Movies Which Explore the Reality of White Supremacy

American History X Edward Norton

The tragic and horrific events which came about during a white supremacy rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia were a sad reminder of how hate can ever so easily take over the weak-minded. But moreover, it has shown how the power of white supremacists has grown over the years. While the current Presidential administration has allowed this movement, whether they admit or not, to gain strength, this network of racism has been growing for far longer than most people realize. While politicians continue to exploit our fears of international terrorists, it should be clear by now that domestic terrorism is an even bigger threat than what we are dealing with overseas. The question is, can we get more Americans to realize this sooner rather than later?

For years, we believed the white supremacy movement was one which was dying a much-needed death, but this is not the case. It got me to thinking of movies released over the years which dealt with this particular form of racism head on. While many saw Neo-Nazis and Anti-Semites as mere fringe groups on their way out, the filmmakers here saw them as still powerful as their leaders were skillful in gaining new recruits and keeping them on board even if they wanted out.

Higher Learning movie poster

Higher Learning

This was John Singleton’s third film following his Oscar-nominated “Boyz n the Hood” and “Poetic Justice,” and it takes place at the fictional college of Columbus University where people from different walks of life and races are forced to deal with one another in different ways. One particular subplot has a freshman named Remy (played by Michael Rappaport) having trouble fitting into his new environment. One night, while sitting alone on campus, he is approached by Scott Moss (Cole Hauser), a white supremacist who invites him to hang out with his friends for a drink. From there, Remy finds a sense of belonging he initially had trouble finding, but the other skinheads begin to wonder if he is all talk and no action, and this leads to a devastating climax which has him committing an act of violence he will never be able to take back.

When “Higher Learning” was released back in 1995, many critics did not take the white supremacy storyline all that seriously, thinking it was dated or dealing with something which no longer seemed like much of a threat. But watching this movie now in 2017, the actions of Scott Moss and Remy feel more real and scarier than ever before. Scott senses Remy is capable of violence from their first meeting, and he exploits this knowledge at every given opportunity. The last time we see Scott in the movie, right after Remy has shot at people with a high-powered rifle, he stares at the camera and smiles in a way which is truly chilling. Looking back, I think Scott saw this as the start of a new wave of white supremacy power, and the realization unnerves me to where I can’t get this movie out of my head.

American History X poster

American History X

Tony Kaye’s powerful 1998 film is impossible to forget about once you have seen it. Edward Norton stars as Derek Vinyard, a young man who becomes a member of the white supremacist gang called the Disciples of Christ following the murder of his firefighter father who was killed by black drug dealers. “American History X” follows Derek as he grows in power as a Neo-Nazi, goes to prison after he kills thieves trying to steal his truck, the abuses he suffers while in prison which make him rethink his racist philosophies, and his efforts to keep his brother, Danny (Edward Furlong), from following this same misguided path.

“American History X” is a fascinating study in how someone becomes enamored with a racist movement which he later seeks to abandon upon realizing the cost is greater than his soul can bear. Norton has given many great performances, but this is one of his best as he convincingly takes Derek from being a hateful individual to one who is compassionate and eager to escape the racist realm he has ensnared himself and his brother in. Furlong is equally effective as Danny, a young boy eager to follow in his brother’s footsteps, but who is dissuaded by him to follow such a path. Danny’s last lines in the movie, as he recites the final part of a paper he has written for school, ring true: “Hate is baggage. Life’s too short to be pissed off all the time. It’s just not worth it.”

The Believer movie poster

The Believer

This 2001 film was written and directed by Henry Bean, a Conservative Jew from Philadelphia who was the screenwriter behind “Internal Fears,” “Deep Cover,” and, yes, “Basic Instinct 2.” It stars Ryan Gosling, in what proved to be his breakout performance, as Daniel Balint, a brilliant but troubled Jewish yeshiva student who becomes a fanatically violent Neo-Nazi in New York. The story is based on the true-life story of Dan Burros, a member of the American Nazi Party and the New York branch of the United Klans of America who committed suicide after a New York Times reporter revealed he was Jewish.

What’s particularly fascinating about “The Believer” is how its main character of Daniel is so deeply conflicted over his own identity. He presents himself as a Neo-Nazi skinhead capable of vicious violence, but he cannot escape the fact he is Jewish and is still respectful of this religion’s history. When Daniel and a group of skinheads vandalize a synagogue, they trample on a copy of the Torah which he later takes home and carefully repairs. Like “American History X,” “The Believer” shows how someone can be easily swept up into a realm of hate, but we also come to see how Daniel believes hate is the Jews chief defense against utter annihilation.

Imperium poster

Imperium

One of the more recent movies on this list, it stars Daniel Radcliffe as Nate Foster, an FBI agent who is recruited by Angela Zamparo (the infinitely cool Toni Collette) to infiltrate a white supremacist group. Nate is eager to prove to himself and others he can be an excellent undercover agent, but as he gets deeper into his role as a Neo-Nazi, he becomes unsure if he can escape it in one piece.

In some ways, “Imperium” is a routine undercover cop movie as the protagonist goes through the conflicts of becoming someone he is not outside of work, but it also shows how much of a threat white supremacy has become in America. There’s a montage near the beginning which shows images of racial hatred in America and of Neo-Nazi groups coming together, and it gets to where you cannot dismiss white supremacists as being a part of a mere fringe group. Seeing those images makes this movie worth the price of admission as they show much of a threat they are against the values this country was founded upon.

This is England movie poster

This is England

Of all the movies on this list, it is the only one which doesn’t take place in America. “This is England” was written and directed by Shane Meadows who himself was involved in white supremacy groups as a kid. The movie takes place in 1983 and follows 12-year-old Shaun Fields (Thomas Turgoose) as he gets picked on by bullies at school, and we learn his father was killed in the Falklands War. One day, he comes across a gang of skinheads led by Woody (Joseph Gilgun) who sympathize with his struggles and invite him to join their group. From there, Shaun finds himself a part of a family which gives him a sense of belonging and a rise in his own self-esteem. But then Andrew “Combo” Gascoigne (Stephen Graham) returns to this group after serving a prison sentence, and he proves to be a charismatic personality as well as a sociopath. Andrew’s eagerness to take leadership over the group causes many of its members to jump ship, but Shane stays on as he is too much a part of this family to simply abandon it.

“This is England” takes an incisive look at how this skinhead subculture had its roots in the 1960’s West Indies culture and later became adopted by white supremacists. This movie shows this leading to a division amongst skinheads, and of the ways they could attract new members to their movement. It received tremendous critical praise upon its release in 2006, and it inspired a spin-off television series which took place three years later.

Seeing the disgusting rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and its aftermath reminded me of an episode of “Law & Order” entitled “Charm City” in which Detectives Lenny Briscoe (Jerry Orbach) and Rey Curtis (Benjamin Bratt) investigate the murders of several subway riders who were killed by a poisonous gas bomb set off on a train. Eventually, they find and arrest Brian Egan (Kevin Greer), a white supremacist who is later convicted for the crime. Attorney Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) informs Brian, “You’re a racist and a murderer, and you just found out your country won’t tolerate it.” To this, Brian says the following:

“You mean your country won’t. Mine is growing. You think you can stop it? You can’t stop anything.”

This “Law & Order” episode aired back in 1996, but these lines of dialogue now seem more chilling than ever before.

Daniel Radcliffe on the Young Actor who Played Him in ‘Horns’

Horns movie poster

The “Horns” press conference held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, California proved to be a lot of fun as stars Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple and writer Joe Hill, whose book the movie is based on, shared great memories about the making of this dark fantasy. Radcliffe plays Ig Perrish, a young man madly in love with Merrin Williams (Temple) and who will do anything for her. But as the movie opens, we discover Merrin was brutally murdered, and everyone thinks Ig was the one who killed her.

