Movie Review: “White Bird in a Blizzard”

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Shailene Woodley, a young actress so engagingly real on camera that she can do no wrong, gets a lot wrong and a bad film out of her system with “White Bird in a Blizzard,” an overwrought coming-of-age mystery drama that is an embarrassment for most everyone involved.
As Kat, the heroine of Laura Kasischke’s heavy-breathing YA novel, Woodley strips and seduces an older man (Thomas Jane), keeps a beau her own age (Shiloh Fernandez) around for the sex and narrates her life with a blase lack of interest that undercuts the mystery the story is built on.
“I was 17 when my mother disappeared.”
Woodley’s Kat is all “flesh and blood and raging hormones.” But director Gregg “Mysterious Skin” Araki turns ex-Bond babe Eva Green, into some sort of Bette Davis vamp as the hysterical-mercurial mother that Kat doesn’t miss.
Mom is unstable on a good day. She brazenly flirts with Kat’s next-door-neighbor teen sex buddy Phil (Fernandez) and shows nothing but contempt for Kat’s wimpy pushover of a father (Christopher Meloni). Their marriage is “a long drink of water from a frozen fountain.” Green’s every testy, furious, can’t-hide-my-accent scene is laugh-out-loud awful.
Then there’s the cop Kat and her Dad go to to see about tracking down Mom. Thomas Jane (“The Punisher”) as Det. Scieziesciez (!?), is an unkempt 40something who looks like 50 miles of rough road, which apparently catches Kat’s eye. Must. Have. Him.
Kat confesses all to her obligatory gay BFF (Mark Indelicato) and overweight African American BFF (Gabourey Sidibe). When she goes to see a shrink (Angela Bassett), her narration is an insult to both performances. She “reminds me of an actress playing a therapist.”
Seriously, is the Kasischke novel this bad? Or is that just Araki’s obsession with the lurid and the sexual?
Because we start to wonder what DID happen to that mom, tipped by Kat’s white-on-white inside-a-snow-globe nightmares. Not that the film frets over this as it jumps back and forth through time.
Whatever its intent, “White Bird in a Blizzard” misuses most everybody involved, especially the dazzling young star of “The Descendants,””The Fault in Our Stars” and “Divergent.” The laughs, intentional and otherwise, don’t disguise the feeling that we’re watching the big screen equivalent of a young star’s nude selfie stolen from her cell phone.

1half-starMPAA Rating: R for sexual content/nudity, language and some drug use
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Christopher Meloni, Thomas Jane, Shiloh Fernandez, Angela Bassett
Credits: Written and directed by Gregg Araki, based on the Laura Kasischke novel. A Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:36

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Box Office: “Fury” opens big, “Book of Life” solid, “Best of Me” is the End of Nicholas Sparks movies?

boxThe David Ayer/Brad Pitt/Shia/Michael Pena combat movie “Fury” is blowing away the competition this weekend at the box office.

Well, maybe that’s an overstatement. It’s not doing blockbuster numbers, or horror blockbuster numbers even. Based on late Thursday and all-day Friday, it’ll clear $25 million by midnight Sunday. “Gone Girl” did over $35 in opening, remember?

But that movie appealed to more than just guys.

“Gone Girl” is still #2, with the animated “Book of Life,” another very good toon opening to less than Dreamworks/Pixar/Disney numbers. Only the $teens. I hope Saturday does better for it. It’s lovely, original, a delight.

“The Best of Me” didn’t cost much, and it won’t earn a lot. Even by Nicholas Sparks adaptation standards, it’s an under-performer. Poor reviews won’t help it clear $12 million.

“Birdman,” perhaps the most critically acclaimed movie of the year, is earning some $90K per screen in limited release. Expect that one to roll out wider in the next few weeks and stick around until Oscar time.

“Dear White People” is riding swell reviews to second place in the per-screen average race. It looks to earn over $33,000 per screen in limited release. Bill Murray’s “St. Vincent” opens a little wider and is doing OK, not great, in limited release.

“Meet the Mormons” and “Addicted” and “Dracula Untold” have dropped after their opening weekends, and dropped far more than “The Judge,” which is holding audience well.

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Deconstructing “Fury,” or The Art of the Tank Combat movie

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David Ayer’s new combat film “Fury” is, as I said in my review, a very entertaining B-movie, an old-fashioned WWII movie of the sort Hollywood used to crank out for the generations that could never seem to get enough WWII movies.

It is not “Saving Private Ryan,” though it borrows plot tropes (“keep my men alive”) from that one. It is not “The Big Red One,” with, as my friend Matt Olien likes to say, Brad Pitt in the Lee Marvin (grizzled, gruff star a bit old for the Army) role, though again, lots of plot kernels seem spun off from that one.

Fun movie, gory, with R-rated violence that seems suggestive of first-person shooter video games. It brought to mind my first-ever chat with Jeff Bridges. He was playing video games on the set of “Tron,” the original film, and his favorite was my favorite, a primitive first-person shooter tank game called “Battlezone.” .  The game’s strategies revolved around how slow a tank or its turret turns. Could you get in position to kill the other tank before it gets into position to kill you? That comes into play in one scene in “Fury.”

War movie conventions are something that we and Hollywood just don’t have the handle on the way we used to. I, for instance, was puzzled by the turret, hull shape and profile of the tank named “Fury” in the movie. After digging around, I ID’d it as a Pershing, a late-war American tank introduced because the Sherman tanks commonly deployed by the U.S. were no match for most German tanks.

There are real Shermans in column with Fury in several scenes — shorter cannon, different turrets. They look like this.

ShermanKinda dinky, rounded edges, etc. The tank in the film the studio calls a Sherman M4A3E8 borrowed from a British Museum.

And even though I visited Danville Va.’s now-closed Tank Museum many times, I defer to their expertise. Still looks a lot more like a Pershing than  a Sherman to me.  I expect, any day now, to be deluged with vets or experts in militaria correcting me. But the WWII generation has mostly died off, and certainly don’t go to war movies any more. I know. I dragged scores of vets to see “Pearl Harbor,” “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Saving Private Ryan” with me for newspaper stories. Their ranks shrank remarkably by the time the Eastwood movie came around.

 

What about the movie’s military components? The horrors of war are immediate — bloody, brutal, personal combat that makes men so hate their foes that “No prisoners” becomes a grunt-level practice if not official policy. David Ayer gets that stuff right. I have no doubt Germans, especially S.S. troops, were executed in the field. “Fury” is set well after the Battle of the Bulge’s Malmedy Massacre, which, contrary to a blundering Bill O’Reilly tirade a few years back, was carried out by Germans against Americans, not the other way around.

But again, we’re all further removed from that war, so the history grows fuzzier.

Ayer’s crew contends with a mine, at one point. As anybody who has ever watched a WWII movie before can tell you, mines were and are typically laid in “fields,” as in “Where there’s one, there are others.” The crew of the Fury doesn’t seem to know that.

The finale of the film has come under criticism from many critics as laughably far-fetched, a battle against impossible odds.  Agreed. Until you read reports from the ISIS/ISIL combat zone, where armed villages and units of various flags complain they are overmatched because ISIS got its hands on tanks. The guys with the tank win. They’re hard beasts for infantry — lightly armed and ill-equipped (mentally, too, in terms of training) — to kill. Why wouldn’t a tank be able to fend off overwhelming numbers of infantry, at least for a while?

Even at its most militarily suspect, “Fury” never falls to the level of Spike Lee’s laughable “Miracle at St. Anna” or even Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”

B-movie that it is, “Fury” is the greatest American tank combat movie. I remember Sherman tank battle sequences in “The Battle of the Bulge,” starring Henry Fonda among others, that were pretty good. “The Beast,” about a Soviet tank crew, captured the claustrophobia and fearful limited field of view of such fighting machines.

But the Israeli film “Lebanon” (2009) is still the gold standard. It’s “Das Boot” in a tank, and worth renting if “Fury” has whetted your tanking appetite.

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Next Screening: Daniel Radcliffe grows a pair in “Horns”

Here’s an odd and interesting choice of roles for the onetime Harry Potter. Daniel Radcliffe plays a young man who grows a pair of horns as a consequence of being accused of killing his girlfriend (Juno Temple).

Comical Biblical good-evil allegory, a tale of the allure of evil, a funny gimmick? Hard to say. Heather Graham is in the cast, probably in a Heather Graham sort of role, with David Morse (father of the dead girl), Kathleen Quinlan and James Remar as the parents of Radcliffe’s increasingly horny character.

It opens in limited release Oct. 31.

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Critical Mass: Reviewers endorse “Birdman,” “Fury” and “Book of Life” — “Best of Me” is the worst

book1Monday, reviews were trending toward the ecstatic for “Fury”, the latest Brad Pitt WWII picture, and negative on “The Book of Life.”

But that balanced out, as it needed to. “Fury” is a B-movie, with a lulu of an odds against survival battle finale is hard to swallow. A good B-movie, but just a B-movie for the video game age. It’s sitting in the 75% range on Rottentomatoes.

Book of Life” is dazzling, and I am puzzled at the early poor reviews it was earning. Now it’s back into positive territory on Metacritic and Rottentomatoes, et al.

“Birdman” is a best picture Oscar contender. Everybody says so. Everybody. Who didn’t like it? Nobody to be taken seriously.

“The Best of Me” is more swill from Nicholas Sparks. I hate it when good actors sign onto his romance novel movies. They rarely save them. “The Notebook,” the exception that proves the rule. Terrible reviews for that one.

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Movie Review: “The Best of Me”

best1

For an hour or so, Michelle Monaghan and James Marsden gamely swim against the current, fighting the torpid tide of tripe that romance novelist Nicholas Sparks sends their way in his latest.
It’s sad to watch them strain and struggle and then give up as the lachrymose “The Best of Me” drowns them in a sea of saccharine.
It’s yet another doomed last chance love story set in the coastal South, star-crossed lovers “destined” to be together, but kept apart by tragedy. There’s barely a tear left in this limp weeper.
Dawson (Marsden) once loved Amanda (Monaghan). They were high school sweethearts — the pushy, spunky rich girl, the book-smart “white trash” bayou rat from a family of dentally deficient lowlifes.
But circumstances broke them apart, and when we meet him he’s on oil rig in the Gulf, a rig that has a blowout that hurls him into the sea. When he wakes up, he’s summoned to the reading of a will. She’s been summoned, too.
Can love’s flame rekindle after 20 years?
“Twenty-one, actually.”
Can she ignore the hurt he caused and leave the family she started? Can he come off as noble as he hopes against hope to bust up that family? What do you think?
Gerald McRaney plays a mildly-amusing old cuss who took Dawson in when he was a teen. It’s his will they read. Through flashbacks, the old man’s narration and heartfelt hand-written letters, we learn their past, as performed by Luke Bracey and Liana Liberato, who don’t look much at all like the adults they’re supposed to be and don’t heat this story up.

Best of Me (2014) Trailer (Screengrab)
Back then, she was all “You don’t know how to flirt, do ya?” And he was all “Destiny is a name the fortunate give to their fortunes.”
And his redneck daddy (Sean Bridgers) is all, “You think you’re too GOOD for this family?”
The boy studies physics, sitting on the catwalk of the rusty town water tower in their little Louisiana town. So yeah, he is.
Director Michael Hoffman (“One Fine Day”) was probably never up to the task of polishing this floater.
But the adults are interesting to watch, and Monaghan comes close to breaking our heart, once or twice — a little catch in her voice, a tear. At some point, the spark goes out of her performance and she joins Marsden as a sort of bystander in a movie their efforts alone won’t save.
There’s an artless obviousness to Sparks — the choice of tune they pick as “their song,” the tasteful PG-13 sex scenes, the righteous rural way of settling scores. None of which isn’t helped by the fact that “The Best of Me” is y just Sparks’ greatest hits, starting with “The Notebook,” a touch of “Dear John,” and running through every “not good enough for my daughter,” every tragic death, broken memory or noble sacrifice.
Which is why “The Best of Me” plays like the worst of Nicholas Sparks.
1half-star
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexuality, violence, some drug content and brief strong language.
Cast: Michelle Monaghan, James Marsden, Gerald McRaney, Luke Bracey, Liana Liberato, Sean Bridgers
Credits: Directed by Michael Hoffman, screenplay by J. Mills Goodloe, Will Fetters, based on a novel by Nicholas Sparks. A Relativity release.
Running time: 1:53

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Movie Review: “Fury”

