Archive for the History Category

She Said

Posted in Biography, Drama, History with tags on December 12, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

She Said concerns Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of the New York Times. The reporters broke the story that exposed film producer Harvey Weinstein’s history of abuse and sexual misconduct against women. The scandal was a watershed moment for Hollywood and ushered in the #MeToo movement. The conversation would not end with Weinstein. Their coverage was the impetus that reexamined sexual harassment and changed the fabric of the workplace forever.

The newspaper drama is part of a grand tradition. This is the latest addition to a category that includes All the President’s Men and Spotlight, but the film could learn a thing or two from those classics. Watching people hunt down the details of a story while waiting for cell phones to ring so they can interview people and subsequently type up their findings can be rather dull. Our interest in a work of cinema demands both great performances from actors and a crackerjack screenplay.

This news event could form the basis for a gripping movie. However, She Said is a matter-of-fact recap. How two women at the New York Times got victims to go on record to share what happened to them presents the basic facts. It’s a sensible by-the-numbers retelling of a newsworthy event. However, it isn’t particularly innovative or ambitious. I didn’t learn anything new. Nevertheless, Zoe Kazan and Carey Mulligan are compelling. I respect their craft.

However, the approach could’ve cut a lot deeper. Directed by Maria Schrader from a script by Rebecca Lenkiewicz, the account is adapted from the 2019 book of the same name by Twohey and Kantor. She Said draws attention to a sobering truth. The first documented case occurred in 1984. Harvey Weinstein’s behavior would go unchecked (some might even say subsidized) within the industry for over three decades. Over 80 women eventually accused Weinstein of such acts. The screenplay has plenty of condemnation toward Weinstein, but It fails to hold Hollywood accountable. Rape charges would finally be filed in 2018. He’s now serving a 23-year prison sentence, but he’s also facing up to 135 years behind bars if convicted on other charges,

This journalism procedural is an efficiently made celebration of how the truth came to light, but it isn’t incisive or revelatory. On the plus side, the narrative dutifully applauds the brave women who stepped forward and told their stories. Jennifer Ehle as Miramax employee Laura Madden and Samantha Morton as Zelda Perkins, Harvey Weinstein’s personal assistant, are the highlights. Ashley Judd even appears on screen as herself. It also celebrates Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, who tirelessly worked to help make that happen. I’m encouraged that justice was served in this case and that a major Hollywood studio like Universal Pictures financed a movie about it.

She Said is currently playing in theaters, where it has earned $5.7 million since November 18. On December 6, it was made available to rent on digital platforms like Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and Vudu.

12-08-22

Till

Posted in Biography, Drama, History with tags on November 7, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Emmett Till was a Black teenager, abducted, tortured, and brutally murdered in 1955. A Chicago native, Till was visiting relatives in Mississippi. While shopping at a small grocery store there, he was accused of whistling at the proprietor, a white woman. Several days later, her husband and his half-brother kidnapped the youth in the middle of the night. They savagely beat and killed him. Emmett’s body was recovered in the Tallahatchie River.

Till details that tragedy. Yet it’s not focused on Emmet or the physical attack. Instead, director Chinonye Chukwu (Clemency), who co-wrote the screenplay with Michael Reilly and Keith Beauchamp, has fashioned this historical record around the subsequent fight for justice spearheaded by Mamie Till. This is the portrait of a devastated mother who must contend with the murder of her son and figure out what to do next. As such, it is a fascinating drama that evokes genuine emotion from heart-wrenching events.

Any discussion of this film must begin with actress Danielle Deadwyler. She delivers a searing performance galvanized by that horrific slaying. I can’t fathom how she prepared to portray this woman. Her achievement is pure and honest. When first confronted with the sight of her dead son, she expresses a loss so unbearable it’s primal. Her manifestation of agony is profound. Later on, during a memorable scene in court, the camera fixates on her compelling visage in an unbroken shot while the defense attorney tries to disparage Emmett’s character. The rest of the cast — while solid — isn’t required to extract the same depth of despair. Whoopi Goldberg– the only bona fide celebrity in the ensemble — is an understated presence as Maime’s mother. Also worthy of mention is Jalyn Hall as her smiling, beaming 14-year-old son and Frankie Faison as Mamie’s supportive father.

