Judas and the Black Messiah (2021), Meadowland (2015), My Octopus Teacher (2020), Neon Bull (Boi Neon) (2015), News of the World (2020), Nobody (2021), System Crasher (Systemsprenger), The Daughter (Die Tochter)
I watch a lot of movies: good, bad, indifferent; all genres; English and non-English speaking; and, occasionally, I write a few comments about those I enjoyed. Here are six mini-reviews, in no particular order. The percentage/numerical ratings in the title fields are from the review-aggregation website, Rotten Tomatoes (where I look for 60% or higher), and the internet movie database, IMDb (where I look for 6.0 or higher). Movies for Movie Buffs: Index lists all my reviews so far posted.
7. Judas and the Black Messiah, Biographical Drama, Director Shaka King, 2021 USA, 96%/7.5
Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) was the charismatic chairman of a 1960s Black Panther chapter located in Chicago. William O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield) was a petty thief who was caught stealing a car and turned into an FBI informant within the chapter under the guidance of his minder Agent Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons). The rest is history. As Fred Hampton’s influence grew throughout Chicago—he created the multicultural Rainbow Coalition movement formed by combining the Black Panthers, Young Patriots and Young Lords organisations—a plot was hatched by the FBI to assassinate Hampton using O’Neal to set it up. The movie implies that J. Edgar Hoover, FBI Director at the time, was aware of and condoned the assassination. The film garnered several accolades at the 2021 Academy Awards and from several other award bodies.
This is one of those movies where you know the ending before you start watching—as with the movie, Titanic (1997), for example—but that doesn’t detract from the viewing. The acting and the directing are superb and the story well told.
8. Meadowland, Drama, Director Reed Morano, 2015 USA, 96%/5.8
This is a classic storyline. Happy family, Sarah (Olivia Wilde) and Phil (Luke Wilson) plus son Jessie (Casey Walker) stop off at a gas station on their way to visit Phil’s brother, Tim (Giovanni Ribisi). Jessie visits the rest room while Mum and Dad pick up a few provisions. After a few minutes, Phil goes to find out why Jessie has not yet returned and discovers the rest room has a second entrance from the main service area and Jessie is missing: every parents’ nightmare. The film deals with the aftermath of the disappearance, exploring the way each parent reacts and the effect on their relationship. This theme has been examined before (Gone Baby Gone (2007), Secret Sunshine (2007), Julia (2008), Missing (2016), Kidnap (2017), The Vanished (2020),…) and, in that respect, there’s nothing new in Meadowland but the trauma is vivid and acting first-class.
9. My Octopus Teacher, Documentary, Directors Pippa Ehrlich, James Reed, 2020 South Africa, 97%/8.1
We understand how and why humans bond with animals such as dogs and cats, but what about bonding with an octopus? An octopus, described as a ‘snail without a shell’ by the narrator and free-diver, Craig Foster, seems a most unlikely animal with whom to form a close bond but Foster achieves it and his very personal documentary is a revelatory awe-inspiring chronicle of how he did it and the rewards it netted. If you enjoy animal documentaries created by David Attenborough et al, you will enjoy My Octopus Teacher. The film won the 2021 Academy Award for Best Documentary.
10. Neon Bull (Boi Neon), Drama, Director Gabriel Mascaro, 2015 Brazil, 88%/6.8
This Brazilian movie about an itinerant group of rodeo people is more a set of vignettes and less a story with a beginning, middle and end. Iremar (Juliano Cazarré) is in charge of a herd of white bulls but really wants to become a designer of women’s fashion clothing. Galega (Maeve Jinkings) drives the truck to transport the team and bulls to the rodeo venues and, after the show, performs exotic dances for the male attendees wearing creations put together by Iremar. Galega is accompanied by Cacá (Alyne Santana), her pre-pubescent daughter, worldly wise beyond her years. And Zé (Carlos Pessoa), is the wrangler who completes the entourage.
The movie is characterised by the down-to-earth chronicles. Cacá calls her mother’s choice of underwear whoreish and receives a slap that must have been genuine and causes the girl to cry. Iremar and Ze try to steal semen from a prize stallion by arousing and then stimulating the horse in a scene that borders on bestiality. Young bulls are released into the arena to then be pursued by two men on horseback who attempt to pull the bull over by grabbing and then yanking on its tail before it can reach and cross over a white line drawn in the sand. In most countries, such cruelty would not be tolerated. Iremar meets a very pregnant night-time security guard, Geise (Samya De Lavor) who, in her spare time, sells cosmetic products. Iremar visits Geise at night at her place of work (a factory that makes women’s clothing items) and proceeds to have very raunchy sex with her on the cloth cutting table. The scene is sensual but not pornographic and there is no doubt in my mind that Samya De Lavor was actually pregnant during the making of this film.
Neon Bull is surreal, episodic, poignant, erotic, and full of political allegory. Try it.
11. News of the World, Western/Drama, Director Paul Greengrass, 2020 USA, 88%/6.8
Yet another grizzled old American Civil War veteran rescuing and reluctantly looking after a young girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel), who had been raised by an Indian tribe following the massacre of her family. There’s nothing new here but Tom Hanks who plays Captain Kidd (I kid you not) is at his usual high standard of acting and the movie plods along at an agreeable pace to its final and predictable conclusion.
What attracted me to this film however was the German child actress, Helena Zengel, born in 2008. I have watched two previous movies starring this incredible young actress—The Daughter (Die Tochter) (2017) and System Crasher (Systemsprenger) (2019). In both movies, she demonstrates an amazing range of emotions and an understanding of adult situations way beyond her tender years. In News of the World, she says very little and what she does say is in the language of the Kiowa Indians who abducted and raised her so I assume she is still learning to speak English, but clearly Hollywood has its eye on her. Make a note of her name.
12. Nobody, Action/Thriller, Director Ilya Naishuller, 2021 USA, 83%/7.4
In the crime/drama television series Breaking Bad, Saul Goodman (whose catchphrase was, ‘It’s all good, man!’) played by Bob Odenkirk, was the slightly-comical slightly-sleazy lawyer prepared to break the rules for Walter White (Bryan Cranston), the high-school chemistry teacher turned meth cook and distributor. In Nobody, Bob Odenkirk demonstrates a very different side to his acting skills—that of a mild-mannered father-of-two office worker, Hutch Mansell, who becomes an avenging superhero blessed with fighting skills to match those of Jean-Claude Van Damme or Jason Statham. Look for the fight-on-a-bus scene. But all is not as it first seems and the movie progresses at a pace fast enough and vigorous enough to suit all those who enjoy fight-action and, it would appear that a sequel is in the offing.