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Widows is a Film to Both Mourn and Celebrate [MOVIE REVIEW]

They knew their husbands were involved in the unsavory and illegal activity of thievery. And when their spouses were killed pulling off a major heist, they also knew that day might come. But what they didn’t expect was to be threatened with death, if they didn’t repay money stolen by their now deceased partners. Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki play the widows who have to delve into a world they know very little about to save their own lives.

The movie, Widows, boasts an exceptional cast and compelling story but is badly tainted by a virtual smorgasbord of negative stereotypes of the African American community.

While any plot involving criminals displays seedy characters; in Widows, this seediness if mainly painted black. There’s the dishonest, self-serving black pastor; thugs parading as legitimate politicians; a ruthless, very dark-skinned enforcer/killer; and African Americans, are referred to as people who kill each other and who can’t stop making babies.

And of the black women characters, one gets made a fool of romantically, and the other is a masculine, athletic man-woman.

As is often the case with these types of troubling portrayals, this script is the product of a black man, Steve McQueen, who co-wrote and directed the film.

Viola Davis is absolutely amazing. A powerful screen presence, coupled with an uncommon ability to display a full range of emotions, each with authenticity and credibility. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of roles for 40ish African American women and they often have to take what is offered to them.

Widows gets a cast diversity rating of “A-”. Set in Chicago, it contains actors of color but not as many Hispanics and Asians as should be, for the highly diverse Windy City.

At two hours and 10 minutes, this movie goes on way too long. As I have said in the past, few films tell a story that takes more than 90 to 100 minutes to tell. It’s rated “R” for violence and language.

The verdict is: See Widows. Despite my criticisms, if this film succeeds we’ll see more of Viola on the screen. And that would be a very good thing!

Green Book Gets the Green Light! [MOVIE REVIEW]

It’s the 1960s and Don Shirley, originally from Jamaica, a renowned classical pianist, is the darling of the east coast wealthy elite. While he’s not the outspoken civil right advocate type, he believes that displaying his talents in the segregated south might help to change the rigidly racist views held in that part of the country. So Shirley (Mahershala Ali), or Dr. Shirley, as he was referred to because of his Ph.D., and his record company hired-bouncer, Tony Vallelonga (Viggo Mortensen) to serve as his driver/bodyguard during the trip south. The odd couple has very little in common. Shirley is highly educated, cultured and lives alone in his Manhattan penthouse. Vallelonga is a family man, not formally educated and steeped in the customs of the Bronx Italian American community where he lives.

Green Book is everything a film should be. It’s amusing, entertaining and educational. The film’s title refers to the real publication, The Negro Motorist Green Book, which guided black travelers as to what hotels and facilities they could stay in, eat at and/or have their vehicles serviced while traveling through segregated states.

The two characters exchanged views and disagreed on about everything from food to music, to driving habits, and even on writing letters. There’s a validity to positions taken by both of them. And Dr. Shirley’s lack of familiarity with black performers such as Chubby Checker and Aretha Franklin shocks Vallelonga.

The fact that the screenplay’s co-written by Nick Vallelonga, and the director, Peter Farrelly results in Vallelonga’s character being a bit more credible and consistent. Dr. Shirley’s character is written where he knows well the rules of the Jim Crow south and seems to accept them but without any explanation tries to reject them. Like when he suddenly insists on eating in the formal dining room at a club where he played. This had not been an issue before or thereafter. So why in that scene?

However, in a very subtle and effective way, the screenwriters capture the doctor’s loneliness as a well-educated and refined single black man who would never be accepted as a part of a community of people he performed for; and did not have much in common with most black Americans at that time.

Based upon a true story set in the early 1960s, the film’s dialogue has some current day phrases like traveling while black. And the often heard rhetorical question about strange behavior: Who does that?

