BOX OFFICE: “Encanto” wins Thanksgiving but underwhelms “Ghostbusters” holds its own

The latest Disney cartoon opened with a pandemic dampened under $30 million weekend,cleaning just over $40 since Thursday.

Those aren’t typical Disney toon numbers, and give away what a hard sell this script by committee, Lin Manuel Miranda musical misfire is

“Ghostbusters” cleared $35 over five days on its second weekend.

“House of Gucci” did a robust $21 83.

The “Resident Evil” reboot “Welcome to Raccoon City” did $8 8 over five days.

“King Richard” added another $3.5 million

Figures provided by Box Office Pro.


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Movie Review: “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” misses by a Milla

Oh come on, not THIS crap again!

You’d figure six “Resident Evil” movies would have been enough, a seriously-lowbrow but seriously successful video-game film franchise that helped Milla Jovovich put her kids through college and what not.

But her character, an avenging Lara Croft-type with sex appeal and a violent streak, is gone. This new reboot, “Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City” is a back-to-the-game, back-to-basics bore.

The world’s biggest pharmaceutical company, Umbrella Corp, is closing down its gigantic plant in Raccoon City, a company town given that name by English-as-a-Fourth-Language Japanese video game designers.

There are rumors about what’s “in the water” there, and what they’ve been experimenting on “below” the factory, rumors that were prevalent when siblings Claire and Chris were orphans in the Raccoon City Orphanage way back in “The Golden Girls” ’80s.

Claire, in particular, saw things — scary things. She ran away as a teen, and now (1998) that the plant is closing and the town is dying with it, she (“Maze Runner” alumnus Kaya Scodelario) is back to check up on cop-brother Chris (Rob Amell of TVs’ “Upload”).

But Claire can’t even hitch a ride from a pervy trucker without all hell breaking loose. They hit a woman in a hospital gown, standing in the middle of the roadin the rain and gloom. While arguing about what to do about this, the woman staggers off.

I know what you’re thinking. “Zombies.” Granted, that’s not what Umbrella Corp. was setting out to create (the game’s name is “Biohazard” in Japan). But as they look like rotting, bleeding corpses and crave brains — or flesh — “zombies” will have to do, as it always has.

Claire and a rookie cop (Avan Jogia) without any discernable policing skills and a Johnny Depp haircut team up to survive in the police station, while Chris and a team of Raccoon City’s Finest, including Hannah John-Kamen and Tom Hopper, are prowling the halls of the old, spooky manor house of Umbrella’s founder (“Umbrella is your shelter in a storm!”), looking for clues left on a Palm Pilot and fighting off zombies.

And then there’s the police chief (Donal Logue), whose first reaction to the Umbrella civil defense sirens going off is to flee, as does the scientist who used to “care for the orphans,” who grabs his wife and daughter and floors it. They just know

The scientist is played by veteran heavy Neal McDonagh, so expect the worst, right?

There’s a hint here and there that writer-director Johannes Roberts (“46 Meters Down”) gave a thought or two to making this a darkly funny splatter-the-zombies thriller, or a darkly thrilling splatter-the-zombies comedy. A few deaths are treated as jokes, and the sight gags are by default amusing period references.

It’s 1998, and pagers, Palm Pilots, Blockbuster and Journey were still going concerns.

The lines are never cleverer than “I think there’s something seriously wrong with this place,” and “Lock the gates. There might be others.” “Other WHAT?”

The most interesting scenes are the origin story bits, with Claire consulting a conspiracy buff on this newfangled thing, “The Internet” to figure out what’s been happening in this mysterious “company town” in the middle of the woody mountains.

The first local to start bleeding from her eyes — “I’m sure it’s nothing!” — the first bloody writing on a window — “Itchy Tasty” — gets our attention.

But damned if I didn’t miss Milla in this. Say what you will about the onetime Joan of Arc/”Return to the Blue Lagoon” siren as an actress. She’s got screen charisma, and her total investment in her character made her a compelling surrogate for the B-movie audience.

We rooted for her, and dare I say it, suffered with her. Nothing of that sort happens here. Nobody is developed in enough depth the viewer to identify with.

