Category: Review

Press: ‘One Night in Miami’ packs a powerful dramatic punch

Wednesday, Jan 13, 2021

CNN: A fascinating historical meeting of the minds provides the foundation for Regina King’s impressive feature film directorial debut in “One Night in Miami,” a creative extrapolation about Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke coming together in 1964. It’s a small but riveting movie, anchored by a quartet of knockout performances.

Adapted by Kemp Powers from his play (he’s having quite a year, having just co-directed Pixar’s “Soul”), the story hinges on Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir, who recently played Barack Obama in Showtime’s “The Comey Rule”) trying to recruit high-profile converts to Islam, using Ali (Eli Goree), then still Cassius Clay, as his point of entry.

The boxer has just won the heavyweight title when he and friends gather in a Florida hotel room. Rounding out the foursome are star NFL running back Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and crooner Sam Cooke (“Hamilton’s” Leslie Odom Jr.), who are skeptical about Malcolm X’s pitch, if only because of what it would mean, they joke, about giving up porkchops and drinking.

What ensues is a timely conversation about the civil-rights struggle, the conflicting demands of celebrity, and the benefits and dangers associated with leveraging one’s platform to speak out. That discussion has played out across the decades every time a singer, actor or athletes dares to venture into the world of activism.

“Strike with the weapon that you have: Your voice,” Malcolm urges Cooke, who is well aware of fame’s fickle nature, especially when crossing over to entertain White audiences.

Already much decorated as an actor, King opens up the movie beyond its stage roots during the early scenes, before becoming more theatrical and somewhat claustrophobic once the group settles into the hotel. There’s a clear urgency in Malcolm’s mission, given the internal politics he faces within the Nation of Islam. He would be assassinated a year later.

What really makes the movie are the strengths of the performances, which manage to get beyond mere impersonation. At the same time, Odom’s renditions of Cooke’s songs prove staggeringly accurate, as does Goree’s grasp of Ali’s physicality and poetry — no small feat on either score. The only shame awards-wise is the potential self-canceling quality in trying to single out one or two for praise.
As for Hodge’s Brown, he appears clear-eyed regarding the limits of his gridiron stardom as he contemplates becoming a full-time actor, a point bluntly made when he visits with an old admirer (Beau Bridges) in the beginning of the film.

Powers described the original play as “an imagining of what may have happened that night,” so be forewarned the drama comes with a heavy dollop of artistic license. But that approach allows “One Night in Miami” to address issues that resonated not just through the tumultuous 1960s but have continued to be litigated through the present, marking early salvos in a culture war that never ended.

“One Night in Miami” delivers a concentrated taste of that, but like its newly crowned champ, somehow manages to gracefully float through its history, while still packing a potent dramatic punch.

“One Night in Miami” premieres Jan. 8 in select theaters and Jan. 15 on Amazon. It’s rated R.

Press: Regina King makes an engrossing directorial debut with a film about the meeting of four Black legends

Tuesday, Dec 22, 2020

THE WASHINGTON POST: Regina King makes an assured feature directing debut with “One Night in Miami,” an engrossing adaptation of Kemp Powers’s 2013 stage play.

In that well-received drama, Powers wrote about what might have happened on Feb. 25, 1964, when a cocky young boxer named Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight championship; later that night Clay, Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X, pop singer Sam Cooke and NFL star Jim Brown gathered in a hotel room to celebrate. No one knows for sure what they talked about, but Powers concocted a riveting piece of historically grounded speculation, in which the four men debate Clay’s decision to become a Muslim, the political advantages of assimilation versus revolution, the responsibilities of Black men to their communities, and why vanilla ice cream is no match for a flask full of whiskey.

The vanilla ice cream, by the way, is one of the few facts known about the evening that inspired “One Night in Miami” — it was offered as a refreshment by the gathering’s host, Malcolm X, whose religion forbade anything stronger. As the night plays out, tensions rise as the four men — all, it should be remembered, in their 20s and 30s — joke and argue, tease and provoke. Although Brown and Cooke are skeptical of Malcolm’s sway over Clay, emotions truly come to a boil when Malcolm confronts Cooke over his music, making an unflattering comparison to Bob Dylan, the White man who had written the era’s most stirring anthem of dissent.

