Movie Review ~ Beckett

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Following a tragic car accident in Greece, Beckett, an American tourist, finds himself at the center of a dangerous political conspiracy and on the run for his life.

Stars: John David Washington, Alicia Vikander, Vicky Krieps, Boyd Holbrook, Lena Kitsopoulou, Maria Votti, Daphne Alexander, Panos Koronis

Director: Ferdinando Cito Filomarino

Rated: NR

Running Length: 108 minutes

TMMM Score: (8.5/10)

Review:  The first movie I saw in theaters after the pandemic started was Tenet, the highly anticipated Christopher Nolan film that kept getting bounced around the schedule at Warner Brothers.  Nolan was determined to release it and theaters were desperate to show it to attract audiences back so they could continue to operate.  After much delay, the film was released in September 2020 to moderate reviews and even more moderate business.  Considering Nolan’s stature, his track record with blockbusters, and the hype leading up to the movie, this was an eye-opening gut-punch to the film industry that movie-going was not going to bounce back like they thought it would.  We all know how things went after that.  Theaters closed again and would open and re-open sporadically for the next several months until a vaccination was in place (Side note: get vaccinated) and some stability could be regulated.  During that time, Tenet was all but forgotten.

You know what?  It sort of should have been.  It wasn’t that great and represented a filmmaker not reaching further than he should have but deliberately going to places that alienated audiences.  For what?  Purposely misdirecting, employing a horrible sound technique, and careening through a serpentine plot that required several large whiteboards to map out, the film was a mess and audiences told Nolan and the studio so with their attendance at the film.  That robbed stars John David Washington and Elizabeth Debicki, both poised to break big with Tenet, from reaching that high level and while both will bounce back nicely (Debicki is playing Princess Diana in the upcoming season of The Crown) you can blame Nolan for that delay.

Watching the Netflix action film Beckett, I was struck by how much it was exactly the kind of breathless, twist-filled experience I wanted Tenet to be.  An international mystery starring Washington and a cadre of interesting actors both familiar and not, it was willing to take risks but not blow off the audience in doing so.  It might be frighteningly pedestrian at times (some of the reveals of the villainous “twists” are so obvious from the start the actors might as well be wearing a sign around their neck saying Bad Person) but the thrills it drums up are real and the situations it puts our central character in have the authenticity that lead you to believe it could happen to you as well if you didn’t play your cards right. 

In the film written by Kevin A. Rice and director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, Washington (Malcolm & Marie) plays the titular character, who has arrived in Greece with his girlfriend April (Alicia Vikander, Tomb Raider).  When a political upheaval near their hotel gets too unruly, they retreat to the country for a few days to let things simmer down and that’s where a tragic car accident leaves Beckett alone and eventually on the run for his life when he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Seeing something he shouldn’t have but doesn’t understand, he’s pursued by a horde of unrelenting hunters who will stop at nothing to keep him silent. 

The simple set-up leaves Filomarino a wide berth to stage a number of impressively tense sequences as Washington narrowly evades being caught and takes drastic measures to extricate himself from the situation.  When it becomes clear that no one in authority is trustworthy, he decides to put trust only in himself and the people his gut tells him to follow, including an activist (Vicky Krieps, The Phantom Thread) whose own cause might just have a crossover with the danger Beckett is hoping to escape from. 

Impressively filmed, edited, and performed, I liked this one all the way through to its closing credit sequence.  Obviously made for a more big screen exhibition, Filomarino fills each frame of Beckett with a gorgeous shot of Greece, even though much of the movie isn’t exactly a thumbs up for Greek tourism.  Destined to be but a blip on rising-star Washington’s acting career, I hope more people discover this one as the winter months are approaching and well-constructed action films like Beckett become harder to find in theaters.

Movie Review ~ Malcolm & Marie

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A filmmaker and his girlfriend return home from his movie premiere where smoldering tensions and painful revelations push them toward a romantic reckoning.

Stars: Zendaya, John David Washington

Director: Sam Levinson

Rated: R

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  As an only child, there were plenty of times growing up when I had “opportunities” to learn from my “mistakes” and much of these lessons were in how my words were received to others.  My parents, like many of yours, were fond of the phrase ‘It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.’ and that’s a motto I’ve tried to stick with through the years, to varying degrees of success.  It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.  Meaning, sometimes even though you think you’re saying the right thing, you aren’t sincere, and it shows.  Still…words matter and even removing a passive aggressive delivery can’t hide the fact that you just said something you ought to be taken to task for.  Flipped around, ‘It’s not how you say it, it’s what you say.”

That’s what I thought while watching the new Netflix film Malcolm & Marie, which has become a bit of a hot button topic of conversation in the movie world thanks to its dissection of film and film criticism during an eventful two hours.  Made over the summer when COVID-19 was in full swing, the project gained some attention because of its two in-demand stars and the way they came together to not only fund the project but see that it was carried out under strict health guidelines.  The small crew huddled together in quarantine for two weeks before shooting and many had multiple jobs on the set.  It was clearly a labor of love by committed artists that cared deeply not only for telling the story but for finding an outlet of creativity during this strange time.

I’d like to report, then, that Malcolm & Marie was worth the time and effort but unfortunately, it’s ever so slightly the talky drab dud I feared it would be.  It’s strange, though, because I didn’t regret a minute of the film.  Watching stars John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) and Zendaya (The Greatest Showman) bicker, make-up, fight, and emotionally evade one another throughout a stunning house in Carmel, California in glorious black and white was a rich experience.  There are a few scenes that are truly beautiful to behold and as a whole the film is never, absolutely never, boring to look at.  It’s just when we start to delve deeply into writer/director Sam Levinson’s annoyingly pugilistic screenplay that you’ll want to reach for the mute button.

