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Authors Posts by Tabari McCoy

Tabari McCoy

Tabari McCoy
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Columnist - Tabari McCoy is Cincy Chic's movie critic. An award-winning stand-up comedian who also works as the public relations director at Cincinnati Museum Center, Tabari McCoy is the creator of McCoy on Movies, a blog about movies for film fans. The blog is written by someone who also likes movies that is smart enough to know his opinion isn't always the right one but is willing to express that opinion in public. McCoy also used to review movies for his college paper and a major metropolitan publication, so that helps add to his "street cred." Contact him at tmccoy@cincychic.com. You can also check out more of his work on his blog at McCoyonMovies.BlogSpot.com and follow him on Twitter at @tabarimccoy.

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An old horror icon gets re-envisioned for the #MeToo era. Keep reading to see if our movie critic says it’s worth a watch.

 

“Take my hand … And then watch me try to kill you with the other one!” Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) showers while an unbeknownst presence keeps watch in a scene from Saw-alum Leigh Whannell’s THE INVISBLE MAN. Credit: Universal Pictures. © 2020 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.
 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:


 

KEY CAST MEMBERS: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Harriet Dyer, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Storm Reid and Michael Dorman DIRECTOR(S): Leigh Whannell

 
THE BACK STORY: Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) is an architect that seemingly has it all given that the house she lives in is nothing short of a multi-million dollar beachfront palatial estate in San Francisco. But that doesn’t explain why Cecilia is attempting to flee in the middle of the night, now does it? No, that answer comes in the form of the abuse Cecilia claims her now ex, Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) has heaped upon her mentally and physically. Barely escaping, Cecilia takes refuge with a childhood friend turned police detective in James (Aldis Hodge) and his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). 

Then Adrian’s brother – and the director of his estate – Tom (Michael Dorman) informs Cecilia and her sister Alice (Harriet Dyer) with bombshell news: Adrian, a tech magnate who built his fortunate in the field of optics, has committed suicide and left her millions to be paid out in increments of $100,00 over the next few years – as long as she doesn’t commit any crimes and lives a generally good life. There’s just one problem …

Cecilia, over the course of a series of rather weird and unfortunate events, becomes convinced Adrian is still alive. And he’s apparently determined to drive her insane – or worse. Thus, Cecilia is forced to answer a question most people would never ponder.

How do you prove someone who is supposed to be dead is very much alive and torturing you when no one – including you – can see them?

 
THE REVIEW: There are typically two types of movies released in the first few months of a new year: (1) Award contenders/art house endeavors that studios hope get that one last push before the statues are given out and (2) films that the studios greenlighted … But in retrospect probably wish they hadn’t (Fantasy Island, anyone?) But, every once in a while, you get those “‘tweeners:” Movies that have elements that are somewhat enjoyable and fun … Even though you know in your heart you really wouldn’t call it a “good” movie.About one hour into writer/director Leigh Whannell’s (the Saw and Insidious franchises) take on the often forgotten (no pun intended) member of Universal’s monsters, it becomes quite apparent The Invisible Man matches the last description to a “T.”

On the pro-side, Moss delivers enough of an emotional performance to drive The Invisible Man, which is essentially a domestic abuse tale examining what happens to victims at the hands of their accusers. Moss carefully walks the line between movie dramatics and emotionally believability to keep her character’s credence valid, never giving in to the temptation to go bad 80s horror movie scream queen at each abusive turn. She is by far the most interesting character on screen, making her character interesting enough to keep watching the film to its climax. There’s also enough twists and turns to keep you intrigued in what will happen, a must in a film where too much predictably could have been present.

On the con-side, however, the majority of characters that aren’t Moss – Dorman is acceptable as Adrian’s brother – are lackluster in either direction or execution (again, no pun intended). Likewise, most of the scenes where Moss and others are attacked by, well, an invisible assailant just feel cartoonish despite the cast and crew’s best efforts. Thus, you get a mixed bag of push/pull that keep the film from diving too far off the deep end, but a lot of missed opportunities that could have pushed it into groundbreaking territory. However, by focusing on Moss’ character’s pain, The Invisible Man basically becomes a metaphor for all the abuse women have suffered at the hands of men in the #metoo era – and a stern warning to men about what could happen if they refuse to stop it.

All things considered, The Invisible Man isn’t a great movie by any means, but it’s not a completely unwatchable mess, either. It’s more a simple thriller for those seeking a simple thriller, but one that may catch fire due to today’s current socio-political climate. Some people may hate it, some people may love it – and arguments can be made to justify both’s point of view objectively.

Just don’t say you weren’t warned, however, if you come expecting to “see” something more.

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 
 
 

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Martin Lawrence and Will Smith reunite for entertaining nostalgia in this new flick but is it worth the watch in theaters? Read on to see.

 

“Over here, partner – I think I see the dude who convinced me to do Gemini Man! Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) proceed with caution in a scene from co-directors Adil & Bilall’s addition to the Bad Boys franchise, BAD BOYS FOR LIFE. Credit: Ben Rothstein ™ 2019 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved. 


WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Joe Pantoliano, Paola Nuñez, Vanessa Hudgens, Alexander Ludwig, Charles Melton, Nicky Jam, Jacob Scipio and Kate del CastilloDIRECTOR(S): Adil & Bilall

 
THE BACK STORY: Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) has never needed the money. He has that thanks to his inheritance. He’s also apparently never needed love; sure he’s had “love” but nothing like what his partner Marcus Burnet (Martin Lawrence) and their always embattled leader, Captain Howard (Joe Pantoliano), have in their lives. Sure, he had a thing with Rita (Paola Nuñez) in the past, but that’s in the past. 

