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JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH

Judas and the Black Messiah is a provocative movie title and the film that bears it lives up to the expectations it generates. Director Shaka King plunges us into action in the opening scene, where a little-remembered figure named Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) brazenly steals a car using a counterfeit FBI badge as his weapon of choice. His immediate capture enables a true-blue FBI agent (Jesse Plemons) to blackmail him into working as a stool pigeon. He infiltrates the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers and works himself into the inner circle of its leader, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya). Having recently watched Sam Pollard’s riveting documentary MLK/FBI it’s especially interesting to view this story from the inside. Martin Sheen, under a pound of makeup, briefly plays…

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LAND: AN IMPRESSIVE DEBUT FILM FROM ROBIN WRIGHT

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that any feature-length film that has earned Robin Wright’s complete commitment—as actress and director—would be worthwhile. But Wright’s film is more than merely competent: her bywords seem to have been simplicity and honesty. That goes for her moving performance as well as her treatment of the screenplay by Jesse Chatham and Erin Dignam. Land is a damn good movie. This is a story of how one woman deals with grief: by moving to a cabin in the wilderness of a snowy mountain chain. She gives herself no options by discarding her cell phone and asking the realtor who drove her there to have someone pick up her rental vehicle. She is truly alone, and as she quickly discovers, utterly unprepared to…

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‘LITTLE FISH’ EXPLORES A DARING IDEA

I’m not sure when Aja Gabel wrote the story that became Little Fish, but I don’t think it was during the pandemic that has seized the world. In the near-future depicted here it’s a different kind of malady that overtakes society: a disorder called Neuroinflammatory Affliction, or NIA. It causes people to lose their memory—sometimes all at once, sometimes in stages. In the midst of this unfathomable blight two people meet and fall in love. Their challenge is to maintain that relationship as long as they can, after he shows the first, heartbreaking signs of memory loss.  The film rises or sinks on the empathy we feel for those lovers, who couldn’t be more perfectly cast. Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell are both likable and believable.…

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TWO OF US: A SENSATIONAL SLEEPER

There’s nothing more exciting to me than making a discovery. I wasn’t at the Toronto International Film Festival when Two of Us made its debut in the fall of 2019. It has played other prestigious festivals, including Los Angeles’ Outfest.…but I finally made it a priority when I read that it is France’s official entry for the Academy Awards this year. Now I’m telling everyone who will listen that it’s a must-see. Two of Us opens with an intriguing prologue showing two girls playing hide and seek. It’s a visual metaphor that foreshadows a crimp in the longtime, loving relationship between two older women, played by the great German actress Barbara Sukowa and the Comédie Française veteran Martine Chevallier. They plan to run off to Rome to start a…

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OUR FRIEND: A CLICHÉ-FREE TEARJERKER

I was tempted to dismiss Our Friend as just another movie about a loved one’s battle with a fatal disease. Then I watched it. Yes, it’s a tearjerker, but it’s derived from a first-person article from Esquire that won the National Magazine Award. It has three exceptional performances—by Dakota Johnson, Casey Affleck, and Jason Segel. And it illuminates the reality of how a woman’s bout with cancer affects everyone around her, altering her relationships, both casual and crucial. Real life can be messy. By jumping back and forth in time, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and screenwriter Brad Ingelsby keep us alert to the ever-changing status of the main characters: Johnson is a radiant woman who shares her gift of caring with a circle of friends as well as her husband…

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REMEMBERING THE DAUGHTER OF A HOLLYWOOD LEGEND

Time was when you could count on the Hollywood trade papers and local press to track the births, deaths, and marriages in all of show business. Lately, however, my wife Alice has taken to reading the paid death announcements in the Los Angeles Times. It is here that she discovers some fascinating life stories as recounted by the departed’s family. It would be hard to top this one, regarding the daughter of beloved stage and screen actor Pat O’Brien. It appeared Sunday, January 31. I’ll let the family’s memorial speak for itself.

‘THE LITTLE THINGS’ DON’T ADD UP

One of the seven deadly sins of moviemaking—perhaps the deadliest—is   boring an audience. Having just been victimized by The Little Things the least I can do is share my experience with you.  Denzel Washington stars as a former LAPD homicide detective who has been reassigned to routine sheriff’s deputy duty out in the boondocks. It takes a while to find out what skeletons are rattling in his closet, but during a brief trip to L.A. he meets his replacement, a bright, dedicated man played by Rami Malek. His current task is trying to catch a serial rapist and killer. With no clues to go on, he accepts Washington’s offer of help, and before long he begins to adopt Washington’s obsessive tendencies. Jared Leto is their…

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