Sunday, November 11, 2018

TAMED QUEEN: a review of "Bohemian Rhapsody"

Story by Anthony McCarten and Peter Morgan
Screenplay Written by Anthony McCarten
Directed by Bryan Singer/Directed by Dexter Fletcher (uncredited)
** (two stars)

Frankly, and yes, I do have to say it...the 1998 VH-1 Behind The Music documentary special was more effective.

Dear readers, for those of you who know me in the real world, then you know. For those of you who do not, you will soon find out. But let me now state upon this site that ever since my childhood, as I was growing up in the 1970's, the music of Queen has been a beloved constant in my life from, I would imagine, that very first listen of "Killer Queen" (released October 21, 1974) on Chicago's WLS AM. 

The musical wonderland as created by the collective of John Deacon, Brian May, Roger Taylor and of course, the iconic, immortal Freddie Mercury was a universe unlike any other to bask oneself within and for me, I practically drowned inside of it. Every song that hit the radio airwaves, I latched onto powerfully. The experience of hearing the song "Bohemian Rhapsody" (released October 31, 1975) for instance, was as Earth shifting every single time it was heard just as much as the aural vortex of sound upon the daily schoolbus was utterly silenced every single time "Another One Bites The Dust" (released 1980) appeared on the driver's small transistor radio. I remember being especially obsessed with the band's "News Of The World" (released October 28, 1977) album as it was a record I checked out of the school library constantly, essentially memorizing every single note of the work as I loved it so completely. I remember wanting to see Director Mike Hodges' re-make of "Flash Gordon" (1980) solely because Queen had scored the film--for that matter, the band's music was also the only draw for me to see Director Russell Mulcahy's "Highlander" (1986).

Album after album, song after song, and most certainly, within the band's peerless performance during 1985's Live Aid philanthropic concert event, Queen was a band that seemed to re-define the concept of originality over and again. Their musical aesthetic was uncompromising in its sheer breadth, inventiveness, superlative musicality and recording production as they bridged the gaps between hard rock, prog rock, R&B, soul, crystalline ballads, funk, pop, heavy metal, classical, vaudevillian, jazz, blues and of course, the operatic with an idiosyncratic style that afforded them the rare ability of sounding like no other band other than themselves and somehow being embraced by the world in the process, as Queen means so many different things to generations of listeners from all walks of life. This was a band that constantly broke barriers and Freddie Mercury, the consummate performer, the sky scorching vocalist, was a risk taker and then some.

So, it was a shame to witness just how pedestrian and superficial an experience the new musical rock biopic "Bohemian Rhapsody," as credited to Director Bryan Singer actually was. It is by no means a bad film, so to speak. There are quite a number of sequences in this handsome production, that are considerably thrilling and as Freddie Mercury, a deeply committed Rami Malek certainly works like the devil to honor and almost resurrect this artistic figure, the likes of whom we will never see again. And still, the whole proceedings felt so tame, so toothless and filled with discrepancies that, for me, as a fan of the band and cinematic storytelling itself, I felt to be unforgivable. For a film that dares to bear the name of one of the most jaw dropping and creative rock singles ever made as its title, "Bohemian Rhapsody" was ultimately more than a little banal. Queen, and especially Freddie Mercury deserved exceedingly better than what was delivered.

With a "cradle-to-grave" structure book-ended by the band's appearance at Live Aid, "Bohemian Rhapsody" traces the story of Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), beginning in 1970 when he was the Indian-British Parsi college student and Heathrow baggage worker under his real name Farrokh Bulsara and fan of the local college band Smile, which housed both guitarist/vocalist Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and drummer/vocalist Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy).

When Smile's lead vocalist abruptly quits to join another band, Farrokh quickly convinces May and Taylor to allow him to join the band as lead singer. With bassist John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) joining soon afterwards, and Farrokh legally changing his name to Freddie Mercury, the band, now re-christened Queen, begin their meteoric rise to stardom.     . 

From here, "Bohemian Rhapsody" chronicles the odyssey of Freddie Mercury, to global fame and fortune to increased internal isolation, from artistic independence to alienation from his bandmates via the duplicitous personal manager Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), from his marriage to Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) to his gradual self-realization as being a homosexual, from rampant promiscuity to finding love with Jim Hutton (Aaron McCusker) and his ultimate contraction of the AIDS virus, which led to his death in 1991.

