MGM / Amazon Prime
Javon Walton and Sylvester Stallone in Samaritan
Maybe the Sundance-movie equivalent of “comfort food” is a drama where the narrative bones are sturdy, the central performances are engrossing and the sociopolitical subtext is all just right there in the text. Director Abi Damaris Corbin—who co-wrote the script with Kwame Kwei-Armah—tells the fact-based story of Brian Brown Easley (John Boyega), a Marine Iraq veteran with mental-health issues who holds up a bank in Marietta, Ga., entirely to get attention for the fact that his VA disability check was garnished. There’s little set-up or flashback within the story structure, which focuses almost entirely on Easley with his two bank-employee hostages (Nicole Beharie and Selenis Leyva) and the police activity outside, including hostage negotiator Eli Bernard (Michael K. Williams, in his final screen performance). Breaking is clearly at its best when Easley and Bernard are in communication, with the unstable Easley finding enough moments of lucidity to understand when the negotiator’s tactics—however sincere in their attempts to avoid bloodshed—are partly manipulation. And it’s simply a pleasure to be in the presence of such exceptional acting, also including Beharie as the bank manager, whose version of Stockholm syndrome is about not wanting her son to see another Black man killed by police. A detour involving Easley’s phone conversation with a local news producer (Connie Britton) adds little to the story, and there’s nothing groundbreaking in the portrayal of veterans failed by the system (though Corbin employs one terrific shot of a VA office packed with people waiting to be heard). It all just works—and sometimes, “works” is enough. Available Aug. 26 in theaters.
Me Time **1/2
One side effect of virtually all mid-budget movies being sent to streaming services is that the kind of movie that might have seemed like a drag in a theater feels a little easier to enjoy while you’re sitting on your couch. Kevin Hart plays Sonny Fisher, a stay-at-home dad with two kids, a successful wife (Regina Hall) and a growing concern that he has no life of his own. When his wife takes the kids on a spring break vacation, Sonny gets an opportunity to reconnect with his best-friend-since-childhood Huck (Mark Wahlberg), a big personality whose birthday parties always go a little over-the-top. Writer/director John Hamburg (Why Him?) offers up the kind of script built on a normal guy under the pressure of growing craziness, except that the craziest craziness comes too early and leaves little consequence; somehow Sonny’s mauling by a lion doesn’t even inspire a flinch when everyone slaps him on the back later that same night. And it’s from the lineage of self-indulgent comedies that stop dead in their tracks for a playing-themselves cameo (in this case, musician Seal). But while it isn’t remotely as inspired a “one crazy night” caper as something like Game Night
, Hart has perfected the kind of put-upon Everyman character he plays here, and the supporting cast provides enough energy to make up for Wahlberg’s underdeveloped arrested adolescent. You might not finish it in one night, but you’ll finish it. Available Aug. 26 via Netflix.
If you’ve forgotten what a superhero movie might have looked like in the days before CGI and the MCU, here’s a fun, unapologetically retro ’90s throwback. In a decaying place called Granite City, 13-year-old Sam (Javon Walton) is fascinated with the possibility that a long-missing and presumed-dead costumed hero called Samaritan might still be alive. Then he witnesses some improbable physical feats by his elderly neighbor Joe (Sylvester Stallone), and becomes convinced that Joe is Samaritan, who’s desperately needed when a crime boss (Pilou Asbaek) tries to take up the mantle of Samaritan’s old foe Nemesis. Director Julius Avery starts off with a great “origin” prologue in old-school comic book design, and maintains that vibe throughout as the action involves nothing fancier than gunfire, fistfights and the occasional overturned car. And the central pairing is solid, with Stallone embracing the gruff, reluctant mentor role and Walton providing the feisty energy. There’s a bit of a missed opportunity in Bragi F. Schut’s script, which teases with the idea that superheroes are soldiers of the status quo, while the villains are the real activists for the downtrodden, but that notion gets muddled and ultimately discarded. Still, it’s an enjoyable time watching a tale about a hero from 25 years ago told in a way that it might have been told 25 years ago, when bad guys would be dispatched with an ironic catchphrase like “have a blast.” Available Aug. 26 via Amazon Prime.
The Territory ***
“Both sides” has (understandably) become a buzzword for media coverage not recognizing that the parties in a political or cultural clash are not equally culpable; here’s a story that actually uses its opportunity to present “both sides” effectively. Director Alex Pritz ventures into the Amazon rainforest of Brazil, where the indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people find themselves existentially threatened by the encroachment of agricultural settlers—even more so under the leadership of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who made removing protection of indigenous tribes part of his campaign. Pritz is clearly mostly sympathetic with the Uru-eu-wau-wau—including their new young leader, Bitaté—as well as an indigenous rights/environmental activist named Neidinha who finds herself and her family threatened because of her work. But the filmmaker also visits with would-be settlers, giving voice to their sense that having land of their own is their only way out of perpetual poverty; in a sense, it’s a perfect portrait of how demagogues set the poorly-off against the even-worse-off as the cause of their problems. The environmental impact certainly does get some attention, including insert shots of insects making it clear how much life is threatened by assaults on the rainforest. By the time the Uru-eu-wau-wau begin taking defense of their land into their own hands in the face of governmental apathy, it’s clear not just what’s at stake for them, but why the “villains” in this story—who claim that they “just want what we deserve”—don’t think of themselves that way. Available Aug. 26 at Broadway Centre Cinemas.
Three Thousand Years of Longing **1/2
See feature review
. Available Aug. 26 in theaters. (R)