New Releases for the Week of Aptil 12, 2019


HELLBOY

(Summit) David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Penelope Mitchell, Sophie Okonedo, Thomas Haden Church. Directed by Neil Marshall

Hellboy, the cigar-chomping half-demon entity and operative for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, must go up against Nimue, a resurrected sorceress with a grudge. She seeks to avenge a past betrayal; he seeks to stop her without bringing about the end of days.

See the trailer, video featurettes, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Action/Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release

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

After

(Aviron) Josephine Langford, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Selma Blair, Jennifer Beals. Based on the Anna Todd bestseller, After follows the dutiful, lawyer and well-behaved Tessa as she enters her first semester of college. Unusual for her age in that she has a clear idea of who she is and what her goals are in life, she meets a brooding, handsome young rebel who throws her carefully planned life and future into absolute chaos.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and college partying)

Little

(Universal) Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Marsai Martin, Tone Bell. A young woman feels the stresses of adult life getting to her to the point she can’t stand it anymore. She longs to relive her carefree childhood days and this being the movies, it comes to pass. Think of this as the anti-Big.

See the trailer, video featurettes and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG=13 (for some suggestive content)

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

(Well Go USA) Jin Zhang, Dave Bautista, Michelle Yeoh, Tony Jaa. After suffering defeat at the hands of Ip Man in a martial arts battle, Cheung Tin Chi turns his back on fighting to raise his young son and run a small store. However, he’s reluctantly drawn back when the hotheaded brother of a gang leader has a run-in with him.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Martial Arts
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: NR

Mia and the White Lion

(Ledafilms) Daniah de Villiers, Mėlanie Laurent, Langley Kirkwood, Ryan McLennan. 10-year-old Mia’s life is turned upside down when her family decides to move from London to manage a lion farm in South Africa. Mia is heartbroken to leave everything she knows but develops a close friendship with a rare white lion cub. As the cub grows to full maturity, Mia uncovers a family secret. Distraught, she decides to run away with her white lion on a desperate journey to find somewhere her friend can live in peace and freedom.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Cobb Plaza Cinema, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

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

Missing Link

(Annapurna/United Artists) Starring the voices of Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Emma Thompson. The latest from the inventive animation house Laika, an anthropological wonder who lives in the Pacific Northwest longs to find others of his kind in the fabled valley of Shangri-La and recruits a famous adventurer to take him there.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a video featurette and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action/peril and some mild rude humor)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Acres & Acres
American Warfighter
Chitralahari
Diane
Los Domirriqueños 2
Madhura Raja
Mary Magdalene
Noah: Sight and Sound

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Chitralahari
Diane
Ferrante Fever
Los Domirriqueños 2
Madhura Raja
Manje Bistre 2
Mary Magdalene
Noah: Sight and Sound
Penguin Highway
Sherdil
The Sower

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

A Dark Place
Chitralahari
Diane
Gangs of Madras
Kavacha
Los Domirriqueños 2
Madhura Raja
Noah: Sight and Sound

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Chitralahari
Madhura Raja
Noah: Sight and Sound
Transit

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Hellboy
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Florida Film Festival, Maitland/Winter Park FL
Sarasota Film Festival, Sarasota FL

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New Releases for the Week of August 3, 2018


CHRISTOPHER ROBIN  

(Disney) Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Mark Gatiss, Jim Cummings (voice), Brad Garrett (voice), Peter Capaldi (voice), Sophie Okonedo (voice), Toby Jones (voice), Bronte Carmichael. Directed by Marc Forster

An adult Christopher Robin struggles to balance his career and his family having left his childhood imagination behind. When his family leaves for a weekend holiday without him when work requires him to stay, he encounters his childhood friend Winnie the Pooh who helps him reclaim the joy in life.