For what it is worth, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is unquestionably a glorious looking production, beautifully photographed by Cinematographer Newtom Thomas Sigel, and is certainly impeccably well cast (Gwilym Lee as Brian May especially provided me with some serious double takes and a completely unrecognizable Mike Myers is absolutely terrific as the EMI record executive who refused to release "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a single due to its six minute length) and is unquestionably fueled by one of the most dynamic set of songs that feel designed to be heard blasting in your movie theaters. Sequences of the band recording and most certainly, the film's climactic re-staging of the Live Aid concert performance are absolutely thrilling and deeply effective.

And yet, everything was sort of ho-hum to best! "Bohemian Rhapsody" the film and  completely unlike the song itself, was a cinematic experience that felt so restrain ed to the point of being nearly inert. There was simply no momentum to the film, no ascension and in many ways, no real sense of direction or even a perspective.

Now, before the film's release, there was question of how sanitized an experience "Bohemian Rhapsody" would be regarding Freddie Mercury's private life, some fearing the film would be "straight-washed," removing any sense of Mercury's homosexuality. To that, and I guess for a film rated PG 13, the film does not shy away from this aspect of Mercury's life by any means. But I guess, the problem I had was that it never seemed to go beyond the surface of these experiences terribly much, whether by design or disinterest from the filmmakers to ensure that "Bohemian Rhapsody would remain a film that would speak to the masses with the least amount of controversial material. 

To that end, here is where I felt that so much of "Bohemian Rhapsody" was a  missed opportunity. This is Queen and Freddie Mercury we are dealing with. Figures that defied all of the rules regarding rock music, entertainment, and even the ways in how to live one's life...and to even face death as well. In my mind, a film about Queen would be one to follow suit creatively. One that was decidedly R rated, of course. But artistically some thing more akin to what Writer/Director Todd Haynes achieved with both "Velvet Goldmine" (1998), which took on nothing less than the thinly veiled legacy of David Bowie and the entire glam rock movement, and his truly forward thinking "I'm Not There" (2007), his furiously innovative pastiche of Bob Dylan, which starred no less than seven actors portraying variations of the Dylan persona.

Or even further, perhaps a film like Director Don Cheadle's difficult, impressionistic and criminally underseen "Miles Ahead" (2015), a fully unorthodox look into the psychological world of Miles Davis or even better, Director Bill Pohlad's achingly stunning "Love And Mercy" (2014), which starred both John Cusack and Paul Dano as Brian Wilson at two distinct phases of his life.   

In all of those films, challenging as they each are to varying degrees, each filmmaker possessed a specific point of view of their subject matter that allowed audiences to engage with these musical figures in exciting and invigorating new ways that made us re-think what we already may or may not have known about them and the music they created. By contrast, "Bohemian Rhapsody" never really offers us any such insights and as riveting as Rami Malek is in the film, his Freddie Mercury never felt to be as immersive as it could have been because the actual screenplay and direction itself didn't really give Malek any conceivable depth to delve into. 

To some degrees, a more traditional approach or a potential crowd pleaser, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Take films like  Oliver Stone's "The Doors" (1991) or Taylor Hackford's "Ray" (2004), both of which follow more conventional narrative structures and possess two outstanding leading performances from Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison and Jamie Foxx as Ray Charles, that feverishly burrowed under the skin to the point where you need to blink twice to see if you are regarding the actors or documentary footage. And again, both Stone and Hackford as filmmakers supplied their own perspective about their subjects, therefore giving us in the audience something to cling to, to argue about, to embrace and to ruminate over. 

As Freddie Mercury, Rami Malek is often sensational but to a point, the point where it is probably the best Mercury impersonation you will ever witness but it does not necessarily mean that we were given a great performance. Again, Malek was more than committed to the task at hand but it was at the service of a film that didn't seem to have an opinion about Mercury or Queen other than we all loved them...and in some ways, that is not enough to hang onto a full movie.