Powers’s script can’t help but suffer from expository starchiness, having to educate present-day viewers about what may feel like ancient history. That makes it all the more crucial to find actors who can deliver the lines with unforced ease, and King has found just the right ensemble. The British actor Kingsley Ben-Adir plays Malcolm X with a convincing combination of reflection, fury and growing anxiety (he is harboring his own doubts about the Nation of Islam and is all too aware of the men who have him under surveillance outside the hotel); Leslie Odom Jr. effortlessly sinks into Cooke’s charismatic persona, while he soars into the singer’s distinctively honeyed tenor; Aldis Hodge inhabits Brown with imposing, watchful confidence; and Eli Goree brings just the right amount of humor and poetic cadence to his exuberant portrayal of Clay, who at one point does a double-take in front of a mirror, saying, “My goodness. Why am I so pretty?”

As a filmed version of a play, “One Night in Miami” has the same talky, slightly claustrophobic contours one might expect. But that pent-up quality is an advantage for a movie in which the room where it might have happened is a character in itself. The Hampton House Motel was a famous way station for African Americans traveling during the days of segregation; here, production designer Barry Robison gives it an attractive mid-century sheen, amped up by Terence Blanchard’s silky musical score and Tami Reiker’s lush cinematography. In both its verbal sparring and mounting unease, “One Night in Miami” resembles the recent Netflix adaptation of “The Boys in the Band” — another period piece that gives viewers the sense that they’re eavesdropping on a conversation taking place both amid and beyond the reach of societal oppression.

To her credit, King takes a few judicious opportunities to open up the action in “One Night in Miami,” which includes scenes on the motel’s rooftop and a nearby package store, as well as an electrifying flashback to one of Cooke’s concerts. Most powerfully, she gives each protagonist a prologue, telegraphing where each man is in his personal and political evolution. Jim Brown’s chapter is the most potent in the collection, following him as he visits his hometown of St. Simons Island, Ga., and pays a call to an elderly friend played by Beau Bridges. King takes her time with the scene, allowing it to play out with the relaxed rhythms of a sunny afternoon on the front porch, before delivering a finale that lands like a punch to the gut. It’s a masterful piece of cinema — a self-contained film within a film — and it signals that King’s directorial career is off to an exceptionally promising start.

‘Underground’ Review: WGN America’s Slave Railroad Drama Is Compelling TV

Thursday, Mar 3, 2016

DEADLINE – The journey and escape of thousands of slaves to free states and Canada in the 19th century is one of the most fascinating and defiant parts of American history but one that has received little attention on the small screen. That’s about to change on March 9 when Underground debuts on WGN America.

 

Created by Misha Green and Joe Pokaski, the not-to-be-missed drama about the Underground Railroad is, as my video review above says, a harrowing and compelling series that will make you uncomfortable, amazed and ultimately inspired by one of the most treacherous and ambitious chapters in this nation’s story.

 

Picked up for a full-season order in February 2015, the 10-episode first season of Underground focuses on the field slaves and house slaves of a Georgia plantation who begin a pre-Civil War 600-mile trek northward for their freedom and dignity. The tenacious ensemble cast includes True Blood’s Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Straight Outta Compton’s Aldis Hodge, Jane The Virgin’s Alano Miller, Jessica de Gouw, Law & Order: SVU alum Christopher Meloni, Amirah Vann and Justified’s Mykelti Williamson, among others. Empire’s Jussie Smollett and Treme’s Renwick Scott also guest star in the show exec produced by Green, Pokaski, John Legend, Mike Jackson, Ty Stiklorius, Tory Tunnell, Joby Harold and Akiva Goldsman. Anthony Hemingway is also an EP and directs the opening episodes of the series.

