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13 MINUTES review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on March 17, 2017 at 7:15 AM Comments comments (0)

Directed by: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Running time: 114 mins.

Release date: June 30, 2017 (NY/LA)

Genre: Drama, War, and Biography in German with English subtitles

Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics

MPAA Rating: R

In a collaborative production by director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall), along with father/daughter screenplay writing team Fred and Leonie-Claire Breinersdorfer, comes an epic historical biopic that explores the dark past of one man's attempt to stop Hitler's horrific regime.

This the story of Johann Georg Elser (Jan. 4, 1903 - April 9, 1945), brilliantly played by Christian Friedel, a German carpentry worker who planned and carried out an elaborate assassination attempt on Adolph Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi leaders on November 8, 1939 at the Burgerbraukeller (Hitler's annual speech on the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch) in Munich.  A time bomb that Elser constructed and placed near the speaking platform during the event which failed to kill Hitler, but killed eight people and injured over sixty others.

The film captures in retrospect much of Elser's background in the implementation in his assassination plan, as he travelled to Munich on November 8, 1939 to enter the Burgerbraukeller.  However, prior to this plan, Elser is shown as a pacifist man whose only wildness in life was an extra marital love affair with a married woman Elsa (Katherine Schuttler), while being married to his wife Maria (Cornelia Kondgen).  His work in the armament factory, where he reluctantly worked, was sufficient for him to survive in an oppressed society. As the days of oppression wears on his demeanor, he soon becomes upset and fed up.  His strong communist beliefs triggers him to sytematically steal explosives, hide packets of powder in his bedroom, to rebel the Nazis regime.  Realizing he needed the exact dimensions of the column to build his bomb, he master-minds an almost fool-proof plan.  He did not know Hitler would leave 13 minutes before the explosion.

In a plot-driven presentation, 13 Minutes takes on a serious investigative drama, as the hunt for Elser and accomplices are pursued by Nazis.  Eventually, Elser is captured and imprisoned.  With impeccable performances by supporting cast members Burghart Klaussner as Arthur Nebe, the ruthless interrogating head of the Criminal Police, and the leader of the Gestapo Heinrich Muller (Johann von Bulow), who try to unearth Elser's accomplices, the story takes on a envious feud between the two.  It seems the two interrogators can't imagine an ordinary man would attempt such a scheme by himself.

The tension of the story is in the portrayals of Elser, Criminal Police Chief Arthur Nebe, and Gestapo leader Muller during the imprisonment.  The interrogation scenes are shocking, yet mesmerizing.  The tone is desolate, gritty and harsh.  Filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel structures his film with true life situations and stories involving intense character development and interaction.  This is a film of high production values accompanied by magnified dramatic scope of a heroic figure.  It is a must see film.



THE OTTOMAN LIEUTENANT review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on March 10, 2017 at 6:20 AM Comments comments (0)

Directed by: Joseph Ruben

Running time: 100 mins.

Release date: March 10, 2017

Genre: Drama, War, and Period Piece

MPAA Rating: Not rated

Jeff Stockwell scripts this historic character-driven presentation reflecting the eastern front theater of World War I, while exploring a young strong-willed idealistic woman, Lillie (Hera Hilmer), whose life journey and romance will have a significant shaping impact on the rest of those she comes in contact with.

Frustrated by a mundane privilege lifestyle in America's Philadelphia, Lillie is someone whose beliefs are to achieve remedied medical and spiritual rationale in a turbulent World War I.  After meeting Jude (Josh Hartnett), an American doctor, who has returned home from a remote medical mission within the Ottoman Empire to raise American financial assistance, decides she will leave her comfortable home and join this discipline as a nurse.  Inspired by the thought of being needed, she finds herself in a world both exotic and dangerous, and on the brink of what is about to become the first World War.  There, she finds her loyalty to Jude and the mission's founder Dr. Woodruff (Sir Ben Kingsley) tested when she falls in love with their perceived enemy, a lieutenant in the Ottoman Imperial Army, Ismail (Michiel Huisman).

As mildly entertaining this film is, the real substance is in the limited historical content that the major characters deliver.  The film strongly implies that the decisions which these characters make on these key days will impact the rest of their lives.  On a grander scale, these decisons (and the 20-20 hindsight which the historical aspect of the film adds), provide much valuable information about the broader societal problems and decisions which the main characters represent in its outcome.

