Citizen Ashe


Arthur Ashe: More than a tennis star.

(2021) Documentary (Magnolia) Arthur Ashe, Harry Edwards, John McEnroe, Billy Jean King, LeBron James, Andrew Young, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, John Carlos, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, Lenny Simpson, Johnnie Ashe, Art Carrington, Charlie Pasarell, Donald Dell, EJ McGorda, Victor Ellis, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Tiana Melvina Woods. Directed by Rex Miller and Sam Pollard

Some people make the times they’re in; others are made by them. Arthur Ashe was one of the former; as one of the few African-Americans to play professional tennis in the 1960s and on through the 1990s, he was known for his unflappable demeanor, his intelligent strategy and his awe-inspiring power game. In many ways he was the Tiger Woods of his day; excelling in a sport dominated by people not of color.

But in some ways, he also was made by his times. He grew up in Richmond, Virginia – a soft-spoken black man who had access to tennis courts because his family lived in housing in a city park where his dad was caretaker; he showed a great deal of promise in the game and ended up with a scholarship to UCLA where he eventually earned a spot on the Davis Cup team.

If all that we remember about Arthur Ashe was his achievements in the game of tennis, he would likely be remembered as a giant of the game – the first African-American male to win three Grand Slam events (including the inaugural U.S. Open), but Arthur’s rise to tennis stardom coincided with the Civil Rights movement. Arthur, who as a black man growing up in the South in the Fifties, learned deference at an early age, was not as unspoken as fellow southern athlete Muhammad Ali, who grew up in Louisville. This earned accusations of being an Uncle Tom from folks like Harry Edwards, the San Jose State professor who helped radicalize Black athletes and use their celebrity to push for social justice, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who unkindly referred to the tennis star as “Arthur Ass”) and Ali himself.

That didn’t necessarily mean that Ashe had no opinion about civil rights; he had plenty. However, being a firebrand was never his style. Edwards remarks today that if you listen carefully to what Ashe was saying, he was in many ways more militant than some of the people who denounced him. Latein life, Ashe contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during open heart surgery and eventually died far too young at age 49 in 1993, less than a year after announcing he had contracted the disease and ten years after the fact.

For the most part, this is a fairly typical bio-doc with plenty of talking head interviews with friends and contemporaries of Ashe (including his brother Johnnie), plenty of archival footage as well as home movies and private video (some never before seen), and just a touch of hagiography.

But Ashe was a colossus of his time and remains a man who valued a life of kindness, one who spoke softly and used reason to persuade rather than shouting people down (a technique that many people these days would do well to learn). He was a disciple more of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela than of Malcolm X and Harry Edwards. He was in the strange position of being reviled by both sides, being called an uppity Negro by white racists and an Uncle Tom by black ideologues. It got to the point where he despaired “When will I get to decide how I want to live?” when faced with the dichotomy of opinions about his stands on the issues of equality and justce for Americans of color.

There are some excellent anecdotes, particularly from his brother Johnnie and his widow Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe (the latter of whom also was an executive producer on the film, along with such luminaries as documentary filmmaker Alex Gibney and musician John Legend). The jazzy score by Jongnic Bontemps is Cool AF and really helps establish a time and place for the film. I’ll be real honest; this isn’t one of the top documentaries of the year, but it is a very good one and the subject matter is more than deserving of the attention.

REASONS TO SEE: A really cool jazz soundtrack.
REASONS TO AVOID: Generally speaking, a fairly typical sports doc.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS:Ashe took up tennis, a non-traditional sport for African-American athletes at the time, because he wanted to be the “Jackie Robinson of tennis.”
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Optimum, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/3/21: Rotten Tomatoes:93% positive reviews; Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: King Richard
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Writing With Fire

New Releases for the Week of December 3, 2021


WOLF

(Focus) George MacKay, Lily-Rose Depp, Paddy Considine, Eileen Walsh, Senan Jennings, Darragh Shannon, Lola Petticrew. Directed by Jared Bush and Nathalie Biancheri

A man who believes he is a wolf trapped in a human body is eventually committed to a clinic that specializes in those types of disorder. He undergoes increasingly aggressive forms of therapy until he meets a woman who believes she’s a wildcat. As the two fall in love, he must choose between true love and his true self.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Mystery
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: R (for some abusive behavior, sexuality, nudity and language)

Akhanda

(Radha Krishna) Nandamuri Balakrishna, Pragya Jaiswal, Jagapathi Babu, Meka Srikanth. A fierce devotee of Lord Shiva must stand against the unrighteous.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Cinemark Orlando, Regal Pavilion Port Orange, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

Bergman Island

(IFC) Mia Wasikowska, Tim Roth, Vicki Krieps, Anders Danielsen Lie. Two American filmmakers who also are a romantic couple, decide to summer on Farö Island (the place where legendary director Ingmar Bergman lived and shot many of his most celebrated films) in order to find inspiration for their own endeavors, but the magic of the island begins to drive a wedge between the two.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona
Rating: R (for some sexual content, nudity and language)

C’mon C’mon

(A24) Joaquin Phoenix, Gaby Hoffman, Woody Norman, Scoot McNairy. A radio journalist is thrown together unexpectedly with his young nephew during a cross-country road trip, creating a tenuous but transformational relationship between the two.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinemark Orlando, Enzian, Regal Waterford Lakes
Rating: R (for language)

