The trailer for Judas and the Black Messiah made me doubt how effective the film would actually be. Not because it looked bad, mind you, or uninteresting in any way. But I had flashes to Man of Steel, which lured me to the cinema with a stunning trailer and then turned out to be a soupy mess. Same for Only God Forgives, which had a bangin’ trailer — I remember saying the words “looks amazing” to a friend — and ultimately had about as much substance as the two-minute teaser itself. Well, fool me twice. Trepidation filled the air as the Sundance premiere of Judas and the Black Messiah began, because the first glimpse I’d had of the film was this rollicking hype-train of a masterful trailer:
Shaka King’s first major studio feature, thankfully, is indeed a strong and energetic biopic that doesn’t at all renege on the promise of that trailer. Messiah stars Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton, Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party, and focuses on FBI efforts to suppress and ultimately silence Hampton as he gains more and more popularity nationwide. It’s a long overdue portrayal of a significant figure in American history; before Kelvin Harrison, Jr. played Hampton in a bit part in this past year’s Trail of the Chicago 7, you have to go back to 1999 to find the only other instance of Hampton in another film or TV show (it’s another bit part in the miniseries The ’60s, which is mostly about hippies).
Part of me viewed Black Mass as a critic. I took into consideration the actors, the script, the staging, pacing, etc. What about character arcs? What about historical accuracy? You know: the usual. I considered some of the things that usually pop up on the imaginary checklist (like how many trailer-worthy zingers will we endure?) and a few that were more specific to this film (like will Johnny Depp’s makeup look as bad as it did in the set photos?); I considered that I’d have to play the game where you try to compress and bury all of those checklistable points so that you can actually watch the movie. I considered Out of the Furnace, the last film by Black Mass director Scott Cooper, and the frustrating way in which that film tried and nearly succeeded in being an epic like The Deer Hunter. Somehow, one of Furnace‘s major flaws seemed to be that it was only almost that kind of movie, something that attempted an ambitious feat but failed to stick the landing.
But despite a sneaking suspicion regarding that last point Black Mass is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than Out of the Furnace or even Crazy Heart, Cooper’s first two films which both touted incredible performances but misplaced directorial style, and that’s probably because the other part of me viewed it as a Bostonian. The Globe‘s Ty Burr says it best in his review: “For worse and for worser, James “Whitey” Bulger is a son of Boston, and moviegoers here will react differently to Scott Cooper’s film than they will in Seattle, Dallas, or Dubuque.” That was inescapably true for last night’s Boston Common screening, wherein the feeling was that everyone in the theater was already familiar with what was unfolding up on the screen.
There was no small degree of uncertainty with regards to the direction The Red Road could take after a successful first season. Jason Momoa’s Phillip Kopus, the heart and soul of the show, seemed headed for prison; Martin Henderson’s Harold Jensen somehow came out in front of both Kopus and the ongoing familial strife that had plagued his wife Jean and their household for the past few months. But with a few major storylines seemingly reaching their conclusions — particularly one about the years-ago death of Jean’s twin brother and one about Kopus’s manipulation of Harold —where would season two go? “Gifts” starts by picking up right where the first season finale “Snaring of the Sun” left off, with Kopus being his usual menacing self and Harold showing he’s learned how to lie pretty damn effectively.
But that first scene is more of a coda to season one than it is a prelude to season two, as we’re soon treated to the ONE YEAR LATER tag that introduces the world of season two. And calling it a “world” is intentional, because although many of the same players are here the second season of The Red Road is already very different than the first (there are some new faces too [Wes Studi!]). We spoke a little about the setting of Road and the way in which it relates to the characters in our review of “Snaring”, so it was nice to see “Gifts” really run with that idea.
Jorge: Full disclosure, The Hunt is an unfair pick for a Netflix recommendation. If you’re settling down with a glass of wine and a partner to cuddle with this Valentine’s Day, you will be more than disappointed. You will be devastated. But if you’re in the mood to distrust your fellow man and sympathize with a poor soul, then where better to turn than Danish cinema? (Of course, if I were really mean it would be a Lars von Trier film.) In his best, most heartbreaking role, Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Hannibal) plays a family man wrongfully accused of molesting a child at his day care. Off to a rough start, I know, but follow him for a few minutes and you won’t be able to look away from the handsome, lovable man who somehow played a Bond villain. The Hunt‘s pace is slow and thoughtful, like most movies from anywhere other than the US and India, and it serves to convince us that this story is nothing but true and harrowing. It’s a tough two hours, yet worth it for a different perspective at a time when the media is quick to point the finger. This is a story about innocence in the face of blame and hatred.