See the trailer, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

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

Rating: PG (for some action)

The Darkest Minds

(20th Century Fox) Bradley Whitford, Mandy Moore, Amandla Stenberg, Gwendoline Christie. In a dystopian future, young people begin to develop amazing powers before they turn eighteen. Adults, fearing their own children, seek to lock them in camps and keep them prisoner. A resistance group aims to allow teens to take charge of their own lives. In other words, every parent’s nightmare.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

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

Rating: PG-13 (for violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements)

Eighth Grade

(A24) Elsie Fischer, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan. The eighth grade is something of a transition between childhood and teenage years. An introverted young girl has felt every humiliation possible in her disastrous grade eight year. All she can do is hope to survive her last week of school before starting fresh in high school.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal The Loop, Regal Waterford Lakes, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for language and some sexual material)

Generation Wealth

(Amazon) Limo Bob, Florian Homm, Tiffany Masters, Jaqueline Siegel. The super-wealthy of the United States is the wealthiest and most privileged class to ever exist in the world. This documentary investigates the pathologies that created that class.

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

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity, disturbing images, and drug material)

The Spy Who Dumped Me

(Lionsgate) Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Gillian Anderson. After Audrey is dumped by her boyfriend, she finds support and solace in her best friend Morgan. However, it turns out that Audrey’s ex is a spy and the two women are drawn into his shadowy world with absolutely no skills and no experience. Apparently Melissa McCarthy was unavailable for this one.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, video featurettes and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Spy Action Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for violence, language throughout, some crude sexual material and graphic nudity)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Boundaries
Chi La Sow
Death of a Nation
Goodachari
Karwaan
Kusina Kings

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

1945
Chi La Sow
Death of a Nation
Fanney Khan
Goodachari
Karwaan
Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Chi La Sow
Death of a Nation
Fanney Khan
Goodachari
Karwaan
Mulk
Urban Country

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Chi La Sow
Death of a Nation
Fanney Khan
Goodachari
Kusina Kings
Mulk

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Christopher Robin
The Darkest Minds
Eighth Grade
Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
The Spy Who Dumped Me

After Earth


Jaden Smith tries to escape a herd of angry  film critics.

Jaden Smith tries to escape a herd of angry film critics.

(2013) Science Fiction (Columbia) Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoe Kravitz, Glenn Morshower, Kristofer Hivju, Sacha Dhawan, Chris Geere, Diego Klattenhoff, David Denman, Lincoln Lewis, Jaden Martin, Sincere L. Bobb, Monika Jolly, Demetrice Jackson, Joe Farina, Albert Valladares, Jim Gunter, Tiffany E. Green. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

A friend of mine – who happens to be a big movie buff – posted on his Facebook page that he overheard during a trailer for After Earth at a different movie some people re-christen the movie Afterbirth. I chastised him at the time, saying something about judging a movie before you’d seen it (which seems to be an Internet hobby for many these days). We went back and forth over all the red flags he’d seen in the trailer that were making him uneasy about the movie. We left it with that he has no plans to see it unless he hears from friends he trusts that the movie is worth checking out. I think it’s safe to say that he’ll probably not be coming to the multiplex for this one.

The movie takes place over 1,000 years in the future. The human race has abandoned Earth after polluting it into essentially an uninhabitable wasteland. We eventually made our way to a planet called Nova Prime which sadly already had their own inhabitants who didn’t take kindly to our incursion. They genetically engineered a creature called an Ursa which was all razor sharp pincers and teeth which hunted based on smell. It literally was attracted to its prey by fear.

General Cypher Raige (Will Smith) found a way to mask his fear, rendering him invisible to the Ursa, allowing him and other Rangers (the military force of the human race) to essentially end the threat of the creatures. However it came at a high cost – while Cypher was away on duty, an Ursa invaded his home killing his daughter Senshi (Kravitz) in front of his young son Kitai (Martin).

Five years after that tragedy, a 14-year-old Kitai (Jaden Smith) is trying out for the Rangers. While great in the classroom, he has a tendency to fall apart in the field, haunted by the death of his sister. Commander Velan (Morshower) tells him as gently as possible that he has failed his application into the Rangers. Kitai is mortified; his father is due home that evening and will not be pleased at all.

His mother Faia (Okonedo) urges Cypher to bond with his son who is desperate to please him. Cypher, knowing that he hasn’t been the presence in his son’s life that he needs to be, takes him along on an off-world mission transporting an Ursa to a research station on a distant moon. Instead, the ship runs into a freak meteor storm and is forced to crash land where it all started – on Earth. As the ship goes down it breaks in two.

