Judas and the Black Messiah Review

In Uncategorized on February 25, 2021 at 02:44

The Judas and the Black Messiah is a film about the life and assassination of Fred Hampton. It is a docudrama that looks at the rise of the Black Panthers in Chicago with Hampton’s message of unification of the lower classes of all races: The Black Panthers with the Young Lords (mainly Puerto Rican) and the Young Patriots, lower class whites. The latter group eventually renounced their use of the Confederate flag over time as they got to know poor non-whites. 

There were only two times when the music caught my attention and was too loud, and those were for about thirty seconds at a time. The filmmakers chose not to play much period music such as Marvin Gaye, Rolling Stones, Sly and The Family Stone, or The Temptations to make it easy for the audience to “get it.” The dialogue and actions spoke for themselves.   

This is a brave film. While the two party duopoly is pointing their fingers overseas at China and Russia for our problems, the film points its finger squarely at the white power structure, the so-called “pigs”, the Feds, and other white elites, including Nixon. 

Chairman Hampton, to his credit, made it clear to the Young Patriots that the poor schools, lack of jobs, and police violence were something that all poor people faced, and that they should unite together as a class to fight this oppression. Alas, the film was not so much about his work to unify, but how one man betrayed Hampton and helped the FBI more easily kill him in his sleep when he was only 21 years of age. 

Even though Bill O’Neal helped the Feds kill Hampton, they would have killed him with or without his help. That doesn’t exonerate O’Neal in the least. He could have warned Hampton and taken his chances with the charges against him, but he chose to protect himself. Agent Mitchell, played well by Jesse Plemons, struck the right tone of threat and reward to coerce O’Neal to help him. Daniel Kaluuya plays Fred Hampton and LaKeith (Get Out) Stanfield performs the role of Judas, Bill O’Neal. The only problem with their performance is which one will get the lead actor nomination and which one will get the supporting actor nomination for the Oscar. Both should get the leading actor nod. 

The rest of the cast was great, with a special nod to Martin Sheen who plays Hoover. I wonder how many showers the well-known liberal Sheen had to take after a day’s shooting to get the slime of the head FBI man off him. 

Often when watching a film of a historical figure, I criticize it for not being a miniseries. However, given the scope of this project, the writers and filmmakers did a great job making the piece a coherent work without leaving much out. Certainly, learning more about the Panthers breakfast program and other works in the community would have been interesting. But it was there in the film. I am still amazed how they put so much in the film, made it coherent, and didn’t leave me feeling they left something out. It could have gone deeper as a documentary or series, but as an introduction to Fred Hampton, I give it high marks.  

Rating: Pay Full Price Whether you see it in a local theater like I did, or on HBO, this film works as a stand-alone story of a great civil rights leader. 

Tex Shelters

Devs-Raw on the Inside, Burnt on the Outside

In Uncategorized on April 24, 2020 at 00:03

Devs-All Bark and no Bite

Devs is an Alex Garland’s production. He was the director of Annihilation, Ex-Machina, and 28 Days Later, other films that question humanity’s role on the planet and in the universe. Devs asks us about the nature of reality. If you have seen the trailer, and thought, this show looks weird, square that to infinity and you will get close to how strange it really is.

JoBlo TV Show Trailers

Garland’s central exploration of reality in Devs revolves around the idea of determinism, a concept my high school psychology teacher shared with me, us, back in the early 80s. The point is, the hypothesis of determinism isn’t new, it’s just not a theme of many major motion pictures. The other main theory he explores is the idea of multiverses, the questioning of reality itself. At times, this is fascinating, at other times, it is muddled and unscientific. That’s probably because no one has found a way to test the multiverse hypothesis, and scientists have only shown how it might be true in mathematical models.

Other than the protagonist, Lily Chan played by the compelling Sonoya Mizuno, the characters are played by average looking people, not models like in The Magicians, Expanse, and Grey’s Anatomy, not to mention the shows predicated on the hotness of their characters like Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries. Good thing I didn’t mention them. I like looking at attractive casts, but not when it sacrifices acting talent. There are online entertainment magazines for that.

The acting ranges from capable to excellent throughout. The standouts are Alison Pill who plays Katie, the second in charge at Amaya (the umbrella company for the Devs division) and Jin Ha who plays Jamie, a cyber security expert and love interest of Lily. Many scenes are elevated by the presence of these two actors.

Nick Offerman lacks the complexity to play Forest, the megalomaniacal head of Amaya. Most of the time he seems in a daze like he did an all-nighter or was smoking pot before each scene. This daze could be interpreted as mystery, I suppose. However, it seems like Offerman didn’t know how to play the character. Forest is dictatorial, cruel, and damaged. Offerman doesn’t project the danger required to match the character’s actions. To be fair, Forest is a complicated, difficult role to play that few actors could play satisfactorily.

In contrast, Zach Grenier plays the head of Amaya security with frightening efficiency. When he appears on screen, you know something bad is in the offing.

Devs from bloody-disgusting.comPhoto from bloody-disgusting.com

Sonoya Mizuno does a decent job playing the protagonist, Lily Chan. However, everyone in the show talks about how brilliant Lily is, and I just don’t see it. We are supposed to believe it’s true because characters say it. They also tell Lily that she is so brave. Sure, but sometimes, she’s just foolhardy. The difficulty is in the predicament presented to Lily. She is set to end up in a time and place, that’s the story, but it is against the character’s strong and independent streak, and thus, doesn’t play as authentic.

