MOVIE NIGHT! Environmental Justice, Videogame Legends, and Michael Jordan

The eco-thriller How to Blow Up a Pipeline asks some hard questions about activism and climate change. Image credit: NEON


By Glenn McDonald

Every other week, our Movie Night! column previews the best upcoming films showing in Chapel Hill theaters – for those who still like to go out to the movies. While Covid remains an issue, all local venues have taken measures to make their spaces safe. Also please remember that bookings and schedules change all the time, so always check online before heading out.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline

Opening April 13 at the Chelsea and Silverspot

One of the benefits of paying attention to the movies, over time, is that you can see the kind of stories we’re telling ourselves as a culture. The movie theater is where the collective unconscious thinks out loud, often revealing our nagging concerns and anxieties.

Sometimes the message is like a punch on the nose. Part action-thriller, part heist film, part open question, the independent film How to Blow Up a Pipeline confronts our culture’s current existential dilemma. Well, one of them, anyway. Eight Gen Z activists, fed up with society’s pathetic response to climate change, decide to take matters into their own hands.

The activists target a pipeline in Texas, teach themselves about explosives and guerilla tactics, and undertake the kind of protest euphemistically referred to as direct action: “Let those who profit from mass death know that their properties will be trashed,” an activist declares in the tension-filled trailer. “This is an act of self-defense.” It gets the blood up!

How to Blow Up a Pipeline made a lot of noise at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. The critics loved it – it’s currently at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. More importantly, perhaps, the business-side people liked it enough to arrange for theatrical distribution. Professionals who get paid to know these things have concluded: This movie has an audience. The film asks some uncomfortable questions about environmental justice, protest tactics, and ethical activism. It’s a 21st-century kind of movie.

Double Secret Bonus Tip: On Thursday, April 13 at 7 p.m., the Chelsea will host a special Q&A screening with one the film’s screenwriters, Durham resident and Duke Ph.D.  student Jordan Sjol.

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

Opening March 5 at the Lumina, Silverspot, and the Varsity

Over on the other end of the popular entertainment spectrum, The Super Mario Bros. Movie is the latest attempt to make a family-friendly film franchise from the long-running Nintendo video game series.

Brought to you by the same studio that inflicted introduced the Minions to the world, the new animated film reveals the origin story of famed Brooklyn plumbers Mario and Luigi. The voice cast includes Chris Pratt, Charlie Day, Anya Taylor-Joy, Seth Rogen, Jack Black, Keegan-Michael Key, and Fred Armisen.

Everyone needs a family-friendly movie option at some point, and this looks perfectly serviceable. Plus, Nintendo has been around long enough that a Mario Bros. story can appeal to multiple generations of kids and former kids.

Quick Picks

Opening April 5 at the Chelsea, the Lumina and Silverspot, Air tells the story of how shoemaker Nike first struck its lucrative marketing deal with basketball legend Michael Jordan in the 1980s. Ben Affleck directs and leads an ensemble cast featuring Matt Damon, Jason Bateman and Viola Davis. I’m told Michael Jordan has some kind of Chapel Hill connection? Is that right?

Next up on Silverspot’s Flashback Cinema series: Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), April 9 and 12; and Selena (1997), April 16 and 19.

Opening this weekend at local theaters, the indie comedy Paint stars Owen Wilson as a terminally mellow Bob Ross-style public access TV host. It looks pretty funny, actually. Check out the trailer.

The Chelsea has booked the French film The Innocent, described as part crime thriller, part family farce. That recipe sounds familiar. Also holding over this weekend: the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner A Thousand and One and the French drama Return to Seoul.

Glenn McDonald is a Chapel Hill freelance writer and contributing film critic with Indy Week.

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