So, when his partner to make good on his threat to retire upon becoming a grandfather, Mike makes a bet with Marcus and wins – only he doesn’t get the chance to collect on that bet due to a ghost from his past: Isabel Aretas (Kate del Castillo), a.k.a. the Witch. It seems Isabel has an old score to settle with Mike from a very long time ago and has no problem using her willing son Armando (Jacob Scipio) to collect the debt. 

Now, as the body count starts piling up, Mike is going to need Marcus, Rita, Captain Howard and all the help he can get if he’s going to survive.

THE REVIEW: One key component of HBO’s acclaimed Watchmen television series revolved around the idea of one of the main characters being able to experience another a person’s memories via the ingestion of a pill dubbed “Nostalgia.” And while they had an adverse affect on Regina King’s character at first, they ultimately led to revelations that eventually proven to be essential to her and the overall ending of the first (and only?) season of the series.Watching Bad Boys for Life, one might have a similar take – for while the beginning of the film may start off a tad slower and/or more mundane than one might expect, once it gets going, all the fond memories fans of the first two films had will come quickly back to life.

Whereas the first two films relied inordinately upon the chemistry between Smith and Lawrence to carry them in Michael Bay’s explosion-filled paradise, Bad Boys for Life adds small bits of nuance to the mix to dive deeper into Smith’s and Lawrence’s characters personal lives. Smith’s rockstar cowboy realizes he’s fading into the twilight if he doesn’t change his ways in a way that doesn’t feel terribly contrived, all while Lawrence, Pantoliano and the film’s supporting players add strong punches of humor into the mix. (It’s kind of what last year’s already forgotten Shaft movie was hoping for but didn’t quite get right.) The ideas of growing old and growing up are at dual play in the film, Lawrence and Smith luckily handle both with enough flair and finesse to not make the film too dry or too frivolous for its own good.

Of course, the nostalgia of watching 90s comedy icons Smith and Lawrence is likely going to be more than enough for most audiences as the duo hasn’t any of their timing. Likewise, the action sequences under the eye of co-directors Adil & Bilall have all the usual buddy cop/action comedy panache you’d expect yet feel more fresh than familiarly overblown (for the most part). Throw in some strong female representation from Hudgens, Nuñez and del Castillo and the film has the entertainment value to make casual and die-hard fans happy.

If nothing else, Inner Circle will be just as pleased to take home all those residual checks for his best known song once again.

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 
 

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Adam Sandler is back for a new film. Is it a diamond in the rough or a frustrating piece of fool's gold? Our movie critic tells all.

“OK, OK – I won’t ask you anymore questions about LeBron if you agree to not ask me anymore about Rob Schneider!” Kevin Garnett, left, listens as Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) tries to make a deal as their mutual acquaintance Demany (LaKeith Stanfield) looks on in a scene from the Safdie Brothers’ latest drama UNCUT GEMS. Credit: © and ™ A24 Films. All rights reserved.

 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:

 


 



KEY CAST MEMBERS: Adam Sandler, Idina Menzel, LaKeith Stanfield, Kevin Garnett, Eric Bogosian, Julia Fox, Keith Williams Richards, Tommy Kominik and Judd HirschDIRECTOR(S): Josh and Benny Safdie

 
THE BACK STORY: Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler) is a jeweler in New York City’s famed “Diamond District.” He’s got healthy children with his estranged wife Dinah (Idina Menzel), a wealthy father-in-law in Gooey (Judd Hirsch) and a streetwise business partner in Demany (LaKeith Stanfield) to help him get clientele like Boston Celtics power forward and future NBA champion Kevin Garnett (yes, played by Kevin Garnett). 


Unfortunately, Howard also has a lot of personal problems caused by his demons. That’s why he has an apartment in the city where his employee/girlfriend Julia (Julia Fox) and he can enjoy their rendezvous and he is a massive gambler, which is why his in-law Arno (Eric Bogosian) wants him to pay him the money he is owed ASAP. That’s also why Arno’s two “business associates” Phil (Keith William Richards) and Nico (Tommy Kominik) are ready to beat Howard any chance they get. 


So, what happens when Howard receives a rare gem that ends up tying his future with Garnett, Arno and Julia all together? Let’s just say you can bet on it changing all of their lives forever. 

THE REVIEW: Sometimes you see a movie that features actors turning in fine performances with characters that are realistic in a story that makes perfect sense given the world in which they exist. Likewise, the direction is tight, the camera work draws you into those characters’ respective worlds and the pacing (for the most part) makes sense. But, for whatever reason, you just aren’t captivated by it, it lacks something that makes many (outside of those into artistic endeavors and/or laud “cinema” or “movies”).Unfortunately in the case of Uncut Gems, this factor works against the film and turns what one would hope could be a diamond into a rather frustrating piece of fool’s gold.

Other than the surreal joy of watching Kevin Garnett playing Kevin Garnett without acting like he is Kevin Garnett, Uncut Gems features a protagonist who is the textbook definition of a sad sack due to his own inability to get out of his own way. Sandler’s Howard Ratner is manic, fast-talking, obsessive and unappreciative of his own fortunes, always driven by his next big hit. Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley once famously coined the phrase “the disease of more,” saying “Success is often the first step towards disaster” – meaning that once one has a little bit of it, the compulsion for more of it often leads to one’s own undoing. Perhaps the Safdie brothers, like Sandler himself, are really big basketball fans, hence their need to create a character Riley himself might deem uncoachable. Thus, Uncut Gems is much like being a fan of a popular sports team that the rest of the league hates – only built for die-hard Sandler fans only (for the most part) who will support “their guy” no matter what.

