Category Archives: Movie Reviews

John Waller: Striving for Equality: A Review

John Waller: Striving for Equality directed by David M Talley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Last week, I shared a list of movies and documentaries that I’ve been watching over the month June.  Most of which I really enjoyed, and all of which I learned a lot.  I want to continue this education into a history of my own country that I didn’t learn in school by watching more available documentaries on Amazon Prime, specifically, but hopefully including other platforms as well.

So, the latest documentary I watched was John Waller: Striving for Equality on Amazon Prime.  This is a PBS documentary from 2010.  I’ve been trying to find family-friendly documentaries.  All of the ones I mentioned last week include nudity and photographs and accounts of lynchings as well as profanity.  This particular film was a lot more family friendly.  There were some drawings of lynchings that were going on, but it was not nearly as explicit as other documentaries.

However, this film is quite dry.  It recounts the life of John Waller with a mix of interviews with various history college professors.  I felt the dryness of this film took away from the absolutely fascinating life of John Waller.

He was born to house slaves in Missouri who escaped just a few months before the Emancipation Proclamation.  His father purchased some land to farm in Iowa and John learned how to read and write from a neighboring white farmer who tutored him.  He valued education and played many roles throughout his life, including journalist, lawyer, diplomat, and soldier.

He also had his setbacks.  He wasn’t able to go to college because his family needed him on the farm.  He faced racism and discrimination throughout his life but continued to fight for equality and justice.  He tried to create a place in Madagascar that would give Black people opportunities to grow financially, but was imprisoned by the French, only later to be released on the request of the American president, though he did lose the land in Madagascar in the process. He is an excellent role model of perseverance, and I hope that there will be more films in the future about his fascinating life.  It is still an excellent story of a man who faced adversity and yet seemed to do the next right thing in his life.  Good information, dry presentation.

June: What I Watched

Because of everything that has been going on lately, I wanted to seek out my own education of history in this country that I might not have learned in school.  So, in addition to posts and articles, I watched a series of documentaries and movies that I want to share with you today. I will include whether the film had profanity, sexual content, and violent content for trigger warning purposes, as well as for parents who are trying to find content for their kids.

Just Mercy – This movie has been made available for free through the month of June (so if you plan to watch this, you only have a short amount of time left, or you can rent it later if you want).  It was a spectacular film.  Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx are phenomenal actors, first of all.  But the story itself was filled with heartbreak and hope.  It follows the true story of Harvard attorney Bryan Stevenson who starts an organization in Alabama to help people on death row and Johnny D, a wrongly accused black man waiting for his execution date.

Even though I knew the ending of the story, the twists and uncomfortable turns really exemplified their bravery and the failings of the justice system.  There is profanity in the film.  The sexual content consisted primarily of a strip search which included vulgar comments.  The violent content included a bomb threat and a scene with a gun held to someone’s head, also the execution of one inmate.

13th – This was the first documentary I watched this month.  It follows the connection between slavery, a loophole in the 13th amendment, and the state of our prison system today.  More black men go to jail or prison (1 in 3) than white men (1 in 17) even though black people are the minority.  The War on Crime and the War on Drugs heavily targeted people of color and poor communities.  And when prisons became privately run, there was even more of a push for things like mandatory minimums since these organizations were only paid when the beds were filled.  It doesn’t lean more left or right but follows each president as they made choices to keep people in prisons and add more to the prison population.

There is profanity, nudity, and violent beatings and lynchings included in the historical content included in the film, but it was incredibly informative.  It is, however, geared more toward adults.

I Am Not Your Negro – The second documentary I watched based on the notes of American Novelist James Baldwin which were supposed to be for a new book that he didn’t complete before he died.  It includes conversations he had during his life on talk shows and speaking engagements, as well as letters he had written.  There were so many good takeaways from this film.  The conversation he has with a Yale philosophy professor was incredible.  He outlines in that conversation just how much systemic racism as affected his view of the average white man and why he doesn’t trust the average white man.

There is profanity, nudity, and pictures of lynchings included in the film as it pertains to that era of American media.

Selma – This followed Martin Luther King on the events leading up to the famous Selma march.  It was fascinating to see how everything connected, and how all of the people in the movement did not agree all the time.  Also, all of the intentional planning on King’s part, especially how he understood it would take national attention to change the treatment of black people, much like it is today.