Part of the Green Book’s success is due to the excellent performances of the two lead characters. There has been Oscar buzz about both Ali and Mortensen. The selection of the darker Ali to play lighter hued, Dr. Shirley, raises an issue that black journalists have discussed before: why are famous black people played by actors who look nothing them, i.e. the fair skinned, light eyed, Terrence Howard playing the South African leader, Nelson Mandela. While how much a performer looks like the famed white person he or she will play, is always a factor.

The characters reflect not only the rich diversity of cultures in New York City but how very different communities reside in close proximity. Vallelonga’s folksy Bronx neighborhood was very likely no more than a mile or two from Dr. Shirley’s wealthy Manhattan enclave.

The cast of the film is diverse. However, it’s difficult to grade the diversity of the cast of a true movie. It has to be assumed that the scenes accurately reflect the races of the people at the time the events occurred.

Ultimately, Green Book is more than a movie; it’s an experience. It gets a See It! rating. It’s rated PG-13 for language, smoking, violence, and some suggestive material. Green Book is 130 minutes in length.

Halloween. It’s been worth the wait. [MOVIE REVIEW]

It’s been 40 years since the Halloween film series first began. And it’s been nine years since the last iteration. In this version, Michael Myers (Nick Castle) continues his four-decade quest to kill his nemesis, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). But she’s ready for what she views as his inevitable return, living in a fortified cabin with an assortment of weapons at her disposal. One night when Michael’s transported from his asylum, he escapes. Of course, it also happens to be Halloween. He terrorizes the local town in search of his target, Laurie.

I have said many times before I am not a fan of the horror film genre. But I am not tricking you; Halloween is a treat!

The movie starts by laying the foundation for those who may not be familiar with Laurie’s and Michael’s history. That takes a while and you might find yourself thinking: Get on with the carnage! When it starts, Michael proves to be as bloody a murderer as you’ll see. The eerie Halloween theme music enhances those scenes.

Also, this story throws out the old rules as to who’s a victim and who is not. This is a well-written script and Jamie Lee Curtis is outstanding in the lead non-killer role. She has an intensity which adds credibility to this implausible movie type.

Halloween features the usual horror film unreasonable responses, rather than run, characters have to investigate. Then other times when they should investigate, like when a loved one is screaming, they stand looking puzzled.

Then there’s Michael Myers. Who is supposed to be a human being. After 40 years, Laurie is the grandmother of a teenage granddaughter. But all of those years’ incarcerated hasn’t aged him a bit. Also, in these films being crazy also makes villains stronger than other people. Michael must have been hitting the gym and lifting weights to maintain his strength because all these years later, he’s still able to overpower victims regardless of age or size.

Halloween gets a “B” for cast diversity. Small town America. There are African-Americans in supporting roles and in background scenes. But no other people of color.

Halloween is rated “R” for horror violence and bloody images, language, brief drug use and nudity, and is 110 minutes in length. At a production cost of $10 million, which is a bargain for feature filmmaking, Halloween is bound to be a box office success. It’s a See It!

The First Man, It Doesn’t Really Take Off. [MOVIE REVIEW]

Based on the bestselling account of Neil Armstrong’s journey to becoming the first person on the moon,First Man stars Ryan Gosling as the first man on the moon. The film focuses upon the 1961 – 1969 time period when Armstrong goes from a decorated but unknown pilot to one of the most famous men in the world. The story doesn’t just focus on the NASA side of his life but also upon his painful recovery from a loss of close loved one.

First Man is an often dry, necessarily predictable but informationally important film. The problem with movies based upon well-known historical events is that the outcomes are by in large already known. When senior government officials discussed whether the U.S. would move forward with plans to land a man on the moon, viewers knew that answer was yes. When Armstrong applied for the astronaut’s program we all knew he’d be selected.

The movie also tells the story of Armstrong’s home and family life – which is actually pretty boring. Younger viewers expecting to see Star Wars type of adventures will be disappointed.

But the film's value is its references to historical issues. Like how the U.S. space exploration was driven by competition with the Russians and that eight men died in NASA related accidents during the 1960s.

