THE BEST OF ENEMIES (2019)

April 4, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. It’s easy to complain (and many do) about how Hollywood usually explores racism. Sometimes the stories seem a bit over-simplistic, as with THE HELP, GREEN BOOK, and HIDDEN FIGURES; however, rather than criticize, perhaps we should be thankful for any effort to prod. Often getting the conversation started is the best first step. That’s really the message from Robin Bissell’s directorial debut of a script he adapted from Osha Gray Davidson’s 1996 book “The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South”. Mr. Bissell has previously been Executive Producer on THE HUNGER GAMES and SEABISCUIT, and Mr. Davidson’s book was previously adapted for a stage production.

Based on a true story that took place in 1971 Durham, North Carolina, the film portrays the remarkable events that led to the integration of public schools and a stranger-than-fiction friendship. Taraji P Henson stars as Ann Atwater, an African-American activist and community organizer, while Oscar winner Sam Rockwell co-stars as Claiborne “CP” Ellis, the Exalted Cyclops (basically the Chapter President) of the Ku Klux Klan. It seems the previous stranger-than-fiction description is aptly applied here when an aggressive black woman known as “Roughhouse Annie” can effectively sway the long ingrained beliefs of a KKK leader, and forge a friendship that would last 3 decades.

A school fire that partially gutted the elementary school attended by the black children in the community was the proverbial spark that kicked off the chain of events. When the white folks refused to share their school, the black children were forced to hold classes in the areas least affected by the fire … while demolition and renovation was being carried out. This led to the NAACP getting involved, which resulted in a judge ordering a “Charrette” – a blend of a committee and a civic debate – to determine how the community would move forward. Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay, FREE FIRE, 2016) was charged with organizing the Charrette, and he named Ms. Alexander and Mr. Ellis as co-chairs. Keep in mind this was 17 years after Brown vs. Board of Education ruled in favor of school desegregation, but many pockets of the south were slow to come around.

The story structure offers synchronicity between the lives of Alexander and Ellis, as they each struggle with poverty and family challenges. It’s just one of the ways of trying to show they were more alike than different, and much more of the time is devoted to how the transition slowly occurs for Ellis. Of course, even though each side dislikes the other, it’s Ellis whose eyes must be opened as he clings to the only way of life he’s known. Because of this, Mr. Rockwell has the meatier role, but it’s Ms. Henson (and her fat suit) who draws the most laughs and nods of approval from the audience.

As you would expect, it’s a strutting Mr. Rockwell and boisterous Ms. Henson that dominate the film, however, some tremendous actors fill the supporting roles: Wes Bentley (as a Confederate soldier hat-wearing Klansman), Anne Heche (as Ellis’ wife), Nick Searcy, Bruce McGill, John Gallagher Jr, and Caitlin Mehner.

The film is a most entertaining (though a bit lightweight) look at an historic chain of events, and it’s right up there with a black cop infiltrating the Klan in Spike Lee’s 2018 film BLACKkKLANSMAN believe-it-or-not points. In 1980, Studs Terkel conducted an interview with Mr. Ellis, and it’s worth a read to gain a bit more insight into a man that truly changed his evil ways. The ending of this film leans heavily on the “feel-good” and “can’t we all just get along” approach, and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The end credit sequence features some tremendous clips of the real Ms. Alexander (who died in 2016) and Mr. Ellis (who died in 2005), making it a bit easier to understand how the two opposites connected for the greater good.

watch the trailer:

Advertisements

SHORT TERM 12 (2013)

September 9, 2013

short term1 Greetings again from the darkness. “An indie gem” is meant to be a term of respect for a little movie that manages to make an emotional connection, usually while being screened at a film festival or in a very limited and brief theatrical run. The best ones drive us to encourage everyone we know to take the time to see it. Such is writer/director Destin Cretton’s latest.

Some movies offer a promising premise and then let us down with faulty execution. Short Term 12 is actually better than its premise would lead you to expect. Credit goes to Mr. Cretton’s quasi-documentary directorial style, tremendous acting from support characters played by John Gallagher Jr (Mason), Kaitlyn Dever (Jayden), and Keith Stanfield (Marcus), and a stunning lead performance from rising star Brie Larson (Grace).

short term2 Grace and Mason help run a foster care facility. We witness first hand their daily work with the kids, some of it quite mundane … though other moments incredibly powerful. Grace and Marcus have their own personal connections to this way of life, and also happen to be in a relationship that seems built on avoiding the communication and connection that goes into their daily jobs.

The use of art as a communication device plays a role throughout. Marcus uses his rap lyrics, newcomer Jayden draws and writes children’s stories. These two kids are particularly important because they also mirror the inner sanctum of Mason and Grace, and we see these people all battle demons in hope of living a “normal” life. This is not a story short term3of saints and sinners … these are just people coming to grips with the deck they’ve been dealt.

You will recognize Gallagher from his work on HBO’s “The Newsroom“, and Dever made quite an impression in her time on “Justified“. Larson’s star is on the rise thanks to her presence in The Spectacular Now and Don Jon, as well as some upcoming projects. She IS what critics have been trying make Greta Gerwig … an actress who breathes life into character we feel we know.  This one will play on your emotions, but draws us into the world of these characters. An indie gem to be absorbed.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy top notch “little” films OR you want to see one of the best performances of the year (Brie Larson)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: a realistic look at the challenges faced by kids and staff at a foster center strays too far from entertainment for your tastes.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhS6tvSb0UQ