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Live and Let Die: A Recap

Kylie

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We chat quite a bit “problematic faves” here at The Fandomentals, and for good reason. You can enjoy problematic content, so long as you’re aware of those issues. That said, I’ve got one where I’m utterly at a loss to explain my enjoyment at all: Bond, James Bond. It’s a character built on misogyny, and even the “best” movies of the series nearly incomprehensible with the leaps in logic.

Well, I didn’t watch a top quality Bond the other day. No, instead, as a way of getting excited for my trip to New Orleans this weekend, I decided to watch Roger Moore’s debut film, Live and Let Die. In some ways you might consider this a “quintessential Bond film.” Though Sean Connery brought Ian Flemming’s character to life, it was Moore that brought the camp which defines most of the series. But if this truly is representative of the franchise as a whole…then holy shit. My fave is beyond problematic and I’m starting to wonder if it’s only a fave due to Poe’s Law.

The misogyny of this film is a sledgehammer; the racism of this film is a team of wrecking balls continually smashing you in the face. Which I guess isn’t shocking, because it was literally an action film by white people that tried to incorporate characteristics of the “blaxploitation” genre, which had gained popularity in the early 70s. Needless to say its attempts to do so left behind a movie that is offensive to the point of distraction. Seriously, it is impossible to go 2 seconds without thinking, “but this is just so racist!”

And if somehow you can look past every single black person in New York City working together to kill Bond, a fortune teller whose gift is literally fucked away, or the island of ‘San Monique,’ whose dictator utilizes 100% well-researched Haitian Vodou as a means of keeping his opium fields safe, you’re left with a horribly infeasible conflict and so much plot armor, it could make the stakes of Hardhome feel real.

So of course I’m going to take you on a journey through this movie, so that you can share in its wonder with me.

The pre-title sequence consists of three scenes where white people are murdered by black people. First, an MI6 agent sitting behind the UK table at what appears to be the UN is killed when a black hand plugs something funky into the audio port to which his translator headphones are connected. Literally, it’s death-by-headhpones. And we see this other black guy sitting calmly at his table for the great country of San Monique, so we get the impression he knows something.

Over in New Orleans, another MI6 agent is obviously watching a “Fillet of Soul” restaurant, when a funeral procession marches by, all consisting of black people. Like, 50-75 members, maybe? Then another [what race…you guessed it…black] dude walks up and stabs the MI6 agent. The funeral procession picks him up in the coffin, and then it turns into a really fun parade!

Finally, we go to San Monique, where there’s some sort of Voodoo party going on. Maybe some of that Voodoo includes the inexplicable mixing of Spanish and French in the island’s name? But it’s this sort of excited, sex-party atmosphere, a la the maenads in True Blood before I gave up on that show. A white dude is tied to the stakes, and one of the locals dances around while wearing a goat head. He picks up a snake out of a coffin, and kills the guy with it, even though it’s hilariously obvious that this is just a rubber snake he lightly touches to his neck.

Then comes the title sequence, which given Paul McCartney’s song, is easily the highlight of this film. Though is it worth pointing out that even here, the black women all become skulls, while the white women dance around with what is some of the strangest choreography I’ve seen to date?

I think she’s trapped in a box, stoned, and trying to wave goodbye? Free her.

Cut to Bond in bed with a random woman who is begging for more sex in a thick, Italian accent. Sadly for her, there’s a knock on the door, and M—you know, the head of the British Secret Intelligence Service—just barges in, tells James that there’s work to be done, name drops the three agents who were killed in the field/their locations, and tells him that he needs to start packing. Judi Dench would have never been so stoopid.

Fortunately for James, in addition to being a secret agent, he’s an aspiring barista, so he is able to distract M by making him a latte. Seriously, he froths the milk and everything. Even more fortunately, Moneypenny is a fantastic bro, who helps the random Italian chick (turns out she’s an agent too) hide in a closet until M leaves. She also gives Bond his watch, fixed up from Q, and we learn that there’s a powerful magnet in it. This wouldn’t be important at all, except once they leaves, Bond immediately turns it on so that he can unzip the Italian agent’s dress.

Oh, that reminds me. The puns.

Random Italian Agent: Such a delicate touch.

Bond: Sheer magnetism, darling.

I’ll let you know when we get to my favorite of these. But Bond, you have a fucking mission; go pack!

We then cut to a scene of an airplane landing, interspersed with a fortune teller flipping tarot cards to…describe commercial air travel. Thrilling.

In addition to thinking about the racism of this film every 2 seconds, you’re going to be asking yourself, “but why don’t they just kill Bond??” every 4.

This begins almost immediately. Bond lands in NYC and gets in a taxi to meet up with our favorite CIA agent, Felix Leiter. I guess either from Solitaire’s awesome tarot reading, or the fact that it’s very reasonable for MI6 to send someone to investigate the murders of 3 field agents, Kananga, the man who runs what I can only characterize as the Great Black Consortium (GBC from now on…or da Bad Guys™), immediately knows that Bond is a dangerous man who should be eliminated. So a car that has side mirrors armed with some kind of gun pulls up next to the cab and the shoots…not Bond! They just kill the driver, and that almost kills Bond, but he steers the car to safety.

It’s probably here that I should tell you who “Solitaire” is. She is played by Jane Seymour. She is white, but an honorary member of the GBC. She is a tarot-card reader with mystical powers connected to her “virginity.” Yes.

Oh, something else about this movie: there’s a couple of times that Bond lands himself in some serious scrapes and needs his CIA contacts to pick him up and help deal with the local authorities. But every time this happens, Felix just shakes his head and is like, “oh Bond that rascal,” rather than, I don’t know, show any concern for the implications?

At the CIA hotel, we learn that Kananga’s official job is being the dictator of San Monique. He also has a PhD in something, because people call him “Dr.” They have his embassy bugged, but he’s able to slip the authorities with the same exact method Mary Kate and Ashley use to get away from their parents in Holiday in the Sun.

Anyway, the CIA may not have been able to tell that there was a running tape recorder, but they at least give Bond a lead on the car with the gun in its mirror, which is leased to a Voodoo shop, because of course it is. Bond heads there. The women working behind the desk is black, so that should immediately tip you off that she’s part of the GBC, which is quickly confirmed when he slips out the back of the shop to check out the car, and she contacts *someone* with the message “he’s tailing.”

Anyway, Kananga’s crew (Solitaire and a few henchmen, most notably “Mr. Whisper” and “Tee Hee”) slip into the exact same parking garage, because it’s connected to both a Voodoo shop and an embassy, and drive to Harlem. Bond hails a cab and asks his [black] driver to follow them.

“Man, for 20 bucks, I’d take you to a Ku Klux Klan cookout.”

