New Year's Eve, Tuesday 31 December 2013
1) Edward Snowden was the person of the year
2) The Christian Evangelical Movement's Ugly Racist Streak
3) 3 Shocking Ways Inequality Keeps Getting Worse in America
4) Overthrow the Speculators
5) Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson Suggests Men Marry 15-Year-Old Girls In
Newly Surfaced Video
6) The 10 most underrated movies of 2013
Edward Snowden was the person of the year
There are really just two possible choices for person of the year. I want to
say Pope Francis, but I’ve got to go with Edward Snowden.
The spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and a whistleblowing
fugitive from American justice have just one thing in common: impact. Francis,
by shifting his church’s focus to social justice, may change the world. But
Snowden, by revealing the vast extent of government surveillance, already
Someday, perhaps, this ranking will be reversed. I hope it is, because the
change that Francis advocates is more sweeping — and long overdue. The Catholic
Church, despite its many problems, remains a powerful force around the globe. If
its energies are directed away from the culture wars and toward fighting
poverty, inequality and injustice, the church can play a hugely influential role
in shaping the new century.
I was a bit unsure about Jorge Mario Bergoglio when he was
chosen as the first Jesuit and first modern-era non-European to serve as
pontiff. I lived in Argentina, his homeland, for four years as a foreign
correspondent for The Post. I knew that during the South American dictatorships
of the 1970s and ’80s, the church in Argentina — unlike in Chile, for example —
had been cozy and complicit with the ruling generals.
The consensus of researchers who have examined Francis’s history is that he
did not collaborate with the murderous ruling junta, which killed or
“disappeared” at least 15,000 suspected leftists — but also that he did not
openly confront the regime. It is tempting to see his subsequent career as an
extended act of atonement, culminating in the dizzying months since his election to the papacy in March.
Francis declined to move into the opulent papal apartments, choosing instead
to live in spartan rooms at a Vatican guesthouse. His acts of humility and
compassion are so frequent that by now they seem almost commonplace — inviting three homeless men from the streets of Rome to share
breakfast with him, for example, or washing the feet of young people living in a juvenile
Most striking, however, is his decision to downplay issues such as abortion or homosexuality and instead emphasize social and
economic justice. His recent 50,000-word exhortation to
the faithful included a point-blank denunciation of trickle-down economics and a
reminder that Jesus’s teachings require offering compassion to the poor.
Francis has also moved boldly to shake up the conservative church bureaucracy. Potentially,
he will be remembered as the pope who confronted rising inequality in the same
way that John Paul II was the pope who confronted communism. But it will be years before
we know whether Francis succeeds.
Snowden, unlike Francis, is rarely accused of humility. It is fair to describe him as
smug and self- righteous — an imperfect messenger, to say the least.
But what a message.
He was an obscure analyst working for a National Security Agency
(NSA) contractor at a remote outpost in Hawaii. When he began working in the
secret world, by his own telling, he was a true believer. But he became
disillusioned — and then incensed — at what he considered outrageous violations of individual privacy by a surveillance apparatus that was out of control.
Snowden’s decision to leak massive amounts of information concerning
some of the NSA’s most secret and intrusive spying programs has done more than
embarrass officials in Washington. It has galvanized
efforts throughout the world to protect what little privacy we have left.
Snowden’s revelations are devastating in their specificity. Americans know
that all of our phone calls are logged by the government in a massive
database. German Chancellor Angela Merkel knows that the NSA tapped her
mobile phone. Brazilians and Indonesians, among others, know that their
phone conversations may be listened to and their e-mails may be perused.
We know that secret court orders have forced phone companies and Internet
providers to surrender private information. We also know that, unbeknown to
those companies, the NSA and its partners — the equivalent spy agencies in
Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — apparently tap into fiber-optic
cables and guzzle as much information as they can.
These ongoing disclosures provide a detailed map of a shadow realm that spans
the globe. We now know how technology is destroying privacy — and what steps
governments and communications companies must be pressured to take in order that
I can’t think of any individual who had more influence in 2013. Edward
Snowden is the person of the year.
Read more from Eugene Robinson’s archive, follow him on
Twitter or subscribe to his updates on Facebook. You can also join
him Tuesdays at 1 p.m. for a live Q&A.