The romantic aspect of this film which occurs with Ismail and Lillie, and with Jude as the jealous character, does not come across as being cinematiclly genuine.  Screen chemistry is the key to success, but these characters are penalized for poor execution.  And Sir Ben Kingsley is under-used in his minimal performance. The dramatic speaking is to be dialogue, yet its mannerisms seem to be monologue and banal which stalls the movement of the plot's pacing and action.  Its tragedy plot subtext, is to an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of certain magnitude.  Of course, the oncoming war is threatening and presents the form of action which will arouse pity and fear in the audience.  This creates an affect of purgation and catharsis of these strong emotions.  However, the way an actor plays a role, using his/her acting skills to create a character (characterization), ultimately depends on his/her ability to create a character that an actor can 'bring to life'.  The Ottoman Lieutenant, is troublesome in its casting and deflates a epic story that could better this fact.

While casting talented actors, the soft-soaked plot doesn't deliver engaging response.  This is a historically potent romantic drama.  The pre-World War I period-piece denotes a significant era.  However, the tone is banal and the performances lack credible substance.  This film is better suited for cable television because of its soap-style delivery.  As a 'epic-lite' genre, it takes a generic tone of a costume drama, that should cover a large expanse of time set against a vast, panoramic backdrop.  


THE SHACK review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on March 3, 2017 at 6:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Directed by: Stuart Hazeldine

Running time: 2 hours 12 minutes

Release date: March 3. 2017

Genre: Drama

Distributor: Lionsgate/Summit Entertainment

MPAA Rating: PG-13

In a screenplay co-written by John Fusco and Andrew Lanham starring Sam Worthington, Octavia Spencer, and Tim McGraw is a story of guilt, death and loss of a child, and spiritual healing.

After the abuction and assumed death of Mackenzie 'Mack' Phillip's (Sam Worthington) youngest daughter, Missy (Amelie Eve), Mack and his family is grieve strickened.  The Phillips clan is a deeply religious family, although Mack has a skeleton in his closet from his dysfunctional childhood upbringing that caused the death of his abusive alcoholic father.  Holding on to their religious beliefs in dire times of their loss, Mack receives a letter and has the suspicion it is from God asking him to return to The Shack where Missy may have been murdered.

This religious Christian theme story opens unifying common elements found in all great religious and cultures upon which we can focus to build cooperation in a diverse world.  We need to focus on unity by finding common ground among people of different beliefs and backgrounds.  A focus on unifying elements creates harmony and brings people together instead of dividing people when it comes to times of loss of life, whether it be by religion, race, culture, political beliefs, or other differences.  While characterizing Octavia Spencer as Papa aka God the Father, Avraham Aviv Alush as Jesus God the Son, and Sumire Matsubara as Sarayu God the Spirit we become familiar with the Christian culture portrayed on screen.  We realize that there are certain values that are shared.  These universal thruths manifest in this film, served not only as stepping stones between cultures, but also as a springboard to reach spiritual enlightenment.  In this case, director Hazeldine share a transcendent spiritual film style as, Yasujiro Ozu (Japan), Carl Theodor Dreyer (Denmark, and Robert Bresson (France).  In spite of their different religious backgrounds - a Buddhist, a Protestant, and a Catholic respectively, a uspoken consensus of style is apparent.

As Mack grapples with his demons as he visits The Shack, the movie sheds light on and makes a serious attempt to questions.  Why are we here?  What's the meaning of life?  Is there a God?  Why is there evil in the world?  The tone is set and the plot delves into the moral aspects of redemption, forgiveness, keeping faith, life and death, good vs. evil, and more.  The moral ideals and taboos in the behavior of the protantagonist Mack is very well portrayed on screen, as well as, his other daughter Kate's (Megan Charpentier) performance, as a person dealing with her feelings of guilt pertaining to her younger sister's death and abduction.  The behavior and the lessons learned along the way represent the culture's ideals; what Mack does, all men should strive toward.

The life situations bring on intense character development and interaction, along with the use of special-effects to maintain a high standard production values.  Accompanied by grandeur and spectacle, and lavish heavenly settings, this film offers a serene attitude in the end result to processs pain, anquish, heartbreak, and sorrow.

