Saturday, July 23, 2016


It was a hot day in New York City.  A dear friend wanted to spend time together and have lunch.  Before lunch, we caught a late morning showing of THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS. We're both animation fans and dog lovers.  An air-conditioned movie theater, an audience full of well-behaved kids and a very entertaining feature.  What a fine way to pass the time before lunch.  This feature has a few elements similar to the action and motivations we saw in the classic Warner Brothers cartoons from Chuck Jones.  It has a manic pace and a few of the subversive kind of sights gags you'd associate with the classic Tex Avery cartoons from MGM in the 1940s.  The tough bunny who's the gang leader of rebellious pets is very much an Avery type of cartoon character.  Especially when he accidentally poops. The youngsters in our audience absolutely loved his poop scene.  That got a huge laugh.  The main character is Max, a terrier who has a sweet life living with a young single female in Manhattan.
Louis C.K. voices Max and he's a smooth vocal fit for this terrier.  When Max's owner adopts a new dog -- a big shaggy dog who takes up a lot of Max's space -- conflict arises.  As we knew it would.
Chloe the extremely catty and self-absorbed cat gives Max advice on how to handle the situation.
Chloe is one of Max's buddies in the pet-friendly apartment building.  She tickled me.  Chloe just can't stop eating.  Her appetite will eventually bring her public humiliation.  And she deserves it.
Duke the new dog and Max bicker a lot.  While out for a walk, they get detached from the dog walker and wind up prisoners in a truck headed for the dog pound.  That's when the crazy bunny, voiced by Kevin Hart, swoops in, saves them and demands they join his gang of abandoned bad-ass pets.
Gidget, Max's neighbor, senses that something's wrong.  Gidget is in love with Max but he doesn't realize it.  She sets out to rescue the dog she loves.  Max and Duke flee from the bad-ass pets.  We see action that visually references movies such as WEST SIDE STORY, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, JURASSIC PARK and SPEED.
I instantly fell in love with fluffy, festive and love-struck Gidget thanks to the delightful voiceover work from comedian/actress Jenny Slate.  That was some wonderful voice casting.
This is not a 4-star animated feature in a league with THE INCREDIBLES or a canine classic like Disney's LADY AND THE TRAMP.  But the animation is quite appealing and there's no shortage of action.  The idea of what the house pets do when the owners are away at work is a clever one -- similar to the idea of what do toys do when the kid owners aren't in the room as we saw in the modern classic, TOY STORY.

You do, however, wonder what kind of job that young single female has and where she lives in Manhattan.  She's got a great apartment with a fabulous view in a building that lets her have two dogs.

If you have youngsters under the age of 12 and you need some family time at an air-conditioned movie, THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS is a colorful and energetic 90 minute feature that will entertain the little ones and the grown-up dog lovers.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Carol Lynley on Judy Garland

Actress Carol Lynley is one lucky woman.  She can boast of working with a show biz legend as one of the highlights of her film career.

The show biz legend was Hollywood superstar, singer/actress Judy Garland.

Blonde Carol Lynley was a lovely sight to see in such popular 1960s movies as THE PLEASURE SEEKERS with Ann-Margret and UNDER THE YUM YUM TREE with Jack Lemmon.
One of her most popular films came along in the 1970s.  She was a star in the water-logged disaster movie that became a box office blockbuster, THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE.
Jean Harlow, with her platinum blonde hair, was known as "The Blonde Bombshell" and became an iconic Hollywood star and sex symbol with hit performances in MGM's RED DUST (1932), DINNER AT EIGHT (1933) and LIBELED LADY (1936).  The Platinum Blonde was known for having a heart of gold off-camera.  All Hollywood mourned Jean Harlow's untimely death in 1937.
In the 1960s, there was renewed public interest in Jean Harlow and a best-selling but somewhat questionable biography was in bookstores.  The renewed interest in the 1930s sex symbol was so great that it inspired two big screen biopics on her that were made and then released in the same year.  The glossy Paramount Pictures production, in color, starred Carroll Baker. The other 1965 Jean Harlow biopic was a low-budget independent production in black and white that starred another Carol -- Carol Lynley.  Both biopics came out the same year.  Both starred an actress named Carol in the lead role.  And both films were titled HARLOW.

In the Carroll Baker version for Paramount, Angela Lansbury played the pivotal role of Jean Harlow's mother.  For the Carol Lynley version, which was released before the Paramount production, Judy Garland had been cast in the role of Jean Harlow's mother.  Weeks later, it was reported that Garland had been replaced by Ginger Rogers to star opposite Carol Lynley seen here as Harlow.

This month, I attended a celebrity autograph event in Los Angeles to visit two friends who were giving autographs.  While they were busy, I walked around with another friend and did some celebrity watching.  Carol Lynley, looking pretty in pink, was alone at a table and seemed quite approachable.  My friend, Keith, and I introduced ourselves and I asked Ms. Lynley if she ever got to meet Judy Garland or work with Garland before news broke that the star made famous in top MGM musicals had been replaced.

Carol Lynley smiled and her face lit up.  She and Judy Garland had rehearsed "for three weeks, six days a week."  You got the quick impression that those were three of most memorable weeks of Carol Lynley's film career.  She immediately added that, despite whatever the tone of the reports of Garland's sudden departure were and despite whatever rumors were circulating, there was " alcohol, no pills, no craziness" at all in Garland's behavior.  She stressed that the superstar singer/actress was totally professional and Lynley said that Garland did some great work in rehearsal.

Garland, by the way, had just become a teenager and was a newly-signed contract player at MGM in the 1930s when Harlow was a reigning queen of the screen at that same studio.
 Lynley told me that her HARLOW was very low-budget and shot like a TV show.  The movie's story was not shot in sequence and the shoot time for the entire production was relatively short.

As for Judy, this was Garland after her spectacular Carnegie Hall concert success, after her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for 1961's JUDGMENT AT NUREMBERG and not long after her Sunday night CBS variety series, THE JUDY GARLAND SHOW (1963 to 1964).
In interviews, I've heard a number of celebrities who mentioned how much Judy Garland made them laugh.  Carol Lynley is in that group.  She called Garland "...the funniest person in the world."  She said that Judy was extremely funny.  It was her outlook on life and people that broke Carol up.  Lynley said that Garland's humor was never mean.  It could've have been.  But it never was.
Lynley told me that she was heartbroken when Judy came to her and said that she was leaving the project.  She didn't say why she was leaving but she wanted Carol to hear it from her before getting the news from any other source.  And then Ginger Rogers was playing the role of Jean Harlow's mother.  Carol Lynley said that Ginger Rogers was just fine "...but she wasn't Judy."

The celebrity autograph event in L.A. was a production of


Wednesday, July 13, 2016


Diane Keaton played the dedicated daytime schoolteacher cruising bars for one-night stands.  Richard Gere played the abusive jerk wearing a jockstrap and doing push-ups in her apartment.  This dark and somber look at the "swinging singles" scene in New York City at that time is 1977's LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR.  The movie is in the TCM primetime line-up for Thursday, July 14th.  If you think Diane Keaton only played lovable kooks in Woody Allen screwball comedies, please watch this film.

Ten or more years ago, I wondered if a film critic buddy of mine on local New York City television was aware of Diane Keaton's versatility.

Had he never seen REDS and SHOOT THE MOONBABY BOOM and MARVIN'S ROOMTHE LITTLE DRUMMER GIRL and Woody Allen's Ingmar Bergman-esque drama, INTERIORS?  Sometimes, even veteran film critics just don't get it.  I think Best Actress Oscar winner may have been promoting her smooth, mature comedy SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE, co-starring Jack Nicholson, at the time.  Entertainment reporter Neil Rosen, a good guy who's been the weekly movie critic for years on New York 1, the popular local all-news cable station, was interviewing Keaton and remarked that she usually doesn't play "strong women."  My jaw dropped down to the toes of my sneakers.  I blurted "Neil!  You didn't just say that!" standing alone in my apartment as I watched.  Ms. Keaton didn't exactly agree with him either.  She won her Oscar for her delicious performance as the title character in Woody Allen's comedy classic, ANNIE HALL.

I first noticed the lean, lanky actress way back when I was a kid and saw the 1970 comedy LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS.  That movie cast included Bea Arthur, Cloris Leachman, Anne Meara, Gig Young and Diane Keaton's future fellow cast member in THE GODFATHER, stout Richard S. Castellano.  Remember the pop hit The Carpenters had with "For All We Know"?  That tune was written for LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS and won the Oscar for Best Song.

