Tag Archives: Johnny Lee Miller

A Different Looking Glass


by Hope Madden

Long after slavery was abolished, Black families were still held against their will in the rural American south, and through lies and isolation were convinced that they belonged — like slaves — to the white families whose land they worked for free.

It was incredibly uncommon, but it was Mae Louise Wall Miller’s life until 1960.


Miller’s story inspired first-time writer/director Krystin Ver Linden to make Alice, a testament to knowledge, representation, and the power of Pam Grier.

Alice (Keke Palmer, who also produces) has lived her entire life on an isolated Georgia plantation as a “domestic” (code for slave) to Paul Bennett (Johnny Lee Miller). Cruelty, rage and fear finally spur her to run, and she winds up on a highway with no context for the world of 1973.

1973 has very little context to understand Alice, either.

There’s no avoiding comparisons to Gerard Bush and Christopher Renz’s 2020 film Antebellum. Where that uneven Janelle Monáe-led vehicle raged with modern horror, Ver Linden’s film takes a decidedly blaxploitation direction.

Bennet had taught Alice to read, but only so she could read to him for his enjoyment. This one gift is enough to fuel a passion for knowledge. Pair that with the inspiration of Pam Grier in Coffy, plus the encouragement of truck driver and one-time activist Frank (Common) – who nearly ran her down as she escaped to the highway – and Alice is ready to return for her family and some tasty revenge.

Palmer finds a true north for her character, and she never leaves that course. Alice’s grief, pain, confusion, fear, and finally righteous rage are never showy, always authentic. Frank’s arc is a little more superficially drawn, but Common gives the character tenderness that brightens the film.

No psychotic plantation owner will ever live up to the unfathomable evil of Michael Fassbender’s Edwin Epps in 12 Years a Slave. Still, Miller’s brand of cowardly, narcissistic villainy is chilling.

Period detail and visual storytelling are both strengths for Ver Linden and her cinematographer, Alex Disenhof. But the film — this year’s Sundance winner for dramatic feature — has some pacing problems it can’t entirely overcome.

Alice falls into three very distinct acts, none of which move. The story itself is very deliberately built, but the way scenes are stacked offers no sense of momentum or urgency. This meandering quality robs the film’s climax of some of its power. But Alice mainly overcomes this weakness by telling the truth about the power in knowing who you are.

Choose Nostalgia

T2 Trainspotting

by Christie Robb

Choose life. Choose a movie. Choose a sequel, a prequel, a reboot, a franchise. Choose a revival. Choose familiarity. Choose nostalgia.

Watching the sequel to Trainspotting was like watching the new Gilmore Girls—only with more violence and heroin.

Is it social media that makes us feel we need to keep endlessly up to date on everyone? Is living in a chaotic world leading to an increased desire for tidy endings? Is it just the same kind of curiosity that makes folks RSVP to class reunions? Who needs reasons when you’ve got Trainspotting?

T2 takes place 20 years after Mark Renton steals £16,000 of communal drug sale profits from his friends and splits, vowing to live the life of a grown up. He experiences a minor coronary episode on a treadmill, which serves as the catalyst for a midlife crisis. And this crisis doesn’t take him on the path to buy a convertible, or to a hair plug consultation, or make him vow to consume a daily probiotic. Because the plot demands it, Mark is drawn back home to Edinburgh-to a bunch of people who feel that, to some degree or another, he ruined their lives.

In the original movie, Simon “Sickboy” Williamson states his theory of life, “Well, at one point you’ve got it. Then you lose it.” T2 isn’t bad. But it’s not great either. It’s lost some of the magic that the first movie had. But then it’s probably supposed to have.

It’s a movie about middle age, about looking back at who you were in your twenties and assessing what you’ve done or haven’t. Set against the backdrop of a gentrifying Edinburgh, we are presented with a familiar plot. Scenes from the first movie are rehashed. Renton delivers a new “Choose Life” monologue to a bored 20-year-old, which largely pans internet culture, shrilly condemning the choices of a stereotypical member of the younger generation in the same way he condemned the spirit-crushing lifestyle of clichéd older folks 20 years before.

Sometimes key scenes from the old movie are even played as flashbacks or projected on top of an existing new scene. The music too, is recycled. As if the characters stopped listening to anything new at 25.

Sure, it’s delightful to see all the cast members together again (Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Ewen Bremner and Johnny Lee Miller) under the helm of original Trainspotting director Danny Boyle (who went on to win the Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire). But the enjoyment is not unlike seeing a fading star in concert, or asking for a tour of your childhood home, or meeting up with an old flame for a drink.

It’s nice for a bit, but maybe not quite as good as in the old days.