Castle Falls

(Shout!) Dolph Lundgren, Scott Adkins, Kevin Wayne, Jim E. Chandler. A derelict hospital is about to be demolished but braving the dynamite are three desperate men – two rival gang leaders and a hospital janitor, looking for a cache of stolen money hidden in the walls. They have exactly 90 minutes to find the loot and get out – or be blown up with the rest of the building.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

Encounter

(Amazon) Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, Janina Gavankar, Lucian-River Chauhan. A decorated Marine takes his two young sons on a journey to evade a mysterious threat. As the trip grows increasingly dangerous, the two boys will have to grow up much sooner than they might have otherwise.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: CMX Daytona
Rating: R (for language and some violence)

The End of Us

(Saban) Ben Coleman, Ali Vingiano, Derrick Joseph DeBrasis, Gadiel Del Orbe. A couple on the verge of breaking up is forced to continue living together during the COVID lockdown. Petty squabbles between the two – one career-driven, the other a slacker – lead to self-evaluations that may change them and doom their relationship.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for language and sexual references)

Home

(Gravitas) Jake McLaughlin, Kathy Bates, Aisling Franciosi, Lil Rel Howery. A man returns to his small town after 20 years in prison to find that forgiveness is in short supply. He is, however, willing to accept the repercussions of his past deeds if it can lead to a better future.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: CMX Grand
Rating: NR

Last Shoot Out

(Lionsgate) Cam Gigandet, Bruce Dern, Brock Harris, Skylar White. When a frontier wife flees her husband after discovering he had her father killed, she is rescued by a gunman who protects her from the wrath of her husband’s wealthy – and well-armed – family.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Western
Now Playing: CMX Grand
Rating: PG-13 (for violence and bloody images)

Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea

(Phars) Mohanial, Sunil Shetty, Arjun Sarja, Manju Warrier. An Indian hero fights the invading Portuguese.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Action
Now Playing: Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Orlando
Rating: NR

Silent Night

(RJLE) Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Annabelle Wallis, Lucy Punch. A couple and their son entertain family and friends for an wonderful Christmas dinner in an idyllic country cottage in England. The only thing that keeps it from being perfect: the world is about to end.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Fashion Square Premiere
Rating: R (for language and violence)

The Souvenir: Part II

(A24) Honor Swinton Byrne, Jaygann Ayeh, Tilda Swinton, Richard Ayoade. A young film student who has escaped from an abusive relationship with an older man, tries to untangle her feelings by throwing herself into her graduate project, but soon finds trouble separating reality from fiction.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona
Rating: R (for some strong sexuality, and language)

Sword Art Online: Progressive – Aria of a Starless Night

(Aniplex USA) Starring the voices of Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Inori Minase, Bryce Papenbrook, Haruka Tomatsu. A newbie gamer enters the deadly world of Aincrad discovers that she must beat all 100 levels of the game in order to escape back to reality, but dying in the game also means dying in the real world.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Animé
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Avenue 16, AMC Disney Springs, Amstar Lake Mary, Cinemark Lakeland Square, Cinemark Orlando, CMX Daytona, Regal Eagle Ridge Mall, Regal Waterford Lakes, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language and violence)

True to the Game 3

(Faith Media) Erica Peeples, Columbus Short, Starletta DuPois, Omar Gooding. A woman is given 72 hours to return home to let her friends know her plans, before she starts a new life with the handsome, mysterious outlaw that she loves.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Romance
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Cinemark Orlando, CMX Merritt Square, Fashion Square Premiere
Rating: R (for violence and pervasive language)

Twas the Night

(Vertical) Nicole Pringle, David Steven Perez, Paul Van Scott, Lisa Panagopoulos. An engaged couple are hosting their future in-laws for the holidays, and they want everything to be just right. That’s even harder to do, when you’re trying to hide a body at the same time.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Holiday Comedy
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

A Clusterfunke Christmas (Saturday)
Benedetta
Cobalt Blue
Deadlock
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Fatal Distraction
(Tuesday)
The Forever Prisoner
(Monday)
The Great Balloon Bomb Invasion
(Thursday)
Listening to Kenny G
(Thursday)
Love and Fury
Missing and Alone
Mixtape
Red Stone
The Reenactment
(Tuesday)
Single All the Way
(Thursday)
The Slow Hustle
(Tuesday)
This Game’s Called Murder
The Wishing Tree
(Tuesday)

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Encounter
The Great Balloon Bomb Invasion
Mixtape
The Wishing Tree
Wolf

An Intrusion


Scout Taylor-Compton refuses to touch the rest of the script.

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(2021) Thriller (Gravitas) Dustin Prince, Erika Hovland, Angelina Danielle Cama, Scout Taylor-Compton, Keir Gilchrist, Billy Boyd, Sam Logan Kaleghi, Michael Emery, Kayla Kelly, Jaime Zevallos, Allison Megroet, Madison Merlanti, Jerry Narsh, Kayden Bryce, Dan Stolarski, Jordan Kantola, Rose Anne Nepa, Alexandra Benoit, Bill Holcomb, Marleen Holcomb, Karen McCants. Directed by Nicholas Holland

 

\My mother-in-law used to tell her children (including my wife) that “your sins will find you out.” In other words, sooner or later your misdeeds will catch up with you and you’ll pay for them in one way or another.

For Sam Hodges (Prince), that is exactly what’s happening. He works in a corporate law firm and is reasonably successful. One night, his house is broken into and vandalized, as is his car. His daughter Rebecca (Cama), gone down to the kitchen for a glass of water, interrupts the intruder and her screams brings her father running.

