“Sorry to Bother You” is an amazing film. It has elements of Terry Gilliam in how the reality that is presented is warped, giving scenes a surreal feel. This is Boots’s first major film and I love how he takes a surreal approach to everything. It follows the feel of a Gilliam film like “Brazil” or “The Fisher King,” where a character down on his luck is put through a warped hell and comes out of it transformed in some way. The pervasive sense of wrongness and fear that is always on the edges is another part of Gilliam’s films that “Sorry to Bother You” has emulated well. These aspects are essentially what happens here, but add analysis of race, class and privilege. It is Boots Riley’s first film (he also wrote as well as directed it) so I’m curious to see what he does in the future. If his other films are anything like this, I’ll be a fan. This is easily one of the best films I’ve seen this year.
The story follows Cassius “Cash” Green (Lakeith Stanfield), who takes a job as a telemarketer in order to pay the bills. He soon rises in the job when he adopts a “White Voice.” His bosses take advantage of the fact that his friends and girlfriend Detroit (Tess Thompson) are part of a protest group called “The Left Eye,” leaving him with a choice of joining his activist friends or becoming part of the greater conspiracy, which he soon discovers runs much deeper and is more twisted than he ever expected.
The Cinematography – This is a beautiful film. Color is used as a theme and from it there are many scenes that feel dreamlike when the colors are bright and vibrant. When there is danger or tension things go dark and the colors become muted or draped in a sickly pale light. This is how it is when Cash is among the wealthy in the WorryFree CEO’s home. The bright colors are muted and darkness covers everything. Doug Emmett did a great job.
Passing and Voice – A major theme of the film is the idea of passing and privilege. Cash moves up when he starts using the “White Voice.” In the film David Cross is dubbed over Lakeith Stanfield. He does this on the phone when telemarketing and the higher ups notice as the whole point of Telemarketing was finding people who could make the calls for war and exploitation on a global scale. The higher ups are nearly all white males illustrating privilege, and the only way Cash and other people of color can pass with the higher ups is speaking with their white voice. The way it is described by one of Cash’s coworker Langston (Danny Glover) is talk like you don’t have a care in the world. All your bills are paid and you don’t need the money, you’ve never been fired, only let go. It expressed privilege so well and the mentality behind the mindset of not having to care about anyone except yourself.
The Characters – The characters are what makes this film work the most. Cash is a guy who hasn’t had a successful job ever, so the temptation of moving up is easy to see him take. He’s in an existentialist crisis questioning what it means to live and who he is, and when the rat race of power is offered, it is easy to see why he would take it. Tessa Thompson’s Detroit is also shown to be more complicated than the revolutionary artist, as during her show she adopts a British “White Voice” among clients as she sells her work. Yeun’s character Squeeze is also amazing as well as the revolutionary who cares about Cash but is also trying to get with his girlfriend showing that his heart might be in the right place with the other Telemarketers and unionizing but he’s still a sleaze. I loved how they all played off each other and the Corporate bosses were fun in their obliviousness or sociopathy. Armie Shammer as the main antagonist and CEO of WorryFree is especially creepy in how he is charismatic and unhinged.
The Degrading Nature of Reality T.V. – One of the running realities of the world of “Sorry to Bother You,” is a show called “I Got the S#*@ Kicked Out of Me!” The show is in the style of Maury or any of the other countless competition shows where the contest gets humiliated in a physical and degrading way. Cassius goes through the show to reveal the conspiracy behind the corporation WorryFree that tricks people into lifetime contracts where they are provided food and shelter but have to work on site and have their freedom and agency given up. They are being used for more nefarious means that Cash finds when the CEO of the Corporation wants him to be their agent among the protests.
The Exploitation of Labor – Another core message of the film is that those with power and privilege don’t care about the workers, and there are systems in place to keep that it going. From the trap of the golden elevator and being able to “support” protests without ever having to join or speak up. Cash is offered this choice that he takes it. The conspiracy that is revealed is that the workers are being transformed into Horse People (equisapiens) so that they will be stronger more efficient workers. Cash is even turned into one when the CEO wants him to be their MLK and trick the species into following WorryFree’s will. The system doesn’t hold at the end after Cash free’s the equisapiens and the protestors are attacked by the police. At the end, we never see if the telemarketers ever got greater rights, tying the fight to modern day with the seeking of rights for workers and the fight against labor exploitation.
This is a film that I’d highly recommend. It is easily one of the best films of the year. I have a spot for surrealist films and films with a point. “Sorry to Bother You,” accomplishes both and is a beautiful film with complicated characters. I can’t wait to see what else Boots Riley creates, as he truly has an eye for cinema and is an extremely talented writer. I love a film with layers and depth that not only are entertaining but have something meaningful to say. Boots Riley is an activist and that comes out in this story, and he does it in a creative way that elevates the piece beyond more than just entertainment. I really enjoyed the final twist as well, which I will not spoil here. Seriously, check this film out.
Final Score: 9.8 / 10 Only reason it wasn’t perfect (though it gets close) is that the ending kind of tapers off and the transformation that Cash goes through from a man in crisis to high on privilege is a bit fast. If it had been a more gradual transformation the film would have been perfect.