The Shack, is a journey of overcoming misery, sadness,distress, heartache, agony, desolation, and dejection.  Yet, it raises one inevidable question, whether it is a spiritual movie or a religious movie?  It is one thing for sure, it is simply about the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.




APPRENTICE review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on March 3, 2017 at 3:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Directed by: Junfeng Boo

Running time: 96 mins.

Release date: March 3, 2017

Genre: Drama in Malay and English with English subtitles

Distributor: Film Movement

MPAA Rating: Not rated

In a dramatic character-driven presentation, filmmaker Junfeng Boo also scripts a story that takes a hard look at a self-examination of one man's assessment of capital punishment in Malaysia.

Capital punishment in Malaysia is a legal form of punishment.  It is a mandatory punishment for murder, drug trafficking, treason, and waging war against the King.  It also, includes acts of terrorism, aiding terrorism (financially or otherwise), rape that causes death or child rapists.  The statutory provisions also carry the death penalty on abetting mutiny (Armed Forces), abetting suicide, kidnapping or abducting to murder, hostage taking, gang robbery with murder, and possession of fire arms.

Joseph Aiman (Firdaus Rahman) applies for a prison guard position at a maximum security prison.  Once, he receives his rookie position, he is assigned to a less secure area and is not allowed in the highly secured area.  His home life is of a family oriented situation.  He lives with his single older sister Suhalia (Mastura Ahmed) and grandmother (not credited in script or film) in a very close domestic relationship.  

However, in a story portraying realistic characters, settings, and life situations the plot takes on a inquistive manner as Joseph Aiman's curiousity causes him to seek why the doctrine of the veteran guards assume the doctrine of,  'they the prisoners against we the guards'.  His curiousity goes even furhter, as he seeks to favor his superiors.  One particuliar superior is an 'old school' chief guard Rahim (Wan Hanafi Su), an executioner hangman, who takes his job and captial munishment seriously.  Rahim takes pride in the preparations, tools and mechanics used to carry out the executions of hanging.  

In a story inspired by revenge possibly deferred, John Aiman is torn between being bound to his duty as a guard, as he aspires to promote his status as Rahim assistant, and to learn more about this hangman who is the man who executed Joseph and Suhalia's father years prior.  Of course, Suhalia is upset and it does cause tension in their blissful domestic atmosphere.  With sensitive expressionism in their performances, each character displays a slow build discovery tone, as the plot takes on innovated reserved theme.  Each involving intense character development and interaction.  The key roles in this feature provide the audience with a better idea off how the film is going to be as Joseph Aiman is being groomed by Rahim for the next chief hangman's position.

The dark setting adds to the thought provoking and evocative theme.  This theme refers to what the story means opposed to what happens as it refers to the main idea within the plot.  It is stated through dialogue by John Aiman's character, as the screenplay/director's creates dramatic scope.  The dialogues delivered by the characters moves the plot and action along, provides exposition, defines the distinct characters, and gives substance to the film.

What's more often overlook about Junfeng Boo is the way his shots, even at their bleekist and most darkest, almost always seem to gravitate toward a kind of equilibrium and balance - a strong center of gravity that both permits wide improvisation and keeps it in check. It seems to aspire to a kind of fussily arranged, impeccable lit portraiture.

Apprentice is a strong presentation offering a controversial attitude of conscience, involving diligence of duty and a haunting of the past.  



RENDEZ VOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA - 2017 coverage and reviews by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on March 2, 2017 at 5:30 PM Comments comments (0)

                               RENDEZ-VOUS with FRENCH CINEMA - 2017

                                                      March 1 - 12, 2017

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema returns with another edition that exemplifies the variety and vitality of contemporary French filmmaking.  The films on display, by emerging talents and establishrf masters, raise ideas both topical and eternal, and many take audiences to entirely unexpected places.  

The opening night film is, Django, directed by Etienne Comar, and the closing night fil is The Odyssey, directed by Jerome Salle.

The 22nd edition of Rendez-Vous will demonstrate that the landscape of French cinema is as fertile, inspiring, and distinct as ever.



