film Middle School

Train Thrillers, Kids Behaving Badly, and A Tough Film To Talk About: October 7's New Movies

Friday, October 07, 2016 Rob Samuelson

Here it is, folks. We have reached the first weekend of the year with a real deal Oscar contender, albeit one whose chances have been severely hampered by real world events involving its chief creative force. We’ll get to that in a second, though. First, let’s check out everything else coming our way, including a thriller based on a bestseller and your pre-teen's next favorite comedy.

Photo credit: The Girl on the Train/Facebook

The Girl on the Train
Director: Tate Taylor
Writer: Erin Cressida Wilson
Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux, Luke Evans

A woman (Emily Blunt) who is dealing with depression and a whole bunch of alcoholism following her recent divorce witnesses something she probably shouldn’t have. Soon she is involved with the police as they investigate the disappearance of a woman she probably feels a lot of jealousy toward. It goes to some wacky places, if my secondhand information about the novel version of The Girl on the Train is any indication. Director Tate Taylor made The Help a few years ago, which solidified Jessica Chastain’s status as a star. Perhaps he will do the same for Haley Bennett (an intriguing presence in the otherwise rough ride of Hardcore Henry) here.

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life
Director: Steve Carr
Writers: Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer, Kara Holden
Starring: Griffin Gluck, Lauren Graham, Alexa Nisenson, Andrew Daly

Older kids don’t always want to go to animated movies with their younger siblings. They’re not quite ready for the PG-13 stuff, either. It’s a weird time in a child’s life all around. That’s the premise of Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life, about a boy (Griffin Gluck) who doesn’t care for the strict rules at his school. You could say he is too cool for it. You could, but you shouldn’t. In fact, please don’t. Forget I said anything.

The kid hatches a plan to ruin his principal’s (Review’s Andrew Daly) life by convincing all of his classmates to break every rule in the school’s book. Mayhem ensues. Daly and Lauren Graham (Gilmore Girls, Parenthood), the film’s adult characters, are reliable comedic performers, so that’s probably a point for the parents who will accompany their kids to this.

The Birth of a Nation
Director: Nate Parker
Writers: Nate Parker, Jean McGianni Celestin
Starring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Gabrielle Union

I’ll get this out of the way here: There are thousands (millions?) of people on the planet more qualified than I am to talk about issues of consent, rape, the legal system, and more, so consider me flawed and under-informed all you want -- I’ll likely agree with you. When news broke (or rather, people remembered something that was mostly public knowledge about a public figure) that the co-writer/director/star of The Birth of a Nation, Nate Parker, had been accused and tried for rape in 1999 (he was acquitted), and that co-writer Jean McGianni Celestin was found guilty in the same case (and later cleared), and that the woman who accused them of the crime committed suicide in 2012, all the praise his movie got at the Sundance Film Festival early in the year began to feel a little like a collective case of, “Oh no, we’ve been lauding potential terrible people.”

We movie fans have had to divorce ourselves from the artist to appreciate the art for a long time -- hello, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and plenty more -- but there’s something about this time around that feels a little off. Perhaps it’s Parker’s Gen X age (a generation that is supposed to be more enlightened than Allen’s and Polanski’s generation), maybe it’s just the more sensitive culture we live in (which is on the balance a good thing for society even if people often go overboard at times), or maybe it’s something a little more uncomfortably connected to racial bias (there’s a very obvious reason Parker is playing the leader of a slave rebellion) that makes this time different. We should demand better behavior from those whose work we spend our money on, right? But if Parker and Celestin were indeed innocent, then one can imagine that they might get frustrated with society insisting they apologize for something they didn’t do. You can make up your own mind after reading more deeply about the man’s case. Vulture has a timeline of how it unfolded.

Anyway, The Birth of a Nation, which borrows the title of one of the Silent Era’s most revered formal classics as a middle finger to history -- D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film of the same name features the Ku Klux Klan as the heroes, so do the math. Parker stars at Nat Turner, a Southern slave who mounted a rebellion. Aside from all the extratextual stuff surrounding the film’s creators, people flipped their lids for this movie when it first screened earlier in the year at festivals. Do with that information what you will. Thus concludes the longest movie preview I’ve ever written. Why can’t we have our “fun” discussing a movie about the brutal practice of slavery? Woof, there is nothing pleasant about this entire project, is there?

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