Indignation @ The Ross

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Marcus (Logan Lessman) and Olivia (Sarah Gadon)

What is it about mom and dad? What is it about parents, period? They seem to know everything about the future in the present, don’t they?

We all have heard parental cautions, each one accentuated by a pointed finger or hands cupping your face: “Now you listen to your mother” or “You mark my words” or “I’m your father; I know what’s out there in that world, you don’t.” You would think that after having 18 or 20 years of life experience, parents at least could acknowledge your own awareness and understanding about life.

Rarely do parents assess themselves and conclude, “hey, I made it through all of the obstacles in life; I believe my child will too.” Ironic, isn’t it?

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Max Messner (Danny Burstein)

But for Max Messner, the Jewish father (Danny Burstein) in James Schamus’s film Indignation, one little mistake–one false move–can destroy a person’s life. These are the words of caution he delivers to his son Marcus (Logan Lerman) as he prepares for college during the time of the Korean War. Mr. Messner’s fear is fueled after attending funerals of his son’s friends and relatives who returned to the states in body bags after having fought in the war, and Mr. Messner knows the privilege of his son’s exemption from the draft as result of his acceptance into a conservative Midwestern college in Ohio; the future shines before him, and it is dazzling.

But one false move warns Mr. Messner …

As Marcus adjusts to Midwestern culture, he is exposed to the usual suspects of college life. In particular, members of the Jewish fraternity approach Marcus about membership; he does not wish to join much to the consternation of his parents.


Mrs. Messner (Linda Emond) warns her son

Framed within the socio-cultural norms of the 1950s, Schamus brilliantly portrays the intense demands for compliance, if not, obedience to institutional rules and regulations and societal codes of conduct by the college student. In the process, Indignation dramatizes the heavy weight of self-determination that can implode as it enacts within such strictures; even romance and love are stifled within these constraints. Sarah Gadon plays Olivia Hutton, Marcus’s troubled love interest, and her liberal attitudes towards sex lands on no ground except that of the campus strumpet. Marcus does not care; but mother Messner, played by Linda Emond, does. She swoops down on The Ross logoMarcus as would an eagle to its prey to warn her son against marrying Olivia.

In the end, the movie boomerang’s the father’s major concern as Marcus’s fate pivots on one false innocent move, and this will leave you heartbroken. Sometimes, my father counseled me, you have to follow the rules even if you do not want to or suffer the consequences … if you get caught …

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Tangerine @ The Ross

Alexandra (Mya Taylor) and Sin Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez)

Alexandra (Mya Taylor) and Sin Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez)

Sometimes it is best to listen to your friend’s whole story before you divulge information that only you know. Failure to wait the story’s end can instigate all kinds of trouble and, before you know it, you are all up in someone else’s drama you have no business being in. Trust!

Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) meets with her best friend Alexandra (Mya Taylor), after her release from a six-week jail sentence. After hearing from Alexandra that her boyfriend has cheated on her, Sin-Dee Rella decides to go on a sidewalk trip through the seedier side of Los Angeles in search of her competition in Sean Baker’s independent film Tangerine. Alexandra decides to leave Sin-Dee on her own because her girlfriend will not keep her promise to side-step the drama.

Tangerine is filled with rough and wild misadventures commenced by these uber-confident transgender prostitutes. They are loud; they cuss like sailors; and, without apology, they use their bodies for both pleasure and for payment. One customer refuses to pay Alexandra for her services, and she promptly tells him, “oh, don’t forget, I got one of those, too” and thus begins the street fight in front two policemen.

Tangerine is hilarious. Its action is brutal. Its story is raw. The transgender characters are wide open and vulnerable but fierce. The absence of slick editing and filming brings a welcomed realistic quality to this film, and the glossy world of Hollywood does not intervene in the film’s production. Well, there is a reason for that: Baker shot the film exclusively on iPhone 5s. Baker says in an interview, “the iPhone actually helped us out in a weird way with this because we weren’t able to use telephoto lenses so we always said that we wanted to step away from the observational way of approaching these characters and instead participate in the day with them.”

