Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco (2019)

Have you seen?

I didn't realize how deeply this movie had its hooks into me until it was too late. For the  first half of the movie, I was just trying to figure it out. Then, when I thought that I finally had figured it out, I realized that it was the one that had figured me out. It creeps up on you like that. Without you knowing. I was surprised how much I connected with it, actually. It, being a movie about black men in San Francisco attempting to come to grips with things by avoiding them. I don't know what it's like to be black in San Francisco, or anywhere for that matter, but there was a familiarity about this movie that defies a certain level of understanding. Which is what great art does. It makes you feel as if you've been places you haven't. Been people you aren't. When I listen to Kendrick Lamar's 'Good Kid, Maad City', for example, it makes me feel nostalgic for South Central Los Angeles. The good parts and the bad. As if memories of growing up on the streets of Compton were somehow implanted inside my brain, Blade Runner style, so that the feelings are there, even in the absence of experience.

The Last Black Man is about Jimmie Fails, the third. Fails is obsessed with a big house in an expensive part of San Fransisco that he claims was built by his grandfather, Jimmie Fails the first. Every day, while the owners are away, he stops by and tends to the house, against their wishes. He paints the trim, he weeds the garden, he cleans the fence. Then, one day, the owners are forced to vacate the house and Jimmie and his best friend Montgomery, a struggling playwright, move in.
That plot synopsis is what the movie is about on the surface. What the movie is really about is gentrification. More specifically, it's about young, rich, white, Silicon Valley techies moving into San Francisco, paying exorbitant amounts of money for property, and thereby pushing lower and even middle class, blue collar workers out. The black community in that city has been hit the hardest, because as we know, black people in America have to work twice as hard for half as much as their white counterparts.
There was a time when Jimmie's father owned that house that his grandfather built with his own two hands, that house now valued at $4 million and change. But he lost it in the 90's and when Jimmie visits him, in one of the film's most touching and poignant scenes, we see he is now living in a tiny little closet sized apartment somewhere downtown, where he makes a living selling knockoff DVDs of old Hollywood movies to tourists.

Something a lot of people don't understand about grossly overpriced cities like San Francisco, Manhattan, Los Angeles, or Vancouver is that when you were born there, and your parents were born there, and their parents were born there, or immigrated there from somewhere else, you don't just up and leave. The city itself is like a living tapestry of your lineage. The place where your family tree is planted. It is extremely hard, after three generations, to just pull that tree up out of the ground and start again somewhere. I lived in Vancouver for a brief period and when people who's parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all live in and around Vancouver would complain about the cost of housing, they would be told to 'just move, then'. As if moving away from every familial lifeline you have is as easy as shrugging your shoulders. It's not. It's not for some of those people in Vancouver and it's not for Jimmie Fails, the third. But what do you do when the city you call your home turns its back on you and tells you, in effect, it's found someone younger, richer and whiter and doesn't want you anymore?
Jimmie Fails is only one character and this is only one story being told, but there are Jimmie Fails's all over San Francisco who are facing the same crisis, with their own stories of standing at the crossroads of capitalism and abandonment. 

 I won't tell you how Jimmie's story ends, because I want you seek this movie out and see for yourself. But I will tell you this: I don't think I've seen a more moving finale all year.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a true original. Beautifully shot, beautifully scored and acted. It skates comfortably from an almost arthouse expressionism, to gritty realism, to intimate family drama, sometimes all in the same sequence.
Some call it a love letter to friendship and to San Francisco. To friendship, it certainly is. To San Fran? I don't know that I'd call it a love letter. A breakup letter, maybe. But in reverse. Then again, what do I know? I've never lived there. And as Jimmie tells a couple of Silicon Valley girls complaining about the city not being as good as East L.A.: "You're not allowed to hate San Francisco, unless you've loved it first". 