Then we’re treated to a scene where we learn that every single black person in the city is part of the GBC. Literally, random people will stop what they’re doing on the streets and radio in to *someone* “he’s heading east,” or something of the like. Then when Bond gets out of the cab at its destination, a Fillet of Soul restaurant, the cabbie himself tells *someone* “he’s headin’ on in.” So…if the cabbie was working for the GBC, then why did these randos need to file a report too? Or why didn’t the cabbie just kill him?

Instead, Bond gets seated in a booth at the Fillet of Soul, but whoops it’s a trap, and the booth spins around to reveal some kind of like…waiting room? Solitaire is there doing a tarot reading, and we see Tee Hee, the henchman with a hook hand that looks worse than Buster’s from Arrested Development.

Here’s an idea? How about they just kill Bond? Like right now. He’s right there. But nah, Bond simply mills around as if he’s waiting for his appointment at the optometrist’s office. He goes and nudges Solitaire a bit, and poor Jane Seymour. She’s trying to take this so seriously. For some reason all of her cards say “007” on the back of them too, but that’s neither here nor there. More to get him away than anything else, she tells him to pick a card. It’s The Fool. “You have found yourself.” Har har.

Anyway, the doctor is finally in, and it’s this guy named Mr. Big, who literally pops his head out for 3 seconds and tells the guards in the room to “take him out back and waste him.” Actually, sorry, he says “Y’all take this honky out and waste him – now!”

Bond tries to make a joke to Solitaire, but she’s all “this reading is over,” as if this was supposed to be a formal reading in the first place. But after he pesters her a little more, she allows him one card about his future. It’s The Lovers. Jane Seymour acts her face off looking stunned.

Free her.

Bond is then led into the alley by two GBC randos who decide it’d be really fun to make him walk a 5K before actually shooting him, so of course he figures out how to beat them (he slams a fire escape stairwell in their face). Then another black guy appears, but here’s the twist: he works for the CIA and isn’t in the GBC! Seriously, the movie presents this like it’s shocking information. He scolds Bond for wearing a “white face in Harlem.” Then he tells him that the only man who can pull together so many GBC members is the crime boss named “Mr. Big.”

Close, but no.

Which is anticlimactic, because we literally just met Mr. Big 4 seconds ago. He told his henchmen to go waste Bond… Ah, never mind.

So now with a lead in NYC, Bond decides to go…to San Monique. Because Kananga went there? The movie never really explains why a dictator returning to his home is suspicious, but he is traveling with the same guys who were in the Fillet of Soul, so, sure. Fine.

Bond checks into a hotel where Baron Samedi, or the “Voodoo god of cemeteries and chief of the legion of the dead” is a “performer in a little musical extravaganza” for the other guests. Except his entire routine seems to be pointing at people and laughing.

The guy behind the hotel tells Bond that “Mrs. Bond” is already there, and gives him a key. Bond is clearly suspicious so he goes to his room and…strips into a fluffy robe, bathes, and shaves. He also checks the room for bugs (there’s 2), calls and orders a bottle of Bollinger, oh and kills a snake with aftershave that doubles as a flamethrower. Who dropped the snake in? Why did they think a snake was the best way to kill him? Why didn’t Mr. Whisper just like, shoot him (Mr. Whisper is a tubby member of the GBC who was the one driving the car that shot Bond’s cabbie back in NYC, and is now pretending to work for the hotel staff. Did I not mention? Who cares.)?

Don’t worry, now it’s time to get serious, because the door is opening, and someone with a gun is walking in. Bond can’t get to his own in time, so he settles on burning the person’s wrist with his cigar, and then throwing her onto the bed.

That’s right, folks, it’s time to meet Rosie! She claims she was sent by Felix to keep an eye on Bond, but she’s also black, so I’m not sure we should trust that. She also opens with “I guess I have some explaining to do,” as if she’s a naughty school child who is being disciplined by the principal. No, lady, you are an agent who is assigned to be here. Not that it won’t stop Bond from infantilizing her.

Bond decides to try and fuck her, because why not, but she actually rejects him. However, that is immediately recanted when she goes into her bedroom and spots a bowler hat with bloody chicken feathers sticking out of it. She screams that it’s a trap, and then begs Bond not to leave her alone that night.

Okay, pause, I don’t want to shock you, but Rosie is a member of the GBC. She’s a double agent? Like, it’s unclear. She works for Kananga, but I literally can’t tell if she was working for Felix at any point. Bond doesn’t think to call him, and Felix doesn’t think to give him a heads up. Bond gets alerted to her treachery when Solitaire mails him a Queen of Cups card in an “upside-down position.” Well, it actually just falls out of an envelope, but I guess it’s upside-down.

I also cannot tell if Rosie is feigning fear at the hat or not. She is clearly playing Bond, as any GBC member would do, so acting kind of stupid and afraid as a way of seeming innocent would be reasonable for her. Except that the narrative confirms how she is stupid and afraid. So…I’m not sure where this leaves us at all. At the intersection of Racism St. and Misogyny Blvd., I imagine.

And not to belabor the point, but why didn’t Rosie just kill Bond at their hotel after sleeping with him? She was in the perfect position to do that. Isn’t it what the GBC wants? When Mr. Big said “waste him,” that had to be literal, right?

Anyway, Bond and Rosie (who hasn’t yet been revealed as a double agent) set off to check out the place where the MI6 agent died via rubber snake, so they get on a boat captained by a random black dude. The real fun of this movie, by the way, is that you become conditioned to be suspicious of every black person on your screen. Charming. Apparently Rosie is suspicious too, because when she goes below deck to “change” (aka just take off her clothes to reveal a bikini…why did she need privacy for this?) she discovers that the captain is hiding a gun, and when she comes up on deck, it looks like he’s about to strangle Bond with rope. So she tells him to freeze even though she shouldn’t care if Bond dies, right? Then we’re treated to one of the best and least misogynistic lines ever:

“As I was saying, Quarrel, a lousy agent, but the compensations speak for themselves.”

The sex compensations.

Also it turns out that Quarrel (Jr.) is one of the two good black dudes in this movie, and he’s also just some cute fanservice. Oh and Rosie had left the safety on her gun when she was threatening him. Where does her stoopid act end, and her actual stoopid begin?  ¯\_(シ)_/¯

So Quarrel’s awesome boating skills take them to Solitaire’s house, which is this sweet mansion on a cliff-face. Inside, Jane Seymour is still showing up everyone else’s acting skills by doing a reading for Kananga about Bond, and having to be shocked and scared when she pulls a Lovers card again. But she covers her own ass to Kananga and tells him it’s Death. It’s at this point we learn that Solitaire’s power is tied to her “purity,” and when the “time comes,” Kananga himself plans to “take it from her,” as he apparently did her mother. I LOVE all of these implications!!!

Meanwhile, Rosie’s double agent act is going horribly, because she’s an actual idiot. Women, amirite? She changes up her story about where the MI6 agent was killed (it’s “down there” now), and Bond being all sneaky and smart suggests that they go fuck in the grass because he’s not in any hurry, despite the fact that she seems to be now. Dude, you’re kind of on a mission.

