INDIE FLICKS:Spike Lee's Chi-Raq
Spike Lee's righteous anger finds a provocative target in Chi-Raq (R), a ragged satire of gang culture and guns set in Chicago. "Chi-Raq" is the city's unflattering nickname, and the stage name of a rapper (Nick Cannon) caught up in the life. Lee's novel conceit is staging this modern tragedy in the form and fashion of Aristophanes' comedy Lysistrata, with vulgar rhyme schemes and Samuel L. Jackson as a one-man Greek chorus.
In this version, Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) is Chi-Raq's girlfriend worried about their future after his lyrics incite a nightclub gunfight between the Spartans and Trojans, led by Cyclops (eye patch-wearing Wesley Snipes). Payback is swift and shattering when a child is killed by a stray bullet. Lysistrata is counseled by a wise woman (Angela Bassett) to use sex as her weapon, enlisting all women to withhold their carnal favors from men until the violence ends.
Lee and co-writer Kevin Willmott craftily update Peloponnesian War horrors to an urban war zone, never shy about letting characters preach long and loud about socioeconomic conditions at the root of gang culture. Chi-Raq is an energetic rant for stricter gun control but more importantly life control, urging black males to rise up and fly right or else the system will swallow them. (And not just because whites are in charge; re-election posters are everywhere for a black politician named Hambone, who apparently hasn't done much for his constituents.) These polemics are mostly packaged bawdily, with raw rhymes tripping off tongues, and any sexual euphemism up for grabs.
Chi-Raq rambles more often than not and contains at least two scenes undercutting Lee's message through cheap-shot humiliation. But it is Lee's most vibrant manifesto in years, a challenge to lay down arms and prove black lives matter. B
ROOM: Book to screen
Novelist Emma Donoghue is one of the lucky ones, an author who didn't surrender her prose to strangers in order to produce a movie.
Donoghue's 2010 novel Room is a tricky creation, a lurid kidnapping yarn told from a child's innocent perspective. The Irish-Canadian writer held out successfully to write the screenplay, a seemingly logical decision but one seldom made by movie producers.
"I think it should happen more often," Donoghue, 46, recently said by telephone from France.
"I don't mean we're the only ones who can do it, not at all. But I don't think there should be a prejudice against us. It should not be a feel that, oh, we're protective mothers who are not going to let the child soar as they should."
An interesting analogy, considering Room (R) focuses upon a protective mother raising her son, Jack, under grim circumstances, confined in a garden shed, at the mercy of a sociopath.
"I find them absolutely perfect as Ma and Jack," Donoghue told me in a phone interview, of stars Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay. "Whenever I look at the book next, I'm going to be seeing Brie and Jake. They completely own those roles for me."
Room opens Friday in select theaters. Read the full interview with Donoghue at tampabay.com and in Sunday's Latitudes section.
ALSO OPENING: Krampus
You'd better not pout or cry this Christmas, or Krampus (PG-13) is going to get you.
Who's Krampus? Only the evil flip side of Santa Claus, a pagan demon created in Germanic folklore who terrorizes bad children, dragging them away in sacks and beating them with sticks. (Thanks, Google.)
The movie bearing the creature's name is a horror-comedy in the yuletide tradition of Gremlins, silly-gross but apparently not gory. Suburban kid Max (Emjay Anthony, born in Clearwater) has a rotten attitude, accidentally summoning Krampus from wherever pagan holiday demons spend their downtime. Children figure out how to save Christmas while grownups set bad examples.
The cast is promising, with Adam Scott and Toni Collette as Max's dysfunctional parents, plus David Koechner and Conchata Ferrell among the extended family ruining the occasion. Likely not a new holiday classic.
in theaters: our Top 5
Current movies recommended by the Tampa Bay Times:
1 Room: A unique experience, with terrific performances by Brie Larson and Jacob Tremblay.
2 Spotlight: The finest movie about newspaper reporters doing their jobs since All the President's Men.
3 Creed: Worthy successor to Rocky Balboa's underdog boxing title, and maybe an Oscar nod for Sylvester Stallone.
4 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2: Concludes the fantasy franchise that made Jennifer Lawrence a star.
5 Chi-Raq: Spike Lee's antigang, antigun satire is his strongest fiction in years.
Read reviews at tampabay.com/movies.
(dates subject to change)
Dec. 11: In the Heart of the Sea
Dec. 18: Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens; Sisters; Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip
Dec. 23: The Big Short
Dec. 25: Joy; The Hateful Eight; The Danish Girl; Concussion; Daddy's Home; Point Break
Jan. 8: The Revenant