There is profanity in this movie as well.  There isn’t much sexual content, though you hear at one point the sounds of sex, but nothing is explicit.  There is also the violence of what happened, and a lot of that violence is slowed down in the film adding an extra layer of heartbreak.  The violence includes a church bombing, the beatings on the bridge, and a shooting in a diner.

Birth of A Movement – This PBS documentary was under an hour, but it was about history I had never heard about before.  I mean, I had heard about the innovative film The Birth of a Nation, though I had never seen it.  But a lot of the hype around the movie was based on lies and was used to spread lies.  DW Griffith said that the movie was based on a book that reminded him of his childhood, but it was far from the Post-Reconstruction poverty that he knew.  President Woodrow Wilson, who initiated the Jim Crow Laws with the segregation of federal places was also a child of the Post-Reconstruction era which played a part in his racist actions. So, the fact that this was the first movie played in the White House had more to do with connections than the actual quality of the film.  William Monroe Trotter was a Harvard graduate journalist who also protested the film.  There is just such a different perspective shown in this film that I found invaluable.  Also, there are some good interviews with Spike Lee who had to watch this movie in film school to appreciate the techniques without any discussion about the context of the film.

There isn’t any profanity, but there is a mention of the rape scene in the Birth of a Nation movie, and there are pictures of lynchings that occurred in this era.

I really enjoyed using films as a new medium to expand my education this month. In the future, I may share lighter films or documentaries with different subject matters, but this month was filled with unforgettable, though-provoking film and I am here for it. If you have any suggestions for the future, let me know!

A Rotten Netflix Show

Okay, so how could I not play with the name of this series on Netflix?

I don’t watch a lot of TV, but this show hooked me. I wanted something slightly educational, as well as something I can watch while I fold clothes. Rotten is a documentary series on Netflix that checked both of those boxes.

At first, I thought this was another “guess what is in your food” kind of show. But instead, it kind of assumes you know the basics. While it does briefly touch on a few of the processes for each food product, it is really about the whole culture surrounding it. It’s about how government policy, climate, and consumer demands affect everything in the process.

For example, the first episode is about honey. They talk about how bees make the honey and the difficulties of bees disappearing or colony collapses. But they also talk about some of the crazy things local beekeepers have to deal with and decisions they have to make.

One problem is that China sold diluted honey (diluted with sugar syrup) to America, making a very cheap product and American beekeepers could not compete. Even when America put tariffs on the honey to help American beekeepers, China still found ways to circumvent the tariffs by sending it through a third country.

Another problem is when American beekeepers lease out their bees to almond groves in California to help with pollination. It sounded like a great idea, but then someone came and stole whole colonies out of the orchards. They ripped off any identification, so when the thousands of stolen colonies were found, they couldn’t get them back to the rightful owner. So any keeper that leases their bees to these groves could lose the hive forever.

Each episode doesn’t end with an answer to the problems that these keepers/growers/farmers face in food production. Of course, it promotes buying from small, local farms, but it doesn’t villainize bigger operations. In fact, it shows human faces to all of it. It really discusses the complexity of how our food shows up in the supermarket and how being an informed consumer will help in the long run.

Season 2 recently came out. I’ve already watched a few of those episodes. I will put a caveat on this show. There is some profanity, mainly in the people being interviewed. They are not bleeped out. It is rated Mature and I think it’s because of the profanity. Nothing else really stuck out to me as graphic or gory.

Overall, I am really enjoying it. I’m not sponsored by Netflix or anything like that. I just thought I would share this fascinating documentary. I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the second season!

Black Panther: A Review

For our Valentine’s Date, Michael and I saw the new Marvel movie, Black Panther.  I’ve been stoked to see this movie since I saw the trailer back in the summer.  I know that there have been a lot of great articles out there that articulate the amazing things this movie has done and is doing for the black community, such as this one from the New York Times.  But for my review, I just want to share my two favorite things about the movie from my perspective as a Marvel Universe loving girl.  No spoilers, I promise.

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My first favorite thing is the women in this movie.  Last year, I thought DC had really cornered the market on the female representation with Wonder Woman, but in this movie, there were three fierce, beautiful, intelligent women who kicked butt.  I call them the soldier, the spy, and the scientist (because I love alliteration and it works).  And even though I loved their fight scenes, car chases, and attitudes, my favorite part was that they each held to their own convictions.  Throughout the film, they each get told in one way or another that they are naive, or that they are assumed to act a certain way (and this is coming out of an egalitarian society), but they stick to who they are and what they believe.  In the end, they each prove themselves by just being themselves.  I’m afraid that I can’t give too many specifics, though, because of spoilers.

