Tag Archives: David Oyelowo

Gringo

Richard and Elaine are co-presidents of a pharmaceutical company that’s doing shady dealings. Harold is the guy they figure won’t ask any questions, so they routinely send him down to Mexico to unknowingly do their dirty work. But Mexico’s a dangerous place to navigate and when the worst happens and Harold places a panicked call from his kidnapper’s lair to his bosses, Richard and Elaine are forced to admit that they’ve let the kidnapping insurance lapse.

MV5BMjg0OWVkNDktOTg4NC00ZThmLWJmZDktZWVmOTEzMmE2YWJhXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg2MjUxNjM@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1498,1000_AL_Uh oh. “Luckily” Richard (Joel Edgerton) “knows a guy”, so they’re not going to pay the kidnappers so much as send in an “extractor” named Mitch (Sharlto Copley) who claims he’s out of the business, straight as an arrow. Right. But while Harold (David Oyelowo) is awaiting ransom or extraction or escape in Mexico, he gets into even more trouble in the form of drug cartels (notice the plural).

Between buzzing bullets and dark comedy, Gringo goes off-roading in Mexico in the worst way possible. It’s kind of a mess, and an egregious misuse of a serious talented cast, and director Nash Edgerton should know better – he’s Joel’s brother. And I’m not sure this depiction of Mexico wasn’t slightly racist, and politically incorrect. But it is fun to watch Theron and Edgerton play such contemptible baddies, and this is the most fun I’ve seen Oyelowo have on screen. The man has serious range, but to be honest, I think the cost of the rental was justified the moment I saw him rapping along to Will Smith. And while I’m naming the very few things that weren’t wrong with the movie, shout out to makeup artist Francesa Tolot for Charlize’s flawless red pout. Francesca, if you’re reading this, I NEED to know what product you used.

As for the rest of you, I can’t really recommend this hot mess, but as far as dumpster fires go, this one was kind of worth standing around to watch.

Advertisements

A Wrinkle in Time

This movie came out when I was in Austin, Texas seeing a billion movies at SXSW, and even so, I still considered taking a time out just to see another movie, one that was just hitting theatres. I never made it to A Wrinkle In Time then, but I finally got around to it this weekend, and I wasn’t the only one: our cinema was packed on Easter Monday, and I was pleased to note how many families were in attendance.

For those of you who haven’t read the book (by Madeleine L’Engle), A Wrinkle In Time is about a young girl named Meg – troubled at school, grieving at home. Her parents are both brilliant scientists, or were – her father disappeared years ago while MV5BNzhkYzRlNzUtNzFhNy00MzllLWFkZGEtNDg0ZTE0YTYzOWNjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjk3NTUyOTc@._V1_working on a theory about a tesseract, which would involve “wrinkling” time and space in order to travel through it. One dark and stormy night, a mysterious woman named Mrs. Whatsit appears to tell Meg, her friend Calvin, and Meg’s little brother Charles Wallace, the child genius, that she has heard her father calling out to them through the universe. Turns out, Mrs. Whatsit and her friends Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which are supernatural beings prepared to engage in a rescue mission.

The book was repeatedly rejected – possibly because it was a work of science fiction with a young, female protagonist, and possibly because it asked a lot from its young readers. Not only does it use physics and philosophy as basic concepts, it directly tackles the nature of evil, and pits children against it. The movie, too, follows in its footsteps, embracing what made the novel so special and unique, proudly displaying the magic AND the science, and trusting a young audience to appreciate them both. If anything the movie is a little too ambitious – though I quite enjoyed it, I did, in the end, have the sense that parts of it were quite condensed.

Director Ava du Vernay gets the casting exactly right: Storm Reid as Meg is what we want every 13 year old girl to be – smart and strong and curious and cautious. Her determination in the face of her fear and vulnerability make her an exceedingly compelling character. She may at times be insecure but her love and loyalty toward family see her through difficult times. But of course it’s the larger than life characters that Meg meets that give the story so much colour. The Mrs. Ws are particularly enchanting, and I cannot imagine a more satisfying trio than Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, and Oprah, large and in charge.

At just under 2 hours, the movie does unfortunately lose some of the detail that MV5BMTU5Njg0NTA0MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTgwNDU4NDM@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,929_AL_make the book wonderful, but it also paints a fantastic picture that I cannot stop myself from going back to in my mind. The visuals are exotic and beautiful and the world-building just divine. I can only guess at the kind of impression it makes on young imaginations.

