Posts Tagged ‘Will Smith’

Will Smith

“EMANCIPATION” My rating: B (Apple+)

132 minutes | MPAA rating: R

One of the most famous photographs of the Civil War era — a portrait of a shirtless runaway slave named Peter who displays a hideous crosshatch of whipping scars — gets a compelling back story in “Emancipation.”

This inspired-by-fact yarn is especially noteworthy for its borderline brilliant visual sense.

Will Smith stars as Peter, the enslaved blacksmith on a Louisiana plantation. Peter has a wife and several children, but he is requisitioned by the Confederate Army to build a railway line under conditions that are even more brutal than what he’s accustomed to.

Learning that Union troops are only a few miles away across a daunting swamp, Peter and two other slaves make a break for freedom, pursued by dogs and the relentless runaway hunter Fassel (Ben Foster).

Eventually Peter finds himself in the ranks of an all-black unit of Lincoln’s army, seeing brutal action while never forgetting his burning desire to be reunited with his family.

Director Anton Fuqua (“Training Day,” “King Arthur,” “Olympus Has Fallen,” “The Magnificent Seven”) and writer Bill College have fashioned a wrenching experience — part historical/social statement, part chase flick, part battle epic — that works best when it keeps its mouth shut.

Now I don’t doubt that slavery-supporting Southerners were mean, arrogant, dyed-in-the-wool assholes. I only wish the filmmakers had depicted them more through their despicable actions than through heavy-handed dialogue.

Foster (who seems to be falling back into his early career typecasting as an eye-rolling maniac) is saddled with a monologue about being raised on his father’s plantation by a slave woman, whom he considered his adoptive mother until he subsequently betrayed her. Why is he telling us this? Is he conflicted about the experience? Feeling guilty?

Nah…after all, he’s made a career of catching fugitive slaves.

But that’s the thing here…all too frequently we get didacticism instead of dialogue.

Faring far better is Smith, who gives an almost exclusively physical performance. When he talks it’s either to impart necessary information or to extoll his religious faith, which runs strong and unquestioned. Clearly this man has depths of resolve which a lifetime of beatings have not touched.

If “Emancipation” sometimes grates on the ear, it’s a treat for the eyes. Robert Richardson’s cinematography must be seen to be believed. The images have been so color desaturated that they often can be mistaken for black-and-white (only yellow flames seem to break through the monochrome); the effect is of a Civil War daguerrotype come to life.

Moreover, Richardson employs drones for many sweeping shots, including a mind-blowing battlefield flyover that finally comes to rest on Smith’s battle-smudged face. I haven’t seen its like since Bondarchuk’s epic 1965 “War and Peace.”

| Robert W. Butler

The real Peter

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Will Smith, Helen Mirren

Will Smith, Helen Mirren


97 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Collateral Beauty” starts out as an imaginative riff on that old chestnut “A Christmas Carol.”

Alas, it ends by leaving the audience feeling used and abused.

The latest from director David Frankel (“The Devil Wears Prada,” “Marley and Me,” “Hope Springs”) stars Will Smith as Howard, the poet/guru of a boutique advertising agency who, in the aftermath of his child’s death, has become a vacant-eyed wraith.

Howard still comes to the office, but he no longer services clients or gives New Age-y pep talks to the staff. Now he devotes his energy to building elaborate domino constructions which he then destroys in gravity-fueled chain reactions.

His partners in the firm — Whit (Edward Norton), Claire (Kate Winslet) and Simon (Michael Pena) — are frantic. With Howard in a funk their business is circling the drain…it’s looking like all they’ll be getting for Christmas are unemployment checks.

So they come up with a desperate — and, BTW, wildly unethical — plan.  Learning that Howard has been mailing agonizing letters to Death, Love and Time (you’ve got to wonder what the Post Office does with them), they hire three struggling actors to portray those very concepts.

The idea  is to have these “spirits” pop in unexpectedly on Howard. Hopefully these confrontations with the Great Unknown will push him out of his shell of grief and misery.

Hmmm. What possibly could go wrong with an elaborate metaphysical ruse thrust upon a severely depressed individual?

The  actors (they’re members of the Hegel Theater Company, which suggests they have struggles of their own) take the job because they need the cash — they’re about to lose the lease on their theater.

The leader and mother hen of the bunch is Brigitte (Helen Mirren), who will embody Death.  Amy (Keira Knightley) will approach Howard as Love.  Raffi (Jacob Latimore) will perform the role of Time.

Brigitte, played by Mirren as amusing font of actorish ego and process, thinks this could be the performance of her lifetime:  “He’s reaching out to the cosmos for answers. We get to be that cosmos.”

Brigitte is such an old ham than when her colleagues question the morality of the gig, she eagerly volunteers to play all three roles.


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Will Smith as Dr. Bennett ***

Will Smith as Dr. Bennet Omalu

“CONCUSSION”  My rating: B+ 

123 minutes  | MPAA rating: PG-13

Concussion” takes on professional football and leaves the NFL whimpering.

All while giving us Will Smith’s best performance ever.

The subject of this latest offering from writer/director Peter Landesman (“Parkland,” “Kill the Messenger”) is  football’s ghastly heritage of head injuries that over decades have left former players with severe mental and emotional problems.

Smith portrays Bennet Omalu, a real-life pathologist who in the early 2000s virtually singlehandedly took on the National Football League, saying it covered up the growing ranks of former players with serious neurological issues.

Omalu named the condition chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and announced that it was the result of not just severe concussions but of the repeated violent physical encounters that are a routine part of the game. (He has since opined that 100 percent of NFL players will suffer CTE to one extent or another.)

Like many another truth teller, Omalu was vilified, his credentials and reputation questioned. The FBI even showed up to make threats. This Nigerian immigrant had dared to challenge a great American institution, described by one character as so big it has its own day of the week (the same day that used to belong to God).

Yet another David-vs-Goliath scenario in an Oscar season filled with them (“Spotlight,” “Suffragette,” “Trumbo,” “The Big Short”), “Concussion” stands out not only for risking the wrath of the NFL (which continues to drag its feet in recognizing and addressing the CTE problem), but for Smith’s astounding performance.

In his 25-year acting career Smith has proven his proficiency in easygoing charm, sly comedy and action film flexing. Here he gives us more by delivering less.

It’s not so much a loud “Look at me!” as a simple, quiet “I am.”

TO READ THE REST OF THIS REVIEW VISIT THE KANSAS CITY STAR WEBSITE AT http://www.kansascity.com/entertainment/movies-news-reviews/article51086760.html

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Focus-2015-Movie“FOCUS”  My rating: C 

104 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The key to pulling off a scam, according to master con artist Nicky, is to throw off your mark’s focus.

Tap the poor slob on his right shoulder while you remove the Rolex from his left wrist. Misdirect. Confuse.

The same can be said of long-con movies (think “The Sting”), which bluff the audience to deliver a big “Gotcha!!!” payoff.

That’s the goal anyway. The problem with “Focus” is that, well, it has no focus.

Not the characters. Not the fuzzy plotting. Not the halfhearted stab at romance.

Oh, there’s some diversion to be found in the high-roller settings: New Orleans when it hosts the Super Bowl,  Buenos Aires during a Formula One race.  It smacks of an old James Bond flick with a dash of “Thomas Crown Affair” slickness.

But this tepid “thriller” mostly coasts, offering a couple of minor diversions (it’s amusing to see how professional scammers go about their nefarious business) without ever delivering that “wow” moment.


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