Mamie Till is presented as an icon. When the account focuses on a mother’s grief for her son, the production shines. The exceptional costume and production design further elevate this document into the pantheon of movies on social justice. Less successful is when the saga adheres to the story beats you expect from a Hollywood production. It eventually climaxes as a courtroom drama. Anyone familiar with the well-documented outcome will not be surprised. Nevertheless, the movie wisely downplays the verdict and Till’s attackers and redirects focus on Mamie and her tenacity.

The tragedy of Emmett Till is profoundly depressing. It could have been even more harrowing. Till spares us a depiction of the lynching. Still, this is a hard film to watch. Mamie Till famously insisted that the casket containing his body be left open. The exhibition is vividly explicit in its shocking detail. “I wanted the world to see what they did to my boy,” she proclaimed. That fueled the civil rights movement. The chronicle has reframed her suffering as the spark that inspired a hero. Audiences willing to brave painful subject matter will be richly rewarded with Danielle Deadwyler’s performance. She brings this courageous woman to life.

11-03-22

Amsterdam

Posted in Comedy, Drama, History with tags on October 11, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Sometimes distilling a perplexing film down to its bare essence can seem daunting. Director David O. Russell has made a slew of great films, Three Kings, The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, American Hustle. Amsterdam is significantly harder to enjoy. This is a case where my “powers” of reviewing a movie are put to the test. It isn’t easy to even know where to begin with his latest picture.

Let’s start with the plot. To put it succinctly, Amsterdam is a mystery set in the 1930s starring Christian Bale and John David Washington as longtime best friends. They are framed for a murder they didn’t commit and must get to the bottom of the motives behind the killing to absolve themselves. Margot Robbie rounds out their trio. They developed a close bond during their halcyon days in the Netherlands capital. The circle of friends made a pact to protect each other no matter what years ago.

Considering our core triad, Christian Bale is giving the best/most performance as nutty doctor Burt Berendsen. He’s doing a riff on Peter Falk as Columbo. He’s even got a glass eye that keeps falling out. Maybe there’s a dash of Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman in the character too. John David Washington portrays lawyer Harold Woodman. The actor — so riveting in BlacKkKlansman — has been seemingly replaced by a subdued, somber imposter I hardly recognize. Margot Robbie is a wealthy but eccentric artist named Valerie Voze. She met the duo while working as a nurse in France during World War I. She becomes romantically involved with Harold, although their interactions fail to generate any sparks.

Amsterdam is blessed (maybe cursed?) with a cast over-stuffed with stars. It would be tedious to list them all. Nevertheless, a surprising number of actors with speaking parts bear mention: Zoe Saldaña, Chris Rock, Anya Taylor-Joy, Rami Malek, Mike Myers, Michael Shannon, Taylor Swift, and Robert De Niro comprise a distended roster of celebrities. Most inhabit parts that coast on their fame. When De Niro recounts his political ideology as retired general Gil Dillenbeck, I saw an actor playing himself. Every time another well-known actor popped up, I chuckled at their conspicuous presence. There are many, and they keep coming. These appearances do contribute to the kooky nature of the narrative. However, they constantly remind the viewer that this is first and foremost a farce — not a period piece.

Amsterdam is plagued by a convoluted screenplay written by its director David O. Russell: simple at heart but tortuous in execution. A collection of capricious subplots meanders without a sense of direction or focus. The screenplay is merely a series of offbeat conversations in various locations. If there’s a bright spot to any of these deviations, it is the introduction of Anya Taylor-Joy and Rami Malek as an affluent married couple who sympathize with Hitler and Mussolini. Their mugging faces and campy line readings belong in a completely different movie — the one I wanted to see.

