Screening Room: ‘Molly’s Game’

West Wing and The Social Network writer Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut is a smart and fast-paced fact-based drama about an ex-Olympic skier who ends up running high-stakes poker games only to get taken down by the FBI.

Molly’s Game stars the incomparable pair of Jessica Chastain and Idris Elba (above) and opens on Christmas Day. My review is at PopMatters:

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly’s Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it’s almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it’s based on a true story…

Weekend Reading: February 3, 2017

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TV Room: ‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution’

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If your PBS affiliate shows the series Independent Lens, one of the better non-cable televisual outlets for documentaries right now, tune in tonight for The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. It’s directed by the great Stanley Nelson (Jonestown, Freedom Riders), who turns his gaze to the story of the country’s last great radical movement, and how it was destroyed just before falling apart.

My review of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, which played in theaters last fall, is at PopMatters:

At some point, revolutionaries have to decide what else they want to be. Too often, they can’t. That’s why so many successful insurrections end up emulating the very same oppressive regimes they overthrow: fighters are often miserably bad peacemakers. That’s why Che Guevara ran off to die stupidly in Bolivia rather than figure out sugar cane production back in Cuba…

If you’re in the mood, they even put together a Black Panthers mixtape (Bill Withers, Public Enemy, Nina Simone).

Here is the trailer:

Screening Room: ‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution’

"Power to the people" (PBS)
“Power to the people” (PBS)

After a series of documentaries that dug into the 20th century African American experience with uncommon power, Stanley Nelson (Jonestown, Freedom Riders) turns his gaze to the story of the country’s last great radical movement, and how it was destroyed just before falling apart.

My review of The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, which opens this week in limited release and will likely come to PBS sometime soon, is at PopMatters:

At some point, revolutionaries have to decide what else they want to be. Too often, they can’t. That’s why so many successful insurrections end up emulating the very same oppressive regimes they overthrow: fighters are often miserably bad peacemakers. That’s why Che Guevara ran off to die stupidly in Bolivia rather than figure out sugar cane production back in Cuba…

Here is the trailer:

New in Theaters: ‘Whitey’ Gives its Subject Too Much Credit

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‘Whitey’ Bulger in his younger years (Magnolia Pictures)

whitey-posterJoe Berlinger has worked on some amazing true-crime documentaries over the years, not least the ground-breaking Paradise Lost trilogy. With Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger, though, he (inadvertently or not) buoys the facetious mythology of Southie crime boss ‘Whitey’ Bulger as some noble gangster.

Whitey opens today in limited release and will probably show up on cable later in the year. My review is at Film Racket:

Fortuitously hitting theaters well before Scott Cooper’s fictional (and likely mythological) take on Bulger’s life, Whitey doesn’t try to be the feature-length nonfiction take on the South Boston crime lord. Instead, true-crime documentarian Berlinger zeros in on the sort of thing he normally does best: the trial itself…

Here’s the trailer:

Tribeca Film Festival, Part III: ‘Match’ and ‘1971’

Two common Tribeca tropes in this pair of reviews: an interesting but underwhelming drama with name performers doing their level best and a solid historical documentary that’s practically required viewing. My most recent dispatch from the Tribeca Film Festival is here.

The drama is Stephen Belber’s Match, a three-performer melodrama about a high-strung, Wildean dance instructor (Patrick Stewart) who gets an unwelcome blast from his wild past:

Match is a tight, comically uncomfortable little box of a story about selfishness and pasts that refuse to die. It features enough salty turns of phrase and violently clashing expectations to generate a reasonably entertaining evening in its company. But essential it isn’t…

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‘1971’: Picking the FBI’s locks

Highly essential is 1971, a pitch-perfect historical thriller about antiwar activists whose burglary told the country what hippies had thought all along: the Feds are spying on us:

Johanna Hamilton’s sharp film looks back on the Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, a meticulously organized protest cell who brainstormed possibly the single most significant act of illegal political protest in US history. Perhaps most remarkably, they were never caught. The film describes not just how these eight Philadelphia-area activists came to break into an FBI office and helped expose the heretofore unknown COINTELPRO, but also why they risked everything to do it…

Both films should probably get some kind of release later in the year.