‘South­side’ de­buts along with abun­dance of spe­cial screen­ings

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - MOVIE LISTINGS - By John Bei­fuss

The nine — count ’em,

— mod­estly bud­geted new movies that open to­day in Mem­phis the­aters — a hor­ror thriller (“Don’t Breathe”), a sec­ond-tier ac­tion se­quel (“Me­chanic: Res­ur­rec­tion”), a “faith” film (“Re­mem­ber the Goal”), and so on — pretty much in­di­cate the so-called sum­mer movie sea­son has stag­gered to a close.

The al­ter­na­tive movie scene, how­ever, is thriv­ing. The next week in­cludes nu­mer­ous in­ter­est­ing spe­cial screen­ings, in­clud­ing the in­au­gu­ral event of the “Pan­de­mo­nium Cinema Show­case” at the Cos­sitt Li­brary (see story on Page 12) and the re­turn of the “Soul Cinema” se­ries at the Stax Mu­seum of Amer­i­can Soul Mu­sic (see story at gomem­phis.com).

Here’s a pre­view of just a few of next week’s film events (plus a closer look at “South­side with You,” a com­mer­cial film of un­usual ori­gin).

‘South­side with You’

While the su­per-vil­lain saga “Sui­cide Squad” con­tin­ues to ter­ror­ize the box of­fice, “South­side with You” of­fers movie­go­ers a very dif­fer­ent type of ori­gin story. The de­but fea­ture from writer-di­rec­tor Richard Tanne re-cre­ates the chaste, some­times tense and ul­ti­mately his­toric first date of the fu­ture First Cou­ple, Michelle Robin­son (Tika Sumpter) and Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers).

Per­haps tak­ing Richard Lin­klater’s “Be­fore Sun­rise” as a model, the film — which opens Fri­day at mul­ti­ple the­aters — presents an ab­bre­vi­ated chron­i­cle of the sev­eral hours shared by the wary and for­mal Robin­son and the more con­fi­dent, shirt-sleeved and slightly schem­ing Obama dur­ing what Michelle re­peat­edly in­sists is not a date. (“I’m more in­clined to de­scribe this as a hostage sit­u­a­tion,” she says, when she dis­cov­ers her ju­nior law of­fice co-worker, Barack, has picked her up sev­eral hours be­fore the com­mu­nity meet­ing that was sup­posed to be their des­ti­na­tion.) The set­ting is Chicago’s South Side, and the year is 1989, which jus­ti­fies the use of Janet Jack­son on the sound­track and a fas­ci­nat­ing scene in which Michelle and Barack at­tend a con­tro­ver­sial new film, “Do the Right Thing”; Spike Lee’s provoca­tive movie mir­rors, in ex­pres­sion­is­tic, dra­matic fash­ion, the hours­long de­bate over racial iden­tity, so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and “Afro­cen­tric” art that runs through Barack and Michelle’s day to­gether. (“Black” art is im­por­tant to the cou­ple: Over the course of the evening, they de­bate the discog­ra­phy of Ste­vie Won­der and the value of “Good Times,” and re­cite, in tan­dem, Gwen­dolyn Brooks’ poem “We Real Cool.”)

In some ways, “South­side with You” is very tra­di­tional: It’s an­other movie ro­mance about what hap­pens when a prim if at­trac­tive woman (Michelle is in­tro­duced in black bra and bath towel) who needs a man to loosen her up meets a rest­less man who needs a good woman to smooth his rough edges. Ini­tially de­rided by the skep­ti­cal Robin­son as “just an­other smooth-talk­ing brother,” Obama smokes cig­a­rettes, drives a Nis­san Sen­tra with a hole in its floor, shouts “Dyn-o-mite!” in imi­ta­tion of J.J. Evans at an art gallery, and ad­mits he wasted much of his youth in a “cloudy haze” of mar­i­juana smoke. Robin­son chides Obama for not re­spect­ing her “bound­aries,” yet she is charmed by his cal­cu­lated, mild-man­nered rogu­ish­ness, which is bal­anced by his po­lit­i­cal prac­ti­cal­ity. (“You def­i­nitely have a knack for mak­ing speeches,” Michelle tells Barack, af­ter he en­er­gizes a group of com­mu­nity ac­tivists by telling them “it’s up to us, all of us” to keep the “dif­fer­ent states” of Amer­ica — “states of land, states of mind, states of peo­ple” — united.)