I looked at my watch one hour into the narrative, hoping it would be over soon. There had to be some grand design served by these random developments. Still another 75 minutes to go. Keep the faith, I told myself. The positive is that all becomes clear in the end. There is an ultimate purpose. The story is partly inspired by a 1933 U.S. political conspiracy called the Business Plot. In addition, the 2021 events at the nation’s Capitol on January 6th are an obvious inspiration too. My overall reaction to the way it was presented was ho-hum. None of it captivated me.

It’s obvious a lot of care and effort went into making this picture. I admit the production looks spectacular. I’m talking costumes and production design. Also, the cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki is outstanding. He uses many close-ups to lovingly frame these actors’ faces, and they do indeed hold our attention, even if only visually. Amsterdam is largely a disappointment where whimsy and quirkiness are celebrated as the ultimate goal. On occasion, that works. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between.

The Woman King

Posted in Action, Drama, History with tags on September 22, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Woman King may rest on the conventional construction of established action epics, but it innovates with an eye-opening subject. This is the 1820s story of the Agojie, an all-female warrior tribe in the West African kingdom of Dahomey (modern-day Benin), against their adversary, the Oyo Empire. The saga is epic in scale, has a fiery heart, and features rousing battles. In that sense, it shares an affinity with popular classics like Gladiator and Braveheart. Similarly, this narrative blends a healthy dose of fiction into its historical facts for exciting entertainment.

The chronicle is titled The Woman King for good reason. General Nanisca is indeed at the center of the account. Viola Davis is a commanding presence as the lead, radiating steely resolve while exhibiting vulnerability. A traumatic incident in her past becomes an emotional plot component. However, this journey feeds off an ensemble of tributaries into a mighty river of sisterhood. Sheila Atim portrays Amenza; a spiritual advisor turned fighter who also happens to be Nanisca’s close confidant. Thuso Mbedu stars as a brash, young recruit. Nawi’s rejection of an arranged marriage will lead to a tender examination of her life. In a pot violently boiling over with fierce women, the most ferocious is arguably Lashana Lynch as an assured lieutenant. Izogie’s charismatic personality blends humor with intensity. The woman has sharpened her fingernails into razor-sharp daggers, and she isn’t afraid to use them.

The men are less important in this account, but John Boyega is a crucial ingredient as King Ghezo. His subtly affected demeanor comes across as an individual to jeer. Ghezo’s prosperous rule benefited from the trans-Atlantic slave trade that flourished during his reign. The practice of selling Dahomey’s prisoners of war (and some of their own citizens) won’t win him any fans. His choice does not sit right with Nanisca, and it becomes a bone of contention. Also, in one of the more cheesy developments is the character of Malik (Jordan Bolger), a half-Portuguese, half-Dahomean explorer who struggles with his identity. This is where the element of soap opera takes over. His long hair and sculpted physique would be more at home on the contemporary cover of a Harlequin romance novel.

The sheer existence of the Agojie was an anomaly. Back then, European visitors referred to them as the “Dahomey Amazons” due to their similarities to the warrior women of Greek mythology. Even today, this concept is a revelation. They were the real-life inspiration for the Dora Milaje in Black Panther. The Woman King is one of those fascinating records that begs for more study. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, The Secret Life of Bees) maximizes the screenplay by Dana Stevens based on a story by Maria Bello. Prince-Bythewood understands how to present a compelling movie. This chapter of unexplored history might have felt didactic if not for the crisp, explicit fight scenes choreographed by Daniel Hernandez (Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame). They feel immediate and grounded in reality. The thrilling combat takes this informative tale to the next level into captivating popcorn entertainment. Learning can be fun!

09-20-22

Operation Mincemeat

Posted in Drama, History, War with tags on May 17, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

British cinema will always have a fascination with World War II. Dunkirk and Darkest Hour are recent offerings. Just this past January, we were blessed with Munich: The Edge of War which detailed Hitler’s early designs on Czechoslovakia. I now present Operation Mincemeat, a true-life tale about the effort to disguise the 1943 Allied invasion of Sicily. This involves obtaining a corpse and passing it off as a fallen soldier with secret documents suggesting Greece is the real target.

