Showing posts with label Yeelen. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yeelen. Show all posts

Friday, January 18, 2019

"If Beale Street Could Talk" and The Week in Reviews

[I review "If Beale Street Could Talk" as well as DVDs "The Meg" and "Paddington 2."  The Book of the Week is a biography of Robin Williams "Robin."  I also bring you up-to-date with "My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project" with "Yeelen"]

Young lovers, Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James), are separated when he is unfairly charged with a crime and sent to prison.

Tish and Fonny grew up together and eventually became childhood sweethearts. When Tish becomes pregnant, her family embraces her.  His does not but the two are in love and dedicated to being together.  However, when Fonny is unfairly accused of rape by a white woman, he is sent to jail and Tish and her family must try to prove his innocence, not an easy task since the accuser has returned to Puerto Rico and the family has little money. Through a series of vignettes, we follow the young lovers past and present, as they plan for the baby, to move in together and then Tish having to visit her beloved Fonny as he sits behind prison glass.  Meanwhile, Tish's understanding and loving mother, Sharon (Regina King), travels to Puerto Rico to try to find the accuser and help get Fonny out of jail.  

James Baldwin was an American writer and social activist who grew up in Harlem. His novels "Go Tell it on the Mountain (1953)" and "Another Country (1962)" were on many 20th century reading lists. He wrote about the black experience in the U.S. and the racism and injustices endured by African-Americans.

Beale Street is a real street in Memphis but Baldwin uses it as a metaphor for the Black Experience.

The film begins with his words:

"Every black person born in America was born on Beale Street, born in the black neighborhood of some American City, whether in Jackson, Mississippi, or in Harlem, New York.  Beale Street is our legacy."

What is most telling about this story, one that Baldwin wrote in 1974, is how current it is and how, sadly, little has changed for African Americans since then. Baldwin was a vocal critic of the U.S. and the state of affairs for African Americans here.  In fact he felt so strongly about this that he eventually expatriated to France where he spent most of the rest of his life.

So this is an important story...which makes it even harder for me to say what I am going to say.

Adapted from James Baldwin's novel and directed by Barry Jenkins who won a Best Picture Oscar for "Moonlight," a film I loved, I was so expecting to also love this film.  But I didn't.  In fact, I disliked it so much that I thought of leaving the theatre halfway through, something I never do.  The film is just so damn earnest, Tish and Fonny are just so damn sweet.  Their love affair is so treacly, it was unreal.  And the film itself was just too slow.  Like I said, it's an important reminder of the injustices that African Americans face and have faced and nothing much has changed in the last 50 years which makes the film even more relevant.  But as a film, it just seemed to lumber along.

But that doesn't take away from the actors.  They were wonderful.  The two young actors - Layne and James - are attractive and talented, both will no doubt have successful acting careers, and Regina King is the stand out.  She is slated for a well-deserved Oscar nod.  But, sadly, even appreciating the acting and the message just wasn't enough to save this film for me. I know this film is getting a lot of love from the critics but this critic just didn't like it as a satisfying film experience. Sorry.  

Rosy the Reviewer says...though I am a James Baldwin fan and I can appreciate the timely message in this film, I did not enjoy this film and I feel terrible about that. Maybe I was just having a bad movie day and should give it another chance.  But until then, I just can't recommend it.

***Some Movies You Might Have Missed***
(And Some You Will Be Glad You Did)!


The Meg (2018)

According to deep sea scientist Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), he and his crew were attacked by what he claimed was a 70+-foot shark.  No one believed him...but just you wait.

This is not a film about a girl named Margaret.  "Meg" stands for Megalodon, a ginormous prehistoric shark thought to no longer exist.  But you know how that goes because...

There is a formula for monster movies:

  • Set the stage that there is "something" out there - usually a cold opening where we briefly get a glimpse of "it" right before it devours some innocent people minding their own business
  • Fast forward to a very benign setting and some well-meaning scientific do-gooder types who spout all kinds of technical talk that we aren't supposed to notice doesn't really make much sense
  • Enter the protagonist, a sad sack who had tried to warn our do-gooders, was not believed and has sunk low into a bad lifestyle
  • Enjoy some humor as the innocent do-gooders enjoy their last bits of innocence
  • Enter overly precocious children in danger (oh, god)
  • Enter a rich greedy guy who doesn't believe in safety
  • Add some gotcha moments
  • Enter said protagonist once again who is called upon to dig deep, crawl out of his drunken life and save the world
  • Enter the monster - finally! - which has been kept under wraps until the Big Reveal (which is often too long a wait and is usually a big disappointment)

Like I said, there are tropes for monster movies and this film written by Dean Georgaris and Jon and Erich Hoeber (adapted from the book by Steve Alten - there was a BOOK?) employs every one of them.