So whatever, they make out a little, and then Bond decides to pull out his Queen of Cups card, which is a warning that Rosie is a “deceitful, perverse woman. A liar, a cheat.” However, Rosie spots an EVHUL SCARECROW so she knows that the GBC people are watching and gonna kill her if she talks. Bond pulls a gun on her and says he’ll kill her if she doesn’t. She just kind of runs off, clearly terrified. Aaand, runs into the line of another scarecrow which shoots her.

Two things: 1.) She didn’t betray the GBC; she literally ran from Bond knowing he might shoot her in the back, so why did they kill her exactly? and 2.) BOND WAS IN FRONT OF THAT SCARECROW THIS WHOLE TIME. CLEAR SHOT, MAN.

Who cares, because then this happens with Jane Seymour’s hair and nothing else matters for the rest of the movie:

Anyway, I guess because there’s nowhere else to go, Bond breaks into Solitaire’s house, sits in her cool chair, and fucks with her cards…romantically?

She tells him to GTFO, but he says, “oohh ohh, pick a card if you really think I’m meant to go.” So she draws a card and it’s The Lovers. Then they make out, and as they do, it’s revealed that the entire deck is nothing but The Lovers.

Which, 1.) This is rape. I mean, I guess “rape by deception” wasn’t really a thing understood in the 70s, but David O. Selznick figured out that marital rape was a thing in 1939, so suck on that. 2.) Are we meant to believe that Bond bought 78 packs of tarot cards, sorted through all of them, and put together a complete “The Lovers” set, which he then had in his pocket all day? Did he even know they were going to Solitaire’s house?

Anyway, in bed, Solitaire starts to have a little bit of a breakdown because she, you know, just lost her powers and if Kananga finds out he’s going to fucking kill her. Fortunately Bond is really sensitive to her needs:

However, she has these odd emotional fluctuations between being absolutely petrified about her fate, and being absolutely randy and desperate for more of the sex. When Bond tells her that he’s going to take her with him to inspect this MI6 agent’s death (why?), she begs him to get back in bed with her first. Which leads to the absolute best pun in this movie:

Bond: There’s no sense in going off half-cocked.

So the next morning, Bond and Solitaire follow the path of scarecrows that killed Rosie, and we see from a cutaway scene that the GBC is, in fact, watching them. Why are they not shot? Then they hear random flute music, so Bond the SECRET AGENT just marches his ass up and says “hai” to the player. It’s Baron Samedi, btw, without makeup, and apparently Solitaire doesn’t recognize him. And his flute has a radio hidden in it, which I’m pretty sure would have messed with its sound, but whatever.

Meanwhile, Kananga gives the order, “if he finds it, kill him.” That’s very…magnanimous of him considering they’ve been low-key trying to murder Bond for a while now. Is that what Rosie’s job was? To allow Bond to “find it”? What is this plan??

“It,” btw is a crapload of poppy plants hidden under nets. So a helicopter comes to gun Bond (and Solitaire) down, even though Kananga tells everyone that he wants her alive. Then Kananga says, “any cost. Any. Bond must die.” This is brand new information.

Bond and Solitaire run through the poppy fields to a small town, where the local police are all part of the GBC. Though I guess this makes sense because Kananga is literally their dictator. Anyway, Bond steals a double-decker bus, and there’s a wacky chase scene, including some hilariously dramatic music as we pass a sign for “low bridge.” It turns out okay though.

They get back to Quarrel’s boat, and Bond tells Solitaire that it’s all over, and they can go anywhere she wants. “Anywhere they have one of these,” she says, lying back onto a bed. Turns out he’s still a manipulative sack of shit though, because his idea is to go to New Orleans (where that third MI6 agent was killed) to investigate things, and use her as bait, I guess to draw out whatever Kananga connections there might be in that city. Except that the MI6 agent who was killed at the beginning had already been staking out the Fillet of Soul, so it’s not as if there hadn’t been a lead.

Once there, Bond and Solitaire get into a taxi cab without bothering to check, I guess because Bond either figures that he’s walking into a trap and is happy about that fact, or he has learned absolutely nothing since the start of this movie. I know I fall into the latter category. So yeah, turns out the driver is the same exact cabbie as the one in NYC who made the KKK joke. He makes the locks on the door disappear and says that Mr. Big wants to see them because Bond “took something that belonged to a friend of his.” Do you get it? Solitaire is property.

He drives them to this airplane on a landing strip, where a henchman of Mild Importance (who isn’t Mr. Whisper or Tee Hee) tells Bond that he’s going skydiving. Apparently this henchman’s name is “Adam.” I find that hilarious.

Then Solitaire I guess decides to act as though she was kidnapped so she won’t get instantly killed by Kananga, while also using these wiles to give Bond an escape opportunity.

What.

It’s deadly effective. Bond gets away, runs a little, and then finds a small shitty plane that belongs to some kind of pilot school, which he climbs into. There’s this 80-year-old woman inside who was waiting for her instructor, so Bond says he’s the substitute or something. Then there’s another wacky chase scene that ends with the old lady saying a knee-slapping “holy shit.” Like, you can tell the writers were giggling.

We then cut to a scene of Felix patching things up with the owner of the pilot school, because apparently the CIA has never heard of administrative assistants. Hey, remember the good black guy who wasn’t Quarrel from this movie? The one who saved Bond’s white face in Harlem? Well he’s now staking out the New Orleans Fillet of Soul. Except, that same funeral procession of GBC members pops up again, so he dies.

Felix and Bond go to meet him though, and when they don’t see him outside, they just fucking walk into the Fillet of Soul. That they’re supposed to be staking out. Which they apparently aren’t worried about despite Bond’s “nasty turn in the booth” back at Harlem’s Fillet of Soul. In fact, Felix orders them Sazeracs and tells Bond “this is New Orleans. Relax.” YOU ARE TRYING TO STAKEOUT A MOB BOSS CONNECTED WITH AN OPIUM-GROWING DICTATOR.

This movie makes me want a Sazerac.

Felix gets pulled away from the table with a phone call, leaving Bond to watch the singer on stage. Who is implied as being a member of the GBC, because she makes Eye-Contact of Extreme Significance as the table gets lowered through a trap door. None of the people eating seem to give any shits, but as we’re about to find out, they’re consuming opiates. Not too sure why Felix wasn’t worth kidnapping, btw.

Anyway, down below, Mr. Big starts screaming at Bond and demanding if he had sex with Solitaire (“asking for a friend”), because apparently this was the only way to get that information. Also she’s sitting right there, but fuck if anyone bother asking for her opinion.

Free her.

