by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Robert Eggers
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Willem Dafoe
My Rating: 8/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 90% Certified Fresh

PLOT: Two lighthouse keepers try to maintain their sanity while isolated on a remote New England island in the 1890s.

tone poem
NOUN, a piece of orchestral music typically in one movement, on a descriptive or rhapsodic theme

As I watched Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse, that term “tone poem” kept leaping to my mind.  It’s not told in a standard or familiar fashion.  There are scenes where we’re not sure, until they’re over, whether they’re real or not.  The Willem Dafoe character, Thomas Wake, makes references to behavior in the past by the Robert Pattinson character, Ephraim Winslow, that Winslow never committed…or did he?  We are certain that Wake is the character who is going mad, if he’s not there already.  But what if it’s the other way around?  Or are they both going mad?

The mood or tone of the piece seems to be insanity and how one might get there given the right circumstances.  In many ways, it has quite a bit in common with another sensational tone poem of madness, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980).

Two men, Wake and Winslow, are lighthouse keepers in the late 19th century.  They are brought to a remote island in the stormy waters off the New England coast and left to fend for themselves for four weeks until the next tender brings supplies.  Wake (Dafoe) is a crusty old veteran lighthouse keeper whose speech and mannerisms appear to be based on Long John Silver, right down to the gimpy leg.  Winslow (Pattinson) is a much younger and, let us be honest, handsomer gentleman who keeps to himself whenever possible.  He tends to his duties, sometimes grudgingly but mostly not, but wonders why Wake flatly refuses to share the duty of tending the actual light source at the top of the lighthouse.  That mystery lies at the heart of the film, but don’t expect all your questions to be answered by the time the credits roll.  Fair warning.

A key decision by director Eggers was to shoot in black-and-white and in a very old screen format, 1:19, so the picture area is a virtually square space in the center of the screen, with black bars on either side.  (The Coen brothers did something similar with their brilliant adaptation of The Tragedy of Macbeth [2021].)  This visual language creates a uniquely claustrophobic atmosphere, especially in scenes taking place in Wake’s and Winslow’s quarters.  The walls are closer together, the ceiling feels lower, and the actors’ faces seem much closer to the screen than normal.  Even exterior shots seem more constricted and confining.  Wide open sky doesn’t look as inviting as it might to someone essentially imprisoned on a storm-lashed island for four weeks.

Like all the best films, The Lighthouse begins its descent into madness slowly and gains momentum as time passes.  Winslow discovers a mermaid figurine stashed inside his mattress.  That night he dreams about a mermaid in the surf.  Or was it a dream?  We glimpse Wake standing naked at the top of the lighthouse, almost as if he’s worshiping the light itself.  When Winslow tries to get a closer look at what Wake is doing up there, he glimpses something…supernatural.  Or does he?  The film is brilliant at not only portraying mounting madness on the screen, but also at conveying the tone of madness in the cinematography and editing.  If we’re not quite sure what is happening, even when we see it happening, that’s on purpose.  The audience is meant to be kept off balance throughout the movie to put us in the heads of the two main characters.

Another factor that I found riveting was the acting workshop on display from both Pattinson and Dafoe.  We’ve seen this kind of thing from Dafoe before.  He chews the scenery with Nicolas Cage-like gusto, spittle flying, prosthetic teeth flashing in manic sneers, and that crazy piratical accent.  If it had been revealed during the film that his character’s last name was Osborne, and that he was a distant relative of Norman Osborne from Spider-Man (2002), I would not have been the least surprised.

But equally impressive is Robert Pattinson’s performance, which must be seen to be believed.  Here is an actor who is set for life after being a part of two of the most profitable film franchises in history (Twilight and Harry Potter) and who has just rebooted a third (The Batman [2022]).  But in this film, he easily keeps pace with Dafoe’s quirkiness, which is not easy.  As his character descends into madness (or does he?), Pattinson dances a jig while singing a sea shanty that devolves into complete gibberish.  He laughs like a loon.  He, ah, takes some time for himself while fondling that mermaid figurine from earlier.  It’s the kind of performance that might be described as “courageous.”  He swings for the fences with abandon.  In so doing, he helps to make The Lighthouse one of the most unique movies I’m ever likely to see.

