Mike at the Movies

Photo | Submitted Felicity Jones stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex.”

Photo | Submitted
Felicity Jones stars as Ruth Bader Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex.”

On the Basis of Sex (PG-13)

This is NOT RBG! This is her story from the beginning of her work in equal rights and concludes with her first major victory in Denver’s Tenth Circuit. Felicity Jones is fascinating as the diminutive lawyer, Arnie Hammer is perfect as her husband, Martin, and Cailee Spaeny captivating as her feisty daughter, Jane.

The film opens with Ginsburg going into freshman orientation at Harvard Law School as one of nine women in a class of at  least 75 men. The first thing they all hear is an oration by the distinctively male-biased dean, Erwin Griswold, on the topic of “What Is a Harvard Man?” The usual unbelievable topics are touched: the fact that she took Martin’s classes as well as her own because he was making an unlikely recovery from testicular cancer, plus taking care of their young son and ending up #1 in her class. Then she transferred to Columbia, getting her degree there after finishing #1 in her class again!

She gets a job as a professor at Rutgers because a black staff member resigned and they figured “a woman would be almost as good!” It’s from Rutgers, as a professor, that she launched what became a crusade for equal rights. She does it by attacking the law relentlessly with the culmination of her initial campaign in Denver at the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, after some rough moments with her daughter, the two reconcile and Jane is by her side with Marty as they argue the case. Hammer is magnificent in his supporting role as husband to this whirlwind genius of a wife, and Jane becomes a valuable member of the team. If the case seems loaded for Ginsburg, so were the times.

The government’s arguments at the hearing are 19th century bias. They based their case on a fear of “radical social change.” RBG pointed out the radical social change was already happening in the courts and on the streets. Her court scene is riveting.

The final scene of the film has the actual Ruth Bader Ginsburg slowly climbing the steps of the Supreme Court as explanatory credits roll. The audience where we watched burst into enthusiastic applause as the film concluded. Great for the whole family and the details of decisions and amendments are handled well and quite clear. One by one those statutes that discriminated were attacked and knocked down, usually by “The Notorious RBG.”

If Beale Street Could Talk (R)

This is a very slow film! That being said, does the slow pace wreck the story? I would argue, on the evidence, that the pace emphasizes the love story that is at the heart of the plot but it endangers the total effect because of the distractions possible. The pace is not aided by what I considered to be an uninspired bit of musical scoring that was so often repetitive that it got irritating.

Basically, Tish Rivers (Kiki Layne) at 19 gets pregnant from her boyfriend, Fonny Hunt (Stephan James). Theirs is a lyrical and sturdy love story that has to survive an unjust arrest of Fonny for rape. The “victim” flees to Puerto Rico, and it is established by the storyline and its flashbacks that Fonny is, in fact, innocent. The victim, however, admits, “They (the police) told me to pick him so I picked him.”

There is a fierce mother-in-law (Aunjanue Ellis) who is also inflicted with religious bigotry so that she cannot see any blame but Jesus. “I suppose you call this lust ‘love,’” she intones righteously as Sharon Rivers, Tish’s mother (Regina King), tosses her and her equally zealous daughters out of her house. It is clear that Fonny is not enamored of white people. Neither are his friends; one states, “The white man has got to be the devil.” This is 1974 and there is plenty of reason for him to think that.

The date of the writing of the novel may explain why the film lacks a certain punch by being at the end of the line. We have heard these stories before. There are many fine performances in the film and much lovely photography. I keep holding to the belief that film must tell a story and as beautiful as this film is visually, the story gets lost. The point of it all is not fully redeemed by a largo version of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” over the credits.

Glass (PG-13) 

This is, let nobody convince you otherwise, James McAvoy’s picture. M. Night Shyamalan does him the favor of reprising his remarkable characters from 2016’s “Split” and lets him play some 20 of them in this complex sci-fi thriller. Bruce Willis (David Dunn) and Samuel L. Jackson (Elijah Price) join McAvoy as three subjects of shrink Dr. Staple (Sarah Paulson) as she tries to
“cure” them of their shared obsession that they are superheroes. The problem is that, in many ways, the three are  superheroes, and they act like that throughout the film. Casey Cooke (Anya Taylor-Joy) also returns from “Split” as a girl attacked by one of McAvoy’s personalities named Kevin. Kevin is kept under control by bursts of extremely bright light when he approaches violence and is obsessed with light. Jackson’s character is mostly comatose but is an alleged genius who proves it when he wakes. Spencer Treat Clark is Joseph Dunn, David’s son. He and Casey more or less team up with Charlayne Woodard (Mrs. Price) to figure everything out and have an important scene at the end of the film that suggests sequel though that should be impossible.

McAvoy’s performance, in cycling rapidly through the characters he is playing, takes your breath away—he goes through the transitions so quickly and lands so accurately in the new personality that it defies belief. When all three human characters gather outside the hospital, watched by the three concerned spectators, the struggle that erupts is epic. Dr. Staple sees her role as “Maintaining balance, keeping order.” If she had been successful, this would be a dreadfully dull film. Smaller kids
might find it disturbing because of the violence and weirdness, but adults might enjoy McAvoy’s versatile turn.

The Upside (PG-13)

Kevin Hart actually restrains himself in his role at a “Life Auxiliary” to a fabulously wealthy but paraplegic widower brilliantly played by Bryan Cranston (Phillip). Since Dell (Hart) is an unemployed, badly educated ex-con, one expects things to go badly between Dell and Phillip. Phillip Lacasse (Cranston) lives life in a complex wheelchair and is, to say the least, eccentric. Dell makes him more so, taking him out for ice cream, racing him through Manhattan in lovely expensive cars and eventually  smashing most of Phillip’s collection of pottery and his ex-wife’s maiden aunt’s portrait.

Lacasse is haunted by his wife’s death: He thinks he caused it by pushing her to hang-glide in a storm. The same accident took his mobility. There are several very funny scenes in the film, notably a situation in which Phillip is not breathing and Dell warns him: “Breathe or I am going to give you mouth-to mouth!”

Phillip has been carrying an “epistolary relationship” with a woman named Lily in Buffalo. Julianna Margulies, looking stunning, plays the part of Lily when the two meet for the first time over a disastrous lunch. Even more stunning is Nicole Kidman who, though she looks too young for Cranston’s Phillip, is radiant as usual and a constant love-suspect.

Things come to a head when Dell, hired back after a blowup by Phillip, takes him hang-gliding. The excitement comes when Dell is roped into going along. He learns to like it, as he has come to love opera, and the movie moves to a predictable but highly satisfying ending.

A Dog’s Way Home (PG)

A cute dog who survives wolves, rivers, a 400-mile trip home and you have a, sorry to say, average dog film. Shelby, of course, is a rescue dog who plays Bella (voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard). The other “actors” are mostly animals or animated animals.

Bella is a friendly sort who befriends a cougar kitten (called “Big Kitten” by Bella) but not wolves. Somehow both encounters end in Bella’s survival. The other story, played out in the two-anda-half years it takes Bella to get back to him, is a predictable, even inevitable, love affair and marriage between Lucas (Jonah Hauer-King) and Olivia (Alexandra Shipp). There is nothing objectionable in this film; it’s just so utterly predictable.

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