The Josephine Baker Story (1991)/Thurgood
(2011)/The Tuskegee Airmen (2005/HBO
B-/B/B- Sound: B- Extras: B-/D/C Telefilms: B-/B/B
verge of Black History Month, HBO has issued three key titles on Blu-ray and
they are all solid works everyone should see.
Those who already have will want to catch them again.
Gibson followed up his Tina Turner film What’s
Love Got To Do With It? with The
Josephine Baker Story (1991), a decent, enduring portrait of the singer featuring
a wide-ranging, rich performance by the underrated Lynn Whitfield in the title
role. Baker was a popular African
American performer at a time when racism was insanely high and the Civil Rights
Movement had not arrived, so when she moved to France, she was extremely
successful and her home country missed out.
become political, became a target as a result and this shows the highs of her
life and career, as well as some ugly moments that nearly ruined her life. This is a work with some edge, but not as raw
as I would have liked, though Whitfield was the bets possible choice at the
time to play Baker. I liked the
supporting cast (Craig T. Nelson as Walter Winchell is interesting, plus we get
a good Louis Gossett, Jr. performance, Ruben Blades in fine form and not a bad
performance in the telefilm) and the recreation of past places and locales have
a nice look to them. It holds up well
and should be rediscovered because not enough people know who Baker is. A feature length audio commentary by
Whitfield, Writer Ron Hutchinson and Associate Producer Alan Taylor is the only
extra, but it is a good one.
Right in the U.S.
has done their best to push the political climate their way, but it was not
that long ago the country was in a better direction and Lawrence Fishburne is
excellent playing a man who helped make that possible. Michael Stevens’ Thurgood (2011) is a terrific stage play in which the elder Justice
Thurgood Marshall reflects on his life and times in a character study that also
becomes a priceless reminder of how important his work and groundbreaking work
in the field of law was to making America a great country against all odds.
It is not
easy doing a one-man play of any kind, but Fishburne is totally convincing and
more than up to the task. I had not seen
this before and was surprised this had not received more press, despite winning
awards and doing well for the network, but obviously certain political
interests are still trying to erase this part of our past. Glad the makers of this production would not
stand for that. There are no extras.
we have the wildly successful Robert Markowitz hit The Tuskegee Airmen (2005) also with Fishburne that tells a
little-known chapter of African American fighter pilots who helped win
WWII. As joined by Courtney B. Vance,
Allen Payne, a Malcolm-Jamal Warner in rare form, Andre Braugher, Chris
McDonald and Cuba Gooding, Jr. when he still gave good acting performances, so
much works here and it is a triumph of the truth and a great American tale of
triumph and heroism long-overdue to be told.
John Lithgow is among the rest of the fine cast. The only extra is the built-in booklet that
comes with the DigiPak packaging, but it has nice stills, text and is on
quality slick paper.
1.78 X 1 digital High Definition image transfers all have issues, but the
telefilms Baker and Tuskegee seem to come from older HD
masters and some superimposed credits on the film look like analog-finished
work for then low-def only HBO. Some
cleaning-up and upgrading would be nice, yet these are semi-basic
editions. Thurgood is a new HD taping and though it has some detail limits,
the camera does not move much and it looks better overall. All three also come with DTS-HD MA (Master
Audio) 5.1 lossless mixes and were originally stereo recordings, but the older
telefilms show their sonic age, though I wonder if going back to archival audio
might help a bit, while Thurgood is
the newest recording, but it is obviously dialogue-driven with Fishburne being
most of the audio. The audience is
background sound when we hear them at all and music tends to fill the surrounds
when it surfaces. Still, DVD versions
would not be as good.
- Nicholas Sheffo