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

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 Aptil 12, 2019


HELLBOY

(Summit) David Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane, Sasha Lane, Daniel Dae Kim, Penelope Mitchell, Sophie Okonedo, Thomas Haden Church. Directed by Neil Marshall

Hellboy, the cigar-chomping half-demon entity and operative for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, must go up against Nimue, a resurrected sorceress with a grudge. She seeks to avenge a past betrayal; he seeks to stop her without bringing about the end of days.

See the trailer, video featurettes, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Action/Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong bloody violence and gore throughout, and language)

After

(Aviron) Josephine Langford, Hero Fiennes Tiffin, Selma Blair, Jennifer Beals. Based on the Anna Todd bestseller, After follows the dutiful, lawyer and well-behaved Tessa as she enters her first semester of college. Unusual for her age in that she has a clear idea of who she is and what her goals are in life, she meets a brooding, handsome young rebel who throws her carefully planned life and future into absolute chaos.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Romance
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and college partying)

Little

(Universal) Regina Hall, Issa Rae, Marsai Martin, Tone Bell. A young woman feels the stresses of adult life getting to her to the point she can’t stand it anymore. She longs to relive her carefree childhood days and this being the movies, it comes to pass. Think of this as the anti-Big.

See the trailer, video featurettes and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG=13 (for some suggestive content)

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy

(Well Go USA) Jin Zhang, Dave Bautista, Michelle Yeoh, Tony Jaa. After suffering defeat at the hands of Ip Man in a martial arts battle, Cheung Tin Chi turns his back on fighting to raise his young son and run a small store. However, he’s reluctantly drawn back when the hotheaded brother of a gang leader has a run-in with him.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Martial Arts
Now Playing: Regal Waterford Lakes

Rating: NR

Mia and the White Lion

(Ledafilms) Daniah de Villiers, Mėlanie Laurent, Langley Kirkwood, Ryan McLennan. 10-year-old Mia’s life is turned upside down when her family decides to move from London to manage a lion farm in South Africa. Mia is heartbroken to leave everything she knows but develops a close friendship with a rare white lion cub. As the cub grows to full maturity, Mia uncovers a family secret. Distraught, she decides to run away with her white lion on a desperate journey to find somewhere her friend can live in peace and freedom.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Family
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, Cobb Plaza Cinema, Regal Oviedo Marketplace, Regal Pointe Orlando, Regal Waterford Lakes, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, peril and some language)

Missing Link

(Annapurna/United Artists) Starring the voices of Hugh Jackman, Zach Galifianakis, Zoe Saldana, Emma Thompson. The latest from the inventive animation house Laika, an anthropological wonder who lives in the Pacific Northwest longs to find others of his kind in the fabled valley of Shangri-La and recruits a famous adventurer to take him there.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a video featurette and B-roll video here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for action/peril and some mild rude humor)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Acres & Acres
American Warfighter
Chitralahari
Diane
Los Domirriqueños 2
Madhura Raja
Mary Magdalene
Noah: Sight and Sound

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Chitralahari
Diane
Ferrante Fever
Los Domirriqueños 2
Madhura Raja
Manje Bistre 2
Mary Magdalene
Noah: Sight and Sound
Penguin Highway
Sherdil
The Sower

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

A Dark Place
Chitralahari
Diane
Gangs of Madras
Kavacha
Los Domirriqueños 2
Madhura Raja
Noah: Sight and Sound

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Chitralahari
Madhura Raja
Noah: Sight and Sound
Transit

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Hellboy
Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Florida Film Festival, Maitland/Winter Park FL
Sarasota Film Festival, Sarasota FL

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

Our Family Wedding


Our Family Wedding

Forest Whitaker and Carlos Mencia wonder if a remake of "The Odd Couple" is next.

(2010) Romantic Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Forest Whitaker, Carlos Mencia, America Ferrera, Regina King, Lance Gross, Diana Maria Riva, Lupe Ontiveros, Anjelah Johnson, Charlie Murphy, Vivek Shah, Shannyn Sossamon, Warren Sapp, James Lesure. Directed by Rick Famuyiwa

One of the challenges of a marriage is uniting disparate families or at least getting them to co-exist. When you add the elements of different cultures and religions, things can get awfully dicey.

Lucia Ramirez (Ferrera) and Markus Boyd (Gross) have been living together for some time and are deeply in love. She is a Columbia Law School drop-out, teaching underprivileged kids in New York. He is a Columbia Medical School grad, about to join up with Doctors Without Borders in Laos. The two want to get married, but the issue is breaking it to their folks – because they want to get married before they both leave for Laos.

Fortunately, their folks all live in Los Angeles so it’s a train ride back to the City of Angels to inform their parents. Markus’ parents were divorced early on but he was raised by Brad (Whitaker), his dad – a popular all-night DJ. Lucia’s parents – dad Miguel (Mencia) and mom Sonia (Riva) are middle class Mexican-Americans, with dad owning a tow service. Lucia has neglected to tell them that she’s dropped out of Law School and that she’s dating, let alone dating an African American guy. Now, she’s come to tell them she’s marrying him. Probably not the wisest course of action.

