Thursday, October 1, 2020

A Call To Spy (2019) Celebrates Women-Led Resistance

Inspired by true stories Vera Atkins (Stana Katic) helps lead Winston Churchill’s new secret army of spies known as the Special Operations Executive. Two of her newest recruits – Virginia Hall (Sarah Megan Thomas) and Noor Inayat Khan (Radhika Apte) become the first “lady spies” of a resistance network in German-occupied France as Hitler poises to cross the English channel. 

History has a way of repeating itself in Hollywood. When the same old stories are told, we’re stuck believing that the same people save or revolutionize the world over and over again. As female filmmakers look more between the lines of the past and its forgotten trailblazers, we begin to see just how much entertainment has scratched the surface. In a recent bout of solid female-driven World War II films, A Call To Spy continues to turn the tide of how cinema defines the “the greatest generation.”

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Salute to a King - Chadwick Boseman (1976 - 2020)

photo by Neil Krug

Very few stars in Hollywood shine so brightly. After a handful of roles under his belt, Chadwick Boseman accomplished more in his massive skyrocket to fame than many are ever able to. It's only fitting that Esquire once declared, "Chadwick is telling America's greatest stories." But how these stories were told is just as illuminating and important as Chadwick being the chosen one to tell them.

With three historical figures under his belt - Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get On Up, and civil rights activist Thurgood Marshall in Marshall - Boseman never played these influential figures as self-aware legends. Approaching them with a deliberate focus to live and breathe on screen as they were, he slipped into every role rarely carrying any evidence of the weight his portrayal would conjure. Instead of these stories hiding in the shadows, he was apart of bringing them to light - an assured and conflicting patience as first African American to play in Major League Baseball, that's completely uprooted with the electrifying energy of Brown, and then the tactical poise of Marshall. Only a true actor could achieve the transition between each role and not make you second-guess their innate vulnerability and courage.

Though Boseman's roles outside of Marvel are just as important and delivered a hopeful promise of where his career could soar, his role as T'Challa changed something - for Black culture, for the film industry, for fans.

It was only a few years ago that the original Avengers' arcs were coming to an end. The expiration date for the initial cast's contracts loomed and newer faces were stepping up to the plate. As their time started to come to a close, the next phase needed to be revived in order to keep the momentum going. I love Cap, as you all know, but my time with Marvel was coming down to who else was going to move the next phase along - who was going to infuse it with a new energy and direction. After 20/21 movies, Marvel finally decided to adapt Black Panther, and that changed the game. 

While most of Captain America: Civil War focuses on the beef between Tony Stark and Captain America, it also starts drawing out the newer Avengers for their own spin-offs- Peter Parker, Vision, Wanda Maximoff, Scott Lang, and T'Challa. Not only was T'Challa a glimmering transition into a Post-Avengers world, but mainly, it was Boseman as T'Challa who changed everything. Less than a minute together - T'Challa greets his father King T'Chaka (John Kani) at the United Nations signing of The Accords before Zemo attacks, leaving his father dead. Their love and respect bound together in such a heartbreaking, beautiful greeting and loss that sets their whole story motion for his own film. As The Avengers quarrel over the Accords, it's T'Challa's release of vengeance against Zemo for killing his father that is the pivotal moment of a solid character arc. Whether he was obscured by Black Panther costume or not, the layers of emotions he conveyed both in the grief of losing his father and in releasing his grudge was unmatched, and I was hooked.

I had at least a two-hour conversation with Denzel after he saw the movie,” Boseman recalls. “He saw all of us onscreen and it was like, ‘Yes, finally! This is what I’ve been working for. ’. . . When you see someone in his position—a star, a leader—don’t take it for granted that they’re struggling against the system to hold that position in order to express things a certain way without compromise. Think about the things they’ve turned down in order to be that person.(x)

T'Challa was a royal prince, but he approached him with the charisma, empathy, and determination that exuded an quiet strength - a universal character you could relate to no matter where you come from. It's Boseman's turn as the character that marked memorable moments for me in half the time of all The Avengers movies - his premiere in Captain America: Civil War; the scope of Black Panther to weave stories of African diaspora, colonialism and white supremacy continues to teach me something new; the fight against Thanos in Wakanda made me so nervous in the theaters the first time I saw it and his death in The Snap makes me cry just thinking about Okoye's reaction when he vanishes; seeing his return leading the charge of the new Avengers in Endgame and celebrating celebrating The Blip offered so much hope for his sequel. 

