It’s Inauguration Day. If you don’t feel embarrassed, angry, or a little bit sad, let’s see how you’ll feel 100 days from now, or in six months, or a year. Because if you honestly believe that Trump will Make America Great Again for anybody other than fellow rich people, you’re in for a shock.
“There’s a sucker born every minute” is a phrase often attributed to P. T. Barnum, but it was actually one of his competitors who said it. Regardless, it feels appropriate now. Coinciding with the start of the Trump administration is the news that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is closing its curtains after 146 years in business. If you feel sad for all the clowns who have lost their jobs, just know that the biggest clown will soon take the world stage.
Most of us can’t afford to pack up and leave the country, so we’re gonna have to stick it out. Maybe watch a few movies and hope we don’t get seriously sick without medical insurance.
Warning: May contain spoilers.
Sour Grapes (2016)
Starring: Rudy Kurniawan, Laurent Ponsot, Jefery Levy
Director: Reuben Atlas, Jerry Rothwell
Summary: A scam artist rips off filthy rich wine enthusiasts.
If you’ve ever witnessed a wine tasting and doubted whether the connoisseurs pontificating about taste and texture actually knew what the hell they were talking about, this documentary might make you feel good about yourself. Proving that forgeries are not only part of the art world, Sour Grapes documents the case of Rudy Kurniawan, who between the ’90s dot-com explosion and the ’08 crash managed to auction off ungodly amounts of fake wine in reused bottles with doctored labels to people with way too much money.
It’s fascinating seeing just how deep Kurniawan’s scam goes once the FBI gets involved. But, aside from all of his wheeling and dealing, one has to wonder how much Kurniawan’s “victims” contributed to their own duping by believing the more they paid the better the wine automatically was. And, with an estimated 40,000 counterfeit bottles still in collectors’ cellars, do the people who were ripped off really want to know the truth or are they content with being able to show off to friends their overpriced luxury items, even if they’re illegitimate?
One person who seems to care about legitimacy is billionaire Bill Koch. It might be immature, but watching Koch admit that he got swindled for $4 million in exchange for 400 bottles worth of expensive-ass grape juice is some high-grade schadenfreude. But then you see his lingering smile and you remember that $4 million is just a drop in the bucket for this guy. It’s sad. The 1 percent never loses.
Big Eyes (2014)
Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz
Director: Tim Burton
Summary: A conniving husband takes credit for artist wife’s popular work.
Big Eyes is based on the true story of Margaret Keane (Adams), the creator of the eerie paintings of children with oversized eyes that were something of a pop culture sensation in the ’60s. The artwork was not only marketed and mass-produced on posters and postcards by her Svengali husband, Walter (Waltz), but he also claimed to have painted the strange pieces, an act of betrayal that relegated Margaret to the background.
The film demonstrates how in an era when the female population was still openly treated like second-class citizens it was easier to dismiss women as anything other than wives or mothers. Adams helps us understand how Margaret, although quite unhappy, went along with the secret. Part of her feels helpless to speak up, caught up in a moment she can’t (or won’t) believe is happening. Then she’s manipulated to keep quiet once the money starts piling in, told that she’s now involved in fraud.
When one thinks of Tim Burton movies, one usually thinks of a fantastic tale starring Johnny Depp in an elaborate disguise. It’s refreshing to see the director step out of the lavish wonderlands and work within the confines of the real world again, although this being Burton, he does slip in a few surreal moments and at times frames Margaret’s predicament like a fairy tale as our heroine is kept prisoner in the attic, forced to toil by a scoundrel with the gift of gab who really is an ogre.
Starring: Koudous Seihon, Alassane Sy, Pio Amato
Director: Jonas Carpignano
Summary: African refugees risk everything for a better life.
The perils of immigration are acutely depicted in Mediterranea. We are taken on a long journey side by side with Ayiva (Seihon) and Abas (Sy), two men from Burkina Faso who are like brothers, making their way through unforgiving desert and rough seas before landing in the town of Rosarno in Calabria, Italy, lucky to be alive.
Much of the film takes place there, and while it might seem like the worst of their problems are behind them, their new life isn’t exactly ideal: Local residents don’t want them there and are not shy about letting it be known as they zoom by in their cars, coming dangerously close to hitting the migrants as they walk by the side of the road. Ayiva and Abas sleep in rat-infested makeshift tents, enduring cold weather, then wake up at the crack of dawn to go pick oranges—hard labor that sometimes goes unpaid if the boss doesn’t think they did the job right. Through it all, they must deal with the feeling of being isolated and separated from their families back home.
Director Carpignano gives us an unflinching, often poignant portrayal of poor people with no rights pushed to the edge. These refugees are not just defending themselves but fighting for respect. Because even when you have nothing you still need your self-worth.
The ReZort (2015)
Starring: Jessica De Gouw, Dougray Scott, Martin McCann
Director: Steve Barker
Summary: People pay to shoot zombies on a corporation-controlled island.
There are a lot of things the world needs more than another zombie flick. But, as far as entertainment value goes, The ReZort does its job.
The basic setup of the story, which we learn through news reports, is that there was a global zombie outbreak that ended up killing two billion humans. For the past seven years, the world has been rebuilding after the catastrophic invasion was put under control. Although zombies are no longer an immediate threat, there exists a far off place similar to a safari park where people can hunt the undead for a hefty price. So, yeah, the plot of this movie is kind of like Jurassic Park or Westworld with zombies.
Anyways, people from everywhere visit the island to let off steam, to feel the cheap thrill of killing, or to undergo some sort of cathartic experience. Our protagonist, Melanie (De Gouw, who was in These Final Hours), has arrived with her military boyfriend (McCann) thinking that by putting bullets in walker brains she might be able to get past the trauma of her father’s zombie-related death.
The ReZort is the type of movie you’d randomly catch on Cinemax late at night that would turn out being better than expected. The acting isn’t the highest of quality at times, the dialogue isn’t particularly memorable, and it certainly won’t revolutionize the genre, but the film does enough to keep you engaged all the way to the thrilling end, and even manages to slip in some relevant social commentary.
13 Cameras (2015)
Starring: Neville Archambault, Brianne Moncrief, PJ McCabe
Director: Victor Zarcoff
Genre: Thriller, Exploitation
Summary: A landlord installs hidden cameras in a young couple’s home.
Invasion of privacy is a fact of life for every American citizen nowadays. Whether it’s security cams, stalkers, or the government, you are being watched.
If you ever have the unfortunate experience of having a stranger spy on your most private affairs, pray that it isn’t someone like Gerald (Archambault), who has to be one of the creepiest villains in recent memory. Actually, it’s Archambault’s dead-eyed and deranged hulk of a man that really makes the movie worth watching. It’s doubtful you’ll find a more physically intimidating bad guy. He’s the walking definition of a disgusting pussy-grabber who sets up secret cameras all around the house he’s rented out to Claire (Moncrief) and Ryan (McCabe). So, we sit there watching a creep watch a young couple while they shower and do other personal things. Adding to the sleazy feeling is the fact that Claire is pregnant, which makes the violation seem even worse somehow.
The acting from the rest of the cast could be better, but chances are you’ll feel sympathy for victim Claire, especially after a truly revolting scene with a toothbrush that you hopefully won’t think about the next time you brush your own teeth.
Story-wise, 13 Cameras is nothing groundbreaking, but it is compulsive viewing. Voyeurism can hold a powerful grip on people, even when witnessing unpleasant situations. And if you feel gross watching this, that’s the point.