This is a joint Escape To Fiction Cinema Sunday and Caffeinated Reviewer Sunday Post link-up.
What have I been watching
Over the past few months (off the top of my head), let’s say January to now, give or take (I may actually have seen some of these late last year), I’ve watched (even counting only things that I finished, for the most part, it turns out to be a lot more than I thought when I started writing this):
Uncorked – my favourite Courtney B. Vance performance (not generally a fan but I thought he was really good in this) as a father and the owner of a barbeque joint who loves his wife (Niecy Nash, who brings to this performance the kind of nuance anyone who saw her performance in When They See Us should have come to expect notwithstanding her rising to fame for doing broad comedy). Vance’s character wants nothing more than to hand the family business down to his son. His son, a brooding romantic lead caliber performance by Mamoudou Athie, is a sommelier aspirant. You know, one of those wine experts – with the PhDs in sniffing and tasting and recommending wine down to the texture of the earth in which its grapes were grown. It’s a classic father-son, I have dreams of my own drama with a side of romance and family dynamics. Sasha Compere, the girlfriend, strikes a good balance between serving Athie’s story and having her own life. Plus I love their wine store meet-cute. I just really liked this film. The Paris scenes are especially endearing because watching those scenes it occurred to me how rare it is to see Black bodies in the most romantic city in the world including the background, on film, just being. I liked that the plot was standard but not predictable; to call this film normal is a compliment, the amazing part is that we don’t normally get to see this type of story through a Black lens.
Terminator: Dark Fate – I’ve always loved this series – or more specifically the first two films in this series. With Dark Fate, there’s the return of Linda Hamilton (yay), it ignores everything after Terminator 2: Judgment Day (yay), there’s high octane action and higher stakes (yay). I mean as an enjoyable piece of cinema with good action and high stakes storyline, it’s no Terminator or T2. And some things just don’t make sense (no attempt to even explain the T2000 aging, just Arnold’s older and he’s in the movie, deal with it). But I did like the new hero (the human hybrid sent back to protect this world’s version of Sarah Connor). I just didn’t care as much, though I did enjoy it overall. But honestly the series has been so bad for the last several films, that this is my third favourite Terminator. It made for fun late night viewing from my bed. And even with killing a key character, it didn’t undo the sacrifices of T2. Plus kick ass women kick ass.
Revolt (a post-apocalyptic action film I started watching at bedtime because Lee Pace was in it) and It Comes at Night (a dystopian horror) – both with pulse quickening moments but with mixed levels of satisfaction. It Comes as Night was more claustrophobic, character-driven, and compelling. With Revolt, the monster-design is interesting. In It Comes at Night, you never see the monster and what is going on is never really explained (the film focusses on the character’s reaction to this unknown it), which gives it an edge tension wise – even if a tiny part of me is frustrated with the not-knowing. But with Revolt when it starts to explain things to the amnesiac main character, and by extension the audience, the what the hell is going on air goes out of the story and I didn’t feel as invest in the out come. Confession: I may have fallen asleep because I don’t actually remember the defeat of the hive mind big bad just the set-up for it…maybe humanity didn’t win?…I don’t really care enough to go back and find out. Plus for a film set in Kenya, it (Revolt, that is; It comes at Night is set in the woods in somewhere, America) waits too long to introduce Black people that are actual characters.
The Invitation – this is one of those slow burn thrillers where you’re screaming get out at the characters the whole time. The mystery was interesting and I liked the guy in the lead (another When they see us alum) but what are the odds of politeness (because that’s the only thing it could have been) allowing you to ignore so many blood red flags. The villains were hiding in plain sight, yo.
The Beast Master – a 1980s fantasy, I remember fondly enough from my childhood that my adult self considers it one of her favourite bad films. A hero who can communicate with and warg in to animals – a pair of ferrets, a hawk, and a tiger, a villain who engages in child sacrifice – ruling through a mix of fear and the cult-like loyalty of his acolytes, witches who can predict the future and see over distances with an eye-ring and transfer a baby from a woman to a cow, and that’s not even the weirdest thing, there are also bat-like beings that consume people leaving only the bones, and they’re on the hero’s side. And the through-line is the barely clothed man denied his destiny and becoming the hero he is meant to be while reclaiming it. Whatever, it’s not great cinema but it was comforting revisiting something familiar.
