Creed II Review: Can You Smell the Oscar?

I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving and week after. Unlike the rest of the world, I was lying on my couch with a fever and missing the opening weekend of Creed II! But don’t fret, the first day I was able to live again I took myself to the movies. I thoroughly loved this sequel.

Just in case you don’t know, Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Creed, son of Apollo Creed from the classic Rocky series. Basically, he fights, loses, goes through a journey of depression and self- discovery, trains with his mentor, fights, and wins. Along the way, he is in love with Tessa Thompson’s character, Bianca, and they go through some trials.  Which may sound incredibly predictable and boring, but I promise, it wasn’t boring.

Let’s break down why this movie was so great. First, Michael B. Jordan, and not for the reasons you think. Yes, we can see he is a beautiful man and he may possibly taste like tootsie rolls; clearly, this is a major reason we are intrigued by him; but for me, his acting has always seemed a little vapid, like it was missing some depth. With this performance he showed maturity and growth with his craft.  Sitting in the audience, I could feel his emotions through the screen, not because Adonis’s inner struggle was relatable, but because Jordan did such a terrific job depicting his character’s state of mind throughout the whole film. This performance felt more profound than his others. He really seemed like he held his own with veteran actor Sylvester Stallone. He shared the screen with him instead of just being in a scene with him. Can we smell an Oscar nomination? Hope so.

Reason number two, Tessa Thompson. She transforms herself into her characters like an ice cube melts in water. Thompson’s portrayal of Bianca was strong, confident and independent. She was not Adonis’s trophy but his equal. She had her own life outside of him but she knew when he needed her and how he needed her.

Sometimes women in these types of movies are depicted as shallow, weak, and expendable. As if their whole lives are revolving around this one man and they don’t have anything else going for them. Not this time. She has a career that was making big moves alongside his fighting career. And it was evident that he needed her just as much as she needed him. She was not replaceable. As a black woman I saw myself in her. I saw myself in her fears, her strength and the love she had for her man. For the record I would have also been the loudest person in the Arena in Russia that night as well, “Drago who?”

Reason number three, can we talk about the amazing way this movie was shot? Not only was it beautiful, but I appreciate long medium shots to build suspense, with slow-motion close-ups, as opposed to fast cuts with close-ups. I get it, we learn in video editing 101 that in order to show action we need fast cuts but it doesn’t always get the audience to lose themselves in the movie. The verisimilitude of the fighting scenes had me holding my breath with every punch. I was literally sitting at the edge of my seat watching this movie and the only thing that would bring me back to reality was someone coughing in the theatre.  Kudos to director, Steven Caple Jr., for capturing those moments perfectly. Can you believe this is his first major motion picture? Well, I hope to see a lot more from him.

Reason number four,  the love story between Adonis and Bianca. Bianca was everything Adonis needed. When he was weak, she was his strength. When he needed to be humbled, she was there to bring him back to Earth. When he needed encouragement, she cheered the loudest. Ryan Coogler did a fantastic job of writing a love story that was based on real love and admiration. Adonis never cheated on her, hit her or hurt her in any way. He praised and supported her music career, he was her strength when she was weak, and he made sure he provided for her. They were a team. That is the way love is supposed to be.  

This movie was a great sequel to the first one. If you haven’t seen either Creed films, you should. Go to Amazon Prime and rent the first one, then go online and buy your tickets for the second. It’s worth it.

Nappily Ever After Review: It’s Not for Everyone

It was Coco Chanel who said, “A woman who cuts her hair is about to change her life”.  For Sanaa Lathan’s character, Violet, in Netflix’s Nappily Ever After, truer words have never been spoken. Nappily Ever After is a romantic comedy, reminiscent of the 90’s formulaic romantic dramedy, about a very successful yet deeply shallow woman who shaves her head after a break-up and begins her own journey of growth and self-actualization. She meets a man that gives her the love she has been longing for and they ride off into the sunset at the end. If that synopsis sounds like it could be about any romantic comedy, well that’s because this movie was just like any romantic comedy. There was nothing impressive about it; we’ve seen this story many times before, but executed in a better way. The acting was sub-par-we’ve seen better performances from these actors in other films. There were also some pretty glaring plot holes that made certain scenes seem disconnected from the story.  

 

Now, I’m not saying this was a bad movie, it was just predictable and underwhelming compared to all the hype that surrounded it. It’s not surprising that it took so long for this story to migrate from book to film. I mean, Universal Studios has owned the rights to the film since 2003. They previously secured Halle Berry as the lead, and with that star power alone the movie should be successful, right? I guess not because they dropped it and now we may know why.