Keaton's Best Actress Oscar nomination for ANNIE HALL was not the only one she received in her film career and ANNIE HALL was not her only film released in 1977.  The other one was not a comedy.  It was dark, discomforting and sexual.
It generated a lot of buzz for the handsome new actor, Richard Gere.
The movie was based on a best-selling novel.  The novel was inspired by a real-life Manhattan murder case.  You'll see another new actor in the fim who became a star in a TV mini-series.

 LeVar Burton hit big with millions of TV viewers in 1977's now classic mini-series, ROOTS.
I read the novel when I was in college and could not put it down.  It was gripping, adult and provocative.  What I could connect to in the tale of Terry, the teacher of special needs kids who walks on the wild side at night, was the emotional barbed wire religion can create when one wants to break free to find and feel one's own life.  She's Catholic.  I'm Catholic.  I understood what that dynamic could do in the family's parent/child relationship.

The much-respected actress Tuesday Weld got a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for playing the teacher's sister.  The Broadway musical star of NO STRINGS and MAN OF LA MANCHA, singer/actor Richard Kiley, is the domineering Catholic father.  LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR was directed by Richard Brooks.

Brooks seemed drawn to stories that had a triangle of love, power and sex with a chill of approaching death in the air.  Look at CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, ELMER GANTRY and IN COLD BLOOD.  That triangle is evident in LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR and, with the Hollywood production code having been kicked to the curb, he didn't have to perform a writer's vasectomy when adapting the source material like he had to do with his 1950s adaptation of Tennessee Williams' CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF.

The Thursday, July 14th, primetime line-up on TCM begins with Scorcese's ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE at 8p Eastern/5p Pacific.  That's followed by THE STEPFORD WIVES and then LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR.

This movie proves that Diane Keaton has indeed played "strong women" characters.  Complicated characters.  And she's played them quite well.
(One note from when I saw it in the '70s:  If you see LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR, notice the final scenes.  As one who lived in New York City for 20 years, that must've been one unseasonably warm New Year's Eve.  Not a flake of snow on the ground and folks are dressed like it's a December night in San Francisco.  That's just a wardrobe observation of mine.)                                                

After you see this severe Richard Brooks drama with Diane Keaton's compelling performance, you might appreciate Keaton's comedy brilliance in Woody Allen's ANNIE HALL even more.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

THE LEGEND OF TARZAN: Hollywood & Vines

One review I read before the movie opened called it "turgid."  Another unfavorable review wondered who the audience for this new Tarzan adventure would be.  Well, I saw the movie.  I wouldn't call it turgid.  But, during the first 45 minutes, I did also wonder who the audience for it would be.  And then it hit me during the remainder of this film that runs 1 hour and 50 minutes.  THE LEGEND OF TARZAN starring the tall, blond and awesomely ripped Alexander Skarsgard (formerly of TRUE BLOOD on HBO), is Saturday matinee at the movies entertainment -- the kind I would've totally enjoyed when I was in my middle or early high school years.  It's action-packed and beautifully photographed.  The special effects are quite impressive.  Skarsgard is good and good to look it.  This Tarzan adventure, like the one that starred Christopher Lambert as Lord Greystoke back in 1984, take place in the 1800s.  We're now in London over halfway through the 1800s.  That's the time period but this Tarzan has a modern-day attitude.  He says things like "We're screwed."  That's a line Olympic swimming champ-turned-actor Johnny Weissmuller never said when he swang to Hollywood stardom as Tarzan for MGM in the 1930s.  The character created by Edgar Rice Burroughs first hit the big screen during the silent movie era.  He really became famous when Austrian Weissmuller donned a loincloth, did a jungle yell and proceeded to swing on vines as a mode of African transportation.  Skarsgard is a different Tarzan.
He also swings, but he's been repackaged for today's audience and times.  There are echoes of modern diversity issues mixed in with the monkey business.
He's on the big screen but he has a lot more in common, attitude-wise, with the Tarzan we used to see Friday nights on NBC.  Remember Ron Ely as The Ape Man in the 1960s?  He was sort of a Malibu Tarzan.  Diana Ross and The Supremes made a guest appearance as Catholic nuns on that series.
Broadway legend Ethel Merman also made a special guest appearance in a 2-part episode.  Unfortunately for her fans, she didn't do the Tarzan yell.  Here's a photo of Merman taken the day she became Mrs. Ernest Borgnine.  Seriously.
In the popular MGM Tarzan franchise of the 1930s and early '40s, Tarzan and Jane would battle villains who came to the Congo to poach ivory or commit other greedy, abusive crimes.  In this new Hollywood adventure, Lord Greystoke returns to his jungle roots and friends.  He grabs a vine and swings into action to fight systematic racism in the Congo.  Yes, this is not your grandfather's Tarzan.  Jane, played by Margot Robbie, is a spunky mate who speaks the African language and can throw a mean punch if anyone messes with her jungle native friends.  Tarzan's sidekick in this story is Samuel L. Jackson as the real life character, George Washington Williams.  The diamond-hungry villain is played by Christoph Waltz who, again, makes a very good bad guy.
In its comic book way, this Tarzan movie has a "Black Lives Matter" underline to it.  What motivates Greystoke back to the jungle is the abusive colonization by King Leopold of Belgium.  The king wanted diamonds and sought to control the Congo which meant the enslavement of African natives as workers.  This is a historical fact used as a dramatic engine in this action/adventure screenplay.  The "sidekick" character also was a historical figure.  George Washington Williams was a Civil War veteran, a politician, a journalist and a bit of a rogue.  Reportedly, he went to the Congo and was shocked by the suffering he saw caused by King Leopold's colonization.