Ryan Gosling is bland in First Man’s leading role. I am not sure if that was his acting or a reflection of Armstrong’s true personality. On the other hand, Claire Foy was outstanding as Armstrong’s wife Janet. She dominated every scene she was in.

As to cast diversity, First Man gets a “C”. To many in this country, this time period from 1961-1969 represents the “good ole days” when women and people of color held few positions of power or authority. However, black men are shown at the launch site and in the command center scenes. And there were no references to the black women featured in Hidden Figures, who played essential roles the space program during that very same time period.

The verdict on the First Man is to wait and Rent It. It’s an interesting film but not compelling enough to rush out and see it now.

It’s Rated PG-13 (for some thematic content involving peril, and brief strong language). And it is an extremely long 138 minutes.

The Oath is pretty good; I promise [MOVIE REVIEW]

In The Oath, the White House announces it is requesting that all Americans take an “optional” loyalty pledge to the president. This request outrages Chris (Ike Barinholtz), a diehard liberal and only fuels his existing anger over the direction the country is heading. He shares his disgust with his wife, Kai (Tiffany Haddish) who appears to be just as offended. As they prepare to host his family for Thanksgiving, he hears stories of people who vocally oppose the pledge being taken from their homes by federal agents. Chris’ family comprised of his parents, sister and her husband, and brother and his girlfriend arrive and as Chris expects, there are contentious exchanges among them about the pledge and politics in general. Kai does her best to keep the peace but things only get worse when some unexpected guests arrive.

Writer, director, and star Ike Barinholtz makes a strong statement about America’s current political climate in this provocative production. He hits both the government and those who remain quiet and are even supportive of the erosion of U.S. constitutional principles. The characters are authentic and credible, except for the fact that they ALL curse like the proverbial sailor which makes all of their dialogue sound very similar.

Chris’ interracial marriage fits his persona perfectly but is not really a major issue in the storyline. Tiffany Haddish continues her tendency, we first saw in Girls Trip, to play the stereotypical, horny black woman. When Chris first hears of the pledge and goes on a rant, her focus quickly becomes getting his pants off.
While the performances are stellar across the board, Ike Barinholtz is exceptional; just as you might expect of someone who writes, directs, and stars in a film.

As to our cast diversity rating, The Oath gets an A-. The cast is relatively small and Haddish, an African American woman and Asian American John Cho have major roles.

Ultimately, The Oath works because it’s thought-provoking and takes viewers on an emotional rollercoaster. It gets our highest rating, See It!

It’s rated R (for language throughout, violence and some drug use) and is a fast-paced, 93 minutes in length.

 

The First Purge Should be the Last. [MOVIE REVIEW]

It’s sometime in the future. The First Purge, the fourth in the series, shows how the idea began of having 12 hours in which it is legal to commit all crimes, including murder. A new right-wing party called the New Founding Fathers (NFF) initiates the concept supposedly to allow people to release frustrations building up from everyday life. Staten Island is chosen as the test site for the first purge. Ultimately, NFF’s true motive comes to light.

The First Purge is sickening. And, similar to Book Club, The First Purge is Dead on Arrival. The problems are many. First, it assumes that viewers don’t know much about Staten Island, including that its population is almost 80% percent white, mainly Irish and Italian Catholics. This film focuses on a low-income housing development and the surrounding communities which are black, who comprise about 10% of the Island’s population. There are more Hispanics in Staten Island than there are blacks. If this community did exist it would include whites and Hispanics.

Next, white screenwriter, James DeMonaco, who’s from Brooklyn, obviously did little research, as he creates scenes and dialogue based upon how he believes black people act. The film opens with a conversation between a blue-eyed, intellectual, medical male staff person and a dark-skinned, scared face, inarticulate black man with badly stained teeth.