The second favorite thing is the set design/cinematography.  The sweeping landscapes and deep, rich colors of Africa are pronounced throughout the film.  My absolute favorite set, though, was the throne room of the Jabari tribe.  A close second is the throne room in Wakanda.  But what I loved the most was the intertwining of the traditional with the technologically advanced.  When I think of futuristic cities, I usually imagine pristine, minimalist buildings.  But in Wakanda, you had what seemed ancient ruins mixed with hovercrafts.  There was a point in the movie where they showed a part of Wakanda where people were selling things in a market, and a hoverbus goes by.  I wanted to pause the movie and just get lost in all of the details – the ivy growing along the buildings, people communicating from their bracelets.  It was absolute perfection in a way I hadn’t thought of before.

Overall, I highly recommend the movie.  Like in most of the Marvel movies, there are amazing themes of redemption and mercy, understanding where people come from, and caring about the people around you and doing what’s right.  Definitely in my top five favorites in comic book movies of all time.

Thor Ragnarok: A review

This weekend, Michael and I saw the new Thor movie.

In short, the movie is hilarious, a much lighter movie than the other two Thor movies.  Some great one-liners, well-paced, clever writing.  Just an all around, great movie to see.  Highly recommend.

I find it really interesting, the contrast between Thor’s time on Sakaar versus what is happening on Asgard at the same time.  The cinematography and overall tone are completely different.  Sakaar is lighter, brighter, the fight scenes are almost comical.  On Asgard, the tone is similar to those on the previous two Thor movies – dark, serious, and a lot more death.  And it becomes even more apparent as they switch back and forth between places.

Also, at this point, if you have been watching the Marvel movies, then you know that each one builds off of the ones before and builds up to the ones coming up.  There is a really neat bonus scene at the end that ties into a bonus scene at the end of the last Guardians of the Galaxy movie, kind of a before and after.  Plus, there is a cameo of Dr. Strange towards the beginning of the movie, tying in the two universes.  I love how everything seems to be coming together.

I don’t want to give anything about the movie specifically away.  If you haven’t been watching the Marvel movies at all, I would recommend at least seeing Dr. Strange and the first two Thor movies and the first Avengers movie if you want to understand most of the references made in this one.  I really hope you go see the movie, though!  It’s a really fun ride!

The Dark Tower: A Review

I haven’t read this book series by Stephen King, and truthfully, when I walked into the theater, I had forgotten the series was by Stephen King.  I probably would have skipped it if I had known (I won’t even watch the IT trailer.  That thing scarred my childhood).  But I’m glad I didn’t.

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We went to the first showing at our favorite theater.  They were serving brunch and it was delicious.  It was also cheaper, as most first showings of the day usually are.  And it wasn’t that crowded either.

But the movie, itself, was phenomenal.  Talking to Michael afterward, we both agreed that if the Marvel and DC blockbusters didn’t play this summer, this would have easily been our favorite of the season.

The story follows this boy who is being haunted by these dreams of a dark tower, and a series of scenes that involve a man in black and a gunslinger.  Everyone thinks that they are just a reaction to trauma and loss in his own life.  But when the dreams become a reality, he goes on an adventure to another world in order to save his own.

It is not a scary movie, despite being based on a series of a very popular horror/thriller author.  To me, it was a straightforward, good vs bad adventure.  The plot was simple.  There were some graphic-ish scenes of violence, but not gory at all.  I’m thinking of one character who dies and you can see the hole on the forehead.  But no blood or guts.  The bad guy mostly killed by telling the person to stop breathing or by setting them on fire.  But you don’t see them on fire.

Idris Alba and Matthew McConaughey were amazing.  McConaughey wasn’t playing the kind of role I’m used to seeing from him, but he did really well.  It made me want to know more about the man in black, where he came from and why he was so bent on destroying the tower.  But perhaps that’s the point.  To get people to read the book series.

This was our last movie of the summer season, and I feel like we ended on a high note. On our way home in the car, we listed our favorites. It came in after Spider-man: Homecoming and Wonder Woman as a strong number three.  Definitely, a recommendation in the theaters or for a night at home.