 

Maybe if the writing was stronger, maybe if Lynn Whitfield didn’t overact as Violet’s bougie mother, maybe if they didn’t use a man to help Violet realize her own worth, it would be better, and what is that about? Why is it that in all of these movies a woman needs a new man for her to realize her worth? What is so bad about letting her figure it out all by herself? In the real world women are perfectly capable of going through emotionally distressing times without having a complete emotional breakdown, and if we do have an emotional breakdown we are perfectly able to crawl out of the hole of despair healthier, smarter, and stronger than before by our damn selves. We don’t always need a man to tell us our worth. We just need a few good friends, our mama, that one auntie that keeps it real, and God to give us support.

 

Let me just step down from my soapbox and continue my review. We will save those arguments for another day. As I was saying, the movie could have just been better all around. I honestly believe this movie has a very specific demographic and I just don’t fit into it. Personally, I feel if someone liked the movie, they are probably in their late 30s to early 60s, African American, and a heterosexual woman. Or, they are all of those things except they are the only white woman in their friend group. They remember going to the theatres to see, Waiting to Exhale, The Best Man, The Wood, or the one and only How Stella Got Her Groove Back. They really like Tyler Perry movies and maybe a few of his shows, but they definitely remember when he was writing plays-before Oprah launched his career. They might even have some of the plays on DVD, like my sister. There is nothing wrong with any of that. They like what they like and this movie was made just for them. To entertain them and give them a break from everything else that’s going on in the world. That’s great, I’m happy they enjoyed it; but for the rest of us, it missed the mark.

 

Written by Liz Bennett

‘BlacKkKlansman’ Review: Did Spike Lee Sell Out?

BlacKkKlansman was Spike Lee’s way of getting white people to like him again”, was my brother’s response when I told him I had just watched BlacKkKlansman. I was highly offended by his statement but I blew it off knowing he isn’t the film connoisseur, that I am.  Or, maybe that was the excuse I made for his completely ridiculous statement. Either way, I will say since the movie’s release I’ve noticed that many others in the black community share my brother’s opinion — that Spike Lee is pandering to a white audience; but with a story like this, shouldn’t he?

For those of you who haven’t seen the film, I’ll give you a short synopsis. Based on the memoir by Ron Stallworth, BlacKkKlansman is a dramedy set in the 1970s, about a black police officer, played by John David Washington. In an attempt to build his career as the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, Stallworth successfully infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. With the help of Jewish police officer, Flip Zimmerman, played by Adam Driver, they expose the KKK’s potential violent plots, members who held positions in government, and their future plans for the “organization.”

The story in itself is quirky and funny, and Lee visually encapsulates the memoir perfectly.  Stylistically, the angles and the juxtaposition of shots, in addition to the transitions from scene to scene, this film had a different feel and quality than Lee’s other joints. It has a sort of Wes Anderson feel with a Spike Lee twist. Maybe that’s what made this movie seem so different; to some, like he “sold out,” but this movie wasn’t made for black audiences. This movie was an announcement, and an exclamation of what black people have been screaming for decades: That white supremacist (terrorist) groups, like the KKK, have infiltrated multiple government agencies, lobbyist groups, and positions of power to preserve the institutional racism that continuously, consistently, and historically oppressed  citizens of color. This is not a message that people of color need to hear. This is not a lesson that people of color need to learn. We know it all too well. This is a story for white people.

What helps push the message of irrational entrenched tribalism throughout the film is Topher Grace’s convincing portrayal of Grand Wizard David Duke. David Duke is one of the driving forces who helped change the public persona of the KKK. Topher Grace has a likeability factor, an unobtrusiveness that made him perfect for this part, that no matter what hateful word came out of his mouth, there was still something likable about him. That is what made David Duke, David Duke. Duke made racism seem more palatable for the masses. It becomes obvious in the film how important Duke’s new branding message for their organization is to the members through the special measures they take to safeguard the privacy of the club and it’s members. They stop calling themselves the KKK in public and discuss termination of the old tradition of cross burning among other things (no spoilers here folks). But as we all know, that ritual hasn’t gone away.

Sometimes, as an artist, they have a responsibility to educate their audience, as well as entertain. This movie is not designed to appeal to all black audiences, but to white liberal ones. We know as a community that we need white allies to help support our fight for equality. This film reflects the reality of the purposeful maintenance of the status quo, separate but inherently unequal for citizens of color. The white liberal politician sitting in the audience has the ability and resources to make a change at a higher level. If this was Spike Lee’s intention, then yes, he should cater to white audiences, but that doesn’t mean that black audiences shouldn’t see this movie. It’s a great story and it’s a joy to watch. I don’t think anyone should count it out just yet.

 

Written by Liz Bennett