Juddas and the Black Messiah

February 21st, 2021 — 8:43am

Judas and the Black Messiah – HBOMAX
****
This is a very powerful film, which examined the rise of the Black Panthers in Chicago and the underlying story of a double agent black man who is recruited as an informant for the FBI after he was caught committing a crime and chose being “Judas” rather than going to jail. The story provides insights into the men and women who developed and coalesced into the Black Panthers mostly from several black groups centering in Chicago. LaKeith Stanfield plays the Judas and there are outstanding performances by many of the stars, but of particular note was Daniel Kaluuya who played Fred Hampton, the Black Panther leader, and his girlfriend Deborah Johnson played by Dominque Fishback. Of note also was the performance of Martin Sheen who plays J. Edgar Hoover in a relatively small but quite effective role.

There is violence, suspense, and murder throughout the film. The movie captures the anger and revolutionary nature of a coalescing black power movement. The storyline reminds us that it was not a single black group that demanded the equality which they deserved, but several rival groups and gangs, the Crowns, Young Lords, and the Patriots that all came together in an uneasy truce to face the violent oppression, which they encountered daily.

The film showed the work of the Black Panther organization as being mostly about self-help for the community. They created breakfast programs as well as working to set up a medical clinic. Most important to the group was bringing together all the varied factions within the community who had felt unheard, discriminated against and marginalized. The film showed how important it was for the Panthers to be able to defend themselves from the constant, unprovoked assaults by the police and the ongoing attempts to crush them completely by J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I.

The plot was intriguing and the historical truth was revealing. The acting was great and the directing by Shaka King and the outstanding production was deserving of the many awards that are now being discussed for this movie. (2021).

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History

One Night in Miami

February 1st, 2021 — 10:29pm

One Night in Miami (Amazon)
****

This imaginative story of the fictional meeting of four black icons caught us by surprise. The film is supposed to have taken place in 1964 when we were in our 20s and while very much aware of the civil rights movement but we were not intimately cognizant of the role that each of these well-known persons were playing at that time.

Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), the great heavy weight boxer, had just become the world heavy weight champion by knocking out Sonny Liston. He was probably the youngest man in the foursome and was about to become a follower of the Nation of Islam and become a follower of its leader Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir). However, Malcolm X was about part ways with this organization and make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Jim Brown (Adis Hodge) was a great football player who seemed to be the least developed character in this film. We most enjoyed the character of Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.). We had a fond memory of his feel good music and the change that was developing and black awareness in this character as well as in the entire country was reflected in his interchanges with Malcolm X.

The film was directed by Regina King with the screenplay by Kemp Powers based on his book.

The movie ends with a note that Malcolm X would be assassinated shortly after this story was to have taken place reminding us that this was just beginning of the ongoing Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter movement. It is rare that such a totally imaginative interchange between relative contemporary figures can capture the essence of their historical significance. It is also painful to know that over fifty years later, the fight for equality and justice needs to continue to be waged. (2020).

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Politics

Giving Voice

January 26th, 2021 — 4:42am

Giving Voice – nf
*****

This is a documentary film released in 2020, which pays tribute to the late, revered playwright, August Wilson and to the devoted talented young students who compete in a yearly national acting competition. The film follows the lives of six such students from all over the country as they prepared their monologue and vie to be the finalist in the August Wilson competition, which will take place on Broadway in New York City. The audience gets a meaningful insight into how the words of this great playwright resonate with these young actors who were chosen among a thousand entries. Not only does the film give us a glimpse into the lives of each of these talented young finalists, but we are also able to appreciate the relevancy of Wilson’s words to the contemporary black experience in America. We found the performances of these young people to be riveting. It was complemented by appearances by Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, and Gerardo Navarro. There was also an opportunity to see and appreciate the late great playwright, August Wilson in archival footage, being interviewed and also giving a graduation speech. The words of Wilson remain quite relevant today and seeing these young people enthusiastically embrace them was a wonderful cinematic experience. Kudos of course of the director Fernando Villena and Jamie Stern and also to Viola Davis, John Legend, and several other executive producers.

