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Schultz reviews: 'The Hate U Give' and 'Space Force'

Schultz reviews: 'The Hate U Give' and 'Space Force'

Carl Schultz

“The Hate U Give” Distributed by 20th Century-Fox Pictures, 133 Minutes, Rated PG-13, Released Oct. 5, 2018:

Based on the bestselling novel by Angie Thomas, in “The Hate U Give” a 16-year-old African-American girl is drawn to social activism after she witnesses the police shooting of a childhood friend.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives in a mostly poor and ethnically diverse inner city neighborhood, where robberies and crime are more routine than they should be. Since Starr witnessed the death of her best friend in a drive-by shooting when she was 10 years old, her strict but loving and supportive parents have sent her to the prestigious — and expensive — Williamson Preparatory Academy, a private school on the other side of town, attended primarily by white students from affluent families.

Driven by the differences in culture between her lower-class neighborhood and her upper-class school, young Starr has developed two distinctly different identities, which she refers to as “Starr Version One” and “Starr Version Two.” Version One is streetwise and savvy, fluent in the patois of the street and able to recite from memory the Black Panthers’ Ten Point Program, having been drilled since an early age in the rudiments of urban survival by her practical and realistic father. Version One is the identity she employs in her own neighborhood. 

By comparison, Starr Version Two is quiet, studious, demure, and respectful of authority. In her own words, “Williamson Starr” — self-named after her elite and exclusive school — “doesn’t give anybody a reason to call (me) ‘ghetto’ ... and I hate myself for doing it.” Such is the dichotomy burdening young Starr Carter — the need to adopt a kind of duality as a means of camouflage at school, effectively a renunciation of  her family’s cultural heritage.

With her unique background and parenting, as well as her incisive intelligence and superior education both at home and in the classroom, Starr becomes unusually articulate for her young age. And as portrayed in a breakout performance by the gifted young actress Amandla Stenberg in the 2018 movie “The Hate U Give,” Starr is able to describe in a way which can be easily grasped by both adults and adolescents the heartbreaking realities of growing up black in a white world — the insecurities and sensibilities, the slights, and the unintentional insults inflicted by even the most well-meaning of her Williamson Prep friends.

Still, Starr longs to fit into her role at Williamson so badly that after her closest childhood friend is shot to death before her eyes by a police officer during a routine traffic stop, one of her primary worries is that her identity will be revealed by the news media. Starr despairs at the thought of attracting attention at her exclusive school to her need to maintain two lives — or, even worse, possibly becoming an object of pity among her schoolmates ... especially her boyfriend, Chris, who unknown to her family happens to be Caucasian.

Adapted by Audrey Wells from Thomas’ novel and directed by George Tillman, Jr. (“Men of Honor,” “Barbershop”), the motion picture version of “The Hate U Give” takes some minor liberties with the novel’s narrative, telescoping some events for the sake of time constraints.  

Unlike the novel, the picture unfolds in a linear fashion, explaining in some detail Starr’s two separate lives before building to the police shooting of Starr’s friend — an event which occurs at the very beginning of Thomas’ insightful novel, and sets the tone for the entire book. Otherwise, Thomas’ novel is all there, onscreen. And as in the book, Starr’s story is simultaneously riveting, heartbreaking, and stunning — a reminder to some, and a revelation to others.

Through the superb and empathetic performance of young Amandla Stenberg, Starr Carter’s voice and unique sensibilities turn the character into a sort of modern day American Rosetta Stone, a multilingual conduit between the film’s characters and the audiences who will view it — not only African and Caucasian, but also old and young, conservative and liberal, rich and disadvantaged, privileged and oppressed. 

“The Hate U Give” is a movie which will be seen in different ways by different people and different demographics, and likely achieve different results: For some, it’s an acknowledgement of the pain and a validation of the anger and frustration that have become so much a part of life for so many. For others, the picture will be a means of explaining and bringing into more vivid focus the young people we see on the receiving end of the tear gas containers and flash bombs ... as well as the anger and sadness that led people of all ages, faiths, nationalities, and racial distinctions to gather together in Minneapolis, Washington, D.C., and New York, and all around the world to march in support of racial equality.