There is so much material about Freddie Mercury the film could have covered but seemed disinterested in doing so. For instance, did Mercury's heritage hold any impetus in him wanting to be an artist? What of his sexuality as it related to his artistry--especially as this is about a band of four men calling themselves "Queen"? What of the controversial "I Want To Break Free" music video (lovingly re-created in the film) and the rampant homophobia within the rock industry that essentially stalled their success in America? None of that is here whatsoever. And what of the full breadth of Queen's music? Aside from the hits, we hear nothing of anything else they created. Yes, I know that this film is decidedly not a documentary but "Bohemian Rhapsody" felt less like a full cinematic experience and more like a series of highlights and moments strung together with Queen songs as the glue. It all felt to be like a filmed checklist with each sequence being one more thing to cross off the list, and all with no sense of narrative flow. 

I am curious if the behind-the-scenes drama of "Bohemian Rhapsody" had anything to do with this level of disconnect as Bryan Singer was fired from the project mid-filming due to excessive, erratic behavior, leaving Dexter Fletcher to enter and finish the film (due to Directors Guild Of America rules, Singer has retained full directorial credit while Fletcher receives an Executive Producer credit). With that in consideration, it is a miracle "Bohemian Rhapsody" turned out as well as it has but even so, the lack of substantive material felt glaring.

Even moreso, were all of the striking inaccuracies, completely inexcusable considering how easy it is to gather all of the true information regarding Queen. and surprisingly so as both Brian May and Roger Taylor were consultants on the film (John Deacon has fully retired from the music business although he reportedly gave his blessings to this film). Now, I am no Queen scholar by any means, and yes, there is always a sense of artistic license with films of this sort. But even with the little that I do know, I was stunned to find this level of fault in a film where this should not have been the case whatsoever.

For instance, we often witness bassist John Deacon contributing vocals to the trademark stacked harmonies of Queen but Deacon, in reality, never sang on any Queen recordings. We have a sequence set in 1980, finding the band writing and recording "We Will Rock You"...a song the band released, in actuality, three years earlier. The ways the band members of Queen first met as well as Freddie's first meeting with Mary did not occur in reality as depicted in the film. The band never even broke up, as implied late in the film, therefore not making their performance at Live Aid a reunion (when in fact, their Live Aid performance arrived after they completed a year long tour, meaning the band was in prime fighting form by the time of Live Aid). And most strikingly, Freddie Mercury was not diagnosed with the AIDS virus until two years after Live Aid, not before, as the film implies being the catalyst to even undertake that performance. 

Again, I know, I know, this is not a documentary. But I just did not appreciate all of the re-structuring, embellishments and seemingly intentional errors placed within a story that already contains more then enough inherent drama, pathos, excitement, humor and peaks and valleys of lives being lived in a tremendously bright spotlight. To me, there was no need to create drama and have fallacies in a film like this one, where the truth is indeed more than we could ever need to have. In doing so, it just rubbed me the wrong way and therefore did a disservice to Freddie Mercury's memory and Queen's legacy, as they were fearless artistically and honestly. "Bohemian Rhapsody," on the other hand, hedged its bets too often, resulting in a movie that could attain a mass appeal yet one perhaps rooted in a certain nostalgia rather than via cinematic appreciation or innovation. 

But hey, I am just one person and in regards to the audience response to the film, I just may be in the minority as it is indeed a hit. Even so, I do think there is a better film about Queen and Freddie Mercury yet to be made. One that is more courageous, audacious, bodacious, ridiculous, fantastic and definitive than what was presented throughout in "Bohemian Rhapsody."

Sunday, November 4, 2018

STARR POWER: a review of "The Hate U Give"

Based upon the novel by Angie Thomas
Screenplay Written by Audrey Wells
Directed by George Tillman Jr.
**** (four stars)

Not terribly long ago, I heard a statement from comedian/author/activist D.L. Hughley that gave me tremendous pause as I regard the status of race relations in 2018 post Obama/present day Trump America, and it is as follows:

"The most dangerous place for Black people to live in is White people's imagination...We live in an America right now where we have evolved... but we inherently believe that Black people are criminal."