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This bit of heroics isn’t “what I wanted to do,” Brad Pitt’s battle-scarred sergeant, and a hundred movie sergeants before him, growl. “But it’s what we’re doing.”
“Fury” is the sort of World War II movie Hollywood used to churn out four or five times a year — a gritty, grunt’s eye-view of combat. The grit is bloodier and R-rated now, as is the combat jargon. Firefights have a visceral, video-game immediacy. It’s still a B-movie.
But even a B-movie stuffed with cliches can be gripping. “Fury,” written and directed by David “Training Day” Ayer, takes us into the claustrophobic confines of a tank and makes a fine star vehicle for Pitt, if not the most original march down World War II lane.
The sergeant’s “war name” is Wardaddy, and we meet him as his battle weary crew delivers a dead comrade to base. In the last days of the war, Germany is lashing out with a suicidal fatalism — fanatical S.S.troops, old men, boys and girls are being sacrificed in one last Nazi blood purge.
“Fury,” the name of their tank, is sole survivor of their last mission. Now they’ve been given a replacement (Logan Lerman) and a new task. The opening credits remind us that U.S. armor was inferior to German tanks, so every mission could be their last.
But the cynical crew still mutters “Best job I ever had” when the going gets tough. Boyd (Shia Labeouf) is a drawling, Bible-quoting gunner. Grady (Jon Bernthal) is loader and mechanic, an ugly brute and bully. Gordo (Michael Pena) — nicknamed for the Spanish word for “fat” — is the driver. They proceed to haze and abuse the new guy (Logan Lerman), whose eight weeks of training were meant to make him an Army clerk. He is, as such characters always are in such films, idealistic.
“Ideals are peaceful,” the philosopher sergeant intones, with Pitt hitting the line as if it’s for posterity. “History is violent.”
In “Training Day/Saving Private Ryan” fashion, the new guy has to see the carnage — tanks churning corpses to goo, heads exploding and the occasional summary execution of the enemy. Wardaddy is a bit of a fanatic about killing S.S. fanatics.
“Fury” gives Pitt a story arc that makes him harder and more cruel than anybody in this crew, which he has kept alive since the North African campaign. But we get hints there are layers he’s hiding.
The cast around him plays mostly stock characters, but vivid ones. Bernthal stands out, and Jason Patric is good as the officer whose scars give him credibility as he sends Fury into harm’s way.
Ayer’s command of history is more solid than clumsier efforts like “Inglourious Basterds” or “U-571.” The tank appears to be a relatively rare Pershing. The utterly-spent combat reserve pool is straight out of WWII history. Guys went into combat and stayed to the finish. Green kids were all that was left for replacements.
A Tarantino touch? The crew forces itself on German women who feed them as Gordo recollects the horrors of the post-D-Day “Falaise Pocket,” when Germans and their pack animals were slaughtered in the hundreds of thousands.
Ayer hasn’t topped “Saving Private Ryan,” even though he recycles chunks of it. “Fury” is more like Sam Fuller’s personal war memoir, “The Big Red One” — straightforward, less poetic, an action film with a hint of humanity and history that is fast receding from view. It’s good, not great, and it’s not Ayer’s fault that the rarer these B-movies become, the more we expect from them.

3stars2

MPAA Rating: R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout
Cast: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal
Credits: Written and directed by David Ayer. A Columbia release.
Running time: 2:14

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Movie Review: “The Book of Life”