Directed by: Etienne Comar

Running time: 115 minutes

Genre: Drama, Biography, and Adaptation in French with English subtitles

Scripted by Etienne Comar from Alexis Salatko's 2013 novel, Follies of Django, is the story of Django Reinhardt, the famous guitarist and composer, and his fight from German-occupied Paris in 1943.

The film is a biographic examination of Jean 'Django' Reinhardt (Reda Kateb), a Belgian-born French jazz guitarist/composer, regarded as one of the greatest musicians of the twentieth century, having written nearly 100 songs.  He was the first and most significant jazz talent to emerge from Europe.

As a biopic, the film opens in 1943, but gives an immediate backstory of Django being born in 1910 in Liberchies, Port-a-Celles, Belgium, into a Belgium a Belgian family of Manouche Romani family.  He spent most of his youth in Romani encampments close to Paris, where he started pllaying the voilin, banjo, and guitar.  The film depicts his early life where he became adept at stealing chickens, which was viewed as a nobel skill by the Romani, because part of their means of survival on the toad was to steal from the non-Gypsy world around them.  At the age of 12 he received a banjo-guitar as a gift.  He quickly learned to play, mimicking the fingerings of musicians he watched and was able to make a living playing music by the time he was 15.  Despite having two of his fingers disabled from a fire in his caravan, he overcame the handicap and went on to forge an entirely new style of jazz technique (sometimes called 'hot' jazz guitar because of the remarkable speed and agility), which has been a living musical tradition within French Gypsy culture.  This talent was recognized and appreciated by jazz greats Benny Goodman and Duke Ellington.

The film's foundation is set when World War II broke out and his original quintet played at Paris night clubs, dazzling audiences with the 'Gypsy Swing'.  Django, the movie gripplingly portrays one chapter in the musician's eventful life, and a poignabt tale of survival.  He is aided by a beautiful admirer and lover Loiuse de Kirk (Cecile De France), who must consort with Nazis to stay alive.  Her help assisted him to survive the war unscathed, unlike many Gypsies who were interned and killed in the Porajmas, the Nazi regime's systematic murder of several hundred thousand European Gypsies.

Since the Nazis officially disapproved of jazz, Reinhardt tried to develop other musical directions.  Because Reinhardt and his family were Gypsies, and he was also a jazz musician, he tried to escape from occupied France with is family.  After his first attempt, he survived when a jazz loving German Lutwaffe Officer and his protege' Louise, let him go to France after he was captured.  But still desperate to get out of France, knowing that Gypsies were being rounded up and killed in concentration amps, he tried again to cross into Switzerland.  And again, this time in the dead of night, he was stopped by the Swiss border guards who forced him to return to Paris.

This plot-driven presentation, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction, is also a cinematic form that emphasizes great full-scale scores, songs, and dance routines in a significant way (with musical performances intergrated as part of the film narrative).  Yet, the film acknowledges the horror and heartbreak of war, including the collateral damage it occurs.

Django is a brilliant film that depicts the life of an important historical personage.



A UNITED KINGDOM review & interview by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on February 10, 2017 at 4:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Directed by: Amma Asante

Running time: 111 mins.

Release date: February 10, 2017

Genre: Drama, Romance, Biopic, and Adaptation

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

MPAA Rating: PG-13

A screenplay by Guy Hibbert (Eye In The Sky) is brilliantly directed by Amma Asante (Belle), whose great skill and imagination brings an originality and verve to filmmaking in this factual period-piece narrative.  It is a film based on the true-life interracial romance between Sir Seretse Khama and his wife Ruth Williams Khama during Post WWII United Kingdom and Africa.

It is a remarkable story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), Prince of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), who in 1948 who meets, falls in love, and marries Lloyds of London office worker Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) who overcame every racial and bigotted obstacle by the British Government and Bechuanaland (Botswana).  At first, the mariage was no more welcome in Africa, as an African Prince and heir to the chieftainship of a tribe more than 100,000 people.  However, the British government was determined to prevent Seretse taking his rightful place at the head of the tribe, as influences from the newly formed bordering country apartheid governed South Africa, would bring pressure on the British Government in not acknowleging their interracial marriage.

This is a romantic biopic that takes on a journey sharing affairs of the heart that center on emotion and affectionate involvement of the main characters.  While the racial and political tone is set early in this film set in 1947 London, Seretse formidably portrayed by David Oyelowo), who relocates to London to study law, first meets Ruth Williams, impeccably portrayed by Rosamund Pike.  Under Amma Asante's direction of fearless cinematic surrealism, the storyline takes the journey of the two getting married in 1948, making worldwide headlines and stirring outcry.  Succumbing to pressure from apartheid governed South Africa the British government held a parliamentary enquiry on the matter of Seretse Khama's fitness to rule the colonialized Bechuanaland (Botswana).  This was a pawn for the apartheid government, fearing the ramifications of a mixed marriage between a black chief and a white British woman.  On the other end in Bechuanaland, Seretse's uncle Tshekedi Khama (Vusi Kunene) who was regent in his place after the death of Seretse's father and his younger sister Naledi Khama (Terry Pheto), was highly reluctant to the marriage and having a white woman lead their black tribe.  The plot navigates through a heartbreaking and memorable venture as Ruth is disowned by her own family and must remain in Africa, while Seretse is exiled from Africa in England. They defy family, aprtheid, and the British empire to return from an imposed to their African kingdom, and assume power after independence.

The supporting cast members Jack Davenport as Alistair the British government representative of South Africa, Nicholas Lyndhurst as Goerge Williams (Ruth's father), Anastasia Hille (Ruth's mother), and Laura Carmichael (Ruth's siter), add harsh emotional impact to a sensational historical epic.  This is a film that covers a large expanse of time set against a vast panoramic backdrop.  It's an epic that takes on heroic figures, and add an extravagant setting and authentic costumes, accompanied by grandeur and spectacle, dramtic scope, and high production values.

In an interview with director Amma Asane, David Oyelowo, and Rosamund Pike, I was fortunate to have them talk about this production.  I asked David Oyelowo; "Did you get a chance to speak to President of Botswana Ian Khama (oldest son of Seretse and Ruth Khama) regarding his parents?"  David Oyelowo replied, "During the shooting of the film, we heard a helicopter landing and it was the President Ian Khama. It was an honor and his presence that made shooting exciting.  He had said that it was seeing his parents (now deceased) again and it was a seal of approval."  He also added, "the film is timely, yet timeless because of the power of love that shows how much we are all alike......the film is quite universal, but in the U.K. it was like a shock on how historical racial issues was dealt with ....many did not know of the bigotry."   I then asked him about his motivation and he replied, "As a British person from African decent, my family was my inspiration and I personally related to it and represented what I know."

Rosamund Pike was very graceful as she replied to my question and statement; "I saw photos of you and Tahlia Khama (granddaughter of Seretse and Ruth) at the London premiere, whas their any insight about her grandparents given to you to fully enhance your part?"  Rosamund Pike replied; "Tahlia said her grandmother was quite strict and always having us be on our best behavior."  Rosamund continued by saying, "I enjoy love stories, it makes you courageous.  The more I think about the film, I think of how it deals with prejudice, but more on fear.  Love can really is a positive weapon.  It was a real challenge to do this part......David and I worked together before and we are friends, so I trusted him as an actor in this film."  I asked her about her preparation and she commented, "I researched British library to get insight and information.  I was appreciative and shocked when President Ian Khama visited the set."  My last question for Rosamund was; "Are you a romantic?"  And she told me, "Yes, I'm a romantic and I see this film in that light."

Lastly, I asked director Amma Asante, "How much research material was furnished to you by the Khama family and what text sources did you use?"  Amma Asante replied, "I read Susan Williams' book Colour Bar, and I used this as part of my source.  However, as a Brit of African decent, I used African politics.  I was raised with a Ghana culture.  It was my voice in what African issues are real.  The balance of their love and the reality of the British colonialization, along with a divide and conquer structure his (Seretse) uncle as leader at that time, was a plan to take control of the tribe.  Directing was a balancing act of love and politics."

In the end, right overcame wrong and Seretse went on to become the first President of Botswana, and Ruth as an accepted and beloved First Lady.  The natural chemistry of David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike portraying this couple is magnifying and absorbing, as they shine on screen.  This is a must see worthy film.



LEFT ON PURPOSE review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on February 8, 2017 at 11:10 PM Comments comments (0)

Directed by Justin Schein, Co-direction by David Mehlman

Running time: 84 mins.