But what is really going on at the top of that lighthouse?  Why do seagulls pester Winslow so often, seemingly unafraid of him in any way?  Why does he continue to dream about mermaids?  IS he dreaming them?  Is Wake actually a merman?  Did real foghorns sound like that?  Why is one seagull missing an eye?

Well, come on, I’m not actually going to ANSWER those questions, but those are questions that occurred to me.  The movie does answer quite a few of them, but not all.  The point of the movie, like The Shining, isn’t about solving the mystery.  It’s about conveying the mystery, creating a mood of dread, and wallowing in it for a good 110 minutes.  It’s not the happiest movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s definitely one of the most original films of the last ten years or so.


By Marc S. Sanders

William Friedkin is the director of one of the greatest automobile chases ever put on film with the 1971 Best Picture The French Connection. In 1985, he tried to up his game with the counterfeit caper called To Live And Die In L.A. He just about tops himself.

It is a dated flick with a Wang Chung soundtrack, popped up shirt collars, black leather jackets, and skinny ties. Friedkin goes Miami Vice and it more or less works but his lead player, William Peterson, is no Don Johnson. He’s more like a contestant on the dating show Love Connection.

Peterson plays a Secret Service agent with the last name of Chance; Richard Chance to be more precise. Kind of apprapo as he seems to always test his fate like bungee jumping off bridges (long before bungee jumping was ever a thing) and taking his tactics over lines that should not be crossed.

Chance is on the trail of nabbing counterfeiter, Rick Masters (Willem Dafoe), who killed Chance’s partner with only three days left until retirement. The cop who gets killed early on always seems to have three days left until retirement. To get at Masters will require Chance to…well…take some chances. He’ll blackmail a prostitute informant. He’ll also pressure his new partner (John Pankow) into circumventing policy. As well, like any movie cop or agent, he’ll go against the instructions of his supervisor. Chance might even rip off a diamond dealing exchange.

The acting is nothing special here. Peterson looks more athletic than fierce or driven. He’d never be Gene Hackman. Dafoe’s weirdly youthful appearance with his Benneton ‘80s outfits look…just that…well…weird! He’s an artist (like with actual paintings) while also printing fake money.

Friedkin’s film carries on its longevity through the years with an effective car chase; one of the best on film. From what I can tell he mounted a camera on the hood of the car. The camera can pivot 360 degrees. So we can see Peterson driving the car and then the camera can swoosh and turn to give a point of view as to where the car is driving. So now the viewer can see where the cars are careening and turning and speeding towards. It gets especially hairy when the car goes the wrong way up the freeway exit ramp into rush hour traffic. No CGI work here. This is in your face material.

To Live And Die In L.A. is worth the watch. A surprise moment towards the end also gets your attention by going against the typical cops and robbers formula film. The shoestring budget is apparent here with quite dull, very dull, cinematography and no big stars at the time (Peterson, Dafoe, Pankow, John Turturro, Dean Stockwell). However, William Friedkin does his best to make every moment worth it, and I can’t deny it, this 80s raised kid thinks the Wang Chung soundtrack is so friggin’ cool.


By Marc S. Sanders

Guillermo del Toro’s Nightmare Alley is a visual feast of the macabre set in a Depression era western America.  Every caption caught on film is unbelievable to look at, and while I know del Toro released his picture in black and white to enhance its film noir theme, I was truly delighted with the color version of the film.  With del Toro’s direction and photography designed by Dan Lausten, every dimension and sparkle of color from a sunset to a dreary cloud in the sky to the lights on a Ferris wheel spinning in an open field from the distance is absolutely jaw dropping.  Nightmare Alley is a modern technical masterpiece.  It makes me want to go back and watch the original 1947 version, as well as explore other productions in the film noir category.