Dear readers, I express the following words to you without hyperbole or melodrama and with the fullness of honesty as I am able to muster at this point in time: I have never been more frightened for my safety as a Back man as I am right now in 2018. No. I am so fearful as to make myself some sort of shut-in. I go about my business every day as I am accustomed to doing. I go to work. I frequent my regular haunts. I see friends. I still look forward to upcoming public events. But even so, when I see police cars, I begin to shudder. Sometimes, as I am going about my business, I do wonder more often than ever if there will come a time when some random White person who inexplicably feels "threatened," solely due to my presence as a Black man will try to eradicate the "monster" by pulling out their conceal and carry ready pistol and shoot me...even as I pull into the driveway of my own home.

The racial disparity and vitriolic turbulence towards African Americans over these past 10 years has been so rapid and and unrepentantly overt in ways that I don't really believe that I ever really imagined them to being in the 21st century. Yes, I know my history. No, I am not naive to the ways of racists and racism in the United States of America but that being said, I am shocked to the point of  being almost numbed by all that has occurred during this past decade. Of course, the undercurrent  of racist resentment during Barack Obama's Presidency was expected. Yet, the increasing wave of coded dog whistle language from the collective mouths of our Republican public servants deeply unnerved me, as it was fully designed to perpetrate all that occurred concurrently and afterwards towards Black people in this country.

After the murder of then 17 year old Tryavon Martin on February 26, 2012 at the hands of George Zimmerman, who was then fully acquitted of all charges on July 13, 2013, I though to myself that night, "It is now open season on Black people." And so it has only continued...

Michael Brown.
Sandra Bland.
Philandro Castile.
Eric Garner.
Freddie Gray.
Tamir Rice.
Amadou Diallo.
Tony Robinson.
Botham Jean.

Every time. Every single time a new installment of our continuing African-American tragedy unfolds, I am left beside myself wondering just how and why this obscene, inhumane level of hatred and fear continues and as of this point in time, only continues to escalate... and furthermore, why the outcry against such intolerance is not louder and larger. Look at where we are now. In addition to all of the murders, we are now witnessing numerous 911 calls by Whites in regards to Black people having a bar-be-que, to napping, to golfing, to attempting to enter one's own apartment, to being attacked via  shotgun for simply asking directions, to the preposterous cry of sexual harassment by a 9 year old, which in an of itself elicited terrifying echoes of Emmett Till, whose own lynching and murder in 1955 was based entirely in a lie by his accuser. Again I ask, why is the outcry not louder and larger?

It makes me sometimes feel and fear that this continuing tragedy is being viewed as tragedy only by Black people. That no one outside of my race can or will ever begin to view me and people like me as human beings like themselves and only as the imaginary creatures that fuel their fears and violent retribution. My level of paranoia has been dramatically raised as the lack of understanding, empathy and humanity has only made my spirit descend, all of which threatening to derail my pride and resistance.

In a cinematic year that has already displayed considerable excellence, especially within films that have explored variations of the Black experience within a variety of genres, including Ryan Coogler's "Black Panther," Boots Riley's "Sorry To Bother You," and Spike Lee's "BlacKKKlansman," George Tillman Jr.'s "The Hate U Give" is undeniably an exceptional piece of work and art.

In addition to existing as a letter perfect adaptation of Angie Thomas' wonderfully stirring and sobering young adult novel, Tillman Jr. has delivered a cinematic standout in its own right, as it deftly explores and investigates, with clear astuteness and brutally complex yet fully empathetic honesty, the realities of racial code switching, police brutality, racial profiling, the urgent necessity of the survival of Black communities and Black families, the legacy and continuation of Black activism and even more provocative material.

Miraculously, and especially for modern day mainstream cinema, it was a triumph to witness all of this material through the lens of a fully three dimensional 16 year old female Black leading character who is placed firmly at the film's center stage and is indeed the very protagonist that we would follow absolutely anywhere. With a poignancy and potency that belongs within the same rarefied class as Ryan Coogler's "Fruitvale Station" (2013) and even Spike Lee's peerless "Do The Right Thing" (1989), George Tillman Jr.'s "The Hate U Give" is excellent filmmaking designed for essential viewing.