But the more we find out about Sam, the worse he gets. For one thing, he has been cheating on his wife Joyce (Hovland) with a co-worker and even though the affair has ended, the rift between Joyce – who is unaware of Sam’s infidelity – and her husband is growing exponentially. We find that Sam is pretty practiced at lying to his family and to the cops, and we begin to suspect that there are darker secrets lurking in Sam’s past. Sam suspects that it is Layne (Gilchrist), Rebecca’s goth boyfriend, who might be behind the threatening e-mails and phone calls, mainly because Sam clearly dislikes the boy and has been doing his best to break the couple up. But when Layne disappears, it is obvious that someone else is behind the threats.

I’ve seen this film compared to a Lifetime thriller, which is not a compliment. This is very much a by-the-numbers suspense film with red herrings a-plenty, and a few twists and turns, none that aren’t fairly predictable. What really makes this hard to watch is the character of Sam himself. We find out early on that Sam has very little to recommend about him as a person; he’s the kind of guy that you would avoid if you worked with him, and the sort of guy that you would wind up punching him in the face if you had to spend time with him. He treats nearly everyone with disdain and hostility, and he has a serious temper control issue. I have seen this kind of thing more frequently lately; it is as if indie directors are trying to test just how unlikable a character we can stand to watch for more than an hour and a half, and the answer here is probably not going to be what the director is hoping for.

That isn’t to say there aren’t moments here. Scout Taylor-Compton tries her best as the police detective who is investigating the home invasion of the Hodge residence and begins to suspect (rightly as it turns out) that Sam isn’t telling her the whole truth. She isn’t given a whole lot to work with, but she makes the most of it anyway. Lord of the Rings fans will find ex-hobbit Billy Boyd among the cast, nearly unrecognizable as a suburban pastor.

\By the time you find out what’s all behind the chaos, you’re likely to exclaim, as I did (and to be fair, as Sam does) “Is THAT what this is all about?” It comes out of left field and is a bit of a cheat, leaving the viewer feeling less-than-satisfied and maybe, even a little pissed off. I should mention that the score is invasive and overbearing; while I realize that musical scores are often meant to steer the viewer in a specific emotional direction, it is so obviously manipulative that it ends up only irritating the listener.

Truth be told, this isn’t a very good movie; the twists are easy to spot and the big reveal is anti-climactic, both film-killers. Comparing this to a Lifetime thriller is a bit unkind; there are a lot of movies of that ilk that are a whole lot better than this one is.

REASONS TO SEE: Taylor-Compton makes a noble effort.
REASONS TO AVOID: Sam is too unpleasant a character to care about. A truly overbearing score.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence, sexuality and some suggestive content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filmed in Detroit and in nearby suburbs.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/1/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fatal Attraction
FINAL RATING: 4/10
NEXT:
Citizen Ashe

Phil Lynott: Songs for While I’m Away


Phil Lynott (foreground) and Brian Robertson of Thin Lizzy get down to it.

(2021) Music Documentary (Eagle Rock) Phil Lynott, Gale Claydon, Scott Gorham, Eric Bell, Adam Clayton, Huey Lewis, James Hetfield, Suzi Quatro, Midge Ure, Peter Lynott, Carl Shaaban, Niall Stokes, Caroline Taraskevics, Sarah Lynott, Jerome Rimson, Darren Wharton, Brush Shiels, Philomena Lynott, John Kelly, Hugh Feighery, Gus Curtis, Cathleen Howard-Lynott, Diane Wagg, Rebecca Hickey. Directed by Emer Reynolds

 

As a crusty old rock critic who grew up in the 70s and listened to classic rock throughout high school. I am more than familiar with Thin Lizzy and their captivating frontman Phil Lynott. Most Americans who are younger than I probably only know their seminal Jailbreak album and their iconic hit “The Boys are Back in Town.”

But Lizzy was more than that album and more than that song, and for us Yanks who are less familiar with their output than we should be, this film is a very good way to get introduced to the band and the man. Lynott was a mixed race young man born in England’s Midlands to a single mom (an absolute scandal in the Fifties) who saw the wisdom of shipping him off to Dublin to be raised by his maternal grandparents (although he remained close to his mum Philomena throughout his life). He put new meaning to the term “Black Irish,” as he was something of a rarity back in those days and while he did encounter racism growing up, that seemed to be less of a thing once he emerged as a rock star, although black men weren’t a big part of classic rock with the exception of Jimi Hendrix and a few others. But Lynott wasn’t one to care about expectations.

He merged Irish legends with American idioms, blending street rats and mythic warriors into a seamless but completely unique mixture. Lizzy also utilized twin lead guitarists, making for a graceful but thunderous sound that recalled the power of bands like the Allman Brothers but with a distinctly Celtic flair. Lynott played bass which he learned in order to start his own band, and became quite good at it; he was certainly a charismatic frontman who although generally shy offstage, wasn’t above utilizing a little Irish charm at concerts “I hear a lot of ladies here have a little Irish in them.” Loud roar. “Would you like a little more?” Louder roar.

