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Luce is a loser [MOVIE REVIEW]

Despite being only a teenager, Luce (Kelvin Harrison, Jr) has had an eventful life. Rescued from a war-torn country and adopted by an American couple, (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth), he becomes an excellent student, stellar athlete, and the pride of his school. But all he has worked for is in jeopardy when one of his teachers (Octavia Spencer) makes a troubling discovery in his locker. The question becomes is Luce the person everyone thought he was or does his teacher have a vendetta against him?

In my rich and varied experiences as a black man in America, I sometimes see films with African American casts and storylines, and I find myself asking, “Who wrote this?” Because in Luce, as in others, the behavior and dialogue lack authenticity. And almost always I find the writers are not people who know the African American experience. And such is the case with Luce, written and directed by Julius Onah, who was born in Nigeria and raised there as well as in the Philippines, Togo and, the United Kingdom. Onah did go to high school in Virginia while his father served as a diplomat in the U.S.

He creates three black teens in the story, Luce, who as the story references, is Obama-like – at least as it appears. The two others are thugs, fighting, swearing – every other word is MF and N. These young men are stereotypes. As a person who has taught and worked extensively with urban youth, I know that young black men are so much more diverse and complicated than this film shows- one good kid, maybe, and two hoodlums.

Octavia Spencer’s character, in addition to being at odds with Luce over the locker incident, has a mentally ill sister who shows up at the school one day and behaves in a disturbing fashion. This entire subplot adds nothing to the film.

Another problem with this story is one which is common in screenwriting when writers use dialogue to share information with viewers. There are discussions between people such as spouses who have been in longterm relationships, revealing information as “new” that any real couple would have talked about before.

Tim Roth and Naomi Watts who play Luce’s parents have a close relationship. But Roth who has no trouble being frank with his wife, states that from the beginning he had apprehensions about adopting Luce. His wife is surprised. But wouldn’t a husband who communicates with his wife have brought up these concerns before delving into the difficult process of adopting a child from another country? Or talked about it sometime in the over a decade and a half they have had Luce as part of their family? These doubts help viewers to understand the father’s view but are not credible because as devoted as this couple is betrayed to be, they would have had this discussion before.

This film shot in grainy 35 MM, leaves some questions about who’s right and who’s wrong in this story. But neither of those issues deflect from the quality of the movie. Luce is done in by its overwhelming lack of credibility.

It’s 109 minutes and R (for language throughout, sexual content, nudity, and some drug use). It gets our lowest rating, “Dead on Arrival!” In other words, skip this film.


Movie Review: Demolition

This Demolition really is a wreck.

It was over so quickly, investment banker Davis Mitchell (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his wife Julia (Heather Lind), are driving one seemingly normal weekday afternoon when a car crashes into the side of their vehicle killing her. Almost immediately, Davis reacts strangely to his wife's death. After he receives the sad news at the hospital, he goes to a vending machine which takes his money without delivering the candy. He photographs the vending company's contact information with his phone. He shows up at work rather than taking the time to grieve. His boss who is also his father-in-law deeply mourns the loss of his daughter and dismisses his son-in-law's aloofness to the shock over the tragedy. Despite there being many more pressing matters to deal with, Davis decides to write the vending machine company, not just one letter about the lost coins, but a series of letters.

Out of concern for his mental stability one of the customer service reps (Naomi Watts) from the vending machine company, calls Davis. Their initial exchanges result in an intertwinement of their lives. Also, Davis begins to take pleasure in destroying structures, even paying construction site foremen to participate in the demolition of buildings, thus, the title of the film.

Demolition fails simply due to its storyline's absolute implausibility. A man at a hospital learns a car accident in which he was in, killed his wife. He then attempts to buy peanut candy, the machine doesn't deliver, he writes a bunch of letters to the vending machine company, the customer service rep decides to reach out and even meet him. This is set in New York City where people are very cautious of strangers. And of course, they both happen to be very attractive people.

Without a credible foundation, it's impossible for Demolition to work.

It's unfortunate that some very solid performances are wasted on this farfetched plot. Jake Gyllenhaal as Davis in the lead almost succeeds in his Atlas-like effort, to put this entire project on his shoulders and carry it to success. Veteran actor Chris Cooper excels as the tough businessman but who is emotionally devastated by the loss of his "little girl". Newcomer Judah Lewis who plays Karen's son enriches the film as he deals with some coming of age realities.

Another problem with this film is at the end it rushes through several important developments as if they either ran out of money or time.

As to our cast diversity rating, Demolition gets a "C". While actors of color have a few speaking roles and are sprinkled throughout background scenes, only one Blaire Brooks, who plays Davis' assistant, appears in multiple scenes.

Demolition gets our lowest rating, Dead on Arrival. It's not a horrible film but it's neither a See It! Nor a Rent It.

It's rated R and is 101 minutes length.

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