OPENING THIS WEEK:
Fist Fight It isn't easy being a teacher in the Betsy DeVos era. You get a good but expensive degree from an education college to prepare you for doing important work you love. You land a gig at an institution that's woefully underfunded, unsafe and at risk. The students don't respect you, the parents are unengaged in their kids' education, and you have to pay for every goddamn protractor yourself. And then one day, you run afoul of one of your colleagues, who threatens to beat your ass after the work day is done.
Oh, and that guy is Ice Cube.
Yes, we have entered the era in which the fabulous O'Shea Jackson is now believable as a public-school teacher. Hey, it worked for Fonzie and Mark Harmon. And really, playing The Teacha Ya Love ta Hate is a bit closer to Cube's N.W.A wheelhouse than was his protracted stint as cinema's favorite befuddled dad. Now we just have to figure out if Fist Fight is a loose adaptation of 1987's Three O'Clock High – which is the official story being advanced in some quarters – or if it was instead based on an original idea devised by producer Max Greenfield, as has been claimed elsewhere. Since Greenfield is best known as a cast member on New Girl, I'm going to go with the latter explanation. Just because it means I can hold out hope for a sequel, I'm-a Beat the Schmidt Out of You. (R)
The Great Wall Here's a product that could keep our new President up at night, if he ever slept in the first place. It's about a big wall, which is good. But it's the most expensive co-production ever between our country and the dreaded Jina, which is bad. Or is it? Does a collaboration between a Western nation and an Asian one benefit the country that's artificially devaluing its currency? Do we want a strong dollar or a weak one? Better call the Secretary of the Interior and find out.
Whatever the intention, The Great Wall is turning out to be the Bill the Cat of major international releases, finding bad luck in just about every move it makes. First, director Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers) took heat for casting Caucasian actor Matt Damon in a story that's ostensibly set in ancient China. Then, reviewers back home were less than kind to the final result, which depicts a bunch of mercenaries of the Song Dynasty protecting the Great Wall from monsters from beyond the stars: Reactions to this shall-we-say-unconventional story were so tepid that the communist People's Daily castigated the critics for having harmed their own country's movie industry. Then, just one week before the picture's American debut, a teaser trailer had to be removed after viewers spewed mass derision all over the CGI monsters in question, saying they couldn't possibly represent completed work.
Since the movie has been out in China since December, I'm guessing they really kinda do. Which has to be a huge humiliation for Zhang, whose Hero was just about the loveliest visual advertisement I've ever seen for a brutally repressive regime. Meanwhile, the ho-hum performance of his new film at Asian box offices is being taken as just one sign that the commingling of their movie market and ours might not be the economic slam dunk industry-watchers had foreseen. Such confusion. I hope the Secretary of Agriculture can straighten it all out. (PG-13)
Julieta In Pedro Almodovar's latest, two different actresses play the same woman at different stages of her life. (As opposed to Catherine Zeta-Jones movies, in which one actress plays two different women at the same stage of her life. But I kid the mentally ill!) Julieta was Spain's official entry for this year's foreign film Oscar, but failed to make the cut. Instead, one of those coveted slots went to ...
The Salesman ... a French-Iranian drama about a married couple who are playing the leads in a stage production of Death of a Salesman. Things get really heavy for them after they move into an apartment that had been previously occupied by a woman who was working as a prostitute. If you ask me, somebody passed up a big opportunity by not titling this thing Attention Must Be Laid. (PG-13)