As with the original novel, George Tillman Jr.'s "The Hate U Give" centers around the life of 16 year old Starr Carter (a sensational Amandla Stenberg), who lives within the fictional working class, predominantly Black community of Garden Heights with her Mother, Lisa (Regina Hall), a nurse, her younger brother Sekani (TJ Wright), her older half-brother Seven (Lamar Johnson) and her formidable Father Maverick (an outstanding Russell Hornsby), former King Lords gang member and ex-con who now owns and operates the local grocery store.

Fearing for the safety of their children in an environment where gangs, drugs and crime are rampant, Starr and her siblings attend a wealthy, predominantly White prep school named Williamson Prep. Although she is a member of the school girls basketball team, has two best friends in Maya (Megan Lawless) and Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) and a serious boyfriend in Chris (KJ Apa), who is White, Starr purposefully keeps her life in Garden Heights silent while at school--from her manner of speech and culture to expressions of her temperament--thus referring to her Williamson Prep persona as "Starr Version 2." In turn, she also keeps the entirety of her school life silent back home at Garden Heights, especially her relationship with Chris from Maverick's knowledge.

Both of Starr's worlds begin to converge and ultimately collide on the fateful night at a Garden Heights house party where she is reunited with her childhood best friend and true first love Khalil (a wonderfully charismatic Algee Smith). After a shooting occurs at the party, Khalil begins to drive Starr back home, only to be stopped for an inspection by a White police officer. Despite Starr's protests and warnings, Khalil remains cocky, even while standing outside of his own car, hands upon the hood. When Khalil playfully reaches into the car and emerges with only a hairbrush, he is shot and killed by the officer in full view of Starr.

In the fallout of Khalil's murder of which Starr was the sole witness, a fact she also keeps secret from her friends at school as well as within her own community as to not raise the wrath of the local drug dealer King (Anthony Mackie), for whom Khalil was employed, Starr Carter begins her personal evolution regarding her relationships with racial injustice, community and political activism, as well as a growing sense of racial pride, self-respect and the rise of her voice for the truth.

George Tillman Jr.'s "The Hate U Give" is an absolutely superb presentation with seamless performances from the entire cast, and for my money, the two leading performances from both Amandla Stenberg and Russell Hornsby fully deserve serious attention during awards season...and for that matter, so does the entire film itself.

While for some viewers, the film may wrap itself up too tidily, and to that I can understand that criticism to a degree. But to that, I do offer this as an explanation: "The Hate U Give" is indeed a film designed for a young adult audience based from source material designed for teenagers. That being said, the film does indeed give viewers, from teenagers upwards, an exceeding amount of difficult, provocative material, themes and concepts to unpack, ruminate over, discuss and debate as Tillman Jr. offers no easy answers...and realistically,  how could he? Yet, what Tillman Jr. has accomplished with his clear, clean, measured, patient direction is akin to what Spike Lee has achieved throughout his career. The examination of difficult, controversial topics presented with a perspective of profound fair-mindedness and through the unapologetic lens of African-American eyes.

As with Angie Thomas' source material, the character of Starr Carter in the film version of "The Hate U Give" is blessedly multi-layered, with qualities, attributes, foibles, faults and an inner journey that is simultaneously individualistic as it is also universal.

For me, I completely related to Starr as I grew up within a middle class Black neighborhood with two formidable parents, both of whom employed within the Chicago public school system, yet I was sent to a predominantly White, private, college preparatory high school located in Chicago's beautiful Hyde Park and tucked comfortably upon the campus of the University Of Chicago for reasons both educational and also to keep me safe as they each worked long hours.

Most importantly, like Starr, I possessed no real knowledge of what the concept of  "code switching" actually was but I did have a fiercely instinctual understanding as it was a means of day to day as I traveled back and forth from one environment (Black) into another (White) every single day. Being questioned of perceived "Whiteness" due to where I attended school, to the manner of my diction, to studying habits, to personal likes and dislikes and so on with my Black peers in my neighborhood eventually led me to feeling isolated around my own race. While at school, I know now (and despite my comfort) that I attempted to hide my "Blackness" in order to fully assimilate with my friends and environment. 

With "The Hate U Give," Starr Carter is a Black teenager who is a sneaker aficionado, an athlete and Harry Potter devotee (an extremely poignant touch that builds in power along the course of the film)  coming to terms with the two versions of herself as she gradually evolves both sides into a unified whole. We meet her as she denies existing as her complete self in both environments through hiding aspects of herself from both her friends and Maverick. At school, emotions are buried so as to not fall into or confirm prevalent racial stereotypes of Black people and Black females in particular while at home, her friends and especially her boyfriend Chris are never mentioned, especially to her Father.

