While February is of course Black History Month, that shortest and some-say-cruelest of calendar pages also serves as a lead-in to the annual Academy Awards; a chance to catch up with some things you’ve missed, on the way to handicapping this year’s current field of (disappointingly white, to many observers) horses. When the ongoing series of free movie screenings continues apace at Middletown Township Public Library this week, it’ll inaugurate a worth-another-look slate of recently released features — a couple of them illuminative of the African American experience, with the rest of the stories drawn from precincts that range from South Asia and the Great White North, to just this side of the afterlife.
It all begins at 2:30 pm on Monday, February 2, when MTPL hosts a free showing of the historical drama that took home the Oscar for Best Picture in 2014 — 12 Years a Slave, director Steve McQueen’s adaptation of the 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped and pressed into servitude in antebellum Louisiana. Chiwetel Ejiofor offers a star turn as Northup in the harrowing and unflinching feature, with strong support from Lupita Nyong’o (AA for Best Supporting Actress), vividly villainous Michael Fassbender, and an array of actors that includes Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti, Benedict Cumberbatch and American Horror Story‘s Sarah Paulson.
On February 9, the scene shifts to India, where a sports agent desperate for a next-big-thing signing (Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm) discovers a pair of big-league level pitching prospects within a hitherto untapped market, in Million Dollar Arm, the fact-based story of Pittsburgh Pirates players Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel. Then on February 13, a new series of Friday screenings continues with If I Stay, a teen-market romantic fantasy-drama (based on the young-adult novel by Gayle Forman) in which a young aspiring musician (Chloë Grace Moretz), seriously injured in an accident that kills her parents, is faced with a choice: fight her way back to pursuing her life’s passion, or let go and join her family on the other side.
Movie Mondays resume on February 16 with Lee Daniels’ The Butler, the “loosely based on fact” saga of an African American man (Forest Whitaker) who bears witness to some 35 years of history from the vantage of his job as a White House servant. A large supporting cast includes Robin Williams (as Ike Eisenhower), James Marsden (as JFK), Liev Schreiber (as LBJ), John Cusack (as Dick Nixon), Alan Rickman and Jane Fonda (as Ronald and Nancy Reagan), plus Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Terrence Howard, Lenny Kravitz, Vanessa Redgrave, and Selma‘s David Oyelowo.
The current slate wraps up on February 23 with the lesser-known Canadian feature The Grand Seduction, director Don McKellar’s comedy in which the denizens of Tickle Head — attempting to woo a job-creating petrochemical plant to the economically depressed Newfoundland fishing village — must first “seduce” a wayward plastic surgeon to fill the role of the town’s “resident” doctor. All Monday screenings take place at 2:30 pm, with the Friday feature unspooling at 2 pm.