zinnemann, 1952], Unforgiven [Clint Eastwood, 1992]) plus some occasional films recognizing the tragic, genocidal elimination of the American Indians (Cheyenne Autumn [Ford, 1964], Dances With Wolves [Kevin Costner, 1990]).

 Hostiles attempts to recapture many aspects of that lengthy generic history, succeeding in some ways more than others.  Certainly, it spares no disturbing depictions in the vicious aspects of “how the west was won,” including the atrocities on both sides as Whites imposed themselves on their misbegotten concepts of “savages” (with a savage need of their own for retaliation upon those who attempted to defend themselves against the termination of ages-old-civilizations) while the Native Americans responded in the only manner available to them against such hostilities (especially when they began to realize how useless the various treaties were in terms of true co-existence), becoming the sort of mindless-butchers who slaughtered the Quaids in a level of cruelty far beyond what was needed to just steal their horses, carrying out the kinds of atrocities of Yellow Hawk’s younger days that so embittered Capt. Blocker, or finding themselves victims of equal atrocities ⇒such as tried by the fur traders who steal the women in our story for their own cruel pleasures, taking White and Native captives alike for horridly-destructive-desires.⇐  The consistently slow, somber, serious approach of this film shows innocence has been drained out of all these characters, ⇒although how they respond to such immersion in brutality is contrasted well by the differing attitudes of Sgt. Wills (whose homicidal acts have become too much for even the military to bear) vs. Master Sgt. Metz, so forlornly-dehumanized by all the violence he’s done that his only response to the life he’s led is to track down, then kill Wills before committing suicide to end his own haunted life.  We also infer the evolving changes of heart as Yellow Hawk and his son kill the deadly Comanches in the dead of night, yet continue on as prisoners under Blocker’s command the next day, punctuated at the near-end of our story by Rosalie making the first kill of the landowners who refuse to allow Yellow Hawk’s corpse to remain, even though it’s on his ancestral burial grounds.⇐  Hostiles may not be among the very best westerns ever made (see the next review section below), but it’s certainly timely in its thought-provoking-events even if it may be too deterministic in its outcomes.

Bottom Line Final Comments: Hostiles has generated a wide range of responses from the critical community, from Chris Nashawaty's full-A-level praise in Entertainment Weekly ( […] the biggest draw is watching Bale deliver another master class in invisible acting.  Every gesture feels authentic.  You immediately understand this spiritually spent man—for better or worse”) to Mick LaSalle's dismissive-response about this new western being nothing more than […] its dull characters, its almost-endless tedium and its nihilistic violence” in the San Francisco Chronicle, with the overall response being more in the lower realm of support (72% positive reviews in RT, 65% average score at MC) and me being a bit more—but not fully—impressed than those who find various problems with it.  In general, audiences are just beginning to find it, period, as its domestic reach has now (after 6 weeks in release) grown drastically to 2,816 theaters, a huge jump up from the roughly 120 housing it just a week ago (correspondingly, the box-office-take of about $12 million has swelled as well, from roughly $1.6 million last week).  However, now that its initial hype by some critics as being among 2017’s best has subsided with hardly any notable awards consideration, it may fade into cinematic history the same way that reverence for the open land of the West has faded into the larger context of American history (especially with our current money-grubbers in D.C. making every effort to open vast tracts of land—and ocean—to mining, logging, and conventional fuel exploration) before its useful messages have a chance to make much of an impact upon our current cultural psyche.  Nashawaty says Hostiles “may be the finest example of the genre since Unforgiven,” which may be true only in that there haven’t been many contenders for such praise for almost 3 decades.  (Although I thought the 2007 remake [from the 1957 Delmer Daves original starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin] of 3:10 to Yuma [James Mangold—also starring Bale, along with Russell Crowe] was quite successful, but there are few others to emerge after Eastwood, in my opinion, successfully buried the need for the genre he’d previously been so successful in with Unforgiven, truly one of the greatest examples of self-reflexive American cinema.)

