Posts Tagged ‘Armie Hammer’

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Writer-director-star Nate Parker blew the doors off Sundance with this historical epic, which netted a record $17.5 million pickup. The film tells the story of Nat Turner, who led a violent slave revolt in Virginia in 1831, and is filled to the brim with commentary on America’s past, present and future.

While limited by a independent budget, Parker’s camera captures plenty of stomach-churning horrors. Prior to his rebellion, Turner visits neighboring plantations as a preacher-for-hire, providing a window into the disparate treatment eked out by slaveowners reacting and adapting to economic downturn.

The film seems perfectly poised to drop into the current national conversation on race in America. Its rough edges could slow it down in the mainstream market, but it’s a meaningful, boldly-made film with plenty to say.

^That^ is what I wrote about “Birth of a Nation” when I saw it January, back when Nate Parker was the belle of the Sundance ball and before his past as an accused rapist had been shouted from the rafters by dogged and necessary criticism. In the months since, Parker has failed to mitigate those criticisms, instead holding adamant to his acquittal, refusing to apologize for whatever part he played in the victimization of a now-deceased woman  (she committed suicide in 2012) and clinging to his perceived status as a wrongly-accused, innocent man.

The problem, Mr. Parker, is that as one character explained in “Hannibal,” innocent isn’t a verdict, not guilty is.

In light of the off-screen drama that now surrounds “The Birth of a Nation,” the film’s flaws are all-the-more glaring. Under Parker’s relatively inexperienced direction, the movie lacks any subtlety, with its depictions of barbarism delivered as bluntly – and literally – as a hammer to the teeth. There is a dearth of chemistry between the film’s romantic leads, and a stiffness to the dialogue that undercuts the character beats and dramatic tension.

From the lens of a low-budgeted drama by a novice multi-hyphenate director and star, those flaws are forgivable in service of a lesser-known piece of American history worthy of dramatization. But the increasing weight of Parker’s personal issues drags the movie down into the dirt.

For those able to separate art from artist, “The Birth of a Nation” remains and interesting and ambitious project. But for many, and unfortunately for the myriad professionals involved in the making of this film, the quality is not high enough to distract from the mistakes of its director and star.

Grade: B

*The Birth of a Nation opens nationwide on Friday, October 7.

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When an atomic weapon falls into the wrong hands, two elite intelligence agents from the United States and Russia are forced to set aside their Cold War differences and work together to bring down a Nazi-influenced criminal organization.

That’s the set-up for ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” the latest from ‘Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘Snatch’ director Guy Ritchie. It stars current Superman Henry Cavill as Napoleon Solo – a gentleman thief turned CIA master spy – and erstwhile Lone Ranger Armie Hammer as Illya Kuryakin, an emotionally disturbed and volatile KGB operative.

One part Scotch-swilling period piece and one part buddy cop comedy, U.N.C.L.E. is a globe-trotting romp that keeps one eye firmly winked, evoking the memory of the classic James Bond films with all the befits of modern cinematic technology

The presence of Henry Cavill is a particular coup by Ritchie, who creates a world in U.N.C.L.E. that is the functional antithesis of Zach Snyder’s dour, monochromatic Man Of Steel. Ritchie’s spy-vs-spy tale is practically drowning in bright colors, jazzy soundtracks, double entendres and the gleaming white smiles of its leading men, who it turns out are quite winning when their actually allowed to enjoy themselves.

Hammer, lately adrift in the forgettable streak of Lone Ranger, J. Edgar and Mirror Mirror, takes a slight backseat to his costars, including Ex Machina’s Alicia Vikander. But he’s also given plenty of screen time to chew on his faux-accent as a Russian volcano perpetually on the verge of eruption.

It’s easy to imagine studio heads pushing for a “gritty modern” remake of the Cold War-set property, but luckily the screenwriters resisted that urge. As intriguing as a forced U.S.-Russia team up in the modern era could be from a thematic standpoint, there’s no trading the bouncy charm of U.N.C.L.E.’s period details unencumbered by realism.

The bubble of style over substance threatens to pop in the film’s third act, when the action shifts to a frenetic car chase that – one signature stunt notwithstanding – plays jarringly generic after two hours of sizzle. And the ultimate resolution is as tidy one of Napolean Solo’s tailored suits.

But that breezy finish is also earned, and a late entrance by Hugh Grant provides an energy jolt for a sequel that Hollywood could – and has done – significantly worse than greenlight. At worst, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. is guilty of being too enamored with its own sense of fun, which is hard to hold against it.

Grade: B

*The Man From U.N.C.L.E. opens nationwide on Friday, August 11.

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