So...a big question is....Why is this character a sidekick?  With his history, why can't a major studio like Warner Brothers give us Samuel L. Jackson as the star of a George Washington Williams biopic?
 I knew what the intended audience was as I watched Jackson's energetic and entertaining performance.  There's no nudity in this film.  There's no graphic, gory violence. There's no X-rated bad language from Samuel L. Jackson.  He does have the saltiest line in the entire picture -- and that comment is a funny one that refers to a male gorilla's reproductive anatomy.  THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is purposely PG-13.  It's meant to entertain kids and, hopefully, introduce them to a bit of history that they'll be interested enough to research at school, in a library or online.

This film shows respect for the African culture.  We hear the distinctive Tarzan yell that Johnny Weissmuller made famous in the 1930s movies.
It's the yell that Carol Burnett delightfully imitated frequently on her CBS variety series.  But we do not see archaic, embarrassing Hollywood images of natives like there were in Old Hollywood films.  The natives here have a culture, a culture that Tarzan grew up with, learned and respected.  He grew up with, learned from and loved the people.  The same goes for Jane.  He's not their King of the Jungle, not their superior.  He's one of them in this adventure.  And Tarzan can still communicate with animals.  We see black native men who are multi-lingual -- and in danger of becoming slaves.

Again, THE LEGEND OF TARZAN is Saturday matinee at the movie fare for the kids that's full of action and has a bit of history that's good for them to know.  And it has a black character played by an Oscar nominated black actor who should play him again in a big screen biopic.

Sunday, July 3, 2016


Screen legend Olivia de Havilland.  All those years, from the 1930s through the 1940s, that she spent making hard work look easy onscreen under a Warner Brothers studio contract, and yet not a one of her five Oscar nominations came for a performance in a Warner Bros. release.  There's some Old Hollywood irony for you.  Three of her nominations and two of her Best Actress Oscar victories came for films released by Paramount Pictures.  The 4th of July psychological thriller, LADY IN A CAGE, is a 1964 Paramount release.  Olivia de Havilland plays the title character.  And she plays her quite well.
In this low-budget, highly watchable thriller, de Havilland stars as a gracious and wealthy writer in Los Angeles.  She's disabled and because of that, a private elevator has been installed in her upstairs/downstairs house.  Loved ones will be out of town for the 4th of July holiday.  She assures them she'll be just fine in the home alone on the holiday.                                 
Keep in mind this was in the 1960s.  There were rotary phones.  No cell phones with texting and camera capabilities existed.  That was something you'd see in a James Bond movie.  But there were home invasions.  Young thugs break into the disabled lady's house during a 4th of July power outage and threaten to harm her.
She gets stuck in her elevator out of reach of the telephone.

