Orenthal James Simpson turns 70

I remember staring at that image in Canton.

In the summer of 2016, when the family went to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH, one of the first of the player busts I looked at closely was that of one Orenthal James Simpson. He was one of the greatest players in the game, the first to rush for over 2000 yards in a season while playing in upstate New York’s only NFL team. He was good-looking and affable. He was mediocre at best behind the mic on Monday Night Football, but he was entertaining enough in those Naked Gun movies.

How did THIS guy go so wrong?

This past Oscar season, when I noted that I had seen O.J.: Made in America, more than one person said that they weren’t going to watch it because, they surmised, it would glorify the athlete. It was quite clear that they hadn’t viewed the film at all.

As the Boston Globe noted: “The movie turned out a lot better than expected: Wider, deeper, more thoughtful, and more thought-provoking. Not just a nostalgic rehash of tabloid titillation but a work that viewed the Simpson case through a telephoto lens of race, class, sport, celebrity, and injustice.”

I found the film oddly compelling. There was about 30 minutes in the second segment that didn’t even mention O.J. but talked about the Korean woman who shot a black person. And Rodney King, who was a black man beaten by members of the Los Angeles Police Department, and who, in a foretelling of 21st century events, were caught on camera. And Reginald Denny, the equally unfortunate white truck driver, who was beaten by rioters after those LAPD officers were acquitted.

And I remember staring at that image in Canton, only a month after watching that movie, and I was literally shaking my head, less in disbelief than in sorrow.

Orenthal James Simpson is 70, and in jail, though, I understand, eligible for parole in October 2017 for his part in a robbery.

Academy Awards 2017

“The idea was to redefine a 467-minute documentary as a cinematic experience and to be eligible for the end-of-year awards circuit.”

When the Academy Awards nominations were announced on January 24, I noted what I’d seen, and what I liked the most, and also who/what I thought would win. Link (only the first time) to any movie I saw and reviewed.

Picture

“Arrival” – I thought it was a nice meditation. It may have peaked too soon, and with no acting nominations, I don’t expect it to win.
“Fences” – I liked it a lot, with bravado performances. But perhaps it was too stagy.
“Hacksaw Ridge” – I had no real interest in seeing this. It was, per the R rating, “for intense prolonged realistically graphic sequences of war violence including grisly bloody images.”
“Hell or High Water” – I had considered seeing it, but reviews such as “The violence has speed, impact and follow-through — it’s a magnificent rebuke to all the hundreds of cute killings on screen in summer movies” made me wary
“Hidden Figures” -it is my favorite film of the ones nominated. Maybe not the best, but the one that made me the happiest when I left the theater
“La La Land” – I do like this movie too, and have defended it
“Lion” – great first part, OK second part
“Manchester by the Sea” – fine film, depressing as hell
*“Moonlight” – the best picture nominated
All the Best Picture noms in the first half of the alphabet!

Directing

Denis Villeneuve, “Arrival” – I love the way the story is put together in a nonlinear way, which I should credit to the editor, I suppose
Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge” – I had forgotten that Gibson was directing it; he’s come out of Hollywood purgatory, it would seem
Damien Chazelle, “La La Land” – paced well, I thought, though some I’ve talked with would disagree
Barry Jenkins, “Moonlight” – my rooting interest
Kenneth Lonergan, “Manchester by the Sea” – fine job

Actor in a leading role

Casey Affleck, “Manchester by the Sea” – I was distracted that a comic character he played in a Saturday Night Live piece is not dissimilar to this character
Andrew Garfield, “Hacksaw Ridge” – he’s in “Silence” too; haven’t seen that either
Ryan Gosling, “La La Land” – I think he might win because he learned to play piano for the role
Viggo Mortensen, “Captain Fantastic” – I would like to see this, suddenly
*Denzel Washington, “Fences” – I wonder if the limited venues chosen by the director (who was NOT nominated) will affect the actor’s chances; maybe not, as it was a tremendous performance

Actor in a supporting role

Mahershala Ali, “Moonlight” – not only is he great in this role, he’s fine in Hidden Figures; my rooting interest
Jeff Bridges, “Hell or High Water” – he’s well-liked, well-regarded
Lucas Hedges, “Manchester by the Sea” – really glad he was nominated
*Dev Patel, “Lion” – I thought it was a bit overwrought for a time, and it bugged me
Michael Shannon, “Nocturnal Animals” – I steered away from this film, so can’t say

Actress in a leading role:

I’m not much for “slights” but I thought Amy Adams would be here for Arrival, steadied by her performance in Nocturnal Animals. And I thought Taraji P. Henson had a real shot at a nomination for Hidden Figures.
Emma Stone, “La La Land” – more than with Gosling, she was criticized for not being able to sing. I don’t think she’ll win
Natalie Portman, “Jackie” – people loved or hated the movie; the weekend it left town, I had decided to see it. She may win
Ruth Negga, “Loving” – great performance, but quiet. I don’t think she wins
Meryl Streep, “Florence Foster Jenkins” – an honor to be nominated, again
Isabelle Huppert, “Elle” – I thought about seeing this, but a film of that’s “a game of cat and mouse as she tracks down the unknown man who raped her” just didn’t quite make the cut. Still, I wouldn’t bet against her winning

Actress in a supporting role

Viola Davis, “Fences” – this is not a supporting actress role. She won Best Actress for the same role on Broadway. Still, she’s as close to a lock as anyone.
Naomie Harris, “Moonlight” – after watching her interviewed by Charlie Rose, she’s become my favorite in a year without Viola Davis
Nicole Kidman, “Lion” – she’s good, had a really fine scene or two, but not blown away
Octavia Spencer, “Hidden Figures” – she was solid and dependable, and nothing wrong with that
*Michelle Williams, “Manchester by the Sea” – she’s very good, and in another year, she might win

Adapted Screenplay

“Lion,” by Luke Davis – the first part is great
“Arrival,” by Eric Heisserer – I enjoyed it, but it seemed to confuse more than a few
“Moonlight,” by Barry Jenkins – my rooting interest, the most important story being told
“Hidden Figures,” by Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder – this is quite a good synthesis of fact and near fact
*“Fences,” by August Wilson – August Wilson died in October 2005; how does he even get nominated in this category?

Original Screenplay

“Manchester by the Sea,” by Kenneth Lonergan – I think this will be the consolation prize for a fine film
“Hell or High Water,” by Taylor Sheridan – I heard good things
“La La Land,” by Damien Chazelle – maybe, but I’m not feeling it
*“20th Century Women,” Mike Mills – its only nomination; won’t win
“The Lobster,” by Efthymis Filippou and Yorgos Lanthimos – I heard all sorts of things about this movie, which I never had a chance to see. It sounds weird, which doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have liked it. But it won’t win here either.

Cinematography

“Arrival” – as an unconventional story, it pulls off the look of its elements convincingly
“La La Land” – bright and shiny when it’s positive; I suspect it could win
“Lion” – great contrast between the India and Australia sections
“Moonlight” – has the appropriate bleak look
“Silence” – looks good in the ads

Documentary feature

“Fire at Sea”
“I am Not Your Negro” – a story about James Baldwin that’s has appeared in trailers but hasn’t made it to town yet
“Life, Animated” – I liked it, but it’s a personal/family story, and will have trouble competing
“OJ: Made in America” – as the Boston Globe story explains: “Before putting it into heavy rotation on ESPN in June and July [where I saw it], ESPN Films released the documentary in two theaters in May: the small New York City indie stalwart Cinema Village and the similar Laemmle Monica Film Center in Los Angeles. Drawing crowds wasn’t the point. The idea was to redefine a 467-minute documentary as a cinematic experience and to be eligible for the end-of-year awards circuit.” This clever tactic is allowed. It is VERY good, but this feels like a bit of a cheat
“13th” – Ava DuVernay’s piece on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution and mass incarceration I would very much want to see; watch the trailer.

Documentary short:

“Extermis”
*“4.1 miles” There are 4.1 miles from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos, and thousands of people in recent years have made the perilous journey – as of this writing, you can see the film here.
“Joe’s Violins” – this was a Kickstarter project
“Watani: My Homeland”
“The White Helmets”

Foreign language film:

“Toni Erdmann,” Germany
“The Salesman,” Iran
“A Man Called Ove,” Sweden – this film played for weeks in Albany, and jut at the point we finally were going to see it, it left. Bummer.
“Tanna,” Australia
“Land of Mine,” Denmark

Sound editing – now we get to the technical categories where I have no idea

“Arrival”
“Deepwater Horizon”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“La La Land”
*“Sully”

Sound mixing

“Arrival”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“La La Land”
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”
“13 Hours”