See also: Richard Cohen: Edward Snowden is no traitor
Daniel Ellsberg: Snowden made the right call in fleeing the United States
Eugene Robinson: In NSA leaks, Edward Snowden performed a service
Evangelical Movement's Ugly Racist Streak
Many people of faith have rushed to denounce "Duck
Dynasty's" Phil Robertson's homophobia — but his racism is a different
December 25, 2013
The Evangelical Church has a racism problem.
And it is incumbent on us in this Christmas season to tell the truth about that.
Recently A&E suspended Phil Robertson, the patriarch of its hit show, “Duck
Dynasty,” for making incredibly homophobic statements in a GQ
. In typical fashion, he affirmed his evangelical belief
that homosexuality is a sin, but went even further, comparing gay people’s
sexual behavior to bestiality, and declaring emphatically that they would not
inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
Liberal-minded folk, some Christians included, have been outraged at his
homophobia, while conservative Christians of all races jumped to defend his
right to free speech. Many of these Christians feel particularly threatened by
what they call “censorship” of Robertson, because the belief that homosexuality
is a sin, and the right to declare that belief freely without recourse, has
become for many of these people a defining marker of their identity as
A reluctant evangelical, I reject conservative theological teachings on
homosexuality; the violence that the Church does to gay people in the name of
God is indeed one of the primary reasons for my reluctance. But I am also
ambivalent about the Church because of its continued subjugation of women and
its failure to be forthright about its continuing racism problem.
I grew up in a black baptist church, in a small town in North Central
Louisiana, about 30 miles west of where “Duck Dynasty” is filmed. I made my
first “profession of faith” in Jesus Christ while at a white baptist church I
had visited with my childhood best friend, Amanda, when I was about 7 years old.
I was baptized at the age of 13.
At 33 years of age, my disillusionment with the church — which has come to
full bloom in the last five years or so — is the thing that perhaps most solidly
marks me as a member of the Millennial generation. Though I am often ambivalent
about that label, too, I still get why Millennials, fed up with the vile
homophobia of the church — as particularly evidenced by the “Duck Dynasty”
episode — are leaving the institution in droves. But in the fervor and closing
of ranks over Robertson’s homophobia, many Christians, white and Black, old and
young alike, have missed the racist remarks he made in that same interview.
Millennials, it turns out, haven’t proven themselves to be fundamentally better
on race, despite post-racial proclamations to the contrary.
Apparently, according to Robertson, 1950s and 60s Louisiana — the Louisiana
of his childhood — was a happy heavenly place where Black people hoed cotton and
eschewed the blues:
“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once.
Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed
cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going
across the field. … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one
black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word!
… Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly;
they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
I have several aunts and uncles and a grandparent who would beg to differ
with Robertson’s account of events. In 1956, several hundred African Americans
were purged from the voter registration rolls in Monroe, and spent years
struggling to be re-enfranchised.
I’m reminded of these words from James Baldwin’s essay “A Fly in Buttermilk”:
“Segregation has worked brilliantly in the South, and in fact, in the
nation to this extent: It has allowed white people with scarcely any pangs of
conscience whatever, to create, in every generation only the Negro
they wished to see.”
Ways Inequality Keeps Getting Worse in America
The richest 1% have gained at least $6.1 trillion
in the past five years.
Anyone reviewing the data is likely to conclude that there must be some
mistake. It doesn't seem possible that one out of twenty American families could
each have made a million dollars since Obama became President, while millions
American famies' net worth has barely recovered. But the evidence comes from
numerous reputable sources.
Some conservatives continue to claim that President Obama is unfriendly to business, but the facts show that the richest
Americans and the biggest businesses have been the biggest beneficiaries of
the massive wealth gain over the past five years.
1. $5 Million to Each of the 1%, and $1 Million to Each of the Next
From the end of 2008 to the middle of 2013 total U.S. wealth increased from $47 trillion to $72 trillion. About $16
trillion of that is financial gain (stocks and other financial instruments).
The richest 1% own about 38
percent of stocks, and half of non-stock financial assets. So they've
gained at least $6.1 trillion (38 percent of $16 trillion). That's over $5
million for each of 1.2 million households.
