Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thursday Movie Picks: Movies Based on True Events


I was in the ice cream aisle at the grocery store, having already picked up ice cream, looking for cones. With no luck, I went to the next aisle. They weren't there, but there was a store employee. When I asked him where the cones were he told me they were near the ice cream. When I told him I already looked there he just shrugged his shoulders and apologized. I started doing that thing we do, walking up and down every aisle until I found them. During this time, I thought deeply about my life through lengthy flashbacks detailing the moments which had the most impact on who I am. One of the early ones was of some devious deed I committed years ago. The last was of me making up for that deed. Then, as I found the cones and symbolically lifted them off the shelf my journey was complete. It was...say it with me...a triumph of the human spirit. It would make a great movie, no?

Maybe not.

The point is, the topic for this week's edition of Thursday Movie Picks, hosted by Wanderer at Wandering Through the Shelves, is movies based on true events. A lot of ways we can go with this, folks. That made this a tough subject. I narrowed it down as much as I could. Let's see how I do.

Quick sidenote: Usually, I list my picks in chronological order of their release. I didn't do it that way this week for reasons I'll explain when I get to it.

Miss Evers' Boys
(1997)
Back in 1932, the United States Government, with the cooperation of historically black Tuskegee University, began The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. What they studied was the effect of untreated syphilis on the African-American male. Their test subjects were 600 African-American sharecroppers living in Macon County, Alabama. After testing them, it turned out 399 of them had syphilis, however none of them were informed. They were provided with free medical care, food, and burial insurance, however nothing they were given actually treated syphilis. Even in the 1940s, after penicillin had been known to cure the disease, they were given nothing. The government simply watched them be ravaged and killed by syphilis while they documented it. The experiment lasted forty years. There are a lot of dark pockets in American history where race is concerned. This particular pocket has gotten more ignored than some of the more famous ones even though it involves behavior as sinister as any other. This movie uses Eunice Rivers (Alfre Woodard) as the protagonist. She was the nurse who served as the main point of contact for the subjects.

Compliance
(2012)
In 2004, a phone call was made to a McDonald's in Mount Washington, Kentucky. The person who called spoke to the manager of the restaurant and identified themselves as a police officer. They then told the manager that one of her female employees was guilty of a crime, needed to be detained by the manager and strip-searched. The manager agreed and proceeded to do, or have the employee do, everything the caller asked over the course of  several hours. This included a sexual act on someone who was brought in to watch the girl while the manager was busy out front running the restaurant. This was the longest and worst of what turned out to about 70 calls made nationwide over a 10 year period. The movie switches out Mickey D's for the fictional ChickWich, but stays fairly true to the whole sad affair. No one dies. There is absolutely no gore. And it's one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen. (Click here for my full review)

Something the Lord Made
(2004)
In 1930, a young black man named Vivien Thomas (Mos Def) landed a job at Vanderbilt University as a surgical research technician working with the white Dr. Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman). Since it was the 1930s, Thomas was paid as a janitor. Nonetheless, the two would go on to develop the medical procedures to treat blue baby syndrome. The movie chronicles their decades long partnership and includes some wonderful performances by both Mos Def and Alan Rickman. Yup, I had to put this one last because I wanted to end on a happy note. While the other two movies are travel dark paths, this one is downright inspirational.


24 comments:

  1. I haven't seen any of these but they all sound interesting, especially Miss Evers' Boys. I feel like that's a part of history many don't know, myself included. So I'm definitely going to check it out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cool. It's definitely something more people should know. And it's a good film.

      Delete
  2. I've been meaning to see Compliance since it came out but have been hesitant because of the darkness of the story but Ann Dowd's performance is always spoken of so highly I'll get to it one day. I haven't seen the other two either despite loving the casts of both. Looks like I have some watching to do!

    I didn't go quite as dark though all three of mine have some serious elements. I just chose three of my favorites in this genre.

    Frost/Nixon (2008)-In 1977 well known showman David Frost (Michael Sheen) famous for glib interviews with pop stars is suffering a bit of a slump. He hits upon what he thinks is a surefire idea for a ratings grabbing showpiece. He sets out to interview former president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella), living in seclusion in San Clemente, CA after resigning in disgrace following the Watergate scandal. Nixon’s agent Swifty Lazar sure that it will be a puff piece encourages Tricky Dicky to take the sizable amount of money offered and run. The series of interviews get off to a rocky start with a loquacious and obdurate Nixon evading any sort of hard questioning but suddenly an unexpected breakthrough changes the course of the sessions into a revealing confessional. Sheen & Langella repeated their roles from the hit Broadway play that was the basis for the film which in turn was based on the actual interviews.

    The Queen (2006)-In 1997 Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren) has been on the English throne for 45 years, respected and beloved worldwide. Even more popular, though not within the royal family, is her former daughter-in-law Princess Diana whose marriage to Prince Charles had collapsed in acrimony after a decade of high exposure. She has since become a goodwill ambassador for many worthwhile causes as well as a paparazzi magnet and a bane to her former mother-in-law. When Diana is killed in a car accident caused by those same paparazzi hounding her the queen believes the proper course is a quiet funeral followed by a period of private mourning owing to the fact that Diana is no longer considered a member of the royal family. That turns out to be an almost catastrophic miscalculation that threatens the sovereignty of the throne and which requires new Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) to step in and guide her through to avert a disastrous outcome. Helen Mirren won an Oscar for her much lauded performance.