The best thing about the film is the cast which features Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen. Coincidentally, the two actors have each played Mr. Darcy in versions of Pride and Prejudice, Firth in a 1995 BBC production, and Macfadyen in the 2005 movie with Keira Knightley. The intelligence officers plan the disinformation campaign. Even Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn) — yes, the future writer of James Bond — is tapped to help. Despite the fact that the central pair are on the same side, feelings of jealousy arise. Both are attracted to a widowed secretary who works in their office. Actress Kelly Macdonald portrays Jean Leslie. Jason Issacs oversees the tactical deception as Admiral John Godfrey. And what WWII drama would be complete without an appearance by Winston Churchill? That role is occupied by Simon Russell Beale.

Operation Mincemeat is a solid production skillfully assembled by experienced director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel). There are bits of levity inserted throughout. The attempts at humor enliven the atmosphere. If you relish fact-based espionage, then you’ll find this to be a competent melodrama ably supported by a talented ensemble. However, the account is a little too content to rely on proficient actors simply doing their thing. This is one of those cases where the truth is stranger than fiction. Reading about the real-life mission is a lot more fascinating than the entanglements depicted here. The period piece is polished and genteel, but I craved more excitement. It all culminates with a telephone call informing the audience how the endeavor went. I won’t spoil the outcome, but any history buff will already know the answer. I was kind of anticipating a recreation of the attack. Now that would have been exciting.

05-11-22

Munich – The Edge of War

Posted in Biography, Drama, History with tags on January 30, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Munich: The Edge of War is an intimate period piece. OK sure we’re dealing with countries on the brink of World War II but at heart, it’s a human drama about individuals. As such, the portrait employs lots of tight close-ups and conversations framed by a constantly moving hand-held camera. The technique is ostensibly employed to create a sense of urgency, but I got motion sickness from all the movement.

That objection is honestly the most critical complaint I have. I rather enjoyed this handsomely mounted political thriller. The chronicle is set in September 1938 over the four days of the Munich Agreement. For the uninformed — myself included before seeing the film — this was a settlement reached by Germany, Great Britain, France, and Italy that ceded a portion of Czechoslovakia, (called the Sudetenland) to Germany. At the time, most of Europe celebrated the pact which was presented as a way to prevent a major conflict. Unfortunately, it was completely signed on Hitler’s terms. As history has shown, this so-called “agreement” was merely the very beginning of Hitler’s conquests.

The movie is set during the events of real history but it features two fictional characters. These are childhood friends who work in the government. Fresh-faced George MacKay portrays Englishman Hugh Legat with all the naivete his appearance can muster. He is the secretary of British prime minister Neville Chamberlain (sympathetically portrayed by Jeremy Irons). Actor Jannis Niewöhner is Paul von Hartmann who works as a German translator in the Foreign Office in Berlin. Paul may hold strong nationalistic beliefs, but he is still part of the German resistance. Paul acquires a top-secret document and comes to realize Hitler has been underestimated. He’s just getting started and far more dangerous. Actor Ulrich Matthes presents the most emaciated version of the Führer I have ever seen. Although Matthes registers a flicker of madness behind the eyes. Paul challenges his friend Hugh to help stop this contract from being signed. The two become reluctant spies.

Munich is conveniently based on having the 20/20 hindsight of what would ultimately happen but it is a fascinating tale of “what if”. It’s an expertly crafted and well-acted saga with an adapted screenplay by Ben Power (The Hollow Crown TV series ) from Robert Harris’ novel. Interestingly, the view of Neville Chamberlain’s actions is a decidedly positive take that gave Britain and France more than a year to prepare for combat. The somewhat revisionist view frames his rather submissive lack of opposition as an overall plan for the greater good. This political procedural can drag occasionally. However, people who love historical dramas — particularly those about the events that led up to WWII — will find a lot to enjoy here.

01-28-22

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Posted in Drama, History, Thriller with tags on January 27, 2022 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Bold, minimalist, and grim – Joel Coen’s adaptation of The Tragedy of Macbeth is a stark vision in black and white amidst the “shadows and fog.” Joel may be working sans brother Ethan for the first time, but he isn’t alone. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and production designer Stefan Dechant support his vivid display of German expressionism. The movie shot on a Los Angeles soundstage is an austere stage drama but with cinematic flourishes thrown in to maintain interest. There’s a lot on which the eye can feast although computers still can’t seem to render a realistic-looking bird. Oh, but brush up your Shakespeare! This version makes no concessions for those not intimately familiar with the text.

You’ll probably get the gist of it. Lord Macbeth (Denzel Washington) and Banquo (Bertie Carvel) win a decisive battle over the treasonous Thane of Cawdor, for King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson). On their way back from combat they meet three witches (all portrayed by Kathryn Hunter) who prophesize that Macbeth will be awarded the next Thane of Cawdor, then become King of Scotland. Macbeth and his scheming wife Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) collude to assassinate Duncan and take the throne. It all ends in a lot of deaths, like every great Shakespearean tragedy.

Naturally, the language is pure poetry. Disciples of the text will be in heaven. Phrases like “the be-all and end-all”, “at one fell swoop”, and “crack of doom” all first appeared in Macbeth. This is an ensemble with an A-list cast. Stars Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Brendan Gleeson, and Corey Hawkins all contribute. However, it is considerably less well-known theater vet Kathryn Hunter who makes the biggest impression. She appears as one entity that can shapeshift into three witches, contorting her body in odd shapes as she speaks in raspy tones. As she sits looking downward in the rafters, the floor turns into an imagined reflective pool. That re-interpretation of the cauldron scene (with no metal pot) is a stunning highlight.

Sadly the issues I have are attributable to the Bard himself. An emotional attachment to anyone in the cast of Macbeth is elusive. The central role is consistently evil and the rest of the characters aren’t likable either. Without someone to champion, we have “no dog in this fight.” People are slain left and right and I couldn’t even summon up the feeling to give a care. Justin Kurzel, Roman Polanski, Orson Welles, and Akira Kurosawa have all launched adaptations. Throne of Blood is the most compelling, but then again, Kurosawa dispensed with Shakespeare’s language. Joel Coen makes a valiant effort but fails to convince me this play is anything more than an evocative curiosity of Elizabethan English that students can pick apart and study. It will no doubt have a long run in classrooms for the next decade by English teachers who use movies as an “instructional tool.”

01-14-22

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Posted in Biography, Drama, History with tags on September 23, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Let’s be clear. The downfall of Jim Bakker and his PTL Club TV program became public in 1987. It was then that Jessica Hahn alleged that she had been drugged and raped by the televangelist and another preacher (John Wesley Fletcher) back in 1980 when she worked for the PTL Club as a secretary. Jim Bakker would later contend the act was consensual. Regardless, Bakker still paid the former employee $279,000 at the time to keep her silent. None of this is presented within The Eyes of Tammy Faye. The details of what led to their disgrace are frustratingly vague. I was more uncertain about what happened after I saw the movie than before.

True to its title, this is a story told from the (apparently cloudy) eyes of Tammy Faye. That’s not a makeup joke. I’m saying her perspective was extremely limited and that’s the point of view of the film. But how does a screenplay attempt this tale and only briefly namecheck Jessica Hahn in a random news montage? In the aftermath of the sex scandal that made headlines, all of the PTL Television Network’s finances were called into question. The misdirection of funds is his undoing in this account. Michael Showalter directs and Abe Sylvia (TV shows Dead to Me & Nurse Jackie) adapts from a 2000 documentary by filmmakers Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey. The five-time Emmy-winning duo co-founded the production company World of Wonder in 1991, most famous for RuPaul’s Drag Race.