Unlike Robert Pattinson in the Safdie brothers’ previous effort, the stellar Good Time, Ratner has zero redeeming qualities to the point you almost – almost – enjoy watching him fail. This is a self-destructive man doing self-destructive things: That may be the point, but while it’s a point well-taken, it is also one that isn’t exactly (for lack of a better word) fun point to watch.

Whereas Pattinson’s character was trying to do something wrong to provide a better life for he and his mentally challenged brother, Sandler’s character is a pure narcissist who treats everything and everyone – Julia especially – like just another trophy. (Given that he is a jeweler and what gems represent in both the film and in American society, of course, the metaphors abound aplenty.) Sandler’s character is King Midas … And anyone who’s paid attention to any basic Greek mythology in a social studies class knows how well that worked out for him.

Which is a shame, because Uncut Gems had a lot more potential to be a good Christmas present for someone outside of just hardcore Sandler and Garnett fans.

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 
 
 
 

 

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It’s the ninth and final chapter of an epic saga, but is it worth the watch in theaters? Our movie critic offers insight.

 

“Just think – in some other galaxy, people will actually go pay to throw axes indoors when they could just get lightsabers and fight people to their potential deaths!” Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) faces off against Rey (Daisy Ridley) in a scene from STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. Credit: © 2019 Lucasfilm Ltd.  & ™. All rights reserved.

 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:


 


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Richard E. Grant, Domhnall Gleeson, Carrie Fisher, Ian McDiarmid and Keri Russell with Billy D. WilliamsDIRECTOR(S): J.J. Abrams

 
THE BACK STORY: The ninth and final installment of arguably the greatest science fiction franchise in history, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker finds Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) and what’s left of The Resistance preparing to take a grand final strike against The First Order, now firmly in the grasp of its new supreme leader Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) a.k.a. Ben Solo (if you don’t know why, you’re probably NOT ready to see this movie and need to catch up to the previous episodes). After a series of revealing discoveries, the Resistance and the First Order are set to face an epic clash, Rey and Kylo Ren destined to be the ones who may determine the fate of the galaxy.

Then again, the presence of the previously thought to be deceased Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) may change both of their plans forever if he has his way.

THE REVIEW: You have four types of people when it comes to Star Wars: (1) The uninitiated/unconcerned, a.k.a. the people who have ever never seen a Star Wars movie, don’t care to see another Star Wars movie and/or don’t even know The Rise of Skywalker is here; (2) The relatively familiar – people who have seen one or two of the films, most likely the “original” three from the 1970s and 80s and are good with that; (3) the generally knowledgeable – they’ve seen all the films, but are not dedicated fans who can rattle of planet names or easter eggs from one film to the next; (4) the Comic Book Guys (or Girls). So named for The Simpsons-inspired character inspired in part by Star Wars-obsessive fans, they are protective of the franchise the way parents are a first-born child, love and hate different aspects of the series with the passion of a young Olympic boxer pursuing a gold medal and know so much Jedi/Sith trivia they would make Ken Jennings Jeopardy run look like child’s play.So, that all being said, as someone who falls into category 3 and knows plenty of people that fit into categories one, two and four, my spoiler free assessment of the last installment in the main Star Wars canon is this: Episode IX (nine for those who don’t remember their Roman numerals), while not perfect, contains enough positives to satisfy the people in the last two groups while perhaps making those in the first two groups curious enough to at least wonder what all the hype is about.

The previous Star Wars film, The Last Jedi, is a divisive issue among the hardcore fans as for as many people loved it, just as many seemingly did not – leading to it to serve as an “OK Boomer”-style case study in letting go of old things vs. embracing new possibilities. (You can read more about that here, here and here. Abrams has shared his thoughts on the matter extensively.) Whether that unconsciously (not likely) or consciously (most likely) played a factor in J.J. Abrams’ approach to the final installment may be up for debate, it won’t feel like it watching The Rise of Skywalker as the film tries to bridge a nostalgia gap for the old guard of fans while finishing the new work.

Here’s what most of you will care to know in regards to the actual quality of the film: The action sequences work well, Ridley proves herself capable of earning the massive responsibility her character is thrust into, Driver makes his character more than a Darth Vader clone and the classic elements of good vs. evil – complete with dad jokes aplenty courtesy of C-3PO. There are sky battles, ground battles, journeys across the galaxy to find missing pieces of information, character revelations, homages to the past … It’s a basic 2-and-a-half hour blowout of the things most fans have come to enjoy about the franchise.

Yes, it would be nice if Fisher hadn’t passed away before the filming finished (luckily for Abrams the cut footage from previous films fits in nicely). Likewise, some people may take issue with the incorporation of past characters into the film and their usage and the Palpatine situation may serve as the stuff of blogs and YouTube videos for many eons to come. Then again, when you’ve got over 40 years’ worth of cinematic history coming to an end, there is no way you’re going to satisfy everyone.

But, much like everyone’s favorite little green friend re-invented as a child on Disney+ once famously said, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Thus, if you don’t embrace some change over the course of nine films, you’ve probably missed what Abrams and company have attempted to do: Deliver a fitting end to a story with plenty of history while giving it some fresh life along the way. After all, one must “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Keeping that sage-like wisdom will likely send most longstanding fans home happy from this galaxy to the next.

