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civil rights drama

The Best of Enemies (2019)

DIRECTOR: Robin Bissell

CAST: Sam Rockwell, Taraji P. Henson, Babou Ceesay, Anne Heche, Wes Bentley, Bruce McGill

REVIEW:

Quick on the heels of recent Best Picture winner Green Book comes yet another one of those standard-issue, well-intentioned 1960s “based on a true story” race relations dramas that are all the rage these days. Given the current political climate, a movie about a die-hard racist and an equally aggressive black activist getting past their enmity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but even more so than Green Book (an enjoyable, inoffensive little movie which was not, in my opinion, Oscar material), The Best of Enemies is standard issue and a little trite and does nothing to distinguish itself from all the other movies covering similar subject matter in recent years. It’s easily lumped in with the likes of The Help, Hidden Figures (also starring Taraji P. Henson), and Green Book, and doesn’t linger in the memory.

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Green Book (2018)

DIRECTOR: Peter Farrelly

CAST: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali

REVIEW:

Like such films as The Help and Hidden Figures touching on similar subject matter, Green Book‘s PG-13 rating and the “feel good” tone it’s aiming for holds it back from ever getting too dark or graphic in its depiction of 1960s racism, but also like the above films, it effectively serves a purpose providing a little history lesson illuminating the systemic racism of the 1960s Jim Crow South, wrapped up in a crowd-pleasing odd couple/buddy movie format. It’s nothing original or groundbreaking, but it’s an engaging and enjoyable film with the most earnest of intentions and bolstered by strong performances from its virtual two-man show of dual Oscar nominees Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.

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Hidden Figures (2016)

hiddenDIRECTOR: Theodore Melfi

CAST: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali, Glen Powell

REVIEW:

Hidden Figures could be summed up as The Help in space; while it differs from the 2011 drama in telling the true story of three unsung minds behind the 1960s NASA space program, the two films are close cousins in telling a civil rights story through a PG, “feel good” tone that sometimes makes it feel watered down and lightweight (in fact, the two films share an actress, Octavia Spencer, in a main role).  Hidden Figures is enjoyable and occasionally moving and uplifting, but also sometimes feels like an “inspirational” Lifetime original movie bumped up with a bigger budget and a pedigreed cast. Continue reading

Loving (2016)

lovingDIRECTOR: Jeff Nichols

CAST: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Christopher Mann, Nick Kroll, Jon Bass, Michael Shannon, Marton Csokas, Bill Camp

REVIEW:

Loving, writer-director Jeff Nichols’ low-key, stately chronicle of actual events spanning 1957-1967 that led to the landmark 1967 Supreme Court ruling overturning state laws against interracial relationships, serves a similar purpose to films covering the same time period and similar subject matter such as 2011’s The Help in serving as a history lesson to those too young to remember a time when racism was still officially written into law.  Continue reading

Selma (2014)

selma-bridgeDIRECTOR: Ava DuVernay

CAST: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo, Tim Roth, Oprah Winfrey, Giovanni Ribisi, Cuba Gooding Jr., Martin Sheen

REVIEW:

An uneven but sporadically stirring slice of a turbulent period in American history, Selma does not quite achieve the greatness it reaches for as a film, but serves as an important historical document chronicling events beginning in January 1965 in Selma, Alabama and climaxing with Martin Luther King Jr.’s march to Montgomery and President Lyndon Johnson’s passage of the Voting Rights Act.  Given recent events in the news, Selma feels more timely than ever, and can inspire both reflection on dark aspects of America’s past, and a questioning of how far we’ve truly come. Continue reading

The Help (2011)

helpDIRECTOR: Tate Taylor

CAST: Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek

REVIEW:

Perhaps the greatest value of The Help, like other films such as 12 Years a Slave or Selmais in reminding those too young to have first-hand experience of just how oppressive large sections of the United States were to their African-American inhabitants only a few short decades ago.  This is not some vague ancient history; people who grew up in the environment depicted onscreen are still alive today.  While The Help is not as hard-hitting as the films mentioned above—nor, to be fair, is that really its intention, and at times it outright aims for “feel good”—and is somewhat weakened by a tendency to paint with broad strokes and deal in black-and-white (no pun intended), it’s still a worthy time capsule that is sometimes inspiring, sometimes moving, and sometimes illuminating.   Continue reading

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