If Scodelario is signed up for a franchise, and saving something for the next film in it, she gives us zilch to cling to here. Claire’s background is glossed-over in ways that don’t explain her motorcycle savvy and firearm skills.

Nobody in this picture seems the least bit horrified at what they’re experiencing. It’s like they’re — I don’t know — video game characters just girding for that next lock-and-load moment.

If indeed this is a full on franchise reboot, this “origin story” is no “Welcome to Raccoon City” at all. It’s a warning to avoid ever coming back.

Rating: R for strong violence and gore, and language throughout.

Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Robbie Amell, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue and Neal McDonagh

Credits: Scripted and directed by Johannes Roberts. A Sony/Screen Gems release.

Running time: 1:47

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Movie Review: Trashy, dull “For the Love of Money” lets singers take a shot at acting

All that a cast filled with music personalities adds to the dull, trashy money-laundering melodrama “For the Love of Money” is the occasional pause for a song. And the last thing this movie should do is pause.

It’s just as well that so much of the acting is handled by non-actors, as it’d be a shame to burn through the Screen Actors’ Guild’s finest trying to wring something out of this sloppy, cliche-ridden script.

Keri Hilson of “Think Like a Man” and “Almost Christmas” moves from singer and bit-player to leading lady as Gigi, a single mom trying to keep her Atlanta house, her daughter in private school and herself stylishly dressed on two part time job salaries.

Well, we’re told she works in a gym where we see her working out, but that side-hustle is forgotten by the second or third scene. A lot of characters, background details and story threads get lost in this shuffle-the-deck screenplay, or Leslie Small’s direction of it.

Gigi’s main gig is waiting on well-heeled customers at the tony Symphoni Champagne Bar run by Chris (Keith Sweat). As great as the tips are, that’s not enough to cover tuition for aspiring singer-songwriter teen daughter Ashley (Jazzy Jade) at her private academy.

Ex husband Greg (Jason Mitchell) refuses to ante up more, and gives her an odd directive when it comes to supporting their daughter.

“It’s time for you to decide, are you gonna be a boss-ass b—c or a beggin’-ass b—h?”

As we’ve just seen Mom help Ashley compose a love song for Jesus that she’s performed in church, we are shocked SHOCKED at the vulgarity of the man, who implies his ex knows something of “the street.”

Not sure what he means by that. But mortal men’s eyes pop out of their heads at the gym, on the street and in the bar at the mere sight of Gigi in cleavage and stilettos. So, maybe…

Little Angel Ashley gets in a brawl with a bully after a school basketball game. The other girl winds up “in a coma” and Ashley is badly manhandled by a cop who lets “your black a–” slip as he’s cuffing, roughing up and arresting her.

Add legal bills to the bottom line Gigi isn’t able to cover. Maybe it’s about time to take up the flirty co-workers at the bar (D.C. Young Fly, Cedric Pendleton) on some sort of standing-offer she has to join their side-hustle, moving drug money hither and yon.

At this point, feel free to put down the popcorn, rest your head in your hands and wrack your brain for memories of that “standing-offer.” Because Gigi somehow has a master plan for “fixing” their money laundering for handsy-pushy dealer Trey (Rotimi) all worked out, and they let her implement it and all but take over.

I didn’t hear the offer. But then, I was trying to figure out how the darling little church singer nearly beats another child to death and A) doesn’t get expelled from that private school and B) somehow gets a plea deal that spares her jail because of the cop’s racist over-zealousness.

No, “SHE started it!” never holds up in court.

“For the Love of Money” has a lot of lapses like that — story threads and characters forgotten, details skipped-over because nobody gave them any thought.

What the film is really about is giving Hilson a showcase for her curves and voice, and the audience a ridiculous taste of “wish fulfillment fantasy” as Gigi negotiates a stupidly lucrative deal with a potentially violent drug dealer that allows her to buy a Jag, and the champagne bar.

But before handing Symphoni over, Chris and Gigi do a little duet for the paying customers.

There’s also a nothing-to-the-imagination sex number by Latto, and a couple of musical trips to church, for those who their movies to give them whiplash.

