Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Judas and the Black Messiah (2021)

17-year-old  William O'Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) is recruited by the FBI to infiltrate the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party led by Fred Hamptom (Daniel Kaluuya). As O'Neal gains acceptance and camaraderie with Hampton and his comrades, the FBI pushes their campaign to criminalize Hampton that ultimately leads to his assassination.

Similar to Candice Fredick's review, I couldn't stop thinking about or comparing Judas and the Black Messiah to The Departed - its potential similarities and stark differences.

Both films share the core structure of the spy story. For the former, William goes undercover into the Black Panther Party, and is continuously upended by his involvement. Even though William believes he is the rare example of an undercover agent, there are others lurking all over the place, forcing him to watch his back and always feel threatened by the potential of blowing his cover or having someone blow it for him.

Judas and the Black Messiah also features enigmatic performances by the cast. Without Lakeith Stanfield as William, it'd be hard to grasp the struggles how much his efforts as an undercover agent weighed on his conscious (an act that ultimately led to his own suicide). The BPP is nothing like how the FBI paints it as a terrorist group, leaving William to continuously lose himself in upholding BPP's activism as well as facing the consequences of his actions as a desperate act of self-preservation. There's always a sense of him looking over his shoulder even when he isn't. Playing opposite him, Daniel Kaluuya electrifyingly masters the enigmatic energy Fred had with not only his comrades but to convince the most racist groups to join their cause because the system makes enemies of us all. Other notable supporting roles includes Dominique Fishback as BPP member, poet, and Hampton's partner Deborah Johnson, and Jesse Plemmons as Roy Mitchell, O'Neal's FBI Special Agent handler.

With The Departed, centered on the 'rats' trying to dismantle an Irish mob boss ring, there's always a lingering question and conflict of how the entire operation will fall apart. Despite the split focus on multiple characters and their motives, there's always a steady tension of three things - the suspicious intentions of multiple agencies trailing Costello, the true identities of cops surrounding him, and if Leonardo DiCaprio's frenzied character can maintain his sanity until he's free (which he will never earn). You never quite know what anyone's next move is, and everyone feels like they're fallen into a never-ending trap of cat and mouse.

Where Judas and the Black Messiah differs from The Departed is how the script and direction unfolds in jagged spurts. As much as the former tries to piece together the patchwork of William's motivations, and showing the impact Fred has, the plot constantly loses its footing with uneven editing. Locations, characters, and story progression are spliced together without much context for what's taken placed between two differing moments. Supporting characters are revealed as agents, but there's no real throughline in who they are before or after their identities are discovered. Additionally, there are interview clips and real footage juxtaposed throughout that feel out of place and take you out of the film's uneven flow. All of these things were avoided in The Departed, thanks to the superb editing by Thelma Schoonmaker and building up the ensemble as much as possible so you get a full grasp of all of the moving pieces. The nervous jumpiness in Judas and the Black Messiah between Roy and the FBI versus William, Fred, and the BPP twists the antagonists into clumsy puppet masters so much that Hampton's murder doesn't quite feel like betrayal between the two comrades, and it doesn't quite put into context the structural integrity Fred infused in the BPP, and the impact of his loss for generations to come - some of their programs which are still in use today.

Biopics such as these shouldn't be laid out completely in layman's terms or like a Wikipedia page; obviously creative choices are made to make history come to life. And, the timeline between William and Fred could play out perfectly like an intricate thriller biopic. But even the most fragmented films are able to even out the role of an ensemble with contrasting motivations or non-linear timelines. It doesn't feel apt to say that Judas and the Black Messiah isn't as good as I thought it'd be considering that its existence is a victory for so many Black stories that Hollywood refuses to tell, and it was one of my top films I'd been looking forward to since 2020. However great the performances are, director Shaka King's film is just too muddled and leaves too many loose ends leading up to its tragic ending to support them the way it should.

Rating: ★1/2☆☆

UPDATED: New Rescheduling Dates for 2021+ Movies

Due to the corona-virus, our regular summer of movie-going has been postponed. With cineplexes closing temporarily (or forever) and theatrical releases moving to streaming services, there's been a massive shift in the dates of movies going forward this year. From Marvel and Disney to DCEU and beyond, I've compiled a list of dates for films that will have a new opening weekend either later this year or further down the road. Mark your calendars (with a pencil - just in case!).

If you see a film missing from this list that you think I should add, feel free to share below. Which movies are you looking forward to seeing? This updated list has been expanded to include 2021 dates and beyond.

Monday, March 1, 2021

Celebrating Athena Film Festival Throughout March 1st - 31st 2021

For the past eleven years, the Athena Film Festival has been the premiere festival to amplify women's leadership through film as well as provide in-depth conversations with industry experts. The festival works in conjunction with Barnard College's Athena Center for Leadership and Women and Hollywood to shift the cultural conversation of stories told of women.

