The Birth of a Nation

The Birth Of A Nation is titled as such to recall the film with the same name slightly over a hundred years ago. That one was racist, sure, but it was also one of the biggest movies of the time and revolutionized film so it still has a reason to be talked about today.

This modern version is about a true slave revolt that happened before the civil war. That’s right. They are taking the title back and making it pro-black. A bold and almost genius idea.

It was also one of the most anticipated films of the year, with Oscar hopes and dreams, long ovations at Sundance, and a giant bidding war to get rights to distribute. It was the first film to potentially win the Best Picture award this year, so the hype was un real. And no, Free State of Jones being terrible didn’t bring the hype down at all.

Run
Picture of how I imagined the hype train would rush to theaters for this film.

The story is about Nat Turner (Nate Parker), a child born into slavery, who was taught to read the bible a bit by kinder owners (Penelope Ann Miller), but eventually was put back into the field.

As an adult, he was one of the head slave workers and he also preached to his fellow slaves every week. A slave preacher! Yes, because they wouldn’t let him preach to white folks of course. Well, the drought was hurting the small farm, so his owner (Armie Hammer) began to take him to other farms to have him preach to other slaves about the importance of obeying your master in order to get to heaven, helping them earn extra money.

But on these voyages he started to see worse and worse conditions for slaves. It began to break him as a person, so much that he would lash out and get more punishments on his own farm. So eventually he had enough. He got a few men together, they planned to kill all their masters, go north to an armory, grab weapons, take the town and try and end slavery once and for all. Whoops, that is most of the story!

Also starring Jackie Earle Haley as the typical evil slave catcher, Esther Scott, Aja Naomi King, Mark Boone Junior, Colman Domingo, Aunjanue Ellis, Dwight Henry, Gabrielle Union, and Roger Guenveur Smith.

Coach

Obviously, given the subject matter you can tell this will be a powerful drama and story and one has to just hope and hope that the people behind it do it justice. And since one man is behind it there is a lot of pressure on Parker to deliver. He was the director, star, writer, main producer, everything. And thankfully he also delivered.

From the cinematography, to his acting, to the costumes, to the close up faces, it was an easy and hard two hours to get through. Easy as it just seemed to flow by rarely having a dull moment, and hard given the subject matter. For those worried, it was actually a lot less graphic than I had anticipated, with a terrible scene involving teeth and some dead bodies.

Whether the movie gets the real story perfect, or what happened in anyone’s real life past is irrelevant. The film itself is actually a well-crafted piece and worthy of praise on many regards. Is it the best movie this year? I don’t think so, but it is one with few issues outside of pacing concerns and behind the scenes drama.

I don’t want to sound like a cheap comparison, but I would definitely say another recent slavery movie, 12 Years A Slave, was definitely still better. But I mean, 12 Years was reall fucking good.

Definitely go see The Birth of a Nation which you will certainty see it mentioned at awards ceremonies in a few months, but I doubt now it takes the top prize.

3 out of 4.

Beyond The Lights

I am not just reviewing Beyond The Lights because it was nominated for Best Original Song in the Oscars. No, I wanted to see it even before that!

However, yes, I am having the review out this week because of that fact.

I wanted to see it because I heard good things despite a somewhat Lifetime movie looking trailer. I wanted to see it because it was a mainly black cast and it had nothing to do with Kevin Hart or Tyler Perry. Some of their movies are terrible, sure, but at least they are actually increasing the amount of color that our TVs can show. So it is always exciting to see someone else do something to break the trend or lack of trend.

Oh hey, wait. It is British? Never mind. This means nothing now.

The Badge
It can’t even help our current opinions about law enforcement!

Just kidding. Despite starring British people, it is actually American overall. Go back to flying our flags proudly, folks.

Since Noni (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) was a little girl, her mother (Minnie Driver) has been focused on her career as a singer. She was entered into talent contests and her mother would not let her settle for second place. Her mother raiser her alone and always wanted her child to succeed.

Now, many many years later, Noni is about to win a Billboard award with a collaboration with Kid Culprit (Machine Gun Kelly). It is very impressive, since she hasn’t even released her own album. She has just been on three of his tracks and they have all been super popular. Yes. Now is the time for her to break out and get one of the best selling records of all time.

But Noni doesn’t feel happy. Maybe she hates her relationship with Kid. Maybe she hates selling her body for success. Maybe she hates her mother deciding every part of her life. Maybe she just feels fake. Either way, she decides to end her life. She is saved last minute by the current cop watching her room, Kaz (Nate Parker), who calms her down and makes her feel like an individual.

And won’t you look at that. A relationship might come from it too. Sure it starts in an awkward place. He kind of saved her life. There is some awkwardness that might make people question its long lasting-ness. Especially since Kaz himself is only going to be a cop for a little bit. He wants to run for office, a political kind of guy. Being with a pop star might make people question his seriousness.

I am sure none of that will come up though. Also featuring Danny Glover, who is still too old for this shit, as a cop.

Mom
When your mom encourages an outfit like this, you know you might actually be a doll.

And then I enjoyed a movie about a pop star struggling with the music industry and feeling like a real person. Of course I did. Put it that way, it sounds brilliant. Sure, first world problems a bit, but everyone should understand the need to feel loved and important.

The romance in this picture feels very realistic and that is actually refreshing given the last few “romance” movies I have seen. They have problems, they have outside forces telling them one thing or another, and they have their own issues to work through, but they try things out and give it their best shot.

Both Mbatha-Raw and Parker give great performances. Driver is a straight up bitch, but it all fit for her character. Hell, I might not have completely hated her by the end either.

Overall, a good romance/drama. And uhh, the songs are decent too. I guess. (It won’t win).

3 out of 4.

Non-Stop

Oooh, Non-Stop, a Liam Neeson action movie where he uses his wit and tactical efficiency to solve a crisis!

I don’t promise a lot about this review of Non-Stop I just promise to make zero Taken jokes. Even if the vague outline I just made sounds like it could easily be used for that movie. It is becoming old-hat to do Taken jokes for just because the movie stars Neeson, so I will let Zach Braff take care of that for me.

texting
Neeson is texting here, to show us he still is up with the times.

Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is a Federal Air Marshal. He is a quiet man who has had some problems in his life recently, including alcoholism! But that is okay, it is not like he ever has to do anything on his job.

Just kidding! On a flight to London, someone wants to hijack the plane. They have hacked into the local network and are sending text messages to Bill, threatening that someone will die every twenty minutes on the plane unless they get $150 million sent to a bank account. Even more troubling news is that bank account is in Bill’s name, so the TSA and other governmental agencies have assumed that Bill has gone rogue and is hijacking the plane until he gets paid.

Oh no!

Bill will have to use the people he can trust on the plane. Nancy (Michelle Dockerty), a flight attendant who he has worked with before. Jack Hammond (Anson Mount), an off duty Air Marshal also on the flight. And of course, Jen Summers (Julianne Moore), the woman he just met who was sitting next to him in first class.

So, who is the terrorist?! Well here is a list of actors also on the plane to take a pick from, assuming it actually isn’t an inside job and isn’t one of the people already listed in the review: Corey StollNate ParkerScoot McNairyLupita Nyong’oOmar Metwally (who has a turban!), Corey Hawkins, and Frank Deal.

Hands
Their hands are in the air, yes, but I assure you right now they all care.

I know I might have made the plot of Non-Stop seem cliche/not exciting, but it turned out to be the opposite of that. First off, it wasn’t a mindless action movie. The only big action sequence happens near the end, which you could tell from the trailers. Everything else is based on suspense and tiny clues along the way.

Outside of the first 8 or so minutes, I found myself watching Non-Stop on the edge of my seat. The parts of the movie before boarding the plane were a bit slow, but that can be expected in a movie like this.

Was it believable? No, not really. There are a lot of coincidences and lucky breaks that make the entire evil mastermind plan work. Kind of annoying, but I can get over it.

Somehow, despite the coincidences and questionable plot, I was just really entertained by this movie. It wasn’t obvious who the bad guy was, plenty of red herrings thrown our way throughout the film. In fact, I think knowing “who did it” wouldn’t even ruin future viewings for me, which is a rarity for these types of movies.

Neeson might have actually been the perfect pick for this role as well. He has that aged scruffiness, perfect for a guy who has “seen some shit” in his days.

Check out Non-Stop, which ended up being (surprisingly) one of the better movies for the month of February.

 

3 out of 4.

Arbitrage

Miraculously, Arbitrage is a movie that came to the theaters that I had the pleasure of never hearing about before.

Seriously. It was just a giant surprise. “What the fuck is Arbitrage?” I thought to myself, and probably what you are thinking as well. Needless to say, I was stoked. It has been a long time since I’ve seen a movie I didn’t hear about before or see a preview for. Like I used to. Damn movie theaters, always spoiling shit.

Thank you cheap theater. Thank you for giving me another one of these.

Money
Can he play anything but a rich guy now? He looks like he has money falling out of his eyes.

Robert Miller (Richard Gere) is your standard big money man on wallstreet. He is old, white, and Republican. I assume the last part. Either way, he runs an investment company, because that just is money on money. But for some reason he wants to sell. His daughter, Brooke (Brit Marling) is a high up person as well, and she doesn’t know why he wants to sell. They are so successful!

Or are they? If they were lying about their profit margins, and actually losing money, selling would probably be a good idea. Get paid, run off, fuck the new guy. Why not?

