Made You Look – 7

A workmanlike talkumentary about the Knoedler Gallery’s sale of 60 forged AbEx paintings, in which all sides are presented but only one is credible. There was nothing here I hadn’t read in ArtNews, but it was interesting to see the characters in person, especially gallerist Ann Freedman, whose icy but unconvincing resolve that she wasn’t to blame left much for the viewer to ponder. Michael Hammer’s role was barely touched on–a hole in the film–but what was there was pretty bad. I could have used more about the art itself, the lack of technical scrutiny of the works, and the role of the consulting experts. In short, this was more a once-over introduction to the subject than a probing investigation.

Promising Young Woman – 6.5

This is either (1) a biting critique of sex-hungry men (i.e., all men) who take advantage of defenseless women and the women who enable them; and/or (2) a horror film about a psychopath who seeks revenge on all around her through a series of impossible actions. The climax is so implausible that you realize you’d better not think too much about what has come before.  On the plus side, the film is a showcase for Carey Mulligan and her ten-megawatt smile, which makes her unlikely character relatable in a way that Rosamund Pike’s in I Care A Lot never approaches.

Judas and the Black Messiah – 7.5

This was a well-made dramatic reenactment of a little known chapter in the book of the FBI’s corrupt oppression of black leaders in the ’60s, a period we’ve visited in other recent films: Chicago 7, MLK/FBI, One Night in Miami. It didn’t, at least for me, go much below the surface. There was no ambiguity in the Panthers: we saw them only giving free breakfast to children. The FBI’s position, via a wasted Martin Sheen as J. Edgar Hoover, was little more than Blacks are bad and dangerous. We weren’t shown what made Fred Hampton a force at age 20. The story of Bill O’Neal, the Judas of the title, had the most potential, but we never really got inside him (and I often had trouble finding him in the crowd). The most interesting character was FBI agent Roy Mitchell, who recalled Jesse Plemons’s role in The Irishman. There were hints of moral doubt there that could have been explored. Maybe knowing how the story would end eliminated suspense, but somehow the emotional engagement wasn’t there. The contrast for me was with The Mangrove, where I was made to feel for the individuals. Here I felt I was watching a history lesson.

Sound of Metal – 5

I spent the whole movie wondering where it was going, and at the end I still didn’t know. Were we supposed to be impressed by how Ruben, the heavy metal drummer, was handling his deafness, or depressed? Was he courageous or reckless? It seemed, by the last shot, that he had thrown everything away, but did that last shot represent some inner peace? Who knows? I watched it to see Riz Ahmed’s award-potential performance. He certainly convinced me of his confusion, or maybe his mindless independence, so I will give him that.

The White Tiger – 8

A very brave movie, in that it confirmed, indeed celebrated, all my negative stereotypes about India and Indians: corrupt, servile, class-bigoted and dirty, for starters. Politics and religion don’t come off much better. Nor does the movie sugarcoat anything with a happy ending. Our star, “the white tiger,” rises to the top by murdering his boss, paying off officials to eliminate his business competitors and avoiding detection because so many Indians look alike. And success doesn’t diminish his brash obsequiousness as he fawns before the visiting Chinese prime minister. Beyond being true to its unusual vision, the film provided an immersing view of the India behind the tourist facade.

The Dig – 5

It must be hard to make a dramatically interesting movie about archaeology, based on the evidence of The Dig. To keep things moving, the writers threw in an unrelated plane crash, a love affair between the mousy bride of a gay archaeologist and the proprietor’s dashing cousin, a buffoonish museum curator and the rapidly approaching death of Mrs. Pretty (although the end credits reveal it didn’t occur for six more years). There wasn’t a scene or line of dialogue that didn’t cause a shake of the head. The attempted grand themes–man’s connection to the past, his quest for the stars, his place in the moment–came across as trivia. On the plus side, there was nothing offensive, and Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes are pleasant company.

Red, White and Blue – 7

The third installment of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series continued the story of systemic racism in, now, 1980s London, as (real-life) Leroy Logan, portrayed by the excellent John Boyega, tries to integrate, and humanize, the local police force. By now, whenever we see a white cop we assume the worst. More interesting is the exploration of the tensions within the Caribbean immigrant community as to how to approach the problem.

Get On Up – 7.8

How did I miss this in 2014? I’m a sucker for any rock star biopic and James Brown is…well, James Brown. Forget Ma Rainey, Chadwick Boseman’s performance as the “hardest-working man in show business” is over-the-top Oscar-worthy. Somehow executive music producer Mick Jagger synced great performances of Brown’s best hits with Boseman’s electric acting. Throw in supporting roles by the likes of Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer and even a cameo from Allison Janney and this was a worthy follow-up to director Tate Taylor’s The Help. Given the sordidness of, especially,  Brown’s late years, the decision to present his life in impressionist anecdotal style, rather than as a dramatic arc, gave us a realistic picture while allowing us to appreciate the originality and power of James Brown’s music.

One Night in Miami – 4

The idea of four iconic Black men from disparate fields meeting in a hotel room the night of the Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston fight in 1964 is an intriguing conceit for a stage play, which this was, but it hasn’t been translated to the screen. This was one of the slower movies I’ve watched; it seemed to stop after every speech. I never got the reason for the rendezvous, or why Sam Cooke, Jim Brown and Clay would hang out for hours in a dumpy hotel room without food, drink or women. Maybe the draw was Malcolm X, but as portrayed by Kingsley Ben-Adir he was short of charisma, a black hole at the center of the gathering. As one of the characters commented, “Which one here doesn’t belong?” Outside the hotel room, the movie added set pieces for each character that were exaggerated to the point of absurdity: Jim Brown being called the ‘n’ word by Beau Bridges; Clay being berated by Christopher from the Sopranos; Cook bombing at the Copa then singing without a mic in Boston. The intellectual discussion was just as half-baked. Tom Stoppard this was not.

News of the World – n/r

“Mr. Rogers time-travels to North Texas c. 1870.” This movie was so hokey and so Tom Hanksy that I bailed after 30 minutes, despite the luscious photography and the hefty $19.99 streaming price.