The soundtrack is more R-rated than most of what’s on the screen, and all of it, including the half-assed crime and waiting for Gigi’s profligate, criminal “boss-ass b—h” behavior to catch up with her is pure trash.

Add to that actors who don’t know how to show desperation, rage, greed, lust or much of anything else, and a story that moves so slowly you notice every flaw –thanks, director Smalls (“Hair Show”) — and you’ve got yourself a dud.

I was grateful for a cameo by comic Katt Williams, playing Gigi’s corrupt, money-laundering pastor with a poker-faced stillness and seriously silly fey voice. Give that man top billing, as he’s the only person on the payroll who seems to know what he’s doing, and why.

Rating: R for language, some sexual content/nudity and violence

Cast: Keri Hilson, Rotimi, D.C. Young Fly, Jazzy Jade, Jason Mitchell, Latto, Keith Sweat and Katt Williams

Credits: Directed by Leslie Small, scripted by Timothy Allen Smith, Zadia Ife and Leslie Small. A Freestyle release.

Running time: 1:38

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Netflixable? “Te Ata” is an old fashioned story about a famous Chickasaw Storyteller

One of the blessings of Netflix is that movies that get lost in the shuffle have a second chance to find a wide audience on the streaming service, a much better chance that ad hoc sales to cable or broadcast TV ever afforded.

Some are critically-acclaimed “gems,” some critically-dismissed, like “Te Ata,” a plucky, upbeat and corny biography of a famous Chickasaw Nation storyteller. Like “The Chickasaw Rancher,” it was produced by Oklahoma’s Chickasaw Nation, and like that film, it was sold in a package to Netflix and made available for streaming this fall. And like that film, it’s worth a look.

It certainly deserved better than the outright dismissal some critics hurled its way.

It’s an indie period piece about real history, with decent production values and a pretty good cast headed by Q’orianka Kilcher (“A New World”), Gil Birmingham and Graham Greene (co-stars of “Wind River”). If the direction is low key and the screenplay lacks much in the way of edge, at least it tells a mostly-forgotten story about an inspiring figure, and hits a lot of the right buttons.

Kilcher has the title role, that of a daughter of the tribe’s treasurer (Birmingham) with the pluck to go off to an Oklahoma women’s college, “the first Indian we’ve ever had here,” and the dream of reaching Broadway as an actress.

Mary Frances Thompson, as she was born, grew up in the early 20th century, with Oklahoma becoming a state, the Chickasaw losing much of their autonomy and an “Assimilate or Die” edict from Washington delivered directly to the tribal governor (Greene). Officials there wants to ban native traditions and practices, “pagan dances” and “tribal mumbo jumbo,” and even Native crafts.

Mary Frances started to change that by performing tribal legends and myths as a spell-binding storyteller, first in shadow plays at school and then — in Chickasaw garb — for a traveling Chautauqua Show run by an impresario (Tom Nowicki of “The Blind Side”) and fan who desperately wants a costumed “Indian act.”

The storyteller goes to acting school at Carnegie, despite being rejected for admission at first. She moves to New York to try her hand at Broadway. But meeting a smitten scientist (Mackenzie Astin) has a hand in pointing her to her first, best destiny — bringing her culture and tales from it to the masses.

Her fame grows just as the country is hit by the Great Depression (not mentioned here) and changes direction, economically, culturally and socially under Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.

Kilcher, portraying a woman who took on a stage name from her childhood, “Te Ata” (“bearer of the morning”), makes a mesmerizing and old school “theatrical” storyteller. As she and Te Ata’s evolution into a thrilling one-woman-show performer are the best things about “Te Ata,” perhaps that how-she-became-so-polished journey should have take up more of the film.

We get mere glimpses of the racism and violence faced by the Chickasaw at home, and the ugly stereotyping of Native Americans in general that only began to unravel in the 1960s. When your scientist beau takes you to the movies circa 1932, even the cartoons can be “triggering.”

Esther Luttrell’s script is almost of the “faith-based film” persuasion. It “makes nice” and rubs too many of the rough edges off to give us the unvarnished truth.

