There's a new Marshall in town, but this marshall does not wear a shiny, pointed badge. He carries two suitcases, filled with his law library. He shleps from town to town, armed with intelligence, anger, forbearance, and cunning. This Marshall is Thurgood, and the year is 1941.

Long before Marshall became the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court, he was a lawyer for the National Association of Colored People. Correction: he was the lawyer for the NAACP.  In 1941, he was sent to Connecticut to defend Joseph Spell, a black man accused of raping and murdering a white woman. 

Marshall cannot practice law in Connecticut: he is not enrolled in that state's bar. So another lawyer, one Sam Friedman, is shanghaied into sponsoring Marshall. Friedman is an insurance lawyer, highly protective of his budding reputation, and he's never met anyone like Thurgood Marshall. The tussle between those two, a Jew and a Negro, forms one of several foundations of this fine film.

The other foundations are the law, civil rights, racism, sexism, and class -- the very issues that concern not a few folks in America today. Those links between the past and the present may explain why Marshall seems to be so manipulative, in a muscular effort to finally get someone to heed history and do something about the future.

Chadwick Boseman, so praiseworthy in his role as Jackie Robinson in 42, carries off this powerhouse role as well, bending into the shadows in order to stand in the light in the end. He is foiled neatly and admirably by Josh Gad as Friedman. Dan Stevens, the weakest link in the cast, is outshone by Kate Hudson as the victim. Reginald Hudson directed the film with an agenda, but the flawed film works beyond that goal. 

 

 

In director Denis Villeneuve's most-anticipated sequel to the glorious 1982 Blade Runner, Blade Runner 2049, the dystopian world holds sway as LAPD officer K continues to seek and destroy rogue replicants. I'm honoring Villeneuve's request to reveal no specific plot details. I will say that at two hours 43 minutes, the second hour quite slowly and yet deliberately advances its agenda.

This is a minor quibble, to be sure, given the provocative subjects explored and debated in significant encounters. In fact, Hampton Fancher and Michael Green's screenplay interrogates nothing less than what makes us human, the nature of a soul, the contributions of memory, and what enslavement truly costs civilization. There are also some gratifying nods to Blade Runner, my favorite the inclusion of Gaff (Edward James Olmos) and his origami.

Several actors in supporting roles give superb performances; among them, Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, and Ana de Armas. But it falls to Ryan Gosling as K to make the film work. His eyes tell the story, confrontationally communicating determination, surprise, shock, and, yes, pain, conveyed with the twitch of a facial muscle or the absence of a blink of an eye. His K is understated and yet eloquent. Harrison Ford bestows an indispensable gravitas with his extraordinary presence. Deckard is still a force to be reckoned with.

The remarkable art direction of Blade Runner 2049 extends from the music and sound to the costumes, the lighting and color scheme to the architecture of space. Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer's music, at times a bit too amplified, emotionally power scenes, alternately ominous and nostalgic, the latter through projected holograms of iconic singers. Renée April's costumes (detailed in the New York Times' October 1 edition) express characters' identities--collars and hats protectively hiding faces, color asserting moods, or, as with Joi, her manifestation segueing through personalities. 

Roger Deakins' cinematography reinforces the gray, denuded, sooty, futuristic environment while warm yellows, sparkling and shimmering like water, drape defiantly hopeful incidents. Every detail has been so carefully designed that it's too much to process on one viewing. That's fortuitous because science fiction and the alarming, anarchic worlds so often depicted therein will benefit from the contributions of Blade Runner 2049 through multiple screenings. At area cinemas.

 

A soap opera nestled in a survival story, The Mountain Between Us manages to entertain in direct correlation to the strength of the two fine actors who carry the film. Kate Winslet and Idris Elba are saddled with a story straight out of the melodrama genre, improved only because it's set in the gorgeous High Uintas Wilderness in northeastern Utah. 

Because of their considerable cinematic charm, Winslet and Elba invite involvement even as we grasp for some solid information. We do know that Winslet is Alex Martin, an independent photojournalist on her way home for her wedding the day after she meets Ben Bass (Elba), a neurosurgeon scheduled to perform critical surgery the next day. Alex proposes that she and Ben charter a small plane to avoid the airport shutdown caused by an approaching storm. A spectacular crash strands them and the pilot's dog in snow-covered mountains. 

