The Birth of a Nation (2016) Full Review

Yes. I do have a very strong opinion about Nate Parker and fully understand the controversy surrounding this film that he wrote, directed, and starred in. But I can put aside my thoughts and feelings on the person to both watch and critique his film without bias, because the story of Nat Turner is an interesting one. And it is a major part of American history that, like all of our country’s dirty lineage, deserves to be told.

the_birth_of_a_nation_2016_filmParker stars as Turner, a slave taught to read the Bible at a young age who grows up to become a preacher. When word gets out of a slave preacher, Turner’s master Samuel (Armie Hammer) begins making money escorting Nat throughout the south and using his preaching ability to tame slaves. Along his journey, Turner witnesses the harsh treatment of his people and eventually insights a rebellion.

It’s important with any historical film to do some homework. Movies always take certain liberties in order to change history to fit a 2 hour narrative. So fact checking The Birth of a Nation is as important as fact checking a Presidential debate. There are moments and characters thrown in simply for this story. An example of this is Jackie Earl Haley’s Raymond Cobb, a character that serves as a too convenient rival to Nat Turner almost solely for the purpose of a final cathartic adversary.

Regardless of the details changed or lacking in the film, the story is paced well and certainly doesn’t skimp on the discomforting brutality of the era, navigating the horrendous lives of slaves with gut wrenching fervor.There is lynching, whipping, rape (though it is never actually shown on screen), and the verbal degradation that too many Americans nowadays would like swept under the rug. Thus, it is an undeniably powerful and thought provoking film.

But I couldn’t help feeling like too much of the film was a reminder of the past, without actually delving deeper into the philosophies that created it as well as the crucial aftermath. The actions that followed the rebellion, such as legislation passed to limit the rights of even those blacks who were free, are reduced to an explanatory sentence at the end of the movie. The slave revolt itself, which was very tactical and well thought out by Nat Turner in actuality, is boggled down to a few scenes in the final act making it feel more like a compilation of poorly coordinated brawls. Most of the focus is placed on what led to Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion, but chances are anyone watching the film knows that slavery was horrible. We’ve seen it in films over and over again, so focusing on this aspect is a missed opportunity to show why these events mattered instead of just reaffirming that they happened.

Religion and it’s use to both condone slavery and keep slaves docile plays a pivotal role and is perhaps the biggest factor in making this film feel unique. But from a filmmaking standpoint, Parker’s direction at times tries to be a bit too artistic. There are random cuts of visions and shots of things like bleeding ears of corn that never truly feel well placed. So while Birth of a Nation is pertinent and full of solid performances, it isn’t as memorable as a film such as 12 Years a Slave. And that’s important. Because those who truly need to see the film will likely avoid it (and not because of Nate Parker). Those who understand it’s importance will be reminded of the country’s dark past, but not educated on it as much as they could’ve been.

FINAL GRADE: B-

The Birth of a Nation (2016) Full Review

When the Bough Breaks (Full Review)

Morris Chestnut sure likes to make movies where he is engulfed in a love triangle with a murderous psychopath. Last fall, he was in The Perfect Guy (if you can call fifteen minutes of screen time being “in” the movie).That movie was awful. This time around Chestnut takes the lead role in a film with a much different twist on the fatal attraction thriller.

when_the_bough_breaks_2016_filmChestnut plays John, a lawyer on the verge of making partner at his firm who is married to a beautiful, successful chef named Laura (Regina Hall). After several unsuccessful attempts at conceiving a baby, the two place their last embryo in the hands (or uterus) of a shy girl named Anna (Jaz Sinclair) who is more than willing to be their surrogate. After a violent night with her abusive boyfriend (Theo Rossi), Anna is invited to live with John and Laura leading to a creepy obsession with John that threatens his career, his marriage, and his unborn child.

There is a certain soap opera, turn your brain off and watch, type of intrigue to films like this. So even when they’re awful audiences can find some type of enjoyment with them. And yet, When the Bough Breaks, barely manages to deliver on that aspect. The first half of the movie is mainly spent dealing with Anna’s crazy boyfriend, a man Chestnut’s character inexplicably lets off of the hook even with the golden opportunity to get him out of the picture. These movies usually involve stalker tendencies, blackmail, and the inevitable violent showdown at the end, but this movie does the bare minimum to even qualify as a thriller.

