This month I review one movie that is available online, and as we slowly open our world, reviews of movies playing in theaters will return as well. In addition, I discuss my new book and some live book signings and shows that will accompany the release. I hope to see you all in person soon!
The Science of Sci-Fi Cinema (2021—available at most book outlets)
As many of you know, I have hosted an annual Science Fiction Film Series for the past eleven years in conjunction with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science as well as the Denver Film Society. I host the entire series, and we screen science fiction films along with a scientist from the Museum in their area of specialty. We finish with an audience question & answer session at each screening. The annual summer series has always been popular even though we did those discussions virtually for the past two years. A few years ago, we decided to put some of presentations in written form, and the finished product has just been released. It includes ten chapters—one film per chapter—with a film analysis and scientific analysis for each film. It is now available for purchase at all of your favorite book outlets. In addition, you can find us at the following events where you can purchase books and have the book signed:
September 25 at Torpedo Coffee in Park Hill for a book signing from 11–1.
September 30 at DMNS for a book signing and then film screening/discussion. Kachun Yu, Ph.D. (Curator of Space Science at the Museum); Andrew Pantos, Ph.D. (MSU Denver Linguistics); and I will discuss Arrival. Students are free with the code “STUDENT.” Tickets available on the DMNS website.
October 7 at The Cube in Northfield for a book signing and film discussion. Steve Lee, Ph.D. (Mars expert from the Museum) and I will be on hand to discuss The Martian. Tickets will be available soon through the Central Park Master Community Association (mca5238.com).
Two notes about the book: all author proceeds are being donated to the Food Bank of the Rockies, and at each of the above events, the MSU Denver FiLM Club will be on hand to collect non-perishables for the MSU Denver Food Bank. More events coming soon, but I hope to see you at one of these. Please join us for the fun, informative, and helpful events.
Judas and the Black Messiah (2020)
This wonderful, interesting, informative, and stylish film was nominated for several Academy Awards this past year. It opened for a brief stint on HBO Max, then went to the theaters, and now made its way back to HBO Max. It is not yet available to rent on other outlets, but it should be soon. Be sure to watch it as soon as you can because it is one of the more invigorating films I have seen in a long while. Co-written and directed by Shaka King, it masterfully tells the story of Chicago Black Panther Party (BPP) leader Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) and the man who brought him down, FBI Informant William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield). Kaluuya won the Oscar for Best Actor, and a few minutes into the film, you know exactly why. His performance is transformative.
The story starts with a young O’Neal captured by the FBI for impersonating an FBI agent and attempting to steal a car. He is offered a deal by the FBI: go to prison or become an informant. The title of the film gives us his answer: he infiltrates the BPP and becomes the Chief of Security. Hampton proves to be a charismatic figure that is able to bring together a coalition of disparate groups: black activists, Puerto Rican street gangs, and incredibly, a group of poor, white, Confederate-flag-worshipping Chicagoans. As his reputation and his movement grow, so does his FBI profile. At one point we see FBI Director Herbert Hoover (a scary Martin Sheen) tell a group of agents that he wished to “get Hampton’s black ass off the street” and wanted him neutralized before he would go to prison. The brutal, cold, efficient, and virulently racist manner in which the BPP is stalked and gunned down by the police and the FBI can’t help but remind us of recent events and how the past is prologue. While the film is fictionalized, they are still based on real people and real events. And real racism.
To be clear, the BPP was a controversial organization—it advocated open carry of firearms for blacks and armed confrontations with police if necessary. Several police officers were killed along with many BPP members in the late 60s and early 70s. Some called it a terrorist organization. Some called it a vital political movement to fight systemic, ingrained, and institutional racism (particularly among the police). Hoover called it the “greatest threat to the internal security of the country.” Others called it a much-needed-revolutionary movement. You can certainly make your own determination about what it was, but the film itself is remarkable.
This is King’s first feature (beyond his feature-length school project), and it is dazzling: the cinematography reminds of Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese, the editing is dizzying at points and perfectly still at others, the settings are remarkable and suture us into 1969 without a word, and the soundtrack is inspired and deeply thematic. King is certainly a star of the film, but Kaluuya is beyond brilliant as the fiery, fierce, and soulful Hampton. His performance needs to be more than seen—it should be felt. The supporting cast is all fantastic, including a plucky Stanfield as the reluctant informant. This is one of those movies that you understand marks the beginning of great careers, much like Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing or Scorsese’s Mean Streets. The latter film also catapulted a young Robert DeNiro to superstardom, as this film will undoubtedly do for Kaluuya. If you only watch for the performances, you win. There is so much more to see, however, and you win no matter what. See it soon.
You will like this film if you enjoyed The Trial of the Chicago 7, Incident at Ogallala, and/or Malcolm X.
Vincent Piturro, Ph.D., is a Professor of Film and Media Studies at MSU Denver. Contact him directly at vpiturro@msudenver or follow him on Twitter.