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American Gangster 

Mark Palermo isn't feeling this American Gangster life.

American Gangster begins in 1968 and would have greater impact were it released then. Ridley Scott fills in the usual crime kingpin showpieces with tight direction and one notable standout: It's the first major film since New Jack City about the rise of a black gangster. This distinction gives the typical anti-hero narrative a social context of American disenfranchisement. The true story of heroin dealer Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) avoids the decadent glitz of Scarface for the ground-level satisfaction of powerful black-owned business amid the standard of white wealth. When it's mentioned Lucas wakes up at 5am every morning and eats his breakfast in a diner, it's a subtle detail of Lucas beating white businessmen at their own corrupt game.

This is a promising start but, after a history of gangster movies, it's not nearly enough. Scott and screenwriter Steve Zaillian approach Lucas's story with a flaky non-commitment. They stand back from the moral issues—brief shots of junkies shooting up and a mother overdosed on a mattress don't adequately address the conflict between crime and poverty in Lucas's drug trade. As a result, the film's missing a dangerous charge.

The parallel story of cop Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) is meant to provoke thoughts on the two men's similar honour and weakness. But Crowe is an unnecessary concession for white audiences who wouldn't otherwise see an "urban movie." Neither character is developed with a compelling drive as Scott's cool wintery visuals are spent on choppy storytelling and the same soul soundtrack heard in a dozen other '70s-based crime films.

Bee Movie

If the title were a qualitative rating, Bee Movie< should be called Cee-plus Movie<. Jerry Seinfeld's animated bug flick stumbles in plain view. For one, Seinfeld (voicing college-grad bee Barry B. Benson) delivers everything in a shrill high-pitch as though all his lines are complaints. All the referential humour immediately dates the movie while working to isolate its kid-audience (though a courtroom appearance by Ray Liotta is the film's highlight.)

The plastic look of the animated characters has the effect of toy store-ready products with the visuals further hindered by Seinfeld and co. keeping most of their adventure locked up indoors. And yet, Bee Movie surprises. It's an outsider's story. Barry resents devoting his whole life to work (no weekends off) immediately following his schooling. And here's where Bee Movie excels: Barry learns humans are stealing bees and honey and rebels.Barry doesn't cave to one side and Seinfeld delicately handles a young bee's politicization.

The Tracey Fragments

Following the Atlantic Film Festival press screening of The Tracey Fragments, one critic told me he almost walked out. Another said the film gave him a headache. But this feature return for director Bruce McDonald is notable for how it incorporates its youthful style as access to a girl's shattered mindscape. Breaking his frames into multiple split-screen "fragments," McDonald's elaborate editing articulates the teen need of reinventing oneself.

As 15-year-old Tracey (Ellen Page) narrates her troubles of parents and peers, the shifting tableaux become her art class self-portrait. This veers into indulgence but works on its set terms, with Page navigating a demanding role, continuing her record of being the best thing about the films she's in.

Indulge Palermo at

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Vol 26, No 47
April 18, 2019

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