Rating: ****

Friday, July 26, 2019

Once Upon a Hollywood (2019)

California Dreaming

         Once Upon a Hollywood would have been the best swan song for Quentin Tarantino’s career. QT has been saying for years now that his 10th film will be his final. “Ten films and I’m out” he declared, “nothing lasts forever.” The marketing for his films seems to confirm this. On every poster since the first Kill Bill movie, the number of the movie precedes the filmmakers moniker. “The 4th film by Quentin Tarantino”, “The 5th film…”, “The 8th film…” and so on. And now, we arrive at movie number 9. It’s hard to believe that Tarantino, who is only 56 and who has enjoyed a level of success throughout his career that very few human being will ever experience, is only going to make one more film and then call it quits. I mean, Woody Allen is still churning out a film a year at 83. Clint Eastwood, at 89, will often release two movies in a single year. And Spike Lee, Tarantino’s contemporary and only a couple of years older than him, is already 25 movies into his historic career. 
But, the man can do what he wants. And if what he wants is to bow out after film #10, kick back and watch movies on 35mm for the rest of his days, then he’s earned the right to do so. 
Still, this would have been a great 10th film to go out on. 

Once Upon a Time…is multilayered, exuberant yet restrained, exciting yet suspenseful. A joyous and nostalgic love letter to late 1960’s Hollywood. A Hollywood on the brink of transformation. The old studio fare wasn’t making money and the ‘Movie Brats’ of the 1970’s, such luminaries as Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas, Coppola, DePalma and Milius, were about to change everything forever, taking the power away from studio moguls and putting it into the hands of the filmmakers themselves, giving them unprecedented creative control, which would lead to some of the biggest movie moneymakers in film history. 
As such, Hollywood 1969 was imbued with no shortage of identity crisis and the anxiety of the unknown. Tarantino plays with this in the film, sifting it through the story of Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, a 50’s TV star who tried, and failed, to make the transition into film. The reaction to his failure takes the form of drunken self loathing and depressive realizations that he may never be anything but a bit player in other people’s vehicles. Along for the ride, and to dry Rick’s tears, is his stunt double and personal assistant Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt. A man too attractive to be someone else’s stunt double and yet apparently without the motivation to be anything else. A third (or so) of the film is dedicated to the story of Rick and Cliff, as they attempt to circumvent the realities of waning careers in the entertainment industry (Hollywood is less forgiving of ageing than professional sports). But they aren’t together all the time, and at one point Cliff gets waylaid giving a ride to a hippy girl he picks up in Hollywood and drives out to an old, abandoned movie set in the desert. Which, it turns out, is now occupied by none other than the infamous Manson Family, who aren’t infamous when we meet them, as they haven’t killed anyone yet.
The final third of the film is dedicated to Sharon Tate, radiating unforced sexuality and played with boundless adorability by Margot Robbie. We all know the story of Sharon Tate and what befell her and some of her friends on the evening of August 8th in 1969, an event that sent an electric shock of panic surging throughout Los Angeles and the entire film industry. The fact of this tragedy taking place in and around the time this story takes place, laces the film with an undercurrent of dread and a level of anticipatory anxiety, even in one of the movie’s many comedic moments. 
But that is a defining characteristic of every Tarantino film. The tonal shifts in his movies are as eclectic as the cinematic influences that inform them, as the music that gives them their backbone. And there is no shortage of backbone in Once Upon a Hollywood. Endless shots of characters racing around in classic cars listening to funky, driving, fuzzbox 60’s garage rock are peppered throughout the film from beginning to end. And the period accurate radio advertisements for things like root beer and coconut tanning butter, with the DJ jawing on about this hip song or that out of sight tune leading the listeners right into the weekend, baby, are as fun to listen to as Tarantino’s snappy dialogue must have been to write. 

