Thursday, January 21, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks - Police Detective

Wandering Through the Shelves hosts Thursday Movie Picks. It's a weekly series where bloggers post and share various movie picks every Thursday. 

The rules are simple: based on the theme of the week pick three to five movies and tell us why you picked them. For further details and the schedule visit the series main page here.

This week is Police Detectives. 

Sunday, January 17, 2021

One Night In Miami (2021)

There are moments where we'd do anything to know what the walls would say if they could talk. Sometimes films gives us the opportunity to piece together history as best as possible or simply imagine what might've been. For Regina King making her directorial film debut, she sets her sights on capturing a seemingly everyday get-together that just so happens to feature four of the 20th Century's biggest icons.

Based on a fictional account of a real event,  boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), football player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr), and activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) join together for an evening in Miami, Florida. The former three assume their reunion is to celebrate Clay winning his first world heavyweight championship bout, but Malcolm X has a more laid-back idea in mind - ruminate about their lives including faith, racism, Black excellence, and their futures.

Similar to a musical, dialogue-driven films can be hard to suspend our disbelief, especially when it's based on a play. One location with a limited amount of characters can feel heavy-handed. It might not be the biggest source as a box office draw or draw the most amount of movie-goers, but it’s a good start for a Hollywood veteran to make her mark behind the camera.

As an ensemble, each actor shines individually and together as a group. Though One Night In Miami centers around four historical figures, a good portion of the story belongs to Malcolm X and Sam Cooke. Abdir maintains a good sense of Malcolm X with the familiar "prophet-mode" reputation he's popularly recognized for and the emotional toll of seeking Black excellence for all - you could say the movie is told mainly through how he sees his fate and struggles with the finality of his friends' influence enduring long after they're gone. Odom Jr. completely breaks free of his performance of Hamilton's Aaron Burr, letting us see Cooke as the powerful yet conflicted icon he was and still is. Their fellow castmates - Eli Goree and Aldis Hodge are just as influential but are used more subtly. Clay could've been a caricature, but Goree makes him well-rounded as well as boisterous and spirited; Hodge gives a soft yet stern performance to Brown - he isn't given much to do, but when he's on-screen, it's hard to turn your attention to anything else. This isn’t to say that Goree and Hodge aren’t as influential, but they’re more like tag team partners used to be the voice of reason as the tension builds between the main duo.

If we know who these men are by hearing or reading their name, the film doesn’t buy into making them larger-than-life or using their names for clout. Over the film’s running time, screenwriter Kemp Powers (who also wrote the play) captures what could’ve occurred between the four friends since no record of the conversation or what happened exists. The Civil Rights movement serving as the film's setting naturally invites a reflection of our current social and racial climate, but doesn't make the characters or what they express too over-the-top or heavy-handed. Powers explores a wide breadth of experiences and choices that let us see their vulnerabilities as real human beings and their influence as future icons, and does so with an equal amount of banter and tension that makes their evening together intriguing and entertaining.

One Night In Miami relies mostly on script and actors to hold your interest, but this doesn’t count King out as a solid director. The film might not helm a huge budget or showcase all the style in the world for the story, but she and her team (cinematography, costume design, and production design in particular) know exactly what they want – where the camera should be, the seamless blocking, etc. Even though it’s based on a play, it doesn’t feel like King forcefully wants you to feel like you’re at the theatre. Instead she lets the characters become three-dimensional on their own and works with them or around them, and leaves you with an impression of how the evening would unfold realistically and on stage. The film isn’t the darkest drama, riotous comedy, or meatiest biopic, but it’s an engaging exhibition of her efforts in front of, and now behind the camera, that's been worth the wait.

Have you seen One Night In Miami? What did you think?
One Night In Miami is now on Amazon Prime.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks - 2020 Releases

Wandering Through the Shelves hosts a fun series Thursday Movie Picks. Every week spotlights a different theme for bloggers to choose 3-5 picks. This week is 2020 Releases. I have so many movies to catch up with, these picks came pretty easily,  but I'm afraid I'll find other movies I like more in the upcoming month that I'm desperately trying to catch up with that could've been here instead. Either way, here are a few random releases I enjoyed.

Honorable mention: I was going to include Portrait of a Lady on Fire since I saw it in theaters right as the pandemic started...but it was officially released in 2019. I didn't know it would count? Oh well.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

52 Films By Women Challenge - The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

In 2015, the Los Angeles' Women in Film started a challenge to watch one film by a female director every week for a year. I've seen this floating around social media and movie blogs for a while, and always meant to join in. For 2021, I finally decided to try it out this year as one of my resolutions.

