"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Green Book: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE IT. A finely crafted, classic Hollywood, feel good tale that is worth seeing either in the theatre or on Netflix or cable.

Green Book, written by Nick Vallelonga, Bryan Curry and Peter Farrelly and directed by Farrelly, is the true story of the relationship between African-American Jazz pianist Dr. Don Shirley and his Italian-American driver/bodyguard Tony Vallelonga during a concert tour of the deep south in 1962. The film stars Mahershala Ali as Dr. Shirley and Viggo Mortensen as Tony.

If I am being honest, I have to admit that I had little interest in Green Book prior to going to see it. The film looked like a slight twist on the stale Driving Miss Daisy idea and seemed a bit too mainstream and, dare I say it, simple and saccharine, for my tastes. Even after I heard from a few people that it was good, I was still hesitant. But, since I have MoviePass, I figured what the hell, so I rolled the dice and went to the theatre with low expectations.

As is often the case in life, my low expectations were greatly exceeded. To be clear, Green Book is not a great or original film, but it is a good one, mostly because it is well crafted, which as a film critic, I can tell you is a rare thing nowadays.

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Green Book is a traditional Hollywood film in its structure and genre. It is at once a road picture, a relationship/friendship comedy and a Christmas movie all at once, that touches upon a deeper social issue…in this case, racism. If Green Book came out ten or twenty years ago, it would be pure Oscar-bait, and would no doubt win a handful of prizes and maybe even the big prize, Best Picture, because of its classical structure, “social consciousness” and optimism. But those days where nice movies about coming together across racial lines can bring home Oscar gold are long gone. Green Book will not win any Oscars in 2018, in fact, as our politics and racial politics have become more and more tribal, even liking Green Book somehow leaves you open to charges of being racist.

In our current age where “Diversity and Inclusivity” are the most holy of religions, and racism the most common and scurrilous of charges, Green Book makes for an easy target. The biggest issue some people have with the film is that it is a story about American racism told through the eyes of a “White” man (White is in quotes because depending on the severity of your racism, some folks do not consider Italians to be White. Personally, not only do I not consider Italians to be White, I don’t even consider them to be human…of course, I’m kidding…sort of). White men are currently atop the Most Unwanted list among the cultural elite at the moment, and when the topic of racism is involved, then White Men’s perspectives are most definitely anathema. To some people, telling a story about racism from a White man’s perspective in this day and age is akin to making Schindler’s List from Amon Goth’s (Ralph Fiennes Nazi character) point of view.

Green Book, to its credit, doesn’t shamelessly pander on issues of prejudice and race as some of the most interesting scenes in the film are when Tony argues that Dr. Shirley is just as bad as he is because Dr. Shirley holds the same prejudices against Italians (or other Whites) as Tony does against Blacks. These scenes are pretty uncomfortable on one level because Tony is saying aloud what you aren’t allowed to say anymore, and also because they are logically and rationally right on the money and cut through the subjective experience/ victimhood identity that so skews and soils the politics and racial politics of today.

What makes the film interesting to me though are not the racial dynamics, which have been examined ad nauseum in other films over the years, but rather the class dynamics. To me, Dr. Shirley is less a symbol of the Black man than he is the rich, effete intellectual while Tony is less a symbol of the White man than the poor/working class brute. As the film shows, the two men have a much easier time overcoming their racial differences than their class differences, and that to me, makes Green Book an interesting film.

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Regardless of how you feel about the politics of the film, Peter Farrelly does a solid job of walking the line between comedy and drama. Farrelly wisely goes the Odd Couple route and makes Tony the slovenly fool and Dr. Shirley the prim and proper, tight-assed snob. This contrast works for laughs and also helps to build a genuine relationship between the two men.

Farrely’s greatest achievement is in the pacing as he keeps the film tight, and there are no wasted scenes just for comedic effect. The narrative drives efficiently through the entire story, and while it is all pretty predictable, it is never done predictably.

Mahershala Ali does simply stellar work as Dr. Don Shirley, the uptight musical genius in need of protection from the more nefarious elements of White America in the South. There is a speech Dr. Shirley gives early in the film where he speaks on the need to always maintain dignity, and that speech very clearly elucidates Dr. Shirley’s cosmology and character and his survival mechanism in a hostile world.

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Ali masterfully inhabits Dr. Shirley, most notably with his commitment to the character’s distinct physicality. Ali’s Shirley maintains his dignity and decorum under all circumstances and it is reflected in his impeccable posture. It is when Dr. Shirley starts to lose his grip though, where Ali really shines, letting the turmoil that boils just beneath the veneer of controlled perfection break through the surface to reveal the conflicted and tormented storm raging inside him.

