Review of reviews: Film
I Am Not Your Negro
Directed by Raoul Peck (PG-13)
James Baldwin, resurrected
“To call I Am Not Your Negro a movie about James Baldwin would be to understate Raoul Peck’s achievement,” said A.O. Scott in The New York Times. Less a traditional documentary than a “thrilling” collaboration between Peck and his long-deceased subject, it uses Baldwin’s notes from an unfinished book to speak uncomfortable, “life-altering” truths about race in America that are as relevant today as they were when Baldwin the writer was also a prominent social critic. As Peck weaves together news clips and footage of Baldwin’s TV appearances, the film becomes “an evocation of a passionate soul in a tumultuous era,” said Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal. Perhaps too much time is given to Baldwin’s commentary on the racial content of midcentury Hollywood movies, but even those detours generate some “brilliantly hilarious” moments. When the film is not providing Baldwin’s voice directly, we are hearing his words read by Samuel L. Jackson, and the effect is to remind us of what a voice can achieve, said Shannon Houston in Paste magazine. Baldwin was a witness to events rather than a participant, but in his witnessing, “he became an icon.” The movie asks us to emulate Baldwin, to recognize that “witnessing is no passive act.”
The Lego Batman Movie
Directed by Chris McKay (PG)
A caped crusader fights crime—on a small scale.
Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight “won’t be supplanted anytime soon as tops among Bat-movies,” said Brian Truitt in USA Today. Believe it or not, though, The Lego Batman Movie “makes a strong argument for second-best.” This “joyously bonkers” spin-off from 2014’s The Lego Movie gives center stage to that hit’s scene-stealing Batman, a macho narcissist voiced by Will Arnett. This time, the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) has joined forces with dozens of other wacky villains from the Warner Brothers’ archives, including Godzilla and Voldemort. The new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon, pressures Batman to become a team player, and soon he’s battling crime alongside Batgirl (Rosario Dawson) and his accidentally adopted son, Robin (Michael Cera). The movie is “a delightful sugar rush” from the very start, said David Ehrlich in IndieWire.com. “Gorgeously animated” and “irreverently self-aware,” it’ll please kids with its frenetic pace and adults with its skewering of Batman and every other big-money franchise it touches. Ultimately, it doesn’t quite match “the heart, the depth, or the novelty” of the first Lego movie, said Steve Rose in The Guardian. Even so, “it is relentlessly, consistently funny—which excuses everything.”
Directed by Taylor Hackford (R)
A crass comedian falls in love.
“In moviemaking, pedigree can only take you so far,” said David Sims in TheAtlantic.com. The Comedian is a case in point. Despite its star-studded cast and Oscar-nominated director, this “fetid, overlong” drama can’t overcome an unoriginal premise, a meandering plot, and a ridiculously unlikely central romance. Robert De Niro stars as Jackie Burke, a washed-up former sitcom star who now gets by working as a foulmouthed insult comic. One night, Jackie assaults a heckler, lands in jail, and ends up doing community service in a soup kitchen, where he meets and woos a much younger woman. Leslie Mann is the best thing in this movie, and even she can’t sell the idea that her character would overlook a three-decade age gap to be with the thoroughly unlikable Jackie, said Richard Roeper in the Chicago Sun-Times. Worse, Jackie’s crass stand-up routines are “shockingly unfunny,” and made worse because they’re supposed to win laughs. Many of the supporting players—including Edie Falco, Billy Crystal, and Hannibal Buress—are marvelous,” said Michael O’Sullivan in The Washington Post. Still, “at some point, the film, like much of Jackie’s humor, goes irredeemably wrong”—probably because the protagonist is irredeemably noxious himself.