When Bond tells him that he won’t give the info to a lackey, Mr. Big pulls at his face, which we realize is prosthetic, and guess who’s beneath? It’s Kananga! Emboldened by the impressive reveal, he then divulges his entire plan!

I apparently drew this a couple of years ago, but sums it pretty well:

I think the only snag in the plan is the fact that these new opiate addicts wouldn’t know they were addicts? Maybe? It seems like it’s just going in the soul food directly, but I could be wrong and the nuance is just too much for me. Or maybe the plan was always to make really pricey food.

But forget the plan, it’s time to get back to the important stuff: did Bond and Solitaire bone? This time, Bond says he’s a gentleman and won’t say either way. So Kananga decides to test Solitaire, which couldn’t have been done before, apparently. He has Tee Hee take Bond’s hand in his claw, and says that he will lose a finger if Solitaire’s tarot cards can’t tell her what his watch’s registration numbers are. She clearly guesses, and Kananga seems satisfied, giving Tee Hee an Official Nod. Then he tells the dude to take Bond “to the farm.” I assume to kill him.

Want to know something funny? He could have just shot Bond right there. Like 20 times. Bond was even strapped to the chair and had no method of escape.

Once Teehee, Adam, and Bond go off “to the farm,” Baron Samedi just saunters in for no reason, and does his best to annoy Kananga:

But that dude is already upset, because the registration number guess was wrong! And now Solitaire must die, because it was his right to rape her, not Bond’s! But they can’t kill her there; she has to die “at one proper time.”

“The farm” turns out to be a literal crocodile farm (not alligators, because what is geography?), except inside its main building, there’s people packing heroin. Tee Hee is a great tour guide, until he leaves Bond on a tiny ass island surrounded by crocs. However, rather than watch and make sure Bond actually dies, he and Adam just kind of shrug and head inside. Bond hops to safety on the back of the crocodiles’ backs.

Then I guess he wants to say “no” to drugs, because he torches the place, hops in a boat, and drives off. Adam gives pursuit in a car and other rando GBC members find boats of their own.

It’s at this point that we meet Sheriff JW Pepper, the hilarious Louisiana redneck. He pulls over Adam, and is clearly a giant racist dick, but at the same time Adam is trying to kill Bond, so…

Meanwhile, the boat chase cuts over the land right where this ticketing is happening, and JW gets a boat through his cop car (allowing Adam to drive off).

I don’t really know how to explain this chase for the rest of it. Bond is in his boat the whole time, but half the focus becomes JW. He hops in the back of a cop car with two random officers who I think work for him, but clearly hate him.

And frankly, for good reason because he’s an odious person.

This isn’t made better by the fact that JW just starts randomly talking about his brother-in-law, Billy Bob, because Billy Bob has the fastest boat on the river, and Billy Bob will catch them, and literally every other word out of his mouth is “Billy Bob.” Sadly for the actual Billy Bob, Adam knocks him out and takes his boat, which leads to a mildly interesting chase? Ish?

Not Billy Bob!

Bond ends up getting away, and Adam blows up in the process.

I wonder if there’s a GPS app that incorporates JW’s catch phrases.

We’re then treated to another scene where Felix shakes his head at Bond, the lovable scamp, rather than like, act as though he narrowly escaped death. Oh, then he casually tosses out “we busted the Fillet of Soul over an hour ago.” WHY DID THIS NOT HAPPEN BEFORE? LIKE RIGHT AFTER BOND WAS TAKEN IN THE HARLEM ONE? IT’S CLEARLY OWNED BY THE SAME PERSON.

Apparently Felix is also omniscient, and knows that Bond needs to go to San Monique again, because Kananga just got on a plane there (maybe in the bust he figures out the Mr. Big connection?). So cut back to the island, where there’s another Voodoo party, but this time it’s Solitaire who is being sacrificed. I guess this was the right time to die. I also guess there’s an argument to be made that her death being a public spectacle to the locals of the island sends a message about the power of Baron Samedi, or something? It’s slightly more logical than how Bond is possibly still alive.

Speaking of, he, Felix, and Quarrel show up on the outskirts of this party. Quarrel is assigned the task of planting explosives in the poppy fields, which I’m really not sure should be in the purview of the CIA or MI6. The Fillet of Soul busts make sense, but this…is almost an act of war maybe? Bond, meanwhile, is to rescue Solitaire. Felix is going to wait on the boat.

So, yeah. Bond saves her by shooting the dude with the snakes who wears the goat head, shooting a wooden dummy of Baron Samedi with oddly working eyeballs (who rose up from a trap door beneath a grave), and then sword-fighting and knocking the real Baron Samedi into a coffin full of snakes. Easy-peasy.

Yeah, I still don’t really get this tbh

Then, Bond decides to go down through the trap door that Baron Samedi came out of (taking Solitaire with him), which reveals an Underground Lair of Evilness. Actually, not really, it’s just an underground monorail system for the shipment of opium.

Kananga’s got a shitton of men there, so he’s able to capture Bond and Solitaire pretty easily. I should have mentioned that Bond came armed with a shark gun, that has inflating pellets, which Kananga tests out on a couch:

He also dismisses the destruction of his poppy fields with a wave of his hand because “they’re a sturdy plant.” Um…explosives, dude.

Either way, he wants to kill Bond, but this time the best way to accomplish that is to string both him and Solitaire up to a weird lift thing, then cut Bond’s arm in several non-lethal locations, so that his blood drips into the water below. Then, Kananga lets a shark into the room (why did he have this? It’s never explained).

However, Bond’s watch doubles as a razor blade, so he cuts his rope. Then he turns on the magnet and picks up one of his inflating shots from his shark gun. And as he’s slowly doing all of this, Kananga and Mr. Whisper (and probably those guards who were lining the room earlier) are just watching and doing nothing. Logic. Solitaire spends her time clinging to the lift.

Anyway, Bond somehow traps Mr. Whisper inside of a bomb chassis or something?

Then he and Kananga fight and both fall in the water with the shark. Bond forces the inflatable pellet into Kananga’s mouth, and then pushes off his body and climbs out of the water before the shark gets to them. Kananga goes to the surface and takes a breath, causing this to happen:

Solitaire apparently didn’t watch any of this despite being right the fuck there, so she asks Bond what happened to Kananga. “He always did have an inflated opinion of himself.” Suddenly the pun about Xenia’s “good squeeze” is sounding Shakespearean in context. I’m not sure what happened to Kananga’s guards or everyone working under there, but I guess they stopped giving a shit, because Bond and Solitaire just skip on out.

So yay! Mission accomplished! The Lovers board a train so that they can fuck on their way to the 21 Club, where they’re apparently going to meet up with Felix again. However Tee Hee breaks into their cabin and folds the bed into the wall with Solitaire still on it:

He and Bond talk for a bit, and fight for like 5 full minutes, until Bond snips some mechanical wires in Tee Hee’s metal arm, causing it to malfunction and get stuck to the window. Then he manages to throw Tee Hee out the window, which I guess kills him. Bond pulls the bed back out to free Solitaire, and she just goes “well that wasn’t very funny!” because she couldn’t hear anything? Bond removes Tee Hee’s arm from the window for one final pun:

Solitaire: Now what are you doing?

