Posts Tagged ‘Movie Review’

Review of Hot Coffee

Picture a world where a rapist can execute a contract in advance, limiting his liability for his deeds, and furthermore, forbidding his victims access to the courts for reparations.  Such a contract would limit any such “trial” to an informal hearing before a friend of the rapist.  Which way do you think that friend will decide?  Exactly.  Some world, right?  Guess what?  You already live in it.

But, you say, I would never sign such a contract.  I would never give away my right to go to court.  Even for less serious matters, I would not sign my rights away.  You probably wouldn’t.  Or, at least, you wouldn’t knowingly sign such a contract, or you wouldn’t if you had a choice.  The thing is, if you have a credit card or cellphone, you’ve already signed such a contract.

Nice world, right?

Hot Coffee is a documentary which had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and is now airing on HBO.  Hot Coffee explores these recent phenomena in a succinct and easy to understand style.  The exposition of the facts has clever cuts to people-on-the-street interviews that further underscore the average person’s misconceptions.  I count myself among those possessors of common misconceptions.  These interviews helped me feel less ignorant, or less alone in my ignorance.  Thank you, Director Susan Saladoff, for that.

It wasn’t surprising to me that none of the interviewees could define a tort.  In law school we spent a semester exploring what a tort is.  Many fine legal minds will refuse to put an absolute definition on the term.  The one I decided to live with is “actionable civil wrong.”  That is to say, a tort is a harm for which a lawsuit can be filed.  Examples of torts include slander, libel, malpractice, negligence, and product liability.

But the public misconceptions run deeper than legalese and esoterica.  How did we arrive at these misconceptions?  Is it merely collective indifference?  Perhaps, in part.  But a larger share of the blame goes to the Karl Roves of the world, and their clients, Messrs. Reagan and Bush, and many more.  More particularly, it’s the result of the Rovian’s effective spin-doctoring.

You see, it turns out corporations like candidates who will push for laws which limit their liability.  Corporations give those candidates tons of money.  And politicians like money.  Money gets them into office.  Plus, as the Supreme Court has held: money is speech.  Throw in 2010’s Citizen’s United decision, which held that corporate funding of independent political broadcasts cannot be limited, and that money-speech has no boundaries.  So who has a bigger megaphone, you and I, or those with corporate backing?

One of the scary parts is the corporations aren’t satisfied with electing Representatives, Senators, Governors, and Presidents.  Oh no.  Those people only create and enact the laws.  But the laws can be overturned by courts.  So the corporations help fund the elections of judges too.  Now that’s REALLY scary.  Get enough judges on a state supreme court, and those laws will be upheld.  And the corporations will save money.  It’s a sound investment for the corporations, with a solid rate of return.

Now it’s not like you’ll see “Joe Smith for Supreme Court, sponsored by Coca Cola.”  No.  First the corporations fund the US Chamber of Commerce, or ATRA (Association for Tort Reform), and then they in turn finance a whole slew of organizations that look like our neighbors started them, such as Citizens Against Frivolous Lawsuits, or Moms Against Bad Judges.  It’s all very convincing.  These people know what they’re doing.

The spin-doctors have a simple scheme.  Coin a phrase that people can rally to, and pound the point home with truckloads of cash and highly visible speakers.  “Tort Reform” is an excellent example.  The phrase is catchy.  People can rally to it, especially when they don’t know exactly what a tort is, and the spin-doctors choose their archetypes cannily.  They leave out key facts, and make caricatures of the lawsuits.  Hot Coffee explores examples of this very well.  And “Reform”?  Who isn’t for reform?  Reform is about changing things that are horribly wrong.  However, if you were a victim of corporate misbehavior, you wouldn’t see the tort system as being horribly wrong.  But once you’re a victim, it’s too late.  They count on that.  And it works.

Some hold we need tort “reform.”  And they paint an appealing case for it.  Sure, sign on.  Feel good.  Help save the poor “victims” of tort law, such as tobacco companies who promote products known to be deadly and addictive, and carmakers who ignore defects in their vehicles which kill people.  You can support that, right?  I didn’t think so.  Torts help redress prior wrongs and prevent future wrongs.  We need that.  Perhaps the more accurate phrasing of what the Rovians are trying to do is Tort Deform.

Do we want to live in a Corpocracy?  A Corporation Nation?  Do we already?  Should their voices be louder than ours?  Should their “votes” count more?  See the excellent documentary, Hot Coffee, and decide for yourself.


Beginners Movie Review

Caught a film in NYC last night: Mike Mills’ Beginners.  Christopher Plummer plays a recently widowed septuagenarian who comes out of the closet after his wife dies.  Ewan McGregor plays his son, who must deal not only with this radical news, but also with his father being terminally ill with cancer.

I must confess, I was expecting some lighthearted romp where Captain Von Trapp channeled The Birdcage with end-of-life verve and camp, while young Obi Wan stood by and somehow managed to deal.  How wrong I was.  This is no Apatow concept movie (which I also enjoy), but a heart-wrenching encounter that had little to do with Plummer’s emergence, and everything to do with the emotional stunting of McGregor’s character as a result of his parents, despite being true to each other, fostering a household devoid of emotional warmth as a result of not being, in the physical sense, lovers.  This emotional stunting is the centerpiece of the film.

The visual style is a whimsical departure from the ordinary, reminiscent of Savage Steve Holland, minus the anarchy.  Director Mills’ background as a graphic artist serves him well.  Isolation plagues the characters: the mother as a young Jewish girl in the 30s, the father as a closeted gay man for most of his life, and the son, McGregor, as a close to middle-age adult whose expectations of the attainability of a loving partnership are nonexistent and therefore a self fulfilling prophecy.  This isolation is fleshed out through pithy visual editorials, combining brief graphic imagery with voiceovers drenched in melancholy.  Mills excels at these expositions.

All of the characters are quirky and intriguing, and I had to remind myself that this was taking place in Los Angeles, because the film is devoid of the all-too-often seen movie assumption that LA is a town virally infected by the show business industry.  Refreshingly, LA is not a character in this movie.  At least that viral infection is in remission.

Christopher Plummer’s character is a beginner in the sense of his new social life, and he embarks on that journey without much cliché.  However, the meat of the matter is the McGregor character’s introspection, and whether he will surrender to the shackles of his life experience.  He is a beginner in the sense of living a fully realized life.

Melanie Laurent (most famous in the States for her turn in Inglourious Bastards) plays McGregor’s love interest.  She is an ethereal pixie encased in her own idiosyncratic isolation.

This film is devastating in its unflinching view of its characters, and the death of a father from cancer was, for me, so close to home that I forced back my burgeoning tears.  In the end, I was angry with myself for forcing back those tears, and I felt in doing so I did a disservice to the fine cast and their director.  Alas, more viral than show business in movies about LA, in the real world, is emotional stunting.

Beginners is an intelligent yet doleful gem of a movie.