Richard has a look at the new movies coming to theatres, including the reboot of “Hellboy” starring David Harbour as Big Red, the stop-motion animated “Missing Link,” the Ethan Hawke bank heist “Stockholm” and the kid-friendly “Mia and the White Lion” with CFRA Morning Rush host Bill Carroll.
At the end of “The Best of Enemies,” a new historical drama starring Taraji P. Henson and Sam Rockwell, we meet the real-life inspirations for the characters. Like so many based-on-a-true story films that have come before it, it feels as though a documentary about the actual folks would have been more enjoyable than the recreation.
Set in 1971 North Carolina, Henson plays Ann Atwater, an African-American civil rights activist. Her group, Operation Breakthrough, aids local people with legal advice, housing and a multitude of other social concerns. It’s an uphill battle. Atwater often finds herself at odds with the openly racist town council. One member even turns his chair away when Atwater speaks. Providing unofficial support to the council is good-old-boy C.P. Ellis (Rockwell), president of the town’s KKK chapter.
When the council rules to send Black kids back into an unsafe school the NAACP gets involved, forcing the council to bring the issue before a community charrette, essentially a ten day a meeting in which town folk on both sides of the problem come together to debate. Community organizer Bill Riddick (Babou Ceesay) chooses two unlikely co-chairs, Atwater and Ellis. Both are unsure if they can work together but the stakes are too high on either side for them to decline the invitation. “Riddick is about to hand the keys to school integration,” says town official Carvie Oldham (Bruce McGill), “and you are going to lock the door.”
After a tense start the sworn enemies find common ground. Despite her personal feelings for Ellis, Atwater responds to his family situation with empath and compassion. Ellis begins to acknowledge the frustration and helplessness of the people he has held in such little regard for his entire life.
“The Best of Enemies,” comes with the best of intentions. Writer-director Robin Bissell details the lives of the two main characters but, it must be asked, How, in a movie about school integration, is the focus on Ellis? It seems tone deaf to present a story of integration in schools that features a climactic speech by a KKK president. Ellis’s life is presented in detail. We learn about his family life, business and spend time inside several KKK gatherings, including one where he is named the region’s Exulted Cyclops. Trouble is, we don’t get the same info on Atwater. Henson does an admirable job of breathing life into the character but Atwater is more or less treated like a supporting player in her own story.
It’s not to say “The Best of Enemies” doesn’t have some interesting moments. Civil rights icon Howard Clement (Gilbert Glenn Brown) delivers a stirring speech detailing a parent’s love for their child, adding “our kids have a whole different menu of pain to deal with.” In smaller moments like that the film’s message of bridge building and empathy ring loud and clear. It is just a shame that this historically significant tale suffers from a skewed POV and predictable plotting.
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies, the great ape flick “Kong: Skull Island,” the Shirley MacLaine dramedy “The Last Word” and the animated “Window Horses.”
“The Last Word” is a new dramedy starring Shirley MacLaine as a woman determined to have the last word not only in conversation but also in life.
MacLaine is Harriet. A woman of a certain age, her best days are behind her. Once an advertising mogul, she controls every part of her life from how the gardener trims the hedges to how the cook prepares her eggs. Managing life is one thing but now she wants to control how she will be remembered after she dies.
It’s an uphill battle. “She is a human dark cloud,” says one “friend.” Her priest says she’s a “hateful woman” and when a former employee is asked to say one nice thing about Harriet she says, “If she was dead that would be nice.”
Her cynical search for a legacy leads her to Anne Sherman (Amanda Seyfried), the obituary writer at the local newspaper. Anne is an aspiring essayist so wracked with insecurity she can’t show her serious work to anyone. As a result she kills time writing about death for the paper.
The assignment is tougher than Anne imagined. “She puts the bitch in obituary,” she grumbles. When she can’t find anyone with anything nice to say about Harriet, let alone sing her praises, the older woman once again takes charge. Thus begins a campaign to lighten up Harriet’s legacy. “You are going to shape my legacy instead of just transcribing it,” Harriet says.
“The Last Word” is an extremely predictable movie. Ten minutes in you know that a.) the two women will bond and b.) at some point they will dance joyfully. In between they will learn from one another and we’ll discover that Harriet was not liked because no one could control her and Anne will find inner strength.
Predictable yes, but still somewhat enjoyable. It’s a pleasure to see MacLaine in a juicy lead role, even if she spends most of the time doling out life lessons. She commands the screen, elevating the grumpy-old-woman role in the process. Seyfried is spunky but underwritten as though she exists simply to give Harriet someone to talk to because no one else will.
“The Last Word” aims to have deep, meaningful things to say about life but never rises above the level of pop psychology and feel-good platitudes.