Bradley Cooper portrays Stanton Carlisle, a murderous drifter who ends up accompanying a traveling carnival of garish figures who entertain their quirky qualities for townsfolk to be marveled and amazed.  There’s the flexible snakeman, the world’s strongest man (del Toro regular, Ron Perlman), the smallest man alive, the electrical woman, the psychic and the terrorizing, caged “geek” who will eat the head off a live chicken in front of your very eyes.  At first Stanton serves as a heavy meant to carry loads and set up and strike the tents and stages as the show moves from town to town.  He connects though with the psychic (Toni Collette) and the architect behind her façade (David Strathairn).  Soon, Stanton is adopting their techniques of using code words and hand gestures to “read the minds” of the various audience participants. 

He goes even further by redesigning the electrical woman’s presentation. Before she was using teslas to demonstrate her will to generate electrical currents.  Now she can be zapped in an electric chair.  The woman is Molly (Rooney Mara), and a relationship begins that sends her and Stanton on a successful tour away from the carnival where they entertain more sophisticated and wealthier nightclub guests with his psychic abilities.  One attendee, however, is on to Stanton’s devices, a beautifully alluring psychiatrist named Lilith (Cate Blanchett).  She maneuvers Stanton into using his manipulative talents into conning her clients.  She has recorded her sessions and will share confidential information with Stanton. Then, he will use that towards his ongoing psychic advantage as a means to swindle them of their fortunes.  Lilith and Stanton will split the rewards.  The play seems convincing enough for the likes of a wealthy industrialist named Ezra, played by Richard Jenkins yearning to reconnect with his deceased wife at a cost of thousands of dollars for Stanton’s services.

The narrative of Nightmare Alley is so absorbing.  Everything is beautifully staged.  A fun house hall of mirrors has a décor of disturbing imagery.  Stanton enters this place symbolically at the beginning of the film in search of the runaway “geek.”  The surroundings display the seven deadly sins around a large skull and other haunted house imagery.  del Toro demonstrates what Stanton is about to enter, which occupies the remainder of the film.  Stanton performs on the motivations of greed and lust and vanity.  Maybe, pride as well.  At least those are the first couple of sins that come to my mind.  How will his actions reflect back on him later on, though?

The film is also performed by a magnificent cast.  Cooper is doing some of his best work here.  While I feel like I’ve seen Blanchett’s deceitful character before, I don’t mind.  I can’t think of anyone else to play the role.  Curiously, del Toro has Mara, with her snow-white complexion, dressed in red quite often amid a cast of characters and extras wearing blacks and dark greys.  She’s meant to stand out as the innocent.  Molly questions Stanton’s decisions while also trying to convince him to end his charades.  Yet, she only serves as a disturbing pawn in the shyster’s tricks.  Will Stanton corrupt Molly though?  It’s one thing to put on a magic show for a couple of hours each night.  It’s another when you are swindling the massive fortunes of others and toying with their despair. 

Other surprise performers that appear include Willem Dafoe as the showman for the “geek,” and a late appearance by Tim Blake Nelson to close out the film and deliver what’s to come of Stanton. 

Nightmare Alley deliberately moves at a slow pace, but that only allows you to take in its various environments.  From the carnival tents to the nightclubs to the alleyways, to Ezra’s snow covered never-ending garden, and even Lillith’s gold embossed office of cabinetry and furniture are so hypnotic and dark in its intended film noir way.  Again, while I’m sure there’s some striking qualities to the black and white interpretation of the film, I really fell in love with the colors provided by Lausten’s photography.

