Rapid Movie Review: ‘CHI-RAQ’, ‘JAMES WHITE’, ‘THE ASSASSIN’, ‘THE LETTERS’ & ‘ENTERTAINMENT’

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IMG_1670Preston Barta // Editor

THE ASSASSIN (☆☆)
As expectations are high with a Taiwanese film titled THE ASSASSIN, filmmaker Hsiao-Hsien Hou (THREE TIMES) hopes audiences get lost in its visual splendor rather than its story. The promised action is short-lived in the film’s painfully dull tale of an assassin (Qi Shu) who must choose between sacrificing the man (Chen Chang) she loves and breaching the order of the Assassins. Not Rated, 105 minutes. At the Angelika Film Center in Dallas.

CHI-RAQ (☆☆☆)
Over the years, Spike Lee has stirred up much controversy since stepping into the public spotlight, often commenting on politics and race relations. As he proved with DO THE RIGHT THING and MALCOLM X, he’s a talented artist who can tackle sensitive issues with control and care. His most recent film, CHI-RAQ, shows he still has tricks up his sleeve. Starring Samuel L. Jackson and Nick Cannon, this unruly and powerful film takes the ancient Greek play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes and sets it the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago. Rated R, 118 minutes. At the Angelika Film Center in Dallas and 10 other theaters in the metroplex.

ENTERTAINMENT (☆½)
Those unfamiliar with Rick Alverson’s work may be doomed for an unpleasant and grueling experience with his latest film. Starring Gregg Turkington and Tye Sheridan, ENTERTAINMENT is a loose narrative about an aging comedian (Turkington) who’s on the path to revive his career and meet his daughter (who may or may not exist). It’s the kind of film that is not for everyone and promotes discussion. However, once you see it, you may come to the conclusion that you wasted your time. Rated R, 103 minutes. At the Texas Theatre.

JAMES WHITE (☆☆☆½)
Growing up is not easy, especially when you lose someone you love so suddenly. For our titular character (a heartbreakingly good Christopher Abbott) in JAMES WHITE, he must overcome his self-destructive behavior to better himself and care for his ailing mother (a knockout Cynthia Nixon). Josh Mond’s feature debut provides audiences with an unshakable glimpse into the struggles of the unfortunate and it hits like a shot to the heart. Rated R, 85 minutes. At the Angelika Film Center in Dallas.

THE LETTERS (☆☆½)
While her fame and mission is ideal material for a great biopic, William Riead (ISLAND PREY) isn’t a schooled enough filmmaker to be taking on the story of Mother Teresa (Juliet Stevenson) and the letters she wrote to her spiritual advisor (Max Von Sydow). The cast shine in their individual parts, but the film’s odd presentation and inability to take risks keep THE LETTERS from delivering a complete spiritual punch. Rated PG, 114 minutes. Opens wide.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.