The next richest 4%, based on similar calculations, gained about $5.1 trillion. That's over a
million dollars for each of their 4.8 million households.
The least wealthy 90% in our country own only 11
percent of all stocks excluding pensions (which are fast disappearing).
The frantic recent surge in the stock market has largely bypassed these
2. Evidence of Our Growing Wealth Inequality
This first fact is nearly ungraspable: In 2009 the average wealth for almost
half of American families was ZERO (their debt exceeded their assets).
In 1983 the families in America's poorer half owned an average of about $15,000. But from 1983 to 1989 median wealth fell from over $70,000 to about $60,000. From 1998 to 2009, fully 80% of American
families LOST wealth. They had to borrow to stay afloat.
It seems the disparity couldn't get much worse, but after the recession it
did. According to a Pew Research Center study, in the first two years of
recovery the mean net worth of households in the upper 7% of the wealth
distribution rose by an estimated 28%, while the mean net worth of households in
the lower 93% dropped by 4%. And then, from 2011 to 2013, the stock market grew
by almost 50 percent, with again the great majority of that gain
going to the richest 5%.
Today our wealth gap is worse than that of the third world. Out of all
developed and undeveloped countries with at least a quarter-million adults, the
U.S. has the 4th-highest degree of wealth inequality in the world, trailing only Russia,
Ukraine, and Lebanon.
3. Congress' Solution: Take from the Poor
Congress has responded by cutting unemployment benefits and food
stamps, along with other 'sequester' targets like Meals on Wheels for
seniors and Head Start for preschoolers. The more the super-rich make, the more
they seem to believe in the cruel fantasy that the poor are to blame for their
President Obama recently proclaimed that inequality "drives everything I do in
this office." Indeed it may, but in the wrong direction.
Overthrow the Speculators
30 December 13
Money, as Karl Marx lamented, plays the largest part in determining the
course of history. Once speculators are able to concentrate wealth into their
hands they have, throughout history, emasculated government, turned the press
into lap dogs and courtiers, corrupted the courts and hollowed out public
institutions, including universities, to justify their looting and greed.
Today’s speculators have created grotesque financial mechanisms, from usurious
interest rates on loans to legalized accounting fraud, to plunge the masses into
crippling forms of debt peonage. They steal staggering sums of public funds,
such as the $85 billion of mortgage-backed securities and bonds, many of them
toxic, that they unload each month on the Federal Reserve in return for cash.
And when the public attempts to finance public-works projects they extract
billions of dollars through wildly inflated interest rates.
Speculators at megabanks or investment firms such as Goldman
Sachs are not, in a strict sense, capitalists. They do not make money from the
means of production. Rather, they ignore or rewrite the law—ostensibly put in
place to protect the vulnerable from the powerful—to steal from everyone,
including their shareholders. They are parasites. They feed off the carcass of
industrial capitalism. They produce nothing. They make nothing. They just
manipulate money. Speculation in the 17th century was a crime. Speculators were
We can wrest back control of our economy, and finally our
political system, from corporate speculators only by building local movements
that decentralize economic power through the creation of hundreds of publicly
owned state, county and city banks.
The establishment of city, regional and state banks, such as the state public bank in North Dakota, permits
localities to invest money in community projects rather than hand it to
speculators. It keeps property and sales taxes, along with payrolls for public
employees and pension funds, from lining the pockets of speculators such as Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein.
Money, instead of engorging the bank accounts of the few, is leveraged to fund
schools, restore infrastructure, sustain systems of mass transit and develop
The Public Banking
Institute, founded by Ellen Brown, the author of
“Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth About Our Money System and How We Can Break
Free,” Marc Armstrong
and other grass-roots activists are attempting to build a system of public
banks. States such as Vermont and Washington and cities such as Philadelphia,
Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Reading, Pa., have begun public banking
initiatives. Public banks return economic power, and by extension political
power, to the citizens. And because they are local they are possible. These and
other grass-roots revolts, including sustainable agriculture, will be the brush
fires that will, if they succeed, ignite the overthrow of the corporate
“The debate about public or private control of
the monetary system has been going on for hundreds of years,” Armstrong, the
executive director of the Public Banking Institute, said when I reached him by
phone. “The American Revolution had everything to do with who controlled our
economic destiny. The money supply is central to that control. North Dakota has
proven that a state can use a public bank to further the economic interests of
its people. North Dakota funds its own infrastructure and capital investment
projects. It provides funding for commercial lending throughout the state. It
develops the areas of its economy it wants to prioritize, areas that are often
not funded by private banks.”
