I live and have worked in Washington DC, and more often than not we find our city badly misrepresented in movies. But this one is different because “The Congressman” was written and directed by someone who knows Washington and politics from the inside,former Long Island Congressman Robert J. Mrazek. It stars Treat Williams, George Hamilton, Elizabeth Marvel and Ryan Merriman. It is available on VOD and is showing in select cinemas.
Here Treat Williams as Congressman Charlie Winship gives a speech about what it means to be American, and to be patriotic, following the aftermath of controversy that occurred when video footage showing that he did not say the pledge of allegiance went viral. He addresses the kind of petty symbolism that our gotcha media focus on and what the principles our country was founded on really mean.
The alien attack of 1996 did something humans were not able to accomplish on their own after thousands of years. It united the world, which came together to adapt the alien technology and develop a comprehensive monitoring and defense system, including space stations and an outpost on the moon. The US President (Sela Ward) coordinates with other world leaders in what seems to be an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity, if operating under the constant pressure of recovering from unprecedented losses and the fear of another invasion.
In the first film, a nerdy scientist named Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner) who had been hidden away in Area 51 was used as something like a ventriloquist’s dummy by an alien and has been in a coma ever since, tenderly care for by his partner. All of a sudden, his eyes fly open and he is awake. There are other indications around the world that dormant capacities for communication are being triggered by what could be another approaching invasion. That includes the former President (Bill Pullman, with beard, cane, and PTSD) who not only inspired the world with a great speech but personally flew a fighter plane to attack the alien ship.
David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum), who in the last film was a cable company computer technician who was the first to identify the anomalies that indicated an alien interference, visits Africa to speak to a warlord whose people engaged in hand-to-tentacle combat with aliens. The ex-wife played by Margaret Colin in the last film has vanished from the storyline, without even the half-sentence explanation that lets us know what happened to Will Smith’s character. Instead, we meet a scientist played by Charlotte Gainsbourg who says she has identified some symbols, especially a circle with a horizontal line through it, that people who have had some alien contact feel impelled to draw or paint. And the aliens who have been locked up in Area 51 for 20 years are suddenly awake and screaming…or celebrating. Yes, they are back and they are big. One thing the movie does well is show us the scale and scope of this new invasion.
But what it does not do well is connect us to the characters. The actors do their best, but they are stuck with clunky sci-fi cliche dialog. The first film had some clever references to classics like “2001,” but this one just borrows shamelessly from other, better films. The aliens may be bigger and better in this return, but the script is not.
Parents should know that this film has extended sci-fi peril and violence with some disturbing images and characters who are injured and killed, including vast destruction and genocide. Characters use some strong language and there is brief potty humor.
Family discussion: What should the President have considered in deciding about the orb? What would you want to ask it?
If you like this, try: the original “Independence Day” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”
Bryan Cranston plays federal agent Bob Mazur in this fact-based story. He goes deep undercover in 1986 to infiltrate Pablo Escobar’s drug trafficking operation. John Leguizamo plays his impulsive colleague and Diane Kruger plays a rookie agent posing as his fiancée. The movie will be in theaters next month.
The timing is not great. “Free State of Jones” is a Civil War drama based on the true story of a community of Confederate deserters and runaway enslaved people who banded together to fight for their own vision of freedom. It was filmed once before as “Tap Roots,” with Van Heflin, Susan Hayward, and Boris Karloff (as an Indian!), but this version, from “The Hunger Games'” Gary Ross, deals forthrightly with the racial issues, or at least tries to. There is an inescapable and maybe unconquerable problem in telling a story set in Civil War era Mississippi with a glorified white man as the hero, in a time when one of the most anticipated films of the year is the Sundance Grand Jury and Audience award winner “Birth of a Nation,” a film that grabbed and repurposed its title from the blatantly racist D.W. Griffith film of the silent era.
Ross brings the same passion for tackling tyranny to this story that he did to “Hunger Games.” It’s just that we’re no longer dealing with speculation and metaphor, and that means a political overlay reflecting both historical and contemporary controversies.
Matthew McConaughey plays Newt Knight, a Mississippi farmer with a wife and young son who is serving as a nurse in the Confederate army. Early on, we see him removing the uniform from a wounded enlisted man so he can tell the doctors he is an officer and get him treated. Increasingly frustrated with the endless carnage on behalf of wealthy elites who exploit the poor, it is too much for him at last when his nephew is killed in battle and he leaves, taking the body home to be buried. There he finds the Confederate forces are taking all of the food from the local farmers, leaving them to starve. On the run from the military seeking defectors, he hides out in a swamp, where he meets up with runaway slaves. There he decides that his allegiance is not to the Confederacy, which is sending poor boys to fight to preserve what today we might call the 1 percent. “I ain’t fighting for cotton,” another solider tells him. “I’m fighting for honor.” “That’s good,” Knight responds. I’d hate to be fighting for cotton.”
Writer/director Ross, working with the locations where these events occurred and a touching score from Nicholas Britell, evocatively conveys the hardscrabble lives, the literal and spiritual grit, the desperation and conviction it inspires. Knight hands guns to three little girls and, when the Confederate officer does not take them serious, Knight tells him that guns will shoot anybody. “It don’t seem to matter where the bullet comes from.” The depth of research is evident throughout, but it is never pedantic. The storyline is grounded in historical events like the Confederacy’s requisitioning of food and supplies, and post-war exploitation and terrorism, led by former Confederate officials, that prevented former enslaved persons from basic rights and murdered those who tried to assert them. There are brief glimpses into a conflict 85 years later, as the descendent of Knight’s relationship with a former slave named Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) is criminally prosecuted for marrying a white woman in violation of the state’s laws prohibiting mixed marriages. It is there to remind us that we can never dismiss the events of the past as behind us.
Parents should know that this film has very intense and graphic violence including Civil War battles and skirmishes, hanging, rape, and lynching, adults and children injured and killed, very disturbing images, some strong language with racist epithets, some sexual references
Family discussion: What did Knight find most unjust about the Confederacy? What did we learn from the 1948 courtroom scenes?
If you like this, try: “Glory” and “The Red Badge of Courage” and read about the story that inspired the film.