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Review of “Green Book” at PFF27

by Kathia Woods

"Greenbook" is the story of an odd but meaningful friendship between concert pianist Dr. Don Shirley and Tony Lip an Italian-American Bouncer.

Dr. Shirley is about to embark on a concert tour in the deep South. He needs a driver and hires Tony Lip. An Italian American mob-connected bigot. Neither is thrilled with the other however one needs the job and the other the muscle. So, this odd couple embarks on a concert tour through the deep south.

Lip in the driver's seat while Shirley sat comfortably and blanketed in the back. This picture alone screams disaster; however, this movie is not about the obvious but the character that revealed on such a journey. Viggo Mortenson is magnificent as Tony Lip. The added weight is natural, and the Bronx Italian accent is spot-on. Tony is ill-mannered, harsh and can eat for days. At the beginning of this trip he views this to make money while he's on a two-month hiatus from his bouncer job; however, he starts to see the world beyond the comfort of his Bronx neighborhood. He sees firsthand how the world treats a black man.

Marshala Ali is equally brilliant as the bougie Dr. Don Shirley. His character struggles with trying to find his place in this world. He's to educate and refined to fit in with Black Folks, and his skin is not the right shade to be accepted by whites. As a person of color that has acquired money, educations, and stature he is stuck in the middle. A middle that at times that can be very lonely. Marshala portrays that beautifully in this movie. We feel empathy for him when he's displayed liked a trophy in the white homes but isn't allowed to use the restroom in that same home. There are moments we can't stand him especially when he chastises Tony like a child. Tony teaches Shirley to enjoy life more and wait for it embraces his blackness. Shirley encourages him to be more romantic. "Greenbook" is a movie that reminds us all that you're never too old to change.

Diversity Ranking - 9 the two central characters are black and white. No other supporting minorities other than the valet.

Scale overall- 9 Dialogue and acting outstanding

 

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Review of Widows

by Kathia Woods

It's been a couple of years since we heard from Steve McQueen. His last film was the Academy Award winning "12 Years A Slave". His latest film "Widows" stars the indomitable Viola Davis.

The movie centers around a group of widows whose husbands die in a bomb explosion after a heist. The women are left stranded and penniless.

Veronica has the added burden of owning an additional two million dollars.

There are several subplots in this movie. First, this group of criminals is perceived to be a brotherhood. Second, they protected their loved ones. Third, Family loyalty isn't everything. Lastly, there is a public persona vs. private battles. The cast is outstanding in bringing it all to life.

Bryan Tyree Henry has been on a roll lately, and once again he does not disappoint. He plays Jamal Manning, a gangster trying to reinvent himself as a politician. On the surface, he seems polished, but underneath he's ruthless. Speaking of ruthless, Daniel Kaluyya is precisely that as Jamal's brother Jatemme. He's not too impressed with Jamal's new career direction but does the necessary muscle work to get the job done. Kaluyya and Henry are making smart choices with their roles, and it's paying off. Kaluyya portraying someone so despicable was refreshing compared to his other characters. He indeed is one of our brightest talents.

Liam Neeson as a central character doesn't have that much screen time, but this critic was grateful for the fact we finally get to see him in something other than "Taken."

Veteran actor Robert Duvall is steady as always, and Colin Farrell, who is working on redeeming himself from his awful portrayal of Sonny in "Miami Vice", showed that he could still act in spite some appalling choices.

Honorable mention goes to Cynthia Erivo; it was nice to see her take this part. She's a competent actress that also happens to be a phenomenal singer.

The star that drives this movie is the outstanding Viola Davis. She's just amazing. Her character experiences grief, heartbreak, and portrayal in a matter of weeks. She must self-reflect and ask herself if she willingly ignored the danger signs in exchange for a life of privilege. Davis makes us willingly go with her on this journey of self-discovery. She is just this good.

Like many women, she is trying to accept that she fell in love with the idea of a man, not the real man. That seems to be the theme that ties the WIndows to each other. It's bigger than just their men being in this criminal syndicate.

Many were critical of McQueen’s for "12 Years A Slave,", but this movie showed what so many of us knew: that he is a terrific filmmaker. "Widows" can seem slow for some but it's a chess game, not checkers. Be patient, the end is worth it.

Diversity- this movie receives a nine on casting actors of different races, but this indeed was a global affair.

