H4


The play is ever the thing.

(2012) Drama (Random) Harry Lenix, Angus Macfadyen, Keith David, Amad Jackson, John Jordan, Geno Monteiro, Terrell Tilford, Candice Coke, Sharon Ferguson, Heavy D, Jeryl Prescott, Victoria Gabrielle Platt, Jahmela Biggs, Susan Dallan, Justin Alston, Diarra Kilpatrick, Evita Castine, Toyin Moses, Owisa Odera, Kimani Shillingford, Tarnue Massaquoi, Donna Rowe, Heather Ankeny  Directed by Paul Quinn

 

There is no doubting that William Shakespeare is perhaps the greatest playwright in the English language. The proof? His plays are as relevant now as they were when he wrote them more than 500 years ago.

This Kickstarter-funded adaptation of two of his plays – Henry IV Parts I and II – transplants the action from medieval England to modern Los Angeles. Henry IV (Lenix) is the king of the African-American community, but uneasy is the head that lies the crown. He is wracked by guilt that he took power by assassinating his predecessor and has been fighting meaningless wars in the Holy Wars. Now, many of his alliances are crumbling and it is taking all of his skills to hold his kingdom together.

Young Prince Hal (Jackson) is proving to be a wastrel. Uninterested in learning to be King, he hangs out with lowlifes, partying and fooling around, seduced by the promises of an easy life by Falstaff (Macfadyen), a gluttonous, cowardly criminal. With Henry in failing health, what will become of his kingdom when he’s gone?

Writer Ayanna Thompson chooses to retain much of the original Shakespearean language despite the modern setting, which is wise – there is not a writer alive who can match the Bard. However, she does tweak the dialogue with local reference (Hal becomes the Prince of Watts rather than the Prince of Wales) which leads to some odd lines, as when Falstaff calls for “a cup of malt liquor and a capon,” a line you will hear nowhere else, I guarantee it.

That’s also a double-edged sword; reading Shakespearean dialogue is much like reading a whole other language. Some of the actors handle it very nicely but others have troubles with it, which is to be expected. Still, it will be jarring for purists and to all others may just sound a little bit off.

The movie has a pretty bare bones budget and that doesn’t work to its advantage in all things. Sure, it forces the production to do more with less and at times they achieve that but in other places the film lacks the scope that other productions have been able to achieve. Some prefer their Shakespeare to rely on the language rather than the spectacle; your own preference will definitely come into play here. If you are more inclined to a grander scale, you may end up disappointed.

The score is also an annoyance. It sounded better suited for a Saturday morning cartoon than a historical Shakespearean play. It simply doesn’t fit the mood and setting at all. I think a more hip-hop oriented score would have done the film more of a favor. If you’re going to set the play in a modern African-American experience, go big or go home.

To the good side though there are some performances that really stand out. Chief among them is Lenix in the titular role. Lenix does have experience in Shakespearean productions and it shows here; he gives Henry a powerful mien and even with the affectation of an eyepatch commands the screen whenever he’s on it. He rarely has much in the way of set decoration with him, so your focus naturally goes to him.

Keith David also has the kind of powerful delivery that is perfect for Shakespeare, and he makes the most of it for the time he has onscreen which is not as much as I would have liked but then again, it’s as much as the role calls for. Geno Monteiro, as rebel knight Hotspur, also is impressive. I wouldn’t doubt he has experience with the Bard as well.

This is clearly a passion project and as to its point that Shakespeare translates not only to modern times but to different experiences is well-made. It’s too bad that there wasn’t a white knight to deliver a more adequate budget for the film in order to do their thing, but I will say they do a credible job given what they have to work with. While I can’t blame them for trying for something more, they might have benefitted from re-creating a stage performance and filming that. It might have worked out better.

REASONS TO SEE: Lenix delivers a powerful performance.
REASONS TO AVOID: Some actors don’t handle the Shakespearean language as well.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Ayanna Thompson, who adapted the material and co-wrote the screenplay, has a PhD and is a Shakespearean scholar who has been interviewed on the subject for a variety of programs.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Google Plus, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 2/17/20: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet: Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hamlet in the Golden Vale
FINAL RATING: 5.5/10
NEXT:
The Old Man and the Gun

Imperial Dreams


The face of urban stress.

The face of urban stress.

