Showing posts with label movie review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movie review. Show all posts

Friday, September 3, 2021

With Keaton as Ken Feinberg for 9/11 20th, 'Worth' challenges tort norms with study of victim comp

Worth, a dramatization of Kenneth Feinberg's special mastership of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, dropped on Netflix today in select markets.

I frame my 1L Torts class with exploration of tort alternatives, and I periodically infuse our study with comparative law.  Typically, I begin Torts I in August with a study of the New Zealand accident compensation system.

I ask the class whether Americans might similarly embrace social compensation.  Notwithstanding their personal predilections, students readily identify objections based in deterrence dynamics, the American ethos of personal responsibility, and our cultural priority of "day in court" entitlement.

In the spring semester, I round out Torts II with a return to tort alternatives in America's exceptions to the rule, easing our study from worker compensation to compensation funds, such as 9/11 and BP.  Students are then challenged to consider: if Americans find the notion of New Zealand-style social compensation system so repellent, why do we embrace it when the stakes are especially high?

For two years now, I have used the German-made Playing God (2017), a documentary about Brockton, Mass.-native Feinberg, as a springboard for class discussion of the necessary parameters of social compensation systems, including valuations.  Previously, I used recorded lectures by Feinberg.  A good, recent, and more-concise-than-usual item is his talk at Chicago Ideas Week on the theme of his 2005 book, What is Life Worth?—the original title of the movie, Worth, according to IMDb.

Even if a torts professor does not wish to cover alternative compensation systems, these are useful audiovisual catalysts for discussion of the valuation of life and loss, as part of the study of damages.  Other worthy tools, in the podcast vein, include "Worth" on Radiolab (2014) and Feinberg's appearance on Freakonomics Radio (2018).

Starring Michael Keaton as Feinberg, Worth is necessarily a Hollywood conflation of events and issues, focusing on 9/11 upon its upcoming 20th anniversary.  Still, plenty of effort is exerted to remain faithful to history.  Feinberg is pictured enduring the heat of an angry and frustrated assembly of families, after which he has informative if discordant exchanges with individuals.  There are also discrete scenes of victim testimonies that might seem interruptive of flow in an ordinary drama, but can't help but captivate in the haunting context of 9/11.

These interactions and the orbiting characters who emerge in the story are clearly modeled on, or amalgams of, real events and persons, many of whom were recorded in videos from the time, and clips of which can be seen in Playing God.  Exemplifying his skills as a character actor, refined in landmark roles from Beetlejuice to Birdman to Ray Kroc, Keaton offers a compelling portrayal of Feinberg as the peculiar human protagonist whose likeness has become inextricable from American mass compensation systems, for better and for worse.

Worth is a superb ride and offers endless starting points for serious academic discourse on the subject of compensation models, not to mention the role of the legal profession and the complex sociology of death.  The film is a welcome addition to the audiovisual arsenal for classroom teaching to stimulate deep thinking on the wisdom of tort law.


Saturday, October 17, 2020

Multi-ethnic kid crew fights bloodsucking gentrification

Are you in need of a Stranger Things fix? Season 4 resumed filming a couple of weeks ago.

In the meantime, Netflix's Vampires vs. the Bronx offers delightful diversion.

There have been black vampires and black horror films, but not so much vampire films with human protagonists of color.  Or many colors.  Enter Vampires vs. the Bronx, a welcome addition in the open vein of comedy-horror.

In Vampires, a quartet of talented youthful stars (Jaden Michael, Gerald Jones III, Gregory Diaz IV, and Coco Jones) are residents of a Bronx neighborhood resisting a clandestine vampire invasion.  The characters casually comprise kids of African-American, Haitian, Puerto Rican, and Dominican descent.  Their cultures are not conflated as we get glimpses of their home lives.

The film collects stars and boasts a few subtle send-ups to classic comedy and horror.  An opening cameo by Zoe Saldana is especially apt, as her heritage includes all of Dominican, Haitian, and Puerto Rican roots.  Cliff "Method Man" Smith plays the local priest, who doles out the Eucharist with a steely glare to his troublesome young congregants.  Bronx-native, Dominican-American comedian, Joel "The Kid Mero" Martinez drives the narrative as beloved bodega owner-operator Tony.   

Saturday Night Live actor-comedian Chris Redd and another Bronx-native, Dominican-American comedian, Vladimir CaamaƱo, get a few of the film's top comic lines as observers of the action in the tradition of Statler and Waldorf, or Jay and Silent Bob. Director Oz Rodriguez also directs Saturday Night Live and is a native of the Dominican Republic.

Vampires vs. The Bronx is built not so subtly on a storyline of urban gentrification.  The Scandinavian-blonde vampire brood seeks to seize local businesses and convert the likes of Tony's bodega to high-end retail and craft coffee.  The vampires are aided by their human familiar, Frank Polidori (Shea Wigham), who brings Italian-mob-style tough tactics to persuade property owners to sell.  Acquiring a building has the spooky side effect of allowing the vampires to enter without asking permission.  

The theme carries through as vampire leader Vivian (Sarah Gadon) stops by the bodega to peruse Tony's growing inventory of new-age super-foods and settles on a purchase of hummus.  If you can't have a sense of humor about cultural stereotypes, this isn't the film for you.

At the same time, don't expect pedantic messaging on race and gentrification to run too deep.  PG-13 Vampires vs. The Bronx means mainly to make fun.  At that, it succeeds.

Here is the trailer.