Original song

“City of Stars” (“La La Land”)
“How Far I’ll Go” (“Moana”) – Lin-Manuel Miranda could get an EGOT (Emmy/Grammy/Oscar/Tony). In fact, since he won a Pulitzer, he could win a PEGOT, like Richard Rogers and Marvin Hamlisch. And with two songs from La La Land, he’s not throwing away his shot
*“Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” (“La La Land”) – this is the song that made me cry, so it’s my pick
“The Empty Chair” (“Jim: The James Foley Story”)
“Can’t Stop the Feeling!” (“Trolls”)

Visual effects:

“Deepwater Horizon”
“Doctor Strange”
*“The Jungle Book” – it did look good
“Kubo and the Two Strings”
“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Makeup and hairstyling

*“A Man Called Ove”
“Star Trek Beyond”
“Suicide Squad”

Costume design

*Mary Zophres, “La La Land”
Madeline Fontaine, “Jackie”
Consolata Boyle, “Florence Foster Jenkins”
Colleen Atwood, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them”
Joanna Johnston, “Allied”

Film Editing

“Arrival”
“Hell or High Water”
“Hacksaw Ridge”
“La La Land”
*“Moonlight”

Animated Feature Film

“Kubo and the Two Strings” – here’s the soundtrack
“Moana”
“My Life as a Zucchini”
“The Red Turtle”
“Zootopia” – clearly my favorite of the two I’ve seen.

The Academy Awards will air on February 26.

TV review- O.J.: Made in America

O.J. Simpson – race be damned – was one of the most popular figures around.

OJ-Made-in-AmericaSeriously, I didn’t know it was going to be on, but came across it flipping through the channels. On the heels of the popular The People v. O.J. Simpson, part of the American Crime Story series on the FX network – which I did not see – comes O.J.: Made in America, a sprawling five-part documentary on the cable sports network ESPN.

Many people know about the bizarre low-speed chase of Simpson’s Ford Bronco, Most are aware of the “trial of the century,” an appellation that may very well be correct. At least in the United States, almost EVERYONE had an opinion about the former football player’s guilt or innocence in the murders of his estranged wife Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman.

The most mild-mannered person I have ever known was incensed when Simpson was acquitted of the crimes, as was most of white America. Yet many black Americans literally cheered the verdict. This phenomenon is established fact. What the documentary explains, among many other things, is WHY there was such a disparity in response.

The first segment shows how Simpson went from Heisman-trophy-winning running back for the University of Southern California Trojans to stardom in the NFL, becoming the first player ever to rush for 2000 yards in a season. But when Simpson retired from football and returned to Los Angeles, he remained famous, as an actor (The Naked Gun movies), advertising pitchman (Hertz car rental), and broadcasting (Monday Night Football). He met and fell madly in love with a young, blonde, beautiful actress named Nicole Brown.

I loved the second part. It was about the two different versions of Los Angeles, one “wealthy, privileged, and predominantly white. A world where celebrity was power, and where O.J. – race be damned – was one of the most popular figures around… Then there was the other LA, just a few miles away from Brentwood and his Rockingham estate, a place where millions of other black people lived an entirely different reality at the hands of the Los Angeles Police Department.” In fact, in describing the Rodney King beating and the subsequent riots that erupted in 1992, the filmmakers spent about a half-hour not talking about O.J. at all.

Part 3 was about the murder itself, and the chase, and while I knew much of it, there were details I was unaware of. Part 4 described the trial and the re-Negrofication of Orenthal James Simpson by the defense team. Part 5 detailed all the bizarre stuff after the acquittal, including the book O.J. wrot,e If I Did It.

The story was enhanced by the recollections of district attorney Gil Garcetti, lead prosecuting attorney Marcia Clark, LA police detective Mark Fuhrman, LA policeman and Simpson friend Ron Shipp, Ron Goldman’s father Fred, defense attorneys F. Lee Bailey, Carl Douglas, and Barry Schreck, and many other participants. The narrative speaks deftly about the power of celebrity and class, spousal abuse, police/community relations, and racial identity in a way that resonates to this day. I came to the conclusion that: 1) O.J. likely did the murders but that 2) the defense did not make its case, due to the great efforts of the defense team, and some of the rulings of Judge Lance Ito.

I’m glad I watched O.J.: Made In America, though it was quite depressing. The series is available on some streaming services, and no doubt will be available on DVD soon; perhaps it’ll be rerun someday. Ron Shipp believes O.J. Simpson will hate it.

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