Release date: February 10, 2017

Genre: Documentary

Distributor: Shadowbox Films/Eden Wurmfeld Films

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Justin Schein's documentary is a cinematic examination of an original member of the legendary Yippies, the radical movement group of the 1960s, his name is Mayer Vishner.  This is a chronical of this political activist, an associate of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubins, and many others of the counter-culture protests that change America.

For more than 20 years, documentary filmmaker Justin Schein has been involved in directing and cinematography.  He has been the cinematographer on over 60 films that have appeared in networks such as The BBC, The Discovery Channel, HBO, and PBS.  On this documentary on the life of political activist Mayer Vishner, Schein originally wanted to document the rebellious legacy of Vishner.  However, he finds an alcohol and substance abuse hoarder living in a rundown Greenwich Village apartment surrounded by the memorabilia of his youth.  Once, Scheiner finds out Mayer Vishner has severe depression and wants to end his own life as his political act, Scheiner's professional relationship becomes extremely personal.

The structure of this docmentary is very well crafted as Schein begins with the story telling shots where he interviews his subject in his apartment with emotional cutaway shots, constructing personal sequences. These shots express the mental discomfort Mayer Vishmer endures in his solitude.  It is an assessment of a shell of a man who once helped lead a political movement that change the social and political atmosphere in America.  

Filmmaker Schein takes his viewers on a visit to Mayer Vishner's brother's home in California, where they reminisce of their protesting years, giving him pleasure reflecting on the past with archival photographs. This feeling is quickly dissovled when he returns back to his lonely Greenwich Village apartment.  It is a sight where the documenary turns the tone to an attiude that is characterized by persistently depressed moods and his loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in his daily life.

The interviews with those who knew Mayer Vishner shed light on his dismal attitude, of only finds happiness in losing himself in overindulging in alcohol and drugs.  When this sometimes witty, charismatic, and perceptive man introduces his intentions to commit suicide and wants filmmaker Schein to film his long planned suicide, that he called his Existential Project, Schein must decide where is the ethical borderline between being a witness to this act or imposing interventions to avert this.  It is an emotional roller coaster scenario that keeps the viewer thoroughly engaged in the person and the outcome.

This film also gives a small tutorial on The Youth International Party, commonly called Yippies, which was an American radically youth-oriented and counter-culture revoluntionary offshoot of the free speech and anti-Vietnam movements of the 1960s.  It's hierarchy was Abbie Hoffman, who young 16 year old Mayer Vishner worked with, along with others who included Allen Ginsberg and Phil Ochs, to name a few.  This was a generation where they associated with personalities, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Richie Havens, and Bob Dylan.  

Justin Schein captures all of the characteristics of Mayer Vishner, past, present, and to his death with effective transition material to be used between live action footage scenes and interviews.  He creates a unified film that accurately reflects the events he documented during the filming process with narration.  It is an excellent portrait of a Baby Boomer whose alternative behavior and attitude, never change as time moved on, and ultimately causing his own death.  It is a film that also places the director in a moral dilemma of being responsible for a friend who is in pain.  As Schein states, "I can't just stand behind the camera and watch him kill himself".  Does he turn off the camera and try to help Mayer stay alive?  This is the hook that will keep the viewer even more interested, as it is digested. 

It is a must see film.



CHAPTER & VERSE: A Harlem Story review by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on February 3, 2017 at 2:50 PM Comments comments (0)

Directed by: Jamal Joseph

Running time: 97 minutes

Release date: February 3, 2017

Genre: Drama

Distributor: HFC and Paladin

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Harlem resident S. Lance Ingram (Daniel Beaty) is an ex-con recently released from prison after serving eight years.  He re-enters society under parole and must reside in a halfway house ran by parole officer Morris (Gary Perez).  Ex-felon Lance, a reformed Harlem gang leader, is not without academic skills, but finds the job searching process is useless.  With the extensive knowledge of computer technology he obtain in prison schooling, he must resort to a job as a food delivery-man for the elderly and needy.  

The multi-layered plot explores Lance's re-association process, as he witnesses new ruthless gangs, racism, and the gentrification of his neighborhood.  The tone is set immediately as a character study and plot-driven presentation, portraying realistic characters and settings.  

