Tag Archives: Common

Sundance 2022: Alice

The eponymous Alice (Keke Palmer) is a slave in the Antebellum south, and a witness to and victim of intense brutality at the hands of vicious plantation owner Paul (Jonny Lee Miller), who rules quite literally with an iron rod. When Alice gets her chance, she makes a daring escape, running frantically for miles, away from the isolated plantation and its cruel realities.

It’s hard to say who’s more surprised when she eventually meets up with a Georgia highway – Alice, or Frank, the truck driver who narrowly avoids running her over in his semi. Deciding Alice must be suffering from some sort of head trauma, Frank (Common) drives her to a nearby hospital where her story quickly gets her assigned to a psych ward. Frank swoops in to save her one more time, taking her to his home and breaking the news to her that it’s 1973, and slavery’s been abolished for quite some time.

What started out as a slave drama quickly establishes itself as in fact a slick revenge thriller. Alice’s own transformation channels Pam Grier, with Keke Palmer sporting a big and beautiful afro and some stylish duds.

 Though Alice is writer-director Krystin Ver Linden’s first feature, she competently steers her cast through a pretty harrowing topical tightrope walk. The film isn’t without its faults and foibles, the end result is still an entertaining watch, thanks in no small part to Palmer’s commitment to the role, and her effervescent energy. She makes the film’s intentions feel pure even whilst it straddles the line between fiction, reality, and meta-fiction (and meta reality?).

Alice may not be flawless, but Keke Palmer sure is, and a side of Common always makes the meal more delicious.

Ava (2020)

Ava (Jessica Chastain) is an assassin who has started making things very personal at her job(s). She’s started asking her targets what bad thing they did to get themselves added to her hit list, which is a no-no in her line of work. Things get worse for Ava when faulty intel blows up one of her jobs and her employer deems her a loose end. She’s now a target herself. Clearly, Ava needs to disappear but before leaving town, she wants to try to make amends for leaving her family eight years ago without any explanation.

This film surrounds Chastain with lot of familiar faces, including John Malkovich as Ava’s handler, Geena Davis as Ava’s mother, Common as Ava’s former lover/sister’s boyfriend (super awkward), and Colin Farrell as Ava’s boss. After a troubled development, which included a director stepping down due to allegations of assault and abuse, and the movie being renamed, Ava then went straight to VOD because of COVID-19.

All in all, VOD is probably the best place for this film. It’s an interesting portrayal of an assassin’s daily life, which is not as glamorous as some films make it out to be. Ava is an addict who has no one close to her and struggles with guilt. She’s trying to reconnect with her family after walking out on them, a task made much harder when she can’t even tell them what she’s been up to since.

The character bits are solid but due to the nature of Ava’s work, this is an action movie, and the action sequences simply aren’t as good as they need to be. The game has been raised by John Wick and Ava does not measure up. This isn’t a casting problem, as Chastain appears eager and able to follow peers like Charlize Theron and Gal Gadot into action star territory. But Chastian is let down by a lack of imaginative choreography or stylish cinematography. The fight scenes just don’t pop like they need to, and the action sequences need to be stronger for this film to really shine. As it is, Ava is a decent but easily forgettable film, which in the time of COVID still makes it better than most rental options.

The Kitchen

When a bunch of gangsters get put away for terrorizing Hell’s Kitchen in the 1970s, their wives are left up s creek without a p. Oh sure The Family says it will provide for them, but the measly few bucks isn’t even enough to pay the rent. And we’re talking several years of jail time. So Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish), and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) grab their own p and conquer s creek.

Okay, that’s a bit reductive because as you can imagine, absolutely no one was thrilled to have the women take things over – not the people paying them, not their rivals, and especially not the leftover male members of their own mob. And I do apologize for having said ‘male member.’

This is exactly the kind of story you want to get behind 1000% and I can still recall seeing production stills from when they were filming and being extra hardcore jazzed about it. But as you can tell by the timing of this review, I didn’t even bother to see it in theatres. And that’s because try as they might, these 3 exceptional ladies can’t make up for a story that just isn’t there. It’s generic and bland and boring. I expected to see some ass kicking and clever one-up-womanship and salty language. But instead it’s just a bunch of hand-wring and counting money into neat little piles. That feeling of empowerment seems to be missing entirely – and so is the point.