“When a public bank such as the bank in North Dakota funds infrastructure
projects the interest costs, which [otherwise] are often 50 percent or more of a
project, in essence fall to zero because the interest is returned to same people
who own the bank and paid the interest in the first place,” said Armstrong, who
previously worked for IBM Finance. “[Americans typically] hold labor costs under
a microscope, but ... don’t hold interest costs under a microscope. North Dakota
can offer commercial loans as low as 1 percent. Compare this with Wall Street
banks that charge 14 or 15 percent. We can use bank credit, the tool Wall Street
banks use to amass wealth and power, to empower ourselves.” And because credit,
Armstrong notes, is the source for 97 percent of the nation’s money supply, this
power would be huge.
The Bank of North Dakota, the vision of socialists from a century ago, has
been in operation for 90 years. It offers the state’s farmers and businesses low
interest rates on loans. After floods destroyed much of
Grand Forks in 1997 the bank provided a six-month moratorium on mortgage
payments and gave low-interest loans to the community to rebuild, a sharp
contrast with the raw exploitation that marked the arrival of Wall Street
bankers and speculators in Gulf Coast areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. Public
banks in the United States, like the public banks in Germany, fund things such
as solar power because it is good for communities rather than the portfolios of
Public banks also protect us from the worst forms of predatory capitalism.
Reporters Trey Bundy and Shane Shifflett last January wrote
in the San Francisco Chronicle on how one of Wall Street’s numerous scams
works. When the Napa Valley Unified School District in California needed funds
in 2009 to build a high school in American Canyon it took out a $22 million loan
with no payments due for 21 years. “By 2049, when the debt is paid,” the paper
noted, “the $22 million loan will have cost taxpayers $154 million—seven times
the amount borrowed.” And Napa, the paper reported, is one of at least 1,350
school districts and government agencies across the nation that have engaged in
this form of borrowing, called capital appreciation bonds, to finance major
projects. Capital appreciation bonds mean billions in debt for the public and
hundreds of millions of dollars for the speculators, the reporters pointed out.
And this kind of scam is writ large across the entire society.
“California public schools received $9 billion in loans over the last seven
years,” said Armstrong, who is from California. “In 25 to 30 years the interest
due on that $9 billion will be $27 billion. This is just one example of the
massive societal crisis being caused by big banks. Wall Street investment banks
should not be permitted to handle public financing, which has become simply
another way for Wall Street to monetize and extract our nation’s wealth.”
The potential windfall for communities through the establishment of public
banks is huge. In
a study prepared in Vermont in support of establishing a public bank it was
estimated that a public bank could make loans equal to 66 percent of state funds
on deposits, or $236.2 million in credit for economic development in the state.
This would expand the total credit supply available for state lending agencies
by $236.2 million. Furthermore, the credit would be at a low cost to the state
because public banks do not have to borrow money by selling bonds. Public banks
make loans based on deposits. Interest returns to the state on loans and
deposits. In essence, the state lends money to itself. The availability of
$236.2 million in new lending, the study estimates, would create 2,535 new jobs,
$192 million in value added (gross state product) and a $342 million increase in
state output. “If used to finance state capital expenditures, funding through a
public bank could save close to $100 million in interest costs on [fiscal year]
2012-13 capital spending, due to most interest payments no longer leaving the
state,” the report says.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon have
called for a national infrastructure bank. The U.S. Postal Service would
fund the proposed bank. The Postal Service—which from 1911 until 1967 provided
basic checking and savings services to the public—with its offices in nearly
every community has the physical infrastructure to jump-start a national public
bank. Deposits would be invested in government securities. These securities
would be used to finance infrastructure projects. And the proposal would not
require raising taxes. The plan, which I doubt the banking lobbyists and their
lackeys in Congress will ever permit, would in addition to saving the Postal
Service itself provide access to banking for the one in four households that
cannot get such services.