“Delicatessen” is a great surrealist French film. The film by the directors’ own omissions said it was inspired by Terry Gilliam, and you definitely get that feel as Gilliam’s work is extremely surreal. But, because it’s surreal it does make it a little harder to review, especially as the story functions as an ensemble story, so a few arcs get lots in the process of the exploration of different characters. This is the only thing that keeps the film from being great since the rest is very solid.
“Delicatessen” was directed by Marco Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet who also wrote the screenplay along with Gilles Adrian and produced by Claudie Ossard.
The story takes place in post-apocalyptic France in a rundown apartment where the Butcher (Jean-Claude Dreyfus) sends a call out for help and kills whomever arrives in order to feed the tenants and keep the peace. Things change though when the former clown Louison (Dominique Pinon) arrives and the Butcher Clapet, his daughter Julie (Marie-Laure Dougnac) and tenants become charged by Louison, causing tension to rise as each knows that they all still need to eat and worry that the Butcher will choose them instead.
The Pros: The World – The apartment that the story takes place in has a wonderful dark humor to it. Everyone there has been driven mad by the world ending and it comes out in different ways…From a man harassing a woman to make her think she hears voices, to a deaf woman walking around with cans tied to her so she can be found, to the newest tenant who is a clown and the fact that most of them are cannibals. There are also the Troglodistes who are vegetarians living underground who take on missions for people who may them in corn.
The Humor – There are some great comedic moments in this film. From the butcher having sex and the springs springing in time to Louison painting and other people working around the apartment building. There is also a moment where it looks like Louison has been be-headed but you soon learn he was just preparing for a performance he was going to put on (made all the more ironic in how most people there want to eat him).
Cinematography – This film is beautiful in how it was filmed. The scenes are desolate and dark while at the same time keeping true to the name. Red is a common color showing that the Butcher is the one who keeps the peace and does it by murder and the tenants eating his kills. Even in desolation there is hope though as seen by how the Louison and Julie relationship is portrayed, showing romance in the dark. Darius Khondji did a great job.
The Butcher – Jean-Claude Dreyfus plays a wonderful mad man who reminded me so much of Sweeney Todd. He is a man who has embraced his madness but still has some good in him deeply buried. Sadly we only see that good in relation to his daughter but all that changes when he gives into social pressure to kill Louison, which in the end leads to him killing himself accidentally in his attempt to kill Louison. This was a tough role to do as he has to be terrifying and sympathetic, just like Sweeney Todd.
Louison – This actor was also in “Amelie” and Dominique Pinon was perfect in this role. He isn’t attractive but he is adorable and his face is the perfect face for a clown, as he has a wide mouth and his head is a little big. This in turn fits with the surrealist feel of the apartment and time and time again he shows the world around him kindness even when he rarely receives any. He is kind, though doesn’t think things through. We see his kindness in creating soap bubbles for the kids in the apartment and how he’ll listen to anyone but how he isn’t all that aware that everyone is a cannibal for the most part and when the mistress asks him to dance he does it without thinking about Julie which leads to Julie walking in on them. Regardless, he is a complex character and a fun character to watch.
Julie – Julie is shy but can be hard and driven when she needs to be. She is the only one who stands up to her father and is the one who tries to save Louison. She is haunted by what her father does and wants to live in a different world. Her greatest escape is through music and she is talented in it as well as being a much more active agent than Louison who is passive. Marie-Laure Dougnac is fantastic!
The Romance – Jean Pierre-Jeunet is one of my favorite directors and one of the few who can pull of romances well. He did it in “Amelie” and he does it here with Julie and Louison. They are both innocent in their own way and figuring things out as romance is so new to both of them. They act (Julie on her Cello, Louison as the clown) as a way to connect to themselves and others and from this their romance blossoms as they have respect for one another too. This is powerful and ends with Julie seeking to Troglodistes to save Louison from her father.
The Troglodistes – The Trogs are great. They are also insane, but good and run like a military operation who great fear the landdwellers as they live in the sewers. They have some great scenes with Julie and we see how desperate they are for supplies when she convinces them by telling them her father has corn in his room. This is enough to convince them to save Louison. They are the only good humans in this world besides Julie and Louison too.
The Flood and Final Scene – When the Butcher and tenants are trying to kill Louison he ends up flooding the bathroom and when the door is open all the water washes away the people trying to get to himself and Julie. It’s a great scene that symbolizes the washing away of the old mentality…and in the end there is a new beginning after the Butcher is gone as Julie and Louison play music on top of the apartment building.
Okay: The Other Tenants – Most of the other tenants don’t feel fleshed out. There is the working class guy whose grandmother gets eaten, the man who makes devices that create animal sounds (he is the one harassing the mad woman) and his son and also the mistress of the Butcher. None of them really change though, which is why I can’t put them as a pro. They are unique characters, but in an ensemble show characters must change to keep it interesting. Even surrealist stories still need an arc for their characters of some kind.
