[REVIEW]’One Night in Miami’: 4 Iconic Friends, 1 Night to Talk

It’s always a tricky thing turning a celebrated stage play into a movie. It can be very successful like Amadeus or A Man for All Seasons. Other times it doesn’t carry over well like with August Osage County or marginally so with Fences. There is something about the monologuing and cadence a play needs to be successful which can feel awkward and inauthentic in a film.

The new film One Night in Miami doesn’t totally escape these problems. There are times it feels stagey and the dialogue is clinical rather than the natural discourse of friends. However, the performances are strong enough and the true moments true enough to rise above these problems.

The film tells a fictionalized story of real-life icons Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali), Malcolm X, Jim Brown and singer Sam Cooke as they meet for one night following the first championship fight of Clay over Sonny Liston in Miami in 1964. Each man has a different perspective on life, race, publicity, work and the Civil Rights Movement, and none are shy about sharing their views with each other.

Again, sometimes this dialogue can feel stagey or like they are talking to the audience more than their friends in the room. However, the performances are so charismatic that it draws you in anyway. I particularly liked the interchanges between Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X and Leslie Odom Jr as singer Sam Cooke. They have different perspectives about when to speak out and when to play along, and they both make good points that ring true today.

The filmmaking in One Night in Miami, by first time director Regina King, is appropriately minimal. Most of the film is set in a hotel room with the 4 men talking. You get brief glimpses of Clay fighting, Cooke singing, Malcolm calling his family etc but for the most part it stays true to the origins of the play. This works quite well as nothing on screen distracts you from the performances.

Currently the film is premiering at the Venice Film Festival (the first film directed by an African-American woman to be selected in the festivals history, which is insane it took this long!). I saw it virtually through the Toronto International Film Festival but it will be coming to Amazon Prime and I definitely think it is worth a watch especially for the performances.

7 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Tenet’: Complex or Convoluted Piece from Nolan? (Spoiler Free)

2020 has been such a strange year it’s probably in fitting that 2 of the strangest blockbusters of recent memory end up opening theaters back up with The New Mutants and Tenet. The New Mutants feels strange because it was delayed so long that its entire franchise feels dated and Tenet because it is from the auteur-meets-mainstream filmmaker that is Christopher Nolan. Going into the weekend I was sure I’d prefer Nolan’s film over The New Mutants but having seen them both I don’t know if that is the case? Their flaws are different, but I certainly enjoyed the experience of watching the simple superhero origin movie over the convoluted enterprise that was Tenet.

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Without giving any spoilers away Tenet stars John David Washington as the Protagonist (literally that’s his name). He is a CIA agent who becomes involved in a secret organization that is studying inverted energy- or moving backward through time. As part of their investigations they become involved with Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who for a number of reasons is trying to star World War III and destroy the entire world with his technology. He is also manipulating his ex-wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) in a complicated case of blackmail involving their son and art.

Robert Pattinson’s Neil is the best character in the film because his job is to inform the Protagonist of what is going on through long exposition dumps. We like him because he is the only one helping us get some kind of baring into the story. Everything and everyone else is muddled and messy.

The truth is at 150 minutes of this sustained confusion I struggled to stay invested and found myself nodding off more than I should have, especially for how much action is in the film. It goes to show all the splashy action in the world does not get you anywhere, for this critic at least, if the characters aren’t engaging and the story isn’t interesting. And I didn’t go into the movie tired or weary. I was ready to be entertained but I mostly wasn’t.

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Some will probably compare Tenet to Nolan’s Inception but to me there is no comparison. I was so much more invested in the characters in the former compared to the latter. I really cared about Inception’s Cobb and have always felt that his relationship with his wife Mal was the emotional core of the movie. Also Inception set up the clues for its puzzle well, piece by piece, so it earned the ambiguous ending. Part of the fun of Inception was walking out debating with my friends what the spinning top means for the characters?