Viggo Mortensen deftly brings the Tony character to life with a combination of grounded humanity and comedic aplomb. Mortensen does a lot of heavy lifting with this role and he runs the great risk of falling into empty caricature (the big-hearted, Italian lug), but he uses his craft and skill wisely to avoid that trap by making Tony both earnest and wily, and rigid yet flexible. While Tony is certainly a simple character on one level, Mortensen never fails to make him morally and ethically complex and compelling.

Maybe I liked the film because Tony, the Italian meathead from the Bronx, reminded me of my Irish working class uncles from Brooklyn. My uncles all had the same prejudices and all threw around the same casual racism as Tony, but they too were still decent human beings….not perfect by any stretch…but very decent. My uncles, and Tony, are, like all people of all races and ethnicities, complicated in that way.

Linda Cardellini plays Tony’s wife Dolores, and she reminded me of some of my Irish uncle’s wonderful Italian wives (I know…the scandal!!…an Irishman marrying an Italian!! Talk about a mixed marriage!!) from Brooklyn. Cardellini turns what could have been a throwaway role into a real gem, giving Dolores multiple dimensions and palpable intentions that enhance the film a great deal.

In conclusion, Green Book is a classic, traditional, mainstream Hollywood film that in an earlier age, rightly or wrongly, would be much more highly regarded than it is now. The film boasts two winning performances from its leads and a terrific supporting performance from Cardellini, and is at times genuinely funny and profoundly moving. Green Book is not the greatest piece of cinema you’ll ever see, but even a cynical cinephile like me found it thoroughly entertaining and at times even insightful, and that is why I recommend you check it out, either in the theatre or on Netflix/cable when available.

If in our current tumultuous and contentious age, you find yourself feeling nostalgic, not for the early 1960’s when Black people were invisible and discrimination was rampant and violent, but rather for a time when finding common humanity wasn’t seen as weakness or betrayal of your tribe but rather as a sign of enlightened evolution, then Green Book is definitely for you…and you and I have a lot in common.

©2018

A Quiet Place: A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SEE. IT. NOW.

A Quiet Place, written by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck and directed by John Krasinski, is a horror/thriller about a family that must live in silence in order to avoid being killed by creatures that hunt exclusively by sound. The film stars Emily Blunt and John Krasinski with supporting turns from Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe. 

As a general rule, I am not a fan of horror/thriller films, they just aren't my thing and since I have to be judicious with my limited movie going time, I rarely if ever go see them in the theatre, instead I'll wait to see them on cable or Netflix. But since I just got MoviePass, and since MoviePass is probably going out of business very soon, I decided I better use it before I lose it, so I made my virgin MoviePass journey to go see a film I otherwise never would have seen in the theatre...A Quiet Place. Boy am I ever glad that I did.

A Quiet Place is an absolutely phenomenal motion picture. It is a perfect combination of independent movie aesthetics with conventional Hollywood horror structure. The film is a riveting and engrossing piece of work by first time director John Krasinski (aka Jim from The Office), and is highlighted by a staggering performance from Emily Blunt. 

Krasinski's direction borders on Hitchcockian in its sheer brilliance and deft use of craft. The film is, at times, reminiscent of (and pays tribute to) such great films as Ridley Scott's Alien, Spielberg's Jaws and Shyamalan's Signs, but yet remains a very unique and original vision. 

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Krasinski skillfully trims all the fat from A Quiet Place and what is left is a tense, taut and harrowing thriller of sinewy cinematic muscle and dramatic bone that is at times unnerving to experience. Krasinski so expertly raises the tension throughout the 90 minute movie that when it ended I surprised myself when I audibly exhaled a breath of air I wasn't even consciously aware that I was holding.

Krasinski masterfully uses good old fashioned fundamental filmmaking - camera movement, framing, lighting, sound and music (things often overlooked in special effects laden films) to build and heighten tension and drama throughout the movie, and yet he also expertly deploys top-notch Hollywood CGI creatures to further enhance the story. 

John Krasisnki also stars in the film as the father of the family and does very solid, subtle and sturdy work. Krasinski's character in A Quiet Place is a long way from his lovable incarnation as Jim on The Office, and this character's gravitas and complexity is a testament to Krasinski's versatility as an actor.

Emily Blunt is absolutely stunning as the wife/mother of the vulnerable brood that are desperate to stay silent and therefore stay alive. There is a sequence, which I won't give away, where Blunt is so remarkable in expressing yet containing her pain, fear and anguish that it is sublime and artistically transcendent. Blunt's performance is further buttressed by Krasinski's exquisite direction which makes the most of her truly dynamic talents. 