In addition to scenes where we see Ig and Merrin being intimate with one another, we also get to see a flashback where these two lovers first met. This resulted in two younger actors being hired to play these characters: Mitchell Kummen as Ig and Sabrina Carpenter as Merrin, and both look a lot like Radcliffe and Temple. While watching this sequence, I started thinking of the movie “Contact” in which Jodie Foster plays Eleanor Arroway and Jena Malone plays the same character as a young girl. In her commentary track on the “Contact,” Foster said the following:

“I always love watching actors play me, and actually it’s always the reverse; whenever you hire a child actor to play the adult actor, you just ask the adult actor to copy the kid. That’s certainly what Tom Hanks did in ‘Forest Gump,’ and that’s what I tried to do a little bit in this movie.”

That remark stayed with me long after the first time I heard it, and I wondered if Radcliffe or Temple had the same experience with the actors playing the younger versions of themselves in “Horns.” I asked Radcliffe about that, and his answer led to one of the funniest moments of the day.

Daniel Radcliffe: That’s interesting because we didn’t really see a huge amount of what the kids were doing. I was often, when they would be doing stuff, getting made up or de-made up or something would be going on so they would try and time it like that, so I didn’t really get to see a lot of what they were doing. I got to spend quite a lot of time particularly with Mitchell on the movie, and it was funny because Sabrina lives in L.A. now and she’s 13 going on 21. She’s incredibly mature and well above her years, and Mitchell is like I was when I was like 13. He’s a kid from Winnipeg, and he’s like a kid and he’s incredibly sweet. He’s awesome and I just like the fact that… Obviously, Mitch is blond naturally and he’s got much fairer hair than I do, and they dyed his hair on the first day. He went back to his hotel in Vancouver and nobody knew what he was doing, and then one of the girls just happened to say, ‘Oh you look like Harry Potter.’ That just made his day. He was so happy.

So, while Radcliffe didn’t necessarily take anything specifically from Kummen’s performance, he did illustrate how difficult it can be for casting directors to find an actor to play him as a younger person. Still, both Radcliffe and Kummen took the same character and made it their own in this movie. Thanks to their performances, we succeeded in getting the best of both worlds in “Horns.”

‘Now You See Me 2’ Wants To Be Cleverer Than It Is

Now You See Me 2 poster

There’s a great moment, one of the very few, in the 007 adventure “Die Another Day” when James Bond is being presented with the latest nifty gadget from Q. Upon seeing what the gadget does, Bond tells Q, “You know, you’re cleverer than you look.” To this Q replies, “Still, better than looking cleverer than you are.” Those lines of dialogue kept repeating in my head as I watched “Now You See Me 2,” a movie which tries to be cleverer than its predecessor. But in the process, this follow up become so infinitely exhausting as it heedlessly defies logic more often than not.

We follow up with the Four Horsemen a few years after the events of the first movie, and they have managed to stay in hiding regardless of how impossible it is to stay off the grid these days. But Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are soon brought out of retirement to expose a Steve Jobs-like tech guru whose fraudulent practices have caused hardship for millions of people. Henley Reeves is out of the group, due to Isla Fisher’s pregnancy, and in her place is Lula (Lizzy Caplan) who quickly proves to be more than just a wannabe magician.

They work again in conjunction with FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo), who was previously revealed to be the one who brought the Four Horsemen together, but their big comeback show goes awry when it is sabotaged by someone who shows that Jack never died and of Dylan’s role in the whole endeavor. That someone is revealed to be Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), a tech prodigy who invested a lot of money in companies run by Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine) and lost much of it after the Horsemen stole Tressler’s millions. Walter wants his money back and forces the group to pull off their greatest heist yet, and they run into additional trouble when the imprisoned Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman) finds a way to get his revenge from behind bars.

“Now You See Me” was a runaway hit back in 2013 and, while it had a number of plot holes, it proved to be a fun ride and had a terrific cast of actors whose charisma made it all the more watchable. But this same cast, even with new additions Caplan and Radcliffe, can’t save this sequel as we come to spend more time debunking their actions than we do in just going along for the ride. While I am prepared to suspend my disbelief through many films, it became impossible to do so with this one.