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 
 

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It’s a portrait of an African American family in turmoil that comes to vivid life with what our critic says is a stellar cast. Worth the watch? Read on for more.

 

“Now … Remember – this is a movie, not This is Us, so we won’t have commercial breaks!” Tyler (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), Emily (Taylor Russell), Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) and Catharine (Renée Elise Goldberry) share a moment in a scene from WAVES. Credit: © 2019 A24 Films. All rights reserved.
 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:




KEY CAST MEMBERS: Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Taylor Russell, Sterling K. Brown, Lucas Hedges, Renée Elise Goldberry and Alexa Demie

DIRECTOR(S): Trey Edward Shults 

 

THE BACK STORY: Tyler Williams (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) is a talented high school wrestler who has a lot going for him. Sure, his father Ronald (Sterling K. Brown) pushes him hard, but he’s got great support in the form of his stepmother (Renée Elise Goldberry), his sister Emily (Taylor Russell) and the “goddess” in his cell phone, a.k.a. his girlfriend Alexis (Alexa Demie).

Then, over the course of one night, his life changes forever – and so does the life of everyone close to him.

Their lives now turned completely upside down, the Williams family finds themselves struggling to recover in the wake of tragedy. But when Emily meets a shy classmate in the form of Luke (Lucas Hedges), she discovers she may hold the key to healing her family so that they can once again be whole. 

THE REVIEW: Finding the beauty of life and love out of tragedy and heartbreak … If there is one thing that you will take away from watching Waves – which honestly should be a nominee for Best Picture for all the reasons that past Academy Award-winner Crash shouldn’t have been – it should be this sentiment. For in crafting a tale full of promise, then self-destruction, then heartbreak and a resurrection of a chance of hope, writer/director Trey Edward Shults and his cast have created what may be the best film of 2019.Waves features a very simple story – to say more would be to give away too much – that would NOT simple to process in real life. As the domineering but well-meaning Ronald, Sterling K. Brown gives a powerhouse performance that serves almost like a “Hey – don’t forget me in the conversation of great African-American male actors” announcement, showing the type of sensitivity rarely seen in a lead black males role. It is the performances of and interaction between Russell’s Emily and Hedges’ Luke, however, that steals the show, rounding out Waves’ set of emotional exploration with grace, aplomb and wisdom beyond their years. Both show a level of talent and skill that drives their story arc home in a way people of all ages, races and orientations will likely admire and aspire to have in their own existence. There are some very hard moments to watch of self-destruction, turbulence and turmoil, followed by some extremely gentle, heartfelt and warm moments that may bring a tear of happiness as much as the others do out of sadness.

The performances truly bring out the radiance of the story of Waves, one in which you are fully immersed in the characters’ respective worlds. Shults’ nuanced work behind the lens makes the characters’ world come alive, in turn making their respective heartbreaks and outcomes all the more intense and more importantly, authentic and relatable. Watching one character’s self-destructive path give birth to the awakening of another’s could come off extremely clumsy or clichéd in the wrong hands; fortunately for Shults and company, their commitment to the tale makes everything work in grand fashion. Whether you are a parent, a confused adolescent trying to figure out the world, someone trying to overcome grief, a person holding on to a past tragic experience, Waves offers something most movies do not – therapy and hope – that may serve to help as much as it does entertain.

Yes, the story is compelling in and of itself, but it also looks to explore healing and what that may look like for many different people. Despite a predominantly African American cast, race is not the focus of the story as much as our general humanity is. That in turn may actually help in showcasing African-Americans in a way they are rarely shown in mainstream media, a fresh breath of air that explores the “we’re all human” notion without being blatant, over-the-top or fool-hearty (hence the earlier Crash reference). With apologies to Brown, one might consider it a long episode of This is Us that doesn’t explore the past or present as much as it does look towards the future.

In short, Waves should make waves upon its national release this week because in a world – pardon the terrible wordplay – full of storms, the film serves as an oasis all should experience.

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 

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It’s a compelling drama from familiar subject matter, but is it compelling enough to see in theaters? Our movie critic offers insight.

 

“C’mon – I think I see the dude that convinced me to do Draft Day is right over there!” Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) and Frankie Burns (Siena Miller) rush in pursuit of two wanted suspects in a scene from director Brian Kirk’s 21 BRIDGES. Credit: Matt Kennedy / Motion Picture Artwork © 2017 STX Financing. All rights reserved.
 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:

 

 

KEY CAST MEMBERS: Chadwick Boseman, Stephan James, Sienna Miller, Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Siddig, Morocco Omari and J.K. Simmons

DIRECTOR(S): Brian Kirk

THE BACK STORY: Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is a detective in New York City. He had to be. It’s in his DNA, or at least that’s how he puts it. And given that his father was murdered on duty by three men – one of whom lived – his dedication to bringing criminals to justice rivals that of D.C. Comics’ biggest crimefighter Bruce Wayne. But while Batman may keep watch over a fictional Gotham, Andre is entrenched deep in New York City, which is why Internal Affairs is looking into his latest episode where he added to his growing body count of alleged criminals. 

Ray Jackson (Taylor Kitsch) and his partner Michael (Stephan James) don’t know Davis, but they soon will. For when it turns out the heist they’re involved in features 300 kilos of cocaine and not the 30 they were expecting, something seems off. Throw in an ensuing gun battle with a group of police officers who just so happen to show to the restaurant they’re robbing as if they were supposed to be there and Ray and Michael know something is wrong.

