I Am Not Your Negro


James Baldwin listens intently.

(2016) Documentary (Magnolia) Samuel L. Jackson (narrator), James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, Dick Cavett, Robert F. Kennedy, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Barack Obama, John Wayne, Henry Belafonte, Marlon Brando, Charlton Heston, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Sidney Poitier, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rodney King, Michele Obama. Directed by Raoul Peck

 

James Baldwin at one point says in this documentary “The story of America is the story of the Negro and it isn’t a pretty story.” For those who don’t know, James Baldwin was a gay African-American writer who during the Civil Rights era became a prominent and outspoken representative for civil rights. Articulate, intelligent and respected, his was a voice that was angry but one that invited dialogue. There isn’t much of that going on today.

In 1979 he author sent a letter to his literary agent Jay Acton outlining a proposal for a book project entitled Remember the House. In it he said that he wanted to examine the civil rights movement and America itself through the murders of three of his friends; Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. When Baldwin passed away in 1987 he’d completed only 30 pages of manuscript.

Documentary director Peck wondered what that book might have turned out to be. Using Baldwin’s own words from the Acton letter as well as the manuscript itself (all of which is read by Samuel L. Jackson), he uses archival footage of Baldwin doing talk shows, delivering speeches and lecturing at universities to flesh out the written words.

Peck also uses footage of modern race-related issues like the events in Ferguson, Missouri, the Black Lives Matter movement and the murder of Trayvon Martin to reinforce that the more that things change, the more they stay the same. Baldwin was one of the most brilliant men of the 20th century and he spent a significant portion of his life in self-exile in France, much like leading African-American artists did to escape American racism. That gave him a certain amount of perspective, but he also clearly loved his country and almost inevitably when he felt he needed to lend his voice to what was happening, he would return home.

His observations are eerily timeless, speaking as much to modern audiences as to those of the 50s and 60s. At times it seems he could be talking about incidents that occurred just last week. He speaks in a cultured, urbane voice – something else we’ve lost as a society – and reminds us that once upon a time we had discourse in America, not just attempts to shout each other down. One wonders what he would have thought of the current President and of how social media has changed our country and how we receive information.

This documentary brilliantly weaves the archival and modern images with Baldwin’s words, not only reminding us that he was a great man (which he was) but also that we haven’t learned very much from him. The Oscar-nominated documentary really has a single flaw but it’s kind of a big one; it tends to flog the same points over and over again, but then again perhaps we need that since as mentioned a moment ago we really haven’t learned our lesson yet. Hopefully seeing this documentary might motivate some of you to read some of his books (I know I’m going to be checking out Amazon for at least one or two) but also to remind us that while we have made some progress, we still have a hell of a long way to go.

REASONS TO GO: Powerful and depressing, the film shows us how little we’ve progressed in half a century. Some truly remarkable archival material brings the Civil Rights era to life.
REASONS TO STAY: An element of flogging the same points over and over again does occur.
FAMILY VALUES: Some of the images are violent and disturbing; there is also some profanity including racial slurs, adult themes and brief nudity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The word “negro” is used 78 times in the film.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: AmazonVudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/20/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 96/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Malcolm X
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: A Dog’s Purpose

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New Releases for the Week of March 10, 2017


KONG: SKULL ISLAND

(Warner Brothers/Legendary) Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Corey Hawkins, Toby Kebbell, Tian Jing, Shea Whigham. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

An expedition made up of a team of scientists, soldiers and explorers go to a previously uncharted and unmapped island in the Pacific and find a world of nightmares. Hostile locals aren’t even the half of it; the island is infested with ferocious creatures that are so much further up the food chain than human beings that we might as well be lambs for the slaughter. The island is rules by Kong, a gigantic ape whose existence has ever only been legend. Now, the team – stranded on the island – has no choice but to rely on all their skills to make it home with the proof that the legend exists, or die trying.

See the trailer, interviews, clips, promos, B-Roll video and Premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language)

Badrinath Ki Dulhania

(Fox Star) Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt, Gauhar Khan, Shweta Prasad. Two young people growing up in neighboring small towns seem to be polar opposites. Everything he believes in, she believes in the opposite. Even though they both recognize the good hearts in the other, their ideologies might just get in the way of a perfectly good romance.

