Hobo with a Kung Fu Hangover (Weekly Links)

Waiting for a monkey: Hangover Part II

Links to reviews I wrote for the Herald:

The Hangover Part II. “Smoking monkey steals the film.”

Kung Fu Panda 2. “Loud and aggressive.”

Hobo with a Shotgun. “Drink deep from the goblet of revenge.”

Incendies. “Forget the 19th-century novel; this movie wants to be Greek tragedy.”

The First Grader. (dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

Fresh from its slot as the opening night movie at the Seattle International Film Festival, “The First Grader” now returns for a regular run.

As a piece of filmmaking, “The First Grader” is pretty bland for as a curtain-raiser for a film festival. As a true story, it’s a pleasant enough slice of uplift, rendered in strokes that appear aimed at middle-schoolers and up.

You might recall the true story, which came to light a few years ago. An 84-year-old Kenyan man claimed his right to enter grade school after the government of Kenya began providing schooling for the poor. The movie opens with Maruge (Oliver Litondo) receiving a letter of official notification from the government. It becomes a point of honor for this illiterate octogenarian to actually read the letter himself, so he shows up at a nearby rural school to enroll. He’s not welcome, even after he assembles an outfit that sort of looks like the official school uniform. The only person to cautiously go along with Maruge’s petition is the first grade teacher (Naomie Harris, from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise), who sees the benefit of having his presence around the kids.

Give director Justin Chadwick (“The Other Boleyn Girl”) and screenwriter Ann Peacock credit for complicating this charming situation: Maruge’s journey is always played against the backdrop of his past, as a Mau Mau agitator who fought against the occupying British many decades ago. Tribal rivalries, dating back to that time, have much to do with why Maruge’s presence at school is being challenged. There’s also a subplot about the backlash against him when the story becomes publicized. These different tensions are laid out in careful terms, without seriously shaking the likelihood that everything’s going to work out fine in the end.

The lead performers help matters; Oliver Litondo has a few acting credits in his background but otherwise hasn’t done much movie work, and he is completely believable and admirable as the snow-haired first-year student. Naomie Harris is one of those young actresses waiting to become a bigger star, and I don’t know what the delay is. At least since “28 Days Later,” she’s been a solid performer in British and Hollywood films, including navigating a variety of accents—a talent this movie calls on once again.

L’amour Fou. “Saint Laurent looks like someone who’d like to go away and read Proust.”

And some capsule recommendations for the upcoming week at the Seattle International Film Festival.

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talk with Steve Scher about a variety of SIFF movies. It’s archived here; the movie bit kicks in at the 15:15 point.

At my other website, What a Feeling!, we close Woody Allen week with Eighties reviews of Hannah and Her Sisters and Radio Days.

In Rotten news, publisher Moonstone is discounting issues of the zombie western comic book; a buck apiece for numbers 2-9.

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