For the most part, this is a typical rock doc that thoroughly dives into the music of Lizzy albeit with a minimum of analysis; there are an awful lot of talking heads, most of whom are effusive in their praise of Lynott as a nice guy and a devoted family man. Both of his daughters appear here, as well as his ex-wife (they divorced a few years before Lynott passed away) and a former girlfriend. So do bandmates Eric Ball (the original guitarist), Midge Ure (who briefly replaced Gary Moore as second guitarist before leaving to front his own band, Ultravox) and Californian Scott Gorham who is entertaining in his own right, but when discussing his friend’s passing gets uncharacteristically reflective.

We also hear from journalists and fellow rockers like U2’s Adam Clayton, Metallica’s James Hetfield, Huey Lewis and Suzi Quatro, as well as those who knew him in Dublin like his Uncle Peter Lynott and friend Gus Curtis. We do get a sense of who he was; his intense Irish pride (he often corrected journalists who got his heritage wrong, or details about Ireland wrong), his devotion to his daughters (he wrote each of them a song dedicated to them), and his fascination with things American (he grew up on American television, and was eager to break through in the American market, but had the worst luck with it – the tour for Jailbreak had to be cut short because of illness, which would be a critical opportunity lost).

There are a few oddities though; often throughout the film Reynolds uses water as a metaphor to an almost head-clubbing point. While mentioning that Lynott had drug “problems,” she doesn’t bring up that he was actually addicted to heroin, which led to the septicemia that would claim his life at age 36 in 1986. But let’s face it; the band is almost criminally underrepresented on American radio, other than three or four songs mostly off of a single album. They actually released 12 albums that contained a mixture of balls-out rockers and introspective power ballads. Lynott was one of the best songwriters in classic rock and much of his music remains undiscovered by American audiences. However, a viewing of this movie is likely to motivate people to explore his other albums. While devoted fans of the group and of Lynott may find nothing here that is new, casual fans will definitely get their money’s worth.

REASONS TO SEE: Extremely informative packed with some terrific music.
REASONS TO AVOID: Gets a little too cutesy with cutaway shots.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, sexual references and drug references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A life-size statue of Lynott was erected on Harry Street near Grafton Street in Dublin in 2005. Many electrical junction boxes in Dublin have been painted with Lynott’s likeness.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Play, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/30/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Amy
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
An Intrusion

The Tomorrow War


Tomorrow isn’t looking quite so bright.

(2021) Science Fiction (Paramount) Chris Pratt, Yvonne Strahovsky, J.K. Simmons, Betty Gilpin, Sam Richardson, Jasmine Matthews, Edwin Hodge, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Keith Powers, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Mike Mitchell, Jared Shaw, Alexis Louder, Rose Bianco, Seychelle Gabriel, Alan Trong, Chibuikem Uche, Dave Maldonado, Kasandra Banfield. Directed by Chris McKay

 

Among the pandemic’s casualties was this film, meant to be one of Paramount’s tentpoles in the never-to-be-forgotten (no matter how hard we try) summer of 2020 but relegated to the indignity of direct-to-streaming the following year.

High school biology teacher Dan Forester (Pratt), a former Green Beret who has felt unfulfilled since returning home from the Iraq War, is trying to find a research job without success. His wife Emmy (Gilpin) and daughter Muri (Armstrong) believe in him, but he still feels like he’s missing something. Perhaps it’s his estranged dad (Simmons), a no-nonsense macho sort who has become an anti-government hermit living off the grid.

But his life – and everyone else’s – is turned upside down with the appearance of time travelers appearing at a soccer game with disturbing news; earth has been invaded by aliens and 20 years in the future, mankind is on the verge of becoming extinct. The future needs soldiers and they’ve come to the past to recruit them.

The survival rate is appalling, but Dan knows he has to go and despite the objections of his wife and tears of his daughter, he knows that this is the war he was meant to fight. On the jaunt back to the future he befriends fellow scientist Charlie (Richardson) and soldier Dorian (Hodge), the latter of whom is entering his third seven-day tour. Oh, that’s right, I forgot to tell you – they can only spend seven days in the future before being bounced back to their own time.

He also meets a hard-boiled colonel (Strahovsky) who has a nagging familiarity to her (and only the most dullest of intellects won’t be able to figure out why). He faces the aliens – all tentacles and teeth, shooting bony white projectiles from their tentacles, which nets them the name “White Spikes.” But even the infusion of cannon fodder from the past isn’t making much of a difference as the aliens are too many, breed too quickly and are too blamed hard to kill. Mankind may well be doomed – unless someone can come up with a solution to nip the problem before it rears its ugly multi-tentacled head.

This sci-fi action/war movie has elements of alien invasion movies like Skyline and sci-fi war tales like Starship Troopers and falls about in the middle of those two films in terms of quality. Pratt is a bright spot, one of Hollywood’s most consistently successful stars since emerging in the MCU as Star-Lord nearly a decade ago. This doesn’t feel like another franchise film for him; while he excels in the action sequences, he sometimes falters when the scenes are more dramatic in nature. He has always tended to do better with a bit of a smirk than with a bit of pathos.

Strahovsky is a capable actress who should have become a big star after Chuck ended, but hasn’t gotten the kinds of roles that would elevate her there. Simmons shows off his buff bod, astonishing for a 66-year-old man, but is given little else to do. Richardson and Hodge supply good support – Richardson as comic relief, Hodge as resident badass support – but it’s clear that the centerpiece are the CGI alien and action set pieces.

What bothers me most about the movie is the plot inconsistencies. People from the past are sent forward in time to essentially serve as cannon fodder; doesn’t that affect the future if they die in the war, leaving them unable to return to the past and live out the lives they were meant to? It also seems somewhat odd that we are able to invent time travel and yet we have made no significant improvement in armament. Most wars tend to lead to breakthroughs in military technology but nothing here seems to be terribly advanced.

