The Help 2012 Based on the Kathryn Stockett novel. Directed by Tate Taylor. The story of aspiring journalist, Mississippi native Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Emma Stone), and a book she wrote from the point of view and with the secret help of abused southern maids in her community during the Civil Rights era. Skeeter herself was raised by a beloved family maid thrown out by her bigoted mother. Surrounded by a women’s group as obtuse as it is narcissistic, her compassion and outrage are compelling.
Excellent film with a solid ensemble cast playing idiosyncratic characters: Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain, Allison Janney, Sissy Spacek. Cicely Tyson, Mary Steenburgen, David Oyelowo, Dana Ivey, Leslie Jordan…Rent on Amazon Prime.
Fences 2016 Based on August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize Winning play. Produced and directed by Denzel Washington. 1950s Pittsburgh. Ex-con, garbage collector Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) works beside best friend Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) whom he met in prison. When first released, Troy played baseball for The Negro League. He never made it to the majors and exited bitter. Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), his mentally impaired brother (since WWII), moved from Troy’s home leaving the Maxsons without his veteran’s pay. Things are tight.
This is a family/social story. There’s an ex-wife and son from a previous marriage and son Corey (Jovan Adepo) from this one. Troy’s resentment makes him blind to his son’s needs and potential. There’s also a pregnant mistress. All this is dealt with by the capable, ever steady, much deprived Rose Lee Maxson (Viola Davis). Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. Powerful. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Widows 2018 Based on a 1983 British television series. Directed by Steve McQueen. When a gang of robbers gets blown up, their wives respectively lose: Florek, who beat up Alice (Elizabeth Debicki); Carlos, who spent all Linda’s (Michelle Rodriguez) money at the track and caused her to lose her store; and, Leader Harry (Liam Neeson), with whom Veronica (Viola Davis), was in love despite her son’s death due to associated violence.
One of the men stole two million dollars from Black politician Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry), who is now holding Veronica (and the women) responsible for the missing money. People get beaten up (badly) and killed. Jack Mulligan (Colin Farrell), son of an old school, Irish Alderman (Robert Duvall), and Jamal both want control of Boston’s South Side. Both are corrupt.
Veronica finds Harry’s notebook which is filled with copious details of every crime, every bribe. (You’ve never seen such neat handwriting.) It also has schematics for the gang’s upcoming job. She decides the only way the women can now support themselves and pay back the money is to pull off that robbery. Three unlikely gangsters, joined by Belle (Cynthia Erivo), plot and commit the robbery which is as dangerous and violent as anything men might attempt. Rent on Amazon Prime.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom SAG AWARD 2020 Based on the play by August Wilson. Directed by George C. Wolfe. Like being a fly on the walls during a volatile 1920s Chicago recording session of the iconic Ma Rainey (Viola Davis). Band members Toledo (Glynn Turman), Cutler (Coleman Domingo), and Slow Drag (Michael Potts), arrive on time to check in with frustrated (soon to be apoplectic) white producer Mel Sturdyvant (Jonny Coyne).
Cocky new trumpet player Levee Green (Chadwick Boseman) sashays in late assuming his own songs will be considered. Ma arrives even later with girlfriend Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige) – Rainey was bisexual – and her nephew Sylvester (Dusan Brown) in tow. She has a big chip on her shoulder.
In control, Ma insists her stuttering nephew recite the opening to a number on the new record which causes a great many problems. An entire cut is lost to incompetence. Though aware of the risk, Levee makes a play for Dussie. The band starts to pick at each other. Tempers rise. A knife comes out. Taut, illuminating, and musical. Boseman died soon after. “His final moments of screen time are among his darkest, and also his finest.” Justin Chang Los Angeles Times. It’s difficult to recognize Davis between make-up and fine acting. Free with Netflix and playing in select theaters.
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