 

Continue reading ‘Underground’ Review: WGN America’s Slave Railroad Drama Is Compelling TV

Sundance Review: ‘The East’

Tuesday, Jan 22, 2013
Sundance Review: ‘The East’

THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS

Sundance Review: ‘The East’ Is A Divisive, But Stylish Thriller & Worthy Companion Piece To ‘Sound Of My Voice’

The first images in “The East” – the new thriller from Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling, the team who made last year’s underrated cult thriller “Sound Of My Voice” – are grainy footage of intruders breaking into someone’s home juxtaposed with images of seagulls covered in oil. We are told through voiceover that this is the home of a CEO whose company was responsible for dumping millions of gallons of oil into the ocean. Our narrator (Ellen Page) we will learn is one of the members of an anarchist collective called The East, who are determined to enforce a strict eye-for-an-eye philosophy that will make their voices heard. The music pulses, the images are chilling and so we buckle up for a ride.

Outside of Washington D.C. we meet a young woman named Sarah (Marling) who works for a private intelligence organization responsible for tracking down these groups and infiltrating them. She lives with her boyfriend (Jason Ritter) who knows nothing about her line of work and tells her that she wasn’t even this secretive when she worked for the FBI. Sarah is incredibly smart and a little bit cocky, which is why her boss (Patricia Clarkson) selects her from a group of candidates to go undercover and try to infiltrate The East. She tells her boyfriend she’s going overseas and instead begins traveling around the Northeast, ingratiating herself with various street people and gutter punks. After a few weeks of eating out of the garbage, she meets up with Luca (Shiloh Fernandez) who, after helping him through a police attack, leads her to her targets.

She is blindfolded and led into the woods where she comes face to face with The East. After being treated for wounds she incurred during the fight, she is told to put on a straightjacket and join them for dinner. When she arrives she meets Benji (Alexander Skarsgård) who gives her a test: eat first and the others will follow. After struggling for a minute to bring the food to her mouth without the use of her arms, she eventually succeeds, pushing the spoon out of the way. But when the others join in, they do so in concert, passing the food to the next person with the utensils clenched between their teeth. The lesson here, is obvious. The group must work together as one unit. And while Izzy (Page) is skeptical about this new arrival to The East, Benji decides to keep her on.

Once plunged into the group, she’s offered another test but she must agree without knowing exactly what the outcome of her assistance will be. As it turns out, the group are staging a Jam (as they call their operations) to sneak into a party hosted by a drug company whose products are producing extremely harmful side effects. The mission is more than just idealogical, it’s personal as one of the members of their group, Doc (Toby Kebbell), suffers Parkinson’s-like side effects from the drug. The plan is to give them a taste of their own medicine quite literally and by the time Sarah realizes what’s about to take place, she can’t do anything to stop them. The group have two more operations to stage before they disappear, but from here on out it’s best to keep things spoiler-free. Suffice to say the lines of right and wrong start to blur the deeper that Sarah finds herself entangled in the group whose backgrounds may not be as humble as they may seem at first glance.

“The East” is a terrific companion piece for anyone who enjoyed “Sound Of My Voice.” It isn’t difficult to draw parallels between the two films with recurring motifs like cults, initiation rituals, blindfolds, sign language and more all brimming to the surface. At nearly two hours, the film is just slightly overlong and can be deeply silly at times, but nonetheless thoroughly entertaining. Some of the dialogue feels a bit on the nose while the self-seriousness makes some of the more melodramatic turns seem ridiculous. You can’t help but smile at exchanges like, ‘This is MY Jam” and “No, it’s OUR Jam” when it’s delivered with such conviction. Sharp viewers may put together where things are heading early but even though the last act fumbles things just a bit with perhaps one twist too many, it brings it back together for a thematically satisfying conclusion.

Despite my issues with the film, it’s stylish and sincere and comes from a personal place. Apparently Marling and Batmanglij spent a summer traveling around in a similar fashion to see if they could live for a few months without spending money. Though it functions as a thriller, the film still raises issues worth considering (even if they are surface level concerns). Though the script (by Batmanglij and Marling) could’ve used another polish, as a filmmaker, Batmanglij is still at the head of the class of up-and-coming directors. It’s great seeing him able to paint on a larger canvas here and provide Marling an opportunity to turn in another beguiling performance. “The East” is definitely a movie that’s going to divide people but it’ll be a conversation worth having. [B-]

Leverage Series Finale Recap: The Con Goes On

Wednesday, Jan 2, 2013
Leverage Series Finale Recap: The Con Goes On

December 26, 2012 07:03 AM PST

 

The other night, I found myself watching Ocean’s Thirteen for, to be conservative, the 11teenth time. I love heist films. Likewise, I embraced the likes of TV’s (short-lived) Thief and even (the short-lived) Smith. But TNT’s Leverage, arriving when it did, really took the baton from Danny Ocean, offering a small-screen version of that stylized spin on modern-day Robin Hoods, burglars with a cause.

