The film “Luce” highlights what a provocative tale and fine acting can do. Luce Edgars is the central mystery. He is a high school stand-out. The soon-to-be valedictorian is also cagey and at times too smart for his own good. Kelvin Harrison, Jr. is marvelous in this role. Both like Lucifer and a lucent angel.

His white , adoptive parents ( Naomi Watts and Tim Roth ) have nurtured the seven-year-old former Eritrean child soldier to succeed ~U.S. middle-class-style. He partakes in athletics, debate, and leadership positions. He is the principal’s “poster child”. When an intuitive and stern teacher, Mrs. Harriet Wilson, ( beautifully rendered by Octavia Spencer) sees an alarmingly violent tone in one of Luce’s assignments, she calls Luce’s parents, but not before she has checked his locker. Illegal fireworks are found, not an AK-47. Still the musical score heightens the tension. Mrs. Wilson has previously found weed in Luce’s friend DeShaun’s locker and he has lost his scholarship. Confrontations ensue that suck the air out of every room your mind may enter.

The history and government teacher is savvy to Luce’s mind games and subtle threats. Spencer does not over act here. She is a marvel of restraint even if her language slips in passionate caring. She tells his parents: “He can’t fuck this up. Talk to him.”

Watts and Roth are superb, too, in their back and forth dance with their son’s guilt. Did he orchestrate the vandalizing of his teacher’s home? We know he set-up his Asian girlfriend to retract her previous statements. There are numbing scenes of manipulation by Luce around shared lockers; Wilson’s mentally ill sister, Rosemary; and a bouquet of flowers. When Spencer’s Harriet poured a stiff drink, I wanted one, too. She is this film’s tragic figure~so like our times.

Naomi Watts’ Amy is perfect as the liberal parent, who wanted to use her infertility to do something praiseworthy. Tim Roth’s Peter delivers his “ missed babyhood and diapers” speech to deepen the psychological fray. Amy does all the wrong things out of fear: “ I won’t risk the trust we built”, she intones. One of the most chill-producing events was to hear how Amy could not forget the pet goldfish that Luce threw across the room like deli-meat. This mom will lie for her child, and ironically his knowing this may save him. The fireworks have been both symbolically and literally hidden!

Kelvin Harrison,Jr. is impressive as Luce. We want him to be perfect, but he isn’t. Has America put him in a box where he can’t breathe? When he says, “ I haven’t been my best self”, we cringe at his understatement. Questions like “ Do you hurt people to prove a point?” surface. In his valedictory speech, Luce tells us that he was renamed because his adoptive mother could not pronounce his African name. In America, resilience is a virtue, too. As a “ war zone pull-out”, is Luce allowed to define himself ? When Luce asks his teacher “ What if you are what I need protected from?, we understand. Is reading and championing Frantz Fanon’s violence scary from a revolutionary stand point?

When Luce tells Mrs. Wilson , “ I’m sorry if I scare you, I just hope you know me better than that”, is he taunting or conforming? Are both equally bad? It will depend on who you think Luce is. What is behind the smile? What is behind the tears? Viewers only know that Luce gets a second chance, and that Mrs. Wilson may not. A stunner of a film.

“Get Out”

 Jordan Peele’s directional debut is both a race satire and a horror flick. It begins presumably with a interracial romance. Chris, played by Brit, Daniel Kaluuya, is profiled while  “suburb walking”. He is meeting girlfriend Rose ‘s family for the first time.  The Michael Abels’ musical score begins with “Run, Rabbit, Run”, and it uses this Noel Gay and Ralph Butler WWII song throughout the film. Our trepidation and Chris’s is set.

The script is well-written and the pacing is superb. We want this couple to work. Why Peele, who is the product of a mixed-marriage and himself married to a White woman, doesn’t let it is to underscore the film’s point that racism kills. I consoled my romantic self with the fact that I don’t like Allison Williams that much anyway. She comes across as tough and haunty, too sure of herself for her young age. Distrust the masses, and here distrust your partner. Her character never gives a clue to her true loyalties. Rose understands all the micro-aggressions thrown at her honey. They seem in love. We hope for an “us against the world” foray. A scene where a deer is killed as the car headlights glow presages another end. Chris’ eyes look like the dying deer’s.

Enter the parents. Neurosurgeon Dad, named powerfully as Dean Armatage, is played by Bradley Whitford. His souvenir showing and travel bragging is given the apt cliche:  ” It’s such a privilege to be able to experience another person’s culture.” His Frankenstein operations remind us of the genre.

Psychiatrist mother, named sweetly as Missy, is played by Catherine Keener. Oft type-cast as the hippie liberal, Keener here plays to type. Condescension is equated with liberals in this film, as is phoniness and worse. When Missy stirs her tea cup, Chris is hypnotized and sent ” to the sunken place”. A trauma from his past is used to disorientate him. Can he get out ? The black servant holdovers from Rose’s grandparents have not been able to. The groundskeeper, Walter, and the housekeeper, Georgina, and Rosy’s creepy, Kung Fu brother all add to the unease for photographer Chris. Photos, ironically, show him the way to run, and it is not into Rose’s arms.

One of the funniest and most loyal character is Rod, Chris’s TSA ( Transportation Security Administration) buddy, who house sits and walks Chris’s dog.  Rod ( Milton  “Lil Rel”  Howery  ) invokes auras of Jeffrey Daumer as he tells Chris, ” All I am doing is connecting the dots!” He interprets Chris’s retelling of the Armitage’s partygoers by yelling “sex slaves!” to tip Chris off.

