New in Theaters Archives - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Leaving Neverland (2019) and After Neverland (2019)

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Leaving Neverland, directed by Dan Reed, details how Michael Jackson groomed Wade Robson and James Safechuck for years of sexual abuse by his hands.

The deepest cut from Leaving Neverland comes from an expected medium but not the obvious source - the music by Chad Hobson. Michael Jackson's tunes play incidentally, part of the footage, commercials, and old behind-the-scenes bits that provide context to Dan Reed's film. But as Wade Robson and Jimmy Safechuck detail the years of sexual grooming and abuse Michael inflicted on them, Hobson's score joins with a helicopter shot over Jackson's Neverland Ranch in a tune eerily reminiscent of Disney's iconic theme before dropping into darker tones. The allure is right there, the initial pull, and if you don't watch or listen closely enough you'll be mired in darkness before you understand how you got there.

Reed's direction of Leaving Neverland doesn't have that problem. If anything, we've been flooded with information about Jackson's grooming process for decades and chosen not to care about it. I write choose because, even before Leaving Neverland, Jackson's grooming of future sexual abuse victims hasn't even been an open secret. It's been something we've decided to laugh about, making horrible jokes to keep the abuse at a comfortable distance while we jam out to whichever Jackson album we decided made the abuse okay. Reed's job with Leaving Neverland then isn't to put everything that we know into total context, examining the system that allowed Jackson to get away with this from top-to-bottom, and instead to provide as clear an image as possible for the two victims ready to tell their full stories.


Green Book (2018)

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Don Shirley is looking for an escort through the American south, and might have found more than he bargained for in the loose-lipped and quick with his fists Tony Lip. Peter Farrelly directs Green Book, with the screenplay written by Farrelly, Nick Vallelonga, and Brian Hayes Currie, and stars Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali.

The defining point of my experience watching Green Book came a bit over halfway through when, despite all my internal resistance, I felt it work just a bit. I liked watching Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) and Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali) spitball ideas for love letters to Tony's wife Dolores (Linda Cardellini). It was nice watching two people who spent so much time talking over each other finding a way to connect and the punctuation mark of Mortensen cautiously speaking through each line was adorable.  Then barely a beat later and Tony's yelling about being blacker than Don and I want to die of secondhand shame for everyone involved in Green Book since they didn't have the decency to destroy the film stock themselves.

That brief bit of charm cannot overcome what a colossally ill-conceived venture Green Book is. No, we do not need white men explaining black culture to black men in any film of 2018 (let alone since cinema began). We just aren't that advanced as a society, haven't been able to even begin the process of reconciling our ongoing oppression of black Americans, and it's certainly not going to happen in a Peter Farrelly film that opens with the largest assemblage of Italian stereotypes this side of a poor Goodfellas cosplay session yelling, "Oh, hey, Ima yellin' the lines here, this is whata the Italians do right? Letsa scream at the baseball. Pasta Italiano wife-o makea me a plate-o." It will not shock you to learn those aren't direct quotes from the dialogue but if it was in any way annoying to read I assure you hearing it was worse.


How It Ends (2018)

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Disaster strikes on the west coast and is felt throughout the United States.  Will and Tom must put aside their hostility for one another to traverse the American landscape to save Will's girlfriend, and Tom's daughter, Sam.  David M. Rosenthal directs How It Ends from the screenplay written by Brooks McLaren which stars Theo James and Forest Whitaker.

After I finished watching How It Ends, I went searching for the poster and - once discovered - let out a big laugh.  The poster shows Will (Theo James) looking like an action hero with a bit of flare from the sun in the foreground and a transparent Tom (Forest Whitaker) looking somber in the background.  Its visual message is muddled and even after finishing How It Ends I have to wonder what the poster's creators were trying to communicate.  Is Tom an evil haunting Will, the man overseeing Will, some compatriot, or the one Will is trying to rescue?

Brook McLaren's screenplay answers, "All of the above," and David M. Rosenthal's direction responds, "Why not?"

Thus, How It Ends comes into existence with little clue about its identity as it strives to be multiple films at once and not succeeding at a blessed one of them.  Some of that has to do with how thinly stretched the apocalyptic content is if you have the barest knowledge of American weather patterns.  More of that has to do with James' lead performance that isn't exciting enough to call bland.  Then there's Whitaker, a professional and master of his field no matter where he shows up, throwing himself full speed into whatever emotional tone is required of him at the moment.


Hari Kondabolu: Warn Your Relatives (2018)

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Hari Kondabolu discusses the modern capitalist hell of airports, his love of mangoes, and ineffectual liberalism in this standup comedy special.

Warn Your Relatives is currently available on Netflix.

To get an idea of how dense Hari Kondabolu's Warn Your Relatives is - make sure you keep the opening visual gag in mind until damn near the end of the special.  Kondabolu arrives at the venue with a toy crown atop his head and a bicycle driver that looks like Shia LaBeouf after a perm.  On a surface level, it's just another example of a comedian taking the piss out of themselves and good for a smile.  With a bit of history, it's an inversion of the British oppression of India and sets up an amazing punchline about what accent Kondabolu's uninterested in hearing under duress.

If you only know Kondabolu from his appearances on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell or his standup bits then you'll enjoy the special.  The bigger appeal for me lay in the beautiful talk he had with bell hooks in 2016.  There are genuinely tender moments in that conversation where Kondabolu and bell hooks connect over a shared weariness about their status in the United States along with the comforts of their respective faiths.  That's the Kondabolu I saw in Warn Your Relatives, and that's exactly why all of this special has superglued itself to my brain.


Pass Over (2018)

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Moses and Kitch, stuck on the corner, start imagining what their paradise would be if not for the realities of life keeping them where they are.  Spike Lee directs Pass Over, a theatrical production with collaborating director Danya Taymor, with the screenplay written by Antoinette Nwandu, and stars Jon Michael Hill and Julian Parker.

Every few years, Spike Lee takes time away from his own work to collaborate with the creative team of a theatrical production to bring it to the cinema.  My favorite Spike films are in this vein, from the nervy excitement of Freak to the heartbreaking creativity of Passing Strange.  They're as much a creative exorcism as they are a focused realignment, freeing Spike from multiple duties to place his faith in the theatrical talent and bring the closed-off world of the stage to the screen.  Pass Over is not as entertaining as Freak or Passing Strange, but vibrates with uncertainty and pain on a level similar to A Huey P. Newton Story.

The wordsmith behind Pass Over is Antoinette Nwandu, a name I was not familiar with prior to Pass Over and now realize I have much to learn from.  She's a passionate and powerful speaker which is reflected perfectly in the dialogue of Pass Over as the lightly reserved Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker) wait for something - anything - to free them from the corner.  Their waiting might be familiar to anyone who has seen Waiting For Godot but the affect taps into a tension I feel sitting in restaurants, going to the theater, or buying groceries.  The tension that at any point someone who feels my life is theirs to do as they see fit can snuff out my existence on this planet.