It begins with a strange incident at a research center 200 miles off the coast of Shanghai. Jonas Taylor (Statham), and his cohorts are down in a deep sea capsule and encounter something that attacks the capsule. Taylor manages to escape but his colleagues are killed.  When Taylor tries to explain what he thought it was that attacked them - a 70 foot shark - he is discredited because no one believes such a thing could possibly exist.  Oh, yeah?

Five years later, another deep sea diving capsule is six miles down and encounters "something" and the capsule is damaged and the crew is now stuck down there.  No one has ever been that far down....except our hero, Jonas Taylor.  But Jonas was so traumatized by his encounter with the monster and the fact that he was blamed for the death of his colleagues, he is now a drunk living a bitter life.  But who can now save the day?  Who is the only person to have been down that deep and survived?  Why, our Jonas.  So he is called upon to help save those who are left down there in the capsule.  Now you might wonder why Jonas would give a damn since they were all so mean to him before but turns out one of the crew members is his ex-wife who he still kind of likes so he agrees to help.

The film, directed by Jon Turteltaub, goes back and forth between the trials and tribulations of the disabled capsule and the attempts on land to save it with that darn Meg trying to wreck everything for everyone, though the film takes its bloody time showing us the monster.

There are glimmers of Steven Spielberg's "Jaws" which set the standard for shark movies way back in 1975 and there is even a bit of a "Star Wars" homage in this film, not to mention "Jonah and the Whale" with our hero conveniently named Jonas. With all of the innovations in special effects since the original "Jaws," you would think this film would be super exciting and give that early film a run for its money, especially if you like this kind of thing, but sadly, except for the gory opening, this was kind of a snooze fest, though I will give it a break and say that perhaps it was better in 3-D.

All of the actors are very earnest, which is a word I often use for over-acting.  Whenever there is a lot of over-acting going on, I can never be sure if it's the actors or the fault of the script. Sometimes even the best actors can't overcome unrealistic dialogue so they overcompensate by talking loud or emoting more, thinking we won't notice that what they are saying isn't very believable.  Sorry, guys, we do.  It also doesn't help that Jason Statham is kind of a one-note actor.  He started out as a hard man in Guy Ritchie films and the "Transporter" franchise and can't seem to get past that kind of character. He plays practically every role as a kind of a tough guy grump. Worse yet, there are some overly precocious children and you know how I feel about them.  

But you don't go to movies like this to appreciate the acting!  If you like giant shark movies, there is some fun to be had here but don't expect "Jaws."

Rosy the Reviewer says...Steven Spielberg has nothing to fear from "The Meg." "Jaws" is still the Gold Standard of shark movies.

Paddington 2 (2018)

Paddington (voice of Ben Whishaw) is now happily living with the Brown family in London and wants to buy his Aunt Lucy a wonderful present that he has chosen for her 100th birthday - a pop-up book about London - but before he can save up the money, the book is stolen!

After the first Paddington film, Paddington has settled in nicely with the Brown family and has become a popular member of the community.  He credits his Aunt Lucy (voice of Imelda Staunton) for getting him to London so he wants to surprise her with a special gift for her 100th birthday - a pop-up book of London.  You see, Aunt Lucy was going to travel to London but sacrificed her trip to raise little Paddington so Paddington wants her to see London through the book.

But Paddington doesn't have the money to buy the book so he works a series of jobs to save up the money not realizing that there is someone else out there coveting the book - but not for the same, or right, reasons. 

As Paddington takes on various jobs, we get to see him deal with humorous mishaps, the kind that happen to a naive little bear who means well but ultimately makes poor decisions and screws up.  He works in a barbershop, as a window washer and a dog washer, and all kinds of slapstick hijinx ensue.  But before Paddington can save up the money for the book, the book is stolen and, because Paddington is seen at the scene of the crime, he is accused of stealing the book and sent to jail.  So now we get to see adorable Paddington wear prison black and white stripes and wreak well-meaning havoc there as well. The film becomes a mystery to solve - who stole the book and why?

Well, it's not much of a mystery for the audience.  We know all along it's bad Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant) who has stolen the book because it contains a series of clues leading to a treasure but it's fun to see how he will get caught and get his comeuppance.

Hard to believe that a kids movie saved my movie watching week for me but I loved every delightful moment of this film.  Even Hubby laughed his way through it.  I was shocked.  But it's not easy to stave off the charms of that little bear. What's not to love about an adorable little bear who no matter what happens always remembers his manners?  Also the animation for the pop-up book is magical. This was just the antidote for my post-holiday blues.  

This is a film that children and adults alike can enjoy.  I just wish I had seen the first Paddington film. Though I remember bringing my daughter a little Paddington bear from London one year, I don't really remember reading those books to my children.  I wish I had.  The story promotes kindness, making friends in every situation and the power of love.