The Love Birds – Notwithstanding what I said about Issa Rae’s acting in The Hate U Give , she’s really good in this and Kumail Nanjiani who has grown on me since The Big Sick, and was looking like a whole snack in this romantic comedy thriller (think Tina Fey and Steve Carrell’s Date Night), were really good together. I’ve been a fan of Issa’s since her Awkward Black Girl online series though I tried and failed to get in to Insecure. This is good fun plus it takes place in my favourite American city, New Orleans. It is quippy and moves well, coming in at a tight hour and a half. It’s not trying to be super deep, though it effortlessly incorporates commentary on being Black and a person of colour in America, and, with a Black and South Asian lead (a lead combo I haven’t seen since Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury’s Mississippi Masala in the mid-1990s) demonstrates a real world variation on Hollywood’s limited takes on interracial romance. The banter between the two is my favourite part – I’d watch them in something together again. In fact, I already watched them twice in this.
Sidebar – Black people in film too often suffer from bad hair, make up, and lighting – no such thing with either Uncorked or The Love Birds. Progress?
The Boys – a speculative fiction TV series in which supers are not necessarily heroes. They are this world’s celebrities though and as problematic as all your faves – worse because who can police them. And they – or at least the corporation that controls the most powerful and popular of them – has designs on political and military power. Their antagonists are this world’s anti-heroes – imperfect as hell themselves and all too human. The closest thing the show has to a lead is played by Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid’s kid…now don’t you feel old. The show, which has some solid casting choices, is apparently based on a graphic novel series – which is reportedly more graphic than the sometimes grotesquely graphic, sometimes grossly graphic (I’m thinking particularly of an aggressive sex scene in which a man ends up dead) and triggering (I’m thinking of a rape scene early on) TV series. I watched all of it and would watch season 2 though, though I wish Eric Kripke (who also created Supernatural) would focus more on the characters and less on the gratuitous violence and sex. Just me, maybe.
Peanut Butter Falcon – an indie starring Shia LaBeouf about a misfit trio on a mission while being chased by people who quite possibly want to kill him (LaBeouf). It strains credulity but you want to believe in the journey, mostly because of the sweet central character, the journey (a road by water to a dream), the belief that dreams matter, and great performances all around. Welcome back, Shia. This film about chasing dreams and making meaningful connections was oddly charming. And, as I type this, is I realize the second pro wrestling is my dream flick – after Florence Pugh’s Fighting with My Family – that I watched and liked within the last year, and I don’t even like wrestling, pro or otherwise.
Carnival Row – Faeries and all manner of mythical creatures in a Victorian-ish world in which the creatures are othered in a way that’s meant to be analogous to the treatment of immigrants of colour in the western world. It had some inconsistences and lagged at times but again I made it through the first series and while I’m not waiting with bated breath I would watch more.
Self-Made – the Madame C J Walker story – this mini-series, based on the book by her great-great granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles, got a fair amount of negative backlash. For me though, it was no less factual than any bio pic – they all fudge the truth for narrative purposes. But Black films get a level of scrutiny on that, typically from Black audiences because we feel a level of investment and ownership, a commitment to seeing it done right, because we so often have our stories appropriated (a la Green Book) or have so few opportunities to tell our stories (there should be about 10 Harriet Tubman films by now). Meanwhile multiple films are made of certain white subjects. So I do think that this was a good film that suffered from being the first and only telling of a story Black people really care about. With multiple opportunities to tell the Madame C J Walker story, I think people might have been more willing to accept this stylized, somewhat romanticized, very narrowly focused (still very enjoyable) version of this amazing woman’s story, knowing that the fuller story would come out if not in this version then another. Because there is much more to her story, and I could see where the filmmakers swerved for thematic or tonal reasons. I do think her childhood, not even one generation out of slavery and the hardships she experienced after her parents died, would have added context in terms of her single-mindedness as a businesswoman and some gravitas overall, but I appreciated finally seeing some version of her story being told. Plus Octavia Spencer is always a win and cheating on the bicycle riding aside, she bodied this role. Blair Underwood, too, as her husband, but in a different way – speaking of, how is he not ageing? (I remember watching him on Law and Order back in secondary school!). I think you can tell that I liked the casting overall, the clothing and hair was also on point. Story wise, I did feel myself filling in the blanks but no more so than any book to screen adaptation.