The story takes place in the present or near future tech world. The show plays on our fear of tech giants such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook and others. But what plays out at Devs is not more frightening than the surveillance state, data collecting, tracking, and dominance of the economy that the tech companies have now. There is no big scary payoff at the end of the show, although the set up in the first four episodes does frighten us and sets us up for a fantastic, amazing, and tragic, or at least revelatory, ending. That ending never arrives.

The sets are amazing to look at, and they give the show the tone that the acting and dialogue sometimes lacks. The music is fine, but the song interludes are terrible, even the use of Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s song Genevieve. The songs didn’t fit the tone or theme of the show and they seemed to be put in because Garland, who directed each episode, liked them. Thankfully, the songs became less a part of the show as it neared the last episode.

There are a few other issues here. First, smart characters make obviously stupid choices. Moreover, the motivations of the characters are mysterious and not clear. That’s fine for the beginning, but when programmer Jackson makes a fateful decision at the end of the series, it is poorly explained. Moreover, there is nothing in his character up to that point that makes that choice clear. At least when another programmer, Lyndon, does something incredible in a later episode, we have a sense of what motivates the character. Then there was a technical gaff when describing something incredibly small. Jackson stated that he was looking at a particle on the atomic level, at x10^18 meters. That should have been x10^18. Small particles would be measured in negative exponents if it’s sub-atomic.

Rating: Matinee

I am sure millions will love this show and call it brilliant. I would have agreed about half-way through. However, the conclusion to Devs is not surprising nor satisfying. It’s not a bad watch, especially if you are into long pauses, staring, and discussing determinism and multiverse theories.

Tex Shelters



The English Game (minor spoilers)

In Uncategorized on April 15, 2020 at 02:34

english-game-from 3rd Degree

From 3rd Degree dot Com

The English Game follows the athletic exploits of two of England’s footballing pioneers, Arthur Kincaid and Fergus Suter. Kincaid, played ably by Edward Holcroft, comes from Eton’s upper classes, and Suter (well played Kevin Guthrie) came from the lower classes in Glasgow. They become rivals when The Old Etonians clashed with Suter’s Darwen team in the FA Cup semifinals.  Kincaid turns out to be a gentleman compared to the other upper crust gits on The Old Estonians and Suter is an arse at times, he is a regular guy with a troublesome past that informs many of his decisions. Watch and find out.

Some reviewers of The English Game miss the point of the show and call the mini-series a history of the beginning of football in England. That is just the backdrop. The English Game isn’t about football, it’s about class, upper classes versus working classes, and the football teams symbolize each class. Another very important theme is how women are second class citizens in the Victorian Era, and only by the grace of God and the consent of a decent man, could they have a say over their lives.

Class issues arise when The Old Etonians (from Eton, of course) play against a team of working class mill workers from Darwen. There’s a catch. The owner of Darwen, who is also an owner of a small mill (Britain’s main export and industrial product at the time) has hired two of the best players in Scotland to join Darwen. They are Fergus Suter and Jimmy Love. The problem? Football players are supposed to be unpaid amateurs.

While it is easy for the wealthy Etonians to take time off to practice and play games, the working class teams can’t afford such a luxury, and that’s why all the teams from upper class backgrounds have won the FA Cup, a league-wide championship in English Football that still goes on to this day.

The two teams develop a rivalry, with the Etonians changing rules or not accepting rules changes so they can keep the cup. I know it shocks you to learn that the wealthy elite change rules so they can stay in power, but that actually happened, I swear it did.

Giving birth gives women worth in the Victorian age, and we see the horrors of having children out of wedlock in The English Game. Well, we see a watered down version of the horror. It is dealt with well, except the story was never complete, like a lot of the plot lines in the series.

Another underlying theme, and I say another in case I am forgetting one, is the value of sport in our lives. Is playing the sport worth all the effort and money, does it bring comfort, does the competition make us better people? Certainly, the talented working class Love and Suter make the best of it and Suter becomes a champion. But what about the rest of them? What if they had spent the energy building windmills and inventing medicines? The deeper problems with capitalism aren’t addressed directly in the film: the owners of the mills have enough money to pay players, build stadiums, and give paid days off for the wealthy players, but then they cut the wages of the mill workers. Typical, that.

Regarding the class conflict in the show, the presentation is rather shallow, lacking a deep analysis of class. Granted, Marx’s treatise on historical materialism, Das Kapital, came out only twelve years before the action starts in the film (1879). However, it seemed a glaring omission that no one called out the owner of Darwen as a capitalist. Though the poorest mill owner, he was still part of the Petite Bourgeoisie for he was an owner of the means of production. Sure, he wasn’t the rankest bastard of the bunch, but in the end, he still took value from the labor of the mill workers in his factory. It was no collective.

Some people call out the show for its plodding pace, but it wasn’t all that. The action was uneven with often overly sentimental dialogue. A main producer was Julian Fowles, the man who brought us Downton Abbey, so it is no surprise that the language is maudlin at times. Still, I found the acting good and enough interest in the conflicts to give it a rating of: Matinee.

Tex Shelters