James: Just being disarming, darling.

End movie. Cut to the front of the train where Baron Samedi is sitting and laughing. I’m not sure if we’re actually supposed to think he survived, but it is what it is.

This…this franchise goes beyond “problematic fave,” right? I mean, I’d hardly call it a fave. In truth, I have no idea how it is that I sat through this two-hour movie enjoying every second of it, but I did, I really did. And I’d happily put on The Man with the Golden Gun to watch JW’s triumphant return. So I’m just going to chalk this up to ironic enjoyment, and only be slightly paranoid if I find myself in any booths during my trip.


Images courtesy of United Artists

Kylie is a Managing Editor at The Fandomentals on a mission to slay all the tropes. She has a penchant for complex familial dynamics and is easily pleased when authors include in-depth business details.

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Analysis

A Definitive Ranking Of Murder On The Orient Express Adaptations

Barbara

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Murder on the Orient Express is one of the most famous murder mysteries written by Agatha Christie. As such, it is also among the most adapted ones. It is, perhaps, not the best choice of all of her work. Her strength, beside flawlessly plotted mysteries, has always been characters. She has the rare talent of making the character seem so alive in a few sentences that you can see them standing before you. That is not easy to match in an adaptation where you have limited space, and all she can say outright must be expressed by acting. It becomes extremely difficult in Murder on the Orient Express, which contains about twice as many crucial characters as most of Christie’s other books, and for reasons inherent to the plot it is difficult to curb that number.

Nevertheless, filmmakers do keep trying, and the most recent attempt is barely two weeks old. In light of that, allow me to present a little guide to these adaptations, meant both for connoisseurs of Christie’s work and the films and for those who would like to try one version but are not sure which. Because of this, I avoid spoilers. I can’t quite prevent some little hints dropping in the course of this article that might spoil your viewing pleasure a little if you haven’t seen the films or read the books, though. For that I apologize in advance.

For those unfamiliar with the story but interested, here is a listing of characters to help you through, since as I said, they are the backbone of the story.

  • Poirot – the brilliant detective. Come on, everyone knows that one, right?
  • Ratchett – the murdered man
  • MacQueen – Ratchett’s secretary
  • Masterman – Ratchett’s valet
  • Michel – the train conductor in the relevant carriage
  • Count and Countess Andrenyi – a Hungarian diplomatic couple
  • Princess Dragomiroff – a Russian expat cosmopolitan
  • Fraulein Schmidt – her maid
  • Greta Ohlsson – a Swedish missionary, “rather like a sheep”
  • Mary Debenham – a very collected English governess
  • Mrs. Hubbard – a very not-collected American widow
  • Colonel Arbuthnot – the quintessential British colonel serving in India
  • Foscarelli – an Italian cars salesman
  • Hardman – an American salesman/detective

And with that out of the way, let’s get straight down to that list.

5. Murder on the Orient Express (2001)

The biggest issue with this adaptation, I’m afraid, is production value and—related to that—the acting abilities of most actors. The need to save money is visible in effectively every aspect of the film, to the point that it actually detracts from watching. If it had something else to compensate for it, one might be able to forget it, but unfortunately, there is nothing. Bland actors (who all look the same) recite bland lines in a bland setting. Some of the actors at least are not bad in themselves, though, so perhaps that point rather underlines how bad everything else about this adaptation is. It’s just a whole lot of nothing to catch your attention or interest.

In the interest of fairness, this adaptation tried to get around the problem of too many characters by focusing on just a few. Namely Arbuthnot, Dragomiroff, Foscarelli, Mary Debenham and Mrs. Hubbard. They even cut a few of the rest. It’s a controversial decision in that it influences the reasoning behind the crime rather significantly and changes the atmosphere of many people from different paths of life being brought together.

But, if done for a legitimate reason, it could actually be a very good choice. If it meant those five were given real character focus and depth, it would actually be a sacrifice that could be worth it. Unfortunately, it did not lead to anything of the sort. Once more I sense the need to minimize production cost as the chief motivation. The characters remained bland and shallow, there was just a bit less of them, which is, perhaps, a blessing.

This film, probably also for reasons of saving money, is a modern alternate universe (AU). That has some practical problems—Poirot having internet access would turn this investigation into a much simpler matter. Some adaptational choices made in transforming this into a modern AU bear mentioning, though. Princess Dragomiroff becomes the widow of a South American dictator and Colonel Arbuthnot, an IT giant. The first is relatively fitting, the second much less so. Some other details were changed as well, like using a stylus instead of a pipe cleaner.

To give a bit more particular attention to the characters, since, as I said, the adaptations stand and fall with them, there were a few significant changes made with the reduction of characters. Dragomiroff became more like book Mrs. Hubbard in character and thus closer to a caricature, but at least she wasn’t as bland as most actors here. The women were generally better, in fact. Mary Debenham actually made one of the best, if not the best, showing of all the adaptations here, and even Mrs. Hubbard wasn’t wholly bad, though much less carefully crafted than in the book. The men, though…the less said about them, the better. Arbuthnot especially was almost painful.

There were also changes made to the plotting of the mystery itself that made it fall apart. We will see that is a frequent problem. One would think that while coming up with a consistent murder mystery  is hard, making sure you don’t change one of the crucial plot pieces after someone else came up with it would not be so difficult. Apparently, not.

In short, this film is a whole bag of nothing with no tension that makes you feel nothing, though there are a few (well, two) acting performances that make it at least not wholly terrible. The second film on this list, on the other hand, has very different issues.

4. “Murder on the Orient Express” (2010, part of the Agatha Christie’s Poirot TV Show)

It’s actually extremely difficult to compare this adaptation with the previous one. While the 2001 one film makes me feel nothing at all, this one makes me feel a whole lot of things, and none of them are good.

I’ll be up front. I have a beef with this film. A huge one. There are no words for how much I hate a specific scene towards the beginning of the film. It’s a scene of a stoning in the streets of Istanbul. It’s one of the more glaring cases of Orientalism and racism I’ve come across in TV less than 20 years old.

In case anyone is unsure, let me point out two things. A) random stonings in the street by a mob is not how the hadd punishment for adultery works, and b) Turkey in the 30s was a far more secular state where even a lot of religious symbols were banned in public. Criminal law had no basis in religious law. Not that what we saw in the film had anything to do with religious law, just so I’m clear. Such things haven’t happened in Istanbul with approval from high places probably since the Crusaders attacked it when it was still Constantinople. In short, this is not how sharia works. It was pure racist bullshit and it can fuck right off along with the people who thought writing that scene was a good idea.