The Last Dance – am I being petty by using a picture of Isaiah Thomas to talk about a Michael Jordan docu-series? No more so than MJ revealed himself to be time and again in that docu-series – bullying his teammates, holding grudges with his rivals (or inventing grudges to pump himself up), erasing his now ex-wife from the story of his life, making fun of his GM’s weight and height to his face (and going after players he liked) because he was dissatisfied with his basketball decisions, blocking Isaiah from his earned spot on the Dream Team. I was never a Bulls fan and I’m never going to be one of those ends justify the means MJ apologists (there was enough of that in the post-viewing analysis I saw). The doc was largely MJ friendly – I mean he had to sign off on it – and it was a convincing answer to that who’s the actual GOAT question. There’s no denying that MJ did things we have never seen before or since; and his scoring record and team championships speak for themselves. For me though it was just great reliving my era of basketball.
I also started but didn’t get very far in to BlackAF and skimmed through chunks of Little Fires Everywhere – though I think I caught most of or enough of it to get the gist. Neither were faves though I at least finished LFE (for the most part).
Finally, I’m going to give a shout out to Swizz Beatz and Timbaland’s #Verzuz series on Instagram which pairs music greats against each other – starting with producers, it evolved to artistes. My faves so far are Babyface v. Teddy Riley (the original for the laughs, the reboot for all the music with a side of Babyface cool shade), Erykah Badu v. Jill Scott which was a whole vibe, and Beanie Man v. Bounty Killa which was authentically Caribbean even before the police came to break up the fete. Other battles had their highlights, like Ludacris v. Ludacris (his face the whole time though). The Verzus battles are one of the positives of the COVID-19 era; it may evolve in to something commercial but it was this organic response to the moment – live performances cancelled, people stuck at home. We’ve seen other DJ sets and other online performances – two of my faves being the DJ sets done by Jermaine Dupri and DJ Jazzy Jeff which have kept me company while I work.
What I’m Reading
I haven’t been reading that much – apart from client manuscripts. If you’ve been following the Blogger on Books series, you know I’ve finished (since January) 1 novel, 2 more novels (audio book versions), part 1 of an unfinished graphic novel series, 2 children’s picture books, 1 poetry collection, and 1 literary journal. I can use music and movies as background while I do other things; I can’t do the same with books (audio books aside). So, this past week, I haven’t finished anything but I have read a bit here and there. This week, it’s mostly been The Caribbean Writer Volume 32, an annual literary journal from the University of the Virgin Islands. I’ve actually shared a bit of it – as well as a bit of Patricia Fay’s Creole Clay – on my Instagram reading from my bed series. This Sunday, I started (reading from my bed but not for instagram) Apple Gidley’s Fireburn. Will see how it goes. I do have one book share though as an invitation to participate in a book club meeting with some Antiguans and Barbudans in New York had me participating in my first zoom meeting (I’ve worked remotely for years but my virtual business meetings have been on Skype) and revisiting Lauren Francis Sharma’s Til the Well Runs Dry which I blogged about back in 2016-2017.
She has a new book out this month, Book of the Little Axe, so it’s timely to revisit her.
What I’ve been posting
My only new post of this week is the photo gallery of our Wadadli Youth Pen Prize Awards, a non profit programme I started in 2004 to nurture and showcase the literary arts here at home. Our awards announcement had to be virtual this year and the process of getting the prizes to the winning writers has involved connecting them directly with patrons. A couple of the patrons sent pictures and one of the patrons too – gotta love proud mamas.
New on this blog is the latest installment of my CREATIVE SPACE series if you’re interested in learning more about Antiguan and Barbudan art and culture.