The Eyes of Tammy Faye elicits compassion for a woman who initially received none. The intentions of the screenwriters are admirable. Tammy Faye (and her husband Jim) were essentially a punch line back in the late 1980s. Here however the woman exudes warmth, sincerity, and kindness. The consideration and reevaluation gives the religious figure back her humanity. Jessica Chastain is more than up to the task in the titular role. She is a compelling presence. I can understand why the actress has garnered serious Oscar attention for her role as the embattled televangelist. She could well earn her third nomination (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty). The chronicle is not charitable to her husband Jim though. Nevertheless, Andrew Garfield still manages to convey a little of what drew Tammy Faye to this deeply flawed character.

Engendering sympathy for “women wronged by the media” has captured the zeitgeist. Lorena Bobbitt, Anna Nicole Smith, Tonya Harding, Britney Spears, Janet Jackson, Pamela Smart, and Monica Lewinsky all became obsessions in the media for wildly different reasons. I don’t mean to compare their contrasting notorieties to each other. However, each woman experienced a negative burst of fame for something that some apologists now defend. The Eyes of Tammy Faye is part of this tradition. This feels like the fanciful recollections of a woman who was duped. The performances are what elevates this drama. Cherry Jones as Tammy Faye’s mom and Vincent D’Onofrio as Jerry Falwell both add significantly to the narrative as well. I found the saga fascinating as I was riveted throughout.

09-21-21

Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Posted in Drama, History, Music with tags on July 7, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Everyone’s heard of Woodstock. It has pretty much become THE symbol of the counterculture movement of the 1960s. The 3-day music festival was held August 15–18 in 1969. Its mystic significance has only grown since. Half a century later, the influential touchstone is still a historical benchmark of popular music as well as a defining moment for a generation. Michael Wadleigh’s landmark 1970 documentary cemented its status as a phenomenon.

There was another music celebration in New York that year. 100 miles away from Bethel, the Harlem Cultural Festival started earlier that summer. From June 29 to Aug. 24 on each Sunday at 3 PM in the afternoon, a concert took place in Mount Morris Park (renamed Marcus Garvey Park in 1973). The event was hosted and promoted by Tony Lawrence, a genial and charismatic nightclub singer. The stated purpose was to celebrate African American culture. Promoting the ongoing politics of black pride was also a motivation.

A jaw-dropping assemblage of talent showed up. The 5th Dimension, Sly, and the Family Stone. Stevie Wonder, The Staple Singers, Nina Simone, BB King, and Mahalia Jackson all took the stage at different points. Gladys Knight and the Pips also appeared. Would you believe they weren’t even considered headliners at that point? Despite the fact that their recording of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” had been a massive hit in 1967, their legendary reputation had not been established. Gladys Knight’s performance is among my favorites and the Pips choreography is nothing less than sensational.

The actual event presented in the Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) was by all accounts a success. The series of six free shows boasted a combined attendance of nearly 300,000. Then it faded from memory. TV producer Hal Tulchin filmed the exhibition on 50 reels of tape which comprised 40 hours of live footage. He tried to get somebody — anybody — interested in his document. New York’s WNEW-TV Channel 5 (now FOX 5) broadcast hour-long specials at the time but that too failed to cause much of a stir. Later Tulchin tried dubbing this as the “Black Woodstock” to generate interest. It didn’t. For the better part of 50 years, Tulchin’s film was stored away in his basement in Bronxville and largely forgotten — until now. Sadly Tulchin, who died in 2017, is not around to see its resurgence.

Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson was shocked to discover this occurred in the summer of ’69. As the musical director for The Tonight Show and the drummer for the hip hop band the Roots, he’s a knowledgeable individual. Like the majority of us, Questlove was completely unaware of its existence. Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) becomes a riveting capsule of history. In between clips, we are treated to interviews with assorted people providing historical context and comment. Some of it is a bit redundant as it hammers away at a predetermined social narrative. Its virtue is abundantly clear simply from the visual spectacle and unvarnished facts. Nevertheless, the observations are deeply fascinating. Others are amusing. Festival attendee Musa Jackson was there when he was four with his family. “It smelled like Afro Sheen and chicken” he fondly recalls. “It was the ultimate Black barbecue.”