    Inherit the Wind (1960)-Small town teacher Bertram Cates (Dick York-best known as the first Darrin on Bewitched) is arrested for teaching Darwin’s evolutionary theory to his students and put on trial. Representing him gratis is famed attorney Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) as the opposition is spearheaded by blustery litigator Matthew Harrison Brady (Fredric March) while wryly cynical newspaperman E. K. Hornbecker (Gene Kelly) observes and reports. As passions run high in the oppressive summer heat the local pastor Reverend Jeremiah Brown (Claude Akins) incites the townspeople with fiery rhetoric. A real acting showcase for both leads aided by a beautiful performance from Florence Eldridge (she was March’s spouse in real life) as Brady’s gentle wife who tries to temper his more outrageous behavior. Semi fictionalized version of the Scopes Monkey trial wherein famed lawyers Clarence Darrow & William Jennings Bryant fought in court over Darwin’s theory.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Ann Dowd is outstanding in Compliance. Dreama Walker, who plays the victim, is also excellent. I would love to hear what you think of this and/or the other two.

      I'm feeling proud of myself for having actually seen all three of your picks this week.

      Frost/Nixon features two amazing performances from Frank Langella and Michael Sheen. It's a film completely driven by them and it works. The best scene, Nixon's drunken phone call, is pure fiction from everything I've read. It's a case where taking poetic license works because it fits the goal of the film and the character it's painting perfectly.

      The Queen didn't quite work for me. Mirren was uncanny as QE2 and Sheen was nearly as good Blair. Unfortunately, I found it to be badly paced. It felt drawn out grew boring.

      Inherit the Wind is simply a great movie. It is definitely an acting showcase and is still a very thought provoking film. One of my faves.

      Even though achieving it would've meant axing Inherit the Wind, you missed the chance at a Michael Sheen triple feature. In The Damned United (2009), he played Brian Clough who coached English football (soccer for us Americans) club Leeds United for a period of 44 days. It's a very good film and Sheen is again excellent.

      Delete
    2. I've seen The Damned United, love Michael Sheen, and it was fine and interesting but....compared to Inherit the Wind its nowhere near the same league. I couldn't pass up the chance to throw some light its way. Tracy and March couldn't be better, I think this might be Tracy's best work out of a career full of amazing performances but March manages to engender sympathy for his blowhard character when it would seem impossible. He gets a big boost from Florence Eldridge.

      But the three aren't performing in a vacuum, Harry Morgan is terrific as the judge and even the small roles are filled expertly, for instance I LOVE Hope Summers as the self righteous town lady who sits in court knitting and throwing out praise for March's character without ever looking up. Sadly there are still far too many people like her, and Matthew Harrison Brady! It's one I watch frequently and enjoy more each time.

      Delete
    3. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the pick in the least. It's an all-time great. Just noticed you MS in 2 of the 3 picks, that's all.

      Delete
  3. Somehow I didn't realize (or had completely forgotten, honestly either is possible) that Compliance was based on a true story. I still haven't seen it but it's very near the top of my list since I've heard such great things.

    Alfre Woodard is so damn great in Miss Evers' Boys. And it's a great, important story, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Compliance is an excellent film, but one that's very tough to sit through.

      Woodard is outstanding in just about everything, this included.

      Delete
  4. Something the Lord Made is such an underseen movie. I saw it years ago for Alan Rickman and I remember it was very well acted and a hugely interesting story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very underseen. Both Rickman and Mos Def were great and it is really fascinating.

      Delete
  5. I didn't know a movie had been made about the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. That's good -- more people need to know about this ugly piece of history. Compliance was an amazing movie, infuriating, disturbing, crazy. It was a film that I just kept wanting to talk about. Something the Lord Made was quite good too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unfortunately, Miss Evers' Boys is an underseen film. All of those things you say about Compliance apply to MEB, as well.

      Delete
  6. I hated Compliance so much. How can people be THAT stupid? The fact they got multiple people to fall for that perplexes me. I haven't seen your other two.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's certainly an infuriating film. That it actually happened is all the more angering.

      Delete
  7. I have seen Compliance which is a great film. Definitely an exploration of people who can be so fucking stupid. I've seen some of Something the Lord Made but it's been a long time as I need to see it in its entirety. I have heard of Miss Evers' Boys but I don't remember if I saw it or not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's an excellent assessment of Compliance. I highly recommend the other two.

      Delete
  8. Miss Ever's Boys sounds appalling. I can't believe this happened, but as you say there are dark pockects in history. I haven't heard of the last films but I like both the actors and you say its uplifting whivh I need to see more of.

    Oh man I read about Compliance, well the true stories behind it then the movie surfaced. Its fascinating that a movie with no deaths or gore can be disturbing. After reading about the real calls I couldn't watch a film about it. Didn't they get the guy in the end? Also the title, I keep thinking of Flight of the Navigator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The project that Miss Evers' Boys is totally appalling. The movie itself is a good movie, but yeah, not a feel-good story. Something the Lord Made is one, so I recommend that one for you. And Compliance sticks with you after you see it.

      Delete
  9. I watched a documentary about the men who have syphilis and were given nothing to truly help them and they had to suffer greatly which was disgusting, appalling and every thing else I can think of about how cruel this was done to these men just because of the colour of their skin. I'd like to see the second film because I have not heard about the film or the actual event but that is disturbing and would call this person who made the phone calls a serial criminal in a very disturbing way. What's worse is how the people complied! As for the last one, another film I have not seen and I love Alan Rickman and Mos Def so that is on my list!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Everything about that experiment was despicable. As for Compliance, yeah, it's frustrating, but speaks to how blindly we tend to follow authority figures. In this case, that was a bad idea. Something the Lord Made is a very good movie. I hope you enjoy it.

      Delete
  10. Great picks! Compliance... man, that one still rattles me. I cannot believe that happened, like actually happened, the way the movie depicts. I've never heard of Miss Evers' Boys but I want to see it right away now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, it happened pretty much like that. Sad, but true.

      Delete
  11. Compliance: GREAT pick. It got so little attention but man on man it packs a punch. A gut punch.

    ReplyDelete