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Movie Planner: Review of 'Denial,' plus 'Kevin Hart: What Now?' opens

INDIE FLICK: DENIAL

Mick Jackson's Denial blends two of drama's most reliable settings — a courtroom and Auschwitz — into a cat-and-mouse game of conscience, a true story of one scholar exploiting Holocaust pain and another determined to prove him wrong.

In 1996, Jewish history professor Deborah Lipstadt was sued for libel by revisionist historian David Irving, a fervent Holocaust denier, for calling him a Hitler apologist, among other things, in one of her books. Irving filed the suit in England where, unlike in U.S. courts, the burden of proof lay with the defendant; guilty until proving yourself innocent. She must prove the Holocaust happened.

Lipstadt couldn't in good conscience settle out of court, yet didn't wish to give Irving a stage for his anti-Semitic rhetoric. Complicating matters was the fact that her best evidence — testimony from eyewitness Holocaust survivors — wouldn't be used. Irving would subject them to merciless cross-examination.

Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz plays Lipstadt as a spunky, vulnerable crusader, firm in her conviction that Irving isn't just wrong, but purely evil about it. Timothy Spall nails that sense of hatefulness at first sight, with his rodentian features and arrogant taunts. These adversaries are opposites on all counts, eyeing each other with different forms of disgust, one imperial, the other ready to take a swing at him.

While Irving serves as his own counsel, Lipstadt's case is handled by Richard Rampton (Tom Wilkinson), a connoisseur of wine and arcane details, and Princess Diana's former lawyer, Anthony Julius (Andrew Scott). She bristles under their cautious management, slower than viewers in realizing the courtroom traps being set for Irving.

One sequence in Denial is especially effective, when Lipstadt and her legal team visit Auschwitz, gathering evidence of its horrors. Rampton's actions aren't respectful enough to suit his client, and their interaction from that point offers Weisz and Wilkinson several nice rebonding moments to play. This somber passage also drives home the implications of losing the case to Irving, erasing history but not the anguish.

Denial seldom again reaches that midpoint level of drama, settling into conventional courtroom mechanics, performed well. David Hare's screenplay based on Lipstadt's book is intrinsically stacked toward her eventual triumph, with each familiar step worth watching.

B (Opens Friday in select theaters)

ALSO OPENING: KEVIN HART: What Now?

Forget pound for pound. Inch for inch, Kevin Hart is the funniest comedian working today. Standing 5 feet, 4 inches not-so-tall, Hart struts his stand-up stuff in Kevin Hart: What Now? (R), that's feature length despite its short subject.

Co-directed by Tim Story and Leslie Small, the movie aspires to be more than a stand-up comedy concert documentary. Trailers also imply trying out an idea for a future movie starring Hart as a James Bond type, with Halle Berry on his tuxedoed arm and Don Cheadle sitting across a high-stakes card table. Hart is supposedly winning money to bankroll his global comedy tour, but the subplot appears to exist solely for making ads more interesting than Hart prowling a stage.

Not just any stage, though. Hart performs in his native Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field, home of the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, before 50,000 fans. A few comedians can fill Madison Square Garden's nearly 19,000 seats but selling 50,000 tickets to a show? That's nothing to laugh about.

The concert was a stop on Hart's 2015 global tour through 13 countries on five continents, doing 156 shows in 112 cities. No wonder that in April, Hart told a CinemaCon audience in Las Vegas that he's probably finished with touring. He has plenty of movies on tap, including remakes of Jumanji and the French comedy The Intouchables, co-starring Bryan Cranston. What now for the current hardest working man in show biz? Probably a nap.

in theaters: our Top 5

Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:

1 The Birth of a Nation: Nate Parker's incendiary history lesson, still relevant today.

2 The Magnificent Seven: Rousing, old-fashioned western proving Chris Pratt is a genuine movie star.

3 Deepwater Horizon: Mark Wahlberg pays respect to victims of 2010's oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

4 Queen of Katwe: True story of a Ugandan chess prodigy, starring Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o.

5 Snowden: Oliver Stone's most politically important film in years.

UPCOMING RELEASES

(Dates subject to change)

Oct. 21: Jack Reacher: Never Go Back; Keeping Up With the Joneses; Tyler Perry's Boo! A Madea Halloween

Oct. 28: Inferno

Nov. 4: Doctor Strange; Trolls; American Honey; Hacksaw Ridge

Nov. 11: Arrival; Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk; Almost Christmas

Nov. 18: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; Moonlight; Bleed for This; The Edge of Seventeen

Nov. 23: Moana; Bad Santa 2; Allied; Rules Don't Apply

Movie Planner: Review of 'Denial,' plus 'Kevin Hart: What Now?' opens 10/12/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 12, 2016 11:34am]
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