Tenet, on the other hand, doesn’t develop characters we care about. Branagh’s villain, in particular, falls flat in a very one-note performance. Likewise, the clues aren’t laid out in an enticing or interesting way. It ends up feeling like 2.5 hours of characters we don’t care about experiencing cool looking stuff. This can only entertain you for so long. It’s also hard to get invested in characters and story clues when Nolan chooses to have the sound design almost incomprehensible for most of the dialogue. A friend of mine has a hearing aid and got to watch the film with closed-captions, and I’m honestly jealous. I don’t think I’m being ungenerous when saying 2/3rds of Tenet is unintelligible, to my ears at least.

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Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema does tremendous work here and the visual effects should all be praised. Hans Zimmer couldn’t do this film because of his work on the upcoming Dune (we got a trailer to a trailer for that film and even though I hate the book what I saw is intriguing) but Ludwig Göransson does a good imitation. Unfortunately the sound mixing is so off and the music so loud the score becomes distracting to the overall narrative.

I’m not going to tell you to avoid Tenet. Maybe it’s too smart for me and you’ll get what Nolan is trying to do? Maybe I will watch it 2 or 3 more times and eventually it will all make sense? It’s possible but I doubt it. Go see it and make up your mind for yourself (as would be my advice for all films). I appreciate that Nolan is pushing mainstream audiences and is not satisfied with the ordinary movie-going experience. Unfortunately sometimes he forgets that the basics of good cinema are important too- characters, story, intelligible dialogue, emotion etc. We need it all for the pretty images to mean something and make an impact. Sorry Nolan! Try again!

4 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Unprescribed’ or A Compelling Case for Pot

If you have followed my content for a while you know I am a big fan of documentaries. Whether it be 30 for 30 and other sports documentaries, historical documentaries like Ken Burns makes or more issue focused documentaries I really enjoy the genre. Today I got the chance to watch a new documentary called Unprescribed which makes a compelling case for medical marijuana that everyone should watch.

These kind of topic-specific documentaries can feel like propaganda so they should be taken with a grain of salt but we can still learn the arguments for one side of the story. such is the case here in Unprescribed. They are not trying to paint a fair argument on both sides of the cannabis debate, merely present one side of the story as compellingly as they can.

The main perspective of Unprescribed comes from our brave military  men and women. Director Steve Ellmore dives into the epidemic of veteran suicide and how the cocktail of drugs they give our returning soldiers is not effective in dealing with their problems. I know from people in my life the damage opiods can have especially on someone with an emotionally damaged psyche as these soldiers have with PTSD. Putting them on opiods is the absolute worst thing we can do for them.

Given the horrible effects of the drugs they give veterans for PTSD it doesn’t make much sense to prohibit them from taking marijuana, a drug with very minimal side effects. Surely nobody can argue that the side effects are worse than the opiods we are giving them!

Unprescribed does not have the flashy celebrity interviews or narration you might see in other topic-specific documentaries (think Michael Moore…). However, I appreciate that it told normal human stories and gives a face to the unfairly demonized pro medical marijuana community. If you are interested in this topic give it a watch. It’s not very long and will help make the case for one side of a very heated national debate.

6.5 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘Bill & Ted Face the Music’: More Laughs Please Dude

I recently saw an interview with actors Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves where they talked about the great affection they have for their popular characters Bill and Ted from the franchise that bears their names. The first film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure came out in 1989 and was a surprise hit. Then the quite possibly funnier sequel Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was released in 1991. Like Winter and Reeves, a generation has grown up with a fondness and affection for these two silly boneheads and have asked for a sequel to follow up on them in the new millennium.

Now after nearly 20 years we finally have it in Bill & Ted Face the Music which is available on VOD and in theaters starting today. Unfortunately while all involved clearly have the best of intentions with this sequel, it sadly falls prey to the problems of most long-awaited comedy sequels. Almost everything the screenplay puts our heroes through falls flat leaving little laughs and not much else to enjoy.