One of the layers of the storyline is his trust relation he builds with his parole officer Morris when he repairs his computer after Lance has a 'dirty' testing for illegal substances (enhaled by second hand smoke).  This relationship matures to P.O. Morris recommending and releasing Lance to live in his own apartment.

Another layer of this plot is reuniting with his longtime Harlem friend and barbershop entrpreneur Jomo (Omari Hardwick).  Jomo offers him opportunities and insight on what life is now about in Harlem along with solutions to deal with issues.  Jomo is the only one left from Lance's past.

Lance's food delivery position is run by Yolanda (Selenis Leyva), a single woman dedicated in running her food service for the elderly and needy.  However, her dedication is set aside after she exploits her sexual attention towards Lance.  It is strictly physical in nature, but Lance finds himself being pawned.  But Lance soon resolves this problem by introducing his suave buddy Jomo to Yolanda.

This brings the other layer to the film of Lance meeting and befriending one of his food recepients, neighborhood grandmother and widower named Miss Maddy, brilliantly played by Loretta Devine.  This part of the film shows how Lance opens up his feelings as he builds a family-style relationship with sickly Miss Maddy and her grandson Ty (Khadim Diop).  Lance encourages teenage Ty not to fall deep into the wiles of his street gang friends led by B-Rock (Marc John Jefferies) who continue to challenge Ty's loyalty by directing him to commit crimnal acts.  This is a part of the movie when Lance reflects on his criminal past and wants to save Ty from falling into the costly mistakes he made.

The life situations and stories involving intense character development and interaction is enhanced by the supporting cast.  This multi-layered character(s) study drama is a riveting and engaging film.  The formidable ensemble performances are brilliantly led by Daniel Beaty's outstanding characterization.  The pacing and tone is crisp, raw, gritty, and authentic of an urban historic atmosphere of Harlem.  It illustrates life in this community and reflects upon what it means to forge your own destiny in an outwardly harsh society. 


THE SPACE BETWEEN US review & interview by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on February 3, 2017 at 7:55 AM Comments comments (0)

Directed by: Peter Chelsom

Running time: 128 mins.

Release date: February 3, 2017

Genre: Drama, Adventure, Romance, and Coming of Age

Distributor: STX Entertainment

MPAA Rating: PG-13

The setting is futuristic, as Earth's resources are depleting and life on Mars is looking to be the answer to the problem.  Six astronauts are set to venture spaceflight to Mars for a four year experimental habitation project. This interplanetary shuttle is overseen by East Texas Mission Control CEO Nathaniel Shepherd (Gary Oldman) in the first mission to Colonize Mars.

As takeoff is successful, it is found out by the crew that one of the astronauts is pregnant.  It is the commanding officer Sarah Elliot (Janet Montgomery who is pregnant and dies giving birth to the first human born on the red planet.  This begins the extraordinary life of Gardner Elliot (Asa Butterfield) - an inquisitive, highly intelligent boy who reaches the age of 16 having only met 14 people in his unconventional upbringing. Assigned to the maternal duties of raising Gardner is Kendra (Carla Gugino).  She is tested by Gardner's insistance of finding out about his life and why he must stay on Mars.  He being a human Martian, must stay on Mars because he can't adapt to Earth's atmospheric conditions.  His only contact with his biological mother's family is from his mother's virtual footage of her past.  This is a communication form of social networking by virtual imaging (like a viisual Facebook), that Gardner communicates with an actual teenage girl from Texas, named Tulsa (Britt Robertson) who believes she is talking to a boy on Earth.  She is a high school loner, who has domestic problems.

At this time the coming of age scenario and tone is set as the social networking relationship between Gardner and Tulsa takes off, as she doesn't know he is from Mars.  He's angry about his situation being a secret cover-up that nobody on Earth knows of his existence.  However, with a leak to NASA about his existence, it becomes apparent that America wants to bring him to his new home (under extensive medical health care coverage).  It a cultural shock for Gardner as he acquaints himself with Earth's culture as a teenager dealing with peers and harrmones.  All the while, medically quarantined because of his immune system on Earth.

The film is somewhat to movies rolled into one.  One is the beginning of the film laying out a sci-fi plot and backstory, and the latter a coming of age story.  This latter story focuses on Gardner's escape from quarantine and finding his puppy-love interest Tulsa.  He and Tulsa runaway in a roadtrip subplot to find validity to his ancestry, and a tender romantic tone is established, as they attempt to find their place in life.

