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

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New Releases for the Week of November 14, 2014


Dumb and Dumber ToDUMB AND DUMBER TO

(Universal) Jim Carey, Jeff Daniels, Rob Riggle, Laurie Holden, Rachel Melvin, Kathleen Turner, Bill Murray, Paul Blackthorne, Patricia French. Directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly

Harry and Lloyd are back. Not that anyone missed them.

See the trailer, clips, interviews B-roll video and world premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide release
Rating: PG-13 (for crude and sexual humor, partial nudity, language and some drug references)

Beyond the Lights

(Relativity) Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker, Minnie Driver, Danny Glover. A pop superstar finds herself being overwhelmed by the pressures of stardom and decides to end it all. However, she is saved by a handsome young cop on her detail. The two fall hard for each other and although nobody around them approves of the romance, the two persevere and in the process save each other.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content including suggestive gestures, partial nudity, language and thematic elements)

Rosewater

(Open Road) Gael Garcia Bernal, Kim Bodnia, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Claire Foy. A Newsweek reporter, covering the 2009 elections in Iran, is arrested for an interview he conducted. He remains in captivity for 118 days, mostly blindfolded and only knowing his interrogator because of the scent of rosewater that he always seems to be wearing. After his release, the reporter would go on The Daily Show and discuss his ordeal with host Jon Stewart who then made a movie about it.

See the trailer, a clip and a featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website.
Release formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Downtown Disney, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language including some crude references, and violent content)

Non-Stop


Liam Neeson's contract includes the valuables and wallets of the extras.

Liam Neeson’s contract includes the valuables and wallets of the extras.

(2014) Thriller (Universal) Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Nate Parker, Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o, Corey Stoll, Omar Metwally, Jason Butler Harner, Linus Roache, Shea Whigham, Anson Mount, Quinn McColgan, Corey Hawkins, Frank Deal, Bar Paly, Edoardo Costa, Jon Abrahams, Amanda Quaid. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

Flying is a stressful endeavor. We are crammed like sardines into a tin can and hope that the pilot is sober enough to get us from point A to point B without bringing us down in a flaming Viking funeral. We are surrounded by strangers and we hope against hope that they won’t talk the entire five hour flight, or that the kids behind us won’t kick our chair non-stop. It’s no wonder that alcohol is served aboard air flights. The wonder is that they don’t make tranquilizers available as well.

Bill Marks (Neeson) hates flying. Just to get him on the plane he has to drink half a bottle of whiskey. Once on board, he disables the smoke alarms in the lavatory to smoke a long, calming cigarette. He doesn’t really want to talk to anybody, but he’s a kindly enough sort who takes the time to help a little girl travelling all by herself across the Atlantic ocean to visit her daddy in London conquer her fears and step aboard the big intimidating airplane. Bill sure hates flying but he does a lot of it. After all, he’s a Federal Air Marshal.

It should be a routine flight from New York to London. Next to him is a pleasant if inquisitive middle aged woman named Jen (Moore) who is happy to let him sleep through most of the flight. The pilot (Roache) is an old friend as is the head stewardess Nancy (Dockery). His partner aboard, Jack Hammond (Mount) is a little by-the-book for his tastes but he knows his stuff. However, Bill doesn’t want to be there. He needs to be in New York, taking care of…well, stuff. He gets into a shouting match with his supervisor over the phone about it. The supervisor tells him that he can’t grant Bill’s request for an immediate return flight home; “I have to do what I have to do,” says the supervisor. “Oh yeah?” growls Bill, “Well I’ll do what I’ve gotta do too!” Showed him.

Of course, since this is a movie, the flight is anything but routine. Midway over the Atlantic, Bill gets a text on his secure Blackberry telling him that someone aboard the flight will die every 20 minutes unless $150 million is transferred into a Swiss bank account. Hammond pooh-poohs the threat but Bill is unnerved. When a passenger turns up dead at the specified time, Bill is vindicated. He is also the suspect as the bank account turns out to be in his name. As the body count begins to pile up, Bill begins to believe that the killer has a whole other agenda that has nothing to do with the money. The race against time is to discover what that agenda is, who’s behind it and to save the plane from the previously described Viking funeral.