What is fantastic about Tangerine is its parallel story of the city of Los Angeles. Most films set in Los Angeles feature the automobile filled with people cosseted by tinted windows and made anonymous and beautiful by sunglasses. In the film, Baker’s lens follows pedestrians who are walking and walking and walking to and from places and people. There are scenes of people waiting for — get this — a cab or a bus that may or may not arrive on time. These scenes give the audience Baker’s “observational way” of approaching his characters.

Dinah (Mickey O'Hagan) experiences Sin Dee's wrath

Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan) experiences Sin Dee’s wrath

Yet, for all of its fun, danger, and laughs, I am upset that Baker features transgender characters as prostitutes—an all too familiar and overplayed stereotype of that culture. Even more troubling is the attack on Sin-Dee’s nemesis: a prostitute named Dinah (Micky O’Hagan), who is punched and slapped as she is being dragged like a rag doll by Sin Dee through the street and onto the bus. That scene, my friends, is not funny, especially, when it is enacted by a man in a wig.

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The Hunting Ground @ The Ross

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Documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick could not have been more provocative nor insightful nor incisive in his documentary The Hunting Ground. I’ll just get to the point: The Hunting Ground explores the epidemic of on-campus rape, and colleges and universities should make this film a requirement for every student who enters their hallowed halls. What is heart-wrenching about The Hunting Ground is that Dick gives over his film to the young women who have experienced the trauma of rape, and the humiliation that attends the crime when administrators, students, and even the police dismiss the allegations and blame the victim. These young women are brave as the camera closes in on their every emotion.

Erica Kinsman, a Florida State student, for example, tells her story of rape by the college’s star quarterback Jameis Winston, who went on to become the youngest player to win the Heismann trophy in 2013. No charges were brought against him even though the DNA matched Kinsman’s rape kit. The net of protection around the athlete absolutely will floor you! Dick, however, cuts through that net, and each and every player responsible for this protective shield drops out framed by the copious footage of Winston on the field, post-game, and all of the celebrations around his victories on the field and his Heismann win.

The young women in this movie survived their trauma; however, Elizabeth “Lizzy” Seeberg, a St. Mary’s College Student, committed suicide after receiving a text “messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea” when she reported her rape by an unnamed Notre Dame football player.

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Students Advocate for a Rape Free Campus

What is incisive about The Hunting Ground is that indicts the college and university administrator who turns a blind eye; Dick’s exposes their almost “hands off” response to the young women who come to them, and the University President, especially is exposed as a pretender of concern. But Kirby goes for the jugular when in a denouncement of on-campus fraternities whose members are accused of being the predators of female flesh at frat parties. Specifically, he attacks with a vengeance, and I mean with a vengeance–the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, better known as “Sexual Assault Expected.”— you know, that same fraternity who just has been expelled from the University of Oklahoma for its racist rant during an alcohol saturated party.

Go and see this documentary. It is necessary. You will feel so outraged that you will hard pressed not to draw up a placard and take to the streets the injustices that these young women have to endure once they drum up the courage to tell their stories.

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The Hunting Ground Plays through April 16 at The Ross Media Arts Center in Lincoln.

Also The Hunt for General Tso opens today and plays through April 9th at The Ross.

Halle Berry ‘Extant’

Halle Berry as Molly Woods

Halle Berry as Molly Woods


Extant: in existence; still existing; not destroyed or lost

Of course it rankles that the storyline revolves around a woman of color who is pregnant and does not know who or what the father is. That she conceives in outer space with no one on that spaceship but a computer-generated station assistant named Ben is even more bothersome. I won’t move too far into the race and gender territory just yet. I prefer, instead, to make honorable mention of the larger import of Mickey Fisher’s (King of Iron) new television series.

Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols)

Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols)

Extant is very important for historical reasons whether the writer and producers know it or not. The series is paying homage to a legacy of African American astronauts portrayed on television and who are members of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). As for the small screen, Extant‘s main character, Molly Woods (Halle Berry) honors Nyota Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), the communications officer from the United States of Africa aboard the USS Enterprise in Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek television series (1966-1969). Extant also compliments NASA’s diversity in space flight programs. Dr. Guion Stewart “Guy” Bluford, Jr. was the first African American astronaut in space (1983) and, more specific to Woods, Mae Carol Jemison (1992), the first African American woman in space. For these historical entries, I reserve my comments on the aforementioned categories (well, until later that is).

