Category: 4 Stars


The White Tiger

March 17th, 2021 — 6:09am

The White Tiger
****

Unfortunately, we do not clearly remember the book upon which this film was made, which we read about 12 years ago and one of us wrote up in his book blog. We also had to see it again for the story to clearly register with us although we first saw it several weeks ago. It is obviously a well-done film, which holds your interest as the story develops. We are watching a young man from a very poor lower class caste in India attempt to put himself up to a slightly higher level by manipulating things so he can become the main driver for a wealthy Indian family. As we view his journey, we come to appreciate the contrast between the very rich and the very poor and the near impossible odds against any upward mobility.

Baked into the plot at the beginning and at the end of the film is the contrast between India, a so-called democracy, and China, a so called socialist regime (obviously Communist). This is accomplished by hearing the letter that one of the Indian main characters is writing to the premier of China. There is also an apt analogy to a rooster coop where in this case people are borne into servitude and cannot usually even contemplate another way of living. There is always the possibility of someone being a “White Tiger,” an unusual form of the animal that appears possibly once in a generation. In the film this seem to be the metaphor for a person who is able to break out of his expected destiny.

In addition to the political messages that are being given, we are also experiencing a well-done drama with suspense and unexpected twists and turns and a deep dive into the various characters.

The film was released more than 10 years after the book came out. It stars Adarsh Gourav as Balram, the driver and also features excellent performances by Rajkummar Rao and Priyanka Chopra. It is directed by Ramin Bahrani who wrote the screenplay based on the book by Aravind Adiga. It was Oscar nominated as the best adapted screenplay.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Politics

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).

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).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, History, Politics

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).

Comment » | 4 Stars, History, Musical

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)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Crime, Drama, Mystery

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.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Biography, Drama, Romance

What Happened Miss Simone?

November 29th, 2020 — 12:52am

We also reviewed this film a few years ago when it came out. We suggest that you also look at that review ( What Happened, Miss Simone? )which also has a link to one her outstanding performances.

****
What Happened, Miss Simone? (Netflix)

This 2015 documentary film was directed by Liz Garbus and is nominated for best documentary film at the 88th Academy Awards. Nina Simone is a little girl who appeared to be destined to become a child prodigy classical pianist. Her natural talents as a pianist as well as a singer diverted her into performing as a jazz artist. Being a young black woman, she used her musical talent to be an important voice in the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960s. She would often be singing in a musical manner what the black leaders were saying in so many ways, especially as she came forth and performed her classic song, Mississippi Goddamn! Ms. Simone’s personal life was complicated as the man whom she married and became her manager also physically abused her.

The editing of this film was magnificent as there were clips of her performing and talking as well as segments of observation by people who knew her including her husband and most important, her daughter. These were all blended together with wonderful clips of performances by this great artist.

Sadly, it turns out that Ms. Simone appeared to have had an underlying depression, which dominated her later years. She died at the age of 70, but her music will never be forgotten.

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Musical

Echo In The Canyon

August 4th, 2020 — 12:13am

Echo In The Canyon (Netflix)
****

Being relative newcomers to Los Angeles and not having grown up here, we had no idea how the lovely mountain and valley area northwest of downtown Los Angeles is actually the birth place of the “California Sound.” The musicians who were drawn to this area in the early 1960s included well known groups such as The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, and The Mamas & the Papas as well as many other groups. They transformed folk music into the all familiar electric guitar sound that still resonates today. The film was directed by Andrew Slater and features Jakob Dylan, a very talented musician himself who also happens to be the son of Bob Dylan. He interviewed several of the featured musicians who were now in their senior years including Stephen Stills, Michelle Phillips, David Crosby, Graham Nash, and even Ringo Starr. Jakob Dylan is also shown performing a good deal of the time. Many of these interviews appeared to be made just for this film and there were also many archival clips. Many parts of this film were made in the famous Los Angeles recording studios.

What was it about Laurel Canyon that attracted these musicians and allowed it to be the birthplace of this beloved sound? In part, it was the presence of recording companies including the iconic MGM building that resembles a stack of records. Also, most likely, the proximity to the movie studios and the lifestyle of the rich and famous. While not highlighted in the film, this also was the time of psychedelic drugs such as LSD that were often associated with rock and roll. Whatever the attraction, it was a magical time that gave birth to the unforgettable music and the musicians that created it. This movie, whether it is a trip down memory lane or an introductory education about the music of the 60s, is a worthwhile cinematic and music experience. (2020)

Comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Musical

I Am Not Your Negro

July 25th, 2020 — 7:00am

****
I Am Not Your Negro ( Netflix )

The well-known author James Baldwin was planning a book, in which he would discuss the lives and the assassinations of three prominent black Americans: Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He only completed 30 pages of the manuscript before he died in 1987. Raoul Peck was able to take his manuscript and extended it into a full documentary film narrated by Samuel Jackson. It not only showed the reflections, thinking, and writing of Baldwin, but was able to piece together with videos and still pictures not only the 60s when these three men were in the prime of their lives and were assassinated within five years of each other, but was also able to trace and reflect the history of black people in the United States. He particularly examined the interaction and the subjugation of blacks throughout the history of this country. Although Baldwin died in 1987 and this film was released in 2016, it resonated loud and clear with today’s contemporary society in the United States, particularly with the recent death of George Floyd at the knee of a white policeman and other similar tragic events. This movie is painful and timely. Baldwin wanted people to understand the terrible subjugation of black Americans, but also the systemic oppression of them even in today’s American society (2016).

1 comment » | 4 Stars, Documentary, Politics

A Fortunate Man

May 22nd, 2020 — 4:35am

A Fortunate Man ****

This is a very engrossing and complicated story about a man who was anything but fortunate. The main character, Sidenius (Jens Albinus), is brought up in a religious Christian family, in which his father was the church pastor. The son does not get the blessing of the father as they have a bitter departure, as Sidenius goes off to seek his own life and fortune, which to him would mean selling his dream of giving the world his idea of a new form of energy and power through windmills and canals which could remake turn of the century Denmark. He encounters a wealthy Jewish family and is drawn to the oldest beautiful daughter (Katrine Greis-Rosenthal) who would also connect him with great wealth and the potential to make his engineering dream come true. However, the story becomes more complicated as we come to appreciate Sidenius’ rebellion from his father as he unwittingly also identifies with him. The movie allows the viewer to understand how for most of this man’s life, his self-centered personality made him insensitive to the feelings of the women in his life and even to his own children except for a final moment of insight. The story is adopted from a novel by the Danish author, Henrik Pontoppidan.

Aside from showing us the insight into the psychodynamics of a man, as we see the impact of his childhood on his subsequent life, the film also highlights several other interesting issues:

It shows the impact on a person raised in one culture (in this case a poor religious Christian culture) who suddenly finds himself surrounded by a wealthy family (in this case a Jewish culture).

It also spotlights a well-known dilemma when a creative genius with a new idea is confronted with the established society that is not quite ready to embrace his revolutionary concepts.

There is also a familiar subplot of a woman who believes she is in a committed relationship and finds herself pregnant and realizes that her partner, who does not know she is pregnant, is actually ready to move on and break up the relationship.

Finally, there is also the well known story of an estranged grown child finding out that a parent has died and now is drawn back to be a loyal child when it is really too late.

So, you can see this very well done film directed by Bille August will hold your attention and stir your emotions. It is certainly worth seeing (2020).

Comment » | 4 Stars, Drama, Romance

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