Cypher breaks both his legs seriously in the crash and he and Kitai are the only survivors in the front section of the ship. The distress beacon is also damaged beyond repair but there is another one in the tail section. The trouble is it’s 100 km (about 62 miles) away through hostile territory. The planet you see isn’t so thrilled about what the humans did to it and all life has evolved to kill humans. We are no longer used to the atmosphere so a liquid must be consumed every 24 hours to help us breathe. The planet is prone to violent temperature swings. And the captive Ursa has gotten loose and is sure to be after the creature it was bred to kill – a fearful human an there’s nobody more fearful than Kitai. Still, Kitai must overcome his fear and reach the beacon or both he and his dad will be toast.

The studio was very cagey about marketing the film. Director Shyamalan, whose name has appeared in the title of his last few films, was absent from all marketing materials – even the trailers. I can kind of understand why. Shyamalan, who had become an acclaimed director based on The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable had fallen on a series of bombs that have turned his name into box office poison which is kind of a shame – he’s a very talented director with a great visual sense who had for whatever reason become something of an Internet Kryptonite when it came to movies. The fanboys loathe him  and so the studio felt that the movie would be unfairly judged if Shyamalan’s name was attached to it (a fear that I think was justified). By emphasizing the presence of the father and son duo of Will and Jaden Smith the studio thought they’d attract an audience.

Unfortunately, the movie really isn’t very good. The story is interesting, and there’s a compelling message of mastering your fear and learning to balance your emotions. There are also some pretty amazing visuals that will keep your eyes happy.

There are also some questionable decisions, like the odd accent that the people of the future affect (was that really necessary to anything?) to some of the lapses in logic that dot the film (why would a planet evolve to kill a species that has been gone for a millennium, and why would a race that could develop a hand-held beacon not make it go off automatically in a crash, or at least allow the crew to deploy it manually before the crash). Those are kind of bothersome.

Will Smith, the loving dad, really sets this movie up to be Jaden’s film. I can’t really blame the proud papa; his son has shown some promise in his brief acting career but I think he expected a little too much from him here. Quite frankly, his son’s performance is disappointing. Part of it is that odd accent that makes him sound a bit goofy, and the script also calls upon Kitai to freak out with great regularity which makes the character generally unlikable, which doesn’t do Jaden any favors. The fact is however that the emotional outbursts that Kitai has are never very believable; Jaden just ratchets up the volume and that’s supposed to convince us of his rage and frustration. His brow is crinkled up through much of the film, making him look like he’s about to cry which also sends a subliminal message to the audience that this boy isn’t ready for this.

I feel bad having to say these things because as a critic, you really don’t want to rank on a young actor who may not have the coping skills necessary to deal with criticism but I think that at the end of the day my readers deserve to know what to expect when they see the film. Frankly, had Cypher been alone and had to make the journey himself it might have been a more riveting film but of course that would have upended much of the film’s message – but it would have made for a better movie

REASONS TO GO: Some amazing visuals.

REASONS TO STAY: A bit muddled. Logical lapses. Jayden Smith’s performance is excruciating.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is some violence of the sci-fi variety as well as a few disturbing images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first time in 20 years that Shyamalan has accepted a project based on a screenplay that was written by someone else.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/9/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 11% positive reviews. Metacritic: 33/100; the reviews have been for the most part scathing.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Oblivion

FINAL RATING: 4/10

NEXT: The Spy Next Door

New Releases for the Week of May 31, 2013


After Earth

AFTER EARTH

(Columbia) Will Smith, Jaden Smith, Sophie Okonedo, Zoe Kravitz, Glenn Morshower, Kristofer Hivju, Sacha Dhawan, Chris Geere, Diego Klattenhoff. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

A father and son who have had a distant relationship – in the distant future no less – are forced together when the space ship crashes on a deadly planet where all life has evolved with one goal in mind – kill humans. Of course, that’s the planet we originated from – Earth. Of course, after all the abuse and pollution and general bad karma we’ve heaped on the planet, who could blame it?