The now dead pilot Walter filed no flight plan. Counting on the beacon in the plane's tail to bring help, the couple and the dog hunker down in the wreckage, but soon realize their only option is to trudge through snow in hopes of finding civilization, Alex with a broken leg, their happy Labrador running along with them. No spoilers here, but their travails are remarkably and quickly conquered, at times with ridiculous ease for anyone who has camped in freezing temperatures (I have, including a terrifying blizzard in Utah).

Nevertheless, it is a movie so let's focus on the positive. Dutch/Palestinian director Hany Abu-Assad keeps the camera close to maximize Idris Elba's wonderfully expressive face and Kate Winslet's quiet charisma. The fault lies with the story, adapted by J. Mills Goodloe from Charles Martin's 2011 novel with a screenplay by Chris Weitz. It must be said that it aches for a hard-nosed revision, opting for a truly daunting survival story or a conflicted romance with less imposing characters. As it is, the film repeatedly begs for more details on survival strategies or more character conflict leading to charged emotional connections. 

Mandy Walker's cinematography does capture the awe-inspiring beauty and terrifying isolation of the mountainous Canadian Rockies terrain, where most of the film was shot, making the physical danger believable. And Elba and Winslet can sell passion. The Mountain Between Us squanders a promising opportunity. At area cinemas.

 

 

Manolo Blahnik's name is synonymous with shoes -- wild, nose-bleed, calf-lengthening, knee-knocking shoes of amazing construction. Shoes that demand attention and admiration. Shoes whose cost is out of the reach of most women but will forever be connected to "Sex and the City" if not to anything real.

Manolo presents the life of the man acknowledged by many as the most influential shoeman of the 20th century and, so far, of the 21st. He calls himself a "cobbler" in a bit of humble-brag. He knows he's more, but the title connects him to his roots in trade and industry. 

Director Michael Roberts, a fashion writer by trade, has produced a fluff piece, albeit a pretty one. He filled the biodoc with famous people, starting with Vogue editor Anna Wintour. She says in her smooth accent, "I don't even look at other shoes." Or Isaac Mizrahi, who speaks hotly about Blahnik's sexy Pilgrim mule, the one with the buckle. Or Paloma Picasso. Leon Talley. Rupert Everett. Princess Diana. Donald Trump. He even got historian Mary Beard to loll on a couch and compare Blahnik with the shoemakers of ancient Greece and Rome and the toe-suckers in those great old cities. That's a get!

Roberts begins with Blahnik's beginnings on Santa Cruz in the Canary Islands where the boy Manolo has an idyllic childhood, chasing reptiles and spending his pocket money on magazines. He arrived in Paris. He lives for making shoes. 

Roberts shows him drawing, his hands gloved in white and his body coated in a white garb suitable for the laboratory. But Roberts does not dig deeply into the man or the culture. It's all surface and superficial. Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards offers a tiny peek into a fluffy closet, but it could have managed a tiny bit more surely.

 

Most people know about César Chávez's leadership of the United Farm Workers (the UFW); fewer recognize the contributions of Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the UFW and the person Chávez thanked for keeping him honest through all the years they struggled to gain humane conditions for those exploited by the agribusiness industry. Director Peter Bratt's documentary Dolores should remedy that oversight.

Writer/producer/director Bratt's chronological presentation is packed with informative archival and contemporary interviews, news footage, and photographs. It traces political connections with well-known individuals from Robert Kennedy to Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem to President Barack Obama, who acknowledges he adopted Dolores' mantra, Si, Se Peude -- Yes, We Can, at the ceremony where in 2012 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

This splendid film recognizes the legions of men and women who stood with Dolores in challenging the slave wages, inhumane working conditions and sexism. Beginning with organizing in California's Central Valley in 1962 through decades of strikes and boycotts, Dolores fought on the front lines, building coalitions even as the government at times acted against their legal strategies. And yet, she fought on, including being instrumental in beginning the environmental justice movement that included banning DDT and advancing the feminist agenda.

During the years that Huerta devoted herself to activism, she had eleven children, ten interviewed here. Several of her sons and daughters speak candidly about the pain growing up without their mother fully involved in their lives, with Dolores herself expressing regret and recognition of what her commitment to activism entailed. 

Juana Chavez, one of Dolores' daughters, says, "Women cannot be written out of history. It will never change if we keep quiet." This documentary recognizes Dolores Huerta's rightful place in labor's struggles, a woman who at 87 continues to support community organizing through the Dolores Huerta Foundation. The film Dolores has won several audience and best documentary awards. At Landmark's Tivoli Cinema. 

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