I’d be lying if I said that Leverage never ebbed in quality. In fact, this past season’s Inception-like second episode I frankly couldn’t finish, it had veered so far from the series’ original construct and slightest whiff of plausibility.

But man, did the show manage to go out with a final bang this Tuesday night, delivering one of its best, smartest riffs on the Ocean’s-like “What you think happened, didn’t — but this did” formula.

RELATED | TVLine Readers’ 2013 Wish Includes Leverage Salvation and More

Most “simply” recounted… the caper drama’s very final hour opened with Nate, looking a bit worse for wear, being held somewhere and questioned about a bungled job, one that left several of his friends dead. As related by the mastermind, he and his team set out to breach the well-secured Highpoint Tower, to secure a trial drug that would help a patient of the pediatrician that once cared for Nate’s ill-fated son. To do so, Parker went in through the roof, only to get pinned down in an elevator shaft with Hardison (who had come in through the lobby posing as an alarm service tech). As Parker took a bullet from a cop who saw through their ruse, Hardison plummeted several stories, breaking his leg and busting up his insides. Eliot did his best to fend off other burly obstacles, but even he, on his dash for the getaway van, took a bullet straight through the back. Nate and Sophie, in the front seat, did their best to dodge a police blockade and were last seen about to leap an opening drawbridge. It was all extremely grim stuff that, as directed and presented on-screen, had you wondering if the con was very much no longer on for this band of bandits.

But as Alcatraz‘s Emerson Hauser would say, “That’s not what happened. Not at all.” Instead — as promised by Aldis Hodge back in July — we were finally made privy to the real reason Nate relocated their operation to Portland for Season 5.

The woman interviewing Nate in the “hospital” — revealed to be Interpol agent Casey (played by The Shield‘s Catherine Dent) — saw holes in his story, and gleaned that Parker in fact had entered Highpoint through a tunnel that connected to a theater where Sophie was staging/starring in MacBeth. Secondly, Parker never was after a trial drug but an Internet server room. When Casey’s investigation suggested that Parker was still cowered inside that room, waiting for their target — an incendiary file known as “The Black Book” — to pass through the pipes prime for pinching, the Interpol agent’s boss, none other than Jim Sterling (Hi, Mark Sheppard!), keyed her and a team of agents in to conduct a search. But Parker, along with Hardison and Eliot, had embedded themselves within that team, then stayed behind after Casey turned up nothing. They then grabbed the needed hard drive and exited back through the tunnel, losing themselves amid the cast of Sophie’s play. (Eliot’s “shooting,” meanwhile? All staged for the security camera, with Nate playing the “cop.”)

Nate later got led to a prison transfer vehicle, his fate seemingly sealed in the wake of the confirmed robbery and the discovery of dummy corpses he had used to fake a heist-gone-bad. But with Casey none the wiser, Sterling did his longtime frenemy a solid and wished him well, knowing that Sophie was behind the wheel. (When did Sterling get wise, though? Because Nate purposely distracted him when Parker et al sneaked into the server room.) Later, the team reconvened to celebrate their grand theft and watch as Nate proposed to… “Laura” (not Sophie’s real name) (AHO Admin note: Its Lara according to Gina Bellman). And with those two lovebirds now out of the game, the final scene gave us sleek-and-steely Parker, flanked by Eliot and Hardison, explaining to a new oppressed client how they could provide… leverage.

All told and as promised by show boss Dean Devlin, who suspected this could be (and in fact was) it, the season finale played perfectly as a series-ender, delivering a memorable combo of sleight-of-hand and misdirection, serving up a bit of romantic closure and calling in an old “friend,” but also planting a seed to show us how the con ostensibly would go on.

What did you think of the Leverage series finale?
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Source: TV Line