"Judas and the Black Messiah"
directed by Shaka King
(R, 2 hours, 6 minutes)
A remarkably well done major motion picture that, by and large, sticks to the facts (as does Howard Alk's sobering and disturbing 1971 documentary "The Murder of Fred Hampton," which you can watch for free on YouTube) as it tells the true story of revolutionary Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) and his relationship with William O'Neal (LaKeith Stanfield). The film takes place during the late 1960s, against the backdrop of the Civil Rights movement in Chicago. Hampton, Chairman of the Chicago Black Panther Party, has become an influential and charismatic leader in the Chicago Black community, striving to build a pan-ethnic coalition to mobilize and create social change. So naturally, the FBI identifies him as a national threat and takes measures to neutralize him. Among these measures is the planting of informant O'Neal in his inner circle.
While we shouldn't get our history from Hollywood, there's not much in "Judas and the Black Messiah" that needs correcting.
One thing though: The actors who play the principals, Kaluuya and Stanfield are, at 32 and 29 years old respectively, about a decade too old to play their characters. But casting age-appropriate actors would have distracted audiences, and maybe 50 years ago teenagers seemed older than they do now.
Kaluuya won this year's Best Supporting Actor for his role and Stanfield -- who is actually the film's lead -- was also nominated.
"The Mauritanian" (R, 2 hours, 9 minutes) A strong story and a dream of a cast aren't enough to overcome a listless screenplay in this based-on-reality drama of a detainee at the U.S .military's Guantanamo Bay detention center who, held without charges for over a decade, enlists the help of wily defense lawyer Nancy Hollander (Jodie Foster) to negotiate his release.
Based on the bestselling memoir "Guantanamo Diary" by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, charismatically played in the film by Tahar Rahim. With Benedict Cumberbatch, Zachary Levi, Shailene Woodley; directed by Kevin Macdonald.
"The Marksman" (PG-13, 1 hour, 48 minutes) Unless you're a big fan of Liam Neeson, you might want to steer clear of this violent, muddy, and unmemorable actioner in which a loner of a rancher on the Arizona border unexpectedly becomes the defender of an 11-year-old Mexican on the run from drug cartel assassins who've pursued him into the United States. With Juan Pablo Raba, Teresa Ruiz, Jacob Perez, Katheryn Winnick, Antonio Leyba; co-written and directed by Robert Lorenz.
"The Last Frontier" (not rated, 2 hours, 16 minutes) A by-the-book World War II thriller that tells us a stolid, bloody patriotic story we might not have heard before concerning a nearly two-week military stand by Russian soldiers and the Soviet army to defend Moscow from German advances in 1941. With Aleksey Bardukov, Igor Yudin, Artyom Gubin; co-written and directed by Vadim Shmelyov. Subtitled.
"Morgue" (TV-MA, 1 hour, 21 minutes) This ambitious low-budget Paraguayan horror thriller focuses on a security guard who is locked inside the morgue of the Regional Hospital of Encarnacion, where assorted otherworldly entertainments await him. With Francisco Ayala, Maria del Mar Fernandez, Willi Villalba; written and directed by Hugo Cardozo. Subtitled.
"Pixie" (R, 1 hour, 33 minutes): Olivia Cooke stars as the stepdaughter of an Irish crime boss scheming to avenge her mother's death in a wild plot gone wrong. Our Piers Marchant wrote of the film: "[Pixie] ... doesn't make much sense as a character, beyond acting as the primary manic agent of chaos in Barnaby Thompson's whimsical bloodbath. The film, as penned by Preston Thompson, is filled with dopey plot twists, and forced, over-manicured farcical anomalies (if the idea of a squadron of priests and nuns with automatic weapons squaring off against a small army of thugs wearing cartoonish animal masks makes you giddy, this is the film for you). It shoots for a loose Tarantino vibe, but pretty badly misses its target." With Alec Baldwin and Colm Meaney.
"Scavenger" (not rated, 1 hour, 13 minutes) A nasty, brutal post-apocalypic revenge bloodfest in which an assassin and organ dealer with a dark past (ya think?) seeks revenge for a crime that haunts her life. With Nayla Churruarin, Eric Flietas, Sofia Lanaro; co-written and co-directed by Fleitas and Luciana Garraza. Subtitled.
"Land" (PG-13, 1 hour, 29 minutes) Robin Wright's directorial debut gets off to a less-than-stellar start in this earnest, handsome, spiritual and emotion-tugging drama about a bereaved woman who decides that a primitive existence off the grid in the wilderness of Wyoming is the key to redefining her life. Haven't we heard this story before? With Wright, Demian Bichir, Kim Dickens, Warren Christie.
"The Reason I Jump" (not rated, 1 hour, 22 minutes) A unique, poetic, and artfully made documentary, based on a book by Naoki Higashida, that explores the sensory-based experiences of nonspeaking autistic people around the world. With Jordan O'Donegan, David Mitchell, Jim Fujiwara; directed by Jerry Rothwell.