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 5 Stars, Documentary

Ma Rainy’s Black Bottom

December 29th, 2020 — 3:13am

Ma Rainy’s Black Bottom (Netflix)
****
This film is Based on the play of the same name by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson. The setting is the 1920s and a Black Jazz Group is preparing for a recording session. The film takes a deep dive into a couple of the characters. The main focus is on Levee, a black trumpet player who wants to play things his way and dreams of forming his own band rather than playing back-up to a great black singer. He is played by Chadwick Boseman in his final performance as he passed away shortly after the filming this movie. His character embodied the frustration of black men, especially talented ones who were held back by prejudices of the time. The other star of this film was Viola Davis who lived within Ma Rainey, a black superstar singer who is going to take everything her talent deserved although she clearly had to stand up and make her righteous demands. The storyline, great acting by the entire cast, directed by George C. Wolfe, provided a wonderful insight into the oppression and prejudices which emerged in this time period. The senior producer for this excellent film was Denzel Washington.

Our biggest disappointment with the film was that it ended when it did. We so much wanted to see a light at the end of the tunnel that we hoped could be there. Instead, we were shown the endless frustration and pain that has been the plight of so many black people. (2020).

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 4 Stars, History, Musical

The Prom

December 26th, 2020 — 8:37am

The Prom ( Netflix)
*****

The cast of a Broadway Musical has hopes and expectations for a great review on opening night. However, much to their disappointment and despair, the reviews are just the opposite, and their show is doomed to close.The cast tries to find something that will put them back in the limelight and come upon a story about a High School in Indiana that is trying to deny a young lesbain couple the right to attend their prom together. They decide that this is their opporutity for relevance and they travel to Indiana where they meet the couple as well as the high school principal and other important players in this drama and participate in shaking up stronlgy held beliefs and biases.

Enough with the outline of the plot. What makes this a sensational movie is that it stars Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Ariana Grande, Michael Key Keegan, Kerry Washington, Tracey Ullman, and many other great performers. It is directed by Ryan Murphy. We did not previously quite appreciate the musical talents of this great cast, but if anything, they are over the top. As the plot develops in the small town with all the complications of this gay couple challenging the set ways of the Midwesterners, the Broadway interlopers break into song and dance. You may not have known that these great actors can really belt out musical pieces. The choreography was also fantastic. The storyline will push all your buttons. The result is a movie worthy of the best on the Broadway stage and full of lofty ideals and great fun!

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Musical

Madam Rosa

December 26th, 2020 — 8:18am

Madame Rosa (Hulu)
***

We recently reviewed the 1975 Italian film “The Life Ahead”, based on a French novel. There actually was a 1977 French movie based on the same book titled Madame Rosa. It stars Simone Signoret and has a similar plot. This version provides a more detailed story line about the young man who is taken under the wing of the aging woman who was once a prostitute and now cares for children of prostitutes. It costars Samy Ben-Youb as Momo who appears to be maybe 13 or 14 (a couple of years older than the boy in the Italian version.) The film is hampered by the subtitles at times being more difficult to read and the technical quality of the film projection was poor. While we favor the Italian version, it is quite interesting to compare two films and observe the outstanding acting of another great actress. The French version did win the Foreign Film Award in the 1978 Oscars.

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 3 Stars, Drama, Foreign

The Life Ahead

December 23rd, 2020 — 6:52am

The Life Ahead (Netflix)
*****

This is an Italian movie, based on a novel by Romain Gary, starring the great actress Sophia Loren who is now in her mid 80s. She does a great job as an aging woman who is a Holocaust survivor and takes care of young children of prostitutes. There are two other outstanding stars in this film. One is the young black boy who plays Momo and appears to be between 12 and 14 and is taken in by Ms. Loren’s character. He is played magnificently by Ibrahima Gueye. The other outstanding star is the director of the film, Eduardo Ponti. Mr. Ponti, who is Sophia Loren’s son, did an absolutely fantastic job directing Mr. Gueye as Momo. Speech (although in Italian) appeared to have perfect intonation and the young boy’s expressions and emotional reactions were unbelievable. We see Momo come into a completely new living environment for him, but he adapts very well. On one hand, he becomes a drug messenger to make money. He relates well to the other children and is tender and caring for Ms. Loren’s character. It is this amazing emotional performance created by Mr. Ponti and his young actor that makes this film unforgettable.