In celebration of March as Women's History Month, I'm excited to cover the event virtually. In the upcoming weeks, I'll be providing reviews of a wide variety of shorts to documentaries and feature film screenings, which includes:
  • Beans, directed by Tracey Deer. A twelve-year-old Mohawk Girl torn between innocent childhood and reckless adolescence as she grapples with her experiences of community, activism, and racism during the Indigenous uprising of 1990 known as The Oka Crisis.
  • Mama Gloria - an intimate portrait of a trailblazing 73-year-old black transgender woman who transitioned before Stonewall, started a charm school for transgender youth in her 60s and is aging with joy and grace.
  • Ava & Bianca - a short documentary film directed by Rachel Fleit that portrays the profound friendship between Ava Benjamin Schorr and Bianca Cline who are both transgender female cinematographers.
  • End of the Line: The Women of Standing Rock tells the incredible story of the indigenous women who establish a peaceful camp in protest of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline construction that desecrated ancient burial and prayer sites and threatens their land, water, and very existence.
If you'd like to learn more about the festival or explore the programming, visit the official site hereHere's more information regarding the festival per the official festival press release:
Over the past ten years, the Athena Film Festival has established itself as the premier festival dedicated to celebrating and elevating women’s leadership. Our festival highlights films showcasing women’s leadership from underexplored perspectives; women leading in all places and spaces who are resisting and refuting preconceived notions of all they can be and do. Through our Parity Pipeline Program we are bolstering the pipeline of women creatives who are telling these stories and fostering a network of women in film.

The Athena Film Festival is a joint project of Barnard College’s Athena Center for Leadership and Women and Hollywood. The festival’s founding sponsor is the Artemis Rising Foundation and its CEO Regina K. Scully.

The 11th Annual Athena Film Festival, a joint partnership between Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership & Melissa Silverstein’s WOMEN IN HOLLYWOOD. The festival will also feature an International Women’s Day Program and a number of conversations and panels discussing film, women in the entertainment industry, and equality in Hollywood and beyond.

The Athena Film Festival (AFF) at Barnard College announced its opening night film and lineup of programming for the 2021 festival today. The 11th annual festival, a joint partnership between Barnard’s Athena Center for Leadership and the initiative Women and Hollywood, will take place virtually from March 1st through March 31st. The annual festival includes film screenings, in-depth conversations with filmmakers and industry experts, a series of programs that support the pipeline of women creatives, and a wide variety of events focused on celebrating and amplifying the stories of bold, courageous women leaders.

“While planning this year’s festival, we wanted to prioritize relevant and timely films that spoke to the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the myriad ways we’ve experienced our world shift this year. We were also focused on inclusion – building on our history of featuring new and diverse voices and challenging the status quo to lead the industry forward” said Melissa Silverstein, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of AFF and founder of Women and Hollywood. “I think we’ve done that. The films and conversations at this year’s festival will tackle complex, emotional, and diverse subjects with voices from across the industry. While this year’s festival will feel very different, I could not be more proud of the incredible slate of programming which is 90% women and nonbinary directors and 51% women and non binary directors of color that we will bring to our audiences across the United States for the 11th annual edition.”

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks - TMP Television Edition: Love Triangles

Wandering Through the Shelves hosts Thursday Movie Picks. It's a weekly series where bloggers post and share various movie picks every Thursday. 

The rules are simple: based on the theme of the week pick three to five movies and tell us why you picked them. For further details and the schedule visit the series main page here.

This week is TMP Television Edition: Romance Tropes / TMP Television Edition: Love Triangles.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks - Romance Tropes Edition: Forbidden Love

Wandering Through the Shelves hosts Thursday Movie Picks. It's a weekly series where bloggers post and share various movie picks every Thursday. 

The rules are simple: based on the theme of the week pick three to five movies and tell us why you picked them. For further details and the schedule visit the series main page here.

This week is TMP Television Edition: Romance Tropes Edition: Forbidden Love.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

52 Films By Women Challenge - The Love Witch and Love & Basketball

In 2015, the Los Angeles' Women in Film started a challenge to watch one film by a female director every week for a year. I've seen this floating around social media and movie blogs for a while, and always meant to join in. For 2021, I finally decided to try it out this year as one of my resolutions.

Every week I thought it'd be fun to do a quick round-up of the film(s) I've watched for the challenge. The films I chose for the challenge are on letterboxd - if you want to see the slate so far - but I'm not going in an particular order of alphabetical or chronological.

My next two films is The Love Witch (2016) and Love and Basketball (2000). I've been dealing with some health and personal stuff lately, so of course I'm falling behind posting these again. I might make this weekly catch-up into a bi-weekly routine instead to give me time to write and post my thoughts.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

5 Swoon-Worthy Romantic Gestures in Movies

Romanticmovies have the power to make us believe in the power of love or at least give us high expectations for the gifts we can share on Valentine's Day to show how much they mean to us. 'Tis the season to overestimate what Cupid has in store. So I thought it'd be fun to share my favorite romantic gestures from movies...that has set some impossible standards.