There are plenty of red herrings in the thriller, some involving drug trafficking and of course the identity of the killer. Nearly everyone comes under suspicion at one point excluding Bill who is only made to look guilty but something told me early on that Neeson wasn’t going to be the killer (although that might have made for an interesting twist). There are so many that it actually becomes a little annoying.

Neeson has become quite a dependable action hero which is a far cry from his days as one of the better serious actors on the planet (Schindler’s List, Michael Collins sniff sniff). He is a large, physically intimidating man and his gruff demeanor makes him a perfect fit for these kinds of roles and again, like Kevin Costner in 3 Days to Kill is the biggest reason to plunk down your hard-earned cash to see this film.

Moore is likewise an actress who has delivered Oscar-caliber performances in the past. She makes an excellent foil for Neeson, bandying back and forth with him not necessarily in a flirtatious manner. Their chemistry is so strong I wouldn’t mind seeing them as partners in future movies.

The rest of the cast is unusually able for this type of film. Collet-Serra was very fortunate to cast actors who were on the cusp of their big break so he has an Oscar winner (Nyong’o) in an essentially throwaway role, Dockery just now breaking big for Downton Abbey and Stoll getting raves in House of Cards.

Jaume Collet-Serra, who previously teamed with Neeson in Unknown, knows what he’s doing when it comes to action films. Considering nearly all of the action takes place in a commercial airline cabin (excepting the opening and closing scenes), the action is pretty decent when it occurs. Most of the rest of the time, Collet-Serra is content to let the tension and the suspense rule the day. I would have preferred less misdirection – a little bit of that can go a long way – but that’s more of a personal preference. Your mileage may vary.

This is one of those movies that is exactly what you expect it to be – no more, no less. If you’re looking for mindless entertainment it will deliver. If you’re looking for a strong leading man, it delivers that too. If you’re looking for innovation within the genre, keep looking. But a WYSIWYG movie isn’t necessarily a bad thing – sometimes it’s exactly what you need.

REASONS TO GO: Neeson is always entertaining and this time gets a fine foil in Moore. Some fairly decent white knuckle moments.

REASONS TO STAY: Plot a bit too far up the ludicrous scale. Too many action film clichés.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some action film violence, at times fairly intense. There’s also a fair amount of foul language, a subplot involving drugs and some sensuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Bill Marks, like Neeson himself, was born in Northern Ireland and later emigrated to the United States.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/11/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 60% positive reviews. Metacritic: 56/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Passenger 47

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: The Great Beauty

New Releases for the Week of February 28, 2014


Non-StopNON-STOP

(Universal) Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Nate Parker, Scoot McNairy, Michelle Dockery, Lupita Nyong’o, Omar Metwally, Linus Roache, Shea Whigham, Anson Mount. Directed by Jaume Collet-Serra

A Federal Air Marshal on a transatlantic flight receives a message that someone on the plane will die every 20 minutes unless a ransom demand is met. When it turns out the message is deadly serious, he has to discover who’s sending those messages – only to find out that there is something far more devious going on than a mere hostage situation.

See the trailer, clips, an interview,  a promo and footage from the premiere here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, some language, sensuality and drug references)

Odd Thomas

(RLJ/Image) Anton Yelchin, Willem Dafoe, Patton Oswalt, Addison Timlin. A nondescript fry cook in a nondescript small town has a special gift – he can see dead people. When a mysterious stranger brings in an entourage of truly nasty demonic sorts, Thomas realizes that a disaster of apocalyptic proportions is upon them. From writer Dean Koontz and director Stephen Sommers who has The Mummy on his resume.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Horror

Rating: NR

Raze

(IFC Midnight) Zoe Bell, Doug Jones, Sherilyn Fenn, Tracie Thoms. After being abducted, a woman wakes up in a concrete bunker and is forced to fight in a tournament of 50 women. If she loses or refuses to fight, her loved ones will be murdered.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action Horror

Rating: NR

Repentance

(CODEBLACK) Forest Whitaker, Anthony Mackie, Mike Epps, Sanaa Lathan. A life coach with a dark past takes on a man fixated on his mother’s recent passing mainly to get some cash to bail out his brother who is deeply in debt to the wrong people. However, it turns out his new client is far more than he seems to be and his issues run far deeper.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for violence including torture and language)

