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Movie Review: ‘Birth of a Nation’ Shouts with Shock and Cliché

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The Birth of a Nation Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Is The Birth of a Nation the influential film it aims to be? Read our movie review to find out:

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here are few times when I find myself uneasily frustrated with a movie such as The Birth of a Nation on so many levels. For every quintessential moment of disturbing racism from America’s slavery era, there’s a disappointing cliché where the music must swell and bland dialogue must be spoken. For every moment that evokes a dark sense of drama, there’s another that borders on being unintentionally comical.

The Birth of a Nation Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

One of the intense moments in ‘The Birth of a Nation.’

Directed and written by Nate Parker, it is a movie that deals with racism, violence, religion and revenge, never settling on one topic or tone.

But maybe that’s the point of Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, which could play to a number of different notes. We could examine it from the religious angle in which slave/preacher Nat Turner (Nate Parker) cherishes the word of God, arriving at the decision for a massacre of slave owners through his own faith. We could look at it from a war aspect of how violence begets more violence with no morality to such an ugly world of racial division.

The Birth of a Nation Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Armie Hammer appears alongside Nate Parker.

Or we could view it as a simple revenge story in which Nat leads a rebellion seeking bloody justice on those evil white folks. In a moment where Nat drives a knife into the throat of a white man that beat his wife, there was a rousing applause from the screening audience. This was the same clapping I heard during Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen and The Magnificent Seven; the clapping brought forth at the moment when the noble hero finally slays his cartoonishly evil villain.

My initial reaction to such a sequence was disgust, the way such brutality came packaged as a crowd-pleaser. But I thought more about the entire movie over a few days and eventually came to the conclusion that Parker’s picture is more-or-less a mirror for the audience.

One person will look at The Birth of a Nation and see it as a unique commentary on racial relations turning ugly to the point of graphic violence. Another will see a thrilling picture where a black hero kills all the ignorant white folks. Another will interpret its message as encouraging racial violence or commenting on pointlessness of faith. And another will see the exact opposite.

The Birth of a Nation Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

The tense moments are often outweighed by the melodramatic.

There’s enough in the movie to warrant several views, but in a most scattershot method. When one slave slays his master in the night, he chases him out of his house, corners him with his militia of black slaves and proceeds to chop off his head. To drive home a point about the grisly violence, the scene ends with the slave holding up the severed head as if he were a serial killer in a slasher picture, admiring his kill. The audience erupted with gasps, laughter, scoffs and ewws.

It’d be easy for me to simply dismiss the movie as a kill-all-white-folks movie, especially the way every single white character is portrayed as either a mustache-twirling redneck or a standoffish wimpy loser. This could all be part of Parker’s master plan though.

Perhaps he wants the audience to confront such heavy subjects and not in the manner we expect. He can shift in an instant from the light-hearted romance of Nat meeting his true love to the vulgarity of a slave getting his teeth chipped out. It’s as if Parker cannot decide between making a safe historical drama or a gritty depiction of white-hot racial tensions.

Read more to get the rest of our movie review for Birth of a Nation:

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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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It’s no surprise that in its second weekend, the first Marvel Cinematic Universe of 2019 is still riding high. Captain Marvel, the latest in the MCU with Brie Larson starring as the lead, generated another $69 million over the weekend, placing its domestic total at $266 million. Tallying up the international box office, the film’s global total to date is $760 million. Despite the online controversy, the film is looking to be another strong box office smash for Disney and Marvel.

As for the premieres for the weekend, and there were plenty, they were all over the map. Just below Captain Marvel was the animated adventure Wonder Park, bringing in $16 million, another film with controversy when the director’s name was removed from the picture after sexual harassment charges. Five Feet Apart, the dying teen drama about a romance amid cystic fibrosis, only came in at #3 with a weekend gross of $13 million. And debuting the lowest in the top 10 for debuts was Captive State, a sci-fi dystopian tale, only making $3 million. The film debuted so low the little film No Manches Frida 2 was able to sneak about it at #6 with a gross of $3.8 million.

Drops were fairly low all around for the returning films, mostly because Captain Marvel was dominating the previous weekend. The only milestone worth noting is that The LEGO Movie 2, after six weeks at the box office, finally cracked $100 million. And the sun is now setting on Green Book’s post-Oscar run by coming in at #10 for the final weekend of its top 10 run over the past few weeks.

View the full top ten weekend box office results below:

Captain Marvel ($69,318,000)

Wonder Park ($16,000,000)

Five Feet Apart ($13,150,000)

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($9,345,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($8,085,000)

No Manches Frida 2 ($3,894,000)

Captive State ($3,163,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($2,135,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($1,900,000)

Green Book ($1,277,000)

Next weekend, Captain Marvel may very well have some competition when Jordan Peele’s new horror film Us hits over 3,600 theaters.

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“Dragon” Continues To Soar, “Funeral” Close Behind, “Green Book” Back

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With little competition for the weekend, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third in the animated fantasy saga, was able to secure the box office once more. In its second weekend, the animated epic made $30 million to push its domestic total to $97 million. So far the film has done about the same as the previous film and is on track to stay in the top 10 for a few more weeks in March.

Debuts this weekend were small with one big exception. Tyler Perry’s latest Madea film, A Madea Family Funeral, naturally made a relatively big splash with its dedicated audience. Starting at #2, the film made $27 million for its first weekend. No word on the budget yet but it’s most likely on a budget as most Tyler Perry productions are, so it’s safe to call this a success, especially for debuting with a box office so close to Dragon.

The rest of the premieres were not as strong at all. Greta, the new thriller starring Chloe Moretz, debuted all the way down at #8 with $4.5 million box office. To be fair, however, the film was in a constant battle for its spot as three other films also reported earnings around $4 million for the weekend. Of note, Green Book, fresh off winning the Academy Award for Best Picture one weekend ago, splashed back into more theaters to arise even higher in the top 10 with its domestic total now sitting at $73 million. Don’t count on it remaining there long as bigger blockbusters will be swooping as we plow through the last remnants of winter movies.

Check out the full listing of the top 10 box office weekend results below:

How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World ($30,046,000)

Tyler Perry’s A Madea Family Funeral ($27,050,000)

Alita: Battle Angel ($7,000,000)

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ($6,615,000)

Green Book ($4,711,000)

Fighting With My Family ($4,691,284)

Isn’t it Romantic ($4,645,000)

Greta ($4,585,000)

What Men Want ($2,700,000)

Happy Death Day 2U ($2,516,000)

Next weekend is once again all about Marvel as their latest superhero solo film, Captain Marvel, will be appearing in 4,100 theaters.

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Review: “Captain Marvel” is a Solidly Sensational Sci-Fi Adventure

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Captain Marvel joins the ranks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe in a much different way. She slides into the MCU via a twisty sci-fi adventure of the 1990s, before the Avengers were formed. And though the film does serve as a strong bridge picture that answers a few more questions about the Marvel universe, the film quickly becomes its own thing and gives its hero a real identity as the powerful addition to the superhero ensemble.

Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers, a woman not sure if she’s a human pilot of Earth or a soldier of the Kree empire’s Starforce. There’s little time to explore these conflicting visions she’s having when there’s special energy powers to control and a war being waged against the shape-shifting Skrull alien creatures. A detour to 1990s Earth gives her a bit of time to find out more while also hunting down some more Skrulls, leading to some interesting scenarios when combatting aliens that could look like old ladies.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) ..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

Carol’s landing on Earth leads to treading down familiar Marvel timeline territory as well as evoking plenty of dated 1990s bits. What started drawing me into the picture was how the film holds itself back from the obvious. The 1990s setting is used for some gags of video stores and Windows 95, sure, but never goes the extra mile of becoming an aggravating reference fest, keeping a certain vibe the way Guardians of the Galaxy embraced the 1970s and 1980s. And just like that film, there’s a nostalgic soundtrack to boot, with choice tracks for just the right cue.

Samuel L. Jackson pops up in the film as a younger Nick Fury with his two eyes still intact. He teams up with Carol in her intergalactic spy adventure and thankfully never goes to the booming lengths he was known for that decade. And the filmmakers could have easily made this younger Fury go full Die Hard 3 or Pulp Fiction but he never does, always keeping that cool persona he has been known for in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Marvel Studios’ CAPTAIN MARVEL..L to R: Att-Lass (Algenis Perez Soto), Captain Marvel (Brie Larson) and Minn-Erva (Gemma Chan)..Photo: Film Frame..©Marvel Studios 2019

But the one aspect that is never shunned and built up grandly is the aspect of female empowerment. Danvers is established as a woman who doesn’t have a clear identity or mindful nature of galactic politics and has to build herself up when she realizes she may be a very powerful pawn in a big game of intergalactic chess. Her memories are that of always being told to back off from non-traditional activities for girls and, sure enough, she rises up to become the smirking and energy-shooting hero when the final piece of her character puzzle is pieced together. It’s just unfortunate that the film spends so much time doing the building amid a twisty sci-fi spy story that Brie never gets a moment to shine as brightly as she could, despite a very enthusiastic third-act closer.

If we’re being blunt, no, Captain Marvel doesn’t quite have the same gravity to be a cultural milestone of a comic book movie. Where others have pointed to Black Panther as not the first the most insightful and cultural of black-led superhero movies, I doubt many will look towards Captain Marvel as the grandest of female-led comic book movies, making its motives known with the power and subtlety of a supernova. But, in terms of what the film is aiming towards, it doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone and that’s perhaps the point. I just wish that Captain Marvel’s astounding powers to destroy starships and aliens had a much bigger punch for a picture that wants to obliterate the glass ceiling and merely cuts a narrow hole within the MCU. It’s a nice hole, mind you, and still weaves a capable and compelling sci-fi adventure with a surprisingly more engaging finale than most Marvel solos.

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“Captain Marvel” Retains Top Slot at the Box Office

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