Speaking of fucking, of course Robert is seeing someone on the side. I mean, his wife (Susan Sarandon) is old. She isn’t Julie (Laetitia Casta), a 20 something model artist.

Bow chicka. So much bow chicka, that they even go on a midnight ride in the country. Fuck responsibilities, time to live it up! Unless you get tired, and crash the car, and kill your girlfriend in the process.

Err, uhh. Well. Whoops. Time to call the only black person you know (Nate Parker), get a ride, and hide it all from the cops (Tim Roth). You know, who know you have hired her as an artist and probably having an affair.

Trying to sell your company under illegal pretenses while being investigated for a murder probably won’t lead to happy times.

Oh hey roth
Oh hey there Tim. Long time no see. Just been hanging out? Keeping to yourself mostly? Wait. You’re not still upset about Lie To Me, are you Tim? Oh come on, you know it went on too long and peaked with season 1. Damn it Tim, come back here. Act in more things! Tim! Tim stop walking away!

Murder! Money! Lies! Sex!

Sounds very HBO show like. This movie, obviously rated R (for language, mostly) gives you all that and more. Eventually. But at the start, it moves pretty darn slow.

Not only that, but it moves in the slow, obviously hiding stuff now hurry and get to the point, way.

Some of the acting was decent, and I liked the few twists that happened, but the final one seemed a bit ridiculous. Kind of ruined the ending for me.

Arbitrage (which I will now pronounce Arbit-RAGEEE) gave me a lot of things I might not have seen before, but overall, it was just another okay movie.

2 out of 4.

Red Tails

I was actually excited to finally see Red Tails. I was hoping it would get me out of this mediocre film slump I have been on. I mean. WAR FILMS GUYS. Think of war films. How many would you describe as epic? Probably a lot of them.

So I was ready for another epic movie, that was based on true events, and George Lucas has been trying to get this movie made since the early 90s. Good, the last film I know about that took a jillion years to make was Avatar, and although not the best movie, it was at least stupidly visually awesome.

Walk that shit

Oh yeah. Racism. Epic War movie and racism. HOW CAN IT FAIL?

Movie takes place in 1944, where after a long training program, a group of African-American pilots are finally deployed to Europe to begin fighter pilot duties! Italy at that, which is clearly the hot bed of WWII action. Unfortunately they are given pretty old planes and only scouting missions where the enemy hasn’t been seen for months.

We enter with Colonel William Mortamus (Bryan Cranston) trying to shut the program down, calling it failed with their poor numbers. Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) is fighting for his team state side, noting their poor numbers is only because they don’t get any real missions.

Also he has to fight a report that they are not fit for combat at all. But eventually, with the help of Colonel Jack Tomilson (Lee Tergesen) they get a real mission! The news gets back to Major Emanuelle Stance (Cuba Gooding Jr.) who is in command while the Colonel is away, and much celebration occurs! They are to assist Allies landing in some part of Italy, where they have to fend of German air fire.

The crew is lead by Easy (Nate Parker, what the hell kind of nick name is Easy?), but the best pilot is Lightning (David Oyelowo), who also is reckless. Easy unfortunately doubts himself a lot and is prone to the drinking. We also have Junior/Ray-Gun (Tristan Wilds) and Joker (Elijah Kelley) who you can guess their tropes. There are also the less important characters of Neon (Kevin Phillips) and Smoky (Ne-Yo).

But enough about that! They are super successful in their mission, even taking out a German airfield in the process. Sure, Junior gets injured and loses the full ability of one of his eyes, but that probably wont effect him later right? Right? He probably won’t be taken as a POW by the enemy, due to Easy letting him fly so soon.

They eventually get to provide support to Bombers, and end up being the most successful escort crew in the war, killing a lot more Nayzees than Nayzees kill them.

Flawless Vicotry
That my friends is the face of a Flawless Victory.

But it wasn’t even flawless. Turns out this film takes a real event and fictionalizes the shit out of it. Characters, events, survivability, and also makes it seem like they never fucked up once they finally got to fight. They were still good in real life, but not so perfect. Even had people in the movie die, much to my surprise. And a love story with an Italian woman hottie!

A lot of the negative press from this movie comes from the fact that it lacked really any character growth, and everyone felt like their own little stereotype throughout the movie. And yeah, well, that was true. The only change you can note is that Easy drunk less eventually, and stopped being a little bitch. But that was barely a change in the movie either.

There is only really three missions we see them go on, and we are left believing that they cured racism and saved the war at the same time. But it didn’t feel epic at all. Plane fights are hard as hell to do, and have always been hard as hell to do. But it doesn’t help that the technology for them felt like the early 90s, when Lucas first decided to make this movie.

For a 19 year project, it sure felt rushed.

1 out of 4.