Movie Meter: True Stories Win the Weekend with Nas’ Illmatic Doc and a Britain’s Got Talent Underdog


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Pride: Yet another uplifting, true story. This film is based on the mid-’80s United Mineworkers strike in England. The Mineworkers were joined in their efforts by unlikely comrades: a London-based group of gay and lesbian activists who saw an opportunity for solidarity in the oppressed, beleaguered miners. United by an opposition to ultra-conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the two parties eventually learn to stand together and support one another in their respective struggles. Pride stars Bill Nighy, Dominic West, and the redoubtable Imelda Staunton. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 92%

One Chance: Who could resist the heart-warming true story (another one!) of Paul Potts, a schlubby shop assistant who went on Britain’s Got Talent with the intention of singing opera and shockingly won the whole bloody contest? It’s like that unforgettable Susan Doyle clip you’ve probably watched a dozen times, but in full-length form. Imagine 8 Mile but for the decidedly middle-aged with James Cordon as Potts and Colm Meany as his father. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 63%

The Two Faces of January: It’s been a while since a romantic thriller really made an impact cinema-wise, but it’s just possible Hossein Amini’s stylish adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel might do the trick. It stars Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst as an American married couple touring Greece, who befriend an itinerant con man played by Oscar Isaac. The couple ends up on the lam with him after a murder at their hotel leaves them the prime suspects. From the sound of things, Amini is shooting for Hitchcock, though whether he gets there or not is still open for debate. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 83%

Nas: Time Is Illmatic: Back in 1994, Nas, then an up-and-coming hip-hop artist, released one of the best and most heralded albums of the decade. This doc takes you through his extensive creative process, baring his influences—everything from jazz and R&B to the freewheeling raps of his neighborhood—to show how a streetwise city kid could soak in everything around him and turn this knowledge into powerful and arresting art. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 100%

Lilting: This film is a slow-moving but rewarding drama from Cambodian director Hong Khaou. The story involves the untimely death of a young London man, and the resultant grief felt by his mother, played by Cheng Pei-pei, and his lover, played by Ben Whishaw, who quite literally don’t speak the same language. Not everyone is a fan (The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis found it “stiff” and “lachrymose”), but the general consensus indicates an interesting attempt at dramatizing grief, if nothing else. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 80%

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Kill the Messenger: In the ’90s, journalist Gary Webb broke the story of an almost-too-unbelievable-to-be-true CIA operation that gave certain drug barons carte blanche to operate in the U.S., as long as some of their enormous profits went to support the Contras in Nicaragua. It’s truly a tragic tale, and one of complete shame for some of our most reputable media outlets who focused their attention on discrediting Webb rather than following up on his story, which proved to be almost entirely true. The film is based on this true story, starring Jeremy Renner as Webb. It is solid but still somewhat inconclusive, which is vexing. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 69%

The Judge: Robert Downey Jr. could remain engaging in an ad for furniture polish, and Robert Duvall is a legendarily strong and taciturn actor, but they have to be able to do better than this for Oscar-bait. RDJ plays the fabulously successful, big-city lawyer son of a simple, country town judge with exacting standards and a sudden, unexpected rap for vehicular homicide. Given the material’s well-worn grooves (what’s this, a former high-school girlfriend is somehow still living in town and is available??) and pretty unexceptional storyline, there’s no reason on earth it should clock in at 141 minutes. It’s as if RDJ and company wanted to leave no stone unturned for his would-be Oscar bid. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 46%

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: This film was on the precipice of a total “Skip it,” but I pulled it off the edge due to the performances of the two compelling leads, James McAvoy and Jessica Chastain. The film itself is an annoying relationship drama from director Ned Benson, originally conceived as two separate films (a “His” and “Hers” version). The story — which follows the New York-based couple from blissful joy to dissolute misery and possibly back again — doesn’t have enough worthy material to support one film, let alone three. Entangled but bland backstories amidst a script that seems altogether too taken with itself do not make for an enervating couple of hours. Also, taking those two actors and reducing them to Lifetime-esque romantic fops earns double demerits. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 61%

I Am Ali: If ever a pop culture figure deserved the full-blown, life story doc, you would think Muhammad Ali – fierce warrior, political protestor, charismatic world figure – would be the guy. Unfortunately, this doc, culled largely from Ali’s personal collection of audio tapes, writings, and interviews from his tight inner circle, sounds less like a genuine exploration of the man’s soul and more like a pumped-up benediction of his fame and success. Rotten Tomatoes Score: n/a

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44xvWIBmtfY

Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day: Strictly family fare from Disney, no less, but as such, the film is apparently not awful. You could do worse. Steve Carell (just remember him here before the great Foxcatcher is released later this season!) and Jennifer Garner star as the parents of our titular star, played by Ed Oxenbould, and three other children, each of whom suffers the continued indignities of a lousy day. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 59%

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Dracula Untold: Maybe it should have remained so? This is a sort of a vampiric reboot, in which poor Drac, played by Luke Evans, is shown in a more sympathetic light. Expect much in the way of dreadfully overdone scene work, lots of pretty women succumbing to his seductive powers, and, naturally many, many CGI bats. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 29%

Addicted: This is the story of a fabulously successful woman, played by Sharon Leal, who has an affair with a fabulously successful Cuban artist, played by William Levy, and leaves her fabulously beautiful husband, played by Boris Kodjoe, in the lurch. As far as I can tell, this film has not had one critical screening before its release. I can tell you that this is usually not a good sign, as it suggests the studios are working hard to avoid any bad word-of-mouth before its debut. Still, with no info to go on from the critical community, why do I deign to put the film in the “unwatchable” category? Perhaps you should take a quick glance at the trailer before we continue. One should never base an opinion on incomplete facts, but I feel pretty safe on this one. Rotten Tomatoes Score: n/a

Men, Women and Children: While Jason Reitman’s latest film did play up at TIFF this year, the looming memory of the dreadfulness of last year’s Labor Day kept me far away from it. The film stars Adam Sandler, Jennifer Garner, Rosemarie DeWitt and Emma Thompson as a group of parents who must confront communication complexities with their kids in the Internet age. It got mixed reviews in Toronto, and is being fairly lambasted here. Reitman has talent to be certain, but seems to have lost his way. Rotten Tomatoes Score: 32%