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There are a lot of challenges that come with making a movie inspired by a true story. One of the biggest is dealing with the simple fact that many of those who are watching already know how the story ends. Finding ways to build dramatic tension into a narrative whose conclusion by definition isn’t a surprise demands a lot of a filmmaker.

So it is with “Judas and the Black Messiah,” the new film directed by Shaka King from a screenplay he co-wrote with Will Berson. It’s the story of the rapid rise and tragic, too-soon death of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party and one of the iconic Black cultural figures of the 1960s. Feared by the authorities and celebrated by the people, Hampton was a polarizing figure, hated by the establishment and beloved by the counterculture … and the powers that be wanted him out of the picture.

This is a story about anger, both the righteous kind and the fearful kind. It’s a look at the revolutionary attitudes of the era, writ large thanks to the oratorical and rhetorical gifts of the young Hampton, and the willingness of law enforcement to bend and even break the laws they purported to serve to get rid of him. And it’s the story of the man who sold Fred Hampton out. It is a challenging and provocative movie – one that deserves every bit of attention it is almost certainly going to receive throughout the upcoming awards season.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 07 January 2020 12:43

Sandler sparkles in ‘Uncut Gems’

It’s easy to poke fun at Adam Sandler. His output in recent years has been largely of the “working vacation with my friends” variety, comedies that are basic and kind of lazy. Oh, and not particularly funny. Sandler has found a formula that works for him; the dude works only as hard as he has to, contenting himself with good enough.

Of course, it’s ALSO easy to forget that when Sandler is given the right material and given a proper push, he can be brilliant. It’s been a while, but we’ve finally got another great performance to add to the list.

“Uncut Gems,” directed by filmmaking brothers Josh and Bennie Safdie from a script written by the Safdies and Ronald Brownstein, is a visceral and gritty drama, a moment-in-time period piece set all the way back in the bygone time of 2012. It is a character study of a man with little character, a self-absorbed degenerate who can’t help but succumb to his own baser impulses. It is a brutal, ugly story, driven by a collection of terrible people, few of whom possess any kind of truly redeeming qualities.

Published in Movies
Tuesday, 03 December 2019 13:52

‘Knives Out’ a cut above

Is there anything better than a good old-fashioned whodunnit? Getting dropped into the midst of a mystery as it unfolds can be an utterly delightful entertainment experience, whether we’re talking about the page, the stage or the screen.

Of course, the key here is the word “good.” Because while a good whodunnit is great fun, a bad one is decidedly not. There are a LOT of ways for a mystery to go bad and it is far from easy to make one that engages in all the ways it needs to engage.

“Knives Out,” the latest offering from writer/director Rian Johnson, isn’t good. It’s great.

From the film’s opening moments to its dynamic conclusion, “Knives Out” is firing on all cylinders. The aesthetic is exquisite, packed with details both ornamental and load-bearing. The narrative is nuanced, with a twisty-turny plot that finds ways to both celebrate and subvert the conventions of the genre. And the cast is magnificent, a collection of top-tier talent welded together into one of the most entertaining ensembles to hit theaters this year.

It is a modern twist of the knife, so to speak; a combination of Agatha Christie-esque manor house mystery with a 21st sensibility. It is smart and self-aware, layered and tense and surprisingly funny. It embraces stylistic formula while simultaneously being something altogether itself. It cuts quickly and deeply … and so very effectively.

Published in Movies

It’s rare for movies to really surprise us anymore. Oh, there are the plot twists and turns that will sometimes catch us off guard. We anticipate a bad movie and get a good one or vice versa, that’s unexpected. But for a movie to legitimately SURPRISE us, to be something far more than we ever could have prepared for, well … that’s an uncommon treat.

“Sorry to Bother You” – written and directed by hip-hop activist Boots Riley – wasn’t really on my radar before a few weeks ago. What little I initially gleaned was that it was a sort of workplace comedy with something to say about race and class. But then the murmurs started. People whose opinions I trusted – critics and friends alike – were talking about this film. Talking about it in hushed and reverent tones while still keeping everything very close to the vest. My interest piqued, I went to see it for myself.

Published in Movies

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