Nw Releases for the Week of January 11, 2019


THE UPSIDE

(STX) Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Julianna Margulies, Aja Naomi King, Tate Donovan. Directed by Neil Burger

An ex-con newly released from prison and fighting to get custody of his son back answers an ad for employment. He doesn’t expect to get hired, only to get proof that he applied. However, he ends up getting hired to be the attendant for a quadriplegic billionaire. The two men will find that the other is indispensable for finding each of their way back into the light. Based on a true story, this was first filmed as one of the all-time French box office hits Les Intouchables.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive content and drug use)

A Dog’s Way Home

(Columbia) Ashley Judd, Bryce Dallas Howard (voice), Edward James Olmos, Wes Studi. A young man’s beloved dog gets lost and must make a 400 mile journey to get back home.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some peril and language)

Replicas

(Entertainment Studios) Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve, Thomas Middleditch, John Ortiz. After a brilliant scientist loses his entire family in a car crash, he is determined to find a way to bring them back. Even if he can surmount the laws of nature, he’ll have to contend with a government-controlled lab and a police task force if he is to get his family back again.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, violence, disturbing images, some nudity and sexual references)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Against the Clock
Being Rose
F2: Fun and Frustration
Jack ‘Em, Popoy
Madeline’s Madeline
Modest Heroes
NTR – Kathanayakudu
Petta
Rust Creek
Sgt. Will Gardner
Uri
Vinaya Vidheya Rama
Viswasam

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Anthem of a Teenage Prophet
F2: Fun and Frustration
The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear
Life and Nothing More…
Modest Heroes
NTR – Kathanayakudu
Perfectos Desconocidos
Petta
Uri
Vinaya Vidheya Rama
Viswasam

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

The Accident-Prone Minister
Ashes in the Snow
F2: Fun and Frustration
Modest Heroes
Norm of the North: Keys to the Kingdom
NTR – Kathanayakudu
Petta
Sgt. Will Gardner
Uri
Vinaya Vidheya Rama
Viswasam

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

The Accidental Prime Minister
F2: Fun and Frustration
Modest Heroes
Petta
Uri
Vinaya Vidheya Rama

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Dog’s Way Home
Anthem of a Teenage Prophet
Replicas
Rust Creek
The Upside

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The Birth of a Nation (2016)


Aja Naomi King comforts Nate Parker.

Aja Naomi King comforts Nate Parker.

(2016) Historical Drama (Fox Searchlight) Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Aja Naomi King, Penelope Ann Miller, Aunjanue Ellis, Dwight Henry, Mark Boone Jr., Jackie Earle Haley, Gabrielle Union, Colman Domingo, Esther Scott, Roger Guenveur Smith, Tony Espinosa, Jayson Warner Smith, Jason Stuart, Chiké Okonkwo, Katie Garfield. Directed by Nate Parker

 

It has been more than 150 years since slavery ended in this country and still it is necessary for the descendents of those in bondage have to remind us that Black Lives Matter. It is sadly evident from the shenanigans of the followers of Donald Trump, from the evidence that the KKK is still alive and well and for the institutionalized racism that allows people to think that flying a Confederate flag isn’t offensive to a sizable percentage of the population that we still have a long way to go.

However when Nat Turner (Parker) was alive slavery was in full force and there was no end in sight. He lived in Southampton County, Virginia and as a boy (Espinosa) played with the scion of the plantation owner. The owner’s wife (Miller) saw something in the young boy and sought out to teach him how to read – although only the Holy Bible, because she felt that would be the only book useful to him. After the plantation owner passed away his son Samuel Turner (Hammer), now grown, orders Nat back to picking cotton much to his mother’s disappointment.

However, it turns out that Nat has a talent for preaching the gospel and it seems to calm down the slaves – it might not hurt that Samuel was, as owners go, fairly reasonable and less cruel. The local parson (Boone) witnesses Nat’s testimonial and suggests to Samuel that he send out his slave to surrounding plantations to placate the workers by preaching to them the Gospel. As this would put direly needed coin in Samuel’s pocket, he agrees and Nat begins to see first-hand what the conditions on other plantations are like.

He also meets Cherry (King), a comely house slave that he urges Samuel to buy. Eventually he lets her know that he’s smitten by her and she eventually relents to his charms. The two are married Gullah-style but as Cherry is now working on a neighboring plantation, they see each other rarely.

