A young African American and his father try to adapt to their new lives in Germany.
Directed by Chad Hartigan
Starring Markees Christmas and Craig Robinson
Initial Review by Jon Kissel
Chad Hartigan’s Morris From America places an American kid in Germany, but the culture clash it depicts is both less and more specific than just a transplant of continents. Hartigan gets the strangeness that exists whenever a kid goes to a new school, language barrier or not. They like different things and have their own social rhythms, but there’s also the difficulty of getting comfortable in a new crowd and allowing yourself to take part. While that curtain’s up, it’s difficult to let anyone in, especially peacocking teenagers. There’s also the racial aspect that drills down into Morris’ unique circumstances, being a black boy in a society that only knows about African Americans through stereotypes. Morris From America provides a deeply sympathetic look at the isolation and loneliness of a new place while also giving peeks at the kind of euphoria provided by breaking those walls, no matter how fleeting it may be.
Kumail Nanjiani and his wife Emily Gordon recorded a video game podcast from 2011 to 2015 called The Indoor Kids. If you spend hundreds of hours listening to two people talk, you can’t help but develop a sense of familiarity with them, and Kumail and Emily are so endearing on The Indoor Kids that that becomes especially inevitable. Seeing the culmination of their creative careers together with The Big Sick is like watching a friend achieve a long-held goal or produce something incredible. I barely trust my opinion on it.
Knowing very little about the Pelican Brief before pressing play, beyond its early-90’s setting, its casting of a peak-of-their-powers Denzel Washington and Julia Roberts, and its adaptation from a John Grisham novel, I hardly expected a 70’s style conspiratorial saga in the vein of All the President’s Men or The Conversation. A Time to Kill and The Client are both pulpy stories on a local scale, but The Pelican Brief revolves around the highest levels of American power. This is one of those cases where the source material and the writer/director are in perfect synch, with Grisham’s high-minded David and Goliath stories matching up with Alan Pakula’s established credentials as a master of these kinds of films. Having directed All the President’s Men, Pakula knows how to make goons shadowy and dialogue-heavy scenes propulsive, as surely as Grisham knows how to make lawyers heroic.
Something has held true throughout the first two films of our Denzel Washington trilogy, and it’s held true for Denzel’s career at large: he’s always the best thing in his films. That’s not a hard task when he’s opposite Mark Walhberg or a bored Chris Pratt, but it’s the case too when he’s working with Tom Hanks or Viola Davis or Russell Crowe. The man has presence, and no matter how bad the film is (Magnificent Seven, cough, cough), he’s going to steal his scenes. The tragedy is that he takes part in films where he’s the eye in a swirling storm of half-baked characters and subpar writing, as is the case with Mo’ Better Blues. Denzel’s Bleek is untouchable, but we’re on a sliding scale of Spike Lee movies at the MMC. Chi-raq flirted with greatness, School Daze had enough going for it to make it recommendable, and now, even Denzel’s iron-willed lead performance can’t rescue Mo’ Better Blues from mediocrity.
Remakes immediately make a certain portion of the film-going population cringe. The popular refrain of ‘X ruined my childhood’ booms out whenever some hit is rebranded, whether the update is gender-swapped (Ghostbusters), CGI-stuffed (Clash of the Titans), or unnecessary (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Remakes occasionally reach for greatness (The Fly, True Grit, The Departed, Let Me In), but they’re often cynical cash-grabs from creatively bankrupt studios, which brings us to Antoine Fuqua’s Magnificent Seven. I’ve seen the 1960 John Sturges version, and though it’s a fine and competent classic Western, I merely admired it. While some misogynist nerds might claim that Melissa McCarthy made the original Ghostbusters worse somehow, I take the opposite tack on the two Magnificent Sevens. The Fuqua version, with all its hamfisted writing and amateurish directing and general pointlessness, improves the Sturges version. Seeing a straightforward story told badly reminds one of the value of basic competence.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.