Category Archives: Movie Review

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Movie Review – Blade Runner 2049

Category : Movie Review

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas

Year: 2017

Denis Villeneuve is Hollywood’s current premiere director.  In the past four years, he has created four films that have each been independently excellent.  Prisoners, an emotional wreck that you can’t help but fall deeply into.  Enemy, a metaphorical labyrinth that you enjoy being lost in.  Sicario, one of the best visual experiences you will have at a theatre.  Arrival, science fiction turned on its head in just the right way.  But while each of these films have been incredible on their own, they have also exhibited Villeneuve’s style with perfect precision, allowing audiences to watch and recognize the director for the talent that he is, to come away wanting more from the same mind, no matter what story he chooses to craft next.  Blade Runner 2049 is different in that it is a sequel to a different director’s work, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, of course.  But it is also another is an unbelievable string of home runs from a filmmaker that I can’t wait to see more from.

Thirty years have passed since the ex-cop Deckard came face to face with the fine line between humans and Replicants, fleeing from the knowledge of whether he himself was a faux person.  In the interval, Replicants have risen up and subsequently been defeated, the old models waging a war against mankind only to lose.  A new series of androids have been produced by a new maker, Wallace taking over where Tyrell failed.  These new models are faster, stronger, smarter, and are tasked first with finding the aging, hiding Replicants and “retiring” them.  K, an L.A. cop and a Replicant himself, meets an ancient model named Sapper Morton who won’t come in peacefully to be shut down.  This encounter begins a series of confusing events for K, as he learns that Morton and his allies are hiding a secret so vital that it could pull apart the tenuous fabric of human existence.

Blade Runner 2049 blows Blade Runner out of the water.  I know the cult classic has its fans, and I’m not here to pull it down; it’s a pillar of dystopian sci-fi, a genre that I love.  But going back to watch the original, it’s so dark and wet and dreary and odd, without the alleviating moments that a film like that requires to sit well in the stomachs of audiences.  The sequel had the same bleak appearance, but Villeneuve was able to fill the gaps with small, magical moments that helped lift the entire film into rarefied air.  He infused humor when you least expected it, humanity when brutality was all around, love when hate filled the night.  He was able to keep the balance between a story that could easily become a burden and a movie that could easily become nothing more than an action flick, walking the fine line between styles in a way that exhibited his talent to the fullest.

I think the key ingredient in the film, and what made it possible to be both sometimes funny but often violently dark, was Ryan Gosling.  He filled the role of K perfectly, coming off as cool, confident, worried, humorous, powerful, swimming through a variety of emotions, which is only more impressive when you remember that he’s not even supposed to be human.  He, along with a great cast, steered this wild ride in the right direction, keeping it from becoming something none of us wanted it to be.  Ford was great in a smaller role, de Armas is as talented as she is sexy, and the side actors were all of them solid: Dave Bautista, Robin Wright, Sylvia Hoeks, Jared Leto, Mackenzie Davis, Lennie James.  My only criticisms are that the film is a bit longer than it needs to be, the dialogue isn’t perfect, and although I enjoyed the quiet moments immensely, they led to startling moments when the characters actually talked, like “oh right that’s Harrison Ford, let me try to get back into the groove of hearing his voice.”  Blade Runner 2049 isn’t the best picture of the year, but it will probably be the best sci-fi flick, and it is another Villeneuve success from all angles.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 

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Movie Review – The Meyerowitz Stories

Category : Movie Review

Director: Noah Baumbach

Starring: Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman

Year: 2017

The Meyerowitz Stories is Baumbach’s best film since The Squid and the Whale, his collaborations with Greta Gerwig never being by favorites, always preferring his Wes Anderson-style movies, of course.  This is also Adam Sandler’s best role since Punch-Drunk Love, one of the rare occasions where he actually shows off his immense talent, a well-kept secret that is bafflingly treated like an embarrassment.  Baumbach knows New York, he knows sly comedy, he knows family dysfunction, while Sandler knows awkward conversations, timely laughs, and how to make audiences relate to the bumbling fool.  Together, these men, their coworkers, and this story, combine to delight indie drama aficionados with a film that may quietly sneak toward the top of this year’s list.