I won’t call this a favorite film of mine, but I loved the journey of it all.  I appreciated the script by del Toro and Kim Morgan, adapted from the novel by Lindsay Gresham, that depicts a sinful man like Stanton devolve into more sin, until he’s only undone by a smarter sinner than he; a sinner masked within beauty and wealth with a noble and educated profession.  Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett perform beautifully with one another.  They make a terrific pair.  I only hope they’ll do another film together.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Rooney Mara, David Strathairn
My Rating: 6/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 80% Certified Fresh

PLOT: An ambitious carny with a talent for manipulating people with a few well-chosen words hooks up with a female psychiatrist who is even more dangerous than he is.

No good movie is too long; no bad movie is short enough. – Roger Ebert

Nightmare Alley is director Guillermo del Toro’s longest film to date at exactly two-and-a-half hours.  Going by Ebert’s dictum above, I have to say that it was too long by maybe a half hour or more, but that doesn’t make it a “bad” film.  Just a poorly edited one.

The story revolves around a Depression-era drifter with a troubled past who becomes a carny with the kind of flea-bitten traveling circus that tours all the urban hotspots of Iowa and Kansas, and which is almost all sideshows: a psychic (Toni Collette), a giant (played by del Toro regular Ron Perlman), a rubber man, a girl impervious to electrical currents (Rooney Mara), and a geek show, among other things.  What’s a geek show, you ask?  Why, that’s where people pay two bits to watch a man bite the head off a live chicken.  We are shown one such performance in the opening minutes of the film.  It’s hard for me to believe people were entertained by this, no matter how long ago it was.  I mean, the geek did not look like he was having much fun…although he did seem to be having more fun than the chicken.

Anyway, to make a long story short, the carny, named Stanton (Bradley Cooper), befriends the psychic and her husband (David Strathairn) and reveals that he has always been a student of human behavior, and with a few quick observations, he can make factual statements about someone that boggle the mind.  One thing leads to another, and eventually he leaves the carny behind, with the electrical-current girl, Molly, in tow.  Soon he is headlining nightclubs and posh bars with his mind-reading act, with Molly as his assistant.  One night a beautiful psychiatrist with a level-headed gaze (Cate Blanchett) sees one of his performances and suggests a con: she will provide detailed information about her rich and powerful patients on the sly, and he will do command performances for these elites, making them both rich.  What happens next, I leave for you to discover.

(I must be honest: this is not the kind of film I was expecting from del Toro.  A character study of tragic greed and hubris?  Where are the monsters?  The supernatural nightmares of the title?  But I’m always telling people to criticize the movie the filmmakers made, and not the movie you wish they had made.  I press on.)

I’m finding it hard to summarize my thoughts here.  The movie looked great.  I mean, it looked amazing.  At one point, Stanton runs into the carnival’s funhouse looking for someone, and it’s filled with the kind of over-the-top prop demons and fake ghosts that made me hope we would get a later sequence where these things came alive in some horrifying way.  But no, it’s just intended as throwaway scenery, glimpsed once and never seen again.

There is an extended sequence where Stanton tries to revamp Molly’s act as the “Electric Girl”, coming up with new costumes, new props, new patter (patter is important with sideshows), and it’s a relatively lengthy sequence which felt like it was setting something up.  And, yeah, there’s kind of a payoff, but not the kind I felt it was building towards.

The movie left me with a vague sense of frustration throughout.  We are fed gobs of information about the tricks used by sideshow psychics, the sad ploy used to hire the geeks, the psychic’s husband looms large in the story and then abruptly becomes a non-factor, and it just went on and on and on.  Then in the “riches” part of the rags-to-riches story, Stanton has become insufferable, a believer of his own press releases, willing to put his livelihood (and his life) in jeopardy for that one last big job.

This is all very intriguing stuff, on paper.  But as executed and written, there seemed to be unnecessarily long scenes with loads of information being dumped on us with nothing moving the action forward.  I would pay money to watch Cate Blanchett read a Denny’s menu, but even her extended “therapy” sessions with Bradley Cooper felt interminable.  I felt like those random crowds in Monty Python and the Holy Grail periodically yelling, “GET ON WITH IT!”