The three phrases of ” brain surgery” and the violent antler pitchforking and strangling are brutal to watch. Here the film has a slasher quality. The violence is in overkill. Rod, again saves the downward spiral with his response to Chris’ ” How did you know?” ” I’m a fucking TSA !”  Being proud of your work is way better than some trophy bride, I hear.

“A United Kingdom”

At the start of ” A United Kingdom”, which is based on a true story, magnetic attraction between Ruth Williams ( Rosamund Pike) and Seretse Karma ( David Oyelowo) fills the screen. This is a romance which begins in 1947 London and  has political and racial impact abroad.

Seretse has been studying at Oxford when he sees Ruth at a Mission Society Dance. Their attraction at first sight is as enjoyable to watch as the dialogue written be Guy Hibbert is to mimick. This mixed-raced coupling shows jazz as the shared interest, and Seretse  “doesn’t trust Englishmen to play it”. He would be smart not to trust them for anything else either.

At first unbeknownst to Ruth, Seretse’s degree is to prepare him as heir to his tribal throne. One-hundred-and-twenty-one thousand inhabitants of Bechuanaland await his regal return. As a British protectorate, Bechuanaland ( now Botswana) borders South Africa. South African apartheid philosophy will never sanction a black- white marriage, let alone a mixed royal King and Queen.

What are the British Prime Minister and the Foreign Office to do?  They have economic interests in South Africa: gold and uranium. Watching the diplomatic antics of power gone awry is what gives this film depth. The imperial British never disappoint in colonial  condescension.

As a love story, “A United Kingdom” is superb. As a political cautionary tale, it affirms ” follow the money”. As a interracial romance, it is not as inspiring as this year’s “Loving”, but very close. Seretse tells Ruth that he will never achieve anything there (in Africa) if he leaves his heart here ( in London).

Family on both sides do little to support the couple. Seretse’ s uncle and surrogate father berates him not to “belittle his kingdom”. Ruth’s father ( Nicholas Lyndhurst) threatens to banish her if she weds Khama. ” You leave us with a life of insults.” “How many wives do you think he has?”

In Africa , neither Seretse’s uncle and nor sister support the couple. “How long before village dust gets in her eyes?”  ” You insult us all. Let him go.” Ruth and Seretse may have misjudged the hardship of their situation,but their sacrifice and mastery of themselves keep them from “being pawns in someone else’s game.”

Enjoy how the press plays an important role in preserving democracy, and the apt and timely quote: ” Not everyone is proud of what their government does on their behalf.”

Real archival photos at the film’s end, may have you looking for the 1949 secret Harrington Report. There is a lot more to this story than romance and power. Politics and the press are keenly balanced, and “A United Kingdom” is a timely historical recap.



Stevie Wonders’ 1972  song “To Know You is To Love You” serves as a proverbial rainbow overarching the new Omar Sy film “Samba”. The creative writing and directing team of “Intouchable” fame, Oliver Nakache and Eric Toledano, have done for undocumented workers what they did for quadriplegics in their earlier French film. Both groups are masterfully de-labelled, made infinitely more human,and therefore,more lovable. Old-school song lyrics enhance this film’s take on illegal immigration in France.”To know you is to love you/But to know me is not the way you see/Baby,to know you is to love you…is to see you being free as the wind.”

Samba,who lives with his card-holding uncle,is free to work many “under-the-table-jobs”:dish and high-window washer,asphalt spreader,trash sorter and security guard.But after ten years and an advancement to prep chef,Samba’s illegal status stops his progress. An advocacy center with its many female volunteers and interns is one major setting,the detention center another.

We see frustrated language-misfits and party scenes of hope. Everyone is working assiduously to send money “back home”,for as Samba opines:”People count on me!” When a court hearing rules OLFT or deportation status for Samba,we want to learn more about immigration law,and France’s case by case, mystery-shrouded choices.Samba uses his charm and humor as a survival skill.

Yet,for all the world-citizen feel,”Samba” is a realistic romance of sorts between volunteer Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Samba Cisse (Omar Sy). Samba, a Senegali, has been working in France for a decade.Alice has had a breakdown, a divorce, and is a fifteen year corporate “burn-out”.She has trouble sleeping without pills.Samba has trouble not calmly smiling. Add Samba’s detention-found friend, Wilson,played show-stoppingly by Tahar Rahim and delight is in the air,literally.

The film begins wonderfully at an up-scale wedding with samba music. Everyone is dancing. We have gold Art Deco embossed cake tiers,white, feathered palm trees, confetti and a camera roll through chefs and sou chefs to waiters and platers, ending with the clean-up crew and the dishwashers. There is nothing muted about the structure of inequity. Kitchen workers are treated well,taking smoking breaks in the alleyway, and foil wrapping wedding leavings for the taking. The film’s story arc is choppy just like the lives it portrays. We go back and forth between Alice and her friends and Samba and his. Jonah,who is Congolese provides a character test for Samba. One the French award-winning Sy shows remorse for failing.

There are lots of allusions to boundaries.”I feel like I am going off the rails” and “I crossed the line”. Samba early on tells Alice that he has had a lot of help over the years,but that she is different: no law student,no piercings,not over eight-five. Alice shares that she has thrown cell phones and pulled another’s hair out, been in therapy, petted horses and done watercolors to calm her craziness. Samba’s uncle refers to Alice as “the depressive”. We root for the joyful Samba to provide balance and that they get “a house by the lake and everything they need”.

Enjoy the roof-top chases,the lime-basil macaroons,the lucky T-shirt and the pinky ring removal,the faulty shower and the dancing.My favorite line was when Wilson,really Walid, an Arab pretending to be Brazilian says no to pine kernels in his tea. “You will blow my cover!” becomes the cry of the 25,000 pending deportations targeted every year.