One Night in Miami


Four giants. Four legends.

(2020) Drama (Amazon) Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Lance Reddick, Christian Magby, Joaquina Kalukango, Nicolette Robinson, Michael Imperioli, Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Derek Roberts, Beau Bridges, Emily Bridges, Amondre D. Jackson, Jerome Wilson, Hunter Burke, Robert Stevens Wayne, Randall Newsome, Matt Fowler, Chris Game, Jeremy Pope. Directed by Regina King

 

On February 25, 1964, Cassius Clay won the heavyweight championship of the world against Sonny Liston. Clay, who would later become better known as Muhammad Ali (and who will be identified as such throughout the rest of the review for the sake of clarity), was well on his way to becoming one of the greatest – if not the greatest – heavyweight boxer that ever lived.

In town that night for the fight were three of his friends – Nation of Islam spokesman and civil rights activist Malcolm X (Ben-Adir), football legend Jim Brown (Hodge) who was just about to embark on an acting career, and soul legend Sam Cooke (Odom) who was one of the most popular singers in the country. All four were friends and they gathered at the Hampton House hotel to celebrate the triumph of Ali (Goree).

While this actually happened, what transpired that night in the hotel has been the subject of speculation, and playwright Kemp Powers – who recently co-directed Soul – wrote a stage play about it that he has now adapted for the screen, to be the feature directing debut of Oscar-winning actress Regina King.

It is also sobering to note that within one year, two of the four men in that room would die violent deaths. Much of the focus is on X and Cooke, who are at loggerheads; the Black Muslim leader – who after some disagreements with Elijah Muhammad (Gilliard) is getting ready to break off and start his own movement – believes that Cooke should be singing about the struggle, protest songs about racial injustice to use his fame to spotlight the cause. Cooke counters that he doesn’t believe that kind of song will sell and that he can do much more as a black businessman than as an angry young black man singing about injustice. That’s the crux of the argument, and both of the participants are passionate about their positions – and to be honest, a bit rigid in their viewpoints.

There is a temptation to make these legendary figures larger than life and in some ways, that’s how they come off, but at the same time, King and Kemp humanize the men, Ali is unsure of the religious conversion, and wonders if he can give up the things that a conversion would demand, like alcohol and pork. Brown suspects that football has taken him about as far as he can go and that his future lies in acting, which at the time was a nearly impossible industry for African-Americans to break into. It was a turning point in all their lives and indeed, in America itself. King captures that moment very effectively.

It helps that she cast the film perfectly and the actors in return gave her uniformly great performances. I was particularly impressed with Hodge, who gives Brown (the sole surviving member of the quartet, by the way) a quiet dignity and gravitas, even as he experiences in a telling preamble to the film the blunt racism of the time as exhibited by a family friend (B. Bridges). Goree also nails the braggadocio of Ali as well as the charisma.

But the marquee performances are sure to be Ben-Adir and Odom. Ben-Adir gives a quiet intensity to Malcolm X that is certainly comparable to the Oxcaar-nominated turn by Denzel Washington in Malcolm X. In some ways I think that he manages to make the icon still relatable although I think that as written the character is made to look more rigid and unbending than perhaps he really was. I can see Malcolm giving Sam Cooke an upbraiding along the lines of what is given in the film, but I think he would have listened to his friend’s side as well – I don’t think that the Malcolm X in the film does that.

Of the two, Odom has a tougher task in many ways; he not only has to capture Cooke’s enormous talent and legendary presence, but also show a practical side – as well as a tragic flaw of being a womanizer. I think it’s very possible Ben-Adir will duplicate Washington’s feat of an Oscar nomination for the role. I think Odom deserves the same honor as well.

King may also add an Oscar nomination as a director in addition to her Oscar win as an actress. Even given a stage play that takes place in a hotel room as a source, she manages to keep it from feeling stage-y, using subtle camera movements and the judicious use of mirrors to give the film a depth of field that is anything but claustrophobic. King is already one of my favorite actresses; she may well turn out to be one of my favorite directors as well. Certainly this is a movie that has to be considered a major contender for this year’s Oscars and in an awards season that will be unusual to say the least, a real stand-out. The movie had a brief Christmas theatrical run and is currently available for viewing on the Amazon Prime service, included without additional charge for subscribers.