To be fair, the Stanton character does eventually get his comeuppance, in literally the final ten minutes of the film.  Full disclosure, I will say without spoilers that it is very gratifying, it had me and some random dude behind me exclaiming loudly in the movie theater, and it features some of the best acting Bradley Cooper has ever done.  But…it came long after I had started shifting in my seat and wondering if I would miss anything important if I ran to get some more candy.

I give Nightmare Alley a 6 out of 10, mainly because it looks so damn good.  del Toro has yet to make a movie that doesn’t look masterful (yes, even Blade II is a beauty to behold).  Also, the acting all around is top notch.  There’s talk Cooper may get an Oscar nod, which wouldn’t surprise me.  But it boils down to a very, VERY long drive for an all-too-short day at Denouement Beach.  A ninety-minute movie crammed into 150 minutes.  Alas.

AQUAMAN (2018)

By Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: James Wan
Cast: Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Patrick Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Dolph Lundgren
My Rating: 8/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 63%

PLOT: Arthur Curry learns that he is the heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, and must step forward to lead his people and be a hero to the world.

Take the best parts of Tron: Legacy, Tomb Raider, and Disney’s animated Atlantis, and you’ll get an idea of how much fun Aquaman is.  For some people, saying it’s one of the best of the films set in the DC Universe isn’t saying much (peep that mediocre Tomatometer score), but speaking as someone who thoroughly enjoyed Justice League and Man of Steel and Wonder Woman, I had LOADS of fun watching an aquatic Dr. Doolittle kick some serious ass.

Admittedly, some of the underwater scenes are a little tricky.  It’s hard to take some of the weighty dialogue seriously when the people doing the talking are floating instead of standing, with their hair moving around like seaweed.  It’s the kind of thing that works great in animated movies or comic books, but to see it onscreen…it takes a little getting used to.

Once you get past that initial hurdle, though, this movie really cooks.  Jason Momoa was the best possible choice to make the much-maligned Aquaman character relatable to mass audiences.  He may not have the cocky delivery of a Robert Downey Jr. or a Chris Pratt, but he throws a mean glare, and, bro, dude is CHISELED.  When THIS guy emits sonar waves to talk to whales, it’s not a joke.  Hell, I wouldn’t laugh at a guy who looks like that.  “You talkin’ to fish?  Ping away, Muscles!”

The story is as ancient as Atlantis itself.  Arthur Curry returns to the land of his lineage to reclaim his birthright, but first he must overcome several trials before he can emerge triumphant.  Ho hum, been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.  But this movie really dresses it up and dazzles us with phenomenal sights.  Atlantis itself looks like someone mashed up Pandora from Avatar with the digital cityscapes in Tron: Legacy.  The various fight and battle scenes are handled extremely well, balancing clarity with incredibly elaborate CG fireworks.

(It was also nice to see one of Aquaman’s nemeses, Black Manta, rendered in a way that was EXTREMELY faithful to the source material, big head and big eyes included.  Of the actor portraying him, let it be said he was extremely adequate to the task, without really transcending the role he was given.)

Whatever gripes people may have, I would imagine it’s with being tired of overblown superhero movies, or the relatively few story gaps in the movie. (How did they get out of the desert?  How did Black Manta contact the Atlanteans in the first place?  If this is a sequel to Justice League, why are there no appearances or mention of the other members whatsoever?)  I can understand those gripes, but for me, the spectacle and the fun cancelled them out.

It’s not a perfect superhero movie; I wouldn’t quite rank it with the best Marvel films. But I gotta be honest: I had a blast.