Director Frankowski, who also did “Chickasaw Rancher” and the little seen but worthwhile indie “To Write Love on Her Arms,” gets good use Kilcher and his players, even if the wigs they’re sometimes saddled with look like community theater cast-offs.

Aside from that, the sense of place is firmed-up with good locations, a period-correct train and train station footage and convincing recreations of the Oklahoma, Philadelphia and New York of the day (all filmed in Oklahoma).

Like “Chickasaw Rancher,” “Te Ata” has an educational agenda, reminding the rest of the country of some history that might figure prominently in Oklahoma curricula, but is little known elsewhere. As with that film, adding it to Netflix proves it can hold its own outside of the classroom.

With every two-bit slasher and spatter thriller finding its way into theaters and onto streaming, it’s encouraging that something with heart, ambition and substance earns the same access. “Te Ata” may not be an Oscar contender, but it is well-acted, touching and certainly good enough to deserve this Netflix curtain call.

Rating: PG for some thematic elements including a brief violent image

Cast: Q’orianka Kilcher, Gil Birmingham, Brigid Brannagh, Mackenzie Astin, Tom Nowicki and Graham Greene

Credits: Directed by Nathan Frankowski, scripted by Esther Luttrell. A Chickasaw Nation production, a Netflix release.

Running time: 1:45

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Next Screening? Asian Horror set in America — “Repossession”

This Dec. 21 release is set in the Asian-American community of “the world’s most expensive city.”

That would be San Fran. Seriously creepy looking, very “Ring” and “Parasite” in tone.

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Netflixable? Durable Western “The Ballad of Lefty Brown” gives Fonda a curtain call, Bill Pullman a star vehicle

Here’s one of those “upend your expectations, pardner” Westerns of the modern mold, a movie about a “sidekick” forced to take over the story when the hero gets bushwhacked.

“The Ballad of Lefty Brown” isn’t about a famous gunslinger, lawman, desperado or rancher who “tamed the West.” Lefty (Bill Pullman) isn’t the sort who’d provide fodder for the dime novels favored by the young sidekick (Diego Josef) he takes on for his “revenge quest,” the sort of thing a man’s gotta do when a man’s pardner is killed right before his eyes.

Writer-director Jared Moshe’s genre “oater” didn’t merit much of a theatrical release (if any) when it turned up on DirecTV, thanks to production studio A24’s shortcomings when it comes to distribution and promotion. But as it’s on Netflix, let’s see if it’s worth hunting down.

Pullman’s character is a limping, slow-talking geezer with mutton chops and a funny, high-mileage hat. Lefty Brown isn’t bad at tracking, but he was never much with a six-gun. Even a rifle isn’t going to get him close to the target with his “old man” eyesight. Given a choice, he’s packing a shotgun.

He isn’t all that tough, and when it comes to chasing rustlers, he’s better at tracking than he is about sneaking up on anybody. The bad hombres are always getting the drop on him.

As he nearly botches an arrest in the opening scene, he’s asked the question that’s implied throughout this somber, violent sagebrush saga.

“Lefty, aren’t you a little gray to be making these mistakes?”

But Lefty’s never had to be the lead, the go-to-guy. He’s always been content to be in the shadows of legendary Montana rancher Edward Johnson (Peter Fonda, in one of his last roles). Lefty is “loyal.” And with Johnson bound for the Senate, Lefty might be just the guy to leave in charge of the ranch. Or not, if Mrs. Johnson (Kathy Baker, fierce) has any say in the matter.

“‘Loyal’ is not the same thing as ‘capable.'”

But somebody’s got to run the place, and most of the other hands are tinhorns, or close to it. None of them are seasoned enough to go after the rustlers who grab a few horses, Edward reasons. That’s why he and Lefty are all alone, tracking and reminiscing, when a horse thief with a rifle (Joe Anderson) unloads on them from a safe distance.

Edward is dead, and if Lefty hadn’t played dead, he’d never have gotten the body back to the ranch. The new widow isn’t impressed with him, or his promise.

“I’m’o GIT that sumbitch, or die tryin’!”