Arriving home after the premiere of his new film, Malcolm (Washington) is energized but what he feels will finally get him noticed by mainstream audiences.  His past films have only been seen as genre fare (read: black) and he longs to be considered with some of the greats and not just his fellow respected black filmmakers.  For now, though, he’s on cloud 9 and with drink in hand and James Brown playing throughout the house he’s dancing while Marie (Zendaya) is clearly feeling something a little different after their night out.  A harmless mistake before the premiere, likely brought on by the energy of the evening has been eating away at her and she can’t let it go.

Cooking macaroni and cheese (there’s no promotional tie-in here but if you’re watching this late at night you’ll definitely wind up wanting a bowl of your own) she lays out her grievances and it only slides downhill from there.  The two battle over their thoughts of Marie’s perception of the mistake (a sleight of attribution on Malcolm’s part) and, eventually, on Marie’s overall contribution to their marriage and Malcolm’s professional endeavors.  Did Malcolm steal pieces of Marie’s life to make his latest success and if so, why didn’t he cast his actress girlfriend in the role that could have helped her career advance as way of repaying the support she’s offered him?  As most fights go, there are low blows and then jabs that hit even darker places that couples don’t easily bounce back from.

The centerpiece of Malcolm & Marie, however, doesn’t even involve Marie and it almost seems like Levinson has been building to this point throughout.  It’s a profanity-laced diatribe from Malcolm on the state of film and the critics that review it that goes on and on and on, an endless barrage of holier-than-thou observances and notations of a century worth of filmmakers.  Though slanted through the viewfinder of a black man, you can clearly hear Levinson’s voice on the other side and how it’s transparently leveled at all naysayers that may take an opposing view to the film.  Feeling like a way Levinson can say what he wants to say but not really “say” it, the whole speech comes off as a cheap shot and poor sportsmanship…though Washington gives it one heckuva good read.  Too bad it instantaneously sucks what little momentum Washington and Zendaya had worked up for the rest of the movie.

Independently or together, Washington and Zendaya are impossible to look away from and both actors make you wish they had collaborated on a film that took their strengths and used them for something more interesting or less mouthpiece-y.  I think Malcolm & Marie might have even worked if it would have removed Malcolm’s unfiltered rant and excised one or two of the “artful silences” that have been kept in but as it stands this couple becomes hard to listen to by the end and all you want to do is watch them turn out the light and sleep.  Then at least they’ll, for once in the night, not have any hurtful things to say or demons to battle.

The Silver Bullet ~ Tenet

Synopsis: An action epic revolving around international espionage, time travel, and evolution.

Release Date:  July 17, 2020

Thoughts: Shrouded in mystery, if you’ve been to the movies the last few months you may have caught a super exclusive theatrical-only preview for Tenet, the new thriller from Christopher Nolan (Dunkirk, Interstellar) but the time has finally come for a full trailer to be released.  Starring John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman) and Robert Pattinson (The Rover), little is known what exactly is up Nolan’s tricky tricky sleeves and this first look appears to leave viewers with even more questions.  In other words, it’s a pretty fantastic way to get people excited for the July release – here’s hoping Nolan can maintain that secrecy until it opens.

Movie Review ~ BlacKkKlansman


The Facts
:

Synopsis: Ron Stallworth, an African-American police officer from Colorado, successfully managed to infiltrate the local Ku Klux Klan and became the head of the local chapter.

Stars: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Corey Hawkins, Ryan Eggold, Robert John Burke, Paul Walter Hauser, Jasper Pääkkönen, Ashlie Atkinson

Director: Spike Lee

Rated: R

Running Length: 135 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Though he’s often scored high marks with critics, it’s been a long time since director Spike Lee (Chi-Raq) had an outright commercial hit and with the release of BlacKkKlansman Lee finally seemed to be in position to have a movie that would cross that line.  Though the box office for the movie didn’t catch on like it very well should have, BlacKkKlansman still represents Lee’s most commercial work in years and is entertaining as all get out.

The story behind BlacKkKlansman is almost too bizarre to be true.  In Colorado in the early ‘70s, black police officer Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) goes undercover to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan with the assistance of his Jewish colleague, Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver, Midnight Special).  Through a unique and increasingly dangerous set-up, Stallworth communicates with the local KKK leaders on the phone while Zimmerman poses as Stallworth whenever they need to meet in person.  Stallworth even befriends David Duke (Topher Grace, American Ultra) the Grand Wizard of the KKK and the two engage in lengthy phone conversations before ever meeting face to face.

At the same time, Stallworth becomes involved with the president of the Colorado black student union (Laura Harrier, Spider-Man: Homecoming) and their relationship becomes entwined with the dealings not only with his undercover investigation with the KKK but within his own police force.  When Duke sets up a trip to Colorado to personally initiate Stallworth as a member of the KKK, Stallworth and Zimmerman’s investigation intensifies as suspicions within the hate group start to mount.

Lee’s cast crackles with energy and keeps the movie moving through a slightly slow first twenty minutes.  It takes that long to establish some characters and get Stallworth moving from new recruit to establishing himself as an undercover officer heading up his own investigation.  Once he makes that first phone call to the KKK and sets into motion the sting operation, the film moves like a locomotive toward its conclusion that propels us from a flawed past to a complicated present and uncertain future.