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Science Fiction

Rating: PG-13 (for sci-fi action violence and some disturbing images)

Frances Ha

(IFC) Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Michael Esper, Adam Driver. An unconventional young woman dreams of being a dancer in New York but her dreams seem to escape just beyond her reach. Undaunted, she lives life on her own terms and if her dreams are big, well then so too is her imagination on how to get them.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for some sexual content and brief drug use) 

Now You See Me

(Summit) Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Morgan Freeman, Woody Harrelson. They are the finest magicians in the world, the Four Horseman but their latest illusions seem to be the robbing of banks – halfway around the world from where they are at the time. The FBI is on them like a determined terrier but how do you decipher the clues when the accused is an accomplished illusionist…or is it magician?

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for language, some action and sexual content)

What Maisie Knew

(Millennium) Julianne Moore, Alexander Skarsgard, Steve Coogan, Onata Aprile. When a couple divorces, children are often the casualty. When that couple is egotistical and  vindictive, the child can be used as a pawn. When that is taken to extreme, well, it can get pretty ugly. This is a modernization of a classic Henry James novel.

See the trailer and a clip here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Drama

Rating: R (for some language) 

Yeh Jewaani Hai Deewani

(UTV) Deepika Padukone, Ranbir Kapoor, Aditya Roy Kapoor, Evelyn Sharma. A young couple and their best friends endure all the little things of life – love, betrayal, friendship, parties, heartbreak – okay, the big things of life.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

The Jackal


The Jackal

Anyone think Bruce Willis is overcompensating just a bit?

(1997) Suspense (Universal) Richard Gere, Bruce Willis, Sidney Poitier, Diane Venora, Mathilda May, J.K. Simmons, Richard Lineback, John Cunningham, Jack Black, Tess Harper, Sophie Okonedo, Daniel Dae Kim, Leslie Phillips, Stephen Spinella, Larry King. Directed by Michael Caton-Jones

 

The old saying goes that it takes a thief to catch a thief, which to my mind is utter claptrap. Plenty of thieves have been caught by people who aren’t thieves. However, if you’re going to follow that logic, then it follows that it takes an assassin to catch an assassin.

A raid on a Russian disco by the FBI and Russian military cops ends up with the brother of a high up figure in the Russian underworld getting shot. He blames the FBI for his brother’s demise and enlists the services of the most notorious assassin – only known as the Jackal (Willis) – who accepts a payment of $70 million to off the director of the FBI.

Deputy director Carter Preston (Poitier) gets wind of this and is presented with quite the dilemma; nobody knows what the Jackal looks like which is quite handy if you’re an assassin. Actually, that isn’t quite true – there is the former terrorist for the IRA named Declan Mulqueen (Gere) who knows what he looks like. And, if he is willing to help Preston and Major Valentina Koslova (Venora) track down the Jackal, well, the feds would be grateful. At least he’ll be able to get out of prison and see his former girlfriend, a Basque terrorist named Isabella Zanconia (May) who is now married to another man and living in Northern Virginia, who also knows all about the Jackal. For somebody whom law enforcement agencies have so little information on, these ex-terrorists sure have the goods on him.

Even with Mulqueen’s help, the Jackal leads them on a merry chase around the globe. He’s building a big bad remote control gun with which he can take out his target without actually being on the site; poor Jack Black (in an early role) plays a rawkin Canadian gunsmith who asks one annoying question too many and gets perforated by his own creation. That sucks rocks, dude.

Things get far more personal between Mulqueen and the Jackal and it turns into a kind of mano a mano cat and mouse game between the two. Still, how do you stop him when you don’t even have the target right?

This was based loosely on the 1973 thriller Day of the Jackal which in turn was based on a novel of the same name by Frederick Forsythe which was based on a real life plot to assassinate President Charles de Gaulle of France. That movie is considered one of the classic thrillers of its day and still holds up well nearly 40 years later.

I don’t know that this one will hold up as well in 2037. It has been utterly Americanized and comes off with the Jackal as kind of a cut-rate anti-Bond, with all sorts of gadgets and disguises – Willis has a goodly share of wigs, hairpieces and fake moustaches which must have been fun for him, and he has a different personality with each look from a frumpy Canadian to a suave gay man to a no-nonsense cop. Willis makes a pretty credible bad guy.

