Over the last few years, Will Smith was hesitant to pull the trigger on any big dramatic roles. Sure, his performance in 2015’s “Focus” was overlooked, and before that, he did the expected, “Men in Black” sequel and a couple smaller roles. But it seems like he felt the residual effects of the “After Earth” catastrophe. It’s time to let it go because Smith’s portrayal of forensic neuropathologist Bennet Omalu dives deep into the drama behind football-related brain trauma. What’s more is he fearlessly straps on a Nigerian accent and makes scientific data relatable by giving Omalu quirks and intense passion for the dead he covets, and he pisses off the NFL in the process. Gugu Mbatha-Raw plays Omalu’s wife with a power all her own. Albert Brooks and Alec Baldwin show their still capable to throw down on a dramatic part. It rattles the brain to think Smith wasn’t nominated for an Oscar – worth a watch.
“The Night Before”
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Take away the setting of this movie for a minute – New York on Christmas Eve. Take away the superhero history of its stars – Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Batman’s sidekick in “The Dark Night Rises”), Seth Rogen (“Green Hornet”) and Anthony Mackie (Falcon in “Avengers: Age of Ultron”). Take away the filmmaker’s relationship – Jonathan Levine directed Gordon-Levitt and Rogen in the dramady, “50/50.” Erase all that from your mind, because this is just a movie about three aging dudes trying to adjust to the fact that life moves on. But sometimes it moves on in really funny ways. Most of the laughs come from assists from the trio’s female costars – Mindy Kaling, Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer and Lizzy Caplan. Michael Shannon does weird like nobody’s business. Tracy Morgan is the narrator of the tale. As with all Rogen films, there’s a James Franco cameo, and a bonus Miley Cyrus cameo. Christmas comes in March, because it’s worth a watch.
“The Peanuts Movie”
This is the first Peanuts film since creator Charles M. Schulz died in 2000. It’s been 35 years since the first theatrical Peanuts movie and 65 years since the debut of the comic strip, and this is far from trying to cash in on Schulz’s legacy. Everything about this is classic Peanuts, even down to Snoopy’s nonsense voice and Woodstock's chirpings, having used recycled recordings.
The script is a labor of love, written in part by Schulz's son, Craig, and grandson, Bryan. Director Steve Martino (“Horton Hears a Who!”) and his team of animators unite the brightness of new CGI with Schulz’s Americana warmth. It doesn’t have the bang and zoom that a lot of modern cartoons do, but it does have quaintness and a simple kind of beauty. For you old-schoolers, it’s worth a watch.