The dads instantly butt heads, having met previously in an unpleasant situation (Miguel towed Brad’s Jag) and they continue to constantly one-up each other. They recognize that the wedding is inevitable so each tries to impose his stamp on the ceremony, from the music to the cake to the seating arrangements. Pretty soon the pressures being placed on the kids threaten not only their relationship but those of their parents as well.

This could have been a decent enough movie – the premise is sound – but, unfortunately, it’s wildly inconsistent. For every moment that is amusing (Lucia’s serenade to Markus causing dogs to howl) there’s at least one more that makes you squirm (a wayward goat eating Viagra and then attempting to hump Brad’s leg). The hit-and-miss nature of the movie makes watching it jarring upon occasion.

Ferrera is an enormously appealing actress; her work on “Ugly Betty” as well as her breakout role in Real Women Have Curves shows this to be true. She’s also appealing here but she’s largely used in a reactive role and for a law student who supposedly has a great relationship with her dad, she makes some remarkably foolish decisions. Mencia is actually quite good as well, although he sometimes descends into shtick – but that may well be the fault of the writers more than him.

It is Whitaker who is most surprising of all. He seems uncomfortable and confused here, not nearly to the standards of an Oscar nominee who is one of the better actors working today. His comic timing seems a bit off in places and the confirmed bachelor bit wears thin quickly. I have to wonder if he saw the goat humping his leg in the script and deciding to phone it in from there.

Riva and Johnson contribute nicely as Lucia’s mother and sister respectively. However, by and large, most of the cast seems to be written to confirm racial stereotypes. It can be off-putting especially when you get the Hispanic grandmother (Ontiveros) fainting at the sight of a black man who’s dating her granddaughter. Oh, the horror.

Clearly, this country has continuing problems with race relations and I have no objection to exploring that situation, but I would rather it was not done in quite so dumb a manner. While the movie has some nice moments and occasionally a salient point to make, it torpedoes its own best intentions with infantile humor and poorly executed bits. The subject deserved better treatment – and a better script with better directorial decisions. Sadly, it got none of these.

WHY RENT THIS: Some of the moments are delightful and funny. Mencia and Ferrera do a good job.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sometimes the movie tries too hard to be funny and falls flat. Whitaker, a terrific actor, seems lost in his role. Offensive racial stereotypes are reinforced.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some sexual situations and some crude language briefly.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The parts of the dads were initially offered to – and rejected by – Samuel L. Jackson and George Lopez who discussed the matter on Lopez’ talk show.  

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a gag reel here but otherwise unremarkable.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $21.4M on an unreported production budget; the movie probably broke even.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Final Day of Cinema365: From the Heart

New Releases for the Week of March 12, 2010


March 12

Matt Damon finds out from his agent that he lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

THE GREEN ZONE

 

(Universal) Matt Damon, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinnear, Amy Ryan, Jason Isaacs, Khalid Abdalla, Said Faraj. Directed by Paul Greengrass

It was the job of Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction during the early days of the occupation of Baghdad. It was also becoming increasingly frustrating and suspicious to him that he was coming up empty on every single occasion. He and his men are being sent to a variety of sites based on the intelligence gathered from a single source, the veracity of which Miller is coming to doubt. Needing answers as to why good men are dying for what appears to be no discernable gain, he stumbles upon a massive conspiracy and cover-up that could change the game for an entire nation.

See the trailer and featurettes here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for violence and language)

Our Family Wedding

(Fox Searchlight) Forrest Whitaker, America Ferrera, Carlos Mencia, Regina King. Two bright young people meet in college, fall in love, graduate and plan to get married. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Not when the two are from two different ethnic groups with egocentric, uber-competitive fathers who want to turn the wedding into personal statements. The old adage is that when you marry someone, you marry their family and this comedy plays into that. Can true love conquer all? Seeing as this was made in Hollywood, I strongly suspect the answer is yes.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for some sexual content and brief strong language)

Remember Me

(Summit) Robert Pattinson, Pierce Brosnan, Emilie de Ravin, Chris Cooper. A rebellious young New Yorker, estranged from his wealthy father finds himself falling in love unexpectedly with a young woman who has daddy issues of her own. Through their love they find healing where they least expected to find it. Charter members of Team Edward should flock to this one.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for violence, sexual content, language and smoking)

She’s Out of My League

(DreamWorks) Jay Baruchel, Alice Eve, TJ Miller, Nate Torrence. A mild mannered airport security agent with fair to middling looks finds himself in a relationship with a successful and incredibly beautiful woman who has fallen hard for him. He has to figure out a way to make things work with an alpha male ex-boyfriend out to reclaim her and when everyone, including himself, believes she’s way above his pay grade.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: R (for language and sexual content)                                                    

The Yellow Handkerchief

(Goldwyn) William Hurt, Kristen Stewart, Maria Bello, Eddie Redmayne. A young girl impulsively accepts a ride from a young man and then the two of them pick up an older man who’s hitchhiking. All of them have something in their past that they are or have been running away from. As they take a road trip in post-Katrina Louisiana they find that the path to true freedom often comes at a heavy price.

See the trailer, featurettes and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content, some violence, language and thematic elements)