Gere’s performance is pretty good. Although his Irish brogue is inconsistent, he has the charisma to make what is essentially an IRA terrorist a sympathetic character although they backpedal and make the good guy terrorists in the movie mostly non-lethal who were more freedom fighters than terrorists. I wonder how sympathetic Gere would have been if we found out that Declan Mulqueen had taken part in a school bus bombing, something that the IRA actually did. Still, he is in full-on movie star mode here and carries the movie pretty well, although Poitier who was undergoing a career renaissance when the film was made, is reliable and gracious enough not to steal the movie out from under his nose which he was fully capable of doing.

The plot often takes ludicrous twists and turns and requires some pretty severe leaps of faith as logic often fails here. There is also a kind of Eurotrash undertone particularly in the soundtrack and some of the scenes that have Willis posturing a little overly much. The ending is a bit of a groaner too. However as empty-headed action thrillers go, this is one that I still view from time to time with enormous affection. However for real thrills I would suggest you see the 1973 version first.

WHY RENT THIS: Poitier is as always terrific. Some terrific action scenes. Willis is excellent as the villain.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Gere’s accent is unconvincing. Takes itself too seriously. Too much Eurotrash. Poor ending.

FAMILY VALUES:  There is a good deal of violence and strong language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Fred Zinnemann, the director of the original Day of the Jackal reportedly asked that the title of the remake be changed shortly before he passed away because he felt the original stood the test of time and was a completely different film from the newer one, which should warrant a different title.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: While the DVD is sorely lacking in features, the Blu-Ray has a bunch including an unusually informative commentary track and a nice featurette comparing the 1997 version with the original 1973 film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $159.3M on a $60M production budget; this was profitable (more than).

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Day of the Jackal

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Barry Munday

Skin


Skin

Sophie Okonedo ruminates on how ironic it is that her skin, so beautiful, could cause her so much trouble.

(2008) True Life Drama (Elysian) Sophie Okonedo, Alice Krige, Sam Neill, Ella Ramangwane, Hannes Brummer, Tembi Murake, Danny Keogh, Ben Botha, Nicole Holme, Lauren Das Neves, Jonathan Pienaar, Gordon Van Rooyan, Tony Kgoroge, Corbus Venter, Anna-Mart van der Merwe. Directed by Anthony Fabian

 

South Africa is a changed land. There are, however, many in the United States – particularly of the younger generation – who have little or no memory of the system of apartheid that reigned there until 1994 that relegated the black majority to second class status. Nearly all of us are unaware of the story of Sandra Laing, for whom apartheid did far more insidious damage.

Sandra (Ramangwane) was a well-adjusted little girl, adored by her shopkeeper parents Abraham (Neill) and Sannie (Krige). They are Afrikaans, living in the East Transvaal of South Africa in the 1950s, but while Abraham and Sannie are both lily-white, Sandra’s skin is darker-hued and her hair curly. Despite evidence to the contrary, she appears to have at least some African blood in here.

That is a problem in South African society. When Sandra’s parents drop her off in an all-white boarding school, after a short time during which she undergoes brutal teasing and extensive ostracizing, she is pulled from school by police officers and escorted home. Her parents are outraged – their daughter has been classified as colored, even though both parents are white. They go through extensive legal battles to reclassify her as white, finally getting a geneticist to testify that it is entirely possible that there is enough African DNA in even the whitest of Afrikaans to show up dominant unexpectedly. The Supreme Court at last classifies Sandra as white.

But that doesn’t make the now-teenaged Sandra (Okonedo) happy, although her parents are pleased as punch. Sandra knows she’s never going to be accepted by white South Africa, legal or not. On top of that, she falls in love with a black vegetable seller named Petrus (Kgoroge) who does business with her father.

However her father is not nearly as tolerant perhaps as you might think, and not only forbids the relationship but chases off Petrus with a shotgun. Like most willful daughters, this only strengthens Sandra’s resolve and soon enough she’s pregnant. When she elopes with her man to Swaziland, her father disowns her. They remain estranged for a very long time.

In the meantime, Sandra – cut off from her family and now living the life that most black members of South African society were experiencing with no running water, no electricity, no sanitation, low pay and few prospects. The pressure begins to take its toll on her marriage to Petrus, who grows more abusive until now with two small children, she is forced to leave.

