Rated PG-13 for profanity, ethnic slurs, mature themes and sexual references
Denzel And Viola Co-Star In Adaptation Of Pulitzer Prize-Winning Play
Back in 1987, Fences won both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. The August Wilson classic, set in Pittsburgh in the ’50s, chronicled the day-to-day struggle of a blue-collar, African-American family. The production was brought back to Broadway in 2010, and it landed the Tony for Best Revival in addition to ones for Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in the Best Actor and Best Actress categories.
Directed by Denzel, the big screen version reunites him with Viola and most of the rest of the principal cast, including Mykelti Williamson, Stephen Henderson and Russell Hornsby. The faithful adaptation of the Wilson masterpiece doesn’t attempt to amplify the original beyond a few tweaks made in service of the cinematic medium.
The story revolves around the unenviable trials and tribulations of Troy (Washington), a 53-year-old garbage man who aspires to someday being promoted to truck driver. Trouble is, he’s “colored,” and that relatively-lofty position has, to date, been strictly reserved for whites. So, Troy and his BFF/co-worker Bono (Stephen Henderson) have to settle for grumbling about the racism that has kept them at the bottom of the totem pole.
Now Troy didn’t always have such modest dreams. In his youth, he’d exhibited promise as a baseball player. However, his hope of turning pro disappeared in a flash the day he was sent up the river for committing a murder. He did still try out for the major leagues when he was paroled at 40, but that belated attempt proved to be little more than an exercise in futility.
As a result, Troy tends to soak his woes in alcohol, drinking hard liquor straight from the bottle. This doesn’t sit well with his long-suffering wife, Rose (Davis), who is understandably worried her man might drink himself to death. The picture’s other pivotal characters include the couple’s teenage son (Jovan Adepo), Troy’s trifling adult son (Hornsby) from his first marriage, and Troy’s mentally-challenged brother, Gabe (Williamson), a wounded World War II vet left with a metal plate in his head.
The plot thickens when Troy informs Rose that he not only has a mistress but has knocked her up, to boot. Will this be the proverbial last straw that finally breaks the back of their shaky relationship? After all, putting up with an underachieving alcoholic is one thing, a flagrant philander, quite another.
Refreshing familiar roles which are obviously second nature to them, Denzel and Viola deliver emotionally-provocative performances likely to garner Academy Award nominations in Oscar season. A poignant period piece painting a plausible picture of black life in the inner city prior to the advent of the Civil Rights Movement.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 138 minutes
DuVernay Documentary Indicts Criminal Justice System As Vestige Of Slavery
A year ago, many felt that Ava DuVernay was snubbed when she wasn’t nominated for an Oscar for directing Selma. Furthermore, none of the picture’s cast or crew members were nominated, despite the fact that it had been very well received by audiences and critics alike. But Selma apparently wasn’t being singled out, as African-Americans were entirely overlooked by the Academy for the second year in a row.
Since then, the Academy has taken steps to make the Oscars more inclusive, starting with inviting more minorities to join its ranks. That bodes well for Ava in terms of her latest offering, 13th, a searing indictment of the criminal justice as a vestige of slavery.
The documentary’s title was inspired by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution which ended the institution of slavery “except as a punishment for a crime.” The movie’s basic thesis is that, after the Civil War, racists seized on that loophole to keep the black masses in chains.
The film features interviews with an array of luminaries, including Angela Davis, Senator Cory Booker, Dr. Henry Louis Gates and attorney Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In The Age Of Colorblindness.
Inter alia, 13th blames D.W. Griffith’s The Birth Of A Nation (1915) for resurrecting the Ku Klux Klan by demonizing black males. It goes on to point out that over 300 Klansmen were elected delegates to the 1924 Democratic National Convention.
Though an arch-conservative, Newt Gingrich adopts a sympathetic posture regarding the plight of African-Americans, observing that “Virtually no one who is white understands the challenge of being black in America.” And former Green Czar Van Jones, who served in the Obama administration, asks a very thought-provoking question, namely, “Why is the black community so weak in defending itself?”
Part of the answer is revealed in the profit-maximizing agenda of the Corrections Corporation of America, a company which has successfully lobbied to expand and privatize the prison industry. The upshot is that today there are millions of blacks behind bars, a sad reflection of the reality that a defendant is way better off in the courts being rich and guilty than poor and innocent.
