13th


Outside the windows conditions remain murky.

Outside the windows conditions remain murky.

(2016) Documentary (Netflix) Angela Davis, Cory Booker, Van Jones, Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist, Ed Koch, Dolores Canales, Khalid Muhammad, Charles B. Rangel, Jelani Cobb, Kyung-Jee Kate Rhee, Nicholas Turner, James Kilgore, Bryan Stevenson, Kevin Gannon, Michael Hough, Ken Thompson, Marc Maurer, Michelle Alexander, Deborah Small, Marie Gottschalk. Directed by Ava DuVernay

 

The 13th Amendment was supposed to have abolished involuntary servitude (i.e. slavery) but it left a very deliberate loophole; convicted criminals could be sentenced to hard labor without remuneration. That has led to the exploitation of African-American males essentially since the Civil War ended.

Ava (Selma) DuVernay’s Netflix documentary is up for an Oscar for Best Documentary feature and it’s easy to see why. This serves as an important historical document on the history of racism right up to present day. Images from the D.W. Griffith master-race-piece Birth of a Nation are cheek by jowl with images of civil rights marchers being beaten and firehosed in the Sixties.

There are a lot of talking heads and oddly DuVernay identifies most but not all of them. Some of them are fairly well known – there’s no mistaking Rep. Charlie Rangel and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and those who watch Real Time with Bill Maher ought to recognize Grover Norquist but some of the speakers here aren’t as well known visually and some information on who is talking and why their opinion should matter would be welcome. I must say it was great seeing Angela Davis, who is currently a professor at UC Santa Cruz. She looks terrific and minus her trademark Afro she looks a lot different but the fire is certainly still there and the intelligence as well. She is one of the most engaging speakers in the film.

The movie shows how the prison system has moved from using convicts for hard labor, helping to rebuild the post Civil War south to the War on Drugs which filled prisons with largely African American males in for minor offenses to help Nixon and his appeal to hard line conservative “Law and Order” voters to today when prisons have been privatized and the despicable ALEC organization which includes several corporate incarceration facility entities among its members has written laws to help increase prison sentences and has led to a prison population that was just under 350,000 in 1970 to the 2.3 million prisoners the United States has behind bars today. As a percentage of our total population, we have more people in prison than almost any nation on Earth by sheer number of the incarcerated I believe we have the greatest number of prisoners of any nation. We’re number one!

The narrative sometimes gets strident and overly dramatic and I can understand the former but a little bit of restraint might have gotten the point across more effectively than the cinematic hysterics DuVernay sometimes indulges in. When you’re preaching to the converted, a little drama doesn’t make a difference but when you’re trying to win hearts and minds it can make things a little more difficult than it needs to be.

Still, even with all that this is a powerful and moving documentary that richly deserves the nomination that it received. I also found it impressive that DuVernay includes the conservative side of things as well which some left-leaning documentarians often fail to do. However, she never loses sight of the fact that she’s giving a voice to a segment of society that hasn’t traditionally had, or at least one that was being heard. If it is occasionally uncomfortable and strident it is forgivable. The point is that we are watching legal, institutionalized slavery going on under our very noses and unless we decide to do something about it as a people it will continue to go on for as long as the powers that be can get away with it.

REASONS TO GO: An important document on the history of racism. An impressive amount of conservative commentary is included. A voice is given to those who generally have to scream in order to be heard.
REASONS TO STAY: The film can be strident and occasionally veers into the overly dramatic. The graphic flashing of the word “criminal” every time the word is mentioned is irksome.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is a little bit of foul language and some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  The title comes from the 13th Amendment which prohibits slavery – except in the case of convicted criminals.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/31/17: Rotten Tomatoes: 97% positive reviews. Metacritic: 90/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: I Am Not Your Negro
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT: Underworld: Blood Wars

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New Releases for the Week of October 15, 2010


October 13, 2010
It’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!

RED

(Summit) Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, John Malkovich, Karl Urban, Mary Louise Parker, Brian Cox, Richard Dreyfuss, Julian McMahon. Directed by Robert Schwentke

 

A group of retired CIA assassins find themselves targets of their successors. They will need all their cunning and experience in order to stay alive but in order to rid themselves of the great big target on their backs they will need to break into CIA Headquarters, a nearly impossible job and once there they will discover a conspiracy like nothing they’ve ever encountered before.

See the trailer, interviews, promos and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Comedy

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

Catfish

(Rogue) Yev Schulman, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, Melody C. Roscher. When a young man falls in love with a woman he met on the Internet, his brother and friend decide to document the long-distance online relationship. When they decide to impulsively visit her, the film veers off into a very disturbing turn. With one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen and a huge amount of buzz coming off the festival circuit, this could be the next Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activities.

See the trailer, an interview and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual references)

I Want Your Money

 (Freestyle) Newt Gingrich, Steve Forbes, Mike Huckabee, Ed Meese. Just to prove that liberal lefties aren’t the only ones who can make political documentaries, here comes Ray Griggs to show you why President Reagan’s policies worked and why President Obama’s won’t. Using a clever mix of archival footage, original animation and interviews with leading conservatives, Griggs aims to show how the government is out to make you broke.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, brief language and smoking)

Jackass 3D

(Paramount) Johnny Knoxville, Bam Magera, Steve-O, Jason “Wee Man” Acuna. As long as there are guys, there will be witless movies about guys doing incredibly stupid and dangerous things for no other reason than that they can. This is a movie that may or may not be better in 3D but one thing’s for certain: it will be a hell of a lot better after six or seven beers.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for male nudity, extremely crude and dangerous stunts throughout, and for language)

N-Secure

(Bluff City) Cordell Moore, Essence Atkins, Denise Boutte, Tempestt Bledsoe. A young urban professional falls from grace when a woman’s betrayal exposes some dark, hidden secrets in his damaged personality. This will lead to a web of deceit, violence and murder.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Urban Thriller

Rating: R (for language, some sexual content and brief violence)

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

(Sony Classics) Anthony Hopkins, Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts, Antonio Banderas. The effects of mid-life crises, fear of mortality, fear of failure and stubborn adherence to illusion effects the intersecting lives of several couples in this latest comedy from Woody Allen, with a connecting conceit of a fortune teller/charlatan (hence the title).

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Rating: R (for some language)