Every week I thought it'd be fun to do a quick round-up of the film(s) I've watched for the challenge. The films I chose for the challenge are on letterboxd - if you want to see the slate so far - but I'm not going in an particular order of alphabetical or chronological. 

My first film is The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Thursday Movie Picks - Oscars Winners Edition: Best Picture

Wandering Through the Shelves hosts a fun series Thursday Movie Picks. Every week spotlights a different theme for bloggers to choose their picks. I've seen this around the blogosphere before and thought I'd join in this year. 

This week is Oscars Winners Edition: Best Picture. 

There are so many Best Picture winners to choose from, but I chose what I consider to be underrated winners. I didn't necessarily choose these in comparison to what was potentially snubbed that year. I decided to look at winners versus what else was officially nominated that year and how far movie goers' reception has changed since.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

So, Tenet (2020) Happened

CIA Agent and the Protagonist (John David Washington) is given a word – tenet – and the objective to  trail a Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who communicates with the future. As Sator sets his sight on obliterating humanity, the Protagonist does everything he can to save the world with the help of a fellow agent official Neil (Robert Pattinson) and Sator’s estranged wife (Elizabeth Debicki).

“Don’t try to understand it,” as scientist (Clemence Posey) declares in Tenet, the most concise way to approaching a Christopher Nolan film. You know that you’re going to get characters navigating a timey-wimey unraveling plot filled with exposition, amazing stunts, an ear-blasting score, and a suitable cast to carry it all on their shoulders. Where Nolan slightly fails with his latest mind-boggling adventure is with the following phrase, “feel it.” 

Ironically, everything here is right out of Nolan’s staple of work. Similar to the clique of Inception led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Jordan Gordon Levitt (or any of his previous casts), this ensemble meshes well together. John David Washington’s charisma draws out a tedious conflict with Kenneth Branagh, a friendly camaraderie with Robert Pattinson, and trusting warmth with Elizabeth Debicki. Despite the heftiness of Nolan’s script, they make a suitable crew who are easy to watch as their various cahoots unfold. Nolan also always packs his films with tactile stunts you won’t find anywhere else. With a story that helms the concept of moving forward and backward in time, there are sequences here that are on the same level of “the kicks” in Inception or the race to dock the Endurance in Interstellar - they'll baffle you with their practical effects yet ingenious execution. And instead of a dynamo score by the always-reliable composer Hans Zimmer, Nolan steps out of the box with Ludwig Gorannsson, who crafts an action-packed futuristic score that also blows out the dialogue.

Even though Tenet has these elements that are fun on their own, where the film goes “wrong” is how little there is to care about anything. While Nolan's plots are always a source of confusion for movie goers, I hate to flex I've never particularly struggled with them. So, Tenet isn't that hard to follow when the concept boils down to a cat and mouse chase locked in a time loop. But the script is too concerned with battening down the hatches to drop exposition and a completely forgettable subplot of an arms dealer using The Protagonist for their own means, that the story is left dry and cringe-worthingly cliché. 

What works in favor for Tenet also works against it. Unlike his previous films where the hero had some semblance of humanity tying him to the world outside of saving it or a decent redemption arc, The Protagonist is the hero not because of some special inner calling to care about anyone’s particular fate but mostly it’s his duty and he’s the best at it; Neil shows up to begin and continue their beautiful chaotic friendship whenever he’s needed; Andre comes across as terrifying until his punishment via global annihilation falls down the trap of a 1960s Bond villain; Katharine is limited as the abused wife who is treated as a damsel-punching-bag for 2/3 of the story until she can “save herself” and the world (honestly one of the most offensive female roles I've ever seen). The cast does well with their roles but mostly because of they're given to work with. The action scenes are good, but they’re also too sparse to outdo what other end-of-the-world flicks have done before and more entertainingly. 

Tenet is memorable for Nolan continuing his reputation to conjure a labyrinth of ideas, and there’s nothing wrong with the fact that this is his niche. But a complex film is not necessarily smart if the most resounding reaction is either confusion or accusations that everyone else who dislikes the film is  not smart enough to understand. Contrary to common film bros' defense of Nolan, some to most movie goers understand what he’s delving into - we've just learned to accept that intricate concepts without a satisfying pay-off aren't always worth our time.
Rating: ★☆☆
Have you seen Tenet? What did you think?