Posts Tagged ‘Tessa Thompson’

Lily James, Tessa Thompson

“LITTLE WOODS” My rating: B-

105 minutes | MPAA rating: R

“Little Woods,” writer/director Nia DaCosta’s feature debut, unfolds in the barren wastes of North Dakota, where the dull landscape feels like a reflection of its inhabitant’s desperate lives.

Ollie (Tessa Thompson) is living in the house where her mother recently died. On probation after being caught crossing the Canadian border with a backpack full of oxy, she now scratches out a living selling coffee and sandwiches to oil drilling crews.  She also takes in laundry.

Her empathetic probation officer (Lance Reddick) is encouraging (“You’re so close…please stay out of trouble”) but Ollie finds herself being pulled back into the drug trade.

The problem is her adopted sister Deb (Lillie James), a former exotic dancer who lives in an RV with her son Johnny (Charlie Ray Reid).  Deb excels at making dumb choices.

Johnny’s dad, Ian (James Badge Dale), is a well-meaning loser who lives in a sparse motel room.  He can’t support his wife and son; even worse, he’s gotten Deb pregnant again.

Now the bank has come calling to repossess their late mother’s house. Ollie has a week to come up with a $3,000 payment and the only way to do that is to dig up the cache of drugs she buried in the woods and start selling.

The downbeat tale, enhanced immeasurably by Thompson’s thoughtful/heartfelt performance, finds Ollie sucked into yet another mission into Canada planned by her former drug-running boss (Joe Stevens).  She’s to pick up a load of drugs from a Canuck pharmacy and walk them through the woods back to the U.S.

She also brings along Deb and Johnny so that her sister can buy a forged medical card and get an abortion.


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Natalie Portman

“ANNIHILATION” My rating: B- (Opens wide on Feb. 23)

115 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Given the runaway artistic and commercial success of his 2014 debut, “Ex Machina,” it’s hard not to see Alex Garland’s “Annihilation” as a case of sophomore slump.

“Ex Machina” was an almost flawless blend of performance, tension and social inquiry (Garland’s subject was artificial intelligence) that transcended the usual sci-fi parameters.

By comparison “Annihilation,” based on Jeff VanderMeer’s bestseller, feels less original and more conventional.

Plus, it has the built-in issue of being based on the first book of a trilogy — which no doubt is why at the end of nearly two hours the yarn seems unfinished.

And yet “Annihilation” has real strengths, including a mostly-woman cast dealing with a pressure cooker situation, a couple of fine action sequences and enough creeping tension to generate mucho spinal tingles.

Biologist  Lena (Natalie Portman) is in mourning. A year earlier her soldier husband Kane left for one of his black ops missions and hasn’t been heard from since. The authorities aren’t cooperative.

And then, miraculously, Kane appears in their home. He’s an emotional blank, with no memories of where he’s been.

Oscar Isaac

Before long the couple are snatched by commandos in black and taken to a top secret military base outside “the shimmer,” an area along the Carolina coast subject to bizarre anomalies.

As psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) explains, a few years earlier a meteor (or something) struck the area creating a “bubble” that is slowly expanding.  Numerous military teams, drones, even trained animals have been sent beyond the shimmer, but so far only Kane has returned.  And now he’s in a coma and on life support.

(How the authorities have kept the shimmer a secret for several years is one of those mysteries possible only in movieland.) (more…)

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**** (left foreground)

Tessa Thompson (left foreground)…campus troublemaker

“DEAR WHITE PEOPLE” My rating: C+ (Opens wide on Oct. 24)

100 minutes | MPAA rating: R

A post-racial America?

Not according to “Dear White People,” writer/director Justin Simien’s savage satire in which all the swirling crosscurrents of black/white interaction reach critical mass on a posh Ivy League campus.

The film begins with news reports about the furor created by a party at Winchester University. Revelers were invited to “free your inner Negro” by costuming themselves as black stereotypes and dining on friend chicken.

The story proper begins some months earlier and divides its time among several characters, most (but not all) of them African American.

Sam (Tessa Thompson) has a show called “Dear White People” on the campus radio station where she dishes humorous observations on race relations. One wag describes her as “like Spike Lee and Oprah had a pissed-off baby.”

Though she’s more performance artist than true activist, Sam finds herself running for president of one of Winchester’s “houses,” as the various dormitories are known.


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