Tag: movie review

Movie Review: Smiths Survive “After Earth”

hero_after-earth-jaden-smith-volcano

After Earth

Cast: Will Smith (Cypher),  Jaden Smith (Kitai), Sophie Okonedo (Faia), Zoe Kravitz (Senshi) Director:  M. Night Shyamalan; Rated: PG-13

After Earth did something I wasn’t expecting… it made me think. Better than I was anticipating, this film isn’t exactly what it seems and I’m glad I saw it with my teenage son, given what this film is really about. After Earth is wearing a carefully marketed disguise. If you are expecting a Smith/Smith epic sci-fi action-packed adventure popcorn flick… well, you get some of that. But actually, at its core the film is a coming-of-age tale about the evolution of a relationship between a career-driven father and his teenage son.  It’s about the struggle of a parent and child being forced to find a connection and faith in one another after tragedy and circumstance befall them.  All the sci-fi galaxy hoo-ha is just a backdrop. 

The movie takes place on a futuristic planet Earth where fearless uber soldier, General Cypher Raige (Will Smith), and his cowardly son, Kitai (played by Smith’s real-life son, Jaden) unexpectedly crash land. Every entity on this planet poses a threat and has evolved to kill humans instinctively.  The spaceship’s broken in two and the sole survivors need to recover the tail in order to be rescued.  When Cypher discovers he has broken both legs after the crash landing, there is no choice but to rely on Kitai to make this journey alone, which is troubling because he does not possess his father’s lack of fear.

It’s an interesting choice to bench action star Will Smith. He’s flat on his back most of the film. Unlike in most of his sci-fi themed movies, the power of Will is not saving the day.  This one’s on Jaden and he needs every bit of his Karate Kid training to trudge through evolved Earth. Cypher can only guide Kitai with his voice throughout the journey to the half of their ship that contains a beacon signal that must be deployed if they are to be rescued. It is the responsibility of a parent to provide his child with the proper tools to do well on his own.  But what do you do when you’re a fearless hero and your child is well… not? 

After Earth begins with Kitai not making ranger staus. He’s prone to stress, panic attacks and straight-up fear.  Okay, so he’s not exactly the super soldier his father is. Cypher possesses the rare skill of being able to shut out fear which makes his enemies unable to see, smell, or locate him.  Kitai does not possess this gift.  This proves disappointing to Cypher. His mother, Faia, played by Sophie Okonedo, establishes that Kitai has a better relationship with his mother; perhaps some bonding with Dad is in order.  This is how Kitai ends up on a business trip with his father Cypher. 

But something else is going on between these two which reveals itself in several flashbacks.  Kitai had a sister,  Senshi (Zoe Kravitz), who was killed by a predator called an Ursa. Senshi, played effortlessly by the delightfully easy-to-watch Zoe Kravitz, gives us a glimpse into what happened to Kitai and why he is so tormented. He blames himself for surviving an Ursa attack that took his sister’s life and he believes his father blames him as well. Thus the theme of family and familial stuff that needs to be worked out progresses. 

If I had not seen this film with my own teenaged son, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as much as I did. I related to the parent-and-teen tug of war. The film has some cool moments once you let go of the fact that Will Smith is not going to get up and go save his real-life son. It’s all on Jaden, and despite a rocky start (Jaden speaks in an accent I can only describe as, well… not great. It’s supposed to be Australian… I think?  It’s so distracting, I thought… uh,oh I can’t sit here. But my son was into the movie and Big Willy always makes me laugh, so I committed to relaxing and enjoying my mother/son time), the Karate Kid training pays off in spades. Jaden shows us his cool footing during climbs, jumps and a really entertaining glide through the air. 

After Earth was adventurous for sure. The special effects were fine – nothing “Earth” shattering. Having a teen carry a mega-film is a big ask. Jaden does okay. He gets better as his character evolves; perhaps this is because the character grows closer to the real-life, confident Jaden. It’s very hard even for a second to get past the fact that you are watching Will Smith and his son Jaden. My take is this: because Will Smith is such an action star and Jaden was so definable in the Karate Kid, and they are such a well-known, real-life family, believing these two as space son and Dad was always going to be an automatic hurdle for the audience. If Jaden was any other actor playing against any other actor, maybe I wouldn’t be judging him with a magnifying glass.

All in all, After Earth is not the surefire summer blockbuster we had hoped for, but movie making is tough and the Smiths are entertaining in any form.  

Lesa LakinReviewed by Lesa Lakin

GBN Film Review: Jackie Robinson Biopic “42” Hits a Humanistic Home Run

42-chadwick-boseman1-600x400
Chadwick Boseman portrays the legendary Jackie Robinson in “42.”

“If he were white, we would call that spirit.”

Whether or not Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers President and General Manager, ever said this about Jackie Robinson in response to those who thought he might be trouble for major league baseball because of being court-martialed for refusing to move to the back of an Army bus, doesn’t matter.  What does is that Rickey’s (gamely played by Harrison Ford) matter-of-fact delivery of that line sums up not only the heart of the movie, but the heart of the double standard commonly applied to systemically oppressed people who refuse to comply with their own dehumanization.

Although based on actual events as Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball, spirit is ultimately what the biopic “42” is about – fighting for unequivocal truths to come to light, and to stir the best within us all regardless of race, color or religion by leveling the playing field and by just straight up playing ball.

 “Lincoln Heights” actor Chadwick Boseman, in his first major film role, does a commendable job bringing sports legend and civil rights icon Jackie Robinson to life.  Boseman has an athletic grace and physicality that conveys the intelligence and scrappiness of Robinson’s game, but his performance shines most when he silently conveys Robinson’s struggle to hold himself in check when he is verbally and physically assaulted on and off the field.  At one point in the film, Robinson’s baseball prowess is remarked on as “superhuman,” but after seeing all he endured off the field in “42,” his ability to stay calm and focussed in the midst of a sea change in American sports and culture was arguably his most compelling power.

Robinson & Smith
Boseman and Andre Howard as Pittsburgh Courier reporter Wendell Smith

Writer/director Brian Helgeland wisely starts the film with a black reporter chronicling Robinson’s achievements (later revealed to be Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier, a well-known black newspaper of that era; Smith was assigned to cover Robinson’s journey), setting the stage by introducing and narrating America’s still racially tense post-war years.  By framing this film about a black hero through the eyes and words of a black reporter shows Helgeland, who wrote the acclaimed “L.A. Confidential” and “Mystic River,” understands how deeply this movie is about a watershed moment in African-American history as much as it is about one extraordinary man.  It needs to be told as “our story,” so by making Smith (played with quiet strength by Andre Howard) a guide, witness, admirer, and beneficiary of Jackie Robinson’s accomplishments, the core audience of “42” is able to hold the same positions while watching the story unfold.

Continue reading “GBN Film Review: Jackie Robinson Biopic “42” Hits a Humanistic Home Run”