Directed by Paul King and adapted by King and Simon Farnaby from the Michael Bond books, in addition to the actors already mentioned, this film employs practically every venerable British actor you can name including Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Peter Capaldi (an ex-Dr. Who), Dame Eileen Atkins, Michael Gambon, Brendon Gleeson, Tom Conti and more.  And what can I say about Hugh Grant?  Loved him as a stuttering romantic lead but love him just as much now as a character actor, and he is hilarious and over-the-top here, wearing disguises and using fake accents as Buchanan travels around London looking for the treasure.

Rosy the Reviewer says...If only everyone could be as lovely as Paddington.  Now I'm off to see Paddington 1!

***My 1001 Movies I Must See Before I Die Project***

111 to go!

Have YOU seen this classic film?

Yeelen (1987)
(alt. title "Brightrness")

A young man sets off on a journey to find his uncle who can help him remove a curse placed on him by his father (Niamanto Sanogo).

Niankoro (Issiaka Kane) is a young man in Mali sent by his mother to find his uncle who may be able to help him escape a curse his father put on him.

The film starts with an image of a chicken being burned alive and then left to bleed to death as a sacrifice.  Awful.  Right there I'm thinking, nope.

Niankoro is captured by a neighboring tribe who think he has come to steal from them.  But our guy is stroppy and he tells them he could have killed them all if he had wanted to, that he has special powers and wouldn't you know.  When the tribe is attacked they say, "If you are so powerful save us from the invaders."  Through smarts and pluck, Niankoro employs a hornets nest and fights off the invaders, thus currying favor with the king.  The king gives him one of his wives. Not a bad deal!

In Niankoro's journey he encounters many obstacles including fending off an attack by his own father who wants to kill him.  And then turns out the father and uncle are twins - one good twin, one evil twin.

Directed by Souleymane Cisse, this is one of those films long on beautiful photography, poetic even, but short on plot or anything else much to hold your interest.  Everyone speaks in metaphors - "If Niankoro is the blade, I am the handle" - that sort of thing.  It's also all very deep and solemn and religious and, sorry, that translates to me as boring.  

Why it's a Must See: "Quite possibly the greatest African film ever made..."
---"1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die"

Rosy the Reviewer says....for me, quite possibly the most boring film ever made.  I am starting to wonder, who are these people who came up with these 1001 movies I must see before I die.  I could die perfectly happy never having seen this film.

***The Book of the Week***

Robin by David Itzkoff

A biography of Robin Williams.

I've been a fan of Robin Williams ever since he hit the scene with "Mork and Mindy."  His manic humor was new and original, and he also came across as a really nice guy.  But reading this book I realized I didn't really know much about the guy.  Itzkoff solves that problem in a well-written, fascinating and what will stand as the definitive biography.

Robin Williams grew up in Michigan in a well-to-do family.  His mother was devoted to him but his father was often away and often distant.  Robin had much time alone to amuse himself.  Later the family moved to Tiburon in Marin County, another affluent California community.  Robin found his way to Juilliard when they began a drama program, but he was already starting to display his own style of manic and independent humor so he dropped out and made his way to San Francisco where he worked with various humor groups, such as The Committee Workshop.  He met his first wife, Valerie, there and the two decided that Robin needed a bigger venue for his kind of comedy and they moved to Los Angeles where Robin found fame quite early on.  No one had seen anything like him.  

Soon "Mork and Mindy" was born, his movie career took off and the rest is history.  But why would such a successful comic actor decide to eventually kill himself?

Well, it is well-known that Robin adored Jonathan Winters, another manic comic who could riff on anything. And part of that might have been that they shared a common kind of comedy and a common dark side. Despite his crazy humor, Winters suffered from depression and had mental breakdowns.  He always carried a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote in his wallet:  "Humor is the mistress of sorrow."  Both he and Robin had demons.

Itzkoff traces Robin's early years, his marriages, his career, his drug use, his demons, all in great detail - the book is over 500 pages - and it's well-researched, but it's also what I would call a good read.  It's not only well-researched, but well-written and wonderfully engrossing.  You come to understand where that manic, whip sharp humor came from as well as that other side of Robin - the quiet, withdrawn darker Robin.

Why did such a successful actor/comedian decide that at the age of 63 it was time to take fate into his own hands and hang himself?  I finally found out but if you want to know you will have to read this book for yourself.  And it's a fascinating journey. 

Rosy the Reviewer says...not just the definitive biography of Robin Williams but also a really good read.

Thanks for reading!

See you next Friday


"The Favourite"


The Week in Reviews
(What To See and What To Avoid)

as well as

the latest on

"My 1001 Movies I Must See

Before I Die Project" 

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Next time you are wondering whether or not to watch a particular film, check out my reviews on IMDB (The International Movie Database). 

Go to, find the movie you are interested in.  Scroll down below the synopsis and the listings for the director, writer and main stars to where it says "Reviews" and click on "Critics" - If I have reviewed that film, you will find Rosy the Reviewer alphabetically on the list.