(2014) Drama (Super Crispy) John Boyega, Rotimi Akinosho, Glenn Plummer, De’aundre Bonds, Keke Palmer, Fat Dog, Nora Zehetner, Todd Louiso, Sufe Bradshaw, Maximiliano Hernandez, Anika Noni Rose, Ethan Coach, Justin Coach, Jernard Burks, Wilfred Lopez, Nik Petcov, Kelita Smith, Zilah Mendoza, Kandiss Edmundson. Directed by Malik Vitthal

Florida Film Festival 2015

In the years since John Singleton’s groundbreaking Boys N the Hood illustrated the agonies and the ecstasies of South Central Los Angeles, little has changed. The choices are few for those restricted by poverty and apathy; selling drugs and using drugs. Getting out of the cycle of violence and poverty has become nearly impossible.

Bambi (Boyega) is boyishly handsome and just home after serving a 28 month stretch for armed robbery. His son Day (the Coach twins) has been staying with his Uncle Shrimp (Plummer) while Bambi’s girlfriend and baby mama Samaara (Palmer) is also in jail for a non-violent crime.

Bambi wants to be a good role model for his son and stay on the straight and narrow. Shrimp has other ideas. He wants Bambi to resume his place in Shrimp’s gang. Bambi would much rather get a job. However, the system is stacked against him; the state has filed for child support on behalf of Samaara, cranking a debt that Bambi can’t pay without a job. He can’t, however, get a job without a driver’s license and he can’t get a driver’s license with that child support debt on his record. It’s beyond Catch-22; it’s Catch-23.

As hard as it is for Bambi to stay straight, the thug life continues to intrude. His cousin Gideon (Bonds) is on the run from a rival gang who mean to murder him and Bambi’s proximity to Gideon is putting both him and Day in danger but Gideon is one of the few who are out to help Bambi make it on the level. Bambi’s mom (Zehetner) is a raging alcoholic and his half-brother Wayne (Akinosho) who has a partial scholarship to Howard’s business school but needs money to make up the difference so he can actually go to college is thinking of taking a short cut that may lead him down the same path that Bambi is trying to get off of. An act of violence puts everything in flux and puts Bambi even more at risk than he has been, leaving him and Day as vulnerable as can be, living out of a car that doesn’t run with a pair of skeptical detectives (Hernandez, Bradshaw) and a social worker (Rose) on Bambi’s back.

This is one of those movies that I really wanted to like a lot more than I ended up doing. Clearly Vitthal has a good eye and ear for inner city drama, and knows how to tell a good story. The trouble is, this is the kind of story that doesn’t really tell us anything new. Particularly in the light of recent events in Baltimore, Ferguson and other places around the country, we’re particularly sensitive to the plight of young black men in predominantly African-American communities that are riddled with poverty, crime and drugs. While this story is sadly not one far from the stories of many young African-American men, I get the sense that it has been told more than once and more than once in this very Film Festival.

That said, Boyega (who was tremendous in Attack the Block) has the chops and the looks to be the next Hollywood superstar. In my review of that movie, I compared him to Denzel Washington and certainly he has that kind of charisma and screen presence. Here, in a much more subdued and less obviously heroic role, he struggles with his conscience and his frustration, knowing that the easy way out is to revert back to the old life, but that it would lead him to exactly the same place – if not a cold, steel slab in the morgue.

The rest of the cast are fairly solid, with the Coach twins doing particularly well as Day; the father-son dynamic between the two is genuine and affecting. Very often actors this young have a difficult time bonding with their screen parents but in this case that’s not the case. The heart of this movie is Bambi’s devotion to Day and if we don’t believe that, we don’t believe the movie. That the movie is convincing on that end is admirable.

I take it that the slang being used here is genuine to the time and place; at times I had difficulty figuring out what some of the characters were saying and subtitles would have been genuinely appreciated. While some might write this off as a feature-length rap video (and with some justification), that would be a bit presumptive. This is a solid film by a filmmaker with potential that is dominated by an actor who may well be a great one in the very near future.

REASONS TO GO: Star-making performance by Boyega. Loved the father-son dynamic. Captures the Catch-22 of the modern inner city.
REASONS TO STAY: Doesn’t really break any new ground. At times needs subtitles to follow the inner city slang dialogue. A few too many cliches.
FAMILY VALUES: Violence and foul language throughout; some drug use and lots of adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Filmed at the actual Imperial Courts Housing Project in Watts.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/29/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 64/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Fruitvale Station
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Homeless