The incendiary exposé closes with Jones asserting that the Black Lives Matter movement “is not a stoppable phenomenon” because it’s fundamentally about reshaping the country’s understanding of human dignity. It’ll certainly be interesting to see how things shake out, given the ascension of Donald Trump, who has taken the position that “All lives matter” while declaring himself the law-and-order president-elect.
Excellent (4 stars)
Running time: 100 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening December 23, 2016
Assassin’s Creed (PG-13 for intense action and violence, mature themes and brief profanity) Sci-fi adventure about a career criminal (Michael Fassbender) who discovers he’s descended from a long line of assassins before taking on his ancestors’ ancient adversaries. With Marion Cotillard, Jeremy Irons, Brendan Gleeson, Michael Kenneth Williams and Charlotte Rampling.
A Monster Calls (PG-13 for mature themes and scary images) Escapist fantasy about a 12-year-old boy (Lewis MacDougall), teased by bullies and mistreated by his grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), who copes with his single-mom’s (Felicity Jones) terminal illness with the help of an ancient tree monster (Liam Neeson). Featuring Geraldine Chaplin, Toby Kebbell and Ben Moor.
Passengers (PG-13 for sexuality, nudity, action and peril) Outer space adventure revolving around two astronauts’ (Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt) struggle to survive aboard a rocket ship headed to a distant planet after their hibernation pods open 90 years prematurely. With Laurence Fishburne, Andy Garcia, Fred Melamed and Michael Sheen.
Sing (PG for rude humor and mild peril) Animated musical revolving around an optimistic koala bear’s (Matthew McConaughey) attempt to save his struggling theater by staging a singing competition for a menagerie of anthropomorphic animals. Voice cast includes Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, Jay Pharoah and John C. Reilly.
Why Him? (R for profanity and pervasive sexuality) Dysfunctional family comedy about an overprotective father (Bryan Cranston) who schemes to sabotage his Stanford student daughter’s (Zooey Deutch) relationship with a Silicon Valley billionaire (James Franco) during a campus visit when the boorish boyfriend plans to propose. With Megan Mullally, Keegan-Michael Key, Cedric the Entertainer and Adam Devine, with cameos by hi-tech visionary Elon Musk and Kiss’ Gene Simmons and Peter Criss.
20th Century Women (R for sexuality, nudity, profanity and brief drug use) Tale of female empowerment, set in Santa Barbara during the summer of ’79, revolving around the exploration of love and freedom by a landlady (Annette Bening), one of her tenants (Greta Gerwig) and her teenage son’s (Lucas Jade Zumann) BFF (Elle Fanning). With Billy Crudup, Alia Shawkat and Alison Elliott.
The Ataxian (Unrated) Against-the-odds documentary recounting Kyle Bryant’s participation in a grueling bicycle race across America, despite being diagnosed with a terminal neuromuscular disorder.
The Bad Kids (Unrated) Education documentary chronicling a group of Mojave Desert teachers’ unorthodox approach to helping at-risk high school’s students.
Boy 23: The Forgotten Boys Of Brazil (Unrated) Harrowing ordeal recounted by the last survivor among the 50 black orphans taken by Nazis from an institution in Rio de Janeiro and enslaved on a ranch in Sao Paulo. (In Portuguese with subtitles)
I, Daniel Blake (Unrated) Ken Loach directed this unlikely-buddies drama about an unsophisticated, 59-year-old, heart attack victim (Dave Johns) who joins forces with a struggling single-mom (Hayley Squires) to battle Britain’s welfare and healthcare bureaucracies. Cast includes Briana Shann, Sharon Percy and Dylan McKiernan.
Julieta (R for sexuality and nudity) Pedro Almodovar directed this flashback flick about a brokenhearted woman (Emma Suarez) who reflects on her life while pining for a reconciliation with her long-estranged daughter (Blanca Pares). With Daniel Grao, Inma Cuesta and Pilar Castro. (In Spanish with subtitles)
Silence (R for disturbing violence) Adaptation of the Shusaku Endo novel of the same name, set in the 17th century, revolving around two Portuguese priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who travel to Japan to search for their missing mentor (Liam Neeson). With Ciaran Hinds, Issei Ogata and Nana Komatsu. (In English and Japanese with subtitles)
Toni Erdmann (R for profanity, graphic sexuality, frontal nudity and brief drug use) Father-daughter dramedy about a workaholic (Sandra Huller) whose dad’s (Peter Simonischek) idea of sharing quality time involves playing practical jokes on her. Featuring Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl and Trystan Putter. (In German, English and Romanian with subtitles)