How odd in an era of “fake news” accusations — usually a case of childish denial, or a con artist’s switcheroo — to see a movie called News of the World that reeks of authenticity. It’s a neo-Western that’s a solid example of the classic genre, with a star, Tom Hanks, who inhabits his role with unshakable decency. His performance is on a par with Jimmy Stewart’s best.
Hanks’s character, Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former Confederate officer in post-Civil War Texas, travels from town to town, reading newspaper stories to impoverished and demoralized citizens, hyping the drama for their entertainment and for pennies in his passed hat. His disillusionment and resignation are palpable. In true Western fashion, News of the World is a story that presents suffering and ethical challenges front and center.
By an overturned stagecoach, Kidd finds a young white orphan (Helena Zengel) who has been kidnapped and raised by a Kiowa tribe and speaks no English. Seeing how lost she is, he decides to return her to her aunt and uncle, hundreds of miles away. It’s a heroic task that he assumes reluctantly, yet it’s clearly a means of redemption. The movie (based on a novel by Paulette Jiles) then becomes a journey story, distilling elements of True Grit and The Searchers, even The Wizard of Oz.
It was directed and co-written by Paul Greengrass (Bloody Sunday, three Bourne movies, United 93, and Captain Phillips, also with Hanks), a Brit known for bringing hyper-real, quick-cut, handheld documentary style to action thrillers. Here, in contrast, he invests the movie with majestic grace and painterly lighting and composition.
As these two wounded souls wander the untamed West, they encounter opportunistic criminals, a fascistic cult-like settlement, and occasional moments of civility and kindness from whites and Native Americans. It’s a Candide-like search through a corrupt and callous world, and the resolution is well-earned and moving. Beautifully acted and produced, News of the World is now available for streaming online (for $20) on major sites. It’s a throwback genre movie with a progressive heart.
The Oscar-winning actress Regina King makes her feature film directorial debut with One Night in Miami and proves herself to be a contender. The movie, adapted by Kemp Powers from his play, follows four historical Black figures as they converge on a pivotal night in February 1964: pop soul singer Sam Cooke, football superstar Jim Brown, boxing phenomenon Cassius Clay, and Black Muslim leader Malcolm X.
It’s a fictional conceit that makes for a meaty, fascinating drama. Each man is, in fact, on the verge. Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) is an embittered crossover success who craves social relevance; he would be shot dead within a year. Brown (Aldis Hodge) is fed up with the NFL and would retire by 1966 to make movies (he’s the only one of the four who’s alive today, at 84). The 22-year-old Clay (Eli Goree) has just that night defeated Sonny Liston and become world heavyweight champion; he would imminently declare himself a Muslim — renamed first as Cassius X, then Muhammad Ali. And then there’s Malcolm (Kingsley Ben-Adir), who cultivated Clay’s conversion. He’s about to leave the Nation of Islam, causing a power struggle that leads to his assassination a year later.
When confined to a motel room, the action feels stage-bound. But the script is tight and the acting, pitch-perfect; there’s not a throwaway moment. Each of the four men embodies so much Black aspiration — the hope of triumph against racism — that the implications resonate in every which way, from politics to sports to show business to religion.
King handles it all deftly, including Clay’s fight scenes, Malcolm at home, and Cooke and Brown dealing with fame and power in a white world. She moves the contrived plot along and never gets cheesy. An Amazon original that’s free to Prime members, One Night in Miami may not be Shakespeare, but it’s no TV movie, either.
Another stage show turned into a feature film, Derek DelGaudio’s In & of Itself is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. DelGaudio is an accomplished magician — a master with a deck of cards, but not limited to that — who seeks to deconstruct the nature of theatrical spectacle into an existential dance of identity, storytelling, and fulfillment. That’s a tall order, yet emotionally powerful, leaving audience members (and viewers) in tears.
The play ran off-Broadway for over a year. It was directed by Frank Oz, the former Muppeteer inside Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, and Bert; the voice of Yoda; and director of the films Little Shop of Horrors, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Death at a Funeral. Oz adapted In & of Itself for film, shooting multiple stage shows with live audiences and merging them. With links from show to show and audience participation a key part of the spectacle, the effect of film editing is dazzling, the mystery only enhanced the more the process is revealed.
The story is autobiographical, dealing with DelGaudio’s childhood as the son of a single mom who comes out as lesbian, and his struggles with personal identity as a master of illusion. He uses a folkloric story about a survivor of Russian roulette as a metaphor for his role as magician. The imagery is poetic — a ship in a bottle; a gold brick — and his mentalist powers, whether real or illusory, are breathtaking.
In & of Itself is 90 minutes that will inhabit your dreams. It’s free for Hulu subscribers online, but essentially priceless.