Shaadi Ke Side Effects

(Bataji) Farhan Akhtar, Vidya Balan, Vir Das, Ram Kapoor. A young married couple who had a very difficult time getting their wedding pulled off finds that the most difficulty comes after the wedding.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

Son of God

(20th Century Fox) Diogo Morgado, Roma Downey, Nonso Anozie, Amber Rose Revah. From the producers of the hit cable series The Bible comes this focus on Jesus of Nazareth.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Faith

Rating: PG-13 (for for intense and bloody depiction of The Crucifixion and for some sequences of violence)

Stalingrad

(Sony Classics) Thomas Kretschmann, Pyotr Fyodorov, Sergey Bondarchuk, Maria Smolnikova. An epic retelling of the crucial battle that broke the Nazi stranglehold on Europe and eventually turned the tide of the war. Shown from a post-Soviet Russian point of view.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: IMAX 3D

Genre: Historical War Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic material and brief strong language)

The Wind Rises

(Touchstone/Studio Ghibli) Starring the voices of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Martin Short. A young Japanese dreamer sees the breathtaking work of early aviation pioneer Caproni and dreams of flying aircraft. His extreme nearsightedness prevents him from becoming a pilot but he determines to design the planes that will bring Japan into the air age. Acclaimed director Hayao Miyazaki says this will be his final film and it may well be one of his best; it has been nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar for this Sunday’s ceremony.

See the trailer, a video and interviews here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Anime

Rating: NR

Red Tails


Red Tails

The Tuskegee Airmen, circa 2012.

(2012) War (20th Century Fox) Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Bryan Cranston, Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Tristan Wilds, Cliff Smith, Rick Phillips, Ne-Yo, Lee Tergesen, Daniela Ruah, Elijah Kelly, Marcus T. Paulk, Andre Royo, Gerald McRaney, Michael B. Jordan. Directed by Anthony Hemingway

 

The story of the Tuskegee Airmen is one of the most inspiring ones to come out of the Second World War. An all-black Air Squadron in the U.S. Army Air Corps (kind of a precursor to the Air Force which didn’t exist at the time), the group encountered prejudice and the prevailing attitude that African-Americans were incapable of learning the complex workings of the fighter planes and were cowardly in nature, certain to turn tail and run in combat. Spurious studies done by the U.S. Army War College apparently supported that myth.

Most people who saw the brilliant HBO movie The Tuskegee Airmen will know that the Airmen shattered that myth, posting one of the proudest records of any squadron in the war. They protected the bombers that were dropping the smackdown on Hitler and saved uncountable lives; not just the men in the bombers but the soldiers on the ground as well for whom the war was shortened because the bombers were able to do their work.

It’s high time that the Tuskegee Airmen got a proper treatment on the big screen and George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars saga, has been trying to do just that since the 1980s. However, studios were reluctant to approve a big-budget movie with an all African-American cast – it seems some battles remain un-won in the struggle.

Unfortunately, the movie that Lucas placed in the hands of first-time feature director Hemingway (who has helmed the justly acclaimed “Treme” series for HBO) falls way short of the mark. I’m not even sure where to begin with it. The script I guess for starters; it’s cliché and full of cut-out characters taken from war movies of bygone times. It’s predictable in the extreme, lacking in either vision or creativity. For whatever reason, Lucas opted to go with a fictional version of the Airmen and these Airmen lack depth and are even worse, uninteresting.

Howard fares best as Maj. Bullard, the squadron commander. He at least has some life in what he does and commands screen attention. Gooding, who was in the HBO version of the story, uses a pipe to distraction, substituting props for creating a genuine character. He sleepwalks through the part, lacking his usual energy.

Lucas is well-known for his dogfight sequences in the Star Wars movies and has said in interviews that the fights in this movie are as close as we’re going to ever come to an Episode VII in that series. If that’s the case, it’s a good thing they cut it off after six. The CGI is not just bad, it’s embarrassing. It never looks very realistic at all; it looks like a ten-year-old videogame.

For some odd reason, it appears that Terence Blanchard, who composed the score, went for a beat-heavy synthesized score rather than something more period-friendly. It’s distracting which is not what you want from a score; it should enhance the film experience, not be noticed for all the wrong reasons.