Scale- This movie was suspenseful and beautifully shot. McQueen did not waste one moment of screen time. The overall score is a 8.5.

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Review of Roma

by Kathia Woods

Roma is the latest offering from academy award winning director Alfonso Cuaron. It's a retrospective on his childhood in Mexico.

At the heart of the story are two women Cleo and Sofia. Cleo is a quiet but dedicated housekeeper while Sofia is the lady of the house married to a successful doctor and mother of four.

On paper, these two women don't have anything in common. We soon discover this to be untrue.

Roman is shot beautifully in black and white setting a warm tone from the first frame to the last.

Many of us of Latin American decent know these women; these women are our grandmothers, mothers, aunts, and sisters. We understand the patriarchy that raised them.

As Latin women, we are raised to put others first, family over everything.

You can see it in Cleo who left her home to be in service to someone else. Sofia’s children are rendered with affection as if they were her own. She knows their likes and dislikes, she taught them how to pray and they, in turn, rely on her for everything.

Sofia is a woman who gave up her career to become a wife. She dedicated her life to uplift and supports her husband.

What I love about Roma is how Cuaron chose to display how each woman handles heartbreak.

Cleo who is beautifully portrayed by first-time actress Yalitza Aparicio gives an unforgettable performance. You are rooting for her at every turn. You want her to win because she's a decent person. Herr performance is so great because of the subtleties.

Her strength permeates in the quiet moments for example when she is standing in front of the movie theater waiting for Fermin to return.

Veteran actress Marina de Tavira is equally strong as Sofia.

Here you have a highly successful professional woman begging for her husband's affection. She knows that their marriage is over but refuses to give up.

Unlike Aparicio’s character Cleo who's learned to internalized her, pain De Tavira gives raw emotion. From chasing after her husband to hysterically crying, Marina doesn't hold back.

The contrast of these two women is what binds them. In the end, they both are learning that men don't define their value. Their strength comes from within.

Alfonso dedication towards creating something so loving is shown not only in these two women's performance but displayed in the cinematography. He accurately captures the hustle and buzz of the big city alongside the political turmoil taking place in Mexico City during the seventies. It's in the description of local delicacy of a torta to the regional language of Mixtec spoken between Cleo and Adela. All the above add to the beauty of this cinematic masterpiece.

There's been a lot of talk about Oscar nominations, and often those terms get tossed around as marketing tools. In Roma's case, it's accurate. How fitting that during this time as we are struggling with our neighbors to the south that they honor us with such a masterpiece.

Diversity- 9 the fact that they spoke Mixtec and that he cast actors from that region show his dedication to authenticity.

Scale- This movie is one of the best films of the year, and I give it a nine for acting and cinematography.

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Review of The Front Runner

by Kathia Woods

“The Frontrunner" is the story of former Presidential Candidate Senator Gary Hart. On paper, he was everything this country needed. Young, talented, smart and charismatic.

He failed to understand one thing when you run for office your whole life is on display. You can be the most qualified person for the job however that doesn't protect you from having your entire life dissected.

Jason Reitman uses that inability to balance qualification as well privacy invasion to tell the story.

The viewer has to understand that we lived in a different America in 1988. It was pre-internet, and we only saw or heard about our candidate's private life what they chose to expose.

Gary Hart grew of age in that type of politics. Your record is what you ran on, your family was off the record and what you did in the dark remained there.

Unfortunately, that naive approach is what derailed his campaign.

Hugh Jackman as Hart is not a natural fit. He is talented, but this portrayal seems awkward. Several things contributed to the imbalance.

Jackman is a tall handsome man and debonair.

Hart was appealing but wouldn't think of him as handsome. This portrayal paints Hart as a brilliant man was either naive or in denial. Why didn't he just come clean? Was his need for privacy more important than becoming President are the questions that never get answered?

Then there is Donna Rice. Her voice was completely missing in this movie.

There are several moments in this movie where her character makes attempts to demonstrate that she's not a homewrecker or bimbo. What drew her to Hart? Did she not understand the ramifications of getting involved with Hart especially during a Presidential campaign year? Sara Paxton who is portraying Donna Rice received little to interpret. She was simply blond.