Arriving to the aftermath, Andre finds himself paired up with another detective, Frankie Burns (Sienna Miller) and a police captain in McKenna (J.K. Simmons) who want revenge moreso than justice for what has transpired. Quickly surmising the situation, Andre realizes the perpetrators have to still be in the city – which is why he orders all 21 bridges leading out of Manhattan closed. But the clock is ticking on Andre and Frankie … So there is no time to waste if they are going to catch the men responsible for what has happened.

THE REVIEW: While he has had plenty of roles in his acting career, Boseman has essentially become known for playing two kinds of people: Famous dead black people (Jackie Robinson in 42, James Brown in Get On Up and Thurgood Marshall in Marshall) and a certain costumed superhero from a fictional African country that helps save the world.

21 Bridges showcases the depth of his talent – along with that of co-star James – to deliver an entertaining film despite having a very all-too-familiar style story with which to work.

Cops, robbers and conspiracy/cover tales are nearly as old as movies themselves; 21 Bridges doesn’t really do anything dynamic in regards to telling this type of tale (you can probably figure out most of what’s happening an hour or so into the film). What director Brian Kirk does do, however, is wisely present a stage where (1) the action sequences don’t feel forced and instead intense; (2) let Boseman take center stage and allow him to deliver a performance that is gripping enough to keep you interested as he breaks down scenarios and (3) trusts his actors, particularly Kitsch and James, to make their characters motivations, emotions and decisions relatable. Whereas last month’s Black and Blue dealt more with the issue of the thin blue line and which side of it African-Americans (both as police and possible perpetrators) fall on it, 21 Bridges is a standard tale of good vs. evil.

Whereas Boseman does a good job of playing the by-the-book-cop, he also does it enough style where it doesn’t feel so textbook that it lacks appeal. The same can be said for James, the co-star of the overlooked stellar 2018 release If Beale Street Could Talk. Giving his character a sense of humanity often lacking in shoot-em-up movies, watching Boseman and James play off each other adds to what would otherwise be another mash up of films that you’ve seen before.

Thus, while no one would – or should – expect 21 Bridges to do anything close to Black Panther business, it’s definitely worth seeing if you want to see Boseman flex his acting chops outside of spandex or a historical figure’s shadow.

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 

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It’s a feminist, uber-conscious update of the spy story and 1970s TV series, but is it worth the watch? Our movie critic has the scoop.

 

“Hey, what’s over there – is it the music video shoot we’re supposed to be in for the soundtrack?!” Townsend Agency agents Elena (Naomi Scott) and Sabina (Kristen Stewart) peer over into enemy territory with their newfound on-the-run client Jane (Ella Balinska) in a scene from writer/director/co-star Elizabeth Banks’ take on CHARLIE’S ANGELS. Credit: Nadja Klier © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.
 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:


 

KEY CAST MEMBERS: Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Nat Faxon, Jonathan Tucker, Luis Gerardo Mendez, Sam Clafin, Djimon Hounsou and Sir Patrick StewartDIRECTOR(S): Elizabeth Banks

 
THE BACK STORY: The product of a screenplay from and directed by Elizabeth Banks (who also co-stars), the 2019 version of Charlie’s Angels stars Ella Balinska as Jane Karo, a developer at an energy company owned by Alexander Brok (Sam Clafin). Her invention could help revolutionize energy as we know it, which is why her boss Peter Fleming (Nat Faxon) can’t wait to show it off despite the fatal flaw that could allow the project – codename Kalisto – to become weaponized. You see, Kalisto could be hacked to release a devastating electromagnetic pulse (EMP for short) in the wrong hands, which is why Jane wants to stop the project from going forward. Peter, however, has his own ideas and wants to get the product to market as soon as possible.

Jane, however, is about to have a bigger problem on her hands when in attempting to meet with a man named Bosley (Djimon Honsou), an assassin (Jonathan Tucker) tries to kill her. This leads to Jane meeting up with the rebellious Sabina (Kristen Stewart) and no-nonsense Elena (Naomi Scott), two female secret agents who work for the Townsend Agency – the same agency that employs Bosley … the soon-to-be-retiring Bosley (Patrick Stewart) … And the woman Jane will also come to know as Bosley (Banks). 

Confused? Well, you should be – it’s about to get a lot more complicated from here. And that’s why Jane’s guardian angels are about to try to save not only her life, but the world, too.
 
THE REVIEW: In the era of “woke” and “cancel” culture in the wake of the #MeToo movement, one might be inclined to see Charlie’s Angels as an example of empowerment in the action comedy genre. It could be taken as an attempt to show women being just as strong, sophisticated and stylish as their male counterparts with modern women in control of their careers, their bodies and life in general. There’s just one little problem with that, however, as it pertains to the film.In the quest for empowerment, Charlie’s Angels lacks a lot in the entertaining department and nearly ends up becoming at best a caricature of what it wishes to destroy in terms of the cinematic patriarchy and at its worst, an unmemorable movie.

Now, before one accuse yours truly of a blatant case of mainsplaining, let me simply point to the film’s opening scene as an example of empowerment run amuck: Stewart’s character is literally explaining to the audience why women are underestimated, unappreciated and generally taken for granted as underachievers. This is balanced out, of course, by a male antagonist so taken with her beauty, he must then via his substandard, terribly over-the-top dialogue explain why everything she is saying is basically wrong – only of course to get his comeuppance because Stewart’s seductive agent has been setting him up. Of course the audience knows it, but the film makes sure to spell it out for them because it wants to drive home the point of the entire 80 minute-plus experience: Women can do whatever and they’re gonna do it loud, brash and however they want.

