Category: Movie Reviews


 

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I don’t think Justin Simien will take any offense to me saying each incarnation of ‘Dear White People’ has been an improvement on the one before it.

The latest season (or volume as it were) builds on Season 1’s re-introduction of the characters and settings of Winchester University, and creatively expands on them in so many ways, the few highlights I’m about to list below only scratch the surface…

  • If you feel the need to play the comparison game, I guess ‘Atlanta’ would be the other choice, but the number of strong individual episodes in this season is absurdly high.  The ‘mushrooms’ episode.  The ‘abortion’ episode.  My actor’s bias has strong feelings for episode 8, which is essentially a one act play for the characters of Sam and Gabe; the amount of personal and political material in that half hour alone is obscene.
  • But my favorite episode of this bunch is the ‘Joelle’ episode.  The character is obviously a fan favorite, and the realization/breakdown of ‘the hotep’ was too hilarious and painfully accurate.
  • A ton of good cameos I won’t completely ruin, but I have to say seeing Lena Waithe and Tessa Thompson play against ‘what I was expecting’ was fantastic.  For the USC crowd my old classmate Daheli got more screen time this season as the Iyanla Vanzant doppleganger and she makes the most of it.

So yes, all the applause.  Carve out 10 more half hours of your time for this.

Streaming on Netflix.

 

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thanos

Just through a coincidence, I watched ‘the Dark Knight’ last night.  Bias aside, still my favorite ‘film featuring characters who started in comic books.’

But ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ might be the best ‘comic book movie’ ever.

A few non spoiling thoughts…

  1. I was rolling over in my head the last time I sat in a theatre that was stunned into silence when the credits rolled.  COMPLETELY different genre obviously, but it was ’12 Years a Slave’.  Some (like me) where processing what just happened, and what comes next; some were legitimately emotionally shattered.  Some were pissed off.  So…well done, Marvel!!!!
  2. If I had to pick out a single thing I was most impressed by, it was the balancing act.  I’m not going to go back and count, but every headlining hero, and more than a few surprising supporting players from the past decade made appearances.  Three or four rotating arcs/locations, and I at least, never got tired.  Credit to the editing here for keeping the story going and always going somewhere else before the audience got restless.
  3. The template has been well set now: if your goal is to create a compelling villain in one of these movies, from Magneto to Killmonger to Thanos, the audience has to understand the logic and say, ‘but you’re going way too extreme to get what you want.’  Mass genocide is mass genocide, but Thanos is just empathetic enough…

Had time to do a little homework about where Infinity War: Part II goes…still have no idea?

But why on earth would you doubt that Marvel knows what it’s doing?

 

 

onmyblock

I understand (kind of) that Netflix can’t promote the living heck out of every single project they put up.  I kept hearing about ‘On My Block’ by word of mouth, and I was only two episodes in before I started telling people around me, ‘You need to get involved with this,’ and now that I’ve finished season 1 (and I’ve heard Netflix has already greenlit season 2), I’m writing about it today.

The best pitch came from one of the homies who actually finished binging it before I did: ‘It’s one of those CW shows, but for us.’  Accurate.  ‘On My Block’ is an often hilarious, coming of age story centered around four teens: insecure, nerdy Ruben, trying to stay out of ‘the life’ Cesar, tomboy growing into a woman’s body Manse, and the resident goofball Jamal.  Following the kids entering the first year of high school, the series does a great job giving each member of the ensemble a relatable individual arc that doesn’t pull the overall tone too deeply into melodrama.

And it has to be said: young actors can be hit or miss, but the casting on this one is pitch perfect.  A lot of the fun of this series comes from how much we’re cheering for each of these characters and their quests.

Ten half hour episodes.  Quick and easy binge if you’re interested.

 

‘Andre the Giant’

 

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‘Andre the Giant’ is not one of the all time great sport docs (that’s become an increasingly hard club to break into the past ten years), but it’s a necessary watch for wrestling fans.