In the oeuvre of Tarantino’s filmography, Once Upon a Time represents one of the most noticeable moments of his filmmaking evolution. And I don’t mean that the snappy dialogue is so much snappier, or that the blood is so much more gruesome. Truth be told, the evolution apparent in this film is the willingness of Tarantino to ease off of the pop cultural gas petal and blatant fetishism of hyper violence that has trademarked most of the rest of his catalogue. This film is very focused on not violating the terms of its period. That means that unlike, say, Django Unchained, where you have James Brown and 2Pac tunes thumping overtop a former black slave shooting racist whites in 1850’s Antebellum, here, all the music you hear is music you would have heard on one station or another, or one record player or another in Hollywood in 1969. It also means that the characters don’t speak in pop shop dialogue, and there aren’t really any major monologue moments, like the ones that often open Tarantino’s films. Most notably Christoph Waltz’s Oscar winning soliloquy at the beginning of Inglourious Basterds, going on and on about tasty milk and Jewish rats and German hawks. Here, Tarantino lets the story be the star and has the actors service the story, not the words coming out of their mouths.
        And the acting is uniformly fantastic. There are really only three major roles, but there are a whole host of Hollywood character actors, a-listers, bonafide legends, b-movie bit players and ‘whatever happened to’s that jump in and out of the movie with a line here or a moment there. And in true Hollywood fashion, this makes perfect sense. 

And in true Hollywood fashion, this movie, in all of its dizzying displays of filmmaking bravura and its multiple storylines snaking in and out of each other like a Los Angeles expressway at rush hour, make perfect sense. It feels like what it is: the culmination of a movie geek turned movie god’s 27 year career paying homage to the films of his life. But also to the place those films were made and the people who made them. Tarantino, like most people who find their way to the City of Angels looking for fame and fortune, is a Hollywood transplant. Born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, not under the W of the Hollywood sign, as one would expect. But he has made the town his own and siphoned from it every drop of talent and inspiration it has to offer.
      Once Upon A Time in Hollywood may not be his best film, but it is the best example of the gift Hollywood has given him in his time there. And it is the best gift that he could give it in return. 

Rating: *****

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Avengers: Endgame (2019)

When we were young

If other life from other planets made contract with earth, and this life brought with them superhuman powers: if they could fly, had incredible strength, were immortal, or a-mortal, if they could leap tall bounds or run at speed too fast for our eyes to see, what would we do? Would we fight them? Would we hand them the keys to our planet and back away slowly with our arms aloft? Would we grab the nearest holy book and pray for deliverance? 
No, I think what we’d do is evolve. We’d adapt. We’d put our biggest brains and brightest minds together in a room and have them come up with something extraordinary to fight these aliens, should our communion with them come to fighting, and our species would, hopefully, persevere. 
And that’s what this movie is about. That’s what this whole Marvel universe is about. Perseverance, invention and will. Having some of our brightest minds come together and think up a way to save this planet from invasion or worse. And for all the special effects, all the interplanetary travel and all of the non human invaders, or subhuman protectors, what the filmmakers are trying to get at at the bottom of Endgame, is the human element. How do we put our differences aside for the greater good? How do we suture the rip in the human curtain and stand together for something that’s bigger than politics, that’s bigger than religion, that’s bigger than society itself? The Avengers try to answer this question on the screen, while fighting off Thanos and his horde of alien forces, and the filmmakers try to answer this question for all of us out there in the audience watching the Avengers attempt this feat, while also, hopefully, taking this lesson home with us afterwards. This lesson of unity in the face of great trial and tribulation. 

Endgame takes place five years after the events of Infinity War. The world’s population (those that were spared) is still trying to grapple with the aftermath of that movie’s finale. Tony Stark is floating around in deep space, awaiting a rescue that may or may not ever come. Steve Rogers is leading a support group for survivors. Thor’s failure to stop Thanos in Infinity War has left him despondent. A veritable shut in, he spends his days doing little more than drinking beer and playing video games. Which has left him with a hell of a beer belly and an unkempt mane on his head and his face. It’s actually amazing how unattractive the filmmakers were able to make Chris Hemsworth look in this movie. I wouldn’t have thought it possible. Hawkeye is running around Tokyo taking out Yakuza. Hulk, well, I won’t say much about Hulk, but it’s cool what Bruce Banner was able to figure out in regards to his big, green friend. 
I won’t go through the whole cast, but let’s just say that five years after Infinity War, the Avengers have accepted their failure and are doing their best to move on with life. 
Then, one of the old gang, the gang we thought was gone, comes back. With a bright idea of how they can right the wrongs of the previous film and the past half decade.