Though the movie has some flaws, its themes are just as courageous and necessary today as they were when the book was first published in 1962. Light vs darkness, good triumphing over evil, and the only real weapon used is love. It’s also got a (somewhat diluted) message against conformity; Meg has to embrace her flaws in order to win the day.

See this movie with a child’s wonder and you will be delighted. Adapting this book was always going to be difficult, and the worst thing it does, necessarily, is rob us of the opportunity to do some of the imagining for ourselves. But in committing to the visuals, Ava du Vernay does the source material more than justice. She gives us a film full of hope and bravery, and shows little girls everywhere that they too can be the heroes of their own stories.

Five Nights in Maine

Sherwin is reeling with the sudden loss of his beloved wife, Fiona. Out of sorts and in excruciating pain, he somehow consents to visit his estranged mother-in-law in Maine. Lucinda is also grieving her daughter, but their estrangement layers loss with guilt – and suspicion.

MV5BMTA0NjI1NzI1MDFeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDc1NjY1NzYx._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,756_AL_Sherwin (David Oyelowo) and Lucinda (Dianne Wiest) knock about in her rural home with only her nurse Ann (Rosie Perez) between them. Lucinda is sick and in a lot of physical pain but she’s not too sick to still be kind of a bitch. The last time she saw her daughter they fought, as usual, and parted badly, both assuming for the last time, and of course it was, only it was daughter who died, and not the ailing mother.

Oyelowo and Wiest give great performances. Wiest is icily fantastic, full of venom and sharp edges. You kind of want to slap her across the face, even if she is a cancer-ridden old lady. But hiring a talented cast is about all this film gets right. I don’t mind some negative space but here the script is thin, the story plotless. It might have made an interesting character study if the dialogue wasn’t so sparse. We start out knowing very little but don’t attain a whole lot of clarity over the course of our Five Nights In Maine. I wish I had kinder words for a film that dares to tackle a dark subject, but this felt slow and sluggish and ultimately empty.

Nina

Nina Simone, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, was a tour de force. She was a classically trained pianist who studied at Julliard. She applied at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia but was rejected despite an excellent audition because of the colour of her skin. Never intending to sing, she was forced to in order to make a living being a musician of the non-classical variety, the only option open to a woman of colour. She played a blend of jazz and blues, folk and gospel, and probably more besides. She changed her name to avoid embarrassing her family now that she played “the devil’s music.” And she became an activist, an outspoken proponent of the Civil Rights movement. Her music had always spoken to her roots, but soon she incorporated political themes there as well. A beautifully angry song “Mississippi Goddam” written in response to the bombing of the Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama (that killed 4 little girls) particularly comes to mind, because how could it not? It’s spectacular and heart breaking. There was a great documentary made about her life not too long ago, but Nina is not a documentary, which means someone had to step into her shoes.

MV5BODk1NDY2MjcyN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzkzNzM2ODE@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1502,1000_AL_Mary J Blige was originally cast but had to drop out. Nina herself had hoped that it would be Whoopi who’d portray her on screen. Instead director Cynthia Mort went with Zoe Saldana, and thus created a furor. With Dominican and Cuban ancestry, Saldana identifies as a black woman, but critics felt she was not black enough. Not black enough? The notion makes me queasy. But when Saldana said she was honoured to play Simone, the Nina Simone Foundation nastily replied “Dear Zoe, please keep Nina’s name out of your mouth for the rest of your life.”

Saldana’s talent is bigger than the criticism. She has a great voice, which you may have heard in The Book of Life, but no, she doesn’t sound like Simone. No one does. But she brings a lot of strength and dignity to the role, a mean feat considering the film focuses on the latter years of Simone’s life, which were turbulent to say the least. Mentally and financially unstable, Simone was committed to a psych ward, where she met a nurse she would later make her assistant, and then her manager. David Oyelowo plays the nurse. Biopics generally benefit from a narrow focus, but this one is perhaps unfair to her memory since Simone was so much more than just her struggles. See the documentary for a clearer picture of her life, but to see Saldana shine, this is one good role among many.

 

 

Two days before she died, the Curtis Institute of Music bestowed granted Simone an honorary degree.