I don’t fault anyone in the cast because they’re all churning out great work, but their characters are underdeveloped and at the end of the day, without character investment, the stakes are very low.

The Kitchen is a disappointment. A disappointing disappointment. I only finished watching it because I’d already paid the rental price, and even then I seriously contemplated a “pause” that we just never came back to.

Saint Judy

Judy Wood (Michelle Monaghan) and her young son Alex drive to California to start a new life. He’ll get to live near and have more time with his dad, and she’ll get to restart her career as an immigration lawyer. Not exactly what she had planned, but not exactly a choice, either.

She was a very successful public defender in her previous life, but it turns out you don’t need a lot of qualifications to be an immigration attorney because the clients are in no position to complain. They get what they get. Lucky for them, Judy Wood is a tireless crusader.

But she still has the capacity to be shocked by what she finds: people who have been held in custody for months or years, drugged for their own “protection,” the burden of proof on the detainees because, since they are not accused of crimes, they do not enjoy the protections afforded the common criminal. They are guilty until proven innocent – and with overworked, underpaid, unqualified lawyers, that’s a pretty dodgy concept.

Director Sean Hanish makes no bones about sainting his subject – it’s right there in the title. So basically we get to just sit back and watch this woman (based on a real-life woman) work up a steam of righteous anger all the way to making actual changes in the American law of asylum to actually save women’s lives.

Lawyers are often depicted as sleazy scumbags in Hollywood, and there are enough real-life counterparts that it’s hard to really object. But for every piece of shit in The Laundromat, there’s also a warrior in Just Mercy. Mercenary lawyers give everyone a bad name, but changes in law come from lawyers who care and are exceptional in their work. I don’t know Judy Wood but I bet she’s not actually a saint. Good news: you don’t have to be a saint to make a difference. Judy did it through hard work, compassion, and belief. And though I think this movie is needlessly formulaic and one-sided, if it serves to inspire a young woman to go to law school and believe that she too can be the change she wants to see in the system, then that’s a great thing.

Here And Now

Vivienne (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a New York singer grateful to have made her living with music. She’s got a new album coming out and is embarking on a new tour, even if tickets aren’t selling as briskly as they used to. But a grim diagnosis from her doctor has her wandering around the city, lost in thought.

The whole movie takes place on this one bleak day. She’s introspective, pinballing between gratitude for the life she’s lived and regret for all the sacrifices she’s made in order to live it. A teenager daughter who’s been left in the care of her father (Simon Baker) is first among them. A visit from her critical, overbearing mother (Jacqueline Bisset) is ill-timed. Updates from her manager and her only real friend (Common) keep things in perspective.

I actually kind of love movies like this, where we get to know a person very intimately on such a significant day. And New York City is such a great place for wandering souls, a beautiful backdrop for anguish and analysis. The pace is deliberately slow as Vivienne meanders around, mentally struggling to balance the demands in her life now that she’s staring down the barrel of her own mortality.

The film works best when its female characters are interacting, and evaluating the bonds between them. Other stuff works less well, which makes for a frustrating experience, since the movie is just too slow to allow for scenes that don’ work. But Parker is committed, and Renee Zellwegger makes a surprising and crucial appearance, so it’s not all bad. It’s just terribly uneven, which, in fairness, is probably true to any day on which you’ve just been told you’re facing an untimely death. But since you and I are going to go on living, we deserve to do it with better stories better told.

All About Nina

Nina is an acerbic stand-up comedian who boasts on stage about not dating because it sounds a lot better than admitting the affair with the married cop who hits her (Chase Crawford). She barfs after every set. So it seems like the perfect time to flee New York and purse her dream in L.A. of landing  a role on Comedy Prime (an SNL stand-in).

Nina (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has some professional success there, but her personal life suffers – and we know it didn’t have far to fall from. For the first time in her life, she lets a good guy (Common) get close to her but she’s flailing. Her new roommates (Kate del Castillo, Clea DuVall) model a new and healthy way of living but Nina can’t reconcile it MV5BZTE4ZjUxODEtNmNmZS00ZWU5LWIzODgtNTU1MjNhNzM1MzNiXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTY4NjI3Mzg@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_with her own life, and I’m not sure she believes she deserves that level of happiness anyway. In fact, the closer she gets to good things, the more she sabotages them. Ultimately she’ll have a bit of a meltdown on stage that results in a viral video of some powerful truth-telling that her audience may not be ready for. Just about the only thing that video doesn’t threaten is her strength.

Director Eva Vives pulls together a terrific female-forward ensemble (Angelique Cabral, Camryn Manheim, Mindy Sterling),  to achieve this thoughtful look at what it means to live an authentic existence, especially for a woman in 2018. As her new boss Lorne Larry Michaels (Beau Bridges) tells her, the audience only thinks it wants truth – in reality they need it to be heavily curated.

[This reminds me of the very best stand-up comedy I’ve seen this year – Hannah Gadbsy, who has a special called Nanette. It’s on Netflix. It’s spectacularly funny but also very raw and angry and honest, which makes it a breath-taking, astonishing piece of art. Seriously. You should watch.]

Nina’s passion is motivated by pain. We are certain that her anger is covering for something, but she allows so few cracks that we don’t easily find a way in. Mary Elizabeth Winstead has a long cinematic history of being wonderful and this performance in particular is a brave kind of perfection. It’s like watching a pot boil, with its own internal tension despite knowing what’s coming. Vives sets up these emotionally intense scenes and allows Winstead to smash them out of the park. All About Nina will live to its name. It distills all the frustrations and rage we have as women, every struggle we have between delicacy and strength, independence and cooperation, self-interest and support. It’s a messy road, but beautifully walked.


Shocking information of the day: Smallfoot is actually quite charming.

Also shocking:  I heard Milli Vanilli on the radio this morning. Unironic, unabashed Milli Vanilli from start to finish. Girl you know it’s true. I told Matt, of course, which obligated us to watch all their (3) videos and tumble down the rabbit hole of shoulder pads and dance moves. Which had us thinking about all our favourite cheesy 90s music, and that moment we discovered what sampling was (looking at you, Will Smith) and that embarrassing time in my life when I’d hear the opening beat and pray to Zeus that it was about to be Vanilla Ice and not that annoying song by Queen & Bowie. Can you imagine? Even being 6 doesn’t excuse that level of ignorance.

But back to the movie.

Migo is a BIGfoot, a happy-go-lucky guy, excited to be the next gong ringer in his bigfoot village above the clouds at the top of the mountain. They’re a rule-abiding, no-question-asking society until one day Migo (Channing Tatum) sees a plane crash (“flying thingie”) and a human (“smallfoot”) tumble out, and all the things he believed to be true were called into question. The Stonekeeper (Common) wears a robe that’s inscribed with all MV5BM2ZkM2MwYTQtYTNhNi00MWRjLThjMWItZDljNDg2ZjE5ZDFkXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNTc5OTMwOTQ@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,744_AL_the village laws, and the robe says Smallfoots don’t exist. For once in his life, Migo disobeys the stone laws and gets cast out of town for sticking to his guns. Only the village crackpots\conspiracy theorists believe him, but they turn out to have a beautiful leader, Meechee (Zendaya), so Migo is persuaded to jump either to his death or his edification on behalf of the Smallfoot Evidentiary Society, over the mountain and through the clouds. Down, down he goes. He falls so far he can’t sustain his scream; it falters so he can rest his voice.

Below, he finds the Smallfoot (James Corden) but would you believe that only gets him in a whole whack of trouble?

Smallfoot has some delightful animation. Dozens of Bigfoots mean millions of hairs to animate, but they add up to a metric fucktonne of cuteness. There are some pretty good songs too – the first two numbers are poppy and catchy, the numbers choreographed with maximum fun. They burst with happiness. And then a third song. The opening beat…sounds familiar. Wait, is this about to be Ice Ice Baby, or Under Pressure? You’re wrong either way. James Corden changes up the lyrics so that fans of both are equally appeased\disappointed. But even when the musical numbers dissipate, the action and the story hold up. Our no-nosed yeti friends are a lot of fun, even if they have to learn some hard lessons about truth and who exactly it protects.

