Rapid Movie Reviews: ‘I AM MICHAEL’, ‘JULIETA’ and ‘THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT’

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James Cole Clay // Film Critic

I AM MICHAEL
Not rated, 98 minutes.
Director: Justin Kelly
Cast: James FrancoZachary QuintoEmma Roberts and Daryl Hannah

The LGBTQ community has made strides in America to peacefully become more accepted in the mainstream consciousness. With the new administration taking hold last week that acceptance and progress is now being threatened, which makes the new James Franco and Zachary Quinto-starring film I AM MICHAEL all the more pertinent story to tell.

Directed by Justin Kelly (KING COBRA) who takes the opportunity to craft a film that tells a different and, at times, thought-provoking story about a gay man named Michael (Franco) who was once at the cutting edge of activism with his partner Bennett (Quinto). However, 10 years later Michael chose to renounce his sexuality to become a Christian pastor.

Franco once again challenges himself as an artist with yet another novel portrayal of a man conflicted and searching for his own truth. The role isn’t easy to watch, but Franco, along with Quinto, bring a sensitivity that’s careful not to judge its protagonist, even though the results are pretty controversial.

While the film certainly isn’t a masterpiece, Kelly has created a film that dares to be different. His previous work, KING COBRA, was a fascinating oddity that proved to be a rewarding filmgoing experience. His latest, I AM MICHAEL, isn’t a full leap forward, but its endlessly fascinating subject matter that shows the filmmaker can direct A-list talent and has more on his mind than creating a story that goes in one ear and out the other.

Opening today in theaters (Top 10 Markets) and available On-Demand.

JULIETA
Rated R, 99 minutes.
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Cast: Emma Suárez, Adriana Ugarte, Daniel GraoInma Cuesta and Darío Grandinetti

Spain has many unique filmmakers, but few have resonated as lavishly in the international film market as Pedro Almodovar (THE SKIN I LIVE IN, VOLVER). With his latest entry, JULIETA, Almodovar weaves together many of the elements from his best works to craft a simple but elegant narrative about the universal emotion of maternal guilt. It’s largely told through flashbacks, a device that strengthens the impact viewers endure during its story about a brokenhearted mother (Emma Suarez, Adriana Ugarte in the character’s earlier years) trying to reconnect with her daughter after years of separation. – Preston Barta

Now playing in limited release. Dallas: Angelika Film Center in Dallas.

THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT
Not rated, 115 minutes.
Director: Jaco Van Dormael
Cast: Pili Groyne, Benoît Poelvoorde and Catherine Deneuve

The best way to talk about religion in film is with the tongue firmly planted in cheek. The Belgian film THE BRAND NEW TESTAMENT is just that, but with flares of magic. The first two lines spoken, we learn, are “God is real, and he lives in Brussels.” God’s daughter Ea (an excellent Pili Groyne) describes him as cruel, running the world from his computer desktop. The instigator of the movie’s plot, Ea infiltrates his office and releases the death date for every person on the planet. From there the film is a comedic affair filled with zeal and love, following Ea as she searches for six new apostles. These six people are our outlet to view the world from the perspective of broken, battered and bruised individuals. Director Jaco Van Dormael (Mr. Nobody) helps us learn about these people and look at our own lives with overwhelming positivity.  – James Cole Clay

Now playing in limited release.

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.