That’s all I’ll say about the plot. Honestly, this movie is three full hours long and there is so much plot packed into those three hours that you’d better make sure you pee before you sit down, because there isn’t a ‘pee’ scene. There’s no part of the movie unimportant enough to give you a couple of minutes to empty your bladder. So let’s instead talk about the execution. 
How well did the filmmakers pull off this epic finale? 
A main narrative component of Endgame involves time travel. It’s basically impossible to use time travel in a story and not have logistic plot holes all over the place. That’s why time travel hasn’t been invented yet in the real world. We don’t know how to make it work. One of the characters actually pokes fun at this in the movie, talking about how every time travel movie ever made, made no sense. So I think the filmmakers decided, screw it, we’re using time travel, it’s going to have logistical inconsistencies, but this is a comic book movie, not a BBC documentary.
Once you get past that, Endgame has everything everyone going to this movie will be expecting to see: smarmy dialogue, dark moments of self reflection/discovery, sacrifices of the self for the sake of the whole, planet hopping, betrayals, revelations, major characters dying, minor characters having last second changes of heart to save the day, etc, etc, etc. 
Did they pull it all off? They did. Not as effectively as they did in Infinity War, but effectively enough to allow the audience to leave with a sense of closure and satisfaction, though perhaps not full blown elation. It’s not the greatest finale to a blockbuster franchise we’ve ever had, but it does feel final. And to be honest, that’s all I wanted. Don’t give me cliffhangers, don’t give me reasons to think the Avengers will assemble again in the future and for God’s sake, do not leave any little threads hanging for characters that have no business coming back in future movies to do so. And to the filmmakers’ credit, they didn’t.
One thing I wish we got more of was scenes of the characters dealing with life in the in-between, instead of just jumping five years and now we’re off saving the world again. I realize that asking for more backstory in a film that is already three hours long is greedy, if not maniacal, but the whole thing feels a little immediate. Besides, the three hours of Endgame fly by. Some three hour movies feel like you’ve been in the theatre a week by the time the movie lets out. Endgame is relatively snappy by comparison. 
The thing I liked most about Endgame was the way it was able to balance nostalgia with future spectacle. It found a way to make us feel the feels we felt in the first Avengers movies and every movie since, while also giving us something new and allowing us a peek behind the curtain of what the future of the Avengers universe would have felt like if the series kept going. Because in many ways, this is a franchise that could just go on and on and on, like Bond. Which makes the finality of it that much more satisfying. I’m sure in the future someone will reboot the Avengers. If it’s anything like Spiderman, that ‘future’ means in two years. But for now, it’s nice to bask in the glow of the Endgame and wave goodbye to this bloated spectacle once and for all.

So goodbye, yellow brick road. This boy’s too young to be singing the blues.  

Rating: ****

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Great Buster (2018)

For life and limb

I always talk about organic moviemaking. A more hipster way of putting it might be analogue moviemaking. This is the process of making movies 'like they used to'. No CGI, no digital refinements, no stuntmen. To be fair, they did have stuntmen just about as far back as movies stretch, but in truly organic moviemaking, the stunts are all on screen and they are all performed by the actor or actress who we are led to believe is performing them. We always hear about how Tom Cruise likes to do all his own stunts. Jackie Chan is another actor who is famous for performing his own acrobatics on screen. Christian Bale apparently does his own as well. Cameron Diaz and Zoe Bell are also famous for doing their own stunt work. But there is no one, not one actor or actress or stunt person or martial artist even, who doesn't owe a debt to Buster Keaton. 

Buster was a vaudevillian child star who was in a troupe with his parents. Their act was famous for the part he played in it. Apparently, they would pick him up and toss him around the stage in a myriad of physically demanding ways. At one point they were arrested for child abuse, but the charges were later dropped. 
No big surprise then that someone with this unique start to life would go on to define physical comedy and cinematic inventive genius in the first part of movie history. 

