The Birth Of A Nation
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Rated R for brief nudity and disturbing violence
Reverential Biopic Revisits Life Of Infamous Slave Revolt Leader
Nat Turner (Nate Parker) was born into slavery on October 2, 1800, on a sprawling plantation located in Southampton County, Virginia. There, as a precocious child, he exhibited a thirst for knowledge at an early age and learned to read the Bible with the help of his masters, Samuel (Armie Hammer) and Elizabeth Turner (Penelope Ann Miller). The couple simultaneously shielded him from the brutality of the evil institution by granting him the privilege of living and working in the mansion rather than having to toil in the cotton fields alongside his mother (Aunjanue Ellis) and grandmother (Esther Scott).
Nat grew up a deeply-religious boy, and was turned into a traveling preacher tasked with spreading the word of God to fellow slaves from neighboring towns. In that capacity, his job was to keep the masses of oppressed African-Americans content with their miserable lot in life by reciting scriptural passages like “Submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the cruel.” (1 Peter 2:18)
However, the more he witnessed the atrocities associated with slavery, the more outraged he became. And by the time he reached adulthood, he’d not only become convinced that it was evil, but he’d started surreptitiously quoting biblical verses supporting that conclusion, such as “Do not become slaves of men.” (1 Corinthians 7:23)
Nat subsequently had a miraculous vision in which he was directly ordered by God to set his people free. That transformative moment would serve as the inspiration for a bloody insurrection which would begin with the slaying of his masters and ultimately claim about 60 more white slave owner lives.
All of the above is graphically depicted in The Birth Of A Nation, a reverential biopic marking the impressive directorial debut of Nate Parker (The Great Debaters). Nate also co-wrote the script and stars here, as Nat Turner, in a revisionist period piece which effectively recasts as a hero an infamous slave revolt leader previously denigrated by history because of his resort to violence.
This compelling drama landed both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, and had emerged as the prohibitive Best Picture Academy Award favorite until buzz about Mr. Parker’s having been accused of rape while in college went viral across the blogosphere. Nevertheless, judging The Birth Of A Nation strictly on the merits, it undeniably deserved its previous status as a prime Oscar contender.
An emotionally-unsettling alternate version of a controversial chapter of America’s slave legacy!
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 120 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense action sequences, disturbing images and brief profanity
Spectacular Disaster Flick Depicts Real-Life Events Surrounding BP Oil Spill
On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, located 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana, exploded when high-pressure methane gas blew out the drill pipe. 11 members of the crew perished in the ensuing fiery inferno which engulfed the platform.
The accident also caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history, with over 200 million gallons of crude leaking into the Gulf of Mexico by the time the well was finally capped 86 days later. At that point, authorities turned their attention to the question of who was to blame for the mammoth ecological disaster.
There was no shortage of potential villains to sort through, given that the drilling unit had been built in South Korea, was owned by Transocean Limited, a Swiss company, operated under the flag of the Marshall Islands, was leased to British Petroleum (BP) but maintained by Halliburton, an American field service corporation, and serviced by Schlumberger, a Dutch company. Ultimately, the bulk of the blame would be attributed to BP, which would be found guilty of gross negligence and pay billions of dollars in damages to thousands of aggrieved parties.
Directed by Peter Berg (Battleship), Deepwater Horizon revisits the infamous incident primarily from the perspective of the rig’s Chief Electronics Technician, Mike Williams. The picture reunites Berg with Mark Wahlberg with whom he previously collaborated on Lone Survivor.
Wahlberg plays Williams, a working-class hero of unquestioned integrity. As the film unfolds, we find him bidding adieu to his family before departing for a 21-day tour on the Horizon. If only Mike had heeded warning signs like his wife’s (Kate Hudson) premonitions and his daughter Sydney’s (Stella Allen) science project with a Coke can geyser gone kabluey, he might have had the good sense to call in sick.
