I have never seen a film that is quite as relevant as Spike Lee’s ‘BlacKkKlansman’; based on a true story of how black police officer Ron Stallworth managed to infiltrate the upcoming Ku Klux Klan with the help of a surrogate white officer filling in his shoes. The story is supposedly said to have been “outrageous”, albeit “incredible”; there is no other time for a movie like this to be made, or even seen. Very few may call this propaganda, when in reality, it is a wake-up call to the world dealing with the uprising of white supremacy and the Trump presidency; a thought-provoking commentary on racial tensions if ever there was one!
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Looking back on ‘Battle of the Sexes’ – based on the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs – I realize that it is a true product of its time; from the 70’s-style version of the Fox Searchlight Pictures logo, and its fuzzy, yet dim, VHS cassette tape look, to its timely look at sexuality and equal rights. Everything about this biographical sports drama – directed by the husband-and-wife duo of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (‘Little Miss Sunshine’, ‘Ruby Sparks’) – was made to be put into a time capsule for the Academy to view nearly 45 years later, but not before letting the world view what was inside. It is a fascinating spectacle that manages to be entertaining, charming, and triumphant!
One cannot see ‘Battle of the Sexes’ and not feel a glimmer of Emma Stone’s toothy smile and determined nature in her turn as King; who was a champion tennis player, as well as an advocate for equal rights; (The role was played by Holly Hunter in Jane Anderson’s 2001 film ‘When Billie Beat Bobby’) the same could be said for Steve Carell’s portrayal of Riggs, (Portrayed by Ron Silver in ‘When Billie Beat Bobby’) where he yuks it up during practice sessions where he hits the balls with a frying pan while jokingly saying “I’m cooking!”, or by dressing up as Little Bo Peep, whose sheep are running rampant on the court. All this makes him more of an entertainer than the “male chauvinist pig” he claims to be. Both Stone and Carell are entertaining to watch. As King and Riggs, they are as immersed as you expect them to be. I expect both to get nominations in the acting categories for next year’s Oscars; and I would not be surprised if ‘Battle of the Sexes’ gets a shot at fitting in the ‘Best Picture’ category as well.
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The year was 1941, and two films came out that year that changed film forever; ‘Citizen Kane’, and ‘Sergeant York’. Both films are considered to be not only “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant films” by the American Film Institute (AFI, for short), but were also Oscar nominees running in nearly every one of the same category (Except ‘Supporting Actor and Actress’, which the latter was nominated for). Sadly, both films lost the ‘Best Picture’ Oscar to a lesser-known film called ‘How Green Was My Valley’. (I am still interested in viewing the film for that reason alone.) Despite both films being important to the film industry, only one received more box-office attention than the other. That film was ‘Sergeant York’. While ‘Citizen Kane’ went on to be shown in film schools (and high school classes) in later years as a tool for how to make a great film, ‘Sergeant York’ became the BIGGER deal. Not only was it a major Oscar nominee (winning only two for Gary Cooper’s performance as the real-life Alvin C. York, but for William Holmes’ editing as well.), it also became the highest-grossing film of that year. (Which, if adjusted for inflation, is still one of the highest grossing movies of all time)
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‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ looks like Oscar bait. It has an Oscar-nominated actress in the lead role, a compelling score by composer Harry Gregson-Williams, emotional scenes where actors cry at the drop of a hat, and the words “Based on a true story”, but this is one of the few times where I can say that this attempt at being thought of during Oscar season really pays off. ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ tells the story of Antonia (Chastain) and Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh), who run the Warsaw Zoo in Poland, yet have to find a way to survive when the German army starts bombing, causing Jews to flee with nowhere else to go, but to find shelter in the destroyed zoo.
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I don’t really know Christian author Lee Strobel as much and have never read his work, but I have heard of how attempting to disprove Christianity while he was an atheist turned his life around and made him a believer. How, you ask? Well, I have heard stories of people turning their lives to Jesus, whether it would be an atheist claiming to have become a Christian by going to Hell for a brief time, or someone waiting for Christ to find them. As crazy and unbelievable as some may think, the stories people tell are inspiring and thought-provoking; based on Strobel’s book titled ‘The Case For Christ’ being one of those worldwide best-sellers, I have come to the conclusion that his story may have been an inspiring one. I even found myself feeling Strobel’s change near the end to be one of the most touching moments in film history.
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‘Lion’; based on the autobiographical novel ‘A Long Way Home’ by Saroo Brierley; is about his experiences getting adopted by an Australian couple after getting separated from his family via train, and the journey he takes to get back to his hometown of Khandwa, India via Google Earth. This could have felt like an advertisement for Google Earth, but the story behind both the book and movie; directed by Garth Davis (in his feature debut), and starring Dev Patel as Saroo, tells us otherwise. What the film intends to do is inform us of the many missing children in India (as most movies with tragic subjects based on true stories tend to do to keep us aware. Last year’s ‘Best Picture’ winner ‘Spotlight’ did the same with the topic of the Catholic priest sex scandals that occurred in the 90’s). While the film is thoughtful in that aspect, Davis’ direction of the autobiographical film is not by much.
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Oscar season may officially be over, but there are still a few more films to see. ‘Hidden Figures’- Directed by Theodore Melfi, and based on the non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly about the three female mathematicians and engineers who helped the late John Glenn become the first astronaut to orbit around Earth – was the choice of film to catch in theaters with my best friend on our usual movie night, and surprisingly, it ended up being a great watch. Watching these three women (Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, and Oscar-nominee Octavia Spencer) overcome racial segregation in the early 60’s while becoming the hard-working and tough-willed women that helped them get the job done and make history is satisfying. (As Kevin Costner’s director of the Space Task Group, Al Harrison says after destroying the sign for the ‘Colored Ladies’ restroom “In NASA, we all piss the same color.” – Ridiculous as it sounds, it is true!)
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Miles Teller and Jonah Hill cause havoc when they land a $300 million dollar contract with the Pentagon to sell guns to the U.S. military, where they become embroiled in a life of crime and dangerous situations in the “Based on a true story” comedy, ‘War Dogs’; written and directed by Todd Phillips (obviously known for ‘The Hangover’ trilogy). While this movie was advertised as a comedy that seemed prepared for offensive humor that is more restrained than your political satire from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the humor just happens to be there in riotous fashion, with Hill’s America-loving portrayal of former arms dealer Efraim Diveroli being the target of politically incorrect/ foul-mouthed centerpiece of the comedy. While Teller not only plays the straight man, he is also the main guy, (and our reliable narrator) telling us all the details about his life while illegally working for the self-made arms dealing company known as AEY (I checked. It’s real.) with Diveroli.
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