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Wed04082020

Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

Queen and Slim depicts the worst Tinder date … pretty much ever.

Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith star as the title characters, two young people who meet in a diner for a mediocre online date. On their way home, they are pulled over by a cop who racially profiles them—and bad things happen. Queen and Slim go on the run, become social-media celebrities, and yes, start liking each other a whole lot more.

Director Melina Matsoukas’ movie isn’t very original, but the atmospherics are solid, and the performances truly drive the film. Turner-Smith is terrific as a lawyer who finds herself on the wrong side of the law, while Kaluuya brings a sweet sadness to the teetotaling Slim. The film deals bluntly with its subject of police brutality, with both good and bad cops present. There’s no question why this film is being called the “black Bonnie and Clyde,” in that the movie follows many of the same beats as the 1960s classic.

Queen and Slim stands as a decent statement on current civil rights issues, and it’s a nice step forward for Matsoukas as a director.

Queen and Slim is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Steve McQueen follows up his Oscar-winning 12 Years a Slave with Widows, an above-average thriller made very watchable thanks to a terrific performance by Viola Davis.

Davis plays Veronica, the wife of lifetime criminal Harry Rawlings (Liam Neeson). When Harry meets an untimely end, he leaves behind a nasty debt—and some nasty people want it paid back. Veronica hatches a plan to pull a heist, and she looks to the wives of Harry’s also-dead gang mates to help her out.

Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki are good as the other widows, while Robert Duvall and Colin Farrell steal scenes as father-and-son politicians. The plot is fairly standard, and you’ll see some of the “big twists” coming a mile away. That doesn’t keep the movie from being a sufficiently stylized, serviceable thriller that gives Davis her best vehicle in years.

Widows also costars Lukas Haas as a mysterious boyfriend, Daniel Kaluuya as a scary henchman and Carrie Coon in a throwaway role. This is not the sort of greatness one hopes for from McQueen, but it’s no mishap: It’s a good movie from a very good director.

Widows is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Selecting Ryan Coogler to helm Black Panther is a major triumph: His entry into the Marvel universe is a majestic, full-bodied, exhilarating treatment of the African-king title character (Chadwick Boseman) with the crazy-cool suit. Marvel has yet another big success with a grand future.

Coogler has three feature films to his credit now—one masterpiece (Fruitvale Station) and two very good movies (Black Panther and Creed). He’s officially one of the best directors currently calling the shots. This is also his third collaboration with actor Michael B. Jordan, who brings a fleshed-out, complicated villain to the screen in Erik Killmonger. Man, you need to be bad with that last name.

The pre-opening-credit scenes involves Black Panther’s dad and predecessor having a confrontation in 1992, in Oakland, Calif. A major event takes place as some kids playing basketball look on. It turns out to be one of the more brilliant and heart-wrenching setups for a Marvel-movie character yet.

The action cuts to present day, where Black Panther/T’Challa is dealing with the death of his father due to an event that took place in Captain America: Civil War. (The producers and screenwriters linked these films together very well.) He’s set to become king, but must pass through a ritual with some risk involved. He overcomes the obstacles, gets his throne and prepares for his rule. However, his kingdom doesn’t get a moment to breathe before trouble ensues.

Elsewhere, Killmonger has come across an ancient weapon forged in Wakanda (the Black Panther’s homeland), made from vibranium, a precious resource that fuels much of Wakanda’s advanced technology, including the Black Panther suits. With the help of Wakanda enemy Klaue (Andy Serkis, acting with his real face as opposed to a motion capture suit), Killmonger obtains the weapon, threatening world stability.

The story is told with a stunning level of social relevance for a superhero film, especially when it comes to Killmonger’s motives. He’s not just some guy looking to enrich himself for selfish purposes; he’s got some big reasons for having gone bad, and they make him a far more sympathetic character than, say, Loki from Thor.

As good as Boseman is, and he’s really good, Black Panther is a big success thanks very much to the cast around him. Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o plays the possible love interest in Nakia, getting her finest post-Oscar role yet. The Walking Dead’s Danai Gurira makes a confident graduation to big-screen action hero, while Letitia Wright gets a lot of laughs as T’Challa’s mischievous and extremely smart sister, Shuri.