Mae Carol Jemison

Mae Carol Jemison

Now on to the synopsis/analysis. Extant is compelling, and in the spirit of the singing sensation Ashford and Simpson, the writing and acting are solid as a rock. I wanted the story to keep on going, and I viewed the pilot again and watched every one-to-three-minute Behind The Scenes video on CBS’s website in an effort to satiate my hunger for more.

Mickey Fisher indeed has created a captivating futuristic drama with Steven Spielberg at the helm as executive-producer. Cinematographer M. David Mullen beautifully imagines a pilot production embedded with allusions to other films about androids, outer space, and curious pregnancies, namely Spielberg’s own A.I., Minority Report, Avatar, Rosemary’s Baby, and I Know What You Did Last Summer, among others. The time? Thirty years from now.

Molly Woods in space

Molly Woods in space

Academy Award winner Halle Berry (Monster’s Ball) stars as Molly Wood, an astronaut returning home from a 13-month solo journey in the cosmos. After a medical examination with gynecologist Dr. Sam Barton (Camryn Manheim), Molly learns from Sam that she is pregnant. The expected That’s not possible! I can’t get pregnant! responses come next from the astronaut upon hearing the news. Berry remarks,

The first episode is about reconnecting and then [Molly] finding out she did not come home alone. [While in space] she had an encounter with something … this entity that is able to present itself. […] There is mystery, and it is interesting to watch how it is going to unfold …

Molly wrangles a promise from Sam to withhold that mystery from her report until she has time to sort things out. After all, she just has arrived to earth. Fisher slathers the rest of the plot with a provocative narrative layered with “whodunits” and “who can/not you trust?” overtones. These are enough to encourage the audience to tune in next week.

A happy Molly and Marcus (Sergio Harford) in memory

A happy Molly and Marcus (Sergio Harford) in memory

It is good to see Halle Berry–really good–and her timely choice to return to the small screen after several cancelled shows (Living Dolls, Knots Landing), places her in the room with Black women enjoying major roles in television, most notable Keri Washington (Scandal), Chandra Wilson (Grey’s Anatomy), Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow), Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead), and Viola Davis (How to Get Away With Murder).

Guion Bluford, first African American in space (1983)

Guion Bluford, first African American in space (1983)

An artistic maturity illumines Berry’s comfort and self-assurance as she interprets a vulnerable but tentative (and weary worn) astronaut adjusting to her life on earth. I missed her presence when forced to watch the other plot points of the story; her management of the space ship testifies to her character’s confidence, discipline, and knowledge of the world of space and science. In other words, Molly Woods probably graduated in the top 5% of her class, and with her strong work ethic, she earned respect and trust from her colleagues. She has to be quite skillful and exceptional to have been assigned a solitary mission. This astronaut is awesome!

John (Goran Visnjic) introduces his 'son' Ethan (Pierce Gagnon) to scientists

John (Goran Visnjic) introduces his ‘son’ Ethan (Pierce Gagnon) to scientists

Goran Visnjic plays her matter-of-fact husband, who soothes his desire for fatherhood by ‘conceiving’ Ethan (Pierce Gagnon), an android child he programs to ‘feel’. Writing of feeling, Family Woods comes across as hollow, if not as sterile. If you have shopped in the frozen food section in short sleeves in the winter time, then you know what I am talking about. No warm fuzzies here except when Molly reminisces about her dead but extant former lover, Marcus Dawkins, played with bone-chilling affection by Sergio Harford.

Family Woods

Family Woods

For all of its family drama and debates on artificial intelligence and how to fund it, Extant excites with its state-of-the-art technologies: prototype self-driving cars, transparent iPads that light up, touch screens on refrigerators and bathroom mirrors, a medi-assist bot, flying spaceship toys, and flat-bottomed eggs.

If you are one who waits with baited breath for the next catalogue of newest gadgets as does a child for the Toys R Us Christmas booklet, Extant is your series.

Film • Television • & More coming your way!

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