Wild Range of New Releases – Some Needing to be Seen
Wow, whatever your tastes, you are likely to find something in theaters this weekend. Devastating historical drama? Dark SciFi? Shakespeare? Indie dramedies (aplenty!)? Devastating yet hopeful documentary? Check, check, check, check, and check. August is nothing if not generous with options. Let me help you choose wisely.
Director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal, the Oscar-winning duo behind The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, bring craft and commitment to the story of Detroit’s infamous Algiers Motel Incident.
In July of 1967, during days of rioting from civil unrest, a riot task force raided an annex of the Algiers following reports of sniper fire coming from the building. After hours of beatings and interrogation, three young African American men were dead.
Bigelow and Boal wrap this tragedy in their meticulous brand of storytelling, and it bursts with an overdue urgency. Layering timelines, characters, and bits of archival footage, the filmmakers achieve the stellar verite effect that has become their calling card.
John Boyega (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) carries the film’s soul as Melvin Dismukes, the black security guard at the scene for assistance, and we tremble with him as the gravity of his situation takes hold.
An award-worthy Will Poulter (The Revenant) makes the sadistic Officer Krauss more terrifying for how casually he turns to violence.
Intimate in scope but universal in reach, Detroit shows a shameful part of the American experience, one rooted in white power and black fear, that continues to be perpetuated.
It is not a pleasant experience, but it is necessary.
The Dark Tower
So, there’s this tower, see. And it sits at the center of all the parallel worlds of the universe and as long as it stands, it keeps the monsters away. Why? How did it get there? No time!
Anyhoo, an evildoer (Matthew McConaughey) wants to knock it down, let in the monsters and rule it all. But there’s this kid — you know what, let me not summarize what amounts to little more than a summary in the first place. Suffice it to say, The Dark Tower is not very good.
McConaughey and lead Idris Elba – true talents, no doubt – are hamstrung from the beginning by the production’s meat-cleaver-and-band-aid approach to screenwriting.
Nobody is more convinced than I am that Stephen King uses too damn many words. Too damn many! Succinct he will never be. But to believe you can boil his multi-volume, many-thousand-page Dark Tower series into a coherent 90 minutes is just brazen idiocy.
Director Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair– also credited with writing) is zero help, managing to take this Cliff’s Notes version of King’s prose and still produce something bloated and slow.
But, hey, the trailers for It look great, don’t they?
An Inconvenient Sequel
Plenty of movie sequels hit theaters every year, and plenty are unnecessary. Too bad this isn’t one of those.
If the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth sounded a dire alarm over 10 years ago, Truth to Power conveys how vital the climate change crisis still is, while channeling its most prominent spokesman to remain ever hopeful in the face of gut-wrenching setbacks.
Taking the reins from Davis Guggenheim, co-directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk shift the format to one less about filmed lecture and more focused on Al Gore’s daily commitment to the cause he has championed for over two decades.
We still see the charts, the data, and the photographic evidence, all never less than bracing and some frequently stupefying. But this time, we also see how vast the political and bureaucratic roadblocks have grown, as Gore laments the “democracy crisis” now looming large over any progress toward climate change reversal.
Gore’s commitment, often appearing both tireless and lonely, might be most evident while under pompous questioning by ardent climate change denier Jim Inhofe. Gore’s exasperated olive branch to Inhofe is both patient and sincere, revealing an eye for the long game he continues to fight.
Supreme Court decisions have consequences, and while Truth to Power might make you hopeful for another presidential run from Gore, it never lets you forget he’s right where he needs to be.
Jenny Slate is the perfect mix of raunchy and sweet to anchor an indie dramedy. Co-writer/director Gillian Robespierre tested that theory in 2014 with the character study and edgy rom/com Obvious Child.
In Landline, Slate plays Dana, the older sister in an upscale Manhattan family. But she and her ever-since-college beau Ben (Jay Duplass) are maybe not everything Dana hoped they’d be.
Her own entanglements with infidelity happen to exactly coincide with a discovery younger sister Ali (Abby Quinn) makes of their father’s (John Turturro) erotic poetry, written for someone who is definitely not their mother (Edie Falco).
The characteristically effervescent Slate charms, and her off kilter chemistry with Quinn serves the film well. They’re irritated and protective, bitching and admiring all in the same breath. They often feel unsure of their own feelings toward each other, which reads as very authentic.
Unfortunately, Robespierre – writing again with Elisabeth Holm – loses focus too easily. Landline, for all its insightful moments and clever lines, feels a bit unwieldy and murky.
Also opening in Columbus:
The Death of Louis XIV (NR)
Food Evolution (NR)
Lady Macbeth (R)
The Ornithologist (R)
Some Freaks (NR)
Reviews with help from George Wolf.