3half-star

book1“The Book of Life” is a Mexican-accented kids’ cartoon so colorful and unconventionally dazzling it almost reinvents the art form. As pretty as a just-punctured pinata, endlessly inventive, warm and traditional, it serves up Mexican culture in a riot of Mexican colors and mariachi-flavored music.
The tale is told by a museum tour guide in an effort to impress a raucous bunch of American school kids. Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) recounts a love story built around El dia de los Muertos, Mexico’s Day of the Dead. And the moment that story begins, the computer animated style switches from quirky, big-headed, plastic-looking adults and kids to a bizarre, wooden-puppet world of the past, the Mexican village of San Angel.
That’s where Maria (Zoe Saldana), a feisty girl, was pursued by Manolo (Diego Luna), the bullfighter’s son who only wants to sing and play the guitar, and Joaquin (Channing Tatum), the war hero’s son who only wants to live up to his late father’s fame.
Their courtship duel becomes a wager in the afterlife, where La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman) vie for primacy over the “Land of the Remembered.”
Manolo becomes a bullfighter who refuses to “finish” the bull, Joaquin becomes a hero who doesn’t fear death, thanks to a magic medal Xibalba slips him, and Maria grows up to become a proto-feminist who won’t be an easy catch for either of them.
Joaquin collects medals to win Maria, Manolo sings. Luna’s cover versions of songs from Elvis to Radiohead and Mumford & Sons add romance to the proceedings.
The production design, by Paul Sullivan and Simon Vladimir Varela, is stunning — textured puppet figures that have the feel of sanded, painted and embossed wood, mosaics, fanciful adobe-clad bullring and church, bulls and boars that are all horns, hooves and snorting nostrils and characters with oversized heads that Picasso would have recognized.
Director and co-writer Jorge R. Gutierez keeps this simple story on the move, and producer Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” touch is felt throughout. The film is adorned with all manner of clever jokes, gorgeous sight gags and the little flourishes.
The gringo school-kids who are hearing the tale comment on it with plenty of snark.
“What is it with Mexicans and death?”
A mini-chorus of nuns chirps up, from time to time. The town priest is masked as a luchador, a Mexican wrestler. The unmistakable voices of the great tenor Placido Domingo, the great comic Cheech Marin, Ice Cube (hilarious) and movie tough guy Danny Trejo turn up.
At this point in the animation game, we know what to expect of Pixar, Disney and Dreamworks. “Book of Life” is something new and a gigantic step up from Reel FX Animation’s previous work (“Free Birds”). This sometimes riotous, always charming film suggests they’ve taken their own movie’s message to heart. You can “write your own story,” and have it pay off.

MPAA Rating: PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images
Cast: The voices of Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Diego Luna, Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, Ice Cube, Placido Domingo
Credits: Directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez, written by Jorge R. Gutierrez and Doug Langdale. A 20th Century Fox release.
Running time: 1:35

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Movie Review: “Birdman”

keaton“Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” is the last caped superhero movie you will ever need to see. Serious and silly, self-aware and ironic, it’s the movie that questions stardom, fame and celebrity, built around a role Michael Keaton had to become a has-been to play.
Keaton is Riggin Thomson, who was the big screen’s “Birdman” twenty years ago. Balding and wrinkled, his goatee flecked with grey, he’s thrown everything he has into one last shot at fame.
His vehicle? A self-adapted, produced and directed Broadway production of a Raymond Carver story fragment, which he will also star in.
He really needs “What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Love?” to hit. And not just because of what his junkie daughter turned personal assistant (Emma Stone) says.
“You don’t matter. You’re not important. Get used to it.”
Daughter Sam’s isn’t the only voice Riggin is listening to. There’s his lawyer-producer (Zach Galifianakis), the one who warns him about how much this vanity project is costing. And there’s the voice in his head, a cracked corner of his conscience that sounds like Keaton in his Dark Knight growl.
“Gravity doesn’t even APPLY to you” the voice says. Because Riggin is sure he has telekinetic powers. He can levitate — which is how we’re introduced to him, in his tidy whities in his dressing room, floating in a lotus position. In a comic book universe, Riggin would be just another credible “Incredible,” the supernatural accepted as natural. In the real world, he’s just a guy who surrendered his fame to that “Tin Suit wearing” fraud, Robert Downey Jr., and others.
“Birdman” co-writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu (“21 Grams,” “Babel”) has created an essay in the madness of celebrity. Riggin is caught up in it, as indeed it seemed Keaton himself once was. Delusions of omnipotence linger in that crazy voice in his head. But he’s lost the arrogance, the self-important sense of “artist” and “cool” that he wore at the height of his fame.
Yeah, I’m talking about both Riggin and the guy playing him. Iñárritu and his co-writers have endless fun riffing on Keaton’s real-life diva rep.
And that’s just for starters. Riggin’s on-stage supporting cast, played by Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough, isn’t complete until Broadway vet Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) is brought in at the last minute. Keaton has NOTHING on Norton when it comes to “difficult” reputation.
In one moment, Mike is shocking Riggin by already having the script memorized the minute he arrives. The second moment, he’s editing it. Ask anybody who’s worked with Norton if that happens. Like us, Riggin also realizes this editing is instantly improving the show.
But Mike is a raving egomaniac and an unstable jerk. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but if you’re not tickled by Norton’s bipolar “Method Acting” explosions, then you’re missing the joke. Maybe he never said “theater” as if he owns it, or “This is MY town” about New York and Broadway. But like a withering confrontation Riggin has with a New York Times theater critic (Lindsay Duncan of “About Time”), it sounds so right.
Iñárritu shoots the film like Robert Altman’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” a swooping, seamless series of long, highly choreographed takes which move us from dressing room to rooftop to backstage and then onstage. The play they’re doing doesn’t seem like much, but being Carver (Altman directed “Short Cuts” from Carver stories) it promises emotional explosions.
Norton has great fun with his reputation, Stone is fearsome as a spoiled rich girl happiest playing the angry victim. Watts is properly needy, and Riseborough (“Oblivion”) almost steals the movie with her promiscuous, mercurial Broadway baby turn. Galifianakis has never played a more human character, which considering he’s playing a lawyer turned Broadway producer, is saying something.
But the camera stays on Keaton, hand-held close-ups taking us into the madness, the world famous icon he was, the broken but not quite humbled Norma Desmond he has become.
In this riveting, hilarious, intimate yet larger than life performance, he never needs to say “I used to be BIG.” It’s in his “Birdman” eyes, first scene to last.