He takes off on his own, with nobody’s blessing, stumbles into a trigger-happy tinderfoot (Josef), who’s armed, loaded with dime novels, and horseless. And they’re off on their quixotic quest to bring bad men to some sort of justice — formal or “rough” justice.

That’s a running thread through “The Ballad,” Lefty’s reluctance to rush a hanging, killing the accused without a trial. Others are content to mete out their cowboy posse form of law enforcement. But not Lefty, and not his old friend Marshal Tom Harrah (Tommy Flanagan of “Gladiator” and TV’s “Sons of Anarchy” and Westworld”).

As obstacles traditional and new cross their path, one would hope they’d all listen to the governor (Jim Caviezel) and “let the Army handle it,” seeing as how somebody murdered a Senator-elect. But that’s not the Way of the West, is it?

Moshe, who hasn’t gotten a movie or TV project up and in the public eye in the years since “Lefty” was finished in 2017, stages a decent shootout and his DP captures stunning vistas around Bannack, Montana, the setting and the filming location.

The plainly-right-handed Pullman makes “Lefty” just the sort of simple old cuss you underestimate, a fellow who “couldn’t find his ass with both hands,” Marshal Harrah grouses.

The story drifts off into “that never happened” territory, and the waypoints and characters start to resemble a collection of cliches — this one crawled into a bottle, then a “spittoon” to collect coins to buy the bottle, that one’s armed to the teeth but wholly unprepared for that first shoot-out.

But the cast is a game lot, with Pullman, Baker, Flanagan and Caviezel standing out. And there’s only so many times one can watch and re-watch the classics of the genre without craving a fresh take on the comfort food-familiar themes.

“Lefty,” while not nearly as good as “The Sisters Brothers” or “Old Henry,” to name two recent exemplars of the genre, is a perfectly passable “horse opera” and a fine vehicle for the ever-underappreciated Mr. Pullman — who rides well, wears the hat and not the other way’round, and carries off a limp and a squint with the best of them.

Rating: R for violence and some language

Cast: Bill Pullman, Tommy Flanagan, Kathy Baker, Diego Josef, Peter Fonda and Jim Caviezel

Credits: Scripted and directed by Jared Moshe. A Dish Networks film on Netflix.

Running time: 1:51

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THANKSGIVING BOX OFFICE: “Encanto” edges “Afterlife,” “Gucci” sells, “Resident Evil” is evicted

Here’s yesterday’s tally, which will probably be reflected by the entire holiday weekend, in terms of “standings.”

Figures via Exhibitor Relations


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Movie Preview: “Matrix 4” further “Resurrections?”

That one adds a little bit to what we already know is coming Christmas Day. Below is still the song that sells this movie, IMHO. “White Rabbit” resurrected FTW.

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Netflixable? French comedy “Spoiled Brats (Pourris gâtés)” doesn’t “Teach them a lesson”

An exasperated Monaco developer wants to teach his lazy, insufferable “Spoiled Brats” a lesson by pretending they’ve lost it all in what turns out to be a tepid remake of the Mexican comedy “We Are the Nobles.”

It’s a plot the predates the screwball Hollywood comedies of the ’30s, the idea of the rich being brought low and figuring out they’re not any better than the rest of us by becoming “the rest of us.” Despite scoring a few laughs at the expense of the louche, lazy louts of the Batek clan, the lesson to be taught is watered town, the “teachable moments” a mere string of pulled punches. It feels as if several of the story’s necessary steps have been skipped.

In gambling terms, in trying to switch up this “classic formula, writer-director Nicholas Cuche left a lot of laughs at the table.

Gérard Jugnot stars as patriarch Francis, one of Monaco’s wealthiest builders. There’s a hint he’s largely self-made, a Polish emigrant who worked his way to riches. But his kids had no such struggle. Aside from losing their mother young, the vain clothes-horse Stella (Camille Lou), free-spending, free-eating Philippe (Artus) and hippy womanizer Alexandre (Louka Meliava) wanted for nothing.