Black Panther, the film itself and the character, wasn't just a Marvel reset, but a cultural one that won't be repeated again - a billion dollars at the box office with a Black led cast and crew and an opportunity for generations to witness their first Black superhero. From his own childhood admiration of T'Challa to telling nods from the universe that Marvel would tap him to cast, it seemed like Chadwick was destined to change the world. None of the detail or layers of T'Challa's arc - everything from how he talked to building Wakanda from the ground up wouldn't be possible without the dedication and the attention to detail director Ryan Coogler with the crew, but also for the lead to set the tone for what Black Panther could be. Marvel might've reached out to him to play T'Challa, but similar to all of his roles, Boseman made it his own.

Ironically, Boseman didn't start as an actor - he instead wanted to be a director and was encouraged to try acting to understand the whole film-making process. After picking up tidbit roles before landing 42, it's strange to wonder what film would've been like without him in front of the camera. His impact is evident in the projects he chose that elevate Black actors and characters to be more than stereotypes - picking up the mantle from Sydney Poitier to Denzel Washington to Viola Davis, and running with it in every direction he could. That's a symbol of power that just can't be compared.

To say, Boseman will be missed feels like a vast understatement giving how his influence and presence is immeasurable. To say, I know how to comprehend his passing is something I don't. I don't know if many will fully know how to digest the news until 2020 is well in our rear-view mirror. It feels greedy to think of the roles he had yet to fulfill and the impact he had yet to achieve because he had already achieved so much - all the while facing his own battles with colon cancer that remained private with his family until his passing. He wasn't just a chameleon with so many roles left to give, but someone who was working behind the scenes to live up to the legacy of a superhero by visiting patients in hospitals and maintaining friendships with children who will and looked up to Black Panther. The incredible strength and grace he emanated off-screen and in his work leaves questions as much as it does inspiration. He soaked up every second with the time that he had, and what he delivered is a rare spark of true human royalty and grace.

Rest in peace and power, King.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Tesla (2020) struggles to bring the inventor's life to light

History's made up of pioneers who have transformed the world as we know it. Too many remain overlooked, forgotten to time and standards or traditions that now seem archaic today. And, movies often a way to shine a light on those whose stories are recognized by their peers and admirers. Engineer and inventor Nikola Tesla, who continuously mounts a resurgence in film and television, finally gets the biopic treatment, but it's difficult to discern if it isn't as garbled as his own legacy.

Outside of his own inventions, the Serbian-American scientist Tesla (Ethan Hawke) is perhaps most recognized for his feud against his former boss and American inventor Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan). Here, the film loosely explores Tesla's life from the 1893 World’s Fair and onwards, marking the differences in their career and their war on electrical currents - Tesla's alternating current sytem vs Edison's direct current electric power.

Director Michael Almereyda doesn't generate the most conventional films - if you've seen his work before, you'll go in knowing how off-beat his perspective can be from the plot to the production choices. If you haven't, it's a challenge to piece together his myriad of choices to tell this singular story - one that admirably steps out of the box from traditional biopics but fails to know when to air restraint.

Though the story itself should be expectantly straight-forward, Almereyda's approach will be the most divisive aspect. Its plot is unlike even the most surreal dramas, practically starting in the middle of Tesla's life and his immediate rivalry with Edison, and then expanding all over the map. While films in a non-linear fashion aren't always challenging to watch, Tesla doesn't hold back with directing its focus between Tesla, his acquaintances, partners, romantic interests, etc. Primarily, the plot is intermittently interrupted by daughter of JP Morgan Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson) who acts as a tour guide of who's who in Tesla's world. Once you get a hold on your bearings on the main story, the film switches the direction or Morgan drops by to clarify which scenes are fact or of Almereyda's artistic license. Her inclusion feels less like the film is making room for an observer giving you the scoop of Tesla's work and more as a diversion from adhering to a A to B to C, etc. biopic.

It's difficult to call this film quirky, or unique, in comparison to other films and leave it at that. Almereyda offers enough curiosity to pique your interest and see what he has up his sleeve next. He regularly interjects the film with little details that step out of the traditional mold, and even the time period it's set in - a scene with Sarah Bernhardt entering a club comes more like a scene out of John Wick than a late 1900s period piece; Morgan using a laptop to show pictures of Tesla, Edison, and other supporting characters on Google; Tesla crooning to a Tear for Fears song at karaoke. It's little nods like these that give the film its edge, but blurs the line between an extraordinary vision and throwing everything at the wall.

Where the film gets its bearings the most is Hawke's performance. Not much is known about Tesla - that's perhaps that the internet is for - and Hawke manages to encompass an emotional insulation about him that you want to follow. Kyle MacLachlan is steady as Thomas Edison, but in regards to both characters, the film struggles to dive deep beyond the loose personalities you may have heard of online or in social studies class. Though their frenemyship is the central thread of the story, and each have their own artistic and capitalist demons to face, the stakes don't feel high as they could, making them both as much of a mystery before you see the film as much as you do afterwards.

Similar to the real Tesla and the mystique his legacy has endured over the years, the film can be given its due by how it blazes its own trail. The latter aspires to be a visionary, becoming one of the few that tackles the microscopic 'anti-biopic' biopic genre. As its plot makes daring detours, it's free-wheeling approach hinders more than amplifies. Hawke's performance ties the film together on his own, but it's a flickering portrait that struggles to fully illuminate Almereyda's subject.

Rating: ★1/2☆☆
Please Note: I was provided with a screener to watch this film and provide an honest review. Telsa is available in theaters and watch at home via digital or cable.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

folklore (2020) offers an enchanting escape from the dumpster fire that is 2020

folklore album review
When it comes to Taylor Swift, her most devoted Swifties always expect something to pop up around the corner. Known as the queen of meticulously dropping hints of what’s to come, she always manages to keep fans on the edge of their seat. With her seventh album Lover dropping less than a year ago, and a massive pandemic sweeping the world, very few could’ve expected to hear new music after a cancelled summer tour. The next era of her music felt like an eternity away, but only Swift could drop her eighth studio record out of nowhere and blast more of our expectations out of the water. 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Summerland (2020) Infuses the Wartime Genre with Magic and Love

summerland movie review
Hollywood too often tells a familiar history of World War II. War stories are mostly reserved for heroic tales of the men behind some of the world’s greatest combat missions to defeat Adolf Hitler and establish support for the Allies. Rarely exploring the expansive experiences of women and minorities at the time, a few films are turning the tide of how cinema recollects history. In the similar vein of Lone Scherfig’s Their Finest or Mike Newell’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Summerland makes for a refreshing escape of self-discovery and fantasy during one of the world’s darkest periods.

Set in the English coastal countryside of Kent, academic researcher Alice Lamb (Gemma Arterton) becomes the guardian of a refuge child Frank (Lucas Bond) whose parents are fighting in the war. Despite the nearby town treating her as the “beast on the beach” for her unladylike behavior, Lamb and Frank develop an unlikely connection that helps unveil a lost romance with a former lover (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). As research about a fantastical island in the sky brings her closer to Frank, their time together draws more parallels between them than they ever could’ve imagined.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Relic (2020) Adds A New Twist to 'Haunted House' Classics

Relic Movie Review

Age creeps up on us steadily. One second we're young and free, and the next we're burdened with too many responsibilities or we don't want to be a burden to our loved ones. What becomes of us when we age and those around us is at the heart of Relic - a horror film that makes us come face-to-face with the shock, confusion, and (hopefully) understanding aging inevitably causes.

After their grandmother Edna (Robyn Nevin) is reported missing, her daughter and granddaughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and Sam (Bella Heathcote) journeys to her house to find out what happened and discover signs of disarray that makes them realize how severely she's been struggling on her own. When Edna mysteriously re-appears as if nothing happened, her erratic behavior forces them to realize there might be more to her dementia than meets the eye.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Hamilton (2020) Rises To The Hype

Hamilton Musical Film
Hamilton has been more than just a moment since it took the theatre world by storm in 2015. Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical premiered off and on Broadway, mainly stationed in New York City and then a subsequent tour abroad. For almost five years, fans have clamored to get premiere tickets to the groundbreaking show that won 11 of its 16 Tony Award nominations. Looking to the future, the musical-powers-that-be director Thomas Kail and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda decided to capture the magic of the initial Broadway cast. Their film, originally slated for theatrical release in October 2020, premiered on Disney+ early to entertain fans and subscribers at home during the pandemic. The result is a continued example of Hamilton as an inspiring and unforgettable movement.