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Judas and the Black Messiah

This historical drama set in Chicago is stories of Fred Hampton (played by Daniel Kaluuya), who was chairman of the Black Panther Party in Illinois, and Bill O’Neal (played by Lakeith Stanfield), the Panther and FBI informant who betrayed Hampton. It is interesting watching this film on the heels of several other films this year, including The United States vs Billie Holiday, MLK/FBI, One Night in Miami, and the Small Axe feature film series by Steve McQueen; the FBI’s fear of Black Americans, J Edgar Hoover’s role in creating a national narrative about them, the underlying and systemic racism, and …

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One Night in Miami

Regina King directed this film that provides a fictionalized account of a celebration meeting between four Black men – the singer Sam Cooke, who was at the height of his career; Cassius Clay (aka Muhammed Ali), who that night had become the world heavyweight boxing champion at 22; Malcolm X, who was in the middle of his rift with the Nation of Islam and its leader Elijah Muhammed; and James Brown, the best running back of his time (and now widely viewed as one of the greatest of all time). The film uses the meeting of these four men as …

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Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

This film is an adaptation of a play of the same name by August Wilson (who also wrote the play Fences that was adapted to the screen in 2016). The subject is Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), a woman considered by many to be the “Mother of the Blues”, and her band over the course of a studio recording session. The plot centers on her trumpeter, Levee (Chadwick Boseman), who is headstrong and wants to play “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” his way. I typically find film adaptations of stage plays to be rather hollow; each platform has its strengths that don’t …

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Small Axe

Steve McQueen III, who is probably best known for his film, 12 Years a Slave, brings a new concept, a collection of 5 feature films that stand on their own but are being packaged as a Limited Series on Amazon Prime. The subject is the experience of West Indian immigrants in London between 1960 and the early 1980s. While each film stands on its own, I find it much easier to think about all of them together. This is an excellent collection of stories that are immersed in their particular eras. The first, Mangrove, is based on the true story …

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The True History of the Kelly Gang

This very interesting Western out of Australia is an interpretation of the life of Ned Kelly, a real person of Irish descent who lived in Australia in the late 19th century. He was notorious for fighting against the English police and their injustice against the Irish immigrants. I have not seen other versions of this story nor read the book on which it was based. However, the film itself is unusual in its approach. In the film, Ned’s father wore frocks (women’s dresses) while engaging in raids on the English in order to catch them off guard. Ned, his brother, …

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Bad Education

This film is based on the true story of Dr. Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) and Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) who were convicted of embezzling millions of dollars from a school district in Long Island that Dr. Tassone had helped build into one with a high reputation for getting seniors admitted to prestigious colleges. There is not a very deep examination of the years of scheming that led to this happening; the film starts off when Gluckin is caught embezzling money to finance home remodeling and is really about the downfall of both. The film is smartly made. Janney and Jackman …

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Shirley

Elizabeth Moss plays Shirley Jackson, the acclaimed horror author who is probably best known for her short story, The Lottery, and her novel, The Haunting of Hill House. The film takes place later in her career as she is struggling to write her next novel. Her husband Stanley, a womanizer who is incessantly patronizing, invites a young professor, Fred, who is newly hired by Stanley’s university, and his wife Rose to stay with them, partly to help look in on Shirley, who is beginning to suffer from anxiety. Rose and Shirley develop an odd friendship that becomes the inspiration for …

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Capone

Tom Hardy plays Al (Fonso) Capone during the last year of his life. At this point, syphilis has caused extensive neurological damage resulting in worsening dementia. After prison, he lives his final years in an exquisite estate in Florida with his close family and the FBI listening in on all of his phone calls. Capone believes he has hidden 10 million dollars somewhere on the property, but he cannot remember where it is at, and various people around him, including the FBI, are very interested in the money’s whereabouts. The film is rather strange, and not always in a good …

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Dark Waters

The latest Todd Haynes (Carol, Far From Heaven, Safe, I’m Not There) is based on a true story about a lawyer (Mark Ruffalo) who discovers that Dupont has been poisoning the drinking water of a community in West Virginia. The film is well-acted, particularly by Ruffalo who does an excellent job of playing a guy whose passion exhausts him, his family, and his law practice. I have always really liked Todd Haynes films; he is a meticulous director who has a penchant for detail and can tell a really great story. It is a story that is infuriating but also …

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Unbelievable

This Netflix miniseries that begins with a young woman living in the Seattle area, Marie (Kaitlyn Dever) who was raped, reports it and then, under pressure from the local police, withdraws her allegation. This further alienates this young woman, who spent many of her childhood years moving from one foster home to another. Meanwhile, about 5 years in the future, two detectives (played by Toni Collette and Merritt Wever) are investigating a series of sexual assaults that appear to be connected. The film moves back and forth across the 8 episodes between the two stories. Overall, I liked the film. …

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