Unfortunately, as the heavy handed scene also shows, in the case of Charlie’s Angels, they’re gonna hit you over the head with it at every possible turn.

Charlie’s Angels wants to be the ultimate badass female movie: It attempts to feature Stewart as a wise-cracking rebel who’s quick with her one-liners, the Rihanna-esque Scott as a … Rihanna-esque no nonsense agent (who is by far the most believable character) and Balinska as an awkward, fish out of water just trying to do the right thing. Problem is, Stewart feels like she’s doing her best imitation a female action movie hero and it’s never believable, Balinska’s fish out of water is so out of water it’s almost like a live-action cartoon a la The Simpsons and Scott feels like she’s overcompensating for the other two. None of the three characters are really developed beyond a simple explanation (“She grew up rough!” “She’s smart” “She’s smart and nerdy and awkward!”). The timing of the sexualization of their characters comes off a bit misplaced (“Let’s infiltrate this mansion … With a fully choreographed dance routine as part of our cover!”), the fight scenes are comical when meant to be serious and just silly when they meant to be comical and the heavy-handed storytelling makes sure to guide the audience instead of letting things play out more naturally.

Complicating matters further is the fact the jokes are (1) usually forced (2) usually stale and (3) just not working. The male characters are either complete bumbling morons to the point you can’t take any of them (save for Jonathan Tucker’s heavily tattooed assassin) seriously or so sleazy they might make Harvey Weinstein wince. Charlie’s Angels may go down as Stewart’s worst performance in eons. While his Bullock character on Seth McFarlane’s now exiled to TBS cartoon American Dad! is supposed to be a buffoon, the fact this character is supposed to be taken seriously is cartoonish in and of itself.

It doesn’t make for a great viewing experience outside of its target audience: Young women who want to see young women be heroes, no matter how ridiculous the story and how over-the-top pretty much everything else in the mix may be. In trying to be empowering, it almost comes off as egregious and does the very opposite of what it wishes to do for all audiences. Just like this year’s earlier action detective reboot Shaft (which had slightly better jokes … slightly), Charlie’s Angels just isn’t memorable as much as it is missable.

As a sign of very heavy foreshadowing, the music video for the lead single from the film’s soundtrack – the inane “Don’t Call Me Angel” by polarizing pop stars Lana Del Ray, Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus – is pretty much an entire encapsulation of the project: A group of artists begging people to take them seriously by exhibiting a ton of “I don’t need your approval” attitude … While falling into every negative trope of using overly and overtly sexual grinding, lip-biting possible in a desperate attempt for approval. Don’t believe me? Check out this lyrical wizardry for yourself:”Uh, don’t call me angel when I’m a mess,
Don’t call me angel when I get undressed,
You know I, I don’t like that, boy,
Uh, I make my money, and I write the checks,
So say my name with a little respect,
All my girls successful, and you’re just our guest”

 
Thus, much like the aforementioned song, Charlie’s Angels whole point seems to exist for the sake of simply extending a middle finger to the cinematic patriarchy … Which would be fine if it has deeper characters (it doesn’t), an interesting, rich story (absent), or just anything that felt original, fresh and inspiring (no dice). Instead, it comes off as maligned as when Poochie was introduced on The Simpsons‘ beloved cartoon-within-a-cartoon “Itchy & Scratchy” and with similar results
 
So, don’t call them angels if you like … But much like the aftermath of a bad date, there’s a good chance you shouldn’t just call, period. 
 
OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN): 

 

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Elsa and Anna return for Frozen 2, but is it as magical as the first? Read on for our critic’s review.

 
“This winter, it’s personal – no, it really is!” From left to right: Olaf (Josh Gad), Anna (Kristen Bell), Elsa (Idina Menzel, center), Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and Sven return for FROZEN 2. Credit: © 2019 Walt Disney Pictures. All rights reserved.
 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:


KEY CAST MEMBERS: Idina Menzel, Kristen Bell, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad, Sterling K. Brown and Evan Rachel WoodDIRECTOR(S): Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck

 
THE BACK STORY: Following up on the events of the first film, Frozen 2 finds the magical Elsa (Idina Menzel) living happily in the utopian Arendelle with her sister Anna (Kristen Bell), her wanting-to-pop-the-question-but-unsure-how-to-do-so boyfriend Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his beloved reindeer Sven and everyone’s favorite one-liner cracking snowman Olaf (Josh Gad). But not everything is as peaceful and happy as it seems.

As a flashback will reveal, the sisters’ parents told them of Northuldra, a forest where the people of Arendelle were enjoying a nice time with the natives until something happened and the two groups found their lives forever changed. And now, as fate would have it, a mysterious voice is calling Elsa, who has become more and more curious about the origin of her powers. Could the voice have something to do with her powers? Could there be a connection to Northuldra? 

There’s only way Elsa, Anna, Sven and Olaf are going to find out … Looks like a new adventure awaits! 

THE REVIEW: Sometimes a sequel is better than the original. Sometimes it’s worse. And then there are times where the sequel looks to deliver pretty much everything the first film had that made it successful … even if the second go round, while solid, lacks the magic of the original.The last option is the one that describes the collection of jokes and songs collectively known as Frozen 2.

