“Marshall”: courtroom drama from early in Thurgood Marshall’s career

Marshall”, directed by Reginald Hudlin, centers itself on courtroom drama for its own sake, a presentation technique for many social and political issues in independent film (as I recall from one particular meeting with an actor in Boston in 2002).

Then, the film is also a partial biography of Thurgood Marshall (Chadwick Boseman), who would become the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court in 1967.

This film focuses on a critical case early in Marshall’s career, as he established a reputation helping young black men otherwise wrongfully convicted. After moving to New York in 1940, he takes a case in Bridgeport, CT, where a young black chauffeur Joseph Spell (Sterling K. Brown) is accused of raping his boss’s wife (Eleanor Strubing, played by Kate Hudson) and throwing her off a bridge.  As the defense starts to unravel in typical courtroom fashion, Thurman concludes that the sex was consensual and could have resulted in a mixed-race baby, and that Eleanor was trying to hide this from her autocratic husband.

Marshall teams up with a former insurance lawyer Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), who has to deal with his own stereotypes of the day as a Jew.

The film contains a backdrop of FDR’s radio broadcasts of the early days of World War II, when the country had to come together, despite its racially segregated military (which Truman would fix in 1948).

The conclusion also does some interesting stuff with the problem of plea bargaining for an innocent but prejudice-baited client.

The film was actually shot around Buffalo, NY.

The original premier by Open Road films was canceled because of coincidence with the Las Vegas shootings (story).

Wikipedia picture of Bridgeport bridge in 1850.

Wikipedia picture of Buffalo, WWII era.

Name:  “Marshall
Director, writer:  Reginald Hudlin
Released:  2017/10
Format:  2.20:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Potomac Yards, 2017/12/3, evening, small audience
Length:  118
Rating:  R
Companies:  Open Road
Link:  official

(Posted: Sunday, December 3, 2017. At 11 PM EST)

“The Promise”: World War I epic about Armenian genocide is also a personal moral fable

The Promise”, directed by Terry George, and written with Robin Swicord, apparently based on an original story, is a historical epic about genocide, specifically of the Armenians in the early days of World War I by the Ottoman Turks.  The film has a bit the style of a modern western, and makes a compelling narrative with many moral points about a historical event that generally doesn’t get that much attention.  In fact, even today, the Turkish government (exacerbated by Erdogan’s dictatorial and press-suppressing behavior, which Donald Trump has supported), doesn’t admit that the Turks murdered 1.5 million Armenians (in an area that became part of the Soviet Union) during the period.

The basic story concerns an Armenian medical student Mikael (Oscar Isaac), an American Associated Press journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale, who had played the Asperger-like doctor Michael Burry in “The Big Short”, helping drive the 2008 financial crisis), and the Parisian-raised Armenian woman Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), whom both men love.  The movie really plays down the romantic or erotic potential of the love triangle, to pursue more abstract moral arguments.

For openers, as the film opens, Mikael is a pharmacist in the mountain town of Surin, agrees to an arranged marriage so that the dowry will pay for his medical school.  It sounds off-putting to me for a promise of procreation and marital performance to pay for school, but that is how things used to be, where arranged marriages were common and  people were expected to “learn to love” their socially assigned spouses.  Once in school in Istanbul, the winds or war appear.  A friend bribes an official so that he can get a “student deferment” from conscription for being in medical school, an issue that would occur in my own life.  Eventually he faces brutality from Turkish officials who view him as a physical coward.  But he escapes, in a thrilling train sequence, and gets back to Sirun to find the Turks have destroyed it.

Chris and Ana have wound up in a nearby Red Cross facility, but Chris is captured.  The Turks accuse him of being a spy, but his release comes at the cost of the life of the Turk who helped him.  Chris repeatedly insists his writing (he has a notebook that looks like a pre-Internet blog) is necessary so that the rest of the world learns what is going on.  He even tells a French Captain that his reporting may help get the United States to join the allies in World War I (which would happen in 1917).  In the final scenes, where the orphans and some families are recused by the French, Mikael uses his skills to treat civilians wounded in battle (his mother dies), and Chris has to fight like a soldier.  But combat journalists often have to be able to handle themselves in battle.

Wikipedia article on Armenian Genocide.

This is a good place to note Comey’s comments on journalists and classified information.

Name:  “The Promise”
Director, writer:  Terry Georgr
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, very late, 2017/5/2, I was the only person in audience!  Showing just for me!
Length:  133
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Open Road
Link:  FB

(Posted: Wednesday, May 3, 2017 at 5:30 PM EDT)

“Snowden” by Oliver Stone and Gordon-Levitt not quite the real thing


Name: Snowden
Director, writer:  Oliver Stone
Released:  2016/9/16
Format: 2.35:1
When and how viewed:  2017/9/17, Cinepolis, NYC, 23rd St (Tribeca site)
Length 135
Rating R
Companies: Open Road
Link: Site

I don’t think that Oliver Stone’s new ongoing biography of Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is quite as powerful as Laura Poitras’s own “reality” documentary “Citizenfour” (see Index), because the real Snowden is so charismatic.  I’m reminded of Jesse Eisenberg’s playing Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network”.

The film, where Snowden tells his story in flashbacks, is a visually engaging account of his ardor, which started when he trained to be a Ranger and broke both legs because his bones couldn’t handle the stress.  That sounds like some sort of genetic condition, and I wasn’t aware that he had epilepsy, and had to avoid the meds to stay sharp on the job.

The film does display his brilliance on various contracts, such as the hippy Gabriel (Ben Schnetzer), his young Hawaii boss Trevor (Scott Eastwood), and various teachers and recruiters (Tom Wilkinson, Nicholas Cage), journalist Glenn Greewood (a youthful Zachary Quinto, still spock-like) and earnest filmmaker Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shailene Woodley). I thought I saw Oliver Stone in a cameo.

Much of the film centers on the Mira Hotel days in Hong Kong, before Snowden escapes (through a cooperative Asian family) to Moscow and seeks ironic political asylum. The film explains how “Xkeyscore” could spy on ordinary data that Americans don’t post in public mode in social media. It also documents the Guardian’s publication of the “NSA Papers” and shows how Snowden got the San disk out through security hidden in a Rubik’s cube.

I saw the film in the Cinepolis in Chelsea.  The theater allowed the film to complete over an hour after the explosion in the neighborhood, which we discovered when leaving the theater.

Mashable has a telling list about Snowden’s “10 most important” revelations (including PRISM). But there are troubling questions about the military secrets, affecting the safety of troops and even American civilians overseas, that Snowden might have surrendered, as Michael B. Kelley writes in Business Insider.

The film was produced and distributed as quasi-independent by Open Road.

(Published Sunday September 18, 2016 at 11 AM EDT)