“Neerja” is a grippingly dramatic biopic that memorializes the heroism of Neerja Bhanot, the 22-year-old Indian flight attendant who was serving as purser aboard Pan Am flight 73 when the plane was hijacked by Abu Nidal terrorists at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan, in 1986. Bhanot protected 359 passengers by hiding their passports so the terrorists couldn’t identify their nationalities. When she saw the hijackers setting explosives aboard the plane, she opened the plane’s door and activated the chute so passengers could escape. She was shot to death. This film is a moving tribute. Sonam Kapoor is lovely as Neerja. Directed by Ram Madvani, the film is in Hindi with English subtitles. In limited release.
“Race” is a compelling and long overdue biopic about Olympic track star Jesse Owens. It focuses on how the legendary black athlete fearlessly defied segregationist policies and stuck it to America’s #sportssowhite establishment of the 1930s. Owens went on to represent the United States in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, staged by Adolf Hitler. Directed by Stephen Hopkins and scripted by Anna Waterhouse and Joe Shrapnel, “Race” has the feel of historic and period authenticity. Its message is to level the playing field so talent can triumph. Stephen James shows tremendous fortitude and immense soul as Owens. As you might expect, the cast is mostly male, but Carice van Houten’s portrayal of Leni Reifensthahl, the Nazi filmmaker and propagandist, is stunning. This socially relevant film shows how far we’ve come, but also suggests a long way still to go.
“The Witch” is an unnervingly spooky femme-centric historical horror film set in New England in 1630, some 60 years before the famous Salem witch trials. As punishment for religious nonconformity, community leaders exile young Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), her parents and siblings from their hometown to a remote and isolated farm near the forest. Evil lurks within. While in Thomasin’s care, her baby brother Samuel is snatched and carried off into the woods by supernatural spirits. Thomasin sets off to find him and the terrifying plot – driven by elements of horror and religious fanaticism – is set into motion. Writer-director Robert Eggers’ well-researched narrative first feature brilliantly creates the intensely Puritanical ambience that invites intolerance and paranoia. Hellishly otherworldly images make nature seem like a force of evil. The cinematography is superb. The film is chilling and it will haunt you.
“Rolling Papers,” a documentary, suggests that Colorado’s legalization of marijuana in 2014 isn’t going up in smoke any time soon. Filmmaker Mitch Dickman’s film focuses on Denver Post’s hiring of its first pot editor, Ricardo Baca, who was a music journalist before taking the pot beat and now tests and reviews product, writes recipes and delves into the many ways in which the legalization of marijuana is affecting society, culture and local business. The film follows the evolution of pot journalism to the founding of The Cannabist, an online journal that covers all aspects of marijuana use in Colorado and other states, and includes guest columns from celebrities and experts.
“Crazy About Tiffany’s” is a documentary ode to the charms of the legendary and highly coveted luxury brand that’s so dear to conspicuous consumers everywhere. The full history of the emporium, the signature blue box and white ribbon packaging and the fabled baubles – especially the jaw-dropping diamond engagement rings – are told by a band of patrons with familiar faces. It’s all quite gorgeous and filled with glitterati. But this world won’t win trophies for diversity.
Stay tuned for reviews of next week’s opening movies and Oscars updates.