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Laramie Movie Scope: Chi-Raq

A modern retelling of Lysistrata with soul

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 14, 2016 -- This modern retelling of Lysistrata, a play by Aristophanes first performed in 411 B.C. in Athens, Greece, is a unique film. It's unique not just because of its ancient origins and the rhyming dialog, but because of the soul, the funk, the grooves, the sorrow, anger and outrage over the loss of too many black lives that don't matter to American society.

The movie follows the play in most important respects, but instead of the Peloponnesian War, it is a gang war in Chicago, or Chi-Raq, as they call it in this movie. A main character in the movie is also named Chi-Raq (played by Nick Cannon of “Day of the Dead”) and his girlfriend is named Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris of “Dear White People”).

When gang violence destroys their home, Lysistrata moves in with an older woman, Helen (Angela Bassett of “Olympus Has Fallen”) who lives across the street. After talking to Helen and witnessing the body of a shooting victim, the young daughter of Irene (Jennifer Hudson of “The Secret Life of Bees”) Lysistrata comes up with the idea of organizing a sex strike to stop the violence.

The women take over a National Guard Armory, inspiring women all over the world to join their cause. From the top of the roof, they chant, “No peace, no pussy!”. Eventually, even the mayor's wife and the president's wife join the strike. The men try to fight back by playing romantic songs over loudspeakers. The women almost swoon to “Oh Girl” by the Chi-Lites, but Lysistrata finds some ear plugs and the strike goes on.

Actor Samuel L. Jackson plays Dolmedes, a kind of narrator, or stage manager of the film. He appears now and then in the film, including a Patton-like entrance in front of a large American flag to explain things, or introduce the action, or to comment on the proceedings.

John Cusack (“2012”) plays a priest, Father Mike Corridan at Chicago's Saint Sabina Church, (members of the Saint Sabina Faith Community Band, Levites and Spirit of David Dance Ministry perform in the film). Father Mike gives a spirited funeral speech in the film that ties together the National Rifle Association, the Black Lives Matter movement, poverty, unemployment, education, housing and guns.

This is a very moving film, even though it is uneven. It is not a comedy, although there are some funny scenes. It is a satire about the sad state of politics in this country were people allow themselves to be insulated from the suffering of others, where the comfortable are comforted, and the suffering are are blamed for their misfortune, and given yet more punishment.

There are some good acting performances by Nick Cannon (who also sings a couple of songs) Jennifer Hudson (who also sings a song on the soundtrack) Angela Bassett and Teyonah Parris. The soundtrack of this film should have gotten an Academy Award nomination. It is as good, or better, than any other 2015 film I saw, except for “Straight Outta Compton,” which also wasn't nominated. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2016 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)