By Marc S. Sanders

The next installment in the DC Cinematic Universe takes place in the ocean. Too bad the ocean is just too murky. James Wan’s Aquaman is muddied in long, boring, unsurrendering exposition and CGI. It is a film based on the most famous of all the undersea super heroes who is destined to be King of Atlantis. HE’S HALF MAN! HE’S HALF FISH! HE’S AQUAMAN, AND HE MUST BE KING!!!! That’s about all we should have to know to appreciate the storytelling of this film. However, Wan left me guessing just what the hell everyone was talking about for most of the film. King Orm (boring Patrick Wilson) declares takeover of this kingdom and take over of that kingdom and I’m like what, who, how, why???? Who the hell is he talking about? Why is this a threat? What will this mean for everyone? Shut up! Stop talking! Show me something! In the immortal words of Syndrome (from a better super hero film), “Stop Monolouging!!!!”

The first problem is when we are brought from one ocean floor to another and another and another and they all have location names like Kingdom of the Starfish Curtain or Dwelling of the Stingray Horse or some such thing. So what? These locales are literally shown for no more seven seconds before it moves to another location. This isn’t Krypton or the Batcave. We get to go to “Somewhere In The Atlantic Ocean” or “Somewhere In The Indian Ocean,” but so???? And????? Wan seems too proud to uncover these geographical areas that hold no measure.

Then there is the cast of characters. We got Dolph Lungren with a red beard, Willem Dafoe with a slicked back ponytail, Amber Heard beautiful as the love interest Mera, Nicole Kidman with her alabaster skin looking angelic as a queen and mother to Arthur Curry (the Aquaman title character) and Patrick Wilson, blond, white and curiously looking like the Hanna Barbera Aquaman during the days of Super Friends. Wilson is the big bad here and he’s kind of boring, kind of not intimidating, kind of the guy who looks too innocent to ever be cast as a villain in any film.

Let’s go off subject for a moment, shall we? Jason Momoa is the best thing about Aquaman and he makes a great Aquaman. I knew that when I saw him in the role in last year’s Justice League (a much better film; yes the Joss Whedon cut). Momoa is ripped, muscled and tattooed perfectly with long flowing charcoal hair, a perfect beard and sparkling blue eyes. This guy looks great on land while downing full pints of beer with his dad, or under CGI water. As I became less and less interested as the movie went on, I found it curious that the image of Momoa’s Aquaman is destined to defeat the image of Patrick Wilson’s (supposedly) ruthless King Orm, also known as Ocean Master. It’s as if the gorgeous motorcycle dude is meant to erase the much maligned (see countless GIFs and a couple of Big Bang Theory episodes) Hanna Barbera blond boy image.

The CGI does its best. After all, how else do you film a movie that primarily takes place under the ocean? It’s colorful. The effort is there. What I took issue with was the great battles between all these kingdoms. I couldn’t tell who was fighting who, who was with who, and who lived and who died, not to mention how they fight. Was it with spears? Laser guns? Swords? Hammers? Pies? What?????? I know these are underwater battles, but why can’t any of these great kingdom of kingdoms movies learn from the best like Peter Jackson’s Tolkien films or Ridley Scott’s Gladiator? There is something more literal in those grand battles. You could always recognize who was charging at whom. In Aquaman, it’s mass hysteria, riots in the ocean streets.

The villain Black Manta is next best thing after Momoa. Played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Unfortunately, he’s not given much to do. He’s out for revenge against Aquaman. That’s been done before. What saves the character is the costume and helmet. Now this is a villain!!!!! He looks badass with red sonic blasts shooting out of his eyes and he’s agile; the filmmakers at least got the image and movements of this guy right. The best scene of the film takes place on land in what looks to be the Greek Isles. Lots of rooftop jumping, statue shattering, and wall breaking with good fisticuffs are in play here between Momoa and Abdul-Mateen. It’s a good long scene. Then, oh yeah, we gotta go back to Wilson and Dafoe talking about something somewhere that’s labeled with some “legendary” location amid some coral.