There are so many great performers in this movie that there isn’t enough room here to give them all praise, but here are a few more: Angela Bassett, Martin Freeman, Forest Whitaker, Winston Duke, Daniel Kaluuya and Sterling K. Brown all play formidable roles. It’s early in the year, but this will surely stand as one of 2018’s best ensemble casts.

Coogler proves he can handle a big-action blockbuster. His action scenes mostly snap with precise energy and efficiency, but some of them are a bit jumbled and hard to follow due to low light or ill-advised camera angles. I saw the film in IMAX 2-D, so perhaps some of what I was seeing played better in 3-D. There was nothing too sloppy, but some moments were not as tight as the rest of the film.

Black Panther is a superhero saga rich with culture and gravitas, and yet it does not skimp on the good humor and action thrills we’ve come to expect from Marvel. DC’s recent offerings (Justice League, Suicide Squad) make everyone involved with them look like goofballs in comparison (with Wonder Woman being the lone recent exception). Black Panther and Marvel show us that big-screen superhero entertainment can be about much more than suits and explosions.

Black Panther is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Jordan Peele, the comedic performer from TV’s Key and Peele and the adorable/funny cat movie Keanu, delivers a huge cinematic surprise with Get Out, a twisted, darkly satirical horror film that pulls no punches when it comes to race relations and dating.

Peele has cited Night of the Living Dead and The Stepford Wives as inspirations for this journey to the dark side of his creative soul. Those films’ influences are detectable; you could also throw in a pinch of Rosemary’s Baby and a side of Being John Malkovich.

Two of the hardest things to accomplish with a movie are making people laugh, and getting them legitimately scared. Get Out manages to do both throughout its running time. Peele takes taboo subjects and stereotypes, and doesn’t let his pen get restricted by a fear of offending anybody. This is an appropriately evil, scabrous movie.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a young African-American man, is a little nervous. He’s going to visit the parents of Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), his white girlfriend. Allison is relaxed about the trip, but Chris is a little on the anxious side.

Upon their arrival at her family’s large estate, Rose’s parents like Chris. They really, really like Chris. Actually, parents Missy and Dean (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford) like Chris at a level that is a bit unsettling. Chris shrugs it off at first, as does Allison, but strange things start happening.

For starters, Walter and Georgina (Marcus Henderson and Betty Gabriel), two black people employed by the Armitages, have personalities that are a little off. They have vacant stares; they are overly polite; and Georgina can cry projectile tears while smiling and carrying on a conversation. Something is definitely wrong with them.

Chris smokes, and Missy doesn’t like that. When he gets up to sneak a cigarette in the middle of the night, Missy offers to hypnotize him. Chris is reluctant, but eventually finds himself under Missy’s anti-smoking spell. Or does the spell cover more than just smoking? I won’t give too much away other than to say Missy and Dean are not what they seem, and this movie will put a lot of people off of using hypnosis as a means of quitting smoking.

Kaluuya (Sicario) delivers a performance that should put him on the map for a long time to come. The role requires him to go to many extremes, utilizing both his comic timing and his ability to appear paralyzed with fear. His big scene with Missy is an acting powerhouse, with Keener setting the pace. It’s going to go down as one of the movie year’s most memorable scenes.

Williams absolutely nails her part. The movie simply wouldn’t work if Williams delivered one wrong note with her work. What she does here is a deft class on how to act in a horror movie. She will knock you on your ass.

Providing solid, pure comic relief, Lil Rel Howery is the perfect goofball as Rod, Chris’s TSA friend who thinks his buddy has been sold into sex slavery.

Stephen Root has a couple of memorable scenes playing a blind man, something he did so memorably in O Brother, Where Art Thou? His character is among the horde of people who show up for a family gathering. Also in attendance: Andrew (Lakeith Stanfield), another oddly behaved black man who really hates it when you take his picture.

Whether it’s trying to make you laugh, make you squirm or just plain freak you out, Get Out is a victory on all the horror and comedy fronts. Peele demonstrates a keen sense of what is scary and funny, and has also made one of the better-looking horror films in recent years. It should be pointed out: This is his first movie as a director. When it comes to daring, risk-taking directing debuts, Peele is toward the top of the list.

This is one of those times where a groundbreaking piece of work just comes out of nowhere and bedazzles. Don’t miss Get Out.

Get Out is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews