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Fist Fight, The Great Wall, I Am Not Your Negro & More

Hope Madden Hope Madden Fist Fight, The Great Wall, I Am Not Your Negro & More
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Required viewing at the Wex this weekend – Oscar nominee for best documentary, I Am Not Your Negro screens all weekend and you should catch it if you can. Another Oscar nominee – best foreign language pick Toni Erdmann – opens at Drexel and elsewhere. Beyond that, a couple of studio release that are less awful than imagined are also, well, colorful.

Fist Fight

At Roosevelt High, it’s the last day before summer break, and the school’s online newspaper gets a breaking story:

WHY MR. CAMPBELL WILL DIE

Seems the meek Mr. Campbell (Charlie Day) snitched on the scary Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube), and you know what they say about snitches. They get their asses beat on the playground while the whole school watches… and they will most likely require stitches at some point.

Fist Fight is often contrived and ridiculous, and has those funny bloopers ready to roll as soon as possible, but ya know, it fills the class with enough likable clowns to get a pass.

The two leads aren’t asked to venture beyond their respective comfort zones, but do display some nice comic timing that bolsters their easy chemistry. Then you have the always weird and welcome Jillian Bell as a guidance, Kumail Nanjiani’s by-the-book school security officer and Tracy Morgan dispensing wisdom as Coach Crawford (“You can’t run away! Who is you, Seabiscuit?”) for a steady stream of nuttiness.

Fist Fight offers violence, plenty of sex-fueled gags and the obligatory foul-mouthed grade-schooler. It’s an adult education, for sure, and just funny enough not to skip.

Grade: B-

The Great Wall

You’ve seen the trailers for The Great Wall, right?

It looks terrible, doesn’t it?

It’s not good – let’s not get crazy. But I was expecting Warcraft bad – maybe worse – and The Great Wall is a borderline-passable piece of monster-laden eye candy.

Matt Damon plays William, a bow-for-hire who travels with a band of ne’er-do-wells into China seeking the legendary black powder, only to find something more dangerous behind that big wall.

Director Yimou Zhang (House of Flying Daggers, Raise the Red Lantern) does what he can to visually wow an audience and draw attention away from the leaden screenplay. Vivid color and rhythm drive a joyous spectacle of monster carnage once the CGI swarms come calling.

Zhang takes advantage of 3D as few filmmakers have. The approach rarely serves a larger purpose than to transport and amaze, but those who come to The Great Wall seeking a larger purpose should prepare for crushing disappointment.

The generally strong Damon struggles with an accent, among other things. Though glib humor enlivens several scenes, the deadly serious tone the film takes and the broadly drawn characterizations of the Chinese warriors make chemistry or human drama impossible.

But damn, look at those hills and swirling bodies, the acrobatics of monster mayhem.

Grade: C-

I Am Not Your Negro

Playing this weekend at the Wexner Center for the Arts.

It may be driven by content decades old, but I Am Not Your Negro wastes no time in driving home its urgency.

As author James Baldwin tells Dick Cavett why he doesn’t view 1968 as a year of “progress for Negroes,” disturbing images of recent conflicts roll in succession, connecting the two eras with gut-wrenching irony.

Director Raoul Peck weaves notes from Baldwin’s unfinished 1979 novel Remember This House, along with interview and archival footage, to give new life to Baldwin’s assertion that the history of Negroes in American tells the story of America itself.

“It is not pretty.”

Samuel L Jackson recites Baldwin’s prose, wisely trading the voice that is so recognizable for a hushed delivery that lends gravity to each carefully chosen word. There is a furious anger here, but Jackson’s trademark boom would have been both out of character and a needless distraction. In its place is a perfect tone of reverence and wisdom that commands attention as effectively as any of his fiery movie monologues.

As Baldwin speaks of his own time, there is no doubt he is also speaking directly to ours. It is no coincidence that the last twelve months have given us three of the most compelling documentaries on racial strife we have seen in years. 13th, OJ: Made in America and I Am Not Your Negro (all Oscar-nominated this year) are all worthy of any course in American history, each dissecting our deeply troubled times from unique perspectives.

But through Peck and Jackson, an unforgettable voice from the past becomes an indispensable storyteller for today. I Am Not Your Negro tells that story.

No, it is not pretty, but it demands to be seen.

Grade: A+

Toni Erdmann

This is a spare and complicated film about a sad, silly man trying to reconnect with his distant, ambitious daughter.

The daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), works for an international consulting firm based in Bucharest. She doesn’t see much of her family and her father, Winfried (Peter Simonischek), jokes about hiring a substitute daughter.

Ines hits a bar to vent to some networking contacts about her horrible weekend. The man next to her at the bar introduces himself. It’s Winfried in a bad wig, with bizarre false teeth, claiming to be “Toni Erdmann”—consultant and life coach. Unwilling to out him (and by extension herself) to her contacts, Ines plays along while Toni inserts himself into her professional life, showing up at her office and at after-hours parties.

Hüller and Simonischek are outstanding, giving utterly believable, finely wrought performances—Hüller in particular.

But this is not the heartwarming, wacky father-daughter reconnection movie you might expect. It’s sad and weird, sometimes funny, and thoroughly awkward. But it might inspire you to embrace a loved one, and let’s be honest, a good long bear hug is probably something we could all use.

Grade: B

Also opening in Columbus:

  • A Cure for Wellness (R)
  • Don’t Knock Twice (R)
  • Duckweed (NR)
  • Everybody Loves Somebody (PG-13)
  • Sex Doll (NR)

Reviews with help from George Wolf and Christie Robb.

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF and listen to her weekly horror movie podcast, FRIGHT CLUB.

Looking for more film events in Columbus? CLICK HERE to visit our Events Calendar.

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