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Tag Archives: 4.5 Stars

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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MLK/FBI

This documentary examines, through archival footage and popular culture television and movie clips, two things: The rise of power and influence of the FBI in the ’50s and ’60s and its focus on the “communist threat”, and the growing influence of Martin Luther King in the ’60s that resulted in a targeted campaign by the FBI to discredit him. The FBI spent years wiretapping MLK and following him wherever he went and amassed what they considered was convincing evidence of his involvement in numerous extramarital affairs and more serious allegations of sex crimes. The film works well in showing how …

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Night of the Kings

(Ivory Coast; French with English Subtitles): A young man, a small-time thief is sent to MACA, a prison in the Ivory Coast that is essentially run by the inmates. The leader of the inmates is close to death, and as part of the legend, he must surrender his rule, and his life, during the red moon. He chooses an inmate (who he calls “the Roman” to tell a story, and as the film progresses, we get a sense of how important that story is to the Roman in order to stay alive. This film is very beautifully shot and also …

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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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Nomadland

Fern (Frances McDormand) finds herself out of work when the sole industry in Empire, Nevada, closes down. She outfits a van and hits the road, traveling around the Western United States. She takes on various jobs, including seasonal (Christmas) work in Amazon warehouses, restaurants, and as a park caretaker; she is too young to retire and is not ready to stop working. She meets other nomads along the way, most of whom are not trained actors and actual people who are on the road for a variety of reasons. I loved the movie. McDormand is amazing; she disappears into her …

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Minari

(Much of the film is Korean with English subtitles): Jacob, Monica, are Korean – American immigrants and move from California to Arkansas with their two young children. They arrive at the property that has several acres with no irrigation, and an old trailer. Jacob is looking to find success in creating a niche farming Korean vegetables and not have to make money in the chicken houses “looking at chicken butts”. There is something very special about this film that is based on the experiences of the director as a child. While the film is from an immigrant point of view, …

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Promising Young Woman

Cassie (Carey Mulligan) is a young woman just approaching her 30th birthday. She still lives at home with two lackluster parents. By day, she works in a coffee shop, and at night, she is prowling the bars. Early in the film, you kind of get the sense she is going nowhere, but it doesn’t take long to recognize her cunning and cleverness. I won’t say much about the story, because you really need to watch it and let the various twists and surprises happen to really appreciate Cassie and the well-crafted and entertaining story. The movie feels like the ultimate …

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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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Wolfwalkers

This is the latest animated film by the same director who created The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. Robyn and her father Bill have stationed in Ireland in 1650 at an outpost overseen by a cruel ruler. Robyn dreams of hunting wolves, like her father. One day, Robyn meets Mebh, who turns out to be a wolf walker, a creature who by day is in human form but at night can leave the sleeping body and roam the world as a wolf. This is a really beautiful film. The story is based on Celtic legend but feels …

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