The Cons: Plot Holes – At one point the Butcher is thinking about redemption and how circumstances made him what he is based of what he heard Louison telling Julie. This is never picked up again and the next time he’s trying to kill Louison. The other major plot hole is Julie sees Louison dancing with the Mistress, but they never address it. Both these issues are never touched on again which makes the ending and final fight come on suddenly. This was a major con as they could have gone somewhere, the movie wasn’t long so this wasn’t left out due to lack of time.
This was a really good film that I definitely recommend. It does have issues, like the plot holes but it is still a very fun ride and the cinematography and strangeness of the tenants make for some wonderful experiences. Jean-Pierre Juenet has done it again and after seeing this I want to see more of his films and more of the surrealist films from France and elsewhere in the world. This film was beautiful, even with the plot hole issues and it is worth checking out.
Final Score: 9 / 10. Solidly great in the end.
This movie was twisted and a lot of fun. I want to check out more by Nicolas Winding Refn after this, as he was the director and one of the writers who created this story. This is also the film that showed why Nolan chose to cast Tom Hardy as Bane. He owns it as a dangerous psychopath with a twisted mind in this.
Bronson is based off some of the events in the life of Michael Gordon Peterson, who took the name Charles Bronson after getting out of prison and doing fights. The film takes the idea that it is a separate identity that consumes him…or may be the true him that was there all along. I’ll go into more details in the assessment.
The film was produced by Rupert Preston and Danny Hansford, and Brock Norman Brock was the other writer along with the writer and director Nicolas Winding Refn who created the screenplay.
The story begins with Bronson performing before an audience and giving his backstory. We learn how he sees himself as having a normal life but began fights and robbing at an early age, and was how he met his first wife, but that his life really took off after he robbed a Post Office and was sent to prison. From here the story unfolds.
Here is the assessment of the film:
The Pros: The Music – The music in this is amazing! At times it’s electronic, at times it’s classical and other times there is song. One thing they all have in common though is they reflect different parts of how Bronson sees himself. It captures his insanity, aggression and calm before he does something else stupid. Johnny Jewel really did a fantastic job with this music.
The Cinematography – This movie is beautifully filmed. We get him under red light in solitary and the feeling of trapped, we get his moments of calm meditation as he plans to fight and we see his insanity as he sees his life as a performance before the audience and that with them he is popular and loved and truly just a clown. In this way he is a lot like Goose in “A Clockwork Orange” though not as psychotic…
Bronson’s Performance – What I’m referring to here is his telling of events before the audience. We see his false guilt he feels when he is crying in a scene and on stage he is wearing stage make-up. This interior performance shows that Bronson was always the core of his personality and how much of a joke human relationships are to him.
A Code of Justice – One thing about Bronson that put’s him above Goose is he does have some sense of justice. He will not fight a person who doesn’t want to fight if they show themselves to be kind and he tries to kill a pedophile who confesses that they are the same. This showed a dimension to his aggression beyond just an adrenaline rush and wanting of attention. He does have a code.
Paul Daniels – This is the one character besides the Prison artist Phil Danielson who sees the potential in Bronson. Daniels is respected more but he is also much more detached, which makes him an interesting character. He is the one person we meet who doesn’t praise or threaten Bronson, which makes me think he was one of the few people this psychopath considered equals. He meets Paul in prison and after becomes a fighter for him when they are out of prison, it is Paul who proposes Peterson change his name to Bronson since it will be easier to sell. After Bronson goes back to prison though, we never see him again. Matt King is great as the cool confident character.
Phil Danielson – James Lance is good in this role. He helps Bronson find a way for him to express himself through art and it looks like he’s succeeding until he mentions them as “we” and it looks like he’s using Bronson for attention. This is what sets Bronson on edge and leads him to getting naked and paints his face and puts an apple in Phil’s mouth while music is played.
Bronson/Peterson – Tom Hardy truly owns this role and I’m glad that probably because of this he was chose to be Bane, who is one of my favorite baddies in the Batman Nolanverse. We see a guy who does care to some degree even if he does everything to separate himself from those who try to help him. He’s a broken and psychotic character who isn’t a hero, and he isn’t presented as one. It makes him an intriguing character. He also loves his form as he gets naked when he fights the guards in prison.
Okay: The Side Characters – From his wife, girlfriend, to every prison warden we meet…these characters are side characters who don’t get much development or have much influence in the end on the story. It’s almost like they are pieces of Bronson’s psyche which is why I can’t put this as a con…I do wish their motivations had been developed more. The characters listed above are the only ones whose motivations aren’t tied to Bronson fully. The rest are reactions to the things he does and don’t feel fully fleshed out for that reason.
The Cons: Presentation of Women – Most women in this that aren’t his mother are pole dancers or prostitutes and are only their to be used. This was a shame since even some of the prison guards had more agency than that. They at least got to react to Bronson in some way beyond submission.
Would I recommend this movie? If you don’t mind violence and nudity (which I didn’t, Tom Hardy is attractive) I would say go for it. It is a brilliant exploration of a character, even if the side characters are most there to put him in situations to react to or react to his situations. This is the exploration of Bronson’s psyche and showing the depths of his insanity and how he sees himself was genius. A psychopath for whom life is a stage, but still has something of a code. Definitely a favorite after today.
Final Score is 9.2 / 10