James Wan and the writers of Aquaman try too hard. There’s too much going on here that doesn’t belong. I don’t know how a pre teen kid nor an adult could sit through these boring conversations of fiction that is unfamiliar to many. Again, none of this is the stuff of legend like Lord Of The Rings, or Krypton, or Gotham City, or even Star Wars or Star Trek. If only Wan and crew didn’t elevate the importance of things that even they show are just not that important. Stick with the simplicity guys. At least, you got the Atlanteans riding Sea Horses. Nice touch, there!


By Marc S. Sanders

Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning opens with two water fountains side by side. One is labeled “White” and the other is labeled “Colored.” That tells me enough about what life was like in the state of Mississippi in 1964.

The very next image I see is a burning church. Parker keeps his camera focused on the fire as the blazes get bigger and more out of control. Then I realized I’m only just getting to know what life is like in the state of Mississippi in 1964. It’s only now in the year 2020, that Mississippi is opting to remove the Confederate symbol from its state flag. It really has taken this long?

The script written by Chris Gerolmo centers on three young civil rights activists (one black and two white) who turn up missing. Two FBI agents named Anderson and Ward travel down to Jarrett County to investigate the activists’ disappearance and come to learn they are engrained within a dense populace of the Ku Klux Klan that dangerously spreads as far as the local sheriff’s department.

The events in Mississippi Burning are fictionalized, but Gerolmo’s script is based on actual facts. The feds plainly see they are not welcome in Jarret. Ward (Willem Dafoe) is the young crusader in charge of the investigation. He is adamant about being thorough and he will not be intimidated to sit with the colored section in the town diner to ask some questions. Problem is no one dares answer his questions. Worse, simply because Ward approaches a black man, he’s opened up a world of hurt for this man.

Anderson (Gene Hackman) is a former Sheriff of the south who knows that to get anywhere down here means not being so direct on a personal level. Hackman is one of cinema’s finest actors. He’s adept at handling tricky dialogue like circumventing with flirtation or good ol’ boy humor to arrive at some facts. He shares great moments with Frances McDormand as the meek wife of a brutal Klan deputy (Brad Dourif) that the Feds suspect was the ring leader of what happened to the missing men. This is one of Gene Hackman’s best roles. It’s also one of Frances McDormand’s best roles.

Ward orders hundreds of men from the FBI to join the investigation. That only heats things up in the process. Black men are pulled from their homes in the dead of night to be beaten and lynched. More churches and homes are bombed and burned down.

Mississippi Burning is a very disturbing film, as it should be. Alan Parker is unrelenting in showing the brutality of the deep south who are not simply satisfied with just segregation. An obsession of power and evil is rooted in this film. The violence is terribly frightening. More so, Parker wisely gets close ups on the innocent faces of young children embraced in their mother and father’s arms as they proudly listen to a white Klan businessman (the great character actor Stephen Tobolowsky in a truly unexpected and surprising performance) preach his justification for where he believes the colored belong in order to uphold a purity to his proud state of Mississippi. The film reinforces the idea that hatred is taught. Hatred is an unfair misguidance that brainwashes a young mind and passes from generation to generation.

Watching so many movies, I really thought I’d become desensitized to most images. Then I watch a film like Mississippi Burning and I see Confederate flags draped just about anywhere and I honestly wince. Its so ugly to me; as ugly as a swastika. It’s not just on a license plate or hanging on a flagpole. There’s at least three in the local beauty shop and the diner next door. It’s remained a proud tradition. So proudly the symbol hangs, that it seems to cheer for the culture of dragging a young black man into the woods for a beating. When the Feds find this man, Agent Ward asks “What the hell is wrong with these people?” I’m still asking that question over 50 years from the time setting of this film, over thirty years after this film was made.

Like Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing, Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning should be a must see for parents to show their children. There’s a terrible madness to this film. It’s incredibly sad that this deep hatred is so alive with a passion. Seriously, what the hell is wrong with these people?