The Meyerowitz family is fucked up, to say the very least.  The pater familias, Harold, has been married multiple times, has three odd children, was once a semi-famous sculptor, and now spends his days watching the Mets and feeling slighted for his lack of current success.  His eldest son, Danny, is a stay-at-home dad whose usefulness is completely worn out; his wife left him and his daughter is off to college.  The middle child, Jean, is shy, strange, alone, and fairly uninteresting.  While the youngest, a half-brother named Matthew, has had all the good fortune and is a wealthy wealth manager.  The group reunites when Harold books a small potatoes show for his art and has a health problem, the events working to bring the family together but not helping to alleviate the decades of bitterness that stand between them.

Netflix may have just distributed their finest film to date.  They have been steadily improving, and to book a talent like Baumbach, to produce a movie of this caliber from a director and a cast of this level, is no small feat.  I still feel like I’m somehow cheating the system, I’m watching excellent features from my living room the day that they are released, and they aren’t hitting safely any more, they are swinging for the fences every time.  The Meyerowitz Stories is a standard Baumbach dramody, but aged in such a way that is shouts its improvement, giving us what we want from this talented director by taking every aspect to the next level.  Hilarious in random moments, heart-breaking as it concludes, fraught with dystopic family dynamics that we can all relate to; the film is a pocket-sized, one-dose emoti-bomb.  Sandler was unstoppable, Stiller was in rare, serious form, Hoffman was the perfect fractured father figure, and the supporting cast was cool in its cameoed structure; Emma Thompson, Judd Hirsch, Adam Driver, Grace Van Patten, Candice Bergen.  For those who appreciate the genre, this is A-grade work, and should be considered one of the best films never to be in theatres.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 


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Movie Review – The Big Sick

Category : Movie Review

Director: Michael Showalter

Starring: Kumail Nanjiani, Zoe Kazan

Year: 2017

Setting When Harry Met Sally aside as an icon that can’t possibly be touched, there have been a handful of modern romantic comedies in the past few years that have actually given me hope that the usually-terrible genre can be saved, that we can have rom and com but not vomit, that it is possible to write a funny story about love without filling it with patronizing banality.  What If (which also stars Zoe Kazan) comes to mind, also Sleeping With Other People, and even People Places Things, which is only partly a rom/com, mostly something magically else.  The Big Sick had the chance to join these ranks, to rise above the idiotic standards of the genre, and in most ways it thankfully succeeded.

Kumail is a young, Pakistani man whose family still clings to the old ways, even though they moved to Chicago years ago to provide their children with a better life.  He is supposed to marry a Pakistani girl, become a doctor/lawyer/engineer, pray every day, and make his mother proud, but no pressure.  Instead, he wants to be an actor and a stand-up comedian, a practice that his family firmly disapproves of.  One night at the comedy club, Kumail meets Emily, a therapist grad student, who will chance his life forever.  He can’t tell his family that he is dating her, and so he can’t commit to a relationship with her, and so she has no choice but to forget about him.  But when Emily is rushed to the hospital with a life-threatening infection, Kumail begins to understand that he can’t lose her, no matter when his mother will say.

Michael Showalter also directed Hello, My Name is Doris, and that’s about it, but the guy seems to have a nose for comedy, going back to his Wet Hot American Summer days, which he wrote and starred in.  Produced with the help of Judd Apatow, Kumail Nanjiani wrote The Big Sick with his wife Emily, and it’s loosely based on their own courtship and relationship.  So there’s a lot of real heart and authentic talent behind this film; what’s more, you can feel it every step of the way.  It’s not your typical rom/com, it’s somehow better, while still clinging to the industry norms.  Its honesty is perhaps what wins us over, and you can feel Nanjiani’s passion throughout; for his wife, for his craft, for his background, for his story.  He isn’t the greatest actor of our generation, but his comedy is natural, and whoever cast Ray Romano and Holly Hunter as Emily’s parents is a genius; they were perfect for the roles.  This isn’t the best romantic comedy of the last twenty years, but asking it to be would be asking much too much.  Appreciate that it reached so high and that it made it near the top of list.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – A Ghost Story

