Friday, October 31, 2014

Dear White People

Writer / Director Justin Simien's debut feature, Dear White People, is a hyper-literate and often intriguing satirical treatment of race appropriation and disgruntlement. It's not about "racism" really -- though one could sit through the entire film believing it is. To me, this artful movie is actually about racial fixations -- mostly among black folks.  The film stars Tyler James Williams (best known for the comedy series Everybody Hates Chris) and Tessa Thompson as black students at the fictitious Winchester University, where a campus radio DJ named Sam White (Thompson) pokes and prods the majority white student body (the Dear White People of the title) and the university's administration with quizzical remarks and bon mots about racial identity and oppression. A budding, bushy-headed journalist named Lionel, (Williams) tries to infiltrate Sam's closed circle to tell her story but is blocked by his own tentative racial and sexual identity. Sam's latest crusade is a campaign by the university administration to abolish the tradition of resident houses that has allowed students to segregate themselves by race and class. Some of the black students, led by Sam, feel this threatens their already tenuous grip on healthy black consciousness and so they oppose it, framing it as more BS from the man. Others, most notably the blue-contact / fall-wig wearing beauty Coco (Teyonah Parris) and Troy (Brandon P. Bell), son of the dean of students (Dennis Haysbert) see the push for integration as a natural occurrence in Obama's evolving post-racial America. This movie has a lot on its mind and much to say but Simien, unlike Spike Lee, keeps the story from spinning out of control though the last act might frustrated some who, perhaps naively, want resolution to the weighty questions raised in the film. I'm not sure who the audience is for this insightful and imaginative work. I believe many blacks, and cosmopolitan whites, will find the politics espoused by the characters familiar while others might find a lot of the talk pedantic. I must say I was delighted to see so many young performers of color on the screen. Recommended.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Equalizer

I don't rush to see Denzel Washington's pictures. It's been a while since I have. It's not because I'm not a fan; I'm a huge admirer of his work. And it's not because he makes poor choices in films; he does not. It's oddly because he's so reliable, dependable, trusted that I'm never eagerly anticipating his latest film because I might be surprised. I'll eventually see all of his pictures and I enjoy them, and, well, that's about it. I don't talk about them for days.

Washington's latest film with director Antoine Fuqua, Equalizer (based on the Edward Woodward series of the '80s) is fiercely entertaining and highly watchable, with winning performances from Washington, Marton Csokas as the Russia killing machine Teddy, and Chloe Grace Maretz as a feisty young Russian hooker named Teri.  Washington plays Robert McCall, a widowed, anal retentive home improvement retail clerk with a murky past and a soft spot for troubled souls. His well-ordered life of midnight tea and classic literature in a neighborhood diner is disrupted by a battered Teri, whose two-fisted pimp works for a Russian mobster named Pushkin.  When McCall makes a call on Teri's battering handler to try to purchase her freedom, the visit ends with five men dead and the cold-blooded sociopath Teddy on the hunt for the weaponless ghost. The film, tautly directed by Fuqua (Training Day, Olympus Has Fallen), plays to the audience's outrage and, yes, bloodlust and features a clever climax in a darkened hardware store -- death by lawn and garden supplies.  Recommended but not for kids or the squeamish.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Gone Girl

For Gone Girl, David Fincher shelves the acrobatics (Fight Club, Benjamin Button) and the schematics (Social Network, Panic Room) for a cagey thriller that bristles with media-age cynicism. Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike lead a pitch-perfect cast in this film treatment of Gillian Flynn's novel, which tells the story of an under-achieving writer and bar owner, Nick Dunne, whose author-wife, Amy, disappears on their fifth anniversary. Because of the film's narrative structure, the audience is never quite sure if Nick is innocent or delusional. At the same time, it's quickly revealed that he's a snake and maybe his wife had reason to be wary, as she wrote in her journal. Still, the lady has vanished, curiously incriminating clues are found, the police converge and then .... Tight, menacing thrillers that don't traffic in gore and mayhem are as rare as hen's teeth these days. Fincher's Gone Girl is an intoxicating cocktail, that's blessedly free of frills. It's a straight whodunit and it's terrific. Highly Recommended.

Queen & Slim

In the soon to be iconic photograph from Melina Matsoukas's distressing Queen & Slim, stars Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith...