REASSESSING HILLARY

For many years, I have often said that I felt that Hillary Clinton should have been President in 2008, followed by Barack Obama in 2016. But change does not always come as expected, and as New York Times reporter Amy Chozik notes in the four-part Hillary documentary on Hulu, Clinton always seemed ahead of her time but not of her time. In truth, Americans still accept male Presidents over a female one, and 2020 will not be any different.

After Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is the most polarizing political figure of the last 20 years. In her documentary, director Nanette Burstein makes the case that most of the vitriol that has been spewed her way comes simply from her gender, and a lot of women are as much to blame as men. Looking at this well- researched documentary, which spans not only Clinton’s life but includes major political events that have occurred during it, it could be easy for Gen Xers to look back and realize that things that seemed like major milestones of our youth pale in comparison to the wave of change that emerged following Clinton’s defeat in the 2016 Presidential election.

That’s the thing – pioneers often become sacrificed and never fully achieve the greatness that was intended for them, or what we thought was intended for them. But they open doors and create change which ultimately becomes as much a part of their legacy as their accomplishments. One could argue that Clinton already achieved greatness, but her victory in 2016 would have meant a lot to women young and old.

Over the course of this four-part series, Burstein examines Clinton’s roots,  her rise as a lawyer that included serving on the 1974 legal team for the impeachment of the late President Richard Nixon, marrying future Arkansas Governor and President of the United States Bill Clinton, his tumultuous reign and their tumultuous marriage, and then how she forged a path as New York State Senator, Secretary of State under President Obama, as well as being a two-time Presidential candidate. Each episode is bookended by footage from her 2016 campaign as she battled against the repugnant tactics of Trump, while the center of each takes us back in time throughout her career to contrast her early feminist struggles and the trials and tribulations of her political career and marriage.

For many liberals, it would be easy to watch this and feel bitter about the things that could’ve been. At the same time, both of the Clintons, along with friends and past and present allies, are forthright in assessing both her strengths and weaknesses as a politician and public figure. Not everything went according to plan, particularly her push for healthcare in the early 1990s, which she now feels she should not have spearheaded. At the same time, the anger of conservatives across the country is pathetic when one considers the strides that have been made under the #MeToo movement. Simply put, America has become more misogynistic than it is racist in its politics.

There certainly things that are omitted in this documentary.  Primarily, the allegations that the DNC picked Clinton over Bernie Sanders to be their nominee in 2016. Many may also not be satisfied with why she chose to stay with her husband after two publicly outed affairs. Further, some feel that she is more Establishment than they prefer. But in the end, Hillary is equally focused on examining the personal side of someone who has not always been viewed as a very warm public figure and who has been unfairly vilified for three decades. A re-examination of the oppressive times that Clinton grew up in make it easy to understand why she tends to hold back emotionally. One can also see how her past balking at male stereotypes of women was often misinterpreted by members of her own gender who chose a more traditional path.

If anything, those who don’t like Clinton or have had problems with her, not to mention younger people who know little about her, are really the main audience for this documentary. Even conservative Meghan McCain admitted that she wept by the end because she understands what it’s like to lose on election night – specifically, with her father the late John McCain, in 2008. Too often we view political figures as metaphorical punching bags and not treated as human beings, and Nanette Burstein digs beneath the surface for a more intimate portrait of someone who really has been a trailblazer, regardless of one what might think of her political agenda. Clinton’s achievements are astounding, especially when examined consecutively.

Hillary is a solid documentary and portrait of someone who has been a major symbol for women around the country.  Even if you don’t like her, you may come to respect her more after watching this.

FAMILY FEUD

After director Rian Johnson uprooted the Star Wars mythology to create the controversial The Last Jedi, with Knives Out he tackles the classic ensemble murder mystery, collecting respected thespians from multiple generations to deliver something traditional that feels refreshingly new. It’s not that this particular story is so groundbreaking, but it is the different characters and their interaction that make it so much fun, with an ending that you probably won’t see coming. The big twist has always been a big part of the fun of murder mysteries, but the genre has been laying rather dormant in recent years, so it’s nice to see it get a boost with this film.

The setup here is simple: The patriarch of a wealthy family (Christopher Plummer) dies, and a southern P.I. (Daniel Craig) arrives to help police interrogate family and friends and poke holes in their overlapping stories. An added layer here is the fact that many of the family members are arch conservatives who treat their servants condescendingly and who squabble over politics and money. It’s great to see Jamie Lee Curtis and Don Johnson portray a mean-spirited couple, Craig take on the inquisitive gumshoe, and relative newcomer Ana De Armas play their besieged maid who doesn’t know what to make of any of this. Chris Evans gets to rebuff his noble Captain America image as an arrogant and rebellious family member.

Does Knives Out completely reinvent the murder mystery genre?  No, but it’s a fun ride that is well-made, ripe with humor, and offers an ending suitable for modern times. It also has a multigenerational appeal. My brother and I took our parents to see it, and we all had a blast.

SUBVERSIVE TOONS

Culling animated shorts from the 1940s and early 1950s, Tex Avery Screwball Classics, Volume 1 takes us back to a world of wild toons that are closer to Roger Rabbit than Bugs Bunny, ripe with bloodless but sometimes relentless violence and some sexual innuendo that worked around the mid-20th Century restraints of the Motion Picture Production Code. You could get away with more in cartoons than live action, although those like Avery’s and Betty Boop allegedly had crazier ideas and endings that still needed to be altered. In this Blu-ray collection, characters like Screwball Squirrel, Droopy, Bad Luck Blackie, and others are run through their paces, or run others through them. In “Red Hot Riding Hood,” the classic tale is restaged in 1940s Manhattan. After the rich, dapper Big Bad Wolf can’t get it on with Red Riding Hood at the nightclub where she sings cabaret, he attempts to ambush her at Grandma’s penthouse apartment, only to find that Granny is hot and horny for him and turns the tables. When two starving vultures decided to turn each into a meal in “What’s Buzzin’ Buzzard?” they wage out all war with all manner of weapons ranging from carving knives to a cannon. One of the best bits features an anthromorphic flame ready to turn into a forest fire and calling itself in to the local “Red Hot Rangers”; hijinx ensue. The stories get very meta too, like when Screwy Squirrel peels back the screen to see which scene is coming up next or he stops a skipping record from ruining a chase sequence he is in. There are also some terrible racial stereotypes, like the big-nosed, dopey Native Americans in “Big Heel Watha,” the bulldog of “Bad Luck Blackie” who gets squeezed through a small furnace and comes out looking like a (sorry) slanty-eyed Chinese caricature, and the tiny baseball heckler in the green hat in “Batty Baseball” meant to be an Irishman. They are sadly of their time, and a disclaimer that plays at the start of the disc does not excuse them. Those issues aside, animaniacs will certainly enjoy these deftly animated cartoons whose general wit and fact pacing still work well by 2020 standards. Avery was certainly a pioneer who paved the way for so much of what we see today.

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