To a one they’re rude, selfish and naive to the way the world works and where the money always comes from. Dad’s heart-attack scare over Stella’s shallow pursuit of an Argentine playboy (Tom Leeb), Philippe’s idiotic idea for an app/company that has employees wear and break-in your pricy shoes for you and Alexandre’s bedding of not just the wife of his latest university president, but the man’s daughter as well — and in Francis’s mountainside mansion — gives the old man a heart attack.

Two months later, his scheme goes into motion. Their accounts are locked, the house is raided, the Ferraris and Lambos impounded and the kids whisked away by their father, who admits the “fraud squad” is on his tail.

He takes them to a long-abandoned family villa, tosses their cell phones and says they must lay low until he can straighten all this out. But as none of them have any money and he’d be recognized, even in Marseilles, they’ll have to go out and find jobs.

After a tirade of insults –“Fat ISN’T an insult! “No? Neither is MORON!” — they are sent out into the world, babes in the marketplace, selling their idle lives as “qualifications” for jobs they and no one else feels they deserve.

Portly Philippe winds up pedaling a pedicab, Stella — waited on hand and food her entire life — is taken on as a waitress at a restaurant where side-hustle servant Matthias (Joffrey Verbruggen), and Alexandre?

Well, he sleeps in, declares ” I refuse to let myself be exploited!” (all of this is in French with English subtitles) and tries to live off the land, “to take what nature (freely) gives.” Right.

Dad will stay in and fix up the old house, suggesting “I’ve fed you your entire lives. Now it’s your turn!” Alexandre will eventually join Dad in his re-plastering, re-plumbing and painting project.

Each will learn what it’s like to be on the other end of that indulged master-servant lifestyle to which they’re grown accustomed.

Only they don’t. Not really.

Cuche’s script shortchanges each character, so that Stella’s lesson, the most complete, is barely work an “incomplete” grade. There’s a tiny bit of learning and virtually no struggle.

The “obvious” directions this could have gone — Phillipe pedaling himself into shape, Alexandre contributing to society rather than leeching off it, Stella getting down off her high horse and seeing through her gold-digging fiance, are either discarded as ideas or soft-sold.

There’s precious little that’s funny in any of it as the story takes its big “Let’s do things REALLY different” turn in the third act.

Lou (of several French TV series and the movie “Play”) has the most screen time and most promising character arc. The script lets her down.

The single-named Artus has a few funny moments and the most interesting “his real talent” revelation. But so much of that is skipped over we can’t figure out how exactly he’s managing his “transition.”

It’s all gaudy and glitzy enough, with lovely Monaco scenery — Lamborghinis for all! — as its backdrop.

But our filmmaker seems to have been seduced by all that and forgotten his point, if he ever had one. What fun is taking away the rich’s money if they don’t “learn” from the experience?

Rating: TV-14, sex without nudity

Cast: Gérard Jugnot, Camille Lou, Artus, Louka Meliava, Tom Leeb and François Morel

Credits: Scripted and directed by Nicolas Cuche, based on the Mexican comedy “We Are the Nobles,” director and story by Gary Alazaraki. by A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:35

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Documentary Review: Remembering the Athlete as Icon and Activist — “Citizen Ashe”

Generations before Colin Kaepernick took a knee, not all that long after Jackie Robinson retired, and shortly after Althea Gibson broke the color barrier in tennis, Arthur Ashe took to the world’s most famous tennis tourneys, brought his game to Apartheid South Africa and had a hand in inventing what it means to be an Activist Athlete.

The new documentary “Citizen Ashe” reminds us not only in his role in shaping the racial debate in America, but of his own journey, from reserved, private and non-confrontational champion to a quiet, compelling and forceful activist for social justice and well-spoken/outspoken critic of injustice.

Filmmakers Rex Miller and Sam Pollard track that journey through Ashe’s career, when he was repeatedly profiled in the media as “one of the greatest we have ever produced,” as CBS reporter Charles Kuralt put it, a lone Black face in the “white country club, white suited white guys” world of tennis.

