You might not learn anything new about 20th-century American history from “America in Color,” a docu-series on the Smithsonian Channel, but the program might make you feel differently about that history. A few splashes of color will do that. The five-part series, which begins on Sunday night, is being promoted as “one of the most ambitious colorizing projects ever undertaken.” It is made up of film clips from various sources that depict events and periods we’re conditioned to think of in black and white, since they occurred before color film became commonplace.
Admit it: You have a hard time connecting to the fellow humans you see in rickety old black-and-white footage, with their ancient cars and long-out-of-fashion clothing and hairstyles. Not here, or at least not as much. Something about the color images makes clearer on an emotional level that these ancestors felt fear and uncertainty, just as we do, and were fallible and sometimes cruel, just as we are.
Each episode covers a decade, beginning with the 1920s. It is in the first two installments, especially, that you can feel the gap being bridged, whether it’s in the treatment of a much revisited event like the 1929 stock market crash, or of a less-remembered one like the catastrophic flooding along the Mississippi River in 1927. These days, it seems, there is news footage of raging water somewhere in the United States just about every week, high-definition stuff that looks and sounds terrifying. Colorizing the images of the 1927 flood helps it compete, as it were, with these present-day inundations, helps define it as what it was: one of the worst natural disasters in American history.
Where would golden-age TV be without drugs? Illicit substances have served shows almost like characters, each with its own circumstances and even personality: heroin in “The Wire,” meth in “Breaking Bad,” marijuana in “Weeds,” bootleg hooch in “Boardwalk Empire.” “Snowfall,” which begins Wednesday on FX, aims to write an origin story for crack cocaine, which spread virally in the 1980s, and to invest viewers in the lives that it changed or ended. Over the first six episodes, though, it doesn’t yet get around to the first goal, and it manages the second only now and then.
Created by John Singleton, along with Eric Amadio and Dave Andron, “Snowfall” sets up a sprawling story. (That’s what drug dramas do; they sprawl.) The first and most compelling part kicks off in June 1983, the camera swooping down on a palm-tree-lined street in South Central Los Angeles, the turf of Mr. Singleton’s 1991 movie, “Boyz N the Hood.” We meet Franklin Saint (Damson Idris), a level-headed kid fresh out of a fancy suburban school he attended on scholarship. At school, there was no place for him — he felt like “a mascot” — so he’s working at a convenience store and doing small-time dealing. When chance connects him with Avi Drexler (Alon Moni Aboutboul), an Israeli coke kingpin with gleaming gold-rimmed shades and a necklace, gun and phone to match, Franklin gets a dangerous opportunity to apply his ambition.
While we’ve all been in a tizzy over Ryan Coogler’s upcoming “Black Panther” since the first trailer dropped last month, and the recent announcement that he’s reuniting with Michael B. Jordan on a drama titled “Wrong Answer,” to be scripted by Ta-Nehisi Coates, with Brad Pitt’s Plan B producing, we may have forgotten that a sequel to “Creed” is also coming. Our last update on this was in January of 2016, when MGM CEO Gary Barber revealed in a Variety interview: “There’s no doubt that we’re making a ‘Creed 2’.”
Although the question at the time, and one that still remains unanswered is whether Coogler, who directed “Creed,” will also direct “Creed 2” since he’s been tied up with “Black Panther,” and will continue to be through early next year, with the aforementioned “Wrong Answer” possibly becoming what he tackles next.
“I know Ryan is probably going to be gone for a couple years,” said Stallone in January 2016, adding, “So there will be a quandary on: Do we work with another director and have Ryan produce, or do we wait? There’s a diminishing time acceptance of a sequel. Now they are cranking them out in a year.” As for what the story will be, Stallone shared, “One version of the story would take place in the past… bringing back Carl Weathers to play Apollo Creed,” who died in 1985’s “Rocky IV” at the hands of Ivan Drago of the former Soviet Union, portrayed by Dolph Lundgren.