But tensions between slaves and whites are growing exponentially and after Cherry is brutally raped by white slave catchers led by the despicable Raymond Cobb (Haley) and soon thereafter his friend Hark’s (Domingo) wife Esther (Union) is raped by a lusty slave owner from a neighboring plantation. Nat begins to realize that the entire institution of slavery is unjust and that it is his duty to help the Lord strike it down. In August of 1831, he and a group of his fellow slaves, pushed beyond their limits, go on a spree, attacking plantations and killing the owners and their families. The first blows of a civil war have just been struck, although none will know it at the time.

Some (including myself) will compare this to 12 Years a Slave and there are some things that do make the comparison palatable. Both films show the brutality of slavery and both films show how unjust it was. However while 12 Years was a lot more intellectual an endeavor, this is from the gut. It captures the rage of angry black men who certainly have a great deal to be angry about.

This is clearly a passion project for Parker who produced, co-wrote, directed, and starred in and likely sold tickets in the box office for. Passion projects can be double edged swords when it comes to doing biographies. There can be a tendency to mythologize the subject and I think Parker indulged in that a little bit here. The Nat Turner that is depicted here is almost saintly until the sexual assaults drive him to lead a bloody uprising in which women, children and even infants are murdered. One has to deal with some of the gruesome deeds that occurred at the hands of Turner and his followers, however justified they may have been. I don’t believe I’m being racist when I say that Turner, about whom little is really known from a historical perspective, was likely not that nice; what we do know about him suggests that he had hallucinations – or visions if you like – of angels and divine beings (which to be fair are depicted in the film) and that he himself felt that he was being called by God to dispense justice to the slave owners and lead his people out of bondage as a modern day Moses.

Parker is at a bit of a disadvantage, truth be told; Turner was a rarity among slaves in that he could read but most of what we know about him comes from Confessions of Nat Turner: The Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, Virginia written by the white lawyer Thomas Ruffin Gray and supposedly based on his actual confession, although many historians question its validity. Parker had to fill in a lot of blanks and does the best he can. Even William Styron, who won a Pulitzer Prize for The Confessions of Nat Turner in 1968, had to essentially invent Parker as a fictional character, which brought a lot of outrage from African-American intellectuals and civil rights leaders at the time.

The depictions of the horrible things suffered by slaves at the time may be among the most graphic ever put to film and may be too much for sensitive viewers. For my own part, I’m glad that Parker chose to go this route; too often Hollywood has portrayed slaves as sad people in chains singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” and wondering when oh when Lord will we be free. The reality of their existence was brutal and inhuman and while there were slave owners who were compassionate, there were many who were not.

Parker gives a searing performance as Turner and he shows a ton of screen presence here. He is supported by Hammer, whose character is a borderline alcoholic and certainly not always a kind and gentle man towards his slaves. Domingo is a tower of strength in his role as Hark, one of Turner’s confidantes and closest friends.

I do think that Parker would have benefitted with a little more objectivity in the script; it feels like the storytelling here is a bit rote and a bit too linear. That’s more or less just quibbling over grammar in a sense, and shouldn’t deter that many from going to see this.

Some right wing sites have drawn parallels between the film and the Black Lives Matter movement and perhaps that was intentional, but to be honest I don’t think Parker is advocating that black men rise up and start slaughtering white people indiscriminately; after all, that approach didn’t end very well for Turner or the others that rose up with him.

The film has generated some controversy based on Parker’s past legal issues. You can read about them elsewhere. I find it a shame that they have likely had an effect on the attendance for a very good movie about a very worthy subject. That’s not to vindicate Parker or what he allegedly did, albeit he was acquitted of all charges against him. I’m not a big believer in punishing someone for something they’ve already been acquitted of not doing. While the guilty sometimes get wrongly proclaimed innocent, more often people are acquitted because they are innocent.

This is an intense cinematic experience that is sadly mostly out of theaters. It should soon make its way to home video and who knows; if it gets any Oscar attention it might well get a theatrical re-release. Either way this is a movie worthy of your attention for both historical and cinematic reasons alike. It’s most definitely an angry young black man film, but it behooves all of us to listen to what angry young black men have to say.

REASONS TO GO: The Nat Turner story deserves to be told. The depiction of slavery is as brutal as any film has ever shown it to be – which is a good thing. Strong performances by Parker, Hammer and Domingo elevate the film.
REASONS TO STAY: Those with right-leaning tendencies may find the film to be polarizing. Muddies up history a little bit and makes safe storytelling choices.
FAMILY VALUES:  There is brief nudity and some fairly disturbing violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  Although the film depicts the turning point in Turner’s decision to revolt as a brutal assault on his wife, in reality his writings don’t acknowledge that he was married, although there is evidence that there was a marriage. Contemporary accounts do mention that he trusted her with his plans for the uprising but whether or not they were actually husband and wife still remains a mystery. Most historians regard the reason for his rebelliousness as spiritual visions and consider it unlikely that he felt his marriage, if it did indeed exist, was a valid one.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/7/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 74% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: 12 Years a Slave
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: The Girl on the Train

Reversion (2015)


A lift is still a lift.