Category : Movie Review

Director: David Lowery

Starring: Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck

Year: 2017

Lowery, Mara, & Affleck team up again for A Ghost Story, a film that reunites the trio after 2013’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.  Lowery’s only other major film was 2016’s Pete’s Dragon, which I didn’t completely enjoy, but chalk that up to having to work within the constraints of Disney.  When left to his own devices, this talented director brings original content and unusual mood, a combination that not everyone will fall in love with, but one that critics will find refreshingly abnormal, and hopefully audiences will appreciate as well.  Lowery enjoys the slow burn, which is on complete display in this film, leaving us to fill in the gaps with our own minds and to find entertainment in the subtle moments rather than the blindingly obvious.

A childless couple living in a rundown house in Texas debate moving, but are at odds when it comes to the final decision.  He, a musician, feels a connection to the home, even though it admittedly makes strange sounds and isn’t about to be on the cover of Better Homes & Gardens.  But moving becomes a moot point when he dies, and her life will have to go on without him, no matter the pain.  He’s not completely gone, however, as his restless spirit remains in the form of a ghost under a sheet, to endlessly patrol the rooms of the house until what’s holding him back relinquishes its hold.  We see time pass, new families move in, and we are also allowed to view the past, as we begin to understand the love the couple shared and how it can be so hard to let go.

Lowery needs to make more movies, because he’s a master at combining the typical with the surreal, allowing both audiences and critics to enjoy his wonderful films.  I say that about Stephen King, that you can read him on a surface level or you can dig deeper, it’s up to you, and that’s what Lowery is able to produce as well.  There are some standard elements, it’s almost a haunted house story from a ghost’s point of view, but then there is so much more depth to the emotions and the metaphors, creating a story you could talk about for days.  The one scene that gets the most attention is one in which Mara eats a pie, and deservedly so; it’s very uncomfortable, highly unique, and quite moving.  For some, it might make or break the movie; for me I found it just another strong example of how Lowery can say so much without saying a word.  He had great actors to aid him, the time flies by, and I was left with a lot of questions; that, in my book, is a success.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Les Miserables (1998)

Category : Movie Review

Director: Bille August

Starring: Liam Neeson, Geoffrey Rush, Uma Thurman, Claire Danes

Year: 1998

I am now as much of a Les Mis expert as I can be without becoming a scholar on the subject, having seen the play, read the book, memorized the soundtrack, and watched both film versions.  I don’t think many people can claim the same, especially reading the unabridged novel, so I’m an elite Les Mis fan, bully for me.  I do love the story, it is an amazing tale, and I’m so glad there are people who feel the way I do and who are so much more talented then me, so that it can come alive in ways I could never dream of producing.  But I have to say, I’m a little disappointed in the 90s dramatic take on the classic; it does not do Hugo’s work justice, and it pales in comparison to the stage play as well, leaving audiences wishing they had consumed this magic in a more magical way.

Jean Valjean, the man, the criminal, the savior, is the lead character in this epic tale, a story that spans decades and illustrates the history of France as a backdrop upon which remarkable citizens’ shadows are cast.  Valjean spent many years in prison for petty thievery, plus time for multiple escape attempts.  When he is finally released, he quickly steals again, but this time a holy man offers to buy his life for God, delivering Valjean from his sinful nature.  This creates a colossal shift in our hero, and as the years pass he devotes himself to the light.  When a young woman under his charge dies, leaving a helpless daughter behind, Valjean abandons all other responsibilities to find the girl and provide her will all she needs, all the while dodging the law that will forever be on his tail, as the country around him burns with poverty and with revolution.

