If Beale Street Could Talk


Love conquers all; even social injustice.

(2018) Drama (AnnapurnaKiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Teyonah Paris, Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Diego Luna, Ed Skrein, Emily Rios, Finn Wittrock, Brian Tyree Henry, Dave Franco, Michael Beach, Aurora Collado, Kaden Byrd, Ethan Barrett, Milanni Mines, Ebony Obsidian, Dominique Thorne, Carl Parker, Shabazz Ray, Bobby Conte Thornton, Marcia Jean Kurtz. Directed by Barry Jenkins

 

James Baldwin is one of the greatest American authors of the 20th century, or of any other century for that matter; few authors captured the African-American experience with as much outrage, wit, joy, fury and dispassionate observation as he did. He was passionate and compassionate at once, writing prose that could easily have been poetry; of all the authors I’ve read in my life, only Shakespeare fares as well when read aloud as Baldwin does. He had a command of language that is rare and the fact that few of his books have been adapted for the big screen have almost as much to do with his lyrical prose as it does to the fact that his views were and are incendiary and perhaps unlikely to be embraced by white American audiences.

In this classic film, a pair of lovers – artist Fonny (James) and 19-year-old Tish (Layne) are stepping up their long-time relationship to the next level; they plan to get married. But when Tish discovers she is pregnant, the couple have already been separated – Fonny has been accused of rape by a Puerto Rican woman (Rios) who was manipulated into selecting Fonny out of a line-up by a malicious cop (Skrein) who had a bone to pick with Fonny. As is often the case with African-American men, he gets only the representation he can afford and ends up imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.

Barry Jenkins, fresh off his Oscar-winning Moonlight, tells the story in a non-linear fashion, flashing back from the incarceration of Fonny to their developing relationship as children. Jenkins is becoming known as an actor’s director; if nothing else, he is a genius at extracting the best performances from his actors. Witness here, Regina King, playing Tish’s loving mother; when Tish informs her that she’s in a family way and not yet married, King – who with this movie rightfully took her place as one of the best actresses working today – displays maternal love and support with a minimum of dialogue and a maximum of gesture. She’s the mom everyone wishes they had, even those who have a mom like her.

That scene contrasts with Fonny’s hyper-religious mom (Ellis) being formed of her son’s girlfriend’s condition. The acid tongue comes out as she lashes out at the girl her son loves, growing in vitriol until her aghast husband (Beach) abruptly hits her, shocking Tish and her parents, who absolutely can’t believe what they’re seeing. The families are in complete contrast; one loving and supportive, the other judgmental and cold although the dad does his best.

The movie is supported by a stunning soundtrack that highlights the emotional landscapes that Baldwin and Jenkins paint. The result is a powerful portrait that is as timely now as it was then – which I’m sure wouldn’t surprise Baldwin at all, but would undoubtedly sadden him, as it should any thinking, compassionate person.

REASONS TO SEE: A impressive literate and intelligent script. King and Layne deliver high-powered performances. The soundtrack is really terrific.
REASONS TO AVOID: The non-linear storytelling is a bit tricky but it does pay off.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity as well as some sexual material.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The first trailer for the film was released on the 94th birthday of author James Baldwin, who wrote the original novel.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Plus, Hulu, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/27/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 95% positive reviews; Metacritic: 87/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Brian Banks
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
15 Years

New Releases for the Week of January 4, 2019


IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK

(Annapurna) KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Colman Domingo, Michael Beach, Aunjanue Ellis, Diego Luna, Finn Wittrock, Ed Skrein, Dave Franco. Directed by Barry Jenkins

In Harlem of the 1970s, a young couple is getting ready to get married and have a baby together but their plans are shattered when the groom-to-be is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. Now the bride-to-be sets out to prove his innocence in the meanwhile dealing with the physical challenges of her pregnancy and with the love of her family for support. Based on the novel by James Baldwin, this is the first project for Jenkins since he won an Oscar for Moonlight.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama

Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, Barnstorm Theater, Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language and some sexual content)

Escape Room

(Columbia) Taylor Russell, Tyler Labine, Deborah Ann Woll, Jay Ellis. Six strangers find themselves in a deadly Escape Room where they must find clues to exit, ot they will all die.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, DBOX
Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for terror/perilous action, violence, some suggestive material and language)