That being said, I will do my best to move on from that in my evaluation of the film.

You can tell that they were trying to do something different with this adaptation, to make it distinct from all the other ones. The idea of how to go about it wasn’t even all bad. Unfortunately, the result was mostly a big mess.

This is perhaps a case where it’s most important to make the distinction between the quality of an adaptation and the quality of a film as such. As a film, I suppose this is not so bad. It’s a film about Poirot, clearly, about his personal choices and view of justice; all other characters are there mostly as background and to act as a foil to him.

As an adaptation, it’s a disaster.

Chiefly, of course, because the book is not about Poirot at all. His personality always shines through, naturally, because Christie knows how to write. But it’s the supporting cast that inevitably forms the true bones of the story. Here, they were pushed completely into the background, and with them most of the story’s attraction. No character had enough space to truly shine.

The only one where I can offer praise is Michel, who was probably the best done here out of all the adaptations. Ratchett seemed to be done very well, until his talk of penance and his prayer was included, at which point it all went to hell, because the themes of the book were lost with it. Adaptational efficiency showed in exchanging one of the passengers for a doctor. It was a good idea, too, even though it did require Poirot to gain more medical knowledge than he normally possesses. But that’s about it for good adaptational choices.

All the other characters were either uninteresting shadows of themselves or completely missed the mark. The second is certainly true for Miss Debenham, who has absolutely nothing in common with the cool, collected English governess we meet in the book. Masterman had nothing of the unruffled calm of a trained valet either, and Mrs. Hubbard lost the entirety of the charm of her character. Princess Dragomiroff, too, for how much space she got, worked surprisingly badly. Greta Ohlsson was different but not entirely bad, I suppose, if one manages to ignore the theological nonsense she is spouting.

There were also a few random changes to the details of the case that, much like with the 2017 film, made it stop making sense. It’s equally a mystery to me this time as it is with the most recent adaptation. Another problem was that the time was very limited—and there were added scenes to boot—so very little space was left not only for characters, but even for the investigation. Poirot seemed like a wizard towards the end as he was pulling answers out of his ass.

So, to reiterate, as an adaptation it was a mess. Coming back to evaluating it as a film on its own…there are still major issues. Or rather, one issue.

When you decide to focus entirely on one character’s development in your film, you should take care to avoid making that character into a one-dimensional caricature, because then it will hardly be compelling. Unfortunately, it’s what happens here with Poirot.

His position at the beginning looks like an inexperienced Dungeons and Dragons player being a lawful neutral character for the first time. It has no nuance, no substance, nothing. Law is the law and it must be upheld. Poirot repeats this even in cases when it makes no sense, like when he manages to provoke someone into a suicide by his completely overblown bout of rage. He then tries to justify his behavior by talking about the law. The film tries to somehow connect this to lofty philosophical questions of justice, even though it’s clearly an issue of Poirot’s personal mental problems instead. Someone that out of control should’t be allowed to work with people.

Oh, and also the philosophy is painfully bad. So is the theology, as I’ve mentioned. The film insists on talking about Jesus and God all the time for some reason, and depicting prayers, but the depiction is about as accurate as their understanding of sharia at the beginning.

I tried hard to find something good about this film. Truly, I did. I can say that…the final scene was nice? Very nice, actually. It’s a pity that to have emotional strength, it would need to grow out of more solid ground.

3. Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

This film is…fine. Probably. If it wasn’t an adaptation, I think I’d be coming away from it feeling a whole lot of nothing, because the only truly good part of it was the plotting, which, of course, was done by Agatha Christie.

As an adaptation, it was moderately bad.

There was hardly a character they adapted well, but they were not adapted disastrously badly. Perhaps Game of Thrones has given me a new bar to measure things against? Poirot probably fared the best. He’s fairly authentic, but even he didn’t escape from puzzling changes. The most astonishing one, to me, was giving him a picture of a beloved woman he sighs over at night. All right, but…why?

The same confused why applies, once again, to changes in the logistics of the crime itself and some of its circumstances. In fact, it was full of mystifying changes. I suppose I can understand the need to add action sequences. There seems to be the feeling that no film for the big screen can be truly successful without them. I’m expecting a French invasion in the next Austen adaptation. Here we got an avalanche, a derailed train almost falling off a bridge (and had it followed the laws of physics, it totally would have fallen), wrestling, and a mad scramble down the bridge’s scaffold. All of it was pretty much pointless and took time that could have been spent on something more crucial, like character building.

Nothing, however, tops the random decision to have a character pretend he is an Austrian racist, thus giving him a chance to spew racist insults throughout the film. Did…did they read Christie’s book and think “this needs more racism”? Actually, that seems to be a common reaction, given the stoning scene in the 2010 adaptation. Interesting, because if there’s something I never felt Chrstie’s books lacked, it was racism. But it’s true that Murder on the Orient Express might actually be below average for her, surprisingly, so perhaps the poor filmmakers are just trying to bring it up to par?

Anyway, speaking of racism. Colonel Arbuthnot is played by a black man here, which would be awesome, if the changes to his character also didn’t transform him from a polished, stiff and pompous English Colonel into a doctor who wrestles with Poirot and shoots him. Not the most fortunate choice.

The highlight of this film was the attempt to treat Poirot’s obsessive-compulsive tendencies as a serious mental disorder instead of a funny quirk. The same goes for Countess Andrenyi’s PTSD. Even that, though, the film managed to spoil towards the end. We hear Poirot say that he’ll just have to deal with the fact that everything is not the way it should be for once, as if he got over his disorder so nicely. Likewise, the Countess is seen pouring the medicine for her nerves down the drain. As we all know, naturally, murder is just the thing to cure your mental health issues.

Now to the rest of the characters, since I keep insisting they are the most important part. McQueen was decent and had his own charm, though he was also different from the book, and his character, as it was written, made little sense. The rest mostly didn’t get enough space to become interesting. Michel and Foscarelli (who became Marquez in this version) were decent, that’s the most I can say about them. Judi Dench as Princess Dragomiroff had great potential, I’m sure, but unfortunately all of her amazing scenes from the book were cut, so what we got was a whole lot of nothing. Oh, and the Andrenyis were a complete disaster. The Count, apart from being randomly violent, is also apparently a dancer now. Again, a very confused “why?” from me.

Oh, and a middle-aged female missionary was transformed into a young one. That, by the way, holds true even in the previous adaptation. A mystery why that keeps happening, isn’t it?

2. Orient Kyuukou Satsujin Jiken (Murder on the Orient Express, 2015)

This is a Japanese AU. Yes, there is a Japanese AU filmed of the Orient Express case. And let me tell you, it’s not half bad.