I appreciated how throughout the film, Tillman Jr. takes those aspects of Blackness and Whiteness and forces the characters as well as all of us in the audience to have our own perceptions challenged to a variety of provocative degrees. With regards to Starr and her prep school friends, regard how Starr's emergent embracing of her own Blackness, including the history of violence against Blacks which she explores in the social media open forum of her Tumblr, account affects her relationship with Hailey who reacts with micro-aggressions of increasing resentment.

Even further is her relationship with Chris, who at one point expresses to Starr that he doesn't "see color." We are able to take that statement from Chris' perspective, which is indeed an honest, open-hearted, sincere expression of racial solidarity and love. Yet, to Starr, she rightfully educates that a statement like that is in actuality insulting because if he is unable to "see" her Blackness, then he will never see her for who she is completely.

And so, we are left with a teenage interracial couple forced to make some hard decisions as to how serious they are towards each other as race and class are indeed two barriers they each need to seriously question crossing. Will Chris forsake the comfort and security of his Whiteness to embrace Starr in full and will Starr allow herself to trust that Chris truly loves her and will remain by her side regardless of their respective home environments and now the firestorm surrounding Khalil's murder and her rising sense of activism?

Racial, and again class, perceptions and stereotypes about poor Black neighborhoods are challenged provocatively and with a patient yet purposeful even handedness that explores a variety of angles, forcing characters and audience to think and/or re-think our own prejudices. One of the most striking sequences within this film is a brilliantly conceived, written, acted and directed sequence between Maverick and Starr during which they discuss not only how Khalil could be a drug dealer but WHY, making for a moment where we can see how the noblest intentions could be behind actions one can perceive to be irredeemable.

Another especially powerful sequence occurs later in the film between Starr and her Uncle Carlos (well played by Common), a police officer. As Starr continues to wonder just why the White officer would just shoot and murder the unarmed Khalil, Tillman Jr. allows the character of Carlos to engage us with the police officer's viewpoint about the hows and whys an officer could just shoot someone unarmed. And then, Tillman Jr. gives the floor back to Starr, which then allows the conversation to receive a profoundly sharp pivot into race, for what a White officer would and could do to a young Black male is decidedly not the same if the police officer were Black and the suspect was a White male in a suit driving a Mercedes. In that situation, would that officer shoot first or say "Hands up!"--a question that drives the film deeply into the heart of the story, which is indeed about the value of life placed on Whites and Blacks and which ones happen to possess more of that value.

The convictions of "The Hate U Give" easily and obviously sides with the Black Lives Matter movement and the realities of police brutality towards African Americans, especially as depicted in Tillman Jr.'s brilliant choice to open the film with a shattering sequence where Maverick teaches his children about what to do and how to behave when--not "if"-the police accost them is brutally matter-of fact. But, in addition to the lives of Black people, Tillman Jr. has also created an impassioned plea for what could be called the Black Neighborhoods Matter movement, for without the Black neighborhood, even ones in economic dilapidation, what would it mean for the people should they  vanish altogether?

With Starr's parents, Lisa and Maverick, Tillman Jr. invites us into two sides of an argument in which both sides are correct. Lisa solely wishes for her children to be safe and to have educational possibilities and opportunities they would not receive in their own neighborhood especially as their inner city school is precisely the very type that exists as a pipeline to the prison system.

Yet for Maverick, who wishes for precisely the same as Lisa for their children, just as important to him and what he wishes to impart to his family is the importance of the continued existence of the Black community regardless of economics, as evidenced through the presence of his grocery store and the other Black businesses that exist alongside his. For Maverick, if the Carter family uproots and abandons their community as others before them, not only would they be turning their collective  backs upon their own, they would be actively contributing to the death of their own community. Utterly formidable questions with not one easy answer.

