Thursday, February 16, 2017


2016, US, directed by Ava DuVernay

Ava DuVernay’s documentary about, primarily, the ways in which black Americans have been systematically criminalized by the political/social system, with emphasis on the ways in which this has been used to subsequently disenfranchise vast swathes of the black population. It's a very effective assemblage of interviews, archival footage and, especially, statistical data, often depicted in imaginative and striking fashion, and underlines the ways in which the legacy of slavery is still very much with the United States when it comes to the daily lives and (restricted) political participation of the country's people of colour. The various talking heads are generally informative, and occasionally surprising, none more so than Newt Gingrich bluntly discussing the failures of policies past. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I Am Not Your Negro

2016, US, directed by Raoul Peck

I had seen several of Raoul Peck’s earlier films, most notably his diptych focused on Patrice Lumumba, but his prior pictures, however interesting, didn't fully prepare me for the richness of this film, a remarkable work of both documentation and reconstruction that uses James Baldwin’s own notes for an unfinished project as its backbone, interspersed with carefully-selected footage of Baldwin himself. Entirely appropriately, the film is often deeply concerned with the ways in which filmed images were and are perceived by both blacks and whites, a theme to which Baldwin returned with some regularity in his writing (both fiction and non-fiction). If one or two moments are perhaps a little on the nose – images of the events in Ferguson, for instance – that may also say a good deal about how little has changed in the decades since Baldwin was writing, which lends his words a hauntingly prophetic air. As well as hearing Baldwin’s words quoted at length (his texts are spoken by Samuel L. Jackson), there is extensive archival footage of him in full flow, most notably from an appearance on the Dick Cavett show, in which Baldwin eviscerates a Yale professor, and there’s equally electrifying film of an appearance at an Oxford debate. The very idea that a late-night show might engage in discussion of that caliber is, of course, an impossibility in 2017. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017


2005, US, directed by Tom McGrath and Eric Darnell

The boys loved this, and while it’s certainly not painful I found it had little of the unforced charm of something like Zootopia, and certainly lacked the multi-layered, multi-generational aspect of the best recent animated films. In other words, a middle-of-the-road animated feature that underlines how challenging it is to really knock it out of the park.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Last Cab to Darwin

2015, Australia, directed by Jeremy Sims

Thoroughly enjoyable road movie, with a very fine, and largely unsentimental, central performance from Michael Caton. There’s a good deal to savour in the depiction and deconstruction of various aspects of Aussie masculinity, which presumably comes from the original stage play, though the film version is in addition quite stunning from a visual perspective. The picture is also notable as a fairly benign depiction of the country’s vast interior, at least from the white perspective – there's little of the threatening aspect that is explored in other Aussie films dating back to the 1970s, while it provides glimpses of Aboriginal life that are quite rare in films not explicitly geared at such themes (it surely owes some debt to Backroads in that respect). 


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Most of the images here are either studio publicity stills or screen captures I've made myself; if I've taken your image without giving you credit, please let me know.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States