We won’t be saved by anyone in Washington. We will have to save
ourselves. We will have to transform our communities, cities and states into
places where the consent of the governed is no longer a joke. We will have to
take back power, which in a corporate state is financial power, from the venal
class of speculators who hold us hostage. In open defiance we will have to build
our own independent institutions. Of course the speculators will fight back. And
they will fight dirty—they know the consequences of this revolt. Public banks
are not just about the economy. They are about liberty.
Comments at the URL. Here's one --->
Duck Dynasty's Phil
Robertson Suggests Men Marry 15-Year-Old Girls In Newly Surfaced
Less than two weeks after Phil Robertson's
anti-gay controversy got him temporarily suspended from his A&E reality
series, the 67-year-old "Duck Dynasty" star is making headlines once again.
In a newly surfaced 2009
video posted on YouTube, Robertson shares some of his dating advice, which
includes that men should marry girls as young as 15.
"Make sure that she can cook a meal,"
Robertson is heard telling a group in Georgia in the 2009 video. "You need to
eat some meals that she cooks, check that out."
PHOTOS: Duck Dynasty: Scenes & Stars
"Make sure she carries her Bible," the
reality star continued. "That'll save you a lot of trouble down the road. And if
she picks your ducks, now, that's a woman."
According to Robertson, for men to
successfully find the right woman, the man should make sure she's young.
"They got to where they getting hard to
find, mainly because these boys are waiting 'til they get to be about 20 years
old before they marry them," Robertson said at the time. "Look, you wait 'til
they get to be 20 years old the only picking that's going to take place is your
pocket. You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16. They'll pick
your ducks. You need to check with mom and dad about that, of course."
WATCH: The Duck Dynasty Debacle
According to E!, in Robertson's home state of Louisiana, it is legal to
marry at 16 with the consent of the minor's parents.
VOTE: Was Phil Robertson's suspension from 'Duck Dynasty' long
-- Jesse Spero
Monday, Dec 30, 2013 05:00 PM PST
The 10 most underrated movies of 2013
From a hilarious disaster movie to a poignant romance, these films deserve
more attention than they got
With all the top 10 lists celebrating the cinematic achievements in 2013,
there were dozens of comedies, dramas and documentaries that failed to secure
the audience they deserved. Some outstanding films came out this year, several
by important and established filmmakers (Costa-Gavras, John Sayles, Michael
Winterbottom) as well as by emerging directors (Alexandre Moors, Todd Berger,
Jonathan Gurfinkel). But too many of these smaller films received an extremely
limited theatrical release and/or were overshadowed by other films.
Here are 10 titles from 2013 that should not be missed.
Director Alexandre Moors makes an auspicious debut with this
hypnotic character study about the Washington, D,C., sniper. Lee (Tequan
Richmond) is a teenager in Antigua, and John (Isaiah Washington) takes him under
his wing. Back in America, they pose as father and son in Tacoma, Wash. John
“adopts” Lee in part because he is still angry that his children have been taken
away from him. Walking through his old neighborhood, he rants and huffs about
everyone turning into “ghosts” or “vampires.” Washington gives a shrewd
performance, making his despair palpable. But the impressionable, angel-faced
Richmond is even more impressive. He remains mostly silent throughout the film,
absorbing everyone and everything he encounters. His poker-faced transformation
— the result of John’s insidious influence over Lee — is chilling. Especially
when he commits murder. In imagining this horrific true story, Moors generates
sympathy for these complex characters.
“It’s a Disaster”
Sure, “This Is the End” was the apocalyptic comedy of the year, but that’s
because it had more stars than “It’s a Disaster” had viewers. A
couples’ brunch goes south fast when a bunch of dirty bombs are set off in Los
Angeles. The guests, who are slightly tetchy to begin with, soon have their own
very funny meltdowns. Secrets are spilled like toxic waste, and relationships —
between friends and/or lovers — go nuclear. The film, written and directed by
Todd Berger (who has a wry cameo as a hazmat-suited single neighbor), is full of
hilarious deadpan banter. “It’s a Disaster” is a terrific comedy of manners,
puncturing human foibles in debates about the importance of punctuality, and
asking larger moral and ethical questions about the breakdown of society and
what heaven is like. The film features uniformly amusing performances from the
entire ensemble cast with America Ferrara and Julia Stiles the standouts.