See the trailer and music videos here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Touchstar Southchase

Rating: NR

I Am Not Your Negro

(Magnolia) Samuel L. Jackson (narrator), James Baldwin, Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X. When James Baldwin passed away in 1987 left unfinished was a manuscript for a book that examined the murders of three of his closest friends – Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. Director Raoul Peck has created a documentary using Baldwin’s still-timely prose and archival footage to remind us that the progress we have made in racial relations is not really as much as we thought.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing violent images, thematic material, language and brief nudity)

The Ottoman Lieutenant

(Paladin) Michael Huisman, Hera Hilmar, Josh Hartnett, Ben Kingsley. A plucky American nurse is charmed by a doctor working at a charitable hospital in one of Armenia’s most desolate areas. As it is 1919 and war is brewing not only in Europe but in the Ottoman Empire as well (as Turkey and Armenia were then called) her resolve to bring medical supplies and a much-needed truck into a dangerous place leads her into contact with a dashing young lieutenant in the Ottoman army – and a romantic triangle that threatens to explode even as war does.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Historical Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Loew’s Universal Cineplex, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some war violence)

Pick of the Litter – February 2017


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

The Great Wall

The Great Wall

(Universal/Legendary) Matt Damon, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Tian Jing. Zhang Yimou is one of China’s most influential and visionary directors. He’s created some of the most visually appealing films of the past 20 years (Red Sorghum, Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers, Hero etc). This is his first Hollywood production and it promises to be a doozy – a European mercenary goes to China to find that a desperate battle is taking place at the Great Wall against a mysterious menace the Wall was meant to keep out. This could well be humanity’s last stand. February 17

INDEPENDENT PICKS

War on Everyone

War on Everyone

(Saban) Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgǻrd, Theo James, Tessa Thompson. A pair of corrupt L.A. cops has no problem extorting money from criminals and framing them for crimes they didn’t commit. Hoping to make that big score, they go after the manager of a seedy strip club and his whacko boss but end up uncovering a darker secret that’s way out of their league. This is from the Irish director John Michael McDonagh whose previous films The Guard and Cavalry showed an eccentric black humor. February 6

I Am Not Your Negro

I Am Not Your Negro

(Magnolia) James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Samuel L. Jackson, Martin Luther King Jr. When author and social activist James Baldwin passed away in 1987, he was working on a manuscript called Remember This House which detailed the history of race relations in America through the lens of the death of three of his close friends – Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Director Raoul Peck has created a documentary based on the manuscript and extrapolates how it might have turned out in finished form. Given the tensions that continue to plague this country, this documentary is as timely now as it would have been in Baldwin’s day. February 3

David Brent: Life on the Road

David Brent: Life on the Road

(Netflix) Ricky Gervais, Jo Hartley, Mandeep Dhillon, Andrew Brooke. Before there was The Office there was The Office, the BBC version of a comedy that masqueraded as a documentary. Now, Gervais (who created the show) is back as David Brent, the absolutely clueless and somewhat misogynistic boss who has since moved on to become – wait for it – a singer/songwriter. He’s on the road but that doesn’t stop him from a return to his old stomping grounds.  February 10

From Nowhere

From Nowhere

(FilmRise) Juliana Nicholson, Denis O’Hare, Jim Norton, Anita Petry. With President Trump’s controversial executive orders regarding immigration very much in the news, this timely feature puts a human face on illegal immigrants. Three Bronx teenagers, undocumented immigrants all, are close to graduating high school but navigating the tricky procedures of getting their papers in order proves to be an almost insurmountable challenge. February 17

As You Are

As You Are

(Votiv) Charlie Heaton, Owen Campbell, Amandla Stenberg, Mary Stuart Masterson. The events leading to a tragedy are pieced together from the friendship of three teens in the 1990s. Two boys, whose parents are dating, develop a particularly close bond that becomes unexpectedly sexual and begins an inexorable journey towards a single gunshot. Using the music of Kurt Cobain as a link, this intense film wowed audiences at the 2016 edition of the Sundance Film Festival. February 24

My Life as a Zucchini

My Life as a Zucchini

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of Will Forte, Amy Sedaris, Nick Offerman, Ellen Page. A young orphan with the intriguing nickname of Zucchini comes to an orphanage after his mom disappears. With the help of a kindly police officer, Zucchini turns a hostile environment to one of love and affection with his friendship and courage. He even may find his one true love. The film has been nominated for an Oscar as Best Animated Feature and was Switzerland’s submission for Best Foreign Film. February 24