On the Basis of Sex

(Focus) Felicity Jones, Armie Hammer, Kathy Bates, Sam Waterston. Lawyer Ruth Bader Ginsburg takes on a case that she hopes will make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex. The case will end up going all the way to the Supreme Court, change American life forever and pave the way for Ginsberg to becoming one of the most respected and beloved Supreme Court justices in history.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for some language and suggestive content)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Being Rose
Odiyan
State Like Sleep
Support the Girls

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Njan Prakashan
Return of the Hero

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

American Hangman
Njan Prakashan

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Distant Drums
Njan Prakashan

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Escape Room
If Beale Street Could Talk
On the Basis of Sex
Support the Girls

Pick of the Litter – November 2018


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald

(Warner Brothers) Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Johnny Depp. The J.K. Rowling Wizarding World series continues as the notorious criminal Geller Grindlewald escapes American custody and sets about gathering followers to his cause – to rule over those who are not magical. Albus Dumbledore steps forward to stand up to his tyranny and enlists the help of Newt Scamander as the world of wizards and witches becomes increasingly divided.  November 16

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Bodied

(Neon) Callum Worthy, Jackie Long, Rory Uphold, Jonathan Park. A white graduate student doing his thesis on battle rap inadvertently sparks a battle of his own, as opposing sides yelling “cultural appropriation” and “freedom of speech” make their voices heard. This has a massive buzz about it already.  November 2

 A Private War

(Aviron) Rosamund Pike, Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci, Faye Marsay. This movie is based on the exploits of Marie Colvin, one of the most decorated and respected war correspondents of our time. With her distinctive eye patch, she went into war zones that many journalists wouldn’t go into, citing them as too dangerous. She thought of herself as a voice for the voiceless, speaking out for those whose lives were ruined by war. November 2

 

The Other Side of the Wind

(Netflix) John Huston, Peter Bogdanovich, Susan Strasberg, Lilli Palmer. Some movies make this list as much for what they represent as for their concept. This is the final film of Orson Welles, quite possibly the greatest film director of all time – certainly the director of arguably the best film of all time, Citizen Kane. Unfinished due to financial issues, the movie has been on the shelf for 40 years while the legal issues revolving around who owned the rights was resolved. Now, with post-production finally completed, Netflix is presenting this in limited release as well as on their streaming service as Huston plays an iconic director exiled from Hollywood who returns to make a movie that promises to be innovative. November 2

Postcards from London

(Strand) Harris Dickinson, Jonah Hauer-King, Alessandro Cimadamore, Leonardo Salerni. An extraordinarily handsome boy from a small town in England is lured to the bright lights and beauty of the fabled Soho district. Suffering from Stendahl’s Syndrome, he takes a highly unusual route into an escort service in this highly stylized film. November 9

 Jinn

(Orion) Simone Missick, Zoe Renee, Hisham Tawfiq, Kelvin Harrison Jr. A carefree young African-American girl is studying dancing and hopes to take it up as a vocation as her grandmother did before her. However, her life is turned upside down when her mother decides to convert to Islam and insists that her daughter convert with her. November 15

Jonathan

(Well Go USA) Ansel Elgort, Suki Waterhouse, Patricia Clarkson, Matt Bomer. Two brothers inhabit the same body, each living separate lives. They seem to be getting along, keeping their strange secret safe – until both of them develop an emotional attachment to the same girl. This film is equal parts science fiction and psychological thriller. November 16

Shoplifters

(Magnolia) Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Sôsuke Ikematsu, Mayu Matsuoka. A family of crooks and con men take in a little girl from the streets. Soon they find themselves in trouble way above their heads. This festival favorite is Japan’s official submission for the 2019 Foreign Language Oscar and a favorite to make the short list. November 23

 If Beale Street Could Talk

(Annapurna) Kiki Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Aunjanue Ellis. In Harlem in the 1970s, a young woman is deeply in love and looking forward to having her fiancé’s baby, despite some conflict with her devout mother. When her intended is jailed for a crime he didn’t commit, she sets out to prove his innocence regardless of her delicate condition. Based on a novel by the great James Baldwin, this is Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to the movie that won him the statue Moonlight.. November 30