Movies I’ve Recently Seen: Marshall, The Love Parade, Bombshell, Critical Thinking

Four more movies I’ve seen for the first time – and nobody asked me to review them. There’s not much range in quality this time; the movies go from B+ to B.

Three of the films are based on actual events. The fourth couldn’t possibly happen in the real world.

B+ Marshall (2017)

The late Chadwick Boseman was more than the Black Panther. In this entertaining courtroom drama, he plays Thurgood Marshall as a young NAACP lawyer. As is often in movies about revered, real-life figures, Marshall comes off as a perfect, and for that a less interesting, human being. Luckily, he has a sidekick with human flaws, Sam Friedman (Josh Gad), a white, Jewish lawyer with no experience in criminal cases. Unlike Marshall, Friedman has a character arc, and that really saves the film. The two struggle in court to save an innocent man. It’s not easy. The judge (James Cromwell) is clearly on the prosecution’s side (the white side), disallowing Marshall to speak in court. This forces the far less experienced Friedman to do the talking.

B+ The Love Parade (1929)

Ernst Lubitsch manages to avoid the stiff visuals that mar almost all early talkies (this was his first), and it was even a musical. In those days, a musical meant an off-screen orchestra playing music while the actors sang into hidden microphones, with no post-production mixing capabilities. Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald are adorable as royal lovers who find matrimony problematic. As good as the stars are, Lupino Lane and Lillian Roth (later the ingenue in Animal Crackers) steal the show as a working-class couple falling in love through song and dance. The basic plot involves a beautiful queen and her new Prince Consort, who finds life boring when his only job is husband. And yes, the movies gets more and more sexist as it goes along.

B Bombshell (2019)

As the 2016 Republican convention was on the horizon, Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) sued Fox News head honcho Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) for sexual harassment. Narrative films about recent lawsuits usually feel stale (the studios fear lawsuits), but filmmakers Charles Randolph and Jay Roach tell the story quickly and cleanly, with considerable empathy for the women being exploited. But thanks to Randolf’s script and the excellent cast, it works.

B Critical Thinking (2020)

Yet another moderately inspirational movie about poor adolescents climbing out of the ‘hood. John Leguizamo (who also directs) plays the dedicated schoolteacher who heads a chess class which includes some brilliant players (along with others who just want an easy elective). Of course, they go to tournaments where, at least at first, the judges are surprised that people of color can play chess. It’s not easy going, and a couple of the kids are in very difficult situations. The movie is based on a real story, and I suspect that it follows the history remarkably closely (not that that matters).