It’s loaded with stereotypes. There’s a lot of the N-word, black street gangs (which is NOT a huge issue in Staten Island), heavy drug dealing, and hoochie mamas. And during the purge, again when all crimes are legal, rather than finding safe havens, they show black people dancing in the streets and partying. Since sex is the only thing black people ever think about, the film features a couple in plain sight, getting busy on the top of a car.

Further, in DeMonaco’s black world, even the most decent, peace-loving African American woman, is familiar with and knows how to use a gun!

Even though the film ultimately shows this community is the victim of malevolent forces, the way it is displayed, it justifies the disdain and fear of low-income urban residents that some people harbor.

The First Purge gets a “C” for cast diversity. It’s a largely African American troupe. Marisa Tomei is one of the few white actors in the film. She plays the sociologist who originally comes up with the purge idea. The film’s grade reflects its misrepresentation of the demographics of story’s location.

There are two characteristics of bad films. Both occurred at the screening of The First Purge: viewers laugh at serious dialogue not all intended to be funny. And people leave before it’s over.

The First Purge is rated “R” for strong disturbing violence throughout, pervasive language, some sexuality and drug use. And is 99 minutes in length.

This 4th of July week, purge your mind of any notions of seeing The First Purge.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom- It stumbles but eventually gets up!

The Jurassic World Theme Park has been closed for four years to the public but the dinosaurs thrive on Isla Nublar without paying onlookers. Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) return to the island when a volcano threatens to end all life there. Owen is especially concerned about Blue, the raptor he bonded within the last Jurassic edition.

While saving the prehistoric creatures from a threat from nature, Owen and Claire learn of manmade threats to destroy the animals completely and another which would exploit them for financial gain.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom struggles to develop underlying plotlines when the entire purpose of these films is to showcase the dinosaurs. The stories are weak, predictable and plagued by a number of “coming out of nowhere rescues” by both humans and creatures.

Returning stars, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, add stability and familiarity to the film. But among the human cast, the real star is young Isabella Sermon, who plays Maisie Lockwood, whose grandfather, Benjamin helped create the dinosaur-cloning technology. Isabella is amazing!
For cast diversity, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom gets a B+. One of the featured stars, in addition to Pratt and Howard, is a young black actor, Justice Smith playing Franklin, a nerdy, easily frightened, computer tech. There are also other people of color in supporting and minor roles.

Ultimately, the Jurassic Park Series is about the special effects and the Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom doesn’t disappoint. And that’s enough to garner a “See It!” rating.

The film is PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril and is 129 minutes in length.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom also hints at the next film in the series.

Don’t miss, Deadpool 2 [MOVIE REVIEW]

In Deadpool 2, the 11th installment of the X-Men series, thing are going well for Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) until he loses a loved one. When he attempts to join her on the other side, he learns that he has to do more good in this world before he can move to the next. His first step is to assist a young, troubled mutant. However, Cable (Josh Brolin) gets in the way of that effort leading Wilson to put together a new team of X-men to fight his old nemesis.

Critiquing Deadpool 2 is easy. If you like the mutants’ series, this episode will not disappoint. And Deadpool 2 gets a See It! rating. It has all the battles, humorous dialogue and over the top action scenes which made the first Deadpool film a success. Ryan Reynolds breathes an everyman type of charm into the lead character. He’s funny and flawed which makes him more credible.

One downside of the mutant series is the lack of racial diversity. The main characters are overwhelmingly white males. However, the creators do embrace black women characters. There’s Storm who was played by Halle Berry in four of the X-Men films. In Deadpool 2, Leslie Uggams returns as Blind Al, Wilson’s confidant. And joining his new team in this film is the half German and half African-American, Zazie Beetz. Her mutant skills are exceptional marksmanship and hand-to-hand skills, and probability-altering powers.

However, due to the overall lack of cast diversity, Deadpool 2, receives a “C” for cast diversity.

It’s rated “R” (for strong violence and language throughout, sexual references and brief drug material) and is 111 minutes in length.

Ultimately, Deadpool 2 is a See It!

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