She goes to find her parents only to discover that they no longer live where she grew up and for a time her attempts to find them are fruitless. However as the apartheid government falls and free elections are conducted for the first time, South African media takes an interest in the young woman who’d suffered so much because of a division that was really, when it comes down to it, only skin deep.

This is Fabian’s first effort and it shows in places. Some of his scenes dwell on minutiae a bit too much, be it cinematographically or through dialogue. That said, he captures the atmosphere of apartheid-era South Africa nicely; I’ve read comments from South African natives who have said so and far be it for me to disagree.

The main attraction here is Okonedo. Oscar-nominated for Hotel Rwanda, she proves that nomination was no fluke, turning in a performance that is nuanced and believable. Her Sandra shows the scars of being thought inferior to the point where she partially believes it, before she is forced to make a choice to save her kids from her abusive husband.

Neill and Krige, both tested veterans, perform pretty well although Neill is a bit over-the-top as the somewhat bombastic Abraham. There’s some scenery chewing going on, but not so much that it becomes irritating – it’s merely noticeable. Kgoroge  also turns in a fine performance, although he tends to be overshadowed in his scenes with Okonedo.

This is one of the tragic stories of apartheid, and that it hasn’t gotten virtually any coverage in the States is a bit of a crime. This might have been the movie to rectify that but it wasn’t picked up by a major or even a major indie distributor, getting barely any theatrical release in the States and relegated to cable where it can be found even as we speak. It is worth seeking out though if for no other reason for Okonedo’s performance.

WHY RENT THIS: The story is extremely moving. Okonedo gives a tremendous performance.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The pacing drags occasionally.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of sexuality and a little bit of violence, but the thing to remember here is that the subject matter is on the adult side and might be too much for immature sensibilities.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie won 19 international festival awards and was nominated for six mainstream awards.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Data not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tsotsi

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Snow White and the Huntsman

Hotel Rwanda


Hotel Rwanda

Even all these nuns couldn't pray Don Cheadle into the Oscar he well-deserved.

(2004) True Life Drama (United Artists) Don Cheadle, Nick Nolte, Sophie Okonedo, Desmond Dube, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, Joaquin Phoenix, Antonio David Lyons, David O’Hara, Lebo Mashile, Jean Reno, Cara Seymour, Thulani Nyembe. Directed by Terry George

 

The thing about human beings, is that even when you hit us in the face with a two by four, we still don’t get it. Many of us read the history books about the Holocaust and the Nazi Final Solution, Hitler’s attempt to exterminate Jews, Gypsies and millions of other people he didn’t like. We read about how many people turned a blind eye to the horrors of the 1930s and ’40s and we comfort ourselves by saying, “I’d never do that.”

And yet we do. The same thing happened in Rwanda in 1994, and nobody seemed to notice. It’s happening now, in Darfur, but few speak up. The consequences of silence can be terrible. Ask the Tutsis of Rwanda, if you can find any. There are significantly fewer of them now.

Paul Ruesesabagina (Cheadle) lived in Rwanda in 1994. He was the assistant manager of the swank Hotel Des Milles Colline, and a good one. Calm, efficient and competent, he used bribery, flattery and an impeccable sense of style to please his guests and grease the wheels of a corrupt system in the former Belgian colony that is now Rwanda. He lived a life of quiet comfort with his family.

But there are storm clouds on the horizon. The Belgians, while they occupied their former colony, had arbitrarily divided the people into two “tribes” — the lighter skinned, smaller-nosed were dubbed Tutsis and were given the authority to help them run the country. Inexplicably, when the Belgians left, they gave power to the Hutus. Animosities over years of oppression boiled over into a genocidal hatred, whipped up by a radio announcer/importer named George Rutuganda (Kae-Kazim).

Paul, a Hutu, is unconcerned at first. When his brother-in-law comes to warn him of impending disaster, he dismisses the warnings as hysteria. Then it begins, suddenly, brutally, given the excuse of the murder of the Rwandan president, ostensibly by Tutsi rebels, with whom a peace treaty has just been signed under the good auspices of the UN and the commander of their peacekeeping forces, Colonel Oliver (Nolte).

