Southside with You
Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter shine as Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson on their first date in this ultra sweet, enjoyable account of when the future President and First Lady got together for a day and eventually went to see Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Writer-director Richard Tanne, above all things, does a great job of capturing the spirit of the late ’80s with his period piece, placing the two icons in a very believable, low-key environment. Sawyers (a dead ringer for Obama) and Sumpter capture the spirit of the couple without exaggerating any of their characteristics. It’s a blast watching a young Robinson, who was actually Obama’s mentor and advisor at a law firm he worked for that summer, keeping a persistent Obama in check with his romantic pursuits. It’s also funny to see the future president lighting up many cigarettes during the course of the movie, including in his very first scene. Tanne’s approach to the subject matter is beautifully understated, allowing for his performers to show us a couple of real people getting to know each other slowly. We all know how things turn out for the couple, but it’s fun to see them starting in Obama’s crappy, smoke-stained jalopy with an unimpressed Michelle in the passenger’s seat. By the end of the movie, he’s managed to impress her on a level that just might lead to a second date.
3 Blood FatherMel Gibson is a fucking asshole, but he can act with the best of them. As Link, an ex-con with a tattoo parlor in his trailer and a missing daughter (Erin Moriarty), he’s a stunning, grizzly marvel elevating mediocre material into something completely watchable. When the missing daughter gets herself into some major trouble, she comes back on the grid by giving Link a call. Having never really known his daughter, Link is determined to be the dad he never was thanks to a seven year prison stint, and he goes into super protective mode. The two wind up on the run from a drug cartel, and that leads to sights like Gibson on a motorcycle blowing people away with a shotgun. This is a tour de force for Gibson, whose ranting inside Link’s trailer as it is being shot to shreds just might be the best piece of acting he’s ever put forth. Director Jean-Francois Richet lucked out in casting Gibson as this character desperately in search of redemption. It suits Gibson very well at this time, and I can’t think of an actor who would’ve done a better job with this material. On paper, this script probably looked like a million movies that came before it, but Gibson embraces his chance to rock out and goes bonkers with it. William H. Macy is reliably good as Link’s sponsor, Moriarty holds her own against the insane Gibson and Michael Parks kills it as a former friend and true bastard. If you should choose to watch it, I think you’ll be surprised. (Streaming on iTunes and Amazon.com during limited theatrical release.)
3 War DogsDirector Todd Phillips, a man generally responsible for slob comedies like The Hangover and Old School, goes a more serious, satirical route with this one. The results are mixed, but it’s ultimately entertaining. Based on an article in Rolling Stone magazine that described real-life gun-runners who bilked the government and screwed each other over, the film plays out as a sort of The Wolf of Wall Street with weapons and Albania instead of stocks and the Financial District. Contributing to that Wolf vibe is Jonah Hill, who stars in both, playing Efraim Diveroli, a diabolical, narcissistic weapons dealer who puts profit before morality and friendship. Even though Hill throws in an annoying laugh that should’ve been discouraged, the core of his performance is still funny, and brutal when it needs to be. Miles Teller plays his partner, David Packouz, a massage therapist who can’t keep his career in line and needs to straighten out fast, especially because he has a kid on the way with his wife, Iz (Ana de Armas, far less scary here than when she was torturing Keanu Reeves in Knock Knock). The film is at its best when the two are delivering a shipment of guns to Iraq on the ground in a beat up truck. Both Hill and Teller are good here, even when the film treads into familiar territory. This isn’t a great movie, but especially in a summer that’s stunk, it’s one of the season’s better ones.
4 Morris From America Craig Robinson and Markees Christmas are one of the better father-son teams the movies have seen in a long time in this charmer from writer-director Chad Hartigan. Christmas plays Morris, a 13-year-old American living in Germany because his dad Curtis (Robinson) has a job there as a soccer coach. Morris is learning German, trying to make friends, and developing a crush on older girl Katrin (Lina Keller). He’s dealing with the kind of crap you would expect a black American to be dealing with in an all white city. The dynamic between Robinson (easily his best performance) and Christmas makes it seem like these guys are really father and son. They compliment each other perfectly, and it’s refreshing to see a father and son talk and deal the way they do in this movie. The relationship between Morris and the somewhat troublesome Katrin is also refreshing in that it never seems false. The movie should get Christmas some more roles in the future, while taking Robinson into new, more dramatic territories, because he’s beyond good. It’s a solid coming-of-age story in an unexpected and unpredictable locale, with a cast of characters (including Carla Juri of Wetlands as Morris’ tutor) that scores across the board. This is one of the summer’s great surprises. (Streaming on iTunes and Amazon.com during limited theatrical release.)