“Capital,” the latest film by Costa-Gavras (of “Z” and
“Missing” fame), barely received a U.S. release. (It was pulled from some
theaters even after being announced). Maybe the distributor felt the 99 percent
would not want to see a juicy film about power games of the 1 percent. But they
should. This slick, globe-hopping boardroom drama has Marc Tourneuil (Gad
Elmaleh, superb) being appointed CEO of Phenix Bank after his boss develops
testicular cancer. The board members and Dittmar Rigule (a wonderfully oily
Gabriel Byrne), who controls the stockholders, think Marc is easily manipulated.
But Marc is happy to prove everyone wrong in this game of “cowboy capitalism.”
“Capital” clearly delineates the various characters, motivations and outcomes so
that even viewers without an MBA in finance can follow the action. This briskly
entertaining film culminates with Marc facing jail, staying CEO or going on a
sabbatical. The outcome is both highly satisfying and appropriately cynical.
Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon give sensational performances in “Sunlight, Jr.”
as Melissa and Richie, a poor couple eking out hardscrabble lives in Florida. In
writer/director Laurie Collyer’s scrappy little indie, Richie is in a
wheelchair, collecting disability and trying to keep a sunny disposition.
Melissa works at a convenience store (the Sunlight, Jr. of the title), where her
miserable, demoralizing boss (Antoni Corone) thwarts her efforts to better her
life. When Melissa discovers that she is pregnant, she and Richie try to find a
way to manage, but factors — including her ex Justin (Norman Reedus), along with
various reversals of fortune — keeps getting in their way. Although “Sunlight,
Jr.” is a downbeat drama, it is remarkably life-affirming because the
characters’ spirits remain strong and loving in the face of adversity. Wisely,
this film, a real sleeper, never gets cloying or inspirational. It just builds
to an emotionally powerful ending.
It didn’t make the Oscar documentary shortlist, but “After Tiller” was one of
the finest nonfiction films this year. Profiling the four remaining late-term
abortion doctors (after the murder of George Tiller), this impassioned,
heartfelt film provides remarkable access and insight to their work as well as
their lives outside their clinics. Filmmakers Martha Shane and Lana Wilson treat
both the doctors and their patients with incredible respect, and they give
sufficient time to the antiabortion laws and protesters. “After Tiller” shows
the struggles and difficult decisions that are made along with the emotional
toll it takes on all of the parties involved. There are many poignant moments,
as when one doctor asks, “What is life, and what does it mean?” Watching the
counseling sessions with a rape victim, a 16-year-old Catholic girl having
doubts, and even a patient too far along to be treated, is absolutely
heart-wrenching. But such moments are critical for understanding the emotions,
psychology and lives of these women who seek treatment 25-plus weeks into
pregnancy. These case studies shine a necessary light on the important work of
these brave, heroic doctors who risk their lives and their family members’
lives. “After Tiller” is both artful and thoughtful.
“Go for Sisters”
The fantastic scenes and speeches that open “Go for Sisters” not only grab
viewers, but also remind them how great a screenwriter/director John Sayles can
be. Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) is a parole officer who “listens to sugarcoated
bullshit all day.” Assigned to the case of her former friend, Fontayne (Yolanda
Ross), Bernice does not punish her for parole violation, but, instead, keeps
Fontayne in close contact. When Bernice’s estranged son Rodney is suspected in a
murder, she asks Fontayne for assistance in locating him. Through one of
Fontayne’s contacts, the women team up with Freddy Suarez (Edward James Olmos),
a disgraced ex-cop with macular degeneration. The trio soon crosses into Mexico
to search for the men who may be holding Rodney. Sayles gives his actors nuanced
characters to play — Bernice goes from ball-busting parole officer to
heartbroken mother — and he coaxes flinty performances out of his three
marvelous leads. The script is laced with humor, and contains savvy observations
about being careful when doing favors for people, and how one’s choices in life
inform who someone is. As each character takes risks, crossing personal
boundaries as well as legal borders — both literal and figurative — viewers will
become invested as to what will pay off for whom.
