By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
In Amarillo theaters this week: A controversial awards contender, a much-anticipated thriller and a kids' comedy about the worst years in anyone's life.
The Birth of a Nation
After a rapturous reception at Sundance in January — notably, right as the #OscarsSoWhite campaign was in full swing — this provocative drama about Nat Turner, a slave who led a bloody revolution in 1831, seemed poised to be one of the year's most talked-about films. As it now readies to open across the country, it certainly is — but not in a way that star/director/co-writer Nate Parker would have hoped. In 1999, Parker and Jean Celestine — then a roommate and fellow wrestling team member, now his co-writer — were accused of raping a fellow Penn State student. Parker was acquitted, while Celestine was convicted and later had his conviction overturned. Their accuser committed suicide in 2012. And when the film — which defiantly takes the title of D.W. Griffith's 1915 movie, a racist look at the Civil War that both helped found Hollywood and revitalized the Ku Klux Klan — screened last month at the Toronto International Film Festival, the reception wasn't as glowing. Most critics agree that Parker's film is worth seeing, but its awards buzz has quieted significantly (which shouldn't matter, but it does, because so few films by black filmmakers are ever in serious awards contention). "The fact is, The Birth of a Nation is a fine and promising debut from Parker. ... It also feels very much like a first film, too, unable to reach the lofty artistry that it's striving for in juxtaposing unimaginable human injustices with both lyrical spirituality and shocking violence," writes the Associated Press' Lindsey Bahr. Time's Stephanie Zacherek argues that the film is important despite Parker's past and its flaws: "Should this Birth of a Nation exist? Should people see it? Is it OK if people respond to it? If we care at all about who, beyond white guys, ought to be making movies in America, the answer to all is 'yes.' It’s the difference between stepping through an open door or standing off bullishly to the side, wishing someone else had opened it." (R for disturbing violent content, and some brief nudity; United Artists Amarillo Star 14, 8275 W. Amarillo Blvd.)
The Girl on the Train
Rachel, the heroine of Paula Hawkins' inordinately popular thriller The Girl on the Train, is the kind of self-destructive mess that Amy, the heroine of Gillian Flynn's similarly inordinately popular thriller Gone Girl, would look down her nose at, if she even noticed her at all. But, either because both books have the word Girl in their titles or because we can only process one kind of bad girl at a time, director Tate Taylor's adaptation of Hawkins' book has been breathlessly touted as a worthy successor to David Fincher's extraordinarily creepy adaptation of Flynn's novel. The marketers may be ignoring Girl on the Train's actual merits, though, or lack thereof. "For a movie built on the voyeuristic pull of lives lived in full view of strangers, and the secrets people hide in plain sight, The Girl on the Train is anything but the kind of elegantly skeevy pulp made disreputably fun by a DePalma or Verhoeven, or the twisted psychodrama that calls to mind Hitchcock or Haneke. Instead, the overall mood created by the crummy, pinched visuals and logic-strained rhythm is of something scanned and discarded, like a tabloid article or a Lifetime movie," sneers The Wrap's Robert Abele. The New York Times' Manohla Dargis defends the movie, but only to a point: “Girl doesn’t falter in its absurdity or commitment to its own seriousness. It never winks. You may laugh (as the audience I saw it with did, on and off), but there’s genuine pleasure in that mirth." (R for violence, sexual content, language and nudity; AS-14, Cinemark Hollywood 16, 9100 Canyon Drive)
Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life
Popular thriller author James Patterson branched out in 2011 to begin a new series of books about a subject even more terrorizing than the serial killers he usually writes about — middle school. His first book was popular enough to spawn six sequels and several spinoffs — and now, a movie starring Griffin Gluck (Fox's Red Band Society) as a quiet teen who inspires his classmates to break all the school's rules. No critics' reviews were available by late Wednesday. (PG for rude humor throughout, language and thematic elements; AS-14, H-16)
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders
Nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah Batman! Adam West and Burt Ward return to their camptastic roles as the Dynamic Duo in this new animated film inspired by the 1966-68 television series. Julie Newmar also returns to voice Catwoman as the crimefighters attempt to foil the latest plot by her, Joker, Penguin and the Riddler. The film will screen at 2, 7:30 and 10 p.m. Monday before making its Nov. 1 debut on Blu-ray. (PG for action, suggestive material and rude humor; AS-14)
A man devastated by the loss of his family and desperate to make ends meet agrees to a shady deal: He'll get cash for driving a truck across the country, no questions asked. Of course, he asks questions and learns that he's gotten himself involved in human trafficking. Contemporary Christian singer Joel Smallbone of For King & Country stars. The film gets a special preview screening at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, featuring a performance by the band. (PG-13 for mature thematic material involving human trafficking, and some violence; AS-14)
Deepwater Horizon (AS-14, H-16); Finding Dory (WM-6); Ghostbusters (WM-6); The Magnificent Seven (AS-14, H-16, Tascosa Drive-In, 1999 Dumas Drive); Masterminds (AS-14, H-16); Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (AS-14, H-16); Nine Lives (WM-6); Queen of Katwe (AS-14); Star Trek Beyond (WM-6); Sausage Party (AS-14); Storks (AS-14, H-16); Suicide Squad (AS-14); and Sully (AS-14, H-16); War Dogs (WM-6); The Wild Life (WM-6); and When the Bough Breaks (TDI).