Day: May 9, 2012

A Gathering Of Old Men

1987

Consolidated Productions/Jennie & Co.

Directed by Volker Schlondorff

Produced by Gower Frost

Screenplay by Charles Fuller

Based on the novel “A Gathering Of Old Men” by Ernest J. Gaines

It’s a boiling hot summer day in a Louisiana sugar cane field once upon a time in the 1970’s.  An overweight black man named Charlie runs for his life, yelling for help.  And with good reason.  There’s a white man pursuing him on a tractor with a shotgun.  In desperation Charlie runs into a house as he simply cannot run any more.  The white man gets off the tractor and strides toward the shack, shotgun at the ready and loudly proclaiming his intention to enter the house and kill Charlie.  A shotgun blast comes from the house, killing the white man.

The house is owned by Mathu (Lou Gossett, Jr.), an elderly black man who tells the younger one to make a run for it.  Since we’re not shown who fired from the house we don’t know if it was Mathu or Charlie who did the killing but it hardly matters.  As one of the characters says later on in the film; “Ain’t no colored ever kilt a white man in this parish and got away with it.” Even though it’s the 1970’s and still in the white-hot passion of the civil rights movement everybody who lives in the parish knows full well that things really haven’t changed all that much.  Somebody’s going to get lynched over this.

Mathu lives on land owned by the Marshall family and it’s Candy Marshall (Holly Hunter) who concocts a plan to save Mathu from certain arrest and the probable lynching: she sends out a call for all of Mathu’s equally elderly friends to fire off their shotguns and bring them along to Mathu’s house.  She also calls for her fiancé, journalist Lou Dimes (Will Patton) to come to Mathu’s house to document what happens next.  And it could get bloody.  The white man who was killed was a Cajun and his father Fix (Stocker Fontelieu) intends to see to it that the man who killed his son pays for it.

Stuck in the middle is Sheriff Mapes (Richard Widmark) who started the day intending to go fishing and certainly didn’t plan on having to deal with this mess. Because each one of Mathu’s seventeen friends proclaim loudly and with finality that they were the one that did the killing and here’s the just fired shotgun to back it up.  And each one of those seventeen friends have brought along more shotgun shells as they don’t intend to see their friend lynched.

A GATHERING OF OLD MEN is a movie that is so far under the radar it isn’t funny.  I remember seeing it on CBS just once way back in the 1980’s and I’ve never seen it aired again on network television.  Which is a shame because it’s a powerful piece of filmmaking with outstanding performances from Richard Widmark, Holly Hunter and a cast of classic black actors such as the late great Joe Seneca, Woody Strode, Tiger Haynes and Julius Harris.

It’s a story exploring the desire of black men in the twilight of their years having one final chance at regaining their manhood and standing up for themselves.  It gets even deeper into the various attitudes of the white characters who all have their own agendas regarding the black characters.  The Cajuns want blacks to “stay in their place” so that they have somebody to feel superior to.  The Marshall family are guilty of patronizing the blacks and believing they are superior to Cajuns which they despise for being “poor white trash”  The patronizing attitude of the Marshalls is brought out sharp and clear in a scene when Candy proudly proclaims that these are “her” blacks and they “need” her to protect them from “those” white people.

It’s a story that doesn’t pull any punches and there are some today who might be uncomfortable watching this movie.  Especially now in this era of the Obama presidency where many believe that racism doesn’t matter and that we all walk around holding hands and singing “We Are The World.”  A GATHERING OF OLD MEN is an engaging reminder that such is not so.  And it’s simply a damn fine piece of ensemble acting that can be enjoyed as such on those terms.  It’s available on DVD and well worth your time to track it down.  Enjoy

The Avengers

2012

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Joss Whedon

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Zak Penn, Joss Whedon

Based on the Marvel comic book “The Avengers” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