Watching “Now You See Me 2” becomes increasingly ingratiating as so many random characters try to stay one step ahead of each other. But while we go to a movie like this to see good defeat bad, the filmmakers have tried much too hard to keep the audience guessing from start to finish. Considering how this sequel takes place in a time long after movies like the “Ocean’s Eleven” trilogy have been released, you would think the bad guys would be better prepared. Then again, crime does make you stupid.

If it weren’t for the talented cast, this movie would be almost unwatchable. Ruffalo, Harrelson and Eisenberg have an effortless charisma about them, and they slip back into these roles as if a day hadn’t passed since the original. Both Caine and Freeman could play their roles in their sleep, and that’s what they do here. While it’s a bummer Fisher couldn’t return, Caplan proves to be an engaging presence and her enthusiasm is wonderful to take in. And it’s great to see Radcliffe join in with this ensemble as he reminds us of something which should be abundantly clear by now: there’s much to him than Harry Potter.

Behind the camera this time is Jon M. Chu who previously directed the “Step Up” sequels, “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” and “Jem and the Holograms,” a movie better known for its terrible box office opening weekend than anything else. While Louis Leterrier, who directed the original (he is an executive producer on this one), managed to keep things going at a steady pace, Chu stretches things out to where this sequel overstays its welcome by at least half an hour. He also ends this movie in a way which makes no logical sense considering where certain characters ended up in the original. Long before it ended, I found myself having a headache that had Excedrin written all over it, and I knew taking any would not make me feel any better.

You can only fool an audience for so long until they start analyzing the story very closely. When they start asking questions during the movie’s running time, you are in trouble. “Now You See Me 2” gets undone because the filmmakers didn’t care if it all made sense or not. Instead, they end up insulting our intelligence to where you wonder if it was worth it to even make this sequel.

In the future, I would love to see a prequel to this sequel in which we watch the characters get together and figure out how they will pull all their plans and magic tricks off. It will be worth watching just to see if the characters can convince themselves, let alone the audience, that their mischievous plans make any sense whatsoever regardless of the unpredictable variables which will come their way. If they can accomplish that, you will have one hell of a movie.

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

* * out of * * * *

 

Imperium

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Imperium” is being released not along after “The Infiltrator,” another movie dealing with an FBI agent going undercover and entering a vicious criminal organization in order to stop the bad guys in their tracks. Like “The Infiltrator,” “Imperium” doesn’t break any new ground in the realm of undercover cop movies, but it is a taut thriller which holds our attention as it throws a barely prepared protagonist into a den of snakes who are quicker to kill than trust.

Front and center in “Imperium” is Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe. Ever since playing the lightning-scarred wizard, the actor has taken on many challenges to prove to the world there is more to him than J.K. Rowling’s infinitely popular literary character. At first he seems out of place as FBI agent Nate Foster, but that’s kind of the point. Nate comes across as a bespectacled and bookish nerd who is more comfortable doing research than going outside of the office. It also doesn’t help he’s the butt of jokes by his fellow agents who have yet to take him the least bit seriously.

But then along comes agent Angela Zamparo (Toni Collette) who sees a strong potential in Nate for undercover work. She is also sick of her superiors devoting all their resources to foreign terrorism instead of putting just as much focus on domestic enemies. Angela brings Nate into her office, tells him what he needs to know and gives him a copy of “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, the only book needed for undercover work. From there, Nate transforms himself into a war veteran turned skinhead and navigates his way into the dangerous underworld white supremacy.

I have to give writer and director Daniel Ragussis a lot of credit as he focuses on something I desperately want America’s politicians to focus on: domestic terrorism. When it comes to the “War on Terror,” much of the focus has been focused on international groups like ISIS or The Taliban, but the threat inside America has proven to be far greater these days. Ragussis makes this very clear as he features video footage and photos of Neo-Nazis at work, be it going on marches or committing heinous crimes against those people who are not white.