The film begins as a period piece on par with Jane Eyre or the like, a costume drama with wonderfully magnified characters and melodramatic problems.  It doesn’t take the musical route, which is fine, instead focusing on the book and the attempt to bring it to life.  For the first hour or so, I was enthralled, I was transported back in time, I was eager to see how this movie would tell this phenomenal story.  But the second half brought only disappointment, and I think there are multiple culprits to blame.  First, this director isn’t good at all, and he fails to bring the right elements to life, relying far too heavily on the movie to miraculously make itself in the book’s image.  Second, Claire Danes is god-awful as Cosette, and really brings down the third act.  A combination of bad direction and bad acting is almost insurmountable, Neeson & Rush teaming up to save the day, but just barely.  This is a strange delivery, an unnecessary version, a missed opportunity, and yet I still love the source material so much I can’t completely warn you away.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Bokeh

Category : Movie Review

Director: Geoffrey Orthwein, Andrew Sullivan

Starring: Maika Monroe, Matt O’Leary

Year: 2017

Bokeh is a method of photography where the image in the foreground is clear, but everything in the background is out of focus, often producing those big circles of light that some amateurs find so attractive in pictures.  It’s an apt metaphor for the subject of this film, and a clever one at that, but the title is probably the best part of the movie.  For the rest, Orthwein & Sullivan co-wrote and co-directed a clunker that can’t possible have an audience, that fails to have a voice that would speak to very many.  There is an emphasis on photography in the movie, both within the story and as a theme, so the visuals are predictably excellent.  But that’s where the positives stop, the content of the film lacking in almost every other area.

Jenai & Riley are dating, in love, young & passionate, starting their lives together.  Riley takes them on an amazing trip to Iceland to witness the stunning natural beauty and for the country to act as a backdrop for his love of taking pictures.  He doesn’t go in for digital, he wants to capture the imperfections of the world as well, he & Jenai touring the land while he captures its essence on film.  One morning, when the pair goes out for breakfast, they find that everyone in the town in which they are staying has vanished.  Calls home go unanswered, the internet isn’t being updated, no one drives the streets, it’s as if every living human has disappeared over night.  Alone together in a strange place, the duo will have to decide what to do with their lives, how they will go on living, and what it all means.

The concept is fascinating; what would you do if you were all of a sudden inexplicable alone?  Would it make it better if a loved one was with you?  How much would loneliness affect you?  There’s that sci-fi element to the plot, like Z for Zachariah though not as good, but then, also like that film, there is a metaphorical element as well.  What do they represent, how is their struggle our struggle, what can we learn from this?  All these question make the movie interesting, but I think it w0uld have worked better as a book.  Basically, the film was beautiful to see, but painful to watch.  Monroe was acting-class level in every scene, and it only got worse every time she was asked to inflect her voice.  O’Leary was only slightly better, playing his character one-note to a fault.  And they were it, there really aren’t more actors, and they failed miserably to come across as competent adult performers.  The story quickly became boring anyway, they weren’t aided by the writing, but the acting was the real nail in the coffin, and I can’t in good faith recommend this movie to anyone.

My rating: ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Young and Beautiful

Category : Movie Review

Director: François Ozon

Starring: Marine Vacth, Geraldine Pailhas, Frederic Pierrot

Year: 2013

Francois Ozon is quickly becoming my favorite French director.  Or, should I say ‘slowly’, since he’s been around forever, I just didn’t experience his work until he was already fairly established.  I watched Swimming Pool some time ago and was shocked by how much I enjoyed it, a random foreign film that I had never heard of before.  That was also my first experience with Charlotte Rampling (Never Let Me Go, 45 Years, The Sense of an Ending), who I now see as a fountain of surprises & talent, and who also appears briefly in this film.  Ozon’s other feature that I absolutely loved is Frantz, one of 2017’s very best movies, English language or otherwise.  I hope it’s nominated for an Oscar this year, I hope Ozon keeps pumping out the hits, and I hope you can appreciate Young and Beautiful as much as I did.

Isabelle is a young girl on the verge of becoming a woman, a 17-year-old who is melancholy by nature, who is curious about her body, sex, adulthood, and what happens after you leave your youth behind.  Her family is loving and wealthy, she wants for nothing, but she longs to explore the unknown territories of power and passion, a place that has always been off limit.  One summer, on holiday, Isabelle looses her virginity to a German boy she never intends to see again, opening the door to the power of sex and the possibilities now available to a beautiful girl who can so easily switch emotion on and off.  Isabelle begins to allow men to pay her to sleep with them, not understanding that she’s entering dangerous territory, a place she simply isn’t old enough to survive.