In other ways, “South­side” is very un­usual. A con­vinc­ing pe­riod piece on a mod­est bud­get, the movie is as sin­cere as its lead char­ac­ters seem to be. Its de­pic­tion of a nor­mal dayin-the-life of a black man and black woman — a day with­out con­ven­tional movie “ac­tion” or “vi­o­lence” — is al­most un­prece­dented, at least in the type of movies that find dis­tri­bu­tion in com­mer­cial cin­e­mas.

Also of in­ter­est, lo­cally: The ide­ally cast Parker Sawyers, who plays Obama, is the brother of Elizabeth Hart, 36, pub­lic in­for­ma­tion of­fi­cer for the Shelby County Health Depart­ment. The sib­lings grew up in In­di­anapo­lis; Sawyers now lives with his wife and two chil­dren in Lon­don, while Hart came to Mem­phis four years ago. Hart said she re­cently at­tended pre­mieres of “South­side with You” in Wash­ing­ton and Chicago; her brother has yet to visit Mem­phis, “but he wants to.” She added: “I think this movie is go­ing to be very pop­u­lar here.”

‘MY Life in China’

In an un­usual event for the Ben­jamin L. Hooks Cen­tral Li­brary, di­rec­tor Ken­neth Eng and writer Ehren Parks host a free screen­ing of their 2014 doc­u­men­tary about Chi­nese im­mi­grants at 1:30 p.m. Sat­ur­day at the li­brary’s Meet­ing Room C.

In­spired by the re­mark­able “sur­vival story” of Eng’s fa­ther, who fled China in the 1960s, the movie ex­am­ines the ques­tion of what it means to be Chi­nese in Amer­ica while also chron­i­cling the fam­ily’s re­turn visit to China. Eng and Parks will an­swer ques­tions af­ter the screen­ing, and meet-and-greet view­ers in a pub­lic re­cep­tion. Re­fresh­ments will be served.


Per­haps stung by the com­mer­cial re­jec­tion of his pre­vi­ous fea­ture, the 2012 psy­che­delic witchtrip “The Lords of Salem,” rock star turned hor­ror au­teur Rob Zom­bie es­chews tra­di­tional dis­tri­bu­tion to de­but his new movie as a one-night-only screen­ing hosted by Fathom Events, a com­pany that also brings con­cert films and other “spe­cial events” to the­aters.

This time, the di­rec­tor of “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Re­jects” con­cocts a story about sadis­tic clowns who stalk kid­napped car­ni­val work­ers through a hellish com­pound in the real-life equiv­a­lent of a vi­o­lent video game. As usual for Zom­bie, the cast in­cludes his wife, Sheri Moon Zom­bie, and such fig­ures of cult ven­er­a­tion as Mal­colm McDow­ell (“A Clock­work Orange”), Meg Foster (“They Live”), porn star Gin­ger Lynn and Judy Gee­son (“To Sir, with Love”). The event in­cludes a taped Zom­bie Qand-a and the pre­miere of some new mu­sic videos, in­clud­ing “The Hideous Ex­hi­bi­tions of a Ded­i­cated Gore Whore.”

The film screens at 7 p.m. Thurs­day at the Malco Par­adiso. Tick­ets are $16 each, avail­able in ad­vance at malco.com.

‘the Room’

As if to dis­prove the con­ven­tional wis­dom that you can’t pol­ish a, um, you know, In­die Mem­phis hosts an­other screen­ing of writer-di­rec­tor-pro­duc­er­pock-backed-star Tommy Wiseaus’ so-bad-it’s-still­bad 2003 cult abom­i­na­tion, but this time in a glo­ri­ous 35mm print. The movie screens at 7 p.m. Wed­nes­day at the Stu­dio on the Square, and tick­ets are $10.

Gone with the wind

The Or­pheum “Sum­mer Movie Se­ries” con­cludes with the no-longer-uni­ver­sally beloved sen­sa­tion of 1939, a mas­ter­piece of stu­dio film craft that ar­guably ro­man­ti­cizes the Con­fed­er­acy. The movie screens at 7 p.m. Fri­day. Tick­ets are $8 (adults) and $6 (12 and un­der).

Cour­tesy of Mi­ra­max/road­side At­trac­tions

Michelle robin­son (tika sumper) and Barack obama (Parker sawyers) have a some­what tense first date in “south­side with you,” which opens fri­day.

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