4star4

(Read Roger Moore’s conversation with Michael Keaton about “Birdman” HERE)
MPAA Rating: R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence
Cast: Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifianakis
Credits: Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, written by Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo . A Fox Searchlight release.
Running time: 1:59

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Movie Review: “Dear White People”

3stars2

white“Satire is the weapon of reason” is the punch line to writer-director Justin Simien’s flip and hip satire, “Dear White People.” Here’s a race-based/race-baiting comedy that tackles issues of identity and sensitivity head on, a debut film that brashly borrows from a few early Spike Lee movies and updates them in a story of a college campus where somebody figures “Unleash Your Inner Negro” is a good idea for a white frat house Halloween party.
Sam (Tessa Thompson) hosts a comically incendiary campus radio show at Ivy League Winchester University. “Dear White People” is a black provacateur’s slap at the culture she sees around her.
“Dear white people,” she begins, “the minimum requirement of black friends you need to not be seen as racist has just been raised to two.” “Dear white people, stop dancing!”
This rattles the thoroughly integrated campus, but not nearly as much as her efforts to do away with “randomizing” housing arrangements. She wants to return Armstrong-Parker Hall to a dorm for African American students only. When she wins the job of hall president, she re-segregates the place, encouraging the black kids to pelt white interlopers with wads of paper.
But Miss Thing, we notice, is fair skinned. She has a white boyfriend she keeps secret from her Black Student Union activist friends.
Then there’s the gay Ukel-in-an-Afro, Lionel, played by Tyler James Williams of “Everybody Hates Chris.” He fits in nowhere.
Coco (Teyonah Parris) is a preening diva who changed her name from the one her parents saddled her with (Colandrea). She does a snarky video blog and only dates white boys.
Simien unleashes racist fraternity members, white trust fund girls who “date black guys” just to irk their parents, academic leaders who say “Racism is over in America,” and a reality TV show producer (Malcolm Barrett) casting for a hyped-up reality series — “Black Face/White Place.”
But that climate, he suggests, is begging for satire, not that a blackface Halloween party is incapable of being that subtle.
The banter is witty and testy, all about who can give or take away your “honorary black card,” a school newspaper staff being “whiter than Michael Jackson’s kids.”
Thompson (“For Colored Girls) gets most of the best lines. Parris makes the strongest impression, suggesting layers of self-loathing hidden behind a confident, striving pose.
That’s what everybody does in college — pose, none more than uptight/upright Troy (Brandon P Bell), son of a college dean (Dennis Haysbert) who changes the channel from “Star Trek” to sports when he thinks others are watching him.
Simien focuses too much on the character played by his star, Williams, which seems a mistake. Scenes are underscored with classical music chestnuts, a trite way of suggesting “academia.” And the ending is an eye-roller.
But Simien is on the mark is the target for his satire, that a generation we see as color blind is probably not. White people, and black people can stay through the credits for proof of that.

MPAA Rating:R for language, sexual content and drug use
Cast:Tessa Thompson, Tyler James Williams, Teyonah Parris, Dennis Haysbert, Brandon P Bell
Credits: Written and directed by Justin Simien. A Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions release.
Running time: 1:48

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