 The thug leader is played by a furry-chested, brawny young actor who'd done some roles on television.  LADY IN A CAGE provided the first speaking role in a Hollywood film for movie newcomer, James Caan.
One of his gang members is played by Rafael Campos.  This charismatic Latino actor gave a stand-out performance as a high school student in the 1955 classic BLACKBOARD JUNGLE starring Glenn Ford and Sidney Poitier.  Campos was married briefly to legendary jazz singer Dinah Washington.
Co-starring as low-life characters in this black and white movie are actress/singer Ann Sothern who, like Olivia de Havilland, began her Hollywood career in the 1930s, and character actor/acting coach Jeff Corey.  Corey coached singer Della Reese who went on to acting roles, most notably in the longtime hit CBS series TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL.
Paramount's cat-and-mouse drama gets really fun when the disabled mouse unleashes some fierce jungle cat survival instincts in her cage and matches wits with the hoods terrorizing her house.
Take my word for it.  LADY IN A CAGE works as some 4th of July movie entertainment.

Warner Brothers star, Olivia de Havilland got her first Oscar nomination in the Best Supporting Actress category for the MGM classic and box office champ, 1939's GONE WITH THE WIND.

She's the only star in the film who had a death scene.  This special month, she's the only surviving star of the film.  The actress was a Best Actress Oscar nominee for the mental health drama, THE SNAKE PIT. That was a 1948 film from 20th Century Fox.  Paramount's 1941 drama, HOLD BACK THE DAWN brought her the first of her Best Actress Oscar nominations.  Her two Oscar wins in that category came for Paramount's HOLD BACK THE DAWN (1946) and THE HEIRESS (1949).
Winning other honors and being photographed in her 90s, it was clearly obvious that the elegant actress who has lived in Paris for quite some time made 90-something look fantastic.

When I wrote "this special month," I meant it.  On July 1st, just a couple of days ago, Olivia de Havilland celebrated her 100th birthday.  Wow!  In honor of that and her extraordinary screen talent, she is the "Star of the Month" right now on TCM.  Turn on Turner Classic Movies every Friday starting at 8p Eastern for features starring Olivia de Havilland.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


 The new movie starring Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey, a Civil War drama called FREE STATE OF JONES, has a key element in common with the Netflix original sitcom, UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT.  Like Kimmy, McConaughey's character is a wide-eyed Caucasian outcast who becomes the educated white savior of sorts to a poor black man.  Newton Knight, played by McConaughey, is a Mississippi man who opposes slavery.  Yet, he's drafted into the war to fight on the Confederate side, the side that wants its slaves and cotton.  The opening war sequence is brutal and bloody.  We see a wide-eyed McConaughey at the open and he remains wide-eyed throughout the rest of the film.
We see men made unrecognizable because of being shot in the face, we see a head pretty much explode from gunfire.  We see gaping, bloody wounds. We see boys of high school age drafted into fierce battle for which they are unprepared.  But I could not take my attention off Matthew McConaughey making big eyes.
Not since Bette Davis in the first five minutes of 1940's classic, THE LETTER, has a star been so big-eyed while holding a gun.
Newt's young nephew is killed in battle.  That triggers the Mississippi medic to leave the war and return to his Jones County home and wife (played by Keri Russell).  On the way home, he bonds with runaway slaves, he's chased and bitten by deserter-hunting dogs and he's helped on his journey by a young Creole woman.  When I heard that a young female Creole slave was coming into the picture, I just knew she was going to be a babe.  She was.  Rachel, the Creole, is played gracefully by Gugu Mbatha-Raw star of the 2013 film, BELLE.
McConaughey's eyes get even bigger when Newt sees Rachel for the first time.  So, we have the Civil War, a white Southern man who does not believe in slavery, leaves the battlefront and bonds with runaway male slaves.  He will ultimately help them vote when the war is over.  And we, as moviegoers, know he will be attracted to Rachel as he strives to establish his own peaceful community that embraces diversity.  That community is known as the Free State of Jones.  Then we jump 85 years ahead to a Mississippi court case involving interracial marriage.  Interracial marriage was illegal in Mississippi those 85 years later.