A United Kingdom

In the late 1940s, Prince Seretse Khama of Bechuanaland is studying law in Britain to help prepare for his eventual ascension to the throne back home. As the fates would have it, while he’s there he meets and falls in love with a clerk, Ruth Williams, and they plan to marry. One slight hitch: she is a white woman. He is a black African prince. Hard screen_shot_20160825_at_4.36.44_pm_1.png.CROP.cq5dam_web_1280_1280_png.pngto say who their love most angers: her family, his constituents, or the status quo. Interracial marriage wasn’t exactly popular in 1940s England, and her whiteness isn’t even the whole problem: her social status is far beneath that of a prince. But they marry anyway, anticipating disapproval, unprepared for the reality of the diplomatic firestorm and political tumult their marriage would actually entail. His right to the throne is threatened, as is her life. He is threatened with exile, she with ostracism. Still, they persist in their love, not just of each other, but for the people of the new Republic of Botswana.

Director Amma Asante did the film Belle, which I truly loved. In this movie you can feel how earnestly she strove for realism: the real home of Ruth & Seretse was used. Their grandson makes a brief appearance. Botswanans were invited to be cast as extras, with 3000 showing up for the first day of filming! The real hospital where Ruth gave birth is used. And the singing  during a pivotal scene in which Ruth finally gains a measure of acceptable from the tribe’s women, that was spontaneous and beautiful.

head-2-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqLCkbV0Cud8CVjQLblQrpKnudqrdmUogVvFNupiOyznIDavid Oyelow and Rosamund Pike play the lead roles and you couldn’t ask for a better acted movie. Oyelow is dignified as this humble prince, Pike strong and heart-breaking. They help strike a balance between the passion of their love and the stark reality of apartheid. It would be easy for one of these plot lines to swallow the other, but Asante manages float above it, entangling both, as would have been the case in real life.

It’s an inspiring forgotten story, tastefully and thoughtfully made, but for me, it just failed to really engage. Such a soaring story should really stir you up in the watching, but I found it a bit boring, the story telling too conventional. It’s still a worthy watch for knowledge’s sake alone, but it lacked a true spark.

 

1976 in Film (Happy 40th Sean)

Sean and I are cruising around the Hawaiian islands to celebrate his milestone birthday, which is why you’ll find a common theme in the movie reviews here  for the next week and a half.

1976 was a noteworthy year in film. Rocky was the highest grossing movie, and it won the Oscar – for best picture AND best director (John G. Avildsen). It was p5214_p_v8_aaNetwork though that all but cleaned up in the acting categories – Peter Finch for best actor (he was the first actor to win posthumously); Faye Dunaway for best actress, and Beatrice Straight for best supporting actress. The fly in their soup was Jason Robards for All the President’s Men – poor Ned Beatty was shut out. In an upset, Barbra Streisand’s Evergreen (Love Theme from A Star Is Born) won best original song over Gonna Fly Now from the Rocky soundtrack but I don’t need to tell you which has had the more lasting impact culturally.

George Lucas began filming Star Wars in 1976, perhaps sensing that little Sean would definitely need to grow up playing light sabers. In a stroke of genius, Lucas waived the half-million-dollar director’s fee in order to maintain complete ownership on merchandising and sequels, which means that today he’s a mother fucking billionaire.

Carrie came out in 1976. So did Family Plot, Alfred Hitchcock’s final film taxi-driver-movie-1976starring Bruce Dern. And Freaky Friday with Jodie Foster. And Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. And To Fly!, a documentary about the history of flight produced by the National Air and Space Museum that was the second-highest grossing film the of the year and was the highest grossing documentary of all time until Fahrenheit 9/11 in 2004.

Kelly Macdonald, voice of Merida, the heroine from Disney’s Brave, known for roles in Trainspotting, Gosford Park, No Country for Old Men, and Boardwalk Empire was born in 1976 (the bitch. She’s married to my favourite bassist ever, Dougie Payne). So was fellow redhead Isla Fisher.

Rashida Jones turned 40 this year too. She’s currently working on the script to Toy Story 4. Reese Witherspoon turned 40. David Oyelowo turned 40. Cillian 3t0kxqbttyjlMurphy. Benedict Cumberbatch. Audrey Tautou. Colin Farrell. Happy 40th to all.

Ryan Reynolds has been making 40 look good for nearly 2 months now, paving the way for the likes of Sean to do the same.

Albert Brooks made his film debut in 1976 in a little movie called Taxi Driver. Jessica Lange made hers in King Kong and Brooke Shields first appeared in Alice, Sweet Alice.