First, let’s address the sexuality, because it’s at the forefront of the film, though it obviously isn’t the only point.  Marine Vacth was 22 when this movie came out, but she looks much younger, and that will be an uncomfortable part of this story for some.  Isabelle is underage, nude, experimenting, and ultimately prostituting herself; it’s a raw look that doesn’t shy away, something that not all audiences will want to see.  But if you can accept that part of the film, there’s much more to view.  The timeline is split into seasons, as Isabelle ages and learns, with music to blend the passing of time, something I really appreciated from this director.  He told the story beautifully, with heavy moments mixed with light, difficult scenes mixed with simple ones, forging a feature that uses sex but wasn’t controlled by it.  Young and Beautiful could have become a simple skin flick masquerading as a drama, but Ozon was able to steer it in the right direction toward a provocative coming-of-age tale, toward characters with onion layers that peel back over 90 minutes in a wonderful way.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – It

Category : Movie Review

Director: Andy Muschietti

Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis

Year: 2017

As a huge Stephen King fan, I knew I had to go back and read the book, one of the very few that I had missed, before I watched the movie.  Honestly, it’s not King’s best.  It’s long, it’s uneventful, it’s laden with metaphor, but it isn’t exciting enough to make the reader want to slog through the work.  The parallel storyline is a big problem, it cuts all the drama out of the plot, and I’m not sure why he chose to do that.  Actually, that’s one of many choices I’m not sure why King made while fleshing out this idea, including a group sex scene involving 11-year-olds, which was put at the end of the book for a reason, since he may have guessed that many readers would throw the book away at that point.  But the movie seems to have been very thought out, with conscious decisions made in a number of areas that resulted in a high quality scare.  Problems is, I don’t really like getting scared that much.

Derry, Maine, a town with more deaths than average and a spooky way of immediately forgetting those who die.  Every 27 years, give or take, an evil rises from the underground water systems to kill children and eat their bodies, minds, souls, and fears.  This power, It, feeds for a year, and then disappears back underground, only to repeat the cycle.  Adults don’t notice It, they forget the carnage, but kids can feel the darkness, and they know their town isn’t safe.  A group of seven children, the Losers, are determined to destroy It, who takes the form of a clown but who can also change to be whatever you are afraid of.  Together, they will rid the world of this sickness once and for all.

Full disclosure; I don’t love scary movies.  I watch horror, I keep up to date on the surprising frightening hits of the year (The Babadook, It Follows, The Witch),
but I don’t really appreciate the constant jumping-out-at-ya horror that is all too common.  I’d rather be creeped out, I’d rather be unnerved, I’d much rather watch real people be terrifying than something supernatural be spooky.  It definitely banks on the fact that casual audience members want a certain type of terror; unnerving noises, peaks around corners, sudden pauses in sound followed by HHHHNNNNGGAAAA!!!!!  That’s what’s regular, but I don’t like that, and I had hope that this film would be something a little more than standard.

Now, the story isn’t typical, that’s what makes this movie cool.  They took the book, made it much more interesting, and broke it into two parts, which was a great choice.  They also “borrowed” almost everything from Stranger Things, which was another smart decision, since it’s so incredibly popular.  They even set the story in the 80s, when the book sets the kids’ timeline in the 50s.  Again, I think that was the best option, the film smoothing out all the wrinkles of the novel until it was something much more consumable.  They left out the sex scene, they cut the adults (for now), they focused on the little town, they made the parents other-worldly, and I think they got much more right than they got wrong.  Still, I wish, like Stranger Things, the terror hadn’t come from something scary standing still and then suddenly rushing toward the camera; that’s the opposite of original.  Last note; Lieberher, Wolfhard, Lillis, Jeremy Ray Taylor, and Jack Dylan Grazer were all great, while Wyatt Oleff and Chosen Jacobs (Stanley and Mike) were so bad I wanted to scream.  Five out seven ain’t bad, the movie works as a whole, it will definitely scare you, it’s probably better than the book, just know what you’re getting into.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 

