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Undead and Onscreen: Sequels, Zombies and Biopics to See This Week

Your options to avoid the heat this week are two sequels no one I know was clamoring for and Jim Jarmusch’s very cool-looking, if a bit tardy, zomcom.

Did you like Men in Black? Sure you did. Who didn’t? What about Men in Black II? Nobody else did, either. Do you even remember Men in Black 3? That’s what I thought. Well, here come the Men in Black: International. Do not expect to see Will Smith or Tommy Lee Jones. The new MIB re-teams Thor: Ragnarok costars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson as Agents H and M, respectively. Other new agents include O (Emma Thompson), C (Rafe Spall) and High T (Liam Neeson), all part of the MIB’s UK branch.

Shaft is back, too, in a sequel to the 2000 reboot/sequel. Samuel L. Jackson returns as the nephew of Richard Roundtree’s original fly private dick. Jessie Usher plays the son of Jackson’s John Shaft II. Barbershop’s Tim Story directs, and the trailer promises liberal doses of comedy with its action.

Finally, Jarmusch unleashes the walking dead on the small town of Centerville in The Dead Don’t Die. Fortunately, the town has Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chloë Sevigny as its law enforcement officers to rely upon. The rest of the star-studded cast includes Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Caleb Landry Jones, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Sara Driver, RZA, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez and Tom Waits.

On Thursday, June 13, Pachinko Pop Cinema presents 1971’s Delinquent Girl Boss at Flicker. The plot involves a juvenile delinquent recently home from reform school protecting her friend’s father from gangsters. Who hasn’t been there before? That same night, the Georgia Museum of Art is screening Athens in Our Lifetimes in conjunction with “Our Town and Beyond: Works by Early Members of the Athens Art Association.” Ninety Athens residents recount the town’s transition over the past 60 years in the documentary from Kathy Prescott and Grady Thrasher. If you have yet to see The Biggest Little Farm, Ciné offers a screening, tastings from the farm courtesy of The National and a Skype Q&A with the farmers on June 14.

Now, on to some notable recent releases.

ROCKETMAN (R) Far more exhilaratingly creative than its recent music biopic brother, Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman still soars on the wings of a tremendous lead performance. At times—typically when he is wearing a hat, feathered headdress, etc.—Taron Egerton is indistinguishable from Elton John. If the movie has long-enough legs, it will not be shocking if he picks up some major awards love like Rami Malek.

The movie, directed by Dexter Fletcher—he finished last year’s Queen biopic after Bryan Singer was canned—and written by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot), does not shy away from the darker elements of John’s stardom. The movie’s frame is a self-imposed stint in rehab, where he recounts his life through the lyrics of his hit songs, and man, do those lyrics, written by Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) tell the tale.

Yes, all music biopics essentially rehash the same tale once stardom is achieved. Everyone may have gotten discovered differently, but the Shakespearean tragedy of making it big appears to be universal. It is how Rocketman depicts John’s talent that stands out. The musical genius can play a song by ear, and he writes his music—a difficult task to show visually—similarly. I am sure there are apocryphal or flat-out fictionalized bits, but the warts-and-all spirit never wavers; Rocketman is no hagio-pic. Good luck fighting the temptation to turn your screening into a singalong.

MA (R) The Help’s Tate Taylor and his Oscar-winning star, Octavia Spencer, spin a little horror yarn from writer Scotty Landes that is being sold as “from the producer of Get Out.” Well, neither Taylor nor Landes is Jordan Peele, meaning Ma definitely lacks any seeming social relevance.

Its titular antagonist, Sue Ann, was the victim of a cruel prank—though crime is a better descriptor—in high school. Now, she seeks revenge by befriending the high-school-aged children of her tormentors, buying them booze and desperately partying with them in her basement. Is Ma, as the teens come to call her, seeking revenge or the cool kids’ acceptance she never got in school? Does it matter? By the time the last act hits, Ma has gone completely psycho.

Ma’s vengeful motivation for a decades-old transgression conjures pleasant memories of ’80s slashers like Prom Night, and Spencer rescues nearly the entire production from its overuse of the B-word and obsession with BJs. Still, not even Spencer can overcome the queasiness caused by two white men, Taylor and Landes, telling a story about a crazy black woman.