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Millicent Simmonds plays the pre-teen daughter of the family and does excellent work in the film. Simmonds brings a palpable and visceral isolation to her character that is a cornerstone of the film. Simmonds character is extremely well-written, and she brings all of its complexity to life with a compelling awkwardness and discomfort.

Cinematographer Charlotte Brus Christensen does exquisite work on A Quiet Place and her use of red light, bare lightbulbs and distant fires creates a sparse but effective visual aesthetic that is cinematically and dramatically effective in propelling the narrative and fleshing out the sub-text of the film.

The sound design and sound editors do remarkable work on the movie as well, and without their magnificent contributions this film would not succeed. The same with the special effects team that created the creatures, which are as unique as you could ever hope and put the movie over the top.

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A Quiet Place is a film that excels on multiple levels, it is an entertaining and compelling horror/thriller that will have you squirming on the edge of your seat, but it is also a film of much deeper meaning with a political/cultural sub-text pulsating just beneath its surface. In order to avoid spoilers, I will avoid speaking of the metaphor at the heart of A Quiet Place, but will do so below. Needless to say, I found the sub-text to be absolutely fascinating and have been thinking about it and the film non-stop since I left the theatre.

One word of caution though, if you are a person who is uncomfortable with "children in peril" types of narratives in a film, I recommend you skip A Quiet Place, as it is basically 90 minutes of children in peril. I usually dislike the use of children in peril as a narrative device myself, but I thought A Quiet Place did it very effectively and not in a cheap way, but that being said, as a father it was very, very difficult to watch.

In conclusion, as someone who was reticent to see the film due to its genre, I must say A Quiet Place handily won me over and impressed the hell out of me. I highly recommend A Quiet Place to anyone who wants to see a well-crafted and original film that happens to be a horror/thriller, it is well worth your time and effort to go see it in the theatre. Just remember...don't buy popcorn, as your loud munching will break the hypnotic silence of the film...and also draw the attention of the creatures…like me! So…BE QUIET! The life you save could be your own!!

 

FILM COMMENTARY - WITH SPOILERS

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****WARNING- THIS SECTION CONTAINS SPOILERS!!****

****THIS IS YOUR FINAL WARNING - SPOILERS AHEAD!!****

There is a lot to get to in terms of the deeper meaning, metaphor and sub-text of A Quiet Place. As the film ended I was overwhelmed with thoughts and was frantically jotting down as many notes as I could in order to remember. Here are some of those thoughts...

1. A Quiet Place is a metaphor for our current politics and culture. In the film, a White "traditional" family, who live on a farm in rural upstate New York, must stay silent in order to stay alive. If they speak up, if they raise their voices, the creatures will come and devour them.

Obviously, this speaks to the current climate of suffocating tribalism, political correctness and lack of diversity of thought in our culture. The rural "traditional" White family in the film represent not only the White majority in America who feel "under siege" by "cultural elites" who despise, belittle and chastise them at every turn, but also anyone who dare speak up and out against their own tribe's rigid dogma.

As America changes, the traditionalist Whites (even liberal ones) feel they cannot speak up for themselves, their country, their religion or their ethnicity or they will be brandished as racist, xenophobic or worse by the ever vigilant PC police in the media and online that attack anyone who dare challenge liberal establishment orthodoxy. A Quiet Place gives voice to this anxiety about the pitfalls of speaking freely. 

An emphasis on racial, ethnic and sexual diversity is bringing change (some believe much needed change) to America, and A Quiet Place speaks to the discomfort of White traditionalists with that change.

Even the casting of A Quiet Place speaks to the changing face of American culture, as it is startling that there are only White actors in the film, "diversity" and "inclusivity riders" need not apply here, and it actually felt refreshing and oddly subversive that no one felt the need to do any token casting of minorities in order to elevate liberal establishment sensibilities above storytelling.

It is even more oddly subversive that the family in A Quiet Place actually prays. It is only one brief scene, and there are no other overt displays of religiosity, but it is striking that this brief scene is in the film because prayer and religion is so rare in cinema nowadays (except of course in those God-awful - pun intended - super Christian movies that are so sugary they cause an intellectual cavity). 

The film's metaphor seen through the eyes of Christians in America (or the west) gives voice to their anxiety over the decline of Christianity in the west, hostility in the public square towards Christianity and the perceived threat of expansionist Islam. Christianity's fears and feelings of persecution may seem unreasonable to nonbelievers, but it is a genuine sentiment among many in the pews, and A Quiet Place is an effective metaphorical tool for expressing it. 

