Weekend Reading: May 26, 2017

Screening Room: ‘Free State of Jones’

Mahershala Ali and Matthew McConaughey in 'Free State of Jones'
Mahershala Ali and Matthew McConaughey in ‘Free State of Jones’

In 1862, a Mississippi farmer named Newton Knight got sick of fighting for the Southern cause. He gathered a band of like-minded rebels against the Rebels and fought a guerrilla war that (briefly) established a free (of slaves, too) corner of the Confederacy.

Free State of Jones, written and directed by Seabiscuit‘s Gary Ross, stars Matthew McConaughey as Knight. It opens this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

As the saying goes, history is just one thing after another. That’s not true of most historical films. Usually they use a traditional narrative of a hero’s triumph over adversity or tragic end with posthumous glory and dot flecks of history into it only as needed. The history is foregrounded in Gary Ross’  Free State of Jones, an ambitious effort that ropes a cross-racial love triangle and civil-rights saga into a no-holds-barred war film. It isn’t often that you see archival photography or onscreen credits about the Battle of Vicksburg in a Matthew McConaughey film with an eight-figure budget. That occasionally starchy approach leaves the human element lacking at times. But at least it’s all for a good cause: further undermining the myth of the heroic Confederacy…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: February 12, 2016

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New in Theaters: ’12 Years a Slave’

Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender in '12 Years a Slave'
Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender in ’12 Years a Slave’

12yearsaslave-poster1In 1853, Solomon Northup, a free black man from upstate New York, was freed from the Louisiana plantation where he had been sent twelve years earlier after being kidnapped and sold into slavery. Steve McQueen’s forceful adaptation of Northup’s autobiography is as beautifully detailed and riven with pain as the book.

My review is at Film Racket; here’s part:

There are horrors aplenty in Steve McQueen’s blistering, cold-eyed epic of slavery. But amidst the cringe-inducing scenes of torture, McQueen pinpoints acts of cruelty so casual they almost hurt more. The plantation owner’s wife who tells her husband’s newest purchase, a woman just separated from her children, not to worry, “They will soon be forgotten.” Another wife, jealous of her husband’s attraction to a slave woman, raking her fingernails across the woman’s face with no more thought than she’d give to swatting an animal. In a world where people can be treated as property, humanity disappears almost as quickly from the owners as from the owned. The difference is, the owned are trying to hang on to theirs…

Here is the trailer: