|Embrace of the Serpent|
Quick capsules on another lousy February week at the movies:
Stephen Hopkins’ intelligence-insulting “Race” (awful, on-the-nose title, by the way) manages to make the true story of Jesse Owens’ triumph at the Berlin Olympics feel false. So familiar is each point on its plot map, so cardboard its characterizations of the players, that not a single moment feels specific or carries the ring of truth. Stephan James plays Owens (what, was Chadwick Boseman doing George Washington Carver?), and he may be a fine actor or a mediocre one, but it’s impossible to tell, as the Owens of this movie is a purely reactive man upon whom incidents and events foist themselves. Hopkins and writers Joe Shrapnel and Anna Waterhouse share a dumb-it-down philosophy of storytelling that exterminates subtlety and nuance as efficiently as a metaphorical gas chamber, pausing periodically to have one or another character launch into an incongruous speech. 90 ponderous minutes of barely coherent exposition precede a strange Games that, as far as viewers of “Race” would ever know, had no opening or closing ceremonies or event trials. (The 134-minute total runtime is an atrocity.) Jason Sudeikis is goofily miscast as Owens’ OSU track coach, Larry Snyder, while Jeremy Irons chews scenery as the construction superintendent and USOC President Avery Brundage. Leni Riefenstahl (Carice van Houten) is presented pastorally…A bouquet of dead roses for Colombia’s Oscar nominee “Embrace of the Serpent,” a vile and racist mosaic of mystical mumbo-jumbo about an Amazonian shaman named Karamakate who reluctantly guides two European scientists – forty years apart - in search of the medicinal yakruna plant. As he spews vitriol toward “the white man,” the set pieces become ever more disgusting: shivering fits of leishmaniasis, a delusional cult figure who takes the traveling party hostage (“Sacred plants? The only sacred thing in this jungle is me!”), and finally a priest who ties a young boy to a post and whips the shit out of him. I reached my walk-out point when Karamakate muttered something about giving him “the sun’s semen.” This is a piece of garbage… Finally, a mild thumbs down for the cleverly titled documentary “Rolling Papers” (already available on VOD), about the Denver Post’s marijuana-themed website The Cannabist, to which the paper, in the wake of Colorado’s legalization of pot sales, devotes reporters, an editor, even two “marijuana critics.” The flick adverts to some intriguing issues - a “pot and parenting” columnist wonders whether the two can coexist, an exposé of mislabeled “edibles” overpromising pot content leads to a truth-in-labeling law – but abandons some of its subjects along the way and never feels fully formed.
The takeaway: the only 2016 release you really need to see is “A War,” which continues at the Royal.