Photo left | “Judas and the Black Messiah – Bron Creative —- Photo right| “Moxie” – Paper Kite Productions
Daniel Kaluuya continues to rack up awards for his complex performance as Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in the Academy Awards’ Best Picture nominee “Judas and the Black Messiah,” a historical drama that feels harrowingly contemporary, even as its flawless period details take viewers back to Chicago, 1969. Kaluuya is nominated as Best Supporting Actor against co-star LaKeith Stanfield; they portray two men secretly working against one another.
Kaluuya, who most of us probably caught in the locally filmed 2017 science fiction allegory “Get Out,” portrays electrifying leadership as he rallies political followers and touching intimacy with his fiancee (Dominique Fishback) in a beautifully depicted romance that deeply intensifies the drama of his eventual fate. Orchestrating that fate is Stanfield as FBI informant William O’Neal, giving the film its “Judas” who turns against the “Black Messiah,” a term used by J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) to describe the dangerously popular and effective Black leader.
As Hoover, Sheen shows up in one of the most grotesque and outlandish makeup jobs I have ever seen. He manages to be bizarrely transformed yet extremely recognizable, squawking racist diatribes from beneath a prosthetic nose I believe was made of Play-Doh. I had to Google what Hoover actually looked like because this depiction was so confusing. I guess he did have weird skin, but I’m not sure he looked quite as much like the melting Nazis from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” as Sheen did in this movie.
A car thief looking to avoid jail time, O’Neal, under the direction of FBI agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons), goes undercover to infiltrate the Chicago Black Panthers. The stakes escalate as clashes with Chicago police intensify and ratchet up the drama and violence of the film, and all the while O’Neal fights a personal battle within himself. After a grim and didactic beginning in which you begin to worry this film might be an educational exercise you should watch but don’t want to watch, it becomes truly thrilling.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” explores what kinds of ends justify what kind of means, and while it is certainly a thought-provoking historical film, it is also a riveting drama. The celebrated performances make well-trodden true stories feel urgently real and new. Some movies like this feel like homework, but the message of “Judas and the Black Messiah” is one of complex, tragic humanity.
“Judas and the Black Messiah” is now playing at all listed multiplex theaters.
Amy Poehler’s mother/daughter girl power Netflix movie “Moxie” is definitely on a soapbox, but it’s my soapbox, so I loved it. And it’s got some pretty relatable stuff happening for parents of teenage girls. Hadley Robinson stars as high school student Vivian, who finds a box of her mother’s high school mementos and that inspires her to take on sexist problems at her school. She starts an anonymous zine called “Moxie” and finds her own voice while standing up to the proverbial man.
Poehler’s collection of tote bags alone is a deeper look into her character than plenty of other on-screen women, and this is a heartwarming step in the right direction for female depictions, even if it’s not perfect. It’s sometimes glib and simplistic and, of course, complex issues are resolved in a tidy time frame. This problem is exacerbated in the shoehorned, rushed final five minutes, which feel aggressively inclusive. At least it’s kind of cheesy in a positive way and we can mock it for trying too hard to do something good. The friendships depicted are real, her boyfriend is great, and Poehler fans will not be disappointed in her cynical, loving, frizzy-haired mom role. Even the film’s shortcomings led to some good discussion at my house, and I just unabashedly enjoyed watching it with my teenage daughter. If you have one of those too, or even if you don’t, I recommend watching it just the same.
“Moxie” is streaming on Netflix.
New This Week
“The Courier”: At the behest of the UK’s MI6 and a CIA operative (Rachel Brosnahan), Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) forms a covert, dangerous partnership with Soviet officer Oleg Penkovsky in an effort to provide crucial intelligence needed to prevent a nuclear confrontation and defuse the Cuban Missile Crisis. AMC Mobile 16, Nexus Cinema Dining.
“Long Weekend”: Bart’s (Finn Wittrock) chance encounter with the enigmatic Vienna (Zoë Chao) leads to a whirlwind weekend. The two fall fast and hard, but both carry secrets that could be their undoing or the chance for a fresh start. AMC Mobile 16.
“The Father”: Anthony (Anthony Hopkins) is 80, mischievous, living defiantly alone and rejecting the caretakers his daughter, Anne, encouragingly introduces. Yet help is also becoming a necessity for Anne; she can’t make daily visits anymore and Anthony’s grip on reality is unraveling. AMC Mobile 16, AMC Classic Jubilee Square 12, AMC Classic Wharf.
“Nomadland”: Following the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. The third feature film from director Chloé Zhao features real nomads Linda May, Charlene Swankie and Bob Wells as Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West. Crescent Theater.
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