#Netflix Redefines Appointment Television with #WhenTheySeeUs and #Unbelievable

The best types of entertainment hold a mirror up to society. Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us and Susannah Grant’s Unbelievable, both on streaming at Neflix, are so good, so entertaining, so shocking and illuminating and sobering, as to move viewers to tears. Both limited series take the old idea of setting yourself an appointment to watch great TV and spin it on its head in this era of streaming everything. No, you don’t just binge watch these…you make the time to sit down (hopefully with a loved one you can then later discuss and unpack each episode with) and give these powerful true stories your undivided attention.

In When They See Us, the lives of the Central Park Five (innocent teenagers unjustly convicted of raping a jogger in Central Park) unfold before our eyes, and the tradgedy of a racist system that railroads innocent children is laid bare. In Unbelievable, we see firsthand the ripple effects of what happens (to both the victim and society at large) when young women who are raped are not believed. The fact that both series are also acting (holy hell those kids in When They See Us), writing (ohhhhh that character development in Unbelievable), and directing (damn, Ava DuVernay, my wife and I became full on fangirl and fanboy for that artistry you displayed!) tour-de-forces is just icing on the cake.

As tragic as both stories are, they give us glimmers of hope. In When They See Us, it’s the love of the boys’ family and community that help see them through…while in Unbelievable, it’s the dedicated work of passionate female detectives who eventually bring a serial rapist to justice. Yes, even in a criminal justice institution systematically rigged against the marginalized, justice can still eek its way through the unfathomably deep and dark muck…but only if good people take action…and in the case of When They See Us…bad people take responsibility for their actions.

If you have not watched these series yet, you need to make an appointment to do so. Make the popcorn, and bring a therapist. Watch. Discuss. Get Angry. Be Inspired. Take Action.

Written by D. H. Schleicher

The Lurid Humanism of BlacKkKlansman and Sharp Objects

Spike Lee uses D. W. Griffin’s incendiary Birth of a Nation in quasi-meta fashion in his masterful comeback film about racists getting their comeuppance, the wildly entertaining yet sobering BlacKkKlansman.  If the former film was “history written by lightning,” then the latter might be “satire written by thunder.”  But while Lee and his screenwriters are thunderous in their political leanings, the filmmakers are most effective in delivery of the message because of how taut, understated and meticulous they are in the weaving of their storytelling craft.

BlacKkKlansman is a procedural undercover cop jawn about Colorado Springs detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington in a “star is born” type performance and a chip off the old block of his dad Denzel) who infiltrates the local chapter of the KKK (almost on a lark, in prank-phone call style) in the 1970’s.  When the KKK agrees to meet him in person for the purpose of initiation, he convinces his sergeant to let him use his Jewish partner Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, shockingly good) to pose as the eager new racist recruit.  Thus we end up with Jewish cop pretending to be a black cop pretending to be a white supremacist…and getting away with it…and stopping a terrorist bombing to boot.  It would all be ludicrous if it wasn’t true (though apparently some of the details of the actual case are played with loosely here for the purpose of entertainment and message delivery).  There’s a lot more going on in the film, and it’s tonally played to expert effect flipping between a satirical comedy of manners and a cop thriller about the worst kind of criminals.

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Land Needs a Deed not Deeds in Mudbound

Indeed, you might need a deed to own land, but it’s all those horrible deeds that lead to systematic oppression that tie the tortured souls of Mudbound to the land.  Even in the afterlife they can’t escape the land, which swallows their flesh and churns up their bones, the indentured survivors plopping their dead loved ones’ bodies right into the ground, rendering all their deeds and deeds undone.

While still stewing over the fact his vile racist Pappy (Jonathan Banks) sold the only land the family ever had, Henry (Jason Clark) is so damned obsessed with the idea of owning land and working it that he uproots his wife Laura (Carey Mulligan, ever graceful in her depiction of a woman’s arc from blissful naivety to pessimistic pining) and young daughters to go live on a godforsaken plot of harsh farmland in Mississippi.  There the work and hardships are shared with an African-American family led by the spirited Hap Jackson (Rob Morgan) and his stoic wife Florence (Mary J. Blige) who have been toiling the land in quiet dignity for generations, first as slaves, and now as sharecroppers.

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Home is Where the Heart is in 42

42

The true significance of the number 42 has nothing to do with The Shining or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Everyone knows the story of Jackie Robinson, right?

Well, maybe not.  And maybe as a long-time baseball fan (not just of the game, but of the history and of its impact on American society) I took that for granted.  As the first African-American to play in the major leagues, Jackie Robinson put a dent in segregation in 1947 (and wore the number 42) long before Jim Crow laws were dismantled and the Civil Rights movement caught on years later.  Thanks to Brian Helgeland’s handsomely mounted and wholesome-as-Ma’s-meatloaf biopic, 42, younger generations will now have an entertaining and educational film to watch in history classes for decades to come.

Robinson is played with heart and panache by newcomer Chadwick Boseman while Nicole Beharie makes a nice splash as his devoted and strong-willed wife, Rachel.  Their love story forms the backstop of the story while Harrison Ford relishes in a playful scenery chewing turn as the moral trailblazing GM of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey. Continue reading

Prawn of a New Age

A Review of DISTRICT 9:

An alien mother-ship makes a pit stop over South Africa, where its living “cargo” is dumped and then regulated to a massive slum called District 9 in Neill Blomkamp’s audacious feature film debut.  When the government decides to liquidate District 9 and move the aliens (hatefully referred to as “prawns”) to a glorified concentration camp further outside the city limits after local riots and growing concerns from the human populace, all hell breaks loose after a mid-level and bumbling bureaucrat (Sharlto Copley) is accidentally exposed to “something” that leads to…well…I don’t want to give away too much.

For whatever reason, District 9’s success has come as a surprise to some.  Continue reading