In an interview with actors Carla Gugino and lead Asa Butterfield, I was fortunate to ask them questions about this film. I asked Carla Gugino what brought her to this project and why?  She replied, "I am big sci-fi person.  I loved the relationship it offered.  The stunts was interesting - being on wires simulating no gravity.  I found myself working with great people.  I can see myself doing space travel."  I also asked about working with director Peter Chelsom?  She informed me;  "The direction under Peter Chelsom was collaborative....he gave room for input on my was very few takes because of the chemistry of our cast."

Lead actor Asa Butterfield commented, "I was so refreshingly pleased to read this reminded me of the movies I loved....The Twilight Zone.  I like sci-fi films that reflects to human beings interacting with one another.  The stunts was challenging....I did my own stunts."  I also asked him about preparing for his work with Bitt Robertson, who plays his love interest Tulsa?  He plied, "Britt and I didn't have much time to rehearse because she came aboard later in the production, but we really came together."

The Space Between Us, is a mixture of a good sci-fi thriller and a coming of age movie.  It is supportd by a strong supporting cast that includes Gary Oldman and BD Wang, who maintain a high standard in excellent performances.




I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO review & interview by Gerald Wright

Posted by Gerald Wright on February 1, 2017 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)

Directed by: Raoul Peck

Running time: 95 mins.

Release date: February 3, 2017

Genre: Documentary

Distributor: Magnolia Pictures

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Filmmaker, writer, producer, editor, and camera/sound technician Raoul Peck, recently known for directing Lumumba (2000) and Sometimes in April (2005), has brought African American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic James Arthur Baldwin's unfinished final book, Remember This House, a recounting of the lives and assassination of his friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., to life by completing the unfinished manuscript entrusted to him by the James Baldwin estate.

Raoul Peck, a 1953 Haitian born filmmaker, of both documentary and feature films, and a political activist was briefly Haiti's Minister of Culture (March 1996 - September 1997).  His early years in life acquainted him with politics, as his father Herbert B. Peck, an agronomist, worked for the United Nations and Unesco in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), while his mother Griselle served as aide and secretary to mayors in the DRC.  The family, with two other younger male siblings, resided for DRC 24 years, until Raoul Peck moved out on his own to New York City in 1980.  The 1980s decade began his journalism and film studies accreditation.

In I Am Not Your Negro, a 30 page manuscript that James Baldwin was unable to finish before his death in1987, documentarian Raoul Peck reclaims Baldwin's quest by confronting the deeper connections between the lives and assassinations of these three men.  It is a specific American history of violence perpetrated by racism and bigotry, which creates an image of what it means to be Black in America today.  As the film is exclusively built around Baldwin's words, it delves into the complex discrimination issues that plagues the American social and political landscape.  Framing the unfinished work as a radical narration about race in America matches and intertwines Baldwin's lyrical rhetoric with rich archival footage of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements that have taken shape in response to killings of many contemporary African Americans.

In a question and answer session with Raoul Peck, he was asked his motivation in this film production?  His reply was, "Baldwin has been with me all of my life.  He is an author that has an influence on me.  I wanted to bring him back.  As a Black man, I was thinking that we needed Baldwin now.  First, I wanted to get the rights from the estate.  It was a complicated issue.  I wrote to the estate and they replied.  I met with Gloria, his sister.  They gave me the rights to everything he had done.  In doing this project, I wanted to elaborate on Baldwin.  I wanted this film to be generic Baldwin, and for everyone, white and black to receive.  I wanted to make a film that will last and would be something that someone (everyone) can come back to see."  I persoanlly asked Raoul Peck, "was this project your way of completing his (Baldwin) unfinished 30 pages of work in your eyes opposed to building on his writings?"  He replied, "the 30 pages he wrote were links to his heroes and I expanded on that.  I found a story in the story of the 30 pages.  This is the idea that motivated me."

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, is a film that explores the history of race relations in the United States through James Baldwin's reminiscences.  It is a formidable, engaging, and compelling examination revealing the deep connections between past and present injustices about America's irrational relationship with skin color.