Still, there’s plenty of action, plenty of carnage, plenty of nasty aliens and plenty of Chris Pratt. Chances are this would have done only middling business in the theaters had their not been a pandemic, and likely would have lost money but the sale of the movie from Paramount to Amazon meant it will at least break even for the studio, although whether that translates to profit for Amazon is anyone’s guess.

=REASONS TO SEE: Pratt has become one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some oddball plot inconsistences.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of sci-fi violence and carnage, as well as some profanity including sexually suggestive dialogue.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Chris Pratt is married to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s daughter.
BEYOND THE THEATERS:
Amazon
CRITICAL MASS:& As of 11/28/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 52% positive reviews; Metacritic: 45/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Edge of Tomorrow
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Black Friday

The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain


A bipolar veteran takes stock of his situation in the last hour of his life.

(2020) True Life Crime (Gravitas) Frankie Faison, Steve O’Connell, Enrico Natale, Ben Marten, Angela Peel, Tom McElroy, LaRoyce Hawkins, Christopher R. Ellis, Anika Noni Rose, Antonio Polk, Dexter Zollicoffer, Kelly Owens, Kelly Owens, Armando Reyes, Eunice Woods, Daniel Houle, Linda Bright Clay, Kate Black-Spence, Alexander Strong, Nayeli Pagaza, Kristine Angela. Directed by David Midell

 

On November 19, 2011, 68-year-old Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. was asleep in bed and somehow managed to trigger his LifeAid medical alert necklace. When the LifeAid operator called to check on him, the call box was in the living room and Chamberlain didn’t hear it. Not getting a response, the LifeAid operator notified the White Plains, NY police department to do a wellness check. Police officers were dispatched at 5:30am that morning. By 7am, Kenneth Chamberlain would be dead.

This dramatization of those events, which after a successful festival run and brief theatrical run, debuted on HBO Max on the tenth anniversary of the event, appropriately enough. The police officers – whose names are changed here – arrive at the doorstep of Chamberlain (Faison) and begin pounding on the door. Sgt. Parks (O’Connell) is a veteran of the WPPD who doesn’t think too highly of the residents of the apartment complex, a public housing unit where drug arrests are not uncommon. Officer Jackson (Marten) is a racist with a hair trigger, while Officer Rossi (Natale) is a rookie whose last job was teaching middle school.

Chamberlain, a Marine Corps veteran, suffered from a heart condition necessitating the LifeAid (called LifeAlert here) necklace. He also had bipolar disorder. He is initially confused by the banging on his door, but eventually is contacted by the LifeAid operator and is informed what’s going on. Chamberlain insists he’s okay, that the alert was an accident and there’s no need for the officers to remain. However, he is adamant that he will not open the steel door and let the officers into his apartment. Like many African-Americans, he has a distrust of the police and this is compounded by his mental illness, which rendered him a bit paranoid. He was certain that if he let the cops into his apartment, he would end up dead.

We see the events play out in real time. Much of what happens in the movie is corroborated – the encounter was caught on the LifeAid callbox (portions of which are played at the end of the film), and some of the final moments were captured on a camera mounted on a police taser. The police claimed that Chamberlain was armed with a butcher knife and that the officers shot him in self-defense, a charge the family of Mr. Chamberlain denies. The film seems to validate this; by the time the police broke in, Chamberlain is shown to be disarmed. He is also tasered – which is not recommended for someone with a heart condition – and then shot by Jackson while he is down and essentially helpless.

So in that sense, this isn’t a he-said-she-said situation; many of the facts are not in dispute. What is absolutely mind-boggling is that despite several trials, nobody has ever been charged in Chamberlain’s death. Supporters of police officers will be quick o point out that had Chamberlain simply cooperated, the men would have been in and out of the apartment in five minutes and he would still be alive today.

However, the police should never have forced entry into the apartment. They didn’t have probable cause. Chamberlain’s reluctance to let them inside didn’t constitute probable cause. He didn’t let them in because he was not required to. It’s his own home. They would have needed a search warrant to lawfully enter his residence and they didn’t have one.

We watch the escalation unfolding with eyes wide open; Sgt. Park muses that Chamberlain might have a hooker tied up in a closet in there, or a meth lab in his kitchen. Chamberlain’s military service was the subject of snide comments by the officers, and racial slurs were used at least once on the tape.

Throughout, Chamberlain is clearly terrified and Faison wisely doesn’t overplay it, nor does he overplay the mental illness aspect. For the most part, he plays Chamberlain as a cantankerous, somewhat confused old man who was (justifiably, as it turned out) concerned with his safety should he allow the officers into his home. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance that I hope won’t get overlooked which could happen, considering that the movie didn’t get wide distribution although having HBO behind it might help.

This isn’t an easy movie to watch and I imagine that African-American viewers will have a particularly hard time not being triggered by it. One can feel the cops testosterone-fueled rage up against the outrage by the other residents and the desperation of Chamberlain’s niece (Peel) – who also lived in the building and begged the cops to let her talk to her Uncle and defuse the situation, which they steadfastly effused to do. And it was all so very avoidable, and points out one of the flaws in our system of policing – as much as this could have been averted had Chamberlain cooperated, it also might have turned out differently if at the first sign of trouble, mental health professionals trained to deal with this type of behavior had been called in. The police officers weren’t trained to deal with Chamberlain’s mental condition, and saw his refusal as a challenge to their authority. That the judicial system has agreed with that assessment is proof positive that we have a very long way to go before we can claim that our African-American brothers and sisters have equal justice before the law.