Keaton starred in dozens of two reelers (short films that ran ahead of features, more or less what Pixar is doing now), feature films, commercials and even travelogues, including one in Canada for CN Rail. During the silent era, he was one of the world's biggest stars and his movies were massive crowdpleasers and money makers. 
Then sound came in, Buster signed a terrible deal with MGM Studios that took away his creative control and he slid, fast, into a slump. The slump was both professional, and personal. Right around the time the advent of movie sound killed his career, he got divorced, twice, and developed a drinking problem. 
The Great Buster goes into all of these moments, as well as close looks into some of his better known features, short films and later work and leaves your head feeling full in the way that cramming the night before a big test makes it feel.

The movie was made by Peter Bogdanovich, a divisive figure in cinema. On the one hand, he somehow got almost complete and unfettered access to some of the biggest names in the history of movies (Orson Welles, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Howard Hawks, to name a few). On the other, for a man with relatively few true classics under his own belt, he is an egotist who has the air of someone who believes he is the sole reason cinema exists at all. 
The Great Buster, for instance, starts with an interview, of himself, from the 70's, talking about Buster Keaton. He also narrates the picture and while his narration is well delivered, it has that same Bogdanovich air about it too. 
The film also features interviews with a whole host of current Hollywood folk. Everyone from Tarantino to the guy that made Spiderman: Homecoming to Bill Hader chime in. Oddly, there is no interview with Martin Scorsese, who is usually all too willing to add his perspective and appreciation to these docs on classic cinema figures. There are so many interviewees in fact, that some of them come on the screen, say one or two sentences about Buster or his movies and are never heard from again. 

If you've seen any of Bogdanovich's other documentaries, or any career spanning overview of a cornerstone cinema figure for that matter, you'll know what to expect. And if you're a fan of Buster Keaton, the flyover of his life and career will delight you I'm sure. 
But the people who really need to see this, the people who I think Peter B. was making this for, are those who have forgotten or are unaware of Buster Keaton. Yes his best films are in black and white, and yes they are silent, but the sheer imagination, danger and precision with which he pulled off these stunts, gags and films back before digital anything, when all you had was a camera and a (hopefully) well thought out plan, need to be seen to be believed.

This man must never be forgotten. And as much as I love organic moviemaking that harkens back to the way they used to make 'em, I love that we now have a world of cinema at our fingertips. It ensure's pioneers like Buster Keaton never will be.

Rating: ****

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Netflix: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)

Hell broke luce

There are western elements in every Coen brothers film. From nu-western noir in Blood Simple, all the way to the jazz age, fictional bio-pic of Eddie Mannix, Hail, Caesar! The old west finds its way into every film the Coens tackle. 
As far as out and out westerns, that also take place in the old west, there are really only two. Unless you consider O Brother, Where Art Thou? an out and out western, which I don't. There is True Grit, and this film, an anthology of stories that take place in the old west and have no connecting narrative thread, beyond their time and place. 

Anthology films are often pretty flimsy prospects. Most popular in the horror genre, they usually feature a different writer/director for each segment and will often have some plot point that ties them all together. The problem is that, if you have a film made up of half a dozen short films, you can bet money on at least three of the six being less interesting than the three better ones. Sometimes you only get one good sequence in the whole movie. That's fifteen or twenty minutes out of one hundred and twenty, of good watching. That sucks. 
The thing Buster Scruggs has going for it, is that all of the short films in the anthology are good, and that they were all directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, which pretty much guarantees quality control. 

Netflix might seem like a strange place for a new Coen brothers movie, given that their movies always do very well at the box office. But it actually makes a lot of sense. Netflix has a hands off policy when it employs filmmakers to create Netflix-only content. Which means that they would've said something to the Coens along the lines of "we want you to do a film for Netflix. We'll give you as much money as you need to film it and complete creative control". That's a prospect far too juicy to pass up if you are a pair of creative geniuses. 