Smallfoot makes us wait longer than usual for the requisite fart joke, and it has some beautiful messaging integral to its story. Common tells us “the only thing stronger than fear is curiosity.” Once that curiosity is unleashed, the Bigfoots learn to put a dicey past behind them and overcome their fear to take care of each other despite their differences. I had no expectations for the movie Smallfoot which perhaps made it even sweeter when it turned out to be cute and funny and nearly everything you’d want from a kids movie – plus or minus a few pooping yak jokes.

Barbershop: The Next Cut

What can I say? I was disarmed by this movie. It’s been 12 years since #2 was in theatres, 14 since the first, and a lot has changed. But if anything, this franchise has only grown stronger and funnier.

Calvin (Ice Cube) is still running the south-side Chicago shop, which he inherited from his father 14 years ago. It has survived tough economic times by merging with the beauty salon next door, so gone are the shop’s gloried “man cave” days. Almost the whole movie takes place within the walls of this shop, so it’s too bad director Malcolm D. Lee doesn’t embrace its physicality a little more, but at its heart it’s a set piece, and it thrives within the barbershop’s confines. Some of the old crew is back, but fresh faces blend in just fine, and it’s one of the strongest ensemble casts you’ll see.

Barbershop has always been about the good old boys sitting around, chewing the fat. Now they’ve got some strong female voices to contend with, but the gender divide only heightens the discourse. Barbershop has never been afraid to contend with real issues: they talk politics, feminism, the economy, the community. Malcolm is parenting a teenage son these days, so for him the stakes are higher. The barbershop’s in a neighbourhood all but lost to gang violence and the politicians are talking about choking off its blood supply. Some of the barbers want to rally and save their shop, but Malcolm’s reality is that maybe it’s time to get his family out of there, off to somewhere safer.

The movie thrives when all the barbers and stylists are at their stations cracking wise. Customers come and go. The script is remarkably tight during those scenes. They rely on charming actors and a great interplay between them, and it’s there. Particularly startling is the camaraderie between Ice Cube and co-star (and series newcomer) Common; the two feuded pretty heavily in the 90s when both were rappers. Those days seem long behind them, so who better to broker the peace between rival gangs with free haircuts during a 48 hour cease fire sponsored by their shop?c38c61fce43a52c49538a228c73364ac.960x960x1-400x200 It’s a desperate move made by people anxious to take back their neighbourhood.

This isn’t a perfect movie, and you’ll feel some missteps along the way, particularly when the action moves away from the barbershop. But it’s enjoyable, smart, and funny as hell. And it’s totally accessible – even if you’ve never seen another Barbershop movie, this is the perfect time to plunk down and have your first cut.


I know who Martin Luther King was. But this movie made me realize how little I know about what he went through as a leader in the civil rights movement, and it was just a tiny sample of what must have gone on throughout the 1960s (and beyond). It made me want to learn more and I think that is an important accomplishment. It has now been 50 years since the events in the movie actually took place, and I think the horrors that went on need to be remembered so we can try to learn from them (because we do still have a lot to learn). All of this is in the background. This movie would be notable for that alone, and it is hard to separate out the fact that what we are seeing actually happened, which I have been trying to do so I can then judge Selma as a movie and not just as something that needs to be seen as a record of important events.

The events in this movie are horrific. It is difficult to imagine that any of them could ever have happened, but then you remember that things like this still DO happen, that for some reason the USA still can’t or won’t indict cops who kill black people (and it is not just a US problem, the recent incidents just happened to take place there). And still that is only a small part of the big picture, because it is not just “white, black and other”. There are lots of concurrent struggles for equality going on, still, with no resolution in sight. We have made some progress but not nearly enough (and as a straight white male what I would consider enough may not even actually be enough, which makes it even clearer that 50 years later we still aren’t close to achieving real equality).

I would not likely have thought about any of this today if I hadn’t watched Selma, and it goes to show again that regardless of how well this movie was made, I am glad I saw it.  But here’s the thing: this movie is incredibly good. David Oyelowo IS Martin Luther King. He is phenomenal. He would have carried this by himself but he does not need to. Everyone involved is intent on making this movie the best picture of the year. Their love and respect for the subject matter drew me in from the very start. I do not think this movie could be any better. Because of the subject matter I cannot promise that you will be entertained but I can promise that you will be moved.

Ten out of ten. See it.