The result is a story that feels like a cliff notes version of something fans of the genre might expect to be far more entertaining. The performances are decent enough for a glorified Lifetime movie. Jaz Sinclair at least gives emotional weight to a character that actually has motivation to be insane. But everything else about this movie is completely unlikable. Regina Hall’s Laura isn’t even endearing. She isn’t a great spouse and she has an unhealthy obsession with having the baby even after she learns Anna is a psychopath who tried to steal her husband. The ending is also anticlimactic. I gave The Perfect Guy an ‘F’ last year, and this movie is significantly less watchable. So guess where that leaves it.

FINAL GRADE: F

When the Bough Breaks (Full Review)

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (Full Review)

I always wondered what it would be like if Tim Burton ever directed an X-Men movie. The master of weird takes on Ransom Riggs’ best selling young adult novel about a group of special powered children called peculiars. But this time, Burton doesn’t have the help of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter to help pick up the slack whenever the narrative falls flat.

miss_peregrine_film_posterMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children begins with a young boy named Jake (Asa Butterfield), who pretty much is your run of the mill lead character in a young adult film based off of a book. He is socially awkward and has a rocky relationship with his parents. His closest friend is his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp) who has spent years telling him stories of his days in the 1940’s spent living with a group of unusual powered children known as peculiars. While Jake’s parents brush off the tales as myth and the product of post World War stress, Jake is determined to believe in his grandfather.

When Abe is mysteriously murdered, Jake journeys with his father (Chris O’Dowd) to the place where Miss Peregrine’s special home once was. There he discovers that all of the peculiar children are still alive and haven’t aged at all, thanks to a special time loop created by their guardian Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) that kept them safe in the midst of World War II. When Jake discovers that he too has special abilities, it is up to him to help defend the home and the other children from evil, cannibalistic peculiars led by a man named Mr. Barron (Samuel L. Jackson).

The film certainly contains the lore of a vast and fairly interesting universe and also carries Tim Burton’s trademark eeriness. But as stories go, this one’s pretty dull. The movie takes far too long to include action or suspense and spends way too much time focusing on the lackluster relationship between Jake and his dumbfounded father. The characters, though creative, aren’t exactly the most useful or interesting either and meager child acting doesn’t help to make them memorable.

Samuel L. Jackson helps breathe life with a charismatic turn as the villain, but his character’s motives seem relatively dumb and poorly executed once you stop and think about them. Coupled with uninspiring special effects and a climax that is vastly underwhelming, this movie ends up feeling like a monotonous plot centered around a world that in itself is full of potential. Maybe the book is better, but the film is a bore.

FINAL GRADE: C-

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (Full Review)

The Girl on The Train (Full Review)

Who doesn’t love a good mystery? And when there’s infidelity involved, it makes it all the better. A good mystery always keeps you guessing. The Girl on the Train is the latest mystery-thriller novel to get the film treatment, and my hopes were high that it could deliver the same jaw dropping feeling I had when I saw 2014’s Gone Girl.

the_girl_on_the_trainEmily Blunt stars as Rachel, an alcoholic whose ex-husband (Justin Theroux) is now married to his former mistress (Rebecca Ferguson). The two live a happy life with their newborn baby, while Rachel spends her days riding the train to and from New York City in a drunken depression. While peeping from her usual train seat, Rachel becomes entranced with the life of a young woman named Megan (Haley Bennett), who she believes is cheating on her husband (Luke Evans) with her psychiatrist (Edgar Ramirez). When Megan goes missing on the same day Rachel follows her in a drunken stupor, a detective (Allison Janney) begins questioning whether Rachel is responsible for Megan’s sudden disappearance.

Emily Blunt carries the film with a wonderful performance as the pitifully broken lead character. She elicits genuine sorrow for Rachel that makes you never really feel like she’s guilty even when the evidence is stacked against her. Unfortunately, her performance is really the only one that stands out and some performances, like most of the men, seem rigid.

I never read the book, so I can only comment on the structuring of the film. And for the film, it falls a bit flat. Certain clues and instances are often poorly placed making them feel like obvious miscues meant only to distract. As a result, the ending revelation isn’t remotely as surprising as I wanted it to be, or as surprising as it wants to be. And while I hate to compare this movie to Gone Girl, since none of the same pieces are involved, the two films are of the same genre. Gone Girl was so fantastic because just when you think you have things figured out, a new wrinkle is added to the narrative to make you second guess your hypothesis. Here, I was able to pin the culprit and motive down to one of two people as soon as all of the major players were introduced.

