SWEET REDEMPTION

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Kris

Can't decide what to watch?FollowTheThread.
Each week Elma and I give you 5 opinionated but culturally relevant choices, based on our experience of curating smart sticky stuff for Ovation, Trio, Bravo, A&E, Sundance, Fuse, and others.
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Jake Gyllenhall’s Southpaw goes wide this weekend after a very strong performance in limited release.

Gyllenhall has always had a strong indie streak — after all, he and sister Maggie started out together in Donnie Darko.  But his career would have been very different if not for a handful of near-misses.  If Gyllenhall had replaced Tobey Maguire in Spiderman 2; if Prince of Persia hadn’t flopped; if Gyllenhall had landed the lead in Batman Returns, would he be stretching himself from Nightcrawler to Southpaw?

Down, out, victim of our own mistakes – sometimes all of us feel cut and bruised.  Stories of redemption have such a strong appeal that they often find an audience even when they get a little corny.

 

Southpaw

SOUTHPAW (2015)

In sports, eventual failure is inevitable.  But in boxing it’s as raw as meat.

The reviews seem to indicate that Southpaw is like many of Gyllenhall’s movies – a flawed endeavor that teeters on the edge but is saved by his virtuoso central performance.

We like movies like that – the added layer of tension makes the final reward so much sweeter.

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 ON THE WATERFRONT
ON THE WATERFRONT (2006)

Also in theaters this weekend is Listen To Me Marlon, a documentary profile of Marlon Brando.  No talking heads.  The actor speaks to us from beyond the grave in private tape recordings he made for himself, along with zillions of great film clips.

Can’t wait to see it.  Brando himself always seemed in need of redemption.  Self-indulgences and bad choices led to repeated falls from grace.  And he redeemed himself again and again with spectacular comebacks.

Already a star from his performances in The Wild One and A Streetcar Named Desire, On The Waterfront  won Brando his first Oscar.

Part of the Brando mystique is that he uttered more iconic lines (“Stellllaaaaa!”)  than any other actor, ever.  Waterfront gave us his second – “I coulda’ been a contenda.”

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Gran Torino
GRAN TORINO (2008)

Many of Clint Eastwood’s later  films have been concerned with redemption, often overlaid with themes of justice and revenge.  The result is a moral tension that hooks us, even though the movies leave us flip-flopping like a fish in a boat.

At the time Gran Torino came out, we found it hard to admit how much we liked the movie, with its strains of “Not my America.”  Part of the attraction was that Eastwood’s Korean vet character — the cigarettes and beer, the iconic car, the untreated cough —  reminded us so powerfully of Midwestern men we’ve known.  Every time the lighter came out, it triggered a Proustian moment – the sharp oily smell of lighter fluid subbing for madeleines.

Eastwood’s movies aren’t so much about a fall and rise back to grace.  They belong to a different class of late life redemption – cousin to Ikira and A Christmas Carol.

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Cracker
CRACKER (1993-2006)

A strange inclusion here, because the core appeal of Robbie Coltrane’s character is that he is unredeemed.  The highly posed photo above doesn’t do it justice.  Coltrane’s Cracker is a mess.

One of the reasons the American knockoff failed so miserably was that they made the character an ex-smoker.  This character has to smoke.  And in contemporary America, if you smoke you are automatically in need of redemption, a fact that was not lost on the first season of True Detective.

But the reason we found Cracker so addictive was that the character’s lack of grace was in and of itself redemptive.  The only reason he is so effective at battling evil is that he embraces his own evil and turns it redemption for brief moments before falling again.

Cracker was the godfather of all the deeply flawed and conflicted characters of TV’s new golden age.  Despite how much we loved it, we haven’t watched it for years.  Maybe August is the perfect time for a binge.

Amazon

 

 

ShawshankTHE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994)

We were hesitant about including Shawshank here.  Is it really about redemption?

But as we do our weekly research, we consult a variety of sources, and one of our favorites is the reviews on Amazon.  We like them for their honesty and because they come from real people, not jaded media types like ourselves.

We also like to look at the bar chart of customer stars. Shawshank has the most amazingly top-heavy curve of any movie we’ve ever checked – 91% are five-star, 6% are four-star.

That’s incredible.  And a lot of the Amazon reviewers  think it’s the perfect movie.  Which made us think that for pure enjoyment and uplift this is the one to watch on a summer weekend afternoon.  Besides, Stephen King, put “redemption” in the title.

Even though, to our lights, Shawshank is actually about avoiding the need for redemption, by maintaining hope and integrity even in the grimmest of situations.  Another reason to watch it again on a summer afternoon!

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Malcolm XMALCOLM X (1992)

Redemption is grace, and grace cannot come without the fall.

A couple months ago we saw Do The Right Thing again, and were amazed by how uncannily relevant it was.  Which made us want to return to Malcolm.

Spike is still one of our favorite filmmakers, and we keep thinking that he’s due for another Brando-esque career resurgence in the form of a couple new masterpieces.  And we suspect that Malcolm X still has a lot to say about the current racial and political landscape.

High on our list for summer re-viewing.  We’d forgotten that Spike himself plays Malcolm’s friend Shorty, based on Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale.

One final note – Denzel made such a fantastic Malcolm that his image has almost supplanted the real man in our mind’s eye.  But take a look at the images of the redeemed man himself.

 

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MURDER & EXISTENTIALISM

Elma Cremin

Co-Founder at Followthethread
A long-time fixture of New York’s glittering social scene, Miami’s jai lai courts, and the interstate highway system’s “big rigs,” Elma Cremin has spent her life absorbing all things pop culture.Movies, cult tv shows, documentaries, art, fashion—you cut her and she’ll bleed out in the colors of an Andy Warhol Brillo Pad box. Finally, after years of working inside the system with such networks as Sundance, Trio, Fuse TV and Ovation, she went “ghost protocol” and co-founded FollowTheThread in order to work outside the petty restraints of the industry and share her remarkable knowledge.

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Existentialism has been around since Kierkegarrd and Nietche.

But in the mid-20th century, the idea that there are no moral absolutes – only individual choices — began rippling out from philosophers like Sartre and infiltrating popular culture through artists, writers and bohemian movements like the Beats.

Filmmakers – especially the headier ones – latched onto the idea that we can use free choice to create our own moral world and used it as a springboard to dive into the abyss of human existence.

And of all the filmic scenarios existentialism presents, murder is the most vivid.

It’s crossed most of our minds, hasn’t it? If we thought we could get away with it, would we? Could we?

irrational-man-movie-setIRRATIONAL MAN (2015) 

Woody Allen’s latest film takes its title and cue from William Barrett’s 1958 book, Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy. Its theme is a recurring one for Woody: a tormented professor (Abe) reclaims the will to live by committing an existential act.  The act frees him to once again embrace life, but sets off a chain reaction that will alter his life forever.

A second source for the movie is acknowledged when we see Abe holding a copy of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

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crime-and-punishmentCRIME AND PUNISHMENT (1935)

Of the countless adaptations, this is our favorite. The great master of light and shadow, Josef von Sternberg, created a fascinating Hollywoodization of the classic tale of a man haunted by a pair of murders he commits in self-justified cold blood.

Sternberg reputedly hated it, but we love it. Low-budget but full of inventive ideas and a great cast led by Peter Lorre and Marian Marsh

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crimesCRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS (1989)

Allen’s first existential study of morality and guilt. Judah Rosenthal is the man responsible for the “crimes” of the title. Encouraged by his mafia brother to hire an assassin to kill his mistress to prevent her from telling his wife, Judah is stricken with intense guilt after the murder has been committed. At first…

But by the chilling ending, Judah is shown getting over his guilt and learning to live with his crime. It’s a cynical ending, but we’ve always found it realistic and believable – whatever that says about us.

Netflix

Wallpapers for Desktop with wallpaper, vertigo, film, movie, background

VERTIGO (1958)

When Alfred Hitchcock made Vertigo, movie murderers almost never got away with it. In fact, censorship organizations, like the Hollywood-based PCA, explicitly prohibited it. Hitchcock actually had to film an “alternate ending” to attach to UK prints in which the murderous villain is reported to be arrested.

But from the existential point of view, it’s arguable that Elster deserved to get away with murder. Consider all the effort he put into finding a woman who looks just like his wife, then finding an acrophobic stooge and setting him up as a witness to the murder who would testify that it was a suicide.

When Crime and Punishment came up in an interview, Hitchcock said that he would never consider filming it. He explained that he could make a great film out of a good book, and even a mediocre book, but never a great book, because the film would always suffer by comparison.

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MOTHER (2009)

The unnamed character of Mother, from Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer) only wants to protect her son.

So when he’s locked up for murder, she does everything she can to prove that he didn’t do it–up to and including murdering a witness who said that he did. After getting her (guilty) son out of jail, the only “time” she serves is metaphoric — on a bus full of tourists, dancing up a storm.

There is nothing a Mother won’t do for her son…

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