‘Passing’ Patiently Presents a Black-and-White-and-Shades-of-Grey Portrait of Getting By

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Passing (CREDIT: Netflix)

Starring: Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, André Holland, Bill Camp, Alexander Skarsgård

Director: Rebecca Hall

Running Time: 98 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 mainly for The Utterance of a Few Racial Slurs

Release Date: October 27, 2021 (Theaters)/November 10, 2021 (Netflix)

So much of Passing consists of just conversations. Anything more would be too dangerous. Actually the conversations are already plenty dangerous.

Based on Nella Larsen’s 1929 novel of the same, it all begins with a slightly surreal encounter. Surreal in the sense that when dreaming, we randomly encounter people from our pasts that we haven’t seen for a while and yet it makes perfect sense. And so it goes when Irene Redfield (Tessa Thompson) bumps into her old friend Clare Bellew (Ruth Negga) and discovers that she’s been utilizing her light skin tone to pass herself off as a white woman. This includes being married to a proudly racist man (Alexander Skarsgård) and privately hoping that her children don’t arrive any darker than her. She’s living on the razor’s edge, but she’s so matter of fact about it all, as if to say (without actually coming out and saying it) that what she’s doing is perfectly logical.

Writer/director Rebecca Hall (in her directorial debut) takes an understandably patient approach to the material in which not much happens, because everyone is holding themselves back from what they can’t allow to happen. This results in Passing feeling significantly longer than it actually is, which is an observation that is usually meant as a criticism, but in this case I mean it as neutrally as possible. Perhaps the explanation for this temporal confusion is that Clare has the ability to warp the perception of reality within the people in her orbit. She’s the one who’s primarily doing the title action, but it’s Reenie and her husband Brian (André Holland) who get most of the film’s attention, as their relatively comfortable Harlem existence is threatened by just the slightest hint of chaos. There are some lighter moments (particularly any scene with Bill Camp as Reenie and Brian’s regular jazz club companion), but otherwise you can practically see the seams of existence being torn asunder.

It all leads up to a violent climax that might have you grateful that something is finally happening to move the plot forward, although that gratefulness will probably fade in the face of the tragedy. Perhaps you will adjust your gratefulness to think that at least this sort of thing is unlikely to happen again a century later. But while passing between different racial settings might not look exactly the same as it did in previous eras, everyday deceit and the rationalization of such deceit still exists. This is a slow-burning disaster movie; if you ever find yourself in a similar situation and you don’t want the ending to be the same as Clare’s, then you might just want to do more than talk.

Passing is Recommended If You Like: The Harlem Renaissance, Smoke-filled jazz rooms, Tragedy predetermined by the whims of fate

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Deceptions

Godzilla vs. Kong vs. My Internal Composure: A Movie Review

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Godzilla vs. Kong (CREDIT: Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Godzilla, King Kong, Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown, Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, Shun Oguri, Eiza González, Julian Dennison, Lance Reddick, Kyle Chandler, Demián Bichir, Mechagodzilla

Director: Adam Wingard

Running Time: 113 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Release Date: March 31, 2021

What if it were Godzilla vs. Kong vs. … jmunney? Does the latest no-holds cinematic brawl between these two iconic behemoths make me want to join the fight? Hey man, I’m a pacifist! But entering their domain in some capacity might be fun. They seem like good company.  Kong is certainly a clown. And sensitive, to boot! Godzilla’s harder to peg, but I’d be willing to put in the emotional groundwork to make the connection. What’s Mechagodzilla’s deal, though? He sure comes out of nowhere. Does he even have a soul?!

Grade: 5 Podcasts of 10 ASLs

And Now For Something Completely Funky: ‘Long Shot’ Movie Review

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CREDIT: Philippe Bossé

I’m not sure what Long Shot‘s sense of the political landscape is. It seems to believe that the difference between Democrats and Republicans can actually be quite nebulous, which is interesting to think about, and maybe true in some cases, but certainly not in the majority of my experience. It also has some valuable things to say about the importance of compromise, although it’s kind of shouty and generic about it. But anyway, this is mostly a love story.

At first blush, it might look like the same old tale between a beautiful blonde (Charlize Theron as a presidential candidate) and a lovable schlub (Seth Rogen as a journalist-cum-speechwriter), but it downplays any eyeroll-worthy aspect of that setup by clearly illustrating the mutual attraction here. So Long Shot works best when it investigates what ambitious people are willing to sacrifice or not sacrifice, and why, in the name of the people they care about, though it would have benefited from more specific political window-dressing.

I give Long Shot My Satisfied Endorsement.

Movie Review: ‘The Hummingbird Project’ Wrings Some Meaning Out of a Story That Few, If Any, People Were Clamoring to Hear

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CREDIT: The Orchard

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Alexander Skarsgård, Michael Mando, Salma Hayek, Sarah Goldberg

Director: Kim Nguyen

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: R for The Profanity of High-Stakes Finance

Release Date: March 15, 2019 (Limited)

The Hummingbird Project has one of the most stunningly esoteric premises of any theatrically released movie I have ever come across. So it’s a bit of a small miracle that it actually manages to be halfway compelling. It helps that the execution is straightforward, but that is also what holds it back from being truly memorable. Vincent Zaleski (Jesse Eisenberg) is a high-frequency trader whose dream is to build a fiber-optic cable line between Kansas and New Jersey that is efficient enough to decrease the time that information currently travels over that distance by one millisecond. But is that really his dream? Is that really anyone’s dream? His cousin and partner Anton (Alexander Skarsgård) is just as committed to the goal, but he essentially has a healthier perspective, treating it as a game or a code to crack. For Vincent, this is really about proving to the world that the little guy can come out on top, but his obsession has led him to turn the meaning of this highly specialized thing into the thing itself, when it actually represents normal human desires.

I imagine that many viewers will have the same reaction to Vincent and Anton that I did, which is to want to assure them that one millisecond cannot possibly be that important, no matter how many millions it will make them over the long run. Their pursuit is fundamentally maddening, though Eisenberg and Skarsgård make it palatable by tuning their performances to a sensitive enough key. It also helps that the script underlines how much they are doing this for a better family life. Vincent keeps reminding Anton that this job will ultimately lead to a charming, country mansion. Their desires are simple, really, as Vincent also promises that he will take Anton’s daughters out for ice cream once they return home.

Unsurprisingly, then, for a number of reasons, it turns out that Vincent is doing this all for his father, a Russian immigrant who was shaken down by government types on suspicion of being a communist spy. That led Vincent to learn that he needs to be so good at what he does that the people in charge cannot possibly deny it. This is a fairly unique version of the trope of attempting to please your parents after they’ve died, but it is not reason enough for Vincent to practically kill himself with his single-mindedness. It is a bit of a marvel how much relatable meaning can come out of this premise, but is still so esoteric as to have been seemingly made for one very specific theoretical viewer, and that viewer is not me.

The Hummingbird Project is Recommended If You Like: The specifics of laying down fiber-optic cable

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Milliseconds