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Movie Review – The Trip to Spain

Category : Movie Review

Director: Michael Winterbottom

Starring: Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon

Year: 2017

Coogan & Brydon team up yet again for a trip around the world, this time to Spain.  It started as a short-run TV series, it became a film (The Trip), then a sequel (The Trip to Italy), then a trilogy (The Trip to Spain), and I have no idea when this wonderfully entertaining vacation might end, but I kind of hope it never does.  These pals are hilarious given the freedom to improvise, to poke fun, to do impressions, to let off steam, and these films capture organic comedy in a way few have before.  I really enjoyed the first two, and I was certain to enjoy the third, basically because the same formula is brought to our screens again, and more of the same deliciousness is rarely a bad thing.

Steve is back on the road, following his Philomena success, preparing to write a book mirroring one of his favorite novels, depicting his own travels as a young man, inspired by Don Quixote, going wherever the wind may blow him.  Along for the ride, faithful friend Rob, who will write a few more restaurant reviews as they trek across Spain; gotta make a living somehow.  And the two friends will doubtless drive each other insane with their constant Roger Moore and Marlon Brando impersonations, making us laugh in the process.  It’s two British comedians on the road, eating good food, mocking life, and at the same time enjoying every moment of it.

If you’ve seen the first two, you know what to expect from this new installment.  It’s improv, it’s dry, it’s English, it’s obscure, but it’s a good time had by all, at least if you like your comedy with a spot of tea.  I adore the other films, and I enjoyed this one as well, if not exactly as much.  Steve & Rob are getting older and they’re looking back on their lives, so there’s a certain nostalgic sadness to this film, even while they crack each other up.  The bits are getting a little tired perhaps, we’ve heard all these impressions before, but that doesn’t mean that they’re completely boring.  There is a lot to appreciate here, a calm air throughout, an ease of storytelling, a brightness of comedy.  The end is a little weird, these guys will definitely be back, I just wonder how long they can keep it up.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

 

 


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Movie Review – Crown Heights

Category : Movie Review

Director: Matt Ruskin

Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul

Year: 2017

I saw Nnamdi Asomugha’s name attached to this film as a producer, and I simply assumed that he fronted the money for a film that he was passionate about, a story about black men and over-incarceration and racial justice that he felt inspired to help reach an audience.  Asomugha is a name you might recognize if you’re a fan of NFL football; he played 11 seasons, mostly for the Raiders, and was quite good.  I watched the entire movie before I realized that he was basically the star of the film.  That blew me away; I has mentally commented that this actor was great, that I hadn’t seen him before, and that I wondered who he was.  It’s surprising that he’s a ball player turned actor, but what’s more shocking is that you would never know.

In the 80s, America’s crime problem was streaming out of hand, and lawmakers saw only one way to stop the tide; laws.  Harsher sentences, more time, extra arrests, clean the streets, and it was African Americans in low-income areas who felt the pressure most acutely.  Colin Warner was an opportunistic thief, but he was not a violent criminal, and when his name was mentioned in connection with a murder, he was picked up and charged before he even knew what hit him.  The police didn’t care who went to jail, they just needed bodies in cells, and Warner was the unlucky, innocent man who paid the price.  Over the next 20 years, his friends and family would fight for justice, while Colin’s life flowed past before the bars of his prison door.

This is a true story, and it has one hell of a punch.  Here is an innocent man who wasted his years behind walls because the system was in a hurry to convict, to toss black men in jail as a group to show a semblance of progress against crime.  If he had lived in a state with the death penalty, Warner would have been killed, his life would have taken from him even more than it already was.  I would say that this issue goes beyond politics, that we as humans could agree that this is wrong, but I’ve overestimated Republicans before, so I won’t make the mistake of assuming that they would care.  But you might, and this film could make a big impact.  Diving into the film itself, the acting is very strong; Stanfield as Warner and Asomugha as his best friend KC.  Nnamdi stole the show, but the script was a definite aid, as was the pace of the movie, which helped support the actors in a way that you don’t see enough.  Crown Heights is one of the most powerful plots of the year, and I just hope it doesn’t slide under the radar.

My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