With comic-book adaptations and action sequels dominating movie screens, it’s heartening to realize that originality still exists in cinema. Detailed below are new releases that feature fresh characters and themes — all worth embracing!
“Earth Mama”: Filmmaker Savanah Leaf immerses us in the world of a young mother struggling to keep her family together in a system that seems stacked against her in this textured and affecting feature debut. Oakland rapper Tia Nomore plays Gia, an East Bay woman with a son and daughter in foster care and a third child on the way. We follow Gia as she deals with poverty and the demands of pregnancy while juggling a photo-studio job, court-mandated classes, meetings with counselors, and visits with her children in her attempt to regain a full life with them.
Gia worries that the state will also take her new baby away. She must make a major decision regarding the child’s fate. Leaf gracefully combines social realism, intimate storytelling, and, as Gia experiences extreme anxiety, psychodrama as well. Striking no false notes, she sets a realistic and resonantly humane tone and, along with the excellent Nomore, who shares that wavelength, puts to shame society’s perceptions of moms with kids in foster care. This is a wonderful film with a terrific protagonist.
(Opens Friday at the Roxie)
“Joy Ride”: Deep or nuanced, it isn’t. But Adele Lim’s raunchy directorial debut was getting high decibel laughs at last week’s preview screening.
Lim, who cowrote “Crazy Rich Asians,” has made a contemporary road comedy about friendship and identity. Protagonist Audrey (Ashley Park), a career-focused lawyer raised by adoptive white American parents, visits China to establish business connections and to search for her birth mother. Her traveling companions are uninhibited Lolo (Sherry Cola), lonely-hearted Deadeye (Sabrina Wu), and popular soap star Kat (Stephanie Hsu). Plans go awry, naturally. Drugs, drunken mishaps, and general debauchery cause calamity.
Were the movie longer than 92 minutes, the rowdiness might grow tedious. And with the exception of an unexpected development in Audrey’s journey, the story unfolds predictably. But Lim and screenwriters Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, assisted by a full-steam cast, combine havoc and heart winningly. They supply some social material, to boot, and have amusing fun with white stupidity. It all adds up to a solid summer comedy.
(Opens Friday at area theaters)
“The League”: This documentary, by Sam Pollard (“MLK/FBI”), tells the story of Negro League baseball, which thrived during the first half of the 20th century, when African Americans were excluded from Major League Baseball teams.
The “League,” as it was known, which also included Latino players, was as thrilling and talent-packed as white baseball. African Americans had developed a feisty and entertaining style of play that delighted fans. Pollard’s topics include star players, top teams and civil rights. We learn how Jackie Robinson, after breaking baseball’s color barrier when joining the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, inspired Major League Baseball to bring other Negro League players aboard — and how this development unintentionally caused the League’s erosion and, with it, severe downturns in Black economies.
Pollard’s filmmaking itself — talking heads, vintage photos, archival footage — isn’t groundbreaking. But there’s stellar material here: newly discovered footage; great anecdotes; and still-enthralling ballgame moments, like Henry Aaron breaking Babe Ruth’s home-run record. You needn’t be a baseball nut to appreciate this movie.
(July 9-10 and July 12 at the Metreon, San Francisco, and AMC Bay Street, Emeryville)
“The Lesson”: Though its plot feels somewhat familiar, director Alice Troughton’s noirish drama about a tutor who become mired in the secrets of a grief-damaged British family makes for absorbing entertainment. Richard E. Grant, portraying a famed writer with a cruel streak, is particularly fine. (Opens Friday at area theaters)
“Revoir Paris”: Numb and confused, a mass-shooting survivor finds clarity and begins her emotional recovery when she starts spending time with fellow survivors in director Alice Winocour’s thoughtful and moving French drama. An exquisitely nuanced Virginie Efira stars. (Opens Friday at Smith Rafael Film Center)
“Scarlet”: A young woman and her devoted father anchor this genre-fluid tale directed by Pietro Marcello and set in post–World War I France. Narratively and tonally, the movie is all over the map. But its unpredictability impresses, sometimes wondrously. (Opens Friday at Opera Plaza Cinema, San Francisco, and Smith Rafael Film Center)
“Once Upon a Time in Uganda”: A Ugandan brick maker and a New York movie fanatic join forces to make 1980s-style action flicks in Cathryne Czubek’s entertaining and spirited documentary. (Opens Friday at Alamo Drafthouse, San Francisco)
“The YouTube Effect”: Covering everything from cat videos to algorithms, this sometimes-cautionary documentary examines the world of YouTube and the information site’s immense success and influence. Filmmaker Alex Winter supplies no revelations, but he presents his subject comprehensively and engagingly. (Opens Friday at Alamo Drafthouse, San Francisco).