Frozen 2 is not a bad movie. But if you are not a major fan of Disney’s princess collection of films, the plot is not likely to hook you in. Likewise, while some will undoubtedly find the collection of songs – especially Kristoff’s somewhat hilarious homage to 80s power rock ballads – entertaining, others may find them to be a bit repetitive in both tone and execution. (If you are not an opera fan, some of the jokes may feel a bit long in the ear, er, tooth.) Gad’s Olaf character gets to take center stage for much of Frozen 2 in terms of delivering a much needed levity to the affair, which is balanced by the cuteness factor of Bruni, the salamander representation of fire in the enchanted forest.

Frozen 2 adheres to the longstanding adage of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” by making sure that if was in the first film, try to wedge it into the second film. While Elsa and Anna’s sibling rivalry has subsided, there’s still plenty of bonding in the story, as well as the idea of self-discovery, teamwork … and of course, good ol’ Olaf. Frozen 2 isn’t here to break new ground as much as it is to keep it nice and chilled as fans sing the songs long after they leave the theater. Whereas the first Frozen felt special and unique, 2 is like a slice of pizza from your favorite restaurant: satisfying but extremely familiar.

Thus, while it might be better suited for young children and Disney die-hards only, those two groups will love it … Even if everyone else might be happier if they just let it go and stopped before there is a part three.

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 

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Tom Hanks portrays Mister Rogers in a timely story of kindness triumphing over cynicism, based on the true story friendship between a jaded magazine writer and America's most beloved neighbor.

 

“Hey kids – if this was a Yeezy 350 Boost, I might tell you how to toss it on eBay to make a profit with which you could start a nice savings account!” Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks) strikes a familiar pose in a scene from director Marielle Henner’s inspired by true events biopic A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD. Credit: Lacey Terrell © 2019 CTMG, Inc. All rights reserved.

 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:


 

KEY CAST MEMBERS: Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper, Susan Kelechi Watson, Christine Lahti, Wendy Makenna, Enrico Colantoni, Tammy Blanchard, Noah Harpster and Maryann PlunkettDIRECTOR(S): Marielle Heller

 
THE BACK STORY: Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys) is a journalist for Esquire magazine who’s used to doing hard-hitting, investigative pieces that often leave the subjects of his stories, much like a James Bond martini, a bit shaken if not internally stirred. So, when his boss (Christine Lahti) assigns him to write a 400 word piece on children’s television show host Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), he’s a bit miffed to say the least. 

Then again, Lloyd’s negative predilection to get to dig deep to find the dirt on people might have something to do with his own issues. He’s still very mad at his dad (Chris Cooper) – whom he prefers to call by his first name of Jerry – for what he did when his wife/Lloyd’s mom got sick. And now that he’s got a newborn son of his own with his wife (Susan Kelechi Watson), he’s feeling a bit of pressure not to pass along any of his own pain to his offspring. 

Thus, what happens when a cynical, depressed reporter is asked to spend extended time with perhaps the most upbeat, positive person in the world? Something that is definitely going to not fit into 400 words but definitely may touch plenty of hearts in theaters nationwide. 
 
THE REVIEW: Inspired by true events biopics often take liberties with the facts of their subject matter, omitting certain controversial details, adding characters or sometimes straight up just diverting from the facts for the sake of the story the filmmaker wants to tell. And given the success of 2018’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, putting a well-known actor like Tom Hanks in the role of playing a beloved cultural icon like Fred Rogers could be a recipe for disaster if not done well with a compelling story.Anyone debating whether or not to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, however, should have no such concern – for the film is easily one of the finest releases of 2019.

Neighborhood‘s storytelling, under the direction of Marielle Henner (2018’s Can You Ever Forgive Me?), is almost like watching an episode of Rogers’ beloved television show itself – a simple yet genius move that brings the story to life. Instead of digging deep into its subject’s personal life (that aforementioned documentary does exist, after all), the film shows how the relationship between Vogel – based on Esquire writer Tom Junod who’s article served as a basis for Neighborhood – and Rogers. In doing so, it showcases the reasons Rogers became and remains an inspiration to millions of people throughout North America: In talking with Vogel about what drives him, Rogers works Vogel through his myriad of problems, making the writer learn about him but more importantly, himself.

Of course, this wouldn’t happen without Heller’s excellent direction that incorporates elements of both Rogers’ show and Hanks’ full immersion into the role. From his voice affectations and mannerisms to his legendary calm tone of speaking and self-deprecation, Hanks does about a fine a job as you’d hope for in a portrayal of a beloved figure without crossing into saint territory (which the movie directly addresses). Hanks’ ability to channel Rogers own approach to tough subject matter shows how his wisdom rings true for both children and adults to this day.

Rhys, however, may arguably deliver the strongest performance in the film, giving his reporter a layered depth to serve as the canvas on which Rogers’ true magic is fully revealed. Rogers hoped to create healthy positive adults instead of the type of adult Rhys’ character is: angry and wrongs done to him and unable to let it go, cynical, distrustful and afraid they’ll screw things up worse than their parents did. (Sound like anyone you know in your own life?) In showcasing the juxtaposition between the two, Heller crates a walking, talking exercise in a lesson typical of an episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood with her two male leads playing their parts perfectly. Strong supporting turns by the always strong Cooper and Watson further complete the exercise, the latter’s enthusiasm for life and peace playing well against Cooper’s apologetic manchild father trying to make amends.

All things considered, the thing that will stay with you after the film is over is how dedicated Rogers was to making the world a better place, no small feat in a world where so many of us let so many things destroy our happiness. An atypical film in a cinematic landscape filled with remakes, the perennial sex and violence and hokey family fare that often misses the mark,  A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood proves that good people still exist in the world – and good movies about them do, too.

