Birth of a Nation
Director Nate Parker’s biographical film about Nat Turner plays out like the scariest of horror shows, and it very well should. The film scarily portrays Turner’s slave rebellion in the South, one that resulted in many African Americans being slaughtered in retaliation. It’s bloody, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s the two-by-four to the face type of film the subject warrants. Parker plays Turner, a slave raised as a preacher and exploited for money by his plantation owner (Armie Hammer in a scary performance). Parker’s performance is powerful. As for his directing, he portrays white plantation and slave owners and preachers as hissing, hateful, almost cartoonish demons, and I say amen to that. Some of the history might not be 100 percent accurate, but the portrayal of the hatred and disgusting state of affairs that led to Turner’s uprising is vivid and on target. Jackie Earle Haley, a.k.a. Kelly Leak of The Bad News Bears, successfully portrays one of the most repugnant, irredeemable characters ever put to screen. Stylistically, the film gets a little strange in a few moments, but the end results and impressions are long lasting, very meaningful ones.
3 The Greasy StranglerThis totally bonkers film plays out like David Lynch meets John Waters. Grouchy old man Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels, who once played a security guard on Diff’rent Strokes) and his weird son (Sky Elobar) conduct disco tours in which they lie to tourists about where the Bee Gees wrote their music. In the evenings, the grouchy old man just might be the Greasy Strangler, a man who is basically what his title implies: a dude covered in grease—partly due to the greasy food he eats—who strangles people. Things become complicated when Big Ronnie takes a liking to his son’s girlfriend, resulting in a lot of full-frontal nudity from all cast members. First time director Jim Hosking traffics in a sort of absurdist humor that won’t be appreciated by all, but for those who like their movies weird, he serves up a smorgasbord with this one. It’s also really gross, with lots of grease, farts and eyeball consumption. If you’re a fan of such cult films as The Dark Backward, you will eat this up. If you don’t like your comedies weird and gross, stay far, far away. (Available for rent on iTunes and Amazon during a limited theatrical release.)
3 Deepwater HorizonI think my shockingly lustrous eyelashes got singed watching Deepwater Horizon, director Peter Berg’s harrowing account of the worst oil rig disaster in American history. That’s because Berg’s film drops the viewer into a situation where fire and explosions are so realistic, you can feel the heat and disorientation of the 2010 disaster, which claimed the lives of 11 men and led to an oil spill eclipsing all other oil spills. Mark Wahlberg is first-rate as Mike Williams, a man who was actually on the rig at the time of the disaster. Kurt Russell equals his power as Jimmy Harrell, who questions the integrity of the rig, and then proceeds to have the worst shower in cinema history since Janet Leigh had a showdown with Anthony Perkins. Berg puts his film together so that the mere sight of mud oozing from a pipe is terrifying. When the stages of the disaster go into high gear, it’s as scary as any horror film to hit screens this year. There’s a true sense of isolation and disorientation when the action goes full throttle. Props to the editor for creating a sensation of being utterly lost in the mayhem that escalates until the final two survivors jump many stories to the ocean below.