The same could be said of his colleague Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez), a mechanic who couldn’t get her car started that same morning. Even the helicopter ferrying them to work experienced an ominous bird strike en route to the platform. And upon landing, they’re greeted by a pal with a macabre skull-and-crossbones emblazoned on his hard hat.
Of far more significance are Don Vidrine (John Malkovich) and Bob Kaluza (Brad Leland), the bigwig BP bureaucrats who begin bullying their employees from the minute the chopper lands on the deck. This clueless pair of villains prove willing to put profits before any safety concerns, so it’s no surprise when the platform’s unstable drill pipe pops its cork.
The spectacular, pyrotechnic calamity which follows affords Mike an opportunity not only to play hero in a sea of fire but to later shame the cowardly culprits responsible in court. A harrowing tale of survival topped off by justice duly being served. What more could you ask for from an action-oriented morality play?
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 107 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening October 7, 2016
The Girl On The Train (R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and violence) Emily Blunt plays the title character in this adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ best-selling psychological thriller revolving around a recent divorcee who becomes embroiled in the mysterious disappearance of a former neighbor (Haley Bennett). With Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Lisa Kudrow, Luke Evans and Allison Janney.
Middle School: The Worst Years Of My Life (PG for mature themes, mild epithets and pervasive rude humor) Kitchen sink comedy based on the James Patterson novel of the same name revolving around a jaded teen (Griffin Gluck) who, with the help of his BFF (Thomas Barbusca), tries to break every rule in his new school’s Code of Conduct. Support cast includes Rob Riggle, Lauren Graham and Isabela Moner.
Being 17 (Unrated) Homoerotic adventure, set in France, about a teased gay teenager (Kacey Mottet Klein) whose fortunes change dramatically when his mother (Sandrine Kiberlain) invites his bully (Corentin Fila) to move in with them. With Alexis Loret, Jean Fornerod and Jean Corso. (In French and Spanish with subtitles)
Blinky Bill: The Movie (Unrated) Ryan Kwanten handles the title role in this animated adventure about a cuddly koala bear that embarks on an eventful epic trek across the Outback in search of his long-lost father (Richard Roxburgh). Voice cast includes Toni Collette, Rufus Sewell, David Wenham and Tin Pang.
The Greasy Strangler (Unrated) Horror comedy, set in L.A., about a disco walking tour guide (Michael St. Michaels) who finds himself competing with his assistant son (Sky Elobar) for the affections of an attractive out-of-towner (Elizabeth De Razzo). With Gil Gex, Abdoulaye Ngom and Holland MacFallister.
The Great Gilly Hopkins (PG for mature themes and mild epithets) Coming-of-age dramedy revolving around a feisty foster kid’s (Sophie Nelisse) frenetic search for the birth mother she’s never known (Julia Stiles). Featuring Glenn Close, Kathy Bates, Bill Cobbs and Octavia Spencer.
Newtown (Unrated) Political gridlock exposé chronicling a grieving Connecticut community’s futile lobbying effort for gun reform legislation in the wake of the mass murder of six teachers and 20 students at an elementary school.
Theo Who Lived (Unrated) Radical Islam documentary chronicling the harrowing ordeal of Theo Padnos, an American journalist who was kidnapped by terrorists in Syria and held for 22 months, but lived to tell the tale.
Torchbearer (Unrated) Faith-based documentary delineating the philosophy of Phil Robertson, patriarch of the family featured on the reality-TV series Duck Dynasty.
Voiceless (PG-13 for violence and mature themes) Pro-life drama about a Born Again war veteran (Rusty Joiner) who relocates with his wife (Jocelyn Cruz) to Philly where he puts his marriage and new job in jeopardy by taking a stand against an abortion clinic opening across the street from the church where he works. With Paul Rodriguez, James Russo and Victoria Gates.
Voyage Of Time: Life’s Journey (PG-13 for nudity and disturbing images) Terrence Malick directed this ethereal eco-documentary, narrated by Cate Blanchett, exploring the Earth’s past as well as humanity’s future prospects on the planet.