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In Face the Music Bill and Ted are told by The Great Leader (Holland Taylor) they must create a song, which will save the world. This causes our heroes to go back and forward through time mostly meeting up with various versions of themselves. They also go to therapy with their wives with a few laughs from Jillian Bell as their exasperated marriage counselor.

The problem with Face the Music is it is simply not funny. There are a lot of winks to the former films. Those pretty much all fall flat. The dude dialogue of the duo can be amusing but it’s hard to believe they couldn’t come up with more for them to do than running into versions of themselves.

Brigette Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving play their daughters and I kind of wish the movie was about them instead of their Dads. They are going around time collecting famous musicians, which was a nice homage to the plot of the first film. (It’s a wink to the original without it being a pointless unfunny cameo).

I did enjoy the music in Bill & Ted Face the Music and the message at the end is nice. Unfortunately by then I was bored and ready for it to be done. I have friends who are anxiously awaiting this film, and I sincerely hope they enjoy it more than I did. We all can certainly use some laughs but I honestly laughed more at The Personal History of David Copperfield which I saw on the same night. However, if you see Bill & Ted Face the Music and find it funny let me know. I would love to hear your experience in the comments.

In the meantime party on dudes!

4 out of 10

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[REVIEW] ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’: Making Dickens Fresh

If you have followed my reviews for any amount of time you know I love my period pieces. Whether it is Austen, Dickens, Gaskell I like going back to the times of manners and rules and getting swept away in the journey (and usually romance) of it all. Even this year my favorite movie so far is the latest version of Emma.

While admitting this taste for the past, even I must admit that sometimes these films can be a little bit stuffy, and I can see why they do not appeal to everyone. However, one thing I’ve noticed since Yorgos Lanthimos’ film The Favourite we’ve been getting period films with more of an edge to them. Indeed even the aforementioned Emma made some creative choices like having a memorable nose bleed where a kiss would normally come.

Now we have the latest edgy take on the past with a new adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic  novel The Personal History of David Copperfield. This version is directed by Armando Lannucci and at times it felt like a cross between Lanthimos and director Wes Anderson. It had the sarcasm of the former with the whimsy of the latter. It definitely won’t be for everyone but I really enjoyed it.

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The outside the box thinking in this David Copperfield starts with the eclectic colorblind casting. This works because it is not trying to be a realistic version. At one point a character sticks his hand through a house so we are asked to go with the flow and not care. It also doesn’t hurt that Dev Patel plays David who I have loved ever since Slumdog Millionaire and recently in the Oscar nominated film Lion. He is not only extremely handsome and talented as an actor but he has a warmth to him that makes him easy to root for and he brings all that likability to the table playing the often down-on-his-luck David.

I also loved the production design and costumes in this David Copperfield. It’s probably the best in either of those categories I’ve seen this year. I particularly adored a little house made out of a boat that seems to come from David’s imagination but also his own life. All the hats are stunning and the dresses full of flare. It’s so much fun to watch.

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My favorite part of this David Copperfield is it feels fresh. It’s not only quite funny but it’s also unpredictable and surprising. Granted I am not very familiar with this particular novel like I am with something like A Christmas Carol or even Great Expectations so it is easier to surprise me but so many of the choices were unexpected and new. Even the transitions between scenes were cleverly done with wipes and techniques I haven’t seen before in a movie like this.

The only downside to this film is at times it can be too random to the extent it is hard to follow. I was honestly glad to be able to watch this at home so I could read the plot summary as I went, which helped make things clearer. Other people more familiar with the novel may not have that problem but nevertheless the film can sometimes be a bit all over the place.

In addition to Patel, the cast is wonderful (and hilarious) with such talents as Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie, Peter Capaldi and Ben Whishaw. Their skills and the fresh take on the material make The Personal History of David Copperfield definitely worth a watch whether it is in the theater or at home. Enjoy and let me know what you think especially if you are more familiar with the book.

7.5 out of 10

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