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Foreign

The Undoing

December 20th, 2020 — 12:56am

The Undoing – Six Episode TV Series on HBO
****
This six-episode TV series stars Hugh Grant, Nicole Kidman, and Donald Sutherland with an excellent supporting cast, especially a young boy played by Noah Jupe. This mini-series is based on the novel “You Should Have Known” by Jean Hanff Korelitz. It is created by veteran TV producer David E. Kelley and is directed by Susanne Bier. This “whodunnit” will hold your attention and if you have any tendency to binge, you will take this one in just a few gulps. A doctor who is a caring pediatric oncologist finds himself accused of a brutal murder of a woman with whom he was having an affair. There are hints that the killer might possibly be his wife, a successful psychotherapist or perhaps the husband of the murdered woman. A couple of other suspects flash through your mind as this story unfolds. As you might expect, there are some great courtroom scenes. This is well worth the six hours of running time of this series.(2020)

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Drama, Mystery

The Queen’s Gambit

December 20th, 2020 — 12:38am

The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix)
****
The Queen’s Gambit-seven-episode television series on Netflix

All previous reviews in this blog have been movies that originally appeared in the theater. However, during this pandemic, we have been watching a great deal of television and were particularly impressed by this seven-episode series based on a 1983 novel of the same name by Walter Tevis.

Beth Harmon is an 8-year-old orphan who has lost her mother in an auto accident and is living in an orphanage. She encounters a janitor in the basement who is preoccupied studying a chessboard. She convinces him to teach her the game and she turns out to have a terrific aptitude for visualizing the chessboard and becoming an outstanding chess player. She is invited to compete in a local high school chess tournament, which she wins and goes on to the Kentucky State Chess Championship. This leads her to the US Championship and ultimately competing for the World Championship in Russia.

As Ms. Harmon matures, there are boys and young men who become part of her life as do drugs and alcohol. The story seamlessly comes together and captivates the audience.

As well done is the story with the excellent acting, it is the realism that is created in every aspect of the series that is a major part of its success. Whether it is the basement of the orphanage or the grandeur of the world chess tournament in Russia, the audience is completely drawn into the story. The street scenes especially in Europe as well as the local scenes in Kentucky are all magnificently portrayed and reproduced. The well done music background adds to the various moods of the characters and the storyline. As much as this is a story of one amazing person, it also suggests that “it takes a village” as we see how many people come together in support of the main character.

Kudos to Isla Johnston (young Beth), Anya Taylor Joy (Beth as a young woman), and the wonderful cast, which includes Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Harry Melling, Marielle Heller, Bill Camp, and many others. The series was written and directed by Scott Frank who created the series with Allan Scott. They were executive producers along with William Horberg. You may also be interested to learn that various chess experts including former world champion and grandmaster Garry Kasparov were consultants for this wonderful series.

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 5 Stars, Drama, Sport

Frida

December 15th, 2020 — 4:47am

Frida- ( Netflix)
****

This is moving romantic biography about the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo. It begins with a bus accident which severely injured her legs, in which she made a good functional recovery. She was able to pursue her artistic inclinations as a painter and then met one of Mexico’s most famous and revered artist, Diego Rivera. Much of the story is based on their tumultuous romantic relationship, which included a phase where they took in a Russian revolutionist by the name of Leon Trotsky who had fled to Mexico after Stalin was out to destroy him and his ideas.

This film, which was released in 2002, is based on a 1983 book by Hayden Herrera. The movie was directed by Julie Taymor and stars Selma Hayek who was nominated for an Academy Award for best actress in a leading role in this film. It also features Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera as well as costars Ashley Judd, Edward Norton, and Antonio Banderas. The film blended the passion of Mexican music with a sexual romantic storyline based on real well-known people. It is a worthwhile cinematic experience.

Readers are encouraged to put any opinions or comments about the film and this review. - Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Romance

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