REASONS TO SEE: An extraordinary performance by Faison. Shines a light on an incident that should have gotten broader coverage. Gripping from start to finish.
REASONS TO AVOID: The use of loud sound cues is somewhat distracting.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity including racial epithets, violence, and disturbing content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although it appears to be depicted here that Chamberlain died on the scene, he actually passed away in the hospital while in surgery.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, HBO Max, Microsoft, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/27/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: If Beale Street Could Talk
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
The Tomorrow War

The Beta Test


Jim Cummings promises that he’s not a douchenozzle like Jordan.

(2021) Mystery (IFC) Jim Cummings, Virginia Newcomb, PJ McCabe, Kevin Changaris, Olivia Applegate, Jacqueline Doke, Christian Hillborg, Jessie Barr, Malin Barr, Wilky Lau, Keith Powell, Lya Yanne, Jackie Michele Johnson, Brayden Reeves, Dustin Hahn, Ammar Alderi, Joy Sunday, Julio Trinidad, Bryan Casserly, Jeffrey Markle, Cheri Chen Julian. Directed by Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe

 

Hollywood is not a place for the faint of heart. It is full of rampaging egos and cutthroat businessfolk who chew up and spit out the gentler souls. It is a place that needs thick skins and a cold heart in order to survive.

Jordan (Cummings) is an agent for a three-letter talent agency (Hollywood insider junkies can likely figure out which one it’s supposed to be) who is pretty much a douchebag. He makes deals of questionable legality and unquestionable immorality, treats assistants like cannon fodder, and outwardly dotes on his fiancé Caroline (Newcomb) while viewing her as essentially a stepping stone on the way to real power.

He receives a strange invitation in a purple envelope, promising him a one-time no-strings-attached sexual encounter if he shows up to such-and-such a hotel room at such-and-such a time. He barely gives it a second thought and shows up, where he is blindfolded and has passionate sex with a similarly blindfolded partner.

But paranoia runs deep in the heart of an agent, and Jordan begins to suspect that he’s been set up. He confides in his partner PJ (McCabe) who launches a quiet investigation; in the meantime, Angelinos are dropping like flies, being murdered by their partners for their infidelity. Is that what’s in store for Jordan?

There’s a lot going on here; multiple layers of different genres, from a whodunit, to a Hollywood insider satire, to a dark comedy and to an erotic thriller. The movie tilts at windmills like Big Tech, misogynistic Hollywood culture, toxic masculinity and infidelity. Some might even see it as a parable about modern society and morals; I think that may be a bit of a stretch, but I can see where the idea might germinate. In the first two acts, the various elements are interwoven deftly, although co-directors (and co-writers) seem to lose the threads in the final act when the violence begins to accelerate.

One of the big problems here is that Jordan is a walking talking bag of feces, and the longer you spend with him, the more unclean you’ll feel. There comes a point where you begin hoping that Caroline will find out what’s going on and attatch a bomb to his testicles; at least that might give the audience a sense of satisfaction, but alas, that’s not to be. Does Jordan get what’s coming to him? I’m not telling, but suffice to say that you may or may not leave the film’s final credits feeling vindicated.

REASONS TO SEE: Lots of different layers going on here.
REASONS TO AVOID: The lead character is such a jerk you don’t want to spend another minute with him.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence and sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Some of the dialogue is repeated verbatim from testimony given the filmmakers by eleven agents, former agents and assistants at the four largest talent agencies in Hollywood.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/26/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews; Metacritic: 72/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Eyes Wide Shut
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain

King Richard


Will Smith is usually the leader of the pack.

(2021) Biographical Drama (Warner Brothers) Will Smith, Aunjanue Ellis, Jon Bernthal, Saniyya Sidney, Demi Singleton, Tony Goldwyn, Mikayla Lashae Bartholomew, Daniele Lawson, Layla Crawford, Erika Ringor, Noah Bean, Craig Tate, Josiah Cross, Vaughn Hebron, Jimmy Walker Jr., Kevin Dunn, Brad Greenquist, Christopher Wallinger, Chase Del Rey, Connie Ventress. Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green

 

Champions are not born; they’re made. All the ability in the world will not avail you a championship unless you are willing to put in the work to earn it. Often, the ones who are making sure that the work is being put in is the parents, tirelessly believing in their prodigy even after trudging through practice…in the rain.

Richard Williams (Smith) had an improbable goal for his daughters Venus (Sidney) and Serena (Singleton) – to mold them into champion tennis players. Now, understand that in Compton, that was not the means to sports stardom that is generally chosen. There were no tennis clubs, no manicured courts. Just the indifferently maintained courts in the public park, where gang bangers often hung out.

Richard had written out a 78-page plan detailing how he was going to help his daughters turn into Grand Slam winners. Not everyone believed in the plan; a concerned neighbor (Ringor) questions whether it is healthy to force the girls to practice in the rain.

But they persevere and eventually Richard gets Venus hooked up with renowned tennis coach Paul Cohen (Goldwyn), the man who taught John McEnroe (Wallinger) and Pete Sampras (Del Rey). Paul gets Venus onto the junior tournament circuit, where her extraordinary success gets her national notice, but Richard isn’t satisfied. For one thing, Cohen wants Venus to utilize a closed stance, which is contrary to what Richard has taught her. He is constantly yelling at her to keep her stance open. “That’s where her power comes from,” he explains.