 Hostiles aspires to such heights, occasionally getting there with the complexity and conflicting emotions of the entire range of characters, but for me it’s a bit too linear in its inevitable coming around of Joe and Yellow Hawk in terms of mutual respect as well as self-defense.  Definitely it’s intended to be more emotionally-resolved than The Insult (although both offer enough similarities to make for a useful-review-combination, even though they weren’t chosen as such for that result), but it seems too determined to get where it eventually ends up, so that all the soul-searching is a bit too obvious, the bonds (emotionally, not with handcuffs) among the Montana-bound-troupe a bit facile in getting across a message with high aspirations but maybe too caught up in the grandeur of the genre to discover the surprising plot turns, more contemplative messages that ultimately work more effectively in Unforgiven (“We all got it coming, kid.”).  One thing that Hostiles doesn’t fail at, though, is being serious enough to (almost, but without the full level of soul-scouring) become what one might find in a minor Ingmar Bergman script; therefore, I’ll ride this review into the sunset with a Musical Metaphor a bit more upbeat, although still appropriately cynical about our romanticized presentations of the Old West—especially in both the historical and fictional depictions of Native Americans—using Michael Martin Murphy’s “Geronimo’s Cadillac” (from his 1972 album of the same name) at (original recording accompanied by relevant visuals, with lyrics if you want them just below the video screen; running time listed at 6:40 but it actually ends at about 5:30), a song inspired by an actual 1905 photo of this famous chief posed in a luxury car, even though he was a prisoner at Fort Sill, Oklahoma at the time; life was more grim for Yellow Hawk in Hostiles, but a quiet message that challenged-Christians Joe and Rosalie come to understand rings true for me in the lyrics “Jesus tells me, I believe it’s true The red man is in the sunset too Took all their land and they won’t give it back Sent Geronimo a Cadillac.”*

*While I can’t give you a Cadillac, I can give you another Michael Murphy (the name he went by in Austin back when I first became aware of him; by 1981 when he was promoting Hard Country [David Greene], which he co-wrote, he’d added the “Martin”—as he was touring around, promoting that movie, I, as the film critic for Dallas-Ft. Worth album rock station KTXQ-FM [Q 102], got a chance to meet and interview him) song, this one even more upbeat (to continue countering Hostiles' unrelenting angst) about another Native American involved in a fading enterprise, an itinerant train-station-musician: "Cherokee Fiddle" (on the 1976 Swans Against the Sun album)
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AND … at least until the Oscars for 2017’s releases have been awarded on Sunday, March 4, 2018 we’re also going to include reminders in each posting of very informative links where you can get updated tallies of which 2017 films have been nominated for and/or received various awards and which ones made various individual critic’s Top 10 lists.  You may find the diversity among the various awards competitions and the various critics hard to reconcile at times—not to mention the often-significant-gap between critics’ choices and competitive-award-winners (which pales when compared to the even-more-noticeable-gap between specific award winners and big box-office-grosses you might want to monitor here)—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 for success are as valid as any of these others, especially if you 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 time scrolling through the “various awards” list above, here are the Golden Globe nominees and winners for films and TV from 2017 along with the Oscar nominees for 2017 films.

Here’s more information about The Insult: (5:38 interview with director Zaid Doueiri and actors Adel Karam, Kamel El Basha)

Here’s more information about Hostiles: (7:34 video on 5 things you might need to know about this film, from a perspective of an analyst who wasn’t that impressed with it) and (30:21 commentary much more supportive of this film from primary actors Christian Bale, Rosamund Pike, Wes Studi [begins with the same trailer from the review above])

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If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)

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.  But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.


Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 40,702; below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week:


  1. fandango - I finally saw Hostiles this morning. It’s fantastic for a rated R movie! I’m not a violent movie person or a rated R person. But if it’s historically accurate I’ll go see it. The violence wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be which was a big relief for me. There’s a lot of language to watch out for as well. But it has incredible acting, beautiful scenery, and the score in one of the best! Being of Cherokee decent this movie hits close to home. They also did a fantastic job with the Native American language of the Cheyenne. A couple of my favorite Native American actors also star in Hostiles, Wes Studi and Adam Beach. That was the other reason why I wanted to see it. They were great! I Hostiles is one of my favorite historical movies. Can’t wait to own this movie!

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    1. Hi Jonh, Sorry I’ve been so long in getting your comment published and replying to it, but there was some kind of glitch so I wasn’t even notified you’d sent it in. In the future, I’ll go into my Blogspot mailbox once a week to make sure I’m aware of any submitted comments. Thanks for your extensive comments. Ken Burke