Radcliffe may still have the shadow of Harry Potter hanging over him, but this doesn’t affect his performance as Nate Parker in the slightest. He makes Nate’s transformation into an undercover agent not just believable, but at times frightening. Movies like these show their protagonists sinking so deep into their assignments to where they lose contact with who they are and develop strong friendships with criminals they are supposed to bring down. Radcliffe shows, a lot of times without words, just how desperate Nate is to get to the truth. We already know just how great an actor he is, and his performance in “Imperium” goes to show the kind of acting challenges he is willing to step up to the plate to take on.

But there’s also Toni Collette who proves to be every bit as good as Radcliffe in her portrayal of, Angela Zamparo. Collette makes Angela cool as they come, and it’s loads of fun watching her reduce her male colleagues to rubble as they can’t even begin to match her job efficiency. Collette made her big breakthrough back in 1994 with “Muriel’s Wedding,” and ever since then she has immersed herself so deeply into each role she plays to where you completely forget the ones she played previously. The scenes she shares with Radcliffe here are great as we watch a rookie and a veteran slowly start to figure one another out, and nothing is never as it seems.

“Imperium” has the requisite scenes where Nate has to think fast on his feet so his cover doesn’t get blown, and some resonate with intensity more than others. One of the best comes when Nate is going to a potential site for a party along with Andrew Blackwell who is played by “The Knick’s” Chris Sullivan. Blackwell brings his best poker face to this scene as we watch Radcliffe tremble in fear as he is made to feel death is just around the corner. Both actors succeed in creating an almost unbearably intense scene here as if they are about to make the most pivotal move in a chess game.

Now “Imperium” will not go down as one of the best undercover cop movies ever made, but it does get the job done. It also shows Radcliffe taking on a new challenge and growing even more as an actor. Both he and Collette are more than enough of a reason to check this movie out sooner than later. Writer and director Daniel Ragussis also deserves a lot of credit for focusing on domestic terrorism as it feels like a realm in today’s day and age which doesn’t get enough attention. Sometimes the greatest threat to a nation isn’t from outside of it, but from within. Seriously, look at what Donald Trump’s bizarre run for President has brought out into the open.

* * * out of * * * *

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.

Daniel Radcliffe goes undercover in ‘Imperium’ trailer

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Lionsgate Premiere has released the first trailer for their upcoming thriller “Imperium.” It tells the tale of an idealistic FBI agent (is there any other kind?) assigned to go undercover and infiltrate a radical right-wing terrorist group that is in the process of creating a dirty bomb to set off in a public place. The trailer makes the movie look like something along the lines of “The Departed” or perhaps even “Reservoir Dogs” as those two featured characters who went deep undercover into the criminal lairs of others and almost lose themselves in the process. It is said to have been “inspired by real events,” and it’s a relief to see that phrase instead of “based on a true story.”

But even though “Imperium” looks like an average thriller on the basis of what we see in the trailer, it does have one major selling point: Daniel Radcliffe. While we will always recognize him as Harry Potter, Radcliffe has long since proven there is so much more to him than J.K. Rowling’s infinitely popular character. Ever since “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2,” he has portrayed a variety of characters that include Allen Ginsberg in “Kill Your Darlings,” Ig Perrish in “Horns,” a conniving individual in “Now You See Me 2,” and a corpse in “Swiss Army Man.” His role as FBI agent Nate Foster in “Imperium” is the kind we have not seen him play before, and that makes what we see in this trailer especially interesting. While the story is a familiar one, it will be fascinating to see what he does here. And perhaps this movie will shed more light on the fact that right wing and Neo-Nazi terrorists represent a bigger threat to the United States than foreign terrorists do.

Also starring in “Imperium” is Toni Collette who plays Angela Zampino, Nate’s superior officer who will help him with his infiltration into this terrorist group. Nate complains throughout the trailer of how he is in over his head, but Radcliffe shows him to be a dedicated agent who will see the job through even if he comes out of it a completely different person. But it also shows how others will be infinitely suspicious of his intentions from one moment to the next.

”Imperium” marks the feature film directorial debut of Daniel Ragussis, and it is set to open in theaters and On Demand August 19, 2016. By the way, imperium is a Latin word which translates roughly as power to command. Check out the trailer below!

Copyright Ben Kenber 2016.