A lift is still a lift.

(2015) Science Fiction (Fluency) Aja Naomi King, Colm Feore, Gary Dourdan, Jeanette Samano, Lela Rochon, Amanda Plummer, David Clennon, Sachin Joab, Scott Bailey, Matthew Bellows, Chris Spinelli. Directed by Jose Nestor Marquez

Memory is a very subjective thing. It is shaded by our experiences and often by the need of our psyche for self-protection. It can be unreliable but it can also color our entire lives; what are we but the sum total of our memories?

Sophie Clé (King) is the head of the marketing team on the eve of the release of a revolutionary new device in the near future. Called the Oubli, it recalls and enhances our best memories so we can relive them over and over again, whenever we like. The device’s inventor is her father Jack (Feore), the CEO of the medical device company that is marketing the device. Sophie has been an early test subject, using the device to relive memories of her mother (Rochon) who has been dead for some time, having taken her own life when Sophie was a teen.

However, Sophie is kidnapped by Isa (Samano), who cuts an incision in her neck and informs Sophie that she has an implant in her brain. Isa has one of her own but the implant is degrading and when it finally shuts down, so will Isa; she desperately needs the codes to help stave off her own mortality. Sophie manages to escape but she’s shaken by the experience; her bodyguard/driver/confidante Ayden (Dourdan) becomes much more vigilant about her activities.

It turns out that Isa had reprogrammed Sophie’s implants so that the Oubli no longer works for her; instead, she finds unpleasant memories that she had forgotten beginning to bubble to the surface, Memories that make her suspect that her father may be up to something along with Dr. Ciespy (Clennon), the family physician. Isa may have some of the answers but even Ayden knows more than he’s telling her and the key to everything may reside in the hands of a bitter retired scientist (Plummer) who hides a monstrous secret.

This is kind of continuation and less of a sequel to a SyFy TV movie that aired last year called Isa (it’s available on most streaming services if you want to see it) that was also written and directed by Marquez – Samano, who starred in that film, returns to this one in a much reduced role. Like that film, Reversion has a compelling subject in terms of memory, its role in our lives and its ultimate unreliability. We remember what we choose to, after all.

Feore is a veteran character actor who often plays the role of sinister corporate types and essentially that’s what he is here, although his character seems more low-key than what we’re used to from movie villains. It is a credit to Feore that when he is showing fatherly concern for his daughter, he still manages to project an air that something’s not quite right which goes a long way in making the ending work.

King, best known for her work on the Shonda Rhimes TV potboiler How to Get Away With Murder has a very difficult task here and unfortunately she doesn’t pull it off. Sophie is a basically unlikable character, something of a spoiled princess and she throws a few tantrums here and there, and spends a lot of time whining. I am not sure whether it is just the way the character is written or King’s interpretation of it but I found it very hard to empathize with her throughout the movie and that’s crucial to making the movie work. I’m just not sold on her performance here to be blunt.

Marquez has a bit of the artiste in him and there are some sequences that are fairly esoteric, especially early on, that don’t seem terribly germane but I will give him credit where credit is due – the ending of the film is absolutely the right one and endings as most veteran moviegoers will tell you are the hardest thing to nail. This one gets it right.

I think this is a very well-intentioned movie and as I said, there are some powerful concepts to explore here but the movie instead falls into the doldrums of following poor little rich girl Sophie through her travails and quite frankly I think that the movie bogs down because of it. I think that Marquez was torn between writing a thriller and a thought-provoking science fiction film, decided to do both and ended up doing a fair to middling job on both aspects. Something tells me that Marquez has much better films in him that we’ll hopefully see in the future. As for this one, it’s an okay film that could have been much more.

REASONS TO GO: Compelling concept. The right ending.
REASONS TO STAY: Sophie is too much of a princess to be sympathetic. A little bit too esoteric at times.
FAMILY VALUES: Some violence and a few disturbing images. Adult themes and a few adult words.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The word “Oubli” is based on the French word for forget.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/10/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 40/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: :Oldboy
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT: Everest