My love affair with THE AVENGERS goes back to 1968.  That’s when I bought Avengers Annual #2 which featured Captain America going back in time with teammates Hawkeye, Goliath, The Wasp and The Black Panther and through a cosmic mixup find themselves doing battle with Giant-Man, The Wasp, Iron Man, Thor and The Hulk.  I was hooked and from that year to this one, The Avengers have always been my favorite superhero team.  Way back then my friends and I fantasized about seeing The Avengers in a live-action movie but until a few years ago I never really believed it could be done.  It has.  After five previous Marvel superhero movies it’s all led up to this.  And it’s been done with such fresh intelligence, unique wit, humor, creative consistency and downright fun that as far as I’m concerned THE AVENGERS is the best and greatest superhero movie ever made.  With this movie, the bar for superhero movies has been raised so incredibly high that I don’t think it’ll be topped anytime soon.  At least not until “Avengers 2″

The meat of the plot is actually quite simple.  After being thrown off the destroyed Rainbow Bridge by his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) during his attempt to conquer Asgard, The God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) found himself in a hostile dimension.  He has made a deal with the leader of the warrior alien race known as the Chitauri.  If Loki retrieves the ancient artifact known as the Tesseract he’ll be given command of a Chitauri army to conquer The Earth.  Loki manages to remotely use the Tesseract to open a portal by which he returns to Earth.  Loki steals the Tessarct from the S.H.I.E.L.D. research facility where it is being studied by Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard)  Loki escapes, destroying the facility in the process while turning Dr. Selvig, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and half a dozen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into his mind-controlled lackeys.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) decides to reactivate “The Avengers Initiative” to combat this threat.  He sends Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to India to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).  Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) heads to New York to bring in Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.).  When Loki is discovered to be in Germany, it seems like the perfect assignment for Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) to capture him but that plan goes wrong when Thor shows up, intending to capture his brother himself, recover the Tessaract and take them both back to Asgard. And he’s got an outrageously big hammer to back up his intentions.

Surprisingly, Loki allows himself to be taken captive and imprisoned on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier, the Helicarrier.  Fury attempts to talk this wildly diverse group into becoming a team while Banner and Stark try to find the Tesseract and the true depths of Loki’s scheming soon become obvious to all.  Divided and disheartened, The Avengers must learn how to work together as a team to save the world from Loki and the overwhelming onslaught of the Chitauri hordes pouring out of a interdimensional  portal above Stark Tower.

That’s the bare bones of the plot but there’s so much meat on the bones that it flat-out astonishes me how much Joss Whedon and his co-writer Zak Penn gets in there without the movie feeling rushed or over-bloated.  There are some great character moments aboard the Helicarrier and the scene of The Avengers bickering among themselves had me chuckling even though it’s a deadly serious scene.  But as a long-time Avengers fan, I’ve seen this scene played out in I don’t know how many issues of the comic book and it feels absolutely right in here.

We get astounding superhero battles such as Iron Man vs. Thor and Hulk vs. Thor while the actual alien attack on New York is jaw-dropping in its scale and level of sheer spectacle.  It’s also where we get to see The Avengers finally working together as a team and it’s one of the best moments in superhero movie history.

The acting is dead on-point with Mark Ruffalo being the stand-out.  I expected everyone else to be good as they’ve played these characters before and they know the tone they’re supposed to take.  But Mark Ruffalo comes in cold and nails Bruce Banner with an ease that is truly impressive.  He’s just as good as Eric Bana and Edward Norton and I could even see the progression in both The Hulk and Bruce Banner through Ruffalo’s performance.  They both have come a long way and Ruffalo as Banner reflects this.  Nothing he does invalidates or violates the Bana or Norton performances and actually builds on them.  And both Banner and The Hulk get some of the best lines/scenes in the movie.  Including the one between The Hulk and Loki that had the audience I saw the movie with laughing, cheering, clapping and high-fiving for at least five minutes.

Jeremy Renner makes for a far better Clint Barton than I thought he would be.  This incarnation of Hawkeye as well as The Black Widow are darker versions of the traditional characters but I didn’t mind.  These characters I’ve always admired and loved since they don’t have superpowers.  Even Captain America has the Super-Solider Formula going for him but Hawkeye and The Black Widow are superbly trained humans who through virtue of guts, heart and their outstanding skills prove why they’re worthy to be Avengers.

So should you see THE AVENGERS?  What a silly question. of course you have. As for me I’ve seen THE AVENGERS and it’s the Avengers movie I’ve been waiting since 1968 to see and it was worth the wait.

143 minutes

PG-13