Six-pack Cinema – Oct. 2016

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Mind Games:
Six films about competitions that are more mental than physical

Akeelah and The Bee (2006)
Eleven-year-old Akeelah (Night at the Museum’s Keke Palmer) is smart but struggling with a mother who ignores her in their impoverished neighborhood. She enters a spelling bee to avoid detention for her many absences from school. To her surprise, she wins and finds herself competing against many better-prepared students from wealthy backgrounds to reach the prestigious Scripps National Spelling Bee. This award-winning movie also stars Laurence Fishburne as the English professor who coaches Akeelah but struggles with his own demons. (PG)

Clue (1985)
A star-studded cast of familiar cinema comics (Madeline Kahn, Eileen Brennan, Tim Curry, and more) camp it up delightfully in this farcical mystery based on the classic board game. No trope of the genre goes unskewered and no low-brow joke gets passed up. The whole company looks like they are on the verge of cracking up at any moment. No great art here, but great fun. (MF)

Quiz Show (1994)
In this earnest drama based on a real scandal, Ralph Fiennes plays Charles Van Doren, a Columbia University professor who became a minor national celebrity for his remarkable success on a TV quiz show called Twenty One. Unknown to the public, the producers rigged the game in favor of attractive and patrician Van Doren over a working-class schlemiel who lacked the charisma to garner bigger ratings. Robert Redford directs another all-star cast that includes Fiennes, John Turturro, Paul Scofield, Elizabeth Wilson and Rob Morrow. (MF)

Sleuth (1972)
Oscar-winning writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz helmed this intense puzzle of a film starring two British acting powerhouses, Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine. Olivier portrays a faded mystery novelist who initiates a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with his romantic rival (played by Caine). The English manor house setting is filled with whimsical, game-oriented gimcracks that Mankiewicz uses to drolly comment on the action as the story progresses. Oscar Award trivia: this is one of only two films in the Academy’s history where the entire cast was nominated for Acting Oscars (The other is identified at the end of the sidebar). (MF)

The Great Debaters (2007)
This 1930s-set drama tells the true story of the debate team at historically black Wiley College in Marshall, Texas. After finishing its first season nearly undefeated, the team challenged Harvard for the national championship. Directed by Denzel Washington, who also stars as the team’s controversial coach, the movie shows the hard realities of black people’s lives during the Depression as well as the bright young students’ determination. Nate Parker, whose current film The Birth of a Nation created controversy even before its release, plays one of the young debaters. (PG)

The Imitation Game (2014)
The Imitation Game tells the story of Alan Turing, who invented the computer. Turing was a British mathematician whose team cracked the Nazi code Enigma, which the Germans used to send military messages during World War II, an achievement that was a major factor in the Allies’ victory. As Turing, Benedict Cumberbatch leads a cast of accomplished British actors (Downton Abbey’s Allen Leech and Matthew Goode, as well as Keira Knightley) in this absorbing drama. (MF)

The other film in which the entire cast was nominated for an Acting Oscar: Give ‘Em Hell, Harry! (1975). The cast consisted of James Whitmore.

So, what do you think? Please comment below.