REASONS TO SEE: One of the frontrunners for Best Picture. Note-perfect representation of the era. Dialogue worthy of Aaron Sorkin. Strong performances throughout.
REASONS TO AVOID: Thought it was a leeeeetle harsh on Malcolm X.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, some sexual references and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Leslie Odom Jr. and Nicolette Robinson, who play husband and wife Sam and Barbara Cooke, are married in real life.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/25/21: Rotten Tomatoes: 98% positive reviews. Metacritic: 83/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Selma
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT:
Skyfire

New Releases for the Week of August 29, 2014


As Above, So BelowAS ABOVE SO BELOW

(Universal/Legendary) Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, Francois Civil, Marion Lambert, Ali Marhyar, Cosme Castro, Hamid Djavadan. Directed by John Erick Dowdle

A group of student explorers in the catacombs of Paris are trapped by a rock fall. With no choice but to go further into the labyrinth, they find themselves lost. Soon, inexplicable things begin to happen to them and the group realizes that they have stumbled onto an ancient secret, one which may cost them their lives.

See the trailer, clips, an interview and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opens Thursday)

Genre: Horror

Rating: R (for bloody violence/terror, and language throughout)

50 to 1

(Ten Furlongs) Christian Kane, Skeet Ulrich, William Devane, Madelyn Deutch. A group of New Mexico cowboys who have more heart than brains are stunned when their crooked-footed horse qualifies for the Kentucky Derby. Getting the horse there though is half the battle and once they get there, they’ll only have to face the elite of horse racing in the glare of the biggest spotlight in the sport. If ever there was an impossible dream, this must be it.

See the trailer and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Sports Drama

Rating: PG-13 (for some suggestive material and a bar brawl)

The Calling

(Vertical) Susan Sarandon, Topher Grace, Gil Bellows, Donald Sutherland. A small town police detective has never had a whole lot of work thrown her way but a series of murders in the surrounding area puts her face to face with a serial killer who is answering to a higher calling.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R (for violent content, disturbing images and some language)

Cantinflas

(Pantelion) Oscar Jaenada, Michael Imperioli, Ilse Salas, Barbara Mori. Mexico’s most beloved comedian has a story that is largely unknown outside his native land. From humble beginnings he rose to the bright lights and fame of Hollywood, co-starring in the Michael Todd Oscar-winning epic Around the World in 80 Days. This is his story.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Biography

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, language, smoking and some suggestive material)

Land Ho!

(Sony Classics) Paul Eenhoorn, Earl Lynn Nelson, Karrie Crouse, Elizabeth McKee. Two dear old friends, once married to two sisters, have drifted apart over the years. Now that one is divorced and the other is a widower, they decide (albeit one of them reluctantly) to take a vacation to Iceland where the two may find the adventure still in their hearts even if the bodies aren’t quite what they used to be.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: R (for some language, sexual references and drug use)

November Man

(Relativity) Pierce Brosnan, Luke Bracey, Olga Kurylenko, Eliza Taylor. One of the CIA’s most lethal operatives has been living in relative peace and quiet in Switzerland after retiring. However, he is lured out of the pasture for one final mission, but soon discovers that it is not what it seems to be and that he will be forced to take on his most brilliant protégé in a game that he once knew but whose rules have changed.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard (opened Wednesday)

Genre: Action

Rating: R (for strong violence including a sexual assault, language, sexuality/nudity and brief drug use)

Raja Natwarlal

(UTV) Emraan Hashmi, Humaima Malik, Kay Kay Menon, Deepak Tijori. After a small time con man is wronged by a big time gangster, the grifter seeks the help of his mentor to get his revenge on the crook.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Bollywood

Rating: NR

New Releases for the Week of March 15, 2013


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE

(New Line) Steve Carell, Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, James Gandolfini, Jay Mohr, Brad Garrett, David Copperfield. Directed by Don Scardino

A duo of superstar Vegas magicians rule the strip with iron fists; publically they’re the best of friends while privately they can’t stand each other. However, when competition in the form of a cocky street magician whose outrageous stunts puts their illusions to shame threaten to derail their reign, the two must put aside their differences while the incredible Burt Wonderstone gets in touch with that which made him love magic in the first place – that is, if his ego hasn’t crushed it forever.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Comedy

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, dangerous stunts, a drug-related incident and language)

The Call

(Tri-Star) Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Morris Chestnut, Michael Imperioli. A 911 operator is shattered by the worst experience someone in that profession can have – to listen to a caller die due to their own mistake, in her case at the hands of a brutal serial killer. When she receives a call from a panicked teen calling on a disposable cell phone from the trunk of a car where her kidnapper has stored her, she soon realizes that the kidnapper is the same serial killer. It will be a race against the clock if the operator is going to be able to save the killer’s latest prey.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: R  (for violence, disturbing content and some language)

The Gatekeepers

(Sony Classics) Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin, Carmi Gillon. The Shin Bet is the Israeli equivalent of the CIA; their covert operations have been at the center of Israel’s policies towards defense. Six former heads of the agency are interviewed for the first time anywhere regarding their roles in the decision-making process and implementing their countries policies towards terrorism foreign and domestic.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Documentary

Rating: PG-13 (for violent content including disturbing images)

Stoker

(Fox Searchlight) Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney. When a young girl’s father dies in a car accident, her uncle that she never knew she had comes to live with her and her emotionally unstable mother. The girl begins to suspect that the uncle is much more than he claims to be and may have ulterior motives for his presence. This only serves to deepen her infatuation with him, leading her down a deadly dangerous path.

See the trailer, clips and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing violent and sexual content) 

The Lovely Bones


The Lovely Bones

Don't go into THIS light.

(Paramount/DreamWorks) Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, Saoirse Roman, Michael Imperioli, Rose McIver, Amanda Michalka, Reese Ritchie, Jake Abel, Nikki SooHoo, Carolyn Dando. Directed by Peter Jackson

Nobody really knows what happens after we die. What we do know is that the living must make peace with the dead; those of us who lose a loved one must learn to let go. What if the dead have to do the same for the living they leave behind?

Susie Salmon (Roman) has a lovely existence. 14 years old, beautiful, vibrant and surrounded by a family that adores her, she has all the self-doubts that a 14 year old girl has, and that terrible, crushing feeling that the handsome boy she has her eye on – Ray Singh (Ritchie) – doesn’t know she’s alive. She yearns for the first kiss, the one her Grandma Lynn (Sarandon) has said is special, and maybe the best kiss she’ll ever have. She has been given a camera for her birthday and in the way of 14 year olds, is obsessively taking pictures of everything.

That all comes to an end on December 6th, 1973 when she is lured by a neighbor she barely knows by the name of George Harvey (Tucci) into an underground clubhouse and chopped into pieces (we don’t actually see the deed; we only surmise the means of her demise through what occurs later).

For her parents, Jack (Wahlberg) and Abigail (Weisz), they only know she hasn’t come home. After a few days, the police led by sympathetic Detective Len Fenerman (Imperioli) discover the remains of the clubhouse, which Harvey has filled in. They also find a sizable amount of blood but no body. While it isn’t certain, it seems unlikely that their little girl is coming home.

As for Susie, she has ascended into a bright place of fields and forest, seashore and sunshine, moonlight and magic. It is, as she explains, her perfect world; not heaven exactly – as she is told by Holly (SooHoo), a young Asian girl who acts as a kind of a guide to Susie, meant to lead her from this place that Susie calls the “in-between” to heaven, which is apparently a tree. At least, that’s what we see; it’s possible Susie sees more.

However, she can’t bring herself to move forward into heaven. She is haunted by her murderer, who has gone undetected and is at large. She is suffused with a sense of outrage and just plain rage, wanting the man who robbed her of her life to pay with his own for the deed. From where she is, she cannot affect the living although she is detected from time to time by her little brother, a somewhat clairvoyant girl named Ruth (Dando) and her grieving father.