The main downside of this, for me, was the comedic tone of the show (it’s a two-episode miniseries), due chiefly to the interpretation of Poirot. It is true that Miss Debenham says explicitly in the book that Poirot was a “funny little man” that could never be taken seriously, but this comes chiefly from the self-importance with which he does things considered strange or ridiculous by other people. It’s not supposed to be the almost slapstick comedy aspect Poirot (called Mr. Suguro here—the transposition is complete) gains on this show. Especially at the very beginning of the show, I found it hard to get over.

The transplantation to Japan, as far as I can tell, was done very well. Some characters changed in tone, and they are all Japanese now, but it generally stayed faithful to the tone of the book. Different 30s English prejudices were exchanged for modern Japanese ones. I don’t know enough about Japan to know how fittingly it was done, but it seemed to work well enough.

Colonel Arbuthnot underwent perhaps the most radical transformation. From a stiff and slightly ridiculous British colonel, he was turned into a man of real presence, and probably the strongest charisma on the set. In fact, he stole some of what is Princess Dragomiroff’s role in the book, and was in some ways closer to Count Andrenyi than his book counterpart. Nevertheless, I didn’t mind the transformation. An essentially English caricature would have no place in a Japanese AU, and while I don’t doubt Japan has its own kind of army types that can be caricatured, perhaps it would not fit the setting. The character they created did fit; the contrast between his utter seriousness and Poirot’s comic behavior worked quite well.

I said he stole some of the Princess’ clout, but she was not badly done herself. Her scenes don’t quite have the strength they do in the book, but they were adapted at least. I’m afraid it was the acting that was not quite up to par with this very difficult role. A similar fate befell Mrs. Hubbard, as her final transformation was not as complete and impressive as the one in the book. Again, it’s a hard part to act.

The Andrenyis and Masterman, too, were adapted very well, and Fraulein Schmidt was, I daresay, even improved in comparison with the book. In the book she is one of the most forgettable characters, whereas here she has true force of personality. My only problem was that I could not imagine her cooking, and that’s definitely a nitpick!

The adaptation, in spite of being an AU, is very faithful, though in some scenes it actually does harm. Most obviously it shows with Mary Debenham, who also represents a particular type of a young English woman. Here, she was infused with some uniquely Japenese additions to her character in a way that, at least for me, didn’t entirely work. Fraulein Schmidt felt more like her book self than Mary did at times. The scenes also suffer from not enough time to breathe. They attempt to include as much of the book dialogues as they can in the relatively limited space. Some of the characters, therefore, don’t get the space they need to really shine. Some of Poirot’s deductions towards the end, too, were a little too miraculous, because there was no time left to show his thought process.

What I appreciated, on the other hand, was the neat and organized nature of the investigation, including a plan of the carriage shown in the lower right corner of the screen. It’s often hard to follow the different factual points of a complicated investigation on screen. This adaptation did its best to overcome it.

But the most important thing I saved for last. As I said, this is a two-part miniseries. The investigation, however, is all concluded in the first part. The second one is devoted to a flashback that shows the planning of the crime. While that is not technically an adaptation of the book anymore, it’s a brilliant idea, and one that moved this adaption further up the list, above the one from this year.

1. Murder on the Orient Express (1974)

This is frustrating. I really wanted to come up with something a little more original, but there is just no denying it. The 1974 version is the best of all the adaptations, and by quite a large margin.

In fact, I have only one major problem with it, and that’s Poirot. Granted, that is quite a significant problem given that he is the main character, but still in other aspects it overshadows all the other adaptation so much it stays perfectly secure in first place.

The problem with Poirot is that he’s not Poirot at all. Of all the adaptations, he’s perhaps closest to the Japanese one, though his personality is not skewed towards its comedic aspect. It is, however, similarly exaggerated, this time to weird voluptuous gestures that are absolutely not in accordance with the book detective’s perfect manners. One of the first scenes, for example, has Poirot complain of the food in a restaurant by tearing the menu and pouring out his coffee into an ice bucket. As before, I have to ask my confused “why?”. This was the first adaptation. There was no need to set it apart from the others. So why on Earth did anyone feel the need to turn Poirot into this?

Not to mention, when he gets angry, he looks and behaves like Hitler. I’m sorry for this comparison, I have no intention of invoking Godwin’s law, but it’s true. His way of speech is very reminiscent of Hitler’s public speeches. Taken together with his small mustache, it’s actually very disturbing.

Nevertheless, this film is the only one that came close to Christie’s ability to quickly capture a character and to the soft irony she frequently displays. Ratchett’s personality, for example, is shown in small, not overdone scenes, though he’s also more sympathetic than in the book. Sometimes the characterization is a little forced. There are scenes where it’s just a little too obvious they exist only to set up a character and it’s hamfisted. But generally the flow is good. Additionally, here most of all the adaptation you get that wonderful effect of when you watch knowing the truth behind the events, you can see it in every movement of every actor.

As for the characters, even here Miss Debenham is made softer and Mrs Hubbard less comedic. Debenham, however, comes perhaps the closest she ever does to her book characterization. It’s a tie with the 2001 version. Mrs. Hubbard  was significantly changed, but in such a way that it fit her character perfectly. Princess Dragomiroff was very nearly spot on. Michel, Count Andrenyi, Foscarelli, and Masterman were entirely so.

MacQueen is absolutely masterfully acted, but there was a strange interlude with his neurotic psychology that rang false for me. Ohlsson is over the top as she is in every adaptation. I don’t know what it is about religious missionaries that makes people unable to depict them reasonably.

Overall, though, it’s evident from the first scenes that this film is in an entirely different league from the others, with much better script and acting, as well as direction. Here, the characters actually mean something, and you manage to form a relationship to them in the course of the story, which is not the case with most of the others.

In fact, this is quite close to a perfect adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. If only that terrible Poirot could be replaced by Kenneth Branagh’s…


Images courtesy of Ardustry Home Entertainment,  ITV Studios, 20th Century Fox, Fuji Television and EMI Films

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‘Mudbound’ Is An American Epic Told With Breathtaking Intimacy

Jeremiah

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Dee Rees has created a densely-woven tale of poverty, race, and family. Mudbound is a calling card for Dee Rees as an important emerging voice in American Cinema. It walks the nearly impossible tightrope of being both literary and cinematic. In many ways, Mudbound is the story of America boiled down to a microcosmic level.

Based on a book of the same name by Hillary Jordan, Mudbound looks at the lives of two families who live together on the same stretch of land. The McAllans, a white family and the Jacksons, a black family are both waylaid by circumstance; albeit one family by coincidence and the other by the color of their skin. The two families will become abruptly intertwined. A series of events that spans decades will lead one family to tragedy and despair while the other will emerge scarred but not broken.

Rees takes a very big risk by allowing us inside the heads of her main characters with voice-over narration. Here, it’s not a lazy plot device but a way into these character’s complex psyches. The narrations are searingly private and deeply felt. They add another layer of perspective as rather than substituting words for action or character development.