Buster Scruggs is presented as a book, with each short film within, a chapter. In true Coen fashion, all of the chapters in the book are in some way, shape or form violent, dark, and humorous: The eponymous ballad singing gunslinger who finally meets his match; a grizzled old prospector who strikes it rich, only to be then shot in the back; a bank robber who robs the wrong bank teller; a yappy dog that leads to a Comanche attack; a mysterious stagecoach filled with mysterious characters on its way to a mysterious destination. All of these stories are as strange, beautifully well told and as quirky as you would ever hope to find by the masters of strange, well told and quirky cinema. They are also all filled with breathtaking vistas as endless and venerable as the best ones shot by John Ford or Sergio Leone.
The acting is likewise perfect and the plethora of A-list cameos is fun and exciting. Especially Tom Waits as the prospector and James Franco as the bank robber. One of his most understated and accomplished performances, despite its relative brevity. 

I refuse to apply the word masterpiece to anything frivolously. I take that word very seriously and a piece of art has its work cut out for it, if it hopes to achieve that label from me. So although Buster Scruggs is as perfect an anthology film as perhaps I have seen, and although the Coens occupy the rarified air of having multiple masterpieces hanging from their cinematic belt loops, I will show restraint in how I choose to define this film in regards to its accomplishments. 
What I will say is that this is easily one of the best films of the year, and easily one of the best films tagged with a Netflix logo currently available from the streaming giant. See it. 

Rating: *****

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Overlord (2018)


It's painfully obvious while watching Overlord, that the writer and/or director of this WWII zombie-ish action flick were big fans of the recent reboots of the Wolfenstein video games. In Wolfenstein, you play a muscled, all American man who mow's through an army of Nazi's. At the end of the games, you face off against a mecca-Nazi, half man, half machine. The end result of a war spent hunting and stealing all of the most advanced technology the world had to offer, and using it to build an army of SS super-soldiers. 

It's a cool concept and Wolfenstein is a cool game. And a lot of fun to play. The problem with Overlord, is that it often feels like you're watching a two hour cutscene in a video game you never get to play. Which is too bad, because the plot would fit the video game mould perfectly. 

A group of soldiers, survivors from a plane that was shot down over enemy lines, band together in a small French village to accomplish a mission that will enable American aircraft to penetrate the French countryside and bomb the enemy back into its German homeland. 
Things go from tense to horrific when the soldiers discover a church basement filled with evil Nazi experiments intending to create an army of super-soldiers by reanimating the dead with some mysterious liquid. See? Wolfenstein. 

The emphasis in Overlord is overkill. Overkill on plot, overkill on dialogue and most certainly overkill on violence. Like any zombie movie worth its weight in intestines, Overlord cranks the gore up to 11 and gleefully dares you to look away.
Is it in bad taste to release a WWII movie that drapes gore all over the screen in such a cartoonish and ebullient way on Remembrance Day weekend? Yes, it is. But if the filmmakers cared, this movie would've come out in January. 

I can't fault this film for being bloody, I knew it was going to be and went to see it anyway. Buy the ticket, take the ride. 
What I fault it for is being a VOD quality film that somehow (in no small part thanks to JJ Abrams' involvement, no doubt) snuck its way into the multiplex. 
It's a good movie, for what it is, and it is fun, if you're a fan of gore. But it isn't a $13 movie. It's a $5 or $6 movie at most. 

Some reviewer at some point said that this was the 'Saving Private Ryan of zombie movies'. That's not only inaccurate, it's disrespectful. 
However, I will say that if you take Overlord for what it is, a Dead Snow type zombie war flick intent on blasting your ears with the grinding sounds of gunfire and exploding skulls, blasting your eyeballs with the sights of the same, and blasting your brain with the ever popular revenge fantasy fulfillment of killing hordes of Nazi's in small amounts of time, then it's about as good a film as it was ever going to be, or was ever going to try to be, for that matter. 