1976 was kind of cool outside of film too: the Steelers won the Super Bowl. The first commercial Concorde flight took off. Innsbruck, Austria hosted with Winter Olympics (and Montreal the Summer). The Toronto Blue Jays were ramones-ramones1born. Apple was founded by a couple of punks you might have heard of, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The Ramones released their first album and the Sex Pistols play their first shows, but it’s (Peter) Frampton Comes Alive! that tops the charts. The Boston Celtics defeated the Phoenix Suns in triple overtime in Game 5 of the NBA Finals – still considered the greatest game of the NBA’s first 50 years. The CN tower, then the world’s tallest free-standing structure on land, opened to the public. Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford. Megamouth sharks are discovered off Oahu, Hawaii 4c33c725f6feaf2ce254254f6f1201fc(nothing to be concerned about Sean, I’m sure it’s just coincidence you’re both turning 40 in the same place). Bob Marley survived an assassination attempt. California repealed their sodomy law. Peyton Manning was born. And Ronaldo. And Mark Duplass, just a day after Sean. And as much as I love me some Duplass, Sean is still my favourite thing from 1976, and I’m so glad I get to spend the day looking for megamouth sharks on a submarine ride on the ocean’s floor with him.

 

 

 

 

Queen of Katwe

I was leery of this movie – I was leery of a Disney version of Africa, which I didn’t have the heart to see. I was worried they would polish over the poverty and we’d get some “family friendly”, watered down version.

Luckily Mira Nair is sitting in the director’s seat, and I have great confidence in her ability to paint a portrait that is beautiful in its truth. And in fact, Queen of Katwe is beautiful, and it doesn’t shy away from the less desirable side of nullAfrica. The whole point of this film is rooted in poverty. A chess club is started in Katwe because of poverty – because mothers are too afraid of medical expenses should a child break a bone during soccer. So a board game is just more appealing. One of the big draws in getting the children to come in and learn the game is that the chess is served up with a free cup of porridge.

Phiona is poor even in comparison to these other Katwe kids in the chess club. She is being raised by a single mother (Lupita Nyong’o) and helps earn income by selling corn in the streets. But it turns out that Phiona might just be a prodigy – she’s certainly learning faster than anyone expected and quickly outpaces her other competitors, even her teacher. She lobbies for literacy just so she may read chess books in her spare time. Her mother sells possessions for a little extra lamp oil to burn at night so that Phiona may study.

The kids are enthusiastic about their first away tournament playing “city kids” until they get a look at them – poised, clean, well-dressed, book smart. The little Katwe kids are swiftly intimidated, many giving way to hives and hyperventilation. Their coach (David Oyelowo) knows how to steady them, and their superior chess skills carry the day. Phiona is particularly talented, good nullenough to represent Uganda internationally. As she begins to win, and to travel, she glimpses the life that could be hers if her chess game complies. But now that she’s playing not just to win, but to change her life, and support her family, it’s a lot of extra pressure any little girl’s shoulders.

Mira Nair does a wonderful job bringing Katwe to life. Even the slums are vividly rendered with colour and energy. Yes the story hits familiar beats but Nair bolster’s the film’s predictability with strong performances anchored to weighty characters.

Oyelowo as Coach Katende is as good as he always is, radiating a warmth with maybe a touch of twinkle in his eye, but he knows his role is to prop up the strong women in the cast. Lupita Nyong’o gives a heart-breakingly restrained performance as a young widow who knows her kids are sometimes going to bed hungry. She so carefully balances the fear of the unknown and a mother’s strong will to keep her kids safe with this siren call of a better life that she herself can’t comprehend. She refers to herself as an “uneducated woman” but that only serves to reinforce how fiercely smart she is, whether or not she can read. The film doesn’t talk down to or look down on anyone. Nyong’o is so sensitive in her portrayal it really elevates the whole film. Madina Nalwanga, though, is the revelation. She’s the unknown cast by Nair to star as Phiona. Despite having never acted, she clearly has the grace and poise to make this her career, and it has to help that though Madina escaped the slums with dance rather than chess, her story is eerily similar to Phiona’s.

Queen of Katwe would feel a lot like any other underdog tale, except for its setting. Nair makes sure that Africa comes alive. A small girl reduces chess to this: “a small one can become a big one.” Chess is still fairly boring to watch, on film and in person I’m sure, but when you give it such a strong parallel to their lives – where the small can become big, where the Queen is most powerful, it starts to strike a chord. Is it unabashedly feel-good? Yes, it is. But isn’t it nice to have such a positive story out of Africa for once?