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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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The Dig

Carey Mulligan plays Mrs. Pretty, a widow of significant means, who hires Basil Brown, played by Ralph Fiennes, to conduct an archeological dig on her property. There are several mounds on the property, one of which she feels particularly drawn toward. Mr. Brown’s discovery of an ancient sailing vessel creates a lot of commotion in the local and archeological community. The film is a visually beautiful period piece. Mulligan and Fiennes give characteristically strong performances. I have always really loved the naturalness of Mulligan’s performances, and this one is no exception. I found the story interesting, although the screenplay could …

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Funny Boy

(Sri Lanka, some parts in English and English subtitles): This film is a coming-of-age story of a boy, Arjie, growing up gay in Sri Lanka during the civil war between the Tamil and Sinhalese ethnic groups. We see him first probably around 8 years old, in a mock wedding in which he is dressed up as the bride and another girl from the neighborhood is the groom. While his father is concerned about him being a “funny boy”, his Aunt Radha encourages his differentness. The film then jumps to Arjie as a teenager attending a preparatory school, where the tension …

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Mank

This biopic stars Gary Oldman as Herman Mankiewicz, who co-wrote with Orson Welles the screenplay for Citizen Kane. The film starts after a serious car accident sends Mank to Victorville, CA in seclusion to recover and to write the screenplay for Citizen Kane in 60 days. The film then moves back and forth between the present day and the era during which he became more well-known in Hollywood and the days of his friendship with William Randolph Hearst and his much younger mistress Marion (played brilliantly by Amanda Seyfried). I liked the film a lot. It is shot in black …

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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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Memories of Murder

(Korea, English Subtitles). One of Bong Joon-Ho’s first big hits is now available for rent on Amazon Prime! The film, based on a true crime story that was not solved at the time of the film’s original release, is about the efforts of some local detectives to find a serial killer. Two detectives from a local police department, one of who has anger control issues, and the other who seems to have gotten his training from crime detective television shows, are joined by an educated detective from Seoul. The first half of the film is very funny watching Detective Park …

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1917

During WWI, two young men, Lance Corporal Schofield (George MacKay) and Lance Corporal Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) have been given an assignment: The Germans have been planning a huge deception, and the two need to reach the front line with orders from the General to not advance, as they are heading into a trap. The film is the journey undertaken by the two to get the message there. Blake’s brother is in that regiment, which gives Blake a larger sense of urgency. Technically, the film is brilliant. The camera work is done to look like a single take, which gives it …

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Chernobyl

This 5-part HBO miniseries is a historical fiction based on the actual events leading up to and after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Russia. It is quite a stunning piece of work. With the exception of a few minor scientific details, the film appears to be an accurate depiction of what happened. There is so much to be said about the artistry: The great writing and acting in which situation after situation arises in which complex moral and ethical decisions come into play; the pace of the film that creates a lot of suspense as the lead scientists unravel what …

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1945

(Hungarian, with English subtitles): World War II has ended on the continent. As residents of a tiny village in Hungary prepare for a wedding, two Orthodox Jewish men, father and son, enter town on the train with two boxes noted to contain perfumes. They begin their journey toward town. Their arrival forces the villagers to confront their history with the war. This is a really well-crafted film. It is shot in black and white, giving you the feeling of the era. The cinematography is interesting –there are wide panorama shots alternated with close-ups of the villagers that help tell their …

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