The performances worth mentioning in this movie come from the supporting cast Vera Farming is strong as Lee Hart. She's not some wilting flower but a woman that knows her position and puts Hart on notice. Where Jackman I say was boring, she brought some much-needed energy to the movie especially in their scenes together.

J.K.Simmons was brilliant as Bill Dixon. This man can't give a bad performance. Bill Burr, the comedian, showed that he is very capable of playing a serious character. Newcomer Mamoudou Athie as A.J. Parker is enthralling. He is the only thing in this movie that gives an insight into what so many of us were feeling. Do you sacrifice love for the country for a byline? The struggle to remove a capable candidate in the name of journalism. He is the only one that tackles that conversation.

The other character that gives us the context in this movie is Irene Kelly played by Molly Ephraim. Here is a young woman trying to make her mark in a man's world. The sad part is that she had to sacrifice another woman to gain a stronghold.

These are the parts of the movie that work and that needed more screen time. I wish Reitman would have explored more off believing in an idea of a candidate and then discovering that he's not the man you deemed him to be. Also was there no one on his staff telling him to fight for the presidency.

It's been thirty years since Hart ran for President and yet we are no closer to answers on why this man refused to acknowledge that he screwed up. Maybe that is the point of this movie that we will never know however it also hinders this movie because we get everything but answers.

Diversity- I give this movie a seven. Donna Rice is still a mystery thirty years later. Mamoudou Athie on the other hand shines.

Scale- This movie gets a 7. Jackman as Hart was not a good fit. We are still not wiser thirty years later.

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And Breathe Normally

by Kathia Woods

"And Breathe Normally" is an Icelandic drama film directed by Isold Uggadottir.

It's the story of two women who intersect at a checkpoint. Their checkpoint meeting forever changes their lives.

There are lots to unpack in this movie. It's stunningly shot, and the acting is compelling.

It also tackles a global conversation on immigration as well as the persecution of members of the LGBTQ community.

The heart of the story centers on two women: one who is trying to regain her life and the other who is fighting for survival.

Kristin Pora Haraldsdottir portrays Lara, a young woman who is struggling to regain her life. She gets an opportunity to move forward when she joins the police academy. The downside is that she is evicted from her apartment with her young son.

This job opportunity intersects her with Adija, played by Babetida Sadjo.

The women give strong, compelling performances; however Kristin is the only one allowed to go through a full range of emotion. We get an opportunity to understand her journey, even when she continues to make the wrong choices, while Babetida doesn't[AB1] get to demonstrate any rage of emotion.

We must understand intent here to see why such an imbalance exists and to know why Adija doesn't get to have a full sense of presence.

This movie was written and directed by a white woman, who most likely entered this work with good intentions. However, what is missing is Adija as a whole person.

There is a false narrative going on the world when it comes to black people's pain and how we process trauma.

There is this perception that we are so used to experiencing trauma at the hands of whites that we automatically go into forgiveness mode. We travel from pain to forgiveness in a matter of minutes. This narrative is false and unrealistic.

Compartmentalizing isn't the same as forgiveness, which was what Adija was doing. Also, not once during this movie does Lara ask Adija about her journey, nor does she ask for forgiveness. Why are black women always portrayed to be allies of white women? Yes, we are strong and loving, but we are humans. As humans we experience pain. Pain that includes anger, or dare I say rage. None of this was present in this movie. Instead of being a fully-fledged person, Adija is emotionally neutered.

Lara’s son was acted well by Patrik Nokki Petursson, and he was more aware of Adija’s pain than Lara. The idea that a child is more knowledgeable than an adult is interesting. Here is an opportunity for Lara to show that actions have consequences.

The other challenge in this movie is the fact that the film made you assume a lot and the pace at times was too slow.

In the end, it’s a beautifully shot movie that failed to understand one of its main characters. We needed more context.

Babetida doesn’t what? Make the wrong choices or go through a range of emotions?

Diversity- I give this movie a six for diversity. Kudos to casting a woman of color but the downside is that she was not allowed to be a complete person.

Scale- I give this movie a six and a half. It's beautifully shot, but the filmmaker left many gaps, and the pace was to slow at times.

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Review of This One’s For The Ladies

by Kathia Woods

Many stigmas are attached to exotic male dancers, especially black ones. Prostitution, gay, weak, are some of the monikers related to this profession. "This One for The Ladies" is a documentary highlighting the camaraderie among black male