This coupled with weaker supporting performances makes the film suffer a bit. Maybe it was my own lofty expectations after watching the movie’s riveting trailer, but The Girl on The Train never feels as mysterious as it markets itself to be. By the end, the strength of Blunt’s emotional portrayal is the only thing keeping this from being a complete letdown.

FINAL GRADE: C+, Red Box it

The Girl on The Train (Full Review)

Masterminds (Full Review)

You know a Michael Bay movie when you see it. You can usually figure it out after the tenth explosion within the first half hour. You know a Tim Burton film when you see it. It’s dark, creepy and weird. And after watching Masterminds, you’ll be fully familiar with the films of director Jared Hess.

masterminds_2016_filmJared Hess is the man who wrote and directed Napoleon Dynamite and Nacho Libre. His films are stuffed full of social awkwardness and dry weirdness. Here, he brings a quirky take on the true story of the 1997 Loomis Fargo robbery in North Carolina. The movie has an all-star comedic cast at its disposal. Zach Galifianakis plays David Ghantt, the armored truck driver who steals $17 million. Coaxed by his former co-worker (Kristen Wiig) and her thief friend (Owen Wilson), Ghantt leaves his bizarre fiancé (Kate McKinnon) and flees to Mexico while a hitman (Jason Sudeikis) and an FBI Agent (Leslie Jones) are hot on his trail.

It’s hard to call Masterminds a good movie because it barely makes any sense. But someone can make the same claims on all of Hess’ films. At times the movie is overwhelmingly discomfited. But it is a comedy. And the most important aspect of a comedy is to make the audience laugh. If you are in the group that thinks Hess’ other movies are hilarious, then you’ll enjoy Masterminds. But if you found those movies dumb and weird… well… guess what you’ll think of this one?

Personally, I own two of Hess’ films, so you can imagine which end of the spectrum I fall closer toward. While watching this movie, there were several times when I outwardly said “This is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen.” But, some of those times I did so while holding back laughter. A few moments, like Sudeikis’ hitman using an old Mexican rifle to try and kill Ghantt, actually had me in tears. So while Masterminds is dumb and unrealistically goofy, it undoubtedly has an audience that will enjoy it.

FINAL GRADE: C

Masterminds (Full Review)

RedBox Reviews 10/5/16

If you’re not feeling a night of binge watching Luke Cage on Netflix and want to have a nice movie night, here are a couple of films that came out this past Summer that are worth checking out.

money_monster_posterMONEY MONSTER George Clooney and Julia Roberts star as Lee Gates and Patty Fenn, host and director of a live stock tip TV show called Money Monster. After a company recommended by Gates as a surefire investment loses $800 million seemingly due to a random computer glitch, a down on his luck New Yorker (Jack O’Connell) who had stock in the company, takes the show’s studio hostage demanding answers. Meanwhile, the company’s CEO (Dominic West) is nowhere to be found as the city’s Police Captain (Giancarlo Esposito) contemplates a rescue attempt.

The film probably wants to be as compelling as John Q, but the suspense never comes close to reaching those heights. The biggest issues come with the latter half of the film, which spends far too much of its time delving into a convoluted conspiracy that involves computer hackers and an African rebellion. Nevertheless, compelling performances from the lead actors, especially Jack O’ Connell’s Kyle Budwell, give the audience reason to care about all of the pieces involved despite the lack of viable twists or turns. FINAL GRADE: B-

 

the_nice_guys_posterNICE GUYS It doesn’t matter whether you’re plot is a plucky short guy trying to impress his brother-in-law, or two Private Investigators trying to solve a murder case in the 1970’s; you can’t have a good buddy cop movie without chemistry between your lead actors. Chemistry, along with the vibrant style of the 70’s, is what makes Nice Guys a must see.

Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe star as the aforementioned private investigators  who are forced into a partnership in order to investigate the murder of a Pornstar. Gosling’s bumbling boyishness meshes perfectly with Crowe’s scruffy loner to form a movie that is wildly entertaining despite its murder mystery plot suffering from far too many conveniences. Newcomer Angourie Rice stars as Gosling’s daughter and her witty presence adds just enough endearment to make this movie one to enjoy at least once. FINAL GRADE: B+

 

 

RedBox Reviews 10/5/16