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Smart sci-fi in Midnight Special, Spike Lee’s gun rant in Chi-Raq and a Thai mystery

Also a charming comedy from Quebec and a women’s rights story from Turkey

 The new films are smaller this week. That’s natural; Batman v Superman still holds the podium and not many want to go up against it. The five that have come are all interesting and two are superb. 

Here’s the list:

Midnight Special:   4 stars

Chi-Raq:  2 ½

Cemetery of Splendour:  3

Le Coeur de Madame Sabali:  3 ½

Mustang:  4

 

MIDNIGHT SPECIAL: Four films along, it’s time to celebrate a new movie master. Jeff Nichols from Austin, Texas makes smart, highly involving films that also manage to entertain. This one is like the sci fi thrillers of years ago (E.T., Close Encounters, Starman, et al) but with a modern sensibility.

 

The story is eased out bit by bit. There’s an amber alert on TV. An 8-year old boy has been abducted. A suspect (Michael Shannon) is identified. We see him, a pal (Joel Edgerton) and the boy hide in a motel room and drive by night. Where? Why? Nicholls keeps us puzzling and glued with small fragments of information. A religious cult (with Sam Shepard as the leader) wants the boy back. The FBI is after him and Adam Driver, as a National Security agent, is on his trail. The film is an exciting road movie as well as a slowly evolving mystery. More details would spoil it for you, and anyway, Nicholls doesn’t explain everything. But he has written interesting characters (except for an underused Kirsten Dunst), a strong theme of family loyalty and a story that draws on your own intellect to fill in the gaps. (5th Avenue, International Village) 4 out of 5    

CHI-RAQ: While I commend Spike Lee for taking on the scourge of guns in America’s black communities, and speaking out about it with such passion, I don’t understand how he allowed the film bearing his message to get so messy. Maybe he thought he could sugar coat his rant by wrapping a comedy around it. No, he cheapens it and considering the stories coming out of Chicago these days, where even a nine-year-old child was executed by gangbangers, he doesn’t get the full horror across.

The women of southside Chicago take the lead here, as others did in an ancient Greek play and more recently in Liberia. Led by a modern Lysistrata (played by a spirited Teyonah Parris) they organize a sex strike to force an end to gun violence. They chant “No peace; no pussy.” At the strip club, the owner complains that “even the hos is no shows.” Most of the dialogue is in rhymes, which doesn’t sound silly but does work a bit like rapping. The story gets silly though. The men, including Nick Cannon as a rapper named Chi-Raq, go squirrely. The women take over an armoury, parade like a militia and wear chastity belts.

Spike climaxes the story with a public “sex match” which doesn’t fit the narrative at all and undercuts a lot of serious editorializing that came before. In a funeral speech, the local preacher (John Cusack) delivers a fiery attack on politicians beholden to the NRA, an economy that has abandoned the poor and the “self-inflicted genocide” of young black men.  Samuel L. Jackson intrudes now and then like a Greek chorus and there’s a grieving mother played by Jennifer Hudson, who herself lost three family members to gun violence. This film should have been much better.  (VanCity Theatre) 2 ½ out of 5 

More in New Movies

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Also a couple of small but amiable comedies, one of them Canadian

More streaming ideas take you to Brazil, low-life China and two Jesse Eisenberg films

As well as a cleverly-plotted trip to Barcelona thanks to Netflix

Movie theatres are shut down, so what’s streaming?

Some modest recommendations and stay for the last one, an alarm about what has happened to the internet.
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