Now, Paul is faced with friends, neighbors and employees who are at risk because they are Tutsis. Paul’s wife Tatiana (Okonedo, previously seen in Dirty Pretty Things) is also Tutsi, as are his children. His safe world crumples amidst anarchy, chaos and brutal violence. Men, women and children are slaughtered by machetes, hacked to pieces by the hundreds. Paul and his family barely escape the carnage and make it to the hotel, where white European guests are panicking, trying to get out of a country gone berserk. Refugees, orphans left by a Red Cross worker (Seymour) begin to pour into the hotel. Paul, realizing that turning them away would be tantamount to a death sentence, takes them in, confident that he can wait out the storm until the west sends help.

But help is not forthcoming. The Americans, stung by their experiences in Somalia, don’t wish to walk into another hornet’s nest. The rest of the European nations follow suit. As the foreign nationals are all evacuated, Paul realizes that they must save themselves. And in order to do that, he must maintain the illusion that the Hotel des Milles Collines is still a five-star resort, a place of style where even the generals and butchers who preside at massacres can go to feel civilized.

Hotel Rwanda is harrowing. There are many irrational men with guns committing acts of unspeakable horror, and Cheadle, as Paul, is our eyes and ears. There is a scene where he is driving down the River Road in the early morning fog on the advice of the monstrous Rutuganda, when the car begins to hit a very rough road. Paul, fearing they have gone off the road, orders the driver to stop. He gets out of the car to see if they are still on the pavement and is met with the sight of hundreds of bodies lying in the road as far as the eye can see, children whose faces are grimaces of terror and pain. After returning to the hotel, he goes to change his shirt, which has been stained with the blood of the corpses on the road in the employee locker room. Attempting to tie his tie, he at last gives in to the overwhelming emotions of what he has witnessed and breaks down. It is a powerful, powerful scene, performed by a brilliant actor.

Don Cheadle earned an Oscar nomination for his performance here, and there are a lot of compelling reasons why he should have won, instead of Jamie Foxx. Rather than making Paul a perfect hero, he humanizes him and becomes the audience’s surrogate. Like all of us, sometimes he just doesn’t know enough to get out of the rain, even when the thunder is booming in his ears. He is in nearly every scene and carries the movie. Cheadle characterizes Paul as a kind of African Oskar Schindler, which in truth, he was. Okonedo is also magnificent, for which she was duly recognized with a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

There is no denying the power of this film. You are immediately sucked into the situation, and affected by it. You may wonder, as I did, “Why the hell didn’t I know this was going on? Why didn’t my country do anything about it?” As an embittered reporter, played in a cameo by Phoenix says, “I think if people see this footage, they’ll say ‘Oh, my God, that’s horrible.’ And then they’ll go on eating their dinners.”

While I found Kinyarwanda to be a much more authentic and moving film (also about the Rwandan genocide, but more about how that country is moving towards reconciliation), this is certainly the most acclaimed film of the two and thus the easiest to locate for viewing/streaming/renting. Hotel Rwanda also boasts the performances of Cheadle and Okonedo, which are both outstanding and worth the rental fee alone.

This should be required viewing for every American and every European. We should see this powerful movie, not to feel bad about ourselves, but for us to look at the images of genocide and say “Not again. Not in my lifetime.” And, above all, to take action, to demand our leaders take action. We may feel safe and secure in our world. I’m sure the real Paul Ruesesabagina did. So did many German Jews in 1936. The storm clouds can gather anywhere – at any time.

WHY RENT THIS: Intense Oscar-nominated performances by Cheadle and Okonedo. A story that up until this movie was little seen or remembered in the West. Powerful and horrifying.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Is a bit Hollywoodized.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a good deal of violence, some foul language and some extremely disturbing images. While it got a PG-13 rating on appeal, do consider very carefully the sensitivity of those viewing it before renting it for your family, although it is certainly something teens should see.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There is a featurette on the real Paul Ruesesabagina returning to Rwanda almost a decade after the genocide, and to specific locations depicted in the film (including the hotel and the site of the school massacre).

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33.9M on an unreported prodution budget; I’d be willing to guess that the movie broke even or made a little bit of money.

FINAL RATING: 10/10

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