I can understand wishing to make an action movie based on the exploits of the Airmen; that would expose the squadron to a wider audience, theoretically. That’s admirable, but at least if you’re going to do that, give that wider audience a movie they’re going to want to not only see in theaters but recommend to friends.

There is an elephant in the room about this movie that I guess I’m going to address here. I’m a white critic criticizing a nearly all-African American film. To say that I don’t like the movie doesn’t mean I don’t like the subject, or that I don’t like African-Americans. I have nothing but respect for the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen; I just wish they had a better film that honors those accomplishments.

REASONS TO GO: Howard lends some dignity and restraint.

REASONS TO STAY: Where to begin? Poorly acted, amateurish CGI, one of the most annoying film scores ever, a movie-of-the-week plot…the story of the Tuskegee Airmen deserved a better movie.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of war violence, some of it gruesome and there’s also some sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: George Lucas has been developing the story since 1988; since studios have not been willing to finance the project, he has put his own money into making the film, almost $100 million for production and marketing.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/29/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 35% positive reviews. Metacritic: 46/100. The reviews are bad to mixed.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Miracle at St. Anna

AERIAL COMBAT LOVERS: There are a few scenes in which you get an idea of the chaotic nature of WW2 dogfights.

FINAL RATING: 2/10

TOMORROW: El Bulli: Cooking in Progress

Arbitrage


Arbitrage

"Richard Gere is a handsome man but he ain't no Tim Robbins"

(2012) Drama (Roadside Attractions) Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth, Brit Marling, Nate Parker, Laetitia Casta, Josh Pais, Monica Raymond, Stuart Margolin, William Friedkin, Bruce Altman, Evelina Oboza, Larry Pine, Curtiss Cook. Directed by Nicholas Jarecki

 

All of us have some sort of moral code, ethics which guide us in our decision making process. Now those ethics might completely revolve around self-interest, or perhaps have some inkling of the greater good somewhere deep down. It is truly disturbing how easily our moral compasses can slowly shift from true north into a different direction.

Robert Miller (Gere) is a Wall Street icon. He’s built one of the most profitable and respected firms in the world, is a billionaire many times over. Now as his career is winding down, he has much to be grateful for. He is in the midst of selling his company, after which he’ll semi-retire to spend more time with his family. His daughter Brooke (Marling) is the CFO of his company and has proven to be as brilliant as he, a worthy successor to his mantle if that’s what she chooses.

But life isn’t always what it seems. Miller has had enormous losses from a failed copper mine in Russia, losses he’s covered with capital from his own company, an SEC no-no. In order to cover those losses, he’s had to borrow money to make the books look rock solid so that the merger can go through. Miller has also been cheating on his wife Ellen (Sarandon) who is busy running their charitable foundation with Julie Cote (Victoria’s Secret model Casta).

It all begins to spiral out of control when a tragedy forces Miller to lie to his wife and the police about his whereabouts. The son of his deceased chauffeur, Jimmy Grant (Parker) comes to his rescue and finds himself in the crosshairs of eager detective Michael Bryer (Roth) who smells the lies several miles away and is making it his mission to nail Miller, willing to do anything – including ruin Grant’s life – to get what he wants. In the meantime, the clock is ticking on that multi-billion dollar merger.

Jarecki has an understanding of the financial industry and the titans who run it (his father was one) and brings it to life here. Often these days Wall Street corporate sorts are made the villain and the scapegoat in movies like this; certainly on paper it sounds like Robert Miller is a monster, given his attitude towards others and himself. Miller does some things that are awfully callous and yet you still like the guy and root for him to come out ahead – which is odd, because considering what guys like this did to the country you might want Miller to pay for his crimes tenfold. Chalk it up to Gere’s natural charisma.

Richard Gere is definitely the main reason to see this; he has delivered his best performance in 20 years, maybe ever. Gere is one of the few actors in Hollywood who is able to do thoroughly despicable things onscreen and yet become the rooting interest. That he does so here considering the economic climate is a tribute to his talents. Only Richard Gere could make us root for a philandering, cheating, lying, deceitful scumbag of a Wall Street CEO.

Marling does very well as Gere’s brilliant daughter. She is less vulnerable here than she was in Another Earth which might have been a better acting performance on the surface, but she’s holding her own with some acting heavyweights and makes her character the moral center of the piece and carries it off well. She’s a talent worth keeping your eye on – I think she’s got a brilliant future ahead of her.