Featuring a ton of new footage and the approval of the WWE, the doc does well telling the story of one of the cornerstones of the pro wrestling industry as we know it.  Born in a small village in France, the film (wisely) parallels Andre’s story with the evolution of ‘the Business’.  The territory, video tape swapping days were perfect for an act to work for a few months before moving on to be a new attraction somewhere else.

That all changed of course when Vince McMahon came through with his plans for national domination.  Along with Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan, and Andre’s traveling partner Tim White, we get plenty of funny and not so funny stories that fill out the grey areas of what we didn’t know about the man behind the character.

Sad to hear it said he passed on treatment that would extend his life because he thought it would hurt his wrestling career.  There’s surely a very interesting thread there about the frequently short life spans of professional wrestlers.  But I also understand there’s no chance in hell WWE is going to co-produce that movie.

Still, worth checking out on HBO if you’re interested.

 

 

first-match

Do not let it be said we’re anywhere close to running out of fresh angles for genre stories…

At its core, ‘First Match’ is a coming of age story.  But here are just a few of the ‘not worn out’ touches…

a) the protagonist is a young black girl

b) she tries to bond with her father by joining her high school wrestling team

c) the potential ‘dark side’ angle has her going into female street fighting (not quite MMA but close…)

We all gravitate toward hero stories of course, but, especially in this (teenage) phase of life, it’s very compelling to watch someone set themselves up for a ‘good’ future, and potentially blow it because their emotions override their logic.

Well acted and directed. Definite recommend.

Now streaming on Netflix.

 

 

roxanneroxanne

Even for someone like me who’s more or less the same age as hip hop, it’s hard now to imagine the early days, when even people who saw money couldn’t imagine millions of dollars.  When it was a neighborhood thing and not a worldwide culture.  ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ does an excellent job of reminding you of the origins and a lot more.

If you don’t know the story of one of the first women of hip hop, this movie is a nice introduction.  Aided by performances from Nia Long and Academy Award winner Mahershala Ali (I’ll never get tired of saying that), ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ shines most as it reminds of the additional hurdles a female MC had to (has to?) overcome on top of trying to get ahead in a male dominated industry.  Need muscle when someone tries to screw you out of money?  Have a baby?  Just to name two.  The hip hop lover in me also loved the fairly organic way some other names of hip hop were integrated into the story without taking it over (Marley Marl, UTFO of course, Biz Markie, and another young kid from Queensbridge by the name of Nasir…)

Definitely worth seeing if you’re a hip hop historian.  Now streaming on Netflix.

 

 

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The new Ricky Gervais stand up on Netflix is interesting to me because, it’s really three shorter sets edited together…

In the first set, he’s basically doing his David Brent, ‘oblivious asshole’ character to poke fun at the Kardashians (well just one really) and how his own celebrity and wealth have left him ‘out of touch’ with the common man…

The second set is a more traditional stand up routine where he talks about everything they don’t tell you about becoming middle aged.  Self deprecating jokes, fat jokes and dick jokes, you know the drill…

In the last set he seems to be speaking in his natural voice, as he (with humor) focuses on all the good of social media (the ability to unite and organize around a cause in hours instead of months) and the bad (how we all fall victim to gaslighting).

It’s a sharp not quite 90 minutes from someone the vast majority of us will never think of as a ‘stand up comedian’.  If you’re a fan of any of his work (‘The Office,’ ‘Extras,’ ‘Derek’), I think it’s definitely worth checking out.

 

 

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get-ou

Here are this year’s nominees for Best Picture:

Call Me By Your Name

Darkest Hour

Dunkirk

Get Out

Lady Bird

Phantom Thread

The Post

The Shape of Water

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Who I’m Cheering For: Come on…

Who Should Win: Last year (I think) established unless you have ‘Titantic’, nobody really knows until the envelopes are (double) checked.  ‘Dunkirk’ is the most traditional feeling Best Picture.  ‘Get Out’ is the one we’ll still be referring back to years from now.  Actors love ‘Three Billboards’ and percentage wise we have the most votes.  Take your pick…

Who Will Win: I’ll call ‘The Shape of Water’.  Across all the branches, this one feels the most respected.

Enjoy the show!