The more firmly rooted in a sense of time and place a film is, the more revelatory it often is of the present.
Is Black Panther the first movie in Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe with something in particular on its mind?
Kathryn Bigelow’s Detroit has an important story to tell, but what story is it?
An important story you probably don’t know about, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as NASA “computers” (really!) during the 1960s space race, when NASA’s Langley Research Center was still segregated.
So much better and more satisfying than the courtroom drama it could have been.
The prominent, polyvalent exploration of the uses of religion and especially Scripture, both to condone slavery and to condemn it, to sedate slaves and to inflame them, is one of the most striking and welcome things about the film.
There are so many reasons Queen of Katwe shouldn’t even exist, and just thinking about them all makes me even more vexed at Hollywood for its desperate obsession with exhausted franchise fare when there are winning and wonderful stories like this to be told.
Lee has called Malcolm X the movie he was born to make; in some respects it may be the role Washington was born to play.
I recently rewatched Fruitvale Station (2013), first-time director Ryan Coogler’s shattering Sundance winner, with my oldest son, who has since gotten his driver’s license. Some day he will face that inevitable first traffic stop, and I want him to be aware just how different that encounter will be for him, with his bleached complexion and shining towheaded crown, than for many young men in the minority neighborhoods all around us.
Long after other Best Picture nominees of 2014 have been forgotten, Ava DuVernay’s Selma, starring David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., will still be watched, appreciated and talked about.
Very few historical films so successfully deconstruct the Great Man view of history while nevertheless offering a credible portrait of a leader who was, in fact, a great man.
If an actor in a faith-based indie like Son of God told you he felt God had told him he was meant to play the role in question, you might not bat an eye. It’s more striking to hear such a thing from the star of a $20-million Hollywood film like the civil-rights drama Selma.
Selma achieves something few historical films do: It captures a sense of events unfolding in the present tense, in a political and cultural climate as complex, multifaceted and undetermined as the times we live in.
What if I were to tell you that there has never until now been a major historical motion picture about the slave experience in America? Could that possibly be true?
I can’t believe I never realized it until now, but I can’t think of another fact-based motion picture about the slave experience in America — that is, a movie about slavery in the United States told from the point of view of actual, historical slaves, many of whose stories were published by abotionists prior to the Civil War and by civil rights activists after it.
Oscar Grant just might be the most memorable character I’ve encountered on the big screen this year.
Steven Spielberg’s masterful Lincoln might more accurately have been called The 13th Amendment — and while the choice of the more marketable title is easy to understand, the more crucial decision to limit the scope of the film to the last few months of Lincoln’s life, and to focus less on Lincoln himself than on the political machinations of bringing about his most enduring legal legacy, must have been harder to make.
Based on Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling 2009 novel, The Help is largely about the daily humiliations and injustices to which black maids and nannies working in white homes were subject, and the invisibility of these humiliations to their white employers, until, in this fictional account, their stories are told, first in secret and then in public.
C. S. Lewis’s bleak prediction about human mistreatment of extraterrestrial creatures was framed in terms of human spacefarers encountering alien life on distant worlds, but the gist of his thesis is eminently applicable to the scenario proposed in District 9, a caustic and gory but sharply made sci-fi fable with a pungent South African flavor.
The Express is a rare inspirational sports film that remembers who sports are supposed to inspire: other people.
It’s a slightly heavy-handed misstep in a film that runs confidently though unevenly over a mountain of material, stepping right more often than it steps wrong over its 160 minutes. As a contribution and challenge to the World War II genre, Miracle at St. Anna compares reasonably well to most Hollywood efforts. As is often the case, Lee seems to relish biting off more than he can chew, and the ambition and scope of this effort is worth the bits that don’t quite fit.
The title reflects the supporting role of John Newton, played with gusto by Albert Finney, as a penitent ex-slave ship captain, now a mentor of sorts to Wilberforce as well as the writer of the beloved American hymn. (“A wretch like me,” Newton was not afraid to call himself in the original lyrics, with a biographical and theological honesty too direct for the revisionist vandals of hymnody responsible for many missalettes and hymnbooks.)
Crash is a provocation, an insistent manifesto that filters every scene and almost every line of dialogue through the prism of race, but keeps turning the prism around and around until the colors no longer matter and we see only what the characters do.
Au Revoir Les Enfants, Louis Malle’s semi-autobiographical film about life in a Catholic boarding school for boys in Nazi-occupied France, has been called an elegy of innocence lost, though in fact the youthful characters are never truly innocent, only clueless, and what they lose is not innocence but something more elusive.
From the armbands to the ghettos, from forced labor to extermination camps and beyond, Schindler’s List covers the successive historical stages of the Final Solution more comprehensively than any other popular film had at the time, or has since. That, in part, is its great achievement — and, for many of its critics, its enduring stigma.
Yet the film’s second half, with its outrageously racist stereotypes and view of the post-war reconstruction, incited protest even in its own day, and has only become more disturbing over time. Had Griffith concluded the film at the close of Part I with the stunning depiction of Lincoln’s assassination, controversy over the film would be a mere footnote. But there’s no ignoring the film’s final act, which, following the source novel and play The Clansmen by white supremacist Thomas F. Dixon Jr., celebrates the founding of the original Ku Klux Klan, climaxing with the Klan heroically subjugating out-of-control black rioters and restoring white control.
L’Chaim! Life itself, joyous and tragic, is the subject of the boisterous, comic, heartbreaking vision of Fiddler on the Roof.
It’s a melancholy truth that religion is often a key ingredient in long-standing conflicts festering in certain troubled regions around the globe: the Middle East, Northern Ireland, the Balkans. Final Solution depicts the way religion has been involved in the racial strife in South Africa — but it also points to the role that faith can and should play in reconciliation and healing as well.
Now, almost ten years later, Polanski has finally faced his demons and made a film of almost ferocious objectivity — a film devoid of even the smell of polemicism, sentimentality, melodrama, or cliché. Not a celebration of the human spirit, resisting both deceptive moral uplift and despairing moral nihilism, neither demonizing the Germans nor lionizing the Jews, The Pianist is a work of exquisite restraint. Any misstep might have resulted in reducing the horror of genocide to a prop in a morality-play, but Polanski surefootedly avoids every trap and temptation in his path.
From the unforgettable opening sequence, with its stunning depiction of the martyrdom of a silent Jesuit missionary at the hands of equally silent South American natives, the film is shot through with piercing, haunting imagery, pictures of enduring imaginative force.
Contriving to hide the boy from camp officials (who soon put the other children to death), Guido tells Giosue that the concentration camp is actually an elaborate role-playing game in which the "players" are competing for points in the hopes of winning a real battle tank. From then on, Guido will take any risk, court any danger, to maintain his son’s illusion that none of it is real.
The judges rating the pig’s performance might as well be grading the entire movie. Babe is a perfect 10.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.