I have to take this time to make special mention of Maverick Carter, whose superlative presence is yet another factor in this film that forces us to re-think any possible harbored prejudices, this time the presence of the Black Father. And for that matter, the relationship between Maverick and Starr is yet another high quality depiction of the cinematic rarity that is the Father/daughter relationship and within a year that has showcased several, including Writer/Director Bo Burnham's "Eighth Grade" and Director Brett Haley's "Hearts Beat Loud." 

As I have expressed many times upon this site in recent years, representation is everything and to have the opportunity to see a character as powerful as Maverick, and so enormously well portrayed by Russell Hornsby, was truly an exceptional gift, so notable considering the perception that Black Fathers are people that are perceived to be perpetually absent within Black communities nationwide.

For that matter, having a film in which a young Black female is not only front and center but the engine to the entire film is a near miracle. And in actuality, having Starr in the company of the young Black women who propelled the aforementioned "Hearts Beat Loud" as well as Director Ava DuVernay's "A Wrinkle In Time," all in the same cinematic year is a downright revelation and Amandla Stenberg's compelling, complete, compulsively engaging performance is equal to every single aspect, conflict, nuance and moment of this wonderful character and evolution that Author Angie Thomas created.   

The greatest wish that I could have for George Tillman Jr.'s "The Hate U Give" is that for everyone who chooses to see this film, they are able to embrace the sheer overwhelming empathy of the work, a level of humanity that makes this film imperative viewing in my mind, especially now as Black people continue to be viewed in the most inhumane extremes. As described in the novel and throughout the film, the title of "The Hate U Give" arrives from a devastating lyric and "THUG LIFE" concept as written by the late Tupac Shakur, which is in full, "The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody."  

At this specific stage in our collective history in the 21st century, we are all caught within a cyclone of what happens when hate is allowed to lead the way, leaving monuments of damage, pain, fear, recrimination, vitriol and violence in its wake. As I stated at the outset of this posting, I am deeply frightened. For myself. For my family and my people. And to that end, for all of us should we allow all of this hate that surrounds us to fully consume us with taking a stand against it.

George Tillman Jr.'s "The Hate U Give" is absolutely the right film at the right time as it firmly addresses our societal epidemic concerning our racial divide as well as our overall humanity and inhumanity towards each other, with a specialized view into Black and White relations, perceptions,  and violence.

Urgent, vital, crucial, impassioned and one of 2018's finest achievements.

Thursday, November 1, 2018


Life has certainly reared its ugly head this past month, so much so that one review that I had hoped to be completed with nearly one week ago remains in the hopper with much still to be composed. Even so, movie release schedules do not wait for my life to settle down in order for me to catch up and November is already as packed after satiated tummies after a sumptuous Thanksgiving meal.

Most certainly, and somewhat surprisingly, the film I am possibly most anxious to witness is Director Steven Caple Jr.'s "Creed II," the sequel to Writer/Director Ryan Coogler's outstanding, downright emotionally primal "Creed" (2015).

In addition to this sequel, there is also another highly anticipated new installment that has my interest piqued..
Granted, I was a bit underwhelmed by Writer J.K. Rowling and Director David Yates' "Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them" (2016), the first installment of a planned five film prequel series to the "Harry Potter" films. But I am indeed hoping that this second chapter will help move the larger story forwards in the very fashion that we all know Rowling is able to compose and that Yates is more than imaginatively and dramatically capable of realizing. We shall see....
If you know me in the real world, then you will know how much I adore Queen!  That being said, the prospect of a Queen/Freddie Mercury biopic as directed by Bryan Singer,a filmmaker who has completely eluded me from film to film to film, has not made me terribly excited--and then, there is all of the behind the scenes drama as well. Then, the first trailers hits and the apparent transformation Rami Malek has undergone to become Mercury looks exceedingly impressive.  Again, we shall see...
Fresh from the beautiful and devastating "Call Me By Your Name" (2017), Director Luca Guadagnino returns with his already divisive remake of the original 1977 Dario Argento horror cult classic. At t his time, I have not seen even one frame of this film and perhaps, that is the way I will wish to keep it as to be surprised completely.

And with that, I will try to leave it here although I am  more than certain that other films will make their way into my personal stratosphere. Hopefully, life will allow me to keep pace. So, please my dear readers, wish me luck and good health and as always, I will see you when the house lights go down!!!!!