Newt is the story's leader of a group of interracial outcasts -- runaway slaves and fellow Civil War deserters.  Newt leads a rebellion.  The war ends and there's Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, but things really don't change in Mississippi.  Just like America didn't become immediately "post-racial" when Barack Obama was elected President of the U.S. for his first term, black folks weren't really free after the Emancipation Proclamation.  Newt marches in with black men to challenge the racists who won't let them vote.  That scene is interesting.  Black Republicans were a whole lot different back in the 1800s.
As soon as Newt shows up, he improves the lives of the runaway slaves.  He removes physical bondage.  He improves their menu.  When he arrives, they're sharing one fish cooked over a fire after it was caught in a swamp.  Then they ate cooked dog.  When Newt increases the band of outcasts and adds other white folks into the mix, their eating a basted and succulent roast pig.  And they have beverages.  During this dinner scene, there's racial tension when one white man mouths off about having to share food with a black man.  McConaughey settles things down by reminding the white outcasts that "everybody is somebody's n***er."  They've all got to get along.  And, yes, he gives us the big eye as he delivers this speech.
About Rachel -- it's a mutual attraction.  And he has a white wife.  And he has a child by Rachel.  But the Rachel relationship is so sterile onscreen.  When she's having the baby, you want to say " did THAT happen?"  Newt and Rachel never so much as passionately hold hands in the movie.  Not one single kiss.  Then BOOM.  Creole baby time.  The same goes for that modern-day courtroom scenes.  No kiss or physical displays of affection from the couple at the center of the interracial marriage court case.  Heck, even BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN had the balls to show you a ranch hand who kissed his wife...and his boyfriend.

My friend Mike Sargent, film critic and New York city radio host, also saw this new movie and did some reading up on the actual story.  We talked about the real story and it's a complex, fascinating piece of American history.  More fascinating than this movie.  Not only that, but Hollywood filmed an earlier version of a picture based on the FREE STATE OF JONES story.  But, which will come as no surprise, Hollywood watered down -- or pretty much washed out -- the black element of the story and replaced it with a friendly Native American character played by Boris Karloff.  The movie is 1948's TAP ROOTS starring Van Heflin and Susan Hayward.
Newt is established as the conflicted good guy at the beginning.  He's a Southerner by birth but he has an abolitionist spirit.  In one scene, Newt reads an article in which we realize the injustices of slavery. And the benefits.  Apparently, if you owned 20 slaves, one male did not have to serve in the war.  If you had 40 slaves, two males in the home did not have to serve.  Down South, it was sort of like the other side of a coffee shop discount card.  Buy 20 slaves, get the next one free.

McConaughey is earnest with his Bette Davis eyes and slightly Foghorn Leghorn voice.  Newt Knight is out to do the right thing.  To me, the stand-out performance in FREE STATE OF JONES comes from Mahershala Ali as Moses the runaway slave/freedom fighter friend to Newt.  TV viewers know Mr. Ali from HOUSE OF CARDS.  He is excellent as Moses.
This, in great part, is a war picture and it's a rare picture that shows women bearing arms for battle in a real life war era.  Big and little females take aim in FREE STATE OF JONES.  There's a lot of killing and several funeral in this film.
When the action jumps 85 years ahead, the story connects to Newt's but those scenes need something more.  There's not a smooth transition to those scenes from Newt's drama. And you feel that the really interesting stories were treated like footnotes.  For instance, after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation and the Reconstruction, times for black folks were still hard.  They were still cheated, abused and enslaved.  There was trouble.  Federal troops left, the Ku Klax Klan rode in and burned churches.  On the screen we read that the klan killed hundreds of African-Americans.  It was a home-grown terrorist group that attacked safe havens like churches.                                                
You think of last year's murders of black people in a Charleston church. The killer is a racist.  You think of this year's murders in an Orlando gay bar.  The patrons considered that nightclub to be a safe haven.  But that KKK gets a minor mention with its dark deeds printed on the screen for your information.  Director/screenwriter Gary Ross (seen on the right in the photo below) spends more time on Newt teaching farmers how to take back and hide corn from the enemy than he does on the KKK.
FREE STATES OF JONES is not dull.  Disappointing, but not dull.  But if Newt's relationship with Rachel was meant to give the dramatic story more urgency, to underscore the need for diversity and racial acceptance today, we needed to see some kind of passion between those two characters.  I've seen more physical displays of romantic attraction between kids in Catholic high school.

The film tries to make a History Channel point but the tone is uneven.  Remember the 1988 movie MISSISSIPPI BURNING?  That was based on a real life crime -- the disappearance and murder of three young adult males -- two white and one black -- who'd gone Down South the help in the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.  The FBI investigated the murder of the three men determined to register black people for the right to vote.  The KKK was involved in the murders.  This was a major crime in the history of modern Black America.  However, the movie focuses on the white characters.  The same pretty much applies to FREE STATE OF JONES.