It’s those distinctive sensibilities that elevate “The Hate U Give” into the realm of Very Important Pictures. Much like the film adaptations of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” in 1945, “I Remember Mama” in 1948, and “To Kill a Mockingbird” in 1962, this picture will likely be as moving and powerful when viewed by future generations as it is today. “The Hate U Give” provides an accurate picture of a turbulent and troubled era in history — a time of necessary change, as viewed through the eyes of one exceptionally observant young woman. This is one of those rare movies you’ll remember for a long, long time.

Also containing on-the-mark performances from Regina Hall, the superb Russell Hornsby, the luminous Issa Rae, KJ Apa from television’s “Riverdale,” Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith, and rap artist (and gifted actor) Common, “The Hate U Give” originally opened in a limited release pattern in just 36 theaters in major U.S. cities, finishing in 13th place in the Box Office Mojo polls. And despite outstanding reviews from the nation’s critics, including an approval rating of 97% from Rotten Tomatoes, the picture never rose above sixth place in the Top Ten, and soon disappeared entirely from the box office. But if ever there’s a time for a revival, this is it. 

“The Hate U Give” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic elements, violent content, language, and some drug-related material, and is available for streaming on Google Play, Hulu, Amazon Prime, YouTube, and Vudu.

“Space Force” Distributed by Netflix, 10 Episodes of 27-36 Minutes, Not Rated, Streaming from May 29:

Baby Boomers of a certain age will certainly recall with special fondness the Golden Days of Mad Magazine during the 1960s. Mad Magazine during that turbulent decade was the unquestioned arbiter of lowbrow humor for the nation’s delinquent youth.

Each month, Mad would present a parody of a popular  television show or movie in current circulation.  With writing by Frank Jacobs, Dick DeBartolo, or Larry Siegel, scenes and panels rendered in loving pen-and-ink cartoon by such legends of the genre as Mort Drucker, Wallace Wood, or the great Jack Davis, and titles like “Balmy and Clod” for 1967’s “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Botch Casually and the Somedunce Kid” for 1969’s “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” no joke was too low nor any pun to tortured for a Mad Magazine parody.  

If Mad Magazine had turned its attention to the present state of the United States military under the command of the Accidental President, the result might’ve looked a lot like “Space Force,” the new 10-episode comedy series now streaming on Netflix. Created by former “Parks and Recreation,” “The Office,” “The Simpsons” and SNL writer Greg Daniels in collaboration with all-around funny guy Steve Carell (who also stars in the show) ”Space Force” is a sort of elbow-in-the-ribs kidding of the sixth and youngest branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

In “Space Force,” Steve Carell stars as General Mark Naird, “the former number two at the Air Force” and aide to USAP Chief of Starr Kick Grabaston, selected over his former boss to become the very first Chief of Space Operations for the brand-new branch of the U.S. military. So obtuse and uncompromising that he signs personal notes “Four-Star General Naird” and right-turns and about-faces even when getting out of bed for a drink of water, the new director is tasked with establishing Space Force (and his reluctant family) at their new base of operations in Wild Horse Colorado.

Assisting Naird in establishing the Space Force is scientist Adrian Mallory, played by actor John Malkovich with his signature withering sarcasm and acidic observations. A civilian adviser to the military who in the convoluted order of the military bureaucracy technically outranks Naird on certain scientific matters (such as the authority to occasionally ‘scrub’ missions), Mallory is repeatedly, and often loudly, skeptical to the type of reasoning he terms “military jackassery.” Naird at one point chastises Mallory with the words, “As a scientist you have a loyalty to reason ... which makes you a little untrustworthy.”