In the meantime, Richard’s wife Oracene (Ellis) is teaching the disappointed Serena, using videotapes of Venus’ lessons to augment practice (Cohen was unwilling to coach both girls for free, but he was willing to take one, so the older of the two, Venus, was selected). The disagreements on how to prepare Venus for turning pro lead Richard to switch to a different coach, Rick Macci (Bernthal) which necessitates the family moving to Florida so that both girls can benefit from being a part of Macci’s academy. Richard still exerts a great deal of control over the direction of his daughter’s career trajectory, but has become something of a huckster, promoting his daughters shamelessly. However, it begins to become an issue that his girls are getting no say in how their career is to progress, and as Oracene points out to her husband during a heated argument, that’s the way to push his daughters away forever.

These sorts of sports movies tend to be a bit of an anti-climax because we know how they’re going to end.We know that Richard’s plans come to fruition and that Venus and Serena become legends of the court, each achieving incredible success (with the younger Serena eclipsing her older sister in terms of accomplishment). It’s fascinating to watch it all happen, however.

Part of what makes it that way is an extraordinary performance by Smith, who has made a career out of playing affable, charming guys. While Richard has plenty of charm, “affable” isn’t a word I’d use to describe him; he’s temperamental, something of a blowhard, and dictatorial. But there’s something about the man that is wounded; you see it in his body language when he drives the VW minibus, he carts his girls to and from practice in; all hunched over, eyes darting from one way to the next, certain that something is coming to knock him down again and trying to prepare for the blow that is inevitably coming, and come they do, sometimes literally. While we end up liking Richard largely because it’s Will Smith playing him. If someone with more of an edge played him, like Mahershala Ali, we might be less disposed to forgive Richard his eccentricities and flaws.

Ellis has a tall task in standing up to a performance like that, but she actually holds her own, particularly in the second half of the movie when it’s clear that Oracene is not 100% behind her husband’s plan and method. The argument I mentioned above is a highlight of the movie and Ellis’ finest hour.

The tennis scenes…well, I’m not enough of an expert in the sport to determine how realistic the sports action is. To my eye it seemed decent enough, although I’m not enough of a follower to ascertain whether Sidney and Singleton are getting the Williams sisters’ mannerisms down right. To my untrained eye, they look pretty believable to me.

With the Williams sisters acting as executive producers, it’s a foregone conclusion that there aren’t going to be any dark corners explored in the film, particularly Richard’s serial infidelity, his treatment of his kids from his first marriage (they don’t appear onscreen in the film), and his penchant for self-promotion, which is only obliquely addressed. It’s not really a “warts and all” depiction of the family patriarch; more like a glossy photoshopped version, but it’s fascinating nevertheless and worth seeing just to see Will Smith at his very best.

REASONS TO SEE: Will Smith could be in awards conversation for his work here. Humanizes a pair of tennis legends.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be a bit hagiographic.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some brief drug references, a bit of profanity, a sexual reference and some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Richard and Oracene divorced in 2002. He remarried eight years later, but the couple has since also divorced.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: HBO Max (until December 18)
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/24/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews; Metacritic: 76/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Borg vs. McEnroe
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
The Beta Test

New Releases for the Week of November 26, 2021


ENCANTO

(Disney/Pixar) Starring the voices of Stephanie Beatriz, Maria Cecilia Botero, Diane Guerrero, Angie Cepeda, John Leguizamo, Wilmer Valderrama. Directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard

The Madrigal family have been blessed to live in an enchanted house called Encanto in the mountains of Columbia. The house bestows upon each of them a special power – all except Mirabel. But the magic of Encanto is in danger and the only one who can save it might just be Mirabel.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG (for thematic elements and mild peril)

A Holiday Chance

(Faith Media) Nafessa Williams, Sharon Leal, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Tobias Truvillion. Two estranged rival sisters must come together to help save the family business when their father suffers some tragic events during the holidays.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Holiday
Now Playing: Regal Pointe Orlando
Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language and a suggestive reference)

Antim: The Final Truth

(Zee) Salman Khan, Aayush Sharma, Mahima Makwana, Mahesh Manjrekar. A penniless village boy sacrifices family and nearly everything else to rise to the top of organized crime, pursued closely by a relentless police officer.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Crime
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Springs, Regal Pavilion Port Orange
Rating: NR

Anubhavinchu Raja

(Annapurna) Ajay, Raj Tarun, Krishna Murali Posani, Sudharshan. A young man who inherits wealth at an early age becomes the village laughingstock when his lavish lifestyle catches up to him. Determined to prove himself worthy, his quest to gain respect goes awry.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Cinemark Orlando
Rating: NR

For the Love of Money

(Freestyle) Keri Hilson, Rotimi, Jason Mitchell, Keith Sweat. When shadowy figures threaten a woman’s daughter, she is pulled into the life she had escaped and had hoped never to return to.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Disney Springs, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando
Rating: R (for language, some sexual content/nudity and violence)

House of Gucci

(United Artists) Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons. Oscar-winning director Ridley Scott may have another awards contender on his hands as the family behind an Italian fashion empire is unraveled by the naked ambition of an outsider who married into the family.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: True Crime Drama
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: R (for language, some sexual content, and brief nudity and violence)

Julia

(Sony Classics) Julia Child, Ina Garten, Jacques Pepin, Marcus Samuelsson. This is the story of the woman who essentially created the modern cooking show, transformed the way Americans see food and cooking, and even made a difference in the role of women in society.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Cinematique Daytona, Enzian
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language/sexual references, and some thematic elements)

Maanaadu

(V House) S.J. Suryah, T.R. Silambarasan, Kalyani Priyadarshan, Bharathiraja. The bodyguard of the chief minister of the state and a police officer are caught in a time loop on the day of an important conference.

