Cast: Kelvin Harrison Jr, Jeffrey Wright, Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Ehle, John David Washington
Monster assumes relevance in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement. Getting picked up by the police is a common occurrence for young, black men in the US. There are countless cases of innocent, black men serving long prison sentences for relatively minor crimes. Our protagonist, Steve Harmon (played by Kelvin Harrison Jr) is just 17 years old, happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. He gets arrested for a convenience store robbery gone wrong when the owner is shot dead by the robbers.
The director, Anthony Mandler, weaves the story back and forth from Steve’s trial to the days leading up to the crime. We see vignettes of Steve Harmon’s life as a school student, his obsession with recording his daily life on phone, and his aspirations to be a filmmaker. We get to see the school activities and passions of a regular teenager. In fact, right up till the movie’s climax, we are left guessing about the extent of Steve’s involvement in the crime.
In a society where the jury tends to prejudge a black man, does Steve Harmon stand a chance? Or will he be viewed as the monster that he is not? Monster is a slow-burn movie that slowly peels back layers of the story and takes time to build up to the climax. Every actor has delivered a memorable performance but it is clearly Kelvin Harrison Jr as Steve who carries the movie.
Cast: Robert Redford, James Gandolfini, Mark Ruffalo, Delroy Lindo
The Last Castle is a prison flick with one very important difference – none of the prisoners are trying to escape. Instead they revolt against their sadistic jailer, Colonel Winter (played by James Gandolfini) using whatever tools are at hand. They are led by Lt. General Eugene Irwin (played by Robert Redford) a legend in his own right.
General Irwin, a much-decorated officer, is sentenced to prison for disobeying the direct orders of his superior, leading to the death of American soldiers. As he tells his jailer, he is just looking to complete his time and go home to his daughter and grandson. However, he and Winter get off on the wrong foot. General Irwin is unable to look the other way when Colonel Winter persists in his tyrannical ways of operating the prison, resulting in the death and injury of several prisoners. Things come to a head when Irwin leads the men into an open, violent revolt against Winter.
The members of the cast of The Last Castle give a memorable performance, providing their respective characters a lot of depth. There are no dull moments in the movie as the plot moves at a fast pace and you will marvel at the sheer ingenuity of Irwin’s plans to topple Winter from power.
However, some points highlighted in the movie are simply not realistic. For example, a jailer known for getting his prison inmates killed is not going to last as long as Winter did. This would be a much bigger political issue than is made out in the movie. It may have happened in prisons a century or two ago but not in current times. Also, some props used by the prisoners in their revolt seem very hard to devise in a jail. Nevertheless, The Last Castle will keep you interested till the end.
For almost 2,000 years it was believed (erroneously) that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. It is only in recent times, that the Vatican has set the record straight and declared her the apostle to the apostles – the first one to whom Jesus Christ appeared after His resurrection.
Garth Davis’ film portrays her as an equal of the more famous 12 apostles and a true follower of Jesus Christ (played by Joaquin Pheonix). While the apostles were waiting for a revolution and for Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom, Mary Magdalene (played by Rooney Mara) kept an open mind and truly believed in Him. She was faithfully by his side through his death on the cross and his burial.
In the early part of the movie, we find that Mary from the village of Magdala runs away from home to follow Jesus because she felt only He could fill the vacuum she felt in her soul. She did not want to conform to the Jewish ideal of marriage and children. Her family, unable to understand, get exorcists to try and ‘cure’ her of the demons that surely torment her…..because which woman in her right mind would not want to marry and raise children? Mary Magdalene was already far ahead of her times.
Mary Magdalene makes full use of the creative license to tell stories that are not mentioned in the Bible. An example is the story of Jesus sending her and Peter (played by Chiwetel Eijofor) to Samaria to preach to the people. On the way, they come across a village decimated by the Romans. Some people are still alive but barely so, holding on to the last moments of life. Mary Magdalene, overcome with compassion, runs to fetch water for them and comfort them in death. Peter decides it is better to leave since very little hope is left for them. In this depiction we see Mary Magdalene truly embodying the love that Jesus taught. At times the movie moves slowly and drags on a bit and it will take more than an ounce of patience to get through it. However, Mary Magdalene makes the case for women’s important role in the church and just for that, it is a recommended watch.