Tim Roth plays a character not unlike the one he doses in “Lie to Me” although Det. Bryer is a little bit more edgy, a little more high-strung. His scenes with Nate Parker are some of the best in the movie. Parker is another talent with sky-high potential; he infuses Jimmy Grant with dignity as a former con trying to get his life back together again.

Jarecki has written an interesting script that keeps you on the edge of your seat at times. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and in Miller’s case, that old adage is certainly true. He may be a wealthy man but he is not rich. This is more than a fall of the rich and powerful parable, or a commentary on the callousness of the bussiness-ocracy that is running our country de facto these days.  It is also a morality tale on how the corruption of an individual can come in a subtle and seemingly harmless way – and then before they know it wreak complete and irrevocable change on that person’s soul.

NOTE: This movie was premiered at Sundance earlier this week and was screened at the Enzian Theater in Maitland, Florida as part of the Sundance Festival USA program in which films from the Festival were brought to nine theaters around the country. While at Sundance, the film was picked up for distribution by Lionsgate/Roadhouse Attractions and will be released sometime later this year, in all likelihood on a limited basis.

REASONS TO GO: A gripping story of moral compromise. Outstanding performances by Gere, Parker, Roth and Marling. Looks like a movie that cost much more to make than it did.

REASONS TO STAY: You might find yourself hating yourself for rooting for such a rotten guy as Robert Miller.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexuality and plenty of bad language. There is a disturbing image involving a car accident as well as some drinking and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Nicholas Jarecki’s dad Henry has been a commodities trader, psychiatrist, entrepreneur and was the co-founder of Moviefone; two of his siblings (Andrew and Eugene) are also film directors and Eugene is likewise debuting a film at Sundance this year (The House I Live In).

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/28/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews. Metacritic: N/A. Too soon to tell as the movie has yet to be released and has only played thus far at Sundance.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Margin Call

WEALTH LOVERS: The scenes in the townhouse where Robert Miller lives were filmed in the home of director Jarecki’s father which has been called the most expensive home in New York remaining in private hands.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: Red Tails

New Releases for the Week of January 20, 2012


January 20, 2012

UNDERWORLD AWAKENING

(Screen Gems) Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Rea, Michael Ealy, Theo James, India Eisley, Sandrine Holt, Charles Dance, Kris Holden-Ried. Directed by Mats Mjarlind and Bjorn Stein

Selene, the warrior vampire from the first two Underworld movies, returns for the fourth and we have sorely missed her. She has an excuse however – she was captured by humans and placed in suspended animation, which sounds like Pixar in detention. Bad puns aside, she escapes and discovers that the humans have discovered the existence of the vampires and the Lycans and has entered into a war into the both of them – and is winning. However, there’s a new player in the game, one that threatens to wipe out everybody – and a little girl is the key to it all, a little girl under Selene’s protection.

See the trailer, interviews and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D

Genre: Horror Action

Rating: R (for strong violence and gore, and for some language)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

(Warner Brothers) Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Max von Sydow. An inventive, imaginative 11-year-old boy’s world is shattered when his father dies in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. He finds a key in his father’s belongs and becomes convinced that the key unlocks something of great significance to his dad. Therefore, he goes on a quest to find the lock that the key opens and along the way will find others with broken hearts in need of healing just like him. I don’t often cry during trailers but I did during this one.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images and language)

Haywire

(Relativity) Gina Carano, Ewan McGregor, Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas.  A highly trained CIA operative is sent on what appears to be a routine mission mostly acting as arm candy for another agent. However when that other agent tries to kill her, she realizes that she’s been betrayed by someone at the agency close to her. She has to go out on her own in order to find out who’s behind it and get them before they get her. MMA star Carano makes her film debut in the latest from prolific Oscar-nominated director Steven Soderbergh.

See the trailer, clips and web-only content here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for some violence)

 

Red Tails

(20th Century Fox) Cuba Gooding Jr., Terrence Howard, Bryan Cranston, Nate Parker. This is the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a squadron of African American fighters during World War II who not only had to fight the Nazis but the U.S. Army as well who didn’t believe they had the ability to be fighter pilots. As it turned out, they were one of the most decorated squadrons of the war, with more enemy kills than almost anybody else.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: War Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some sequences of war violence)