One of the best things Questlove does is filming the artists today watching their appearances back then. Getting founding members Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo of the 5th Dimension to comment is a deeply emotional experience for them as well as the audience. They apparently are witnessing the footage simultaneously for the first time as us. The group’s lush, meticulously crafted version of “champagne soul” straddled the line between various genres. They openly discuss their concerns at the time.

Many intriguing tidbits are revealed. Contrary to some reports, the NYPD did indeed provide security. You can clearly see them at various points throughout the crowd. They kind of stick out. However, for the June 29 date featuring Sly and the Family Stone, they did refuse and it was instead provided by members of the Black Panther Party. The 3rd show literally occurred on the very same day as the Moon landing. Illuminating interviews of the attendees provide their frank and cogent opinions on the relevance of that cultural milestone versus this one.

So many wonderful highlights. Its difficult for me to convey the passion of an actual performance. When elder gospel legend Mahalia Jackson invites protege Mavis Staples to sing, it’s certainly one of the film’s most powerful moments. The torch-passing spectacle of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” was a favorite of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The civil rights leader had been assassinated one year earlier. Another inclusion that shows how much things have changed: New York City mayor John Lindsay — a white Republican — is warmly embraced by the crowd. He takes the stage in a mutual support of the community.

Now that it has been unearthed, it will be interesting to see the effect this long-forgotten document of history has on future generations. It already won both the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Critical acclaim has been ubiquitous. Thanks to Questlove’s influence, he was able to secure and edit this testimony. It is an impressive directorial debut. Finally, the revolution CAN be televised….for the first time in over 50 years.

07-02-21

The Courier

Posted in Biography, Drama, History, Thriller, War on June 24, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Do you love Cold War spy films? Well then I have good news!

Greville Wynne is a mild-mannered British businessman with no connections to the government. That’s a plus. His frequent trips to Eastern Europe on business is another advantage. The two qualities make him a perfect candidate to be a spy. MI6 recruits him to be just that. Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) is an American CIA officer who assists. Greville is tasked with acting as a courier transporting classified information to London. His contact is Soviet agent Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) — a high-ranking foreign military officer providing top-secret intelligence

The fact that this is a true story makes it infinitely more interesting. The confrontation in 1962 was between John F Kennedy in the U.S. and Nikita Khrushchev of the USSR. The Cuban Missile Crisis was perhaps the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear conflict. That’s the historical basis but this is a character drama first and foremost. The friendship between Greville and Oleg, two men from opposite sides of the Iron Curtain forged a bond that is affecting. Greville’s wife Sheila (Jessie Buckley) is kept in the dark about her husband’s activities but she suspects something is amiss. At one point she mistakenly thinks her husband is having an affair.

These portraits of history are fascinating. It’s all about the point of view. This unsurprisingly aligns with American and British interests. From the U.S. perspective and its allies of the Western Bloc, Penkovsky is a hero. His undercover operations helped put an end to the Missile Scare. However, to the Soviets and the Eastern Bloc, he was a traitor. How Penkovsky weighed patriotism vs. his moral compass would have been a compelling study. Although those ideas percolate underneath the surface, the screenplay doesn’t delve too deeply into that conversation. This is a simple movie with clearly delineated characters representing the “good” and “bad” positions.

The Courier is very much an old-school espionage thriller. They were all the rage in the 1960s: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, The Ipcress File, Torn Curtain, The Double Man, Ice Station Zebra. They’re something of a vanishing breed these days. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies are recent examples of note. If I’m being charitable, I’d say this is less engaging. If I’m being blunt, the account is a bit stodgy and dull. It’s a decent well-acted movie with nice production values though. I’d recommend it to fans of those films.

The Courier debuted domestically back on March 19. After earning a paltry $6.6 million in theaters, it went to video on demand April 16, where it’s currently available. It got a DVD release June 1st.