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T.A. Moreland

T.A. Moreland

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.

42: The Story of Jackie Robinson Integrating Major League Baseball [MOVIE REVIEW]

42 is the saga of Jackie Robinson's breaking the color barrier and becoming the first black player in Major League Baseball. Chadwick Boseman plays Robinson.

Veteran actor, Harrison Ford stars as Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager who signed Robinson.

Nicole Beharie is featured as Robinson's biggest fan and wife, Rachel.

42 is a stimulating, historic, well-produced, and directed movie and it gets our highest rating: See It!.

While the cast is strong, Chadwick Boseman lacks the on-screen presence to succeed in the leading role. He's overshadowed by Harrison Ford in every scene they share. Boseman is even minimized by Nicole Beharie when they are on camera together. It's a combination of Boseman's weak persona and stellar performances of Ford and Beharie.

While much praise has been given to Branch Rickey for his courageous move in signing Robinson, 42 touches briefly on one of Rickey's primary motivations: economics. Urban areas where most major league teams played, had large black communities who stayed away from the segregated major leagues. Signing black players was one way to get those communities to come to games.

The movie focuses upon the racism faced by Robinson but also taught subtle lessons on bigotry. In one scene, a father and son sat excited in their anticipation of seeing the Dodgers play their home team. When Robison was introduced, the father along with other adults began calling the Dodger rookie the "N" word. The boy seemed a bit confused at first. But then soon joined in the slurring of Robinson. The kid had just learned to be a racist.

The film also references the fact that some players threatened to leave the league rather play with Robinson.

One final point, the baseball scenes are well staged, so sports fans won't be disappointed.

42 is rated PG-13 and is less than 2 hours. And again it's a See It.

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!

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