The fact that grew up in the Richmond, Virginia and later St. Louis of the 1950s and ’60s, and other Black athletes were speaking out and acting out — at the 1968 Olympics, in the NBA — and Ashe wasn’t got him labeled “an Uncle Tom” by the likes of Kareem Abdul Jabbar. It’s a little shocking to remember the Elder Statesman of American Sport, as Jabbar now is, calling his contemporary “Arthur Ass” for not speaking out in the ’60s and early ’70s.

But as his playing career wound down and opportunities presented themselves to take high profile stands, Ashe collected his thoughts, picked his spots and became everything his critics never expected him to be and more.

Jabbar, one of the most widely-quoted figures sports figures on the subject of race and racism in America, is conspicuously absent from “Citizen Ashe.” That points to the film’s narrow focus (not a lot of interview subjects), the privacy of Ashe and lingering grudges (or in Jabbar’s case, embarrassment) held by his contemporaries.

Where “Citizen Ashe” excels is in getting at the essence and the origins of the man’s character. Growing up, as he put it, in “Civil War-obsessed Richmond,” the son of a playground caretaker with the city’s public works department, he learned the game on the now-famous public courts of Virginia’s capital.

He was mentored by Althea Gibson’s coach, Robert Walter Johnson, and attended Johnson’s summer tennis camps in Lynchburg, Va. all through his childhood.

He got his game from Johnson and his discipline from his father, who held a public works job in a segregated city that openly celebrated its role as the Capital of the Confederacy.

Once he got good and started playing tournament, Ashe faced racism as a teen, both in Richmond and elsewhere as the family relocated to St. Louis to improve his prospects. A lifetime of “first Black man” to do this or that in tennis began as he starred at UCLA, won the first ever U.S. Open (as an amateur), and later titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, and became not just the first Black man to play on the U.S. Davis Cup team, he became its first Black team captain, riding John McEnroe’s racket to glory in the ’80s.

He was president of the Association of Tennis Professionals, his sport’s union, in the ’70s, maybe the first hint that “Uncle Tom” wasn’t a fair label.

“Citizen Ashe” is more interested in the Ashe’s activism as his tennis career wound down. But we get a great taste of his game and assessment of his skills from the likes of Donald Dell (his agent), Billie Jean King and others. There’s plenty of interview footage of Ashe explaining the way he rethought his serve and volley style to beat hated rival Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon in 1975, his last burst of tennis glory, an “old man” beating the “punk” on his sport’s grandest stage.

Ashe said of his reluctance to speak out and act out, “That’s not my way.” He was kept clear of the Vietnam War and any compulsion to speak out on that by not being drafted, something his brother Johnnie (seen in the film) attributes to Johnnie’s service, and signing up for a second tour to keep his sibling from being drafted out of the same family.

Ashe’s entre to activism came through South Africa, openly supporting the widening boycotts that pressured the Apartheid regime, agreeing to go there but only on his integrated terms.

He only spoke out about AIDS years after he contracted the disease, and only when the intensely private man was about to be “outed” as having it (he apparently contracted it from a blood transfusion) by a news report. It became another cause, one he worked on until he died, in 1993.

Although “Citizen Ashe” covers the highlights of a life and career that has drifted from the public consciousness in the nearly 30 years since his death, it doesn’t get all that close to its subject. We meet and hear from his wife and brother, a Civil Rights activist friend here, and childhood friend there.

There’s a lot more in-depth information on his Wikipedia page, frankly. Most CNN Films docs have a surface-skimming quality to them.

But the timeliness of the film and the need to remember him seems obvious in “Citizen Ashe.” His statue now stands on Richmond’s famous “Monument Avenue,” which formerly honored a lot of the Old Dominion’s “heroes” of the Confederacy.

The Colin Kaepernicks don’t emerge in a vacuum. They’re a part of a continuum, thanks to the issues they speak out about (or in Kaepernick’s case, release a “statement” or Tweet about) never going completely away thanks to the glacial pace of “progress” in America.

Rating: unrated

Cast: Arthur Ashe, Donald Dell, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, Johnnie Ashe, Harry Edwards, Billie Jean King, and John McEnroe

Credits: Directed by Rex Miller and Sam Pollard. A Magnolia/CNN Films release.

Running time: 1:34

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