 
OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN): 

 
 

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A new cop drama toes the line between reality and fiction. See if our movie critic says it’s worth the watch.

 

“OK, if they try to put Cardi B. in the next Fast & Furious movie, I’ll go – Wait! They already did it?!” New Orleans Police Officer Alicia West (Naomie Harris) prepares to fire on a would-be assailant as Mouse (Tyrese Gibson) looks on in a scene from director Deon Taylor’s action thriller BLACK AND BLUE. Credit: Alan Markfield © CTMG Inc. All rights reserved. 

 

WATCH THE TRAILER(S) HERE:

KEY CAST MEMBERS: Naomie Harris, Tyrese Gibson, Frank Grillo, Mike Colter, Reid Scott, Beau Knapp, James Moses Black and Nafessa Williams 

DIRECTOR(S): Deon Taylor

THE BACK STORY: Alicia West (Naomie Harris) is many things. She’s a veteran with two tours in the Middle East. She’s a woman with no family now that her mother passed away earlier this year. And she’s a native of one of the most notorious wards that was done no favors by Hurricane Katrina.

Now, she’s a rookie member of the New Orleans Police Dept. working with her partner Jennings (Reid Scott) learning the beat. So, when Jennings begs her to take her place on a night shift, Alicia decides to take his place so he can go enjoy date night with his wife. 

Brown (James Moses Black), the veteran officer she’s with, isn’t the nicest fellow in the world, but he’s still a cop like Alicia so she respects him because, after all, they both back the badge. So, despite being told to stay in the car, once she hears gunshots, she’s going inside to make sure Brown isn’t in trouble.

Then she finds out Brown – along with narcotics officers Malone (Frank Grillo) and his partner (Beau Knapp) – are the ones she needs to be afraid of.

Aided only by an unlikely alliance with a local super market employee, Jackson “Mouse” Milo (Tyrese Gibson), Alicia is on the run to upload the footage on her body cam to put away the bad guys. But given that she’s now got (1) crooked cops after her; (2) local drug dealer Darius (Mike Colter) and his entire crew after her and (3) the ‘hood thinking she is the one behind a crime she didn’t commit, she’s going to be forced to make a choice: Is she more black than she is “blue” – and will it ultimately matter if no one believes her story.

THE REVIEW: On its surface, Black and Blue is a very easy movie to dismiss as it has a somewhat familiar premise (cop sees bad cops do bad stuff) and the inherent issues (African-Americans trust of the police, African-Americans in the line of police work – see HBO’s new take on Watchmen for more – etc.) within. What keeps Black and Blue from being another run-of-the-mill Training Day knockoff is how the cast and crew approach and deliver the story.

Now, to be honest, there are plenty of things that will either enhance or detract from your Black and Blue viewing experiences, hence a need to explain them here. So, if you:

  1. Are African-American;
  2. See the film with an audience also full of minority members relating to the characters on screen in a prime example of groupthink; and 
  3. Are familiar, either through the news or sadly, personal experience, with the types of police officers and “‘hood rules” present in the film, it will enhance your viewing experience.

On the flip side, if you:

  1. Are not African-American/a minority;
  2. Dismiss many of the stories in the news like this, or this, or this, or this, or this, or – I think you get the point; and 
  3. Don’t believe life imitates art and vice-versa, well … Black and Blue will likely just come off as another crime caper that ventures a little bit too far into the ridiculous (there’s really only one or two incidents of that) to be anything significant.

That notwithstanding, Black and Blue works on a basic level as Harris’ makes her character intriguing despite her extreme naivety (the audience is almost ahead of her the entire movie) and the tense nature director Deon Taylor builds throughout the film. Given that Taylor’s most three recent feature lengths were the awful The Intruder (2019), the forgotten Traffik (2018) and the absolutely atrocious Meet the Blacks (2016), it seems he’s finally found a way to take his knowledge of African-American cultures and put them into a thriller that actually makes sense.

While the film doesn’t feature anyone who’s a standout name on their own (Harris is a solid actress but be honest, you probably couldn’t pick her out of a lineup by name if you don’t follow her career), Taylor uses his players well. Grillo is a quintessential character actor in the role of either a criminal or cop (check his IMDB for proof), Brown channels Bill Duke extremely well to the point you’ll find yourself surprised it’s NOT him and Gibson wisely follows Harris’ lead to move things along well. Mike Colter even does a nice job of showing he can play the opposite of his better known Luke Cage alter ego as the drug dealer heavy Darius. Of course, that’s what an actor is supposed to do, but it’s done with convincing fashion. It’s a trope, but it’s one that works. The story turns are easy to see coming, but again, thanks to the dedication of the cast, they don’t feel as stale as they otherwise would.

But to go back to the earlier checklists and why they are relevant to your enjoyment of Black and Blue, let me explain it like this: If you have experienced harassment by the individuals meant to protect and serve you, you will feel a connection to the characters in the film that are not law enforcement officials. If you are a minority trying to toe the thin blue line, you will understand all of the internal and external strife Harris’ character does being turned away by both officers and her own community. And even if you haven’t experienced it, if you have watched recent developments in America you will understand the impact of these things on both Harris’ character and others in the film. But, if you do not and worse yet, care not to know, Black and Blue will ultimately be a work of fiction and nothing more. 

The reality is though all good works of fiction are stemmed in some form of truth – and Black and Blue has far too much reality around it to not make the fictional parts seem real, or, in the case for many, hope they could be, too. 

OVERALL RATING (OUT OF FOUR POSSIBLE BUCKETS OF POPCORN):

 

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