Stallone said at the time that he “recently bumped into” Carl Weathers and he was impressed that he was still in “good shape.” Another potential story for “Creed 2” shared in the same 2016 interview: “… a linear story with Apollo’s son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) taking on another challenger.” Stallone explained: “You’ll have him face a different opponent, which I would say is a more ferocious, big Russian… You can start to meld my experiences and then you start to bring different cultures into it. And you can see what’s happening with the Russians today in America. The complication will come with the girl’s ambition, because she’s not Adrian. She has places to go, things to see, the clock is running on her hearing.” “The girl” he’s referring to is Tessa Thompson’s Bianca, who Shannon Houston wrote about wonderfully (here) as a potential star of any “Creed” sequel.
“Ryan has some ideas of going forward and backward and actually seeing Rocky and Apollo together,” Stallone said, adding, “Think of ‘The Godfather 2.’ That’s what he was thinking of, which was kind of ambitious.” Skip ahead to this past weekend, to Stallone’s Instagram account, where he appears to be hinting at other story possibilities for “Creed 2.” To wit…
The American Black Film Festival (ABFF) announced its 2017 lineup short films that will compete in their annual HBO Short Film Competition which awards a grand prize of $10,000 to one filmmaker, and $5,000 to the runners-up, after a panel of HBO executives judge the final entries during the festival. In addition, all finalists will have the opportunity to have their films licensed by HBO for exhibition on HBO, HBO Go, and HBO Now, as the premium cabler continues with their support, celebrating 20 years as an ABFF founding sponsor. The complete list of films selected for the HBO Short Film Competition is as follows:
— “Amelia’s Closet”
Writer and Director: Halima Lucas
Writer and Director: Kenrick Prince
Writer and Director: Nailah Jefferson
— “See You Yesterday”
Writers: Frederica Bailey and Stefon Bristol Director: Stefon Bristol
Presented by Spike Lee, two Brooklyn teenage science prodigies build a time machine to stop one’s brother from being wrongfully killed by the police.
— “We Love Moses”
Writer and Director: Dionne Edwards
As summer blockbuster season gets underway, you might be forgiven for thinking there’s a lack of imagination in cinema this year. But fear not. Between the 80s reboots and top auteurs at work, the rest of the year on the big screen looks thrilling. Here’s 15 of the best to watch out for.
Sofia Coppola’s much anticipated retelling of the 1971 Don Siegel film, reimagines the story from a female perspective. The Beguiled sees wounded civil war soldier (Colin Farrell) turn up at the door of a girls boarding school in the south, and con his way into each woman’s heart. Nicole Kidman is the headmistress while Elle Fanning and Kirsten Dunst co-star. They do not, it seems, take this lying down.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Luc Besson is back with a new, visually stunning, sci-fi epic. Based on a French graphic novel, Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne star as two human operatives sent to safeguard Alpha, an ever expanding metropolis where diverse species gather together. The director of The Fifth Element gets to run wild with his imagined future.
You Were Never Really Here
It’s been a long time since Lynne Ramsay’s last feature length outing, the psychotic child drama We Need to Talk about Kevin, but this adaptation of another novel (this time the work of Jonathan Ames) sees her in equally hard-hitting territory. In You Were Never Really Here, Joaquin Phoenix is an army vet who tries to save a young girl — played by Ekaterina Samsonov — from prostitution.
Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami
Originally titled Grace Jones — The Musical of My Life, this documentary from Sophie Fiennes began way back in 2005. Mixing personal footage with staged musical sequences, Fiennes says that for her biopic, Jones “made the bold decision to unmask.” If that’s the case, the results should be cracking.
In what may be the first film to tackle the perils of zero-hour contracts, Chance the Rapper stars as a local outlaw framed for killing off all the local pizza delivery boys. There’s also a werewolf element to this first feature by Austin Vesely, Chance’s video director and frequent collaborator. So expect more gore ‘n’ gags than socio political commentary.
God’s Own Country
This Yorkshire-set gay romance won a Special Jury award when it premiered at Sundance, and is set to be one of the most buzzed about British films of the year. Rightly so. Writer, director, and local Yorkshire lad, Francis Lee’s story about a young, gay farmer (Josh O’Connor) who forms a relationship with the hired help, a Romanian migrant worker (Alec Secareanu) is a raw, revelatory beauty.
If you cannot wait until Halloween for the second series of Stranger Things, the It remake should stave off your retro 80s scary cravings. This timely reimagining of the 1986 Stephen King novel about a dancing clown who haunts the kids of a small town in Maine, looks like a visually nostalgic treat, terrifying as hell, and even features Stranger Things alumni Finn Wolfhard as, you guessed it, an 80s kid investigating the local shapeshifter.
David Lynch: The Art Life
By the time this David Lynch doc arrives in cinemas, you should be well into his Twin Peaks revival; perfect timing then to hear from the man himself as he explains the events that helped shape his enigmatic art. Just don’t expect him to tell you what’s in the Mulholland Drive blue box.
The Death and Life of John F. Donovan
Xavier Dolan made his name at Cannes, but this drama — his 7th film — is only his second not to premiere at the French festival. Dolan announced that, between the trolling he received in 2016, and the fact The Death and Life of John F. Donovan wouldn’t be finished in time, the French-Canadian wunderkind wasn’t going to enter it for selection. Time will tell if Cannes has lost out on premiering another winner from Dolan, but the premise sounds strong: it’s about a pen-friend relationship between an adult TV star (Kit Harington) and a young actor (Room’s Jacob Tremblay) that spirals when publicly exposed.
Less of a remake and more of a sequel to the 1990 original, in which medical students experiment with near-death experiences. That one starred a young Julia Roberts and Kiefer Sutherland. The latter returns in 2017, alongside Diego Luna, Kiersey Clemons, and Ellen Page.
Blade Runner 2049
Arrival director Denis Villeneuve has huge expectations to meet with this sequel to Ridley Scott’s much-loved sci-fi noir classic. It’s 30 years on from the original’s 2019 setting, but everything looks pretty similar in dystopian L.A. K (Ryan Gosling) is the man charged with hunting down replicants, while also searching for Rick Deckard, the original Blade Runner (Harrison Ford, reprising the role).
Duncan Jones’s Moon was one of the best sci-fi films of recent years and Mute, 12 years in the planning and set in Berlin 40 years in the future, is directly connected to his debut work. Alexander Skarsgård stars as a mute bartender who journeys into the underbelly of the city.
Little is known about Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky’s latest project, but the recently released first look at the artwork suggests an absolute creep show. The official blurb sounds earthbound enough, a story about a couple whose relationship is tested by uninvited guests. But the teaser poster, with Jennifer Lawrence’s character offering a bloody heart torn from her chest, suggests we might be in for something altogether more ghoulish.
Call Me by Your Name
A Bigger Splash director Luca Guadagnino finds romance in the mid-80s Italian summer. On a vacation of the most cultured kind with his professor dad and equally smart mother, 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet) falls in love with Oliver, his father’s 24-year-old teaching assistant (Armie Hammer). A grand, queer, sun-soaked romance follows that will steer the course of Elio’s life.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s first film with Daniel Day Lewis since There Will Be Blood in 2007 has a working title of Phantom Thread, and is currently being filmed in Whitby, North Yorkshire. The film will take place in the “couture world” and will follow a man commissioned to design for high society. Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood is on scoring duties. The film is due for a Christmas 2017 release, teeing it up nicely for Oscar glory in 2018. But that’s another year in cinema…
In the simpler media landscape of the late ‘70s, networks considered a show a blockbuster if it was watched in three of every 10 households. When “Roots,” a 12-hour miniseries exploring the multi-generational story of an African-American family, made its historic premiere on ABC during the last week of January in 1977, it could be found on more than half of the nation’s televisions (that night in Los Angeles, the share was 67 percent).
When putting the estimated audience of 130 million into perspective, one network executive said, “it’s like millions of people reading the same book simultaneously.”
Author and journalist Alex Haley made his name exploring different chapters of the African-American story, from Malcolm X to Miles Davis, and the blockbuster miniseries adaptation of his best-selling 1976 masterpiece “Roots” was a prologue to them all. Haley’s family story tells “the symbolic saga of a people,” a tale far more universal than even the most compelling celebrity interview.
Chasing the answer to a simple question of origins, which required the author to spend 6,500 hours in 57 libraries and archives, led to profound answers.