See the trailer
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: Cinemark Orlando, Regal Pointe Orlando
Rating: NR

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City

(Screen Gems) Kaya Scodelario, Hannah John-Kamen, Robbie Amell, Donal Logue. The exodus of pharmaceutical giant Umbrella has turned a boom town into a ghost town, but the problems for Raccoon City are far worse below the surface, where the evil of the Umbrella Corporation is being born.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: R (for strong violence and gore, and language throughout)

The Unforgivable

(Netflix) Sandra Bullock, Jon Bernthal, Vincent D’Onofrio, Viola Davis. A woman convicted for a violent crime serves out her sentence after which she returns home, where she is decidedly not welcome. Her only hope for redemption is in finding her estranged younger sister, whom she was forced to leave behind.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Cinemark Universal Citywalk
Rating: R (for language and violence)

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible (Monday)
Adrienne
(Wednesday)
Angéle
Badland Doves
(Wednesday)
Burning
(Monday)
Dig Deeper: The Disappearance of Birgit Meier
DMX: Don’t Try to Understand Me
(Thursday)
Dog Years
Good Thief
(Tuesday)
Green Snake
Lady Buds
More the Merrier
(Monday)
Nash Bridges
(Saturday)
The Power of the Dog
(Wednesday)
South Park: Post-COVID
(Thursday)
Spoiled Brats
The Summit of the Gods
(Tuesday)

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Encanto
House of Gucci
Lady Buds
The Power of the Dog
Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City
The Unforgivable

The Feast


When Wales becomes wails.

(2021) Horror (IFC Midnight) Annes Elwy, Nia Roberts, Julian Lewis Jones, Steffan Cennydd, Sion Alun Davies, Rodri Mellir, Lisa Palfrey, Chris Gordon, Caroline Berry. Directed by Lee Haven Jones

 

Some horror movies are an adrenaline rush from start to finish, keeping one on the edge of the seat, pulses pounding, going from one scare to another with little let-up. Others are slow burns, building up a mood and tension, building up to an explosive climax that leaves the viewer feeling wrung-out and exhausted, like a wet dishrag.

The Feast is the latter kind of film. In the green Welsh countryside, a monstrosity of a house stands out like a sore thumb. It is owned by the Member of Parliament Gwyn (Jones), who is the kind of politician whose idea of service only encompasses his own bank account. His wife, Glenda (Roberts) – Gwyn and Glenda; I wonder if Jones and writer Roger Williams noted the similarity to the title of a classic Ed Wood film? – is from the countryside but yearns to be considered an urban sophisticate. She is supervising a dinner party to be thrown for a local farmer whom Gwyn is anxious to get to sell his mineral rights to a large mining company; it is a deal with the devil from which profit is king and the damage to the countryside not even a consideration.

But Glenda can’t do it all alone, so she has enlisted the aid of Cadi (Elwy), a local waitress who is happy to make a little extra cash at this side gig, but when she arrives, she’s strangely soaking wet and muddy and her whole personality seems a little…off. As we meet the two sons of the house – arrogant triathlete Gweirydd (Davies), and the family black sheep and drug addict Gweithiwr (Gordon), we begin to notice that there’s more than a little bit strange about Cadi and as she observes the family and their guests, it becomes clear that the family is headed for a reckoning, one they richly deserve. But who is Cadi, or perhaps more to the point, what?

The script lets slip only tantalizing tidbits of information, keeping the audience in the dark until the very final act when the true nature of what’s happening is revealed. By then, it’s far too late for the victims, and also for the less patient viewer who may give up on the movie much earlier than that. That would be a mistake; the payoff is pretty satisfying, and while there are no characters who are really going to grab your rooting interest for survival, at least there is some grim satisfaction in seeing some despicable people get made examples of. It’s not justice – unless you believe in the extreme sort – but there is something deeply satisfying with seeing people who put greed and profit above everything else be made to pay big time.

Most of the violence occurs off-screen, although the director Lee Haven Jones doesn’t shy away from showing the results of the violence. The atmospheric cinematography by Bjorn Ståle Bratberg does much to establish the uneasy tone that builds throughout the film. The actors, mostly known for appearances on British television shows and movies, go about their business professionally and keep their performances subtle and centered.

This is not the kind of movie that feels like a roller coaster ride, but it IS the kind of movie that will give you nightmares and leave you feeling creeped out long after you’ve seen it. This is a very striking and solid horror experience that is going to take a few folks by surprise; definitely seek it out if you’re looking to spend the rest of the night jumping at every sound in your house.

REASONS TO SEE: Starts out unsettling and the discomfort only grows from there. A bit of a comment on privilege and class distinctions.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be a little too long in developing for the impatient.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, violence, sexuality and some disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: One of the few films whose entire dialogue is in Welsh.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/23/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 81% positive reviews; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Beatriz at Dinner
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
King Richard