It doesn’t hurt that the dialogue is a hauntingly poetic prose. The words will drift into your ears and seep into your dreams. Rees co-wrote the adaptation with Virgil Williams. The duo turn what is in essence a sprawling multifaceted tale spanning decades into an intimate portrait that feels at times like characters giving witness to the horrors and joys of their lives.

Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) is a quiet man with a dream. He wishes to own a farm. One night after he and his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan) have finished lovemaking he rolls over and tells her he has bought a new house and they will be moving in three weeks. Laura, a schoolteacher and devoted wife, is taken aback by the sudden news.

Laura tells us of how she met Henry and how they feel in love. It is a sad but somehow sweet reminiscence. She admits to us she is more in love with his love for her than anything else. Laura marries Henry anyway. He has money and she feels as if he is her only hope of  “escaping the margins.”

The only thing Henry loves more than Laura is his younger brother Jamie (Garret Hetland). Unlike the staid and serious Henry, Jamie is boisterous, imaginative, and charismatic. A lesser movie would have focused on the obvious if not cliched love triangle that will form between these three. But Mudbound has far more on its mind than just simple melodrama. There is tension between the three but it is subtle and restrained.

As they arrive to their new home Henry discovers  he has been scammed. The man he bought the house from, sold it behind his back. Henry owns the land but not the big white house. He must move his family, which now include two little girls and also his father Pappy (Jonathan Banks), into the farmhouse. Henry must live in the field with the sharecroppers and other itinerant tenants. 

The Jacksons are a family of  tenants on Henry’s land. Hap (Rob Morgan) the proud patriarch hopes to one day own the land he lives on outright. A man of God, he is also the preacher at the local church he and his congregation are building. Much like Henry, he has dreams of owning a farm and working the land. Rees cleverly shows how, while the two men are both essentially in the same situation, they are in fact in two different worlds. Henry, since he owns the land, feels entitled to Hap’s labor. Hap is helpless and can do little but go along.

Hap’s wife Florence (Mary J. Blige) is a fiercely quiet but intuitive force of nature. Blige herself gives what can only be described as a towering performance. At first she is reluctant to help the McAllans. Her own mother was a nursemaid and Florence vowed to be a mother to her own kids and hers alone. When Laura’s daughters come down with whooping cough, she begs for Florence’s help. Thus, Florence  begins to become entwined with the McAllan household as well.

The McAllans offer her a job and she feels powerless to refuse it. “We don’t belong to them.” Hap says when he discovers Florence has accepted. She argues that it’s only temporary until they can save enough to own their land again.

What ties the two families together is not the land. What unites them is the second world war. Jamie joins the fight and becomes a bombardier while the Jackson’s oldest son Ronsel joins a tank infantry. Sometimes you can see an image so simple and startling it takes your breath is taken away. I don’t know why I was so moved by the  image of a black family listening to President’s Roosevelt’s Pearl Harbor speech, but I was. 

How have we never seen this image countless times before? The image of a young black man saying goodbye to his family as he goes off to fight for his country? This is by no means the first time we’ve seen this image but it feels so unique and rare that it feels like a first time. Rees has a great audacity to her storytelling.  She shows us the frustrated fury of Ronsel as he returns home a Sergeant and a hero. But in the eyes of a locals he is something less than human.

There are many films that talk about racism but the majority of them are stores told by white people and tend to aim at the surface issues of race. Mudbound gets at the intimate issues. The stress and psychological pain of realizing the possibilities of life abroad, only to be reminded that the land of opportunity does not include you in its dreams and hopes. The everyday horrors of how quickly a life of independence and freedom can be eroded into a life of hard limits and servitude.

These themes tie into the notions of class as well. While the McAllans are not rich, they were once. Even though they may be poor now, they do own land and they can walk through the front door of any establishment. The Jacksons have suffered similar luck as the McAllans. Hap had bought a mule but was forced to kill it due to lockjaw. But the two live vastly separate existences. Both are poor but the Jacksons must suffer the yoke of countless other oppressions both visible and invisible. 

Rees and her camera woman Rachel Morrison have crafted a deeply felt and intricate American tragedy. Mudbound is filled to the brim with genuine humanity and stark beauty. There are sweeping aerial fights and intense tank battles. Their intensity is derived from the fact that Morrison only allows us a from view inside Jamie’s cockpit and Ronsel’s tank. We see the battle play out through their eyes.

Morrison’s camera work rivals that of Roger Deakins or Edward Lachman. She captures the breadth of the South and the claustrophobic atmosphere of a rundown shack. Some movies make us feel the heat or cold—Rees and Morrison makes us feel the mud. It is a remarkably gorgeous film that is being given short shrift by its Netflix home. Mudbound should be seen on the largest screen possible so every lush detail may be seen with proper scope.

Mary J. Blige gives a wonderfully internalized performance on par with Kristen Stewart’s turn in Personal Shopper. Rob Morgan as Hap more than holds his own against Blige. Their scenes together are magnetic not because of any great dramatic flourishes, but because they feel alive. Characters so often are well-written but rarely are they a combination of well written and alive.

Rees has crafted an American epic filled with the richness, subtlety, and authenticity of Langston Hughes, Mark Twain, Robert Altman, or Spike Lee. Everything, from top to bottom, works. There will be moments in which you are sure Mudbound will be a complete tragedy. Yet, while tragic and horrible events do unfold, it ends with hope and strength. Mudbound reminds us of the resilience and hope of the American spirit.


 

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The Official Trailer for ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Is Here

Kori

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And my inner fourth-grader cannot stop crying. Based on the eponymous 1963 classic by Madeleine L’Engle, Ava Duvernay’s A Wrinkle in Time gives us a sneak peak on what to expect from her visionary imagining of the tale.

I’m probably not unique in my reaction. My aunt gave me this book as a Christmas gift when I was nine. She’d read it when she was a little girl and really enjoyed it, and she wanted to pass it on to me, because “you remind me a lot of Meg.” I fell in love with the book and over the next few years voraciously read L’Engle’s other works in the Murry (Kairos) series and in the Austin (Chronos) series.

Duvernay’s trailer does not disappoint. Stunning visuals and character insights await as we see Meg (Storm Reid), her brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and friend Calvin (Levi Miller) journey across the universe with Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey).

For those of you who haven’t read the novel, Meg’s father (Chris Pine) disappears when testing out his theory of bending the fabric of space, leaving Meg, her siblings, and her mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) behind. Meg struggles in his absence and then meets the three Mrs. They reveal that Meg’s father is being held prisoner by a growing darkness, and they need Meg to help save not only him but the universe as well. This is a bold step from the House of Mouse, who have recently seemed content to rely on reboots of existing classics and established franchises for new film content.

A Wrinkle in Time is set to premiere on March 9th, 2018 and also stars Michael Peña, Zach Galifianakis, and Rowen Blanchard. 


Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios

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