“Space Force” supporting cast members include the talented Diana Silver, familiar from her appearances in the films “Booksmart” and “Glass,” as Naird’s teenage daughter Erin, who’s quietly furious at being uprooted from cosmopolitan Washington, D.C., to the frontier of Wild Horse Colorado, Jimmy O. Yang as Chan, Mallory’s equally-sarcastic assistant, Tawny Newsome as Space Force pilot and astronaut Angela Ali, who’s also an occasional babysitter for Erin, and the hilarious Ben Schwartz as smarmy social media director F. Tony Scarapiducci, casually called by a nickname unprintable here but easily figured out by glancing at his first initial.

Recurring characters in the series include testosterone-crazed Air Force General Kick Grabaston, Don Lake as Brigadier General Gregory, Naird’s aide, a hilariously unbalanced Lisa Kudrow as Maggie Naird, General Naird’s institutionalized wife, the preternaturally clueless Diedrich Bader as Army Chief of Staff General Rongley, and Alex Sparrow as Captain Yuri Telatovich, a Russian Air Force liaison who likes to be called Bobby. Comic actor Fred Willard, in his final role, also appears occasionally as Naird’s elderly and addled father.

The genius of “Space Force” is that the show is able to depict with remarkable accuracy an image of the youngest branch of the military as a 7-year-old child might imagine it, while still delivering satiric punch through wry, dry, and straight-faced observations about virtually anything and everything — including, but not limited to, political and military bureaucracy, family life, personal interrelationships, international rivalry, regional pop culture, and life on the scientific frontier.  

During an early mission, the scientific staff is alarmed to learn that the spacecraft’s payload includes 10 assault rifles “ordered by POTUS himself so that the Manchester Arms Company can advertise the R-9 as the Official Space Force gun.” Touring Space Force’s headquarters, one character refers to a building as the place “where Dr. Banner works with gamma rays.” And in one side-splitting episode the branch’s general staff is advised the First Lady herself will be designing the new Space Force uniforms ... complete with capes (“She knows we’re not Avengers ... right?” wonders one perplexed officer).

At its best, “Space Force” walks gingerly along the narrow path between the outrageously absurd and the type of bureaucratic nonsense you can almost imagine occurring, the same inspired silliness seen in “M*A*S*H” (the 1970 Robert Altman movie, not the beloved television series) or even in the pages of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22.” Episodes 1 and 2 are especially funny, depicting the origins of the new service branch and their first major mission to launch the (very expensive) Epsilon One satellite and its animal crew — a mission eventually disabled by the Chinese, who clip the solar panels from the craft in a sort of interstellar act of pantsing. 

Unfortunately, from somewhere around Episode 5, depicting a war games contest between Space Force and the USAF which actually becomes more of a battle of the exoskeletons, “Space Force” descends into the realm of updated service comedy, little different — or better — than old TV series from “Sergeant Bilko” and “McHale’s Navy” to “Hogan’s Heroes” and even “Gomer Pyle USMC” — with more adult-oriented language and situations, of course. But thankfully the series recovers its momentum, and its whimsical punch, in time for the series finale in Episodes 8 through 10.

With only 10 episodes (so far) filmed for streaming on Netflix, individual episodes feature running times of between 27 and 36 minutes ... or apparently until the writers ran out of funny lines to put into the mouths of the show’s characters. If the new series has a fault, it might be that certain episodes occasionally feel as if they’re being made up as they go along, unusual for a project occasionally requiring relatively elaborate special effects. But of course, no expense is too high for the Space Force. And keep an eye on the background — as in Mad Magazine, there’s often something funny going on there too.

Even in the worst of its episodes, though, “Space Force” marks a welcome return to form, and television comedy, for series co-creator and star Steve Carell. Even when Carell seems to be channeling George C. Scott as General Patton — which he tends to do a lot in “Space Force” — it’s good to have him back, showing us that even during the present sorry state of the world there are still a few things we can chuckle about. Television comedy was always among Carell’s greatest strengths, and in “Space Force” he steps up to the plate and bats one into orbit ... literally.

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