She watches the grief of her parents begin to tear them apart, despite the best efforts of her Grandma Lynn, who has come to stay and help in her own besotted way. She sees her father trying to piece together the identity of her killer. She sees her mother unable to cope with the enormous loss. She sees her little sister Lindsey (MacIver) growing into the role she once held in her family. And she sees her killer, preparing to take another victim.

This is based on a best-selling novel by Alice Sebold, one which I admit I haven’t read yet (although I understand it is wonderfully written) so I cannot compare this movie accurately its source. I can only review it on its own merits, which are considerable. This is a dark tale, one in which happy endings are not a guarantee. This is a world where bad things happen to good people, and where bad people act badly with impunity.

And yet I found myself drawn into this movie. We are told early on who the killer is, but the movie isn’t about the capture of the killer. This isn’t George Harvey’s story, its Susie Salmon’s and in order for the movie to work, the actress who plays her has to be special and Roman is indeed that. An Oscar nominee for her performance in Atonement (which came after she was cast for this), she is innocent and beautiful and poetic all at once. Her sadness is palpable; she misses her family. Her rage is undeniable; her future was stolen from her. Her innocence is a joy to behold; everyone should have a daughter like her.

Wahlberg also gives a powerful performance as her dad. The bond between her and Susie has to be strong, and Wahlberg conveys it well. Even though he is grieving, the movie isn’t about his grief per se; it’s about moving on and his grief becomes a peripheral element of the movie, but it is central at certain points as well.

The movie’s best performance, however, belongs to Tucci. He will make your skin crawl in a way no actor has since perhaps Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter. You, like Susie, want to see him struck down and caused pain. You don’t merely want to be brought to justice, you want him punished and punished hard. This is Oscar-caliber work and a good reason to see the movie all by itself. Sarandon does a fine job in a role which is largely comic relief; I would have liked to see it developed a bit more but in a two hour plus movie, that may not have been possible.

Jackson’s vision of the afterlife is very lyrical in places, with dancing leaves, flocks of colored birds and roses that bloom in the ice. Some of the effects are downright breathtaking. However, it also must be said that his depiction of the darker aspects of the movie are as well executed. The scenes of Susie with her eventual murderer in the place of her death are gut-twisting; you may find yourself turning away from the screen, unwilling to watch this bright life snuffed (which thankfully we’re not shown).

I must also give a shout out to Brian Eno, the movie’s composer. He is best-known these days as the producer of U2 and other great artists, but he has a long and distinguished career first as a member of Roxy Music and later as an originator of ambient music in his own solo works. This is perhaps the best score I’ve heard in a movie this year and it has been sadly ignored in most of the reviews I’ve seen, as well as in the awards that have been handed out. To my mind, no score has augmented a film as well as Eno’s. Jackson also did an amazing job of picking out period songs to supplement the score.

This isn’t an easy movie to watch, and it isn’t always a nice one. This is a movie not about life and death but about moving on. The events that surround it are tragic and sad, but there are also moments of joy to behold. This hasn’t gotten the kind of reviews I expected it to get and having seen it now, I can understand some of the criticism even if I don’t agree with all of it. At the end of the day, I can say this is a movie worth seeing because of the performances more than because of the subject matter, because of the style more than the substance. Still, I look forward to seeing some of the extras on the Blu-Ray because I’d certainly like to hear how the process worked in making this ultimately fascinating film.

REASONS TO GO: Tucci gives a creepy and stomach-turning performance as the serial killer and pedophile. Roman gives a remarkable performance of her own. Jackson’s images of the “in-between” are breathtaking. Brian Eno’s score, as well as the use of period music, is inspiring.

REASONS TO STAY: The murder of Susie Salmon, while never directly witnessed, is nonetheless a very difficult and wrenching sequence.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some very disturbing imagery and subject matter, some of which may be too much for the impressionable.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Director Peter Jackson makes a cameo as a customer in a camera store, looking through the lens of a Super 8 movie camera.

HOME OR THEATER: This is very much a big screen experience.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

TOMORROW: 10 Items or Less