Michael Winterbottom’s “Everyday” might seem like another example of British
miserablism, but give this fine film a look anyway. Shot over five years, this
absorbing drama involves Karen (Shirley Henderson) coping with life while her
husband, Ian (John Simm), is in prison. Winterbottom films “Everyday” so
intimately and intensely that the camera is almost intrusive when Karen and Ian
sneak off for a shag when he is on day release. Much of the film presents the
quotidian routines of the characters. Karen and her sons take long treks to
visit Ian. Their meetings range from tender — Karen confessing that she
misses/likes it when Ian fucks her — to tense, as when she confronts him for
getting into trouble for carrying drugs. As Karen and Ian and the kids go about
their everyday lives, Winterbottom shows without didacticism the impact an
imprisoned father has on a family.
France’s entry for the best foreign language film Oscar was not the
celebrated “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” but this lovely, genteel portrait of the
artist. This is not a biopic in the traditional sense; Pierre-Auguste Renoir was
already famous by the time the film’s story begins in 1915. Director Gilles
Bourdos’ elegant drama draws viewers into Renoir’s (Michel Bouquet) home, much
like Andreé (Christa Theret), the artist’s latest model, who has come to pose
for him, is. The fluid camera keeps moving, taking in the remarkable light and
beautiful colors. “Renoir” is a sly, observational drama that chronicles
Auguste’s relationships with his son Jean (Vincent Rottiers), who was wounded in
the war; his wise-beyond-his-years youngest son, Coco (Thomas Doret, from “The
Kid With the Bike”); and Andree, his muse who provides the key to the film.
Unfolding as a series of small, striking moments — Coco splashing paint on
Andree’s naked breasts, Jean helping Auguste with his painting — “Renoir”
reveals itself to be a rich, vibrant and rewarding
This dazzling first feature by Israeli filmmaker Jonathan Gurfinkel
chronicles six sex acts — hence the title — performed by the teenage Gili (Sivan
Levy). The film hooks viewers by asking: Who holds the power in each encounter?
In act one, Gili pleasures Tomer (Roy Nik). Act 2 has her coupling up with Omri
(Eviator Mor). Although Omri says he cares for Gili, he practically pimps her
out to his friends and family members. Is Gili acting when she
encourages Omri to meet in a club bathroom for an orgy? “S#x Acts” provides few
easy answers. But this stylish film does present a fascinating depiction of a
sexually active teenage girl’s quest for social acceptance in the digital age.
Levy gives a very assured performance. An uncomfortable scene between Gili and a
boy named Shabat emphasizes her fragility and strength. Gurfinkel films “S#x
Acts” without judgment, and it is riveting throughout — especially
when Gili converses with the hypocritical (and hyper-critical) girls in her high
school. They use Gili too, albeit in a non-physical way. All of these teens are
horny, reckless, gossipy and vapid — just like those in “Spring
Breakers.” Gurfinkel presents their bad behavior in a cogent film that
is at once urgently concerned and coolly anxious.
A moody film about moody characters, writer/director Lyn Shelton’s “Touchy
Feely” contrasts the personal and professional lives of two very different
siblings — massage therapist Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) and dentist Paul (Josh
Pais). Abby is having doubts about her relationship with her boyfriend Jesse
(Scoot McNairy), when he asks her to move in with him. She soon finds herself
sickened by the contact of skin. Meanwhile, Paul finds his practice booming when
he is said to have cured a patient’s TMJ pain. “Touchy Feely” explores the way
people inexplicably, unexpectedly touch the lives of others, but also how they
mask their feelings, and hide what they want to express. The performers exhibit
great body language, particularly when Paul climbs awkwardly onto a massage
table for a Reiki treatment. “Touchy Feely” is not as feel-good as “Enough
Said,” which also concerns a romantically troubled masseuse, but it has its
own idiosyncratic energy. Plus, Abby’s poignant conversations with her ex (Ron
Livingston) provide some very affecting moments.