Rating: ***

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Hate U Give (2018)

Just Us for Justice

Near the end of The Hate U Give, Starr, our protagonist, says "no matter what we say, no matter how loud we shout, they refuse to hear us". That moment felt like someone dropped a boulder inside my stomach. What a perfect encapsulation of everything that is going on right now in America. With politics, with racism, with hate. 
It seems that America has reached a place wherein the wheels of positive change and progressive evolution have stopped spinning. Black people are still being killed by white authority figures due to nothing more than the colour of their skin. People of certain religious faiths can no longer pray in their places of worship without worrying about a bomb going off. White nationalist groups are newly emboldened to take their racist rhetoric into the streets with bullhorns and parades. And Donald Trump, as the architect of much of this insanity, is still America's president. Is it any wonder that minorities and people of colour feel like their cries for justice fall, still, on deaf ears? 

The Hate U Give explores this ugliness with a deft and caring hand. Wrapping it in a blanket of adolescent turmoil and the search for self discovery. The period where your ideas about the world are being upended, while at the same time, your body is changing and your hormones are firing chaotic bullets into your emotional psyche, daring you to react to them. We've all been there. It sucks.

Starr is a fascinating and relatable young teen who is in the midst of all of this. From a poor neighbourhood with a perpetually high crime rate, her parents spend every penny they have in order to send her and her siblings to a private school in a more affluent part of the city. This gives Starr an identity complex. On the one hand, she wants to fit in with her rich schoolmates. So she acts less 'ghetto' when she's at school. On the other, she wants to fit in at home, so she acts less uppity when she's in her own neighbourhood. 
I know what this feels like. Not in terms of the poor neighbourhood/affluent school dichotomy, but in terms of wanting to fit in with two different groups and therefore playing a different version of yourself for each. 
While Starr is struggling with her two sides, she witnesses her (black) friend get murdered by a white cop in a routine traffic stop 'gone bad'. 
It's not a spoiler to say that the cop is not brought to any sort of justice for the killing, as is usually the case, and therefore the citizens of Starr's neighbourhood rise up in protest, while Starr has to decide whether or not she will testify against the officer before a grand jury, putting her family in danger with the local drug kingpin, who threatens Starr with harm should she open her mouth. 

As much as I loved this movie, and as well made as it is (and well acted, Amandla Stenberg, as Starr, is a revelation), I have to say that the independent elements that make up the central narrative of the film are relatively unoriginal. We've seen most of these beats before, in films like Fruitvale Station, Do the Right Thing, and even the recent OJ Simpson miniseries. 
But The Hate U Give, by playing it through the guise of a coming of age story (it was based on a bestselling YA novel), makes it feel fresh, current, and urgent in a way no other recent film that touches on these subjects has. We know where the story goes, because we've seen the news. We know how things will turn out for Starr and her family, and for the police officer who killed the young teen who did absolutely nothing wrong. 
These struggles are nothing new. In many ways, they've been going on since Africans were first brought here on slaver boats a few hundred years ago. The black community in America still has to work twice as hard as the white community in order to get half as far. The black community still has to suffer uneasy looks and nervous glances that the white community doesn't. And if you are a black man or woman in the United States, you are still far more likely to be poor, and far more likely to be jailed or murdered by a police officer, than if you are a white man or woman in the United States. 

These movies are hard for me. Watching them, I cry a lot, I sit fuming in my chair a lot, I feel sick in a lot. I want to say that I don't understand racism, but I do. I understand it perfectly. I just don't know what to do about it. I can challenge people on Facebook. I can punch someone in the mouth if they use a racial slur. I can post pictures of the cut up backs of slaves, or of the dead bodies of African Americans who have been slain by police or white mobs, or the KKK. But does that do anything? Do people care? Or do they just not want to be confronted with the awful reality that racism didn't end with the emancipation proclamation, it just looks different now. 
I want to do something, but Starr's words keep ringing in my head, and make me wonder if there is any point. "No matter what we say, no matter how loud we shout, they refuse to hear us." When will they stop refusing? Will they ever? 

Rating: ****1/2