2. Rockets symbolically play a key role in the film. To open the film a young boy draws a rocket on the floor and says "this is how we will escape". Another little boy reaches precariously for a toy space shuttle on a shelf and nearly falls over making a loud noise (which would lead to death at the hands of the creatures)...but is saved by his sister. The older son is told to go do "rockets" which is code for shooting fireworks in order to distract the creatures when they are attacking the family farm. 

What does this rocket symbology mean? Well...rocketry and space exploration are from an earlier time in our history, a time when the the traditional White majority ruled unabashedly…post WWII 1950's and early 1960's. Kennedy's call to go to the moon, and America's successful journey there, were the height of human achievement, and the height of traditional "White" American accomplishment.

Pride in that accomplishment, and pride in White American heritage, gets the youngest son killed when he smuggles the toy space shuttle out of the store and turns it on during his walk home. The toy makes a noise...and draws the attention of the creature...who quickly runs and kills the boy. In other words, any display of pride in what America used to be, or pride in White achievement or heritage, will get you devoured by the creature/PC mob.

The Space Shuttle is symbolic of Reagan's vision of America…which is has now become diminished to just a small toy on a dusty shelf in a nearly vacant store. The little boy is attracted to Reagan's appeal to traditional White America…an 80's version of MAGA, a throwback to the glory days of post WWII 1950's and early 60's. The boy is destroyed by the PC watchdogs because he dares to be attracted to and celebrate the Reagan/traditional White American legacy of his forefathers. 

In terms of the older son launching rockets/fireworks to save his mother, the family(traditional White America), the father in particular, thinks strategically and studies all he can about the creatures and their strengths and weaknesses, and thus is smart enough to learn/know how to distract the creature/PC attack dogs in order to buy time for the next generation to be born safely, so that they can have a chance to stem the tide of the anti-traditional, anti-White "outsiders".

The rocket/fireworks...think of the tradition of the Fourth of July, a brazen celebration of America...is like red meat to the PC attack dogs in that it drives them crazy and makes them react instinctively. The fact that this leads to a fall, fight and near death in a silo (missile silo - rocket symbology again), is representative of the same thing...America's former post WWII might and 1950' and 60's missile/rocket development. This silo is filled with corn, symbolic of the farmland/heartland of America and the roots of America's beginning, and this is where a battle is fought and important lessons learned in how to defeat the creatures. The two children almost drown in traditional White America's abundance, symbolized by a tidal wave of corn, but are able to work together to stave off the pc attack dog. 

Anytime you see or hear rockets in the movie, think of it as a giant American flag and being symbolic of the height of traditional White American power back in post WWII 1950's and early 60's.

3. The father in the film is symbolic of the traditional White male in America. He is smart, resilient, reliable and handy. He sacrifices himself so that his children can live and maybe win the war against the barbarian hordes who literally eat their enemies, children included. Unbeknownst to him, he actually develops in his basement lab the technology to defeat these vicious "outsiders"/PC attack dogs. The traditional White American male saves his family, his race and his country through his ingenuity, skill, brains and sacrifice. 

He passes along his knowledge to his son…not his daughter, who is not allowed into his lab. He takes his son, not his daughter, on a fishing trip and teaches him about being able to yell…raise your voice and say what you want behind a wall of water (water being symbolic of the unconscious and transitions). 

It is his daughter, who is deaf, whom he tries to help literally to hear (the Truth), and in so doing she is able, along with her mother's shotgun, to defeat the invading beasts who threaten to devour them all. 

The father, in truly traditionalist form, is tasked with defending and protecting his family by his wife/mother to his children. He does so when he sacrifices himself, in front of his wife's eyes, thus making himself a sort of a martyr for the traditionalist cause. She, witnessing her husbands sacred sacrifice, is then transformed, and she is able to use his male energy and power after he dies, just like his daughter is able to use his hearing aid invention in order to defeat the monsters. In the end it is women who must step up in the absence of men and win the final victory. 

4. Considering all the above, there is an obvious parallel to immigration in America and traditional White America's anxiety over it. Also the stifling of dissent (particularly by establishment Democrats), which is at epic proportions over the last bunch of years, and has resulted in many negative thoughts and ideas being suppressed into the collective unconscious, and from this suppressed shadow place, these thoughts have grown and strengthened until they finally came out in spectacular fashion in the form of the beast Donald Trump. 

Trump is undoubtedly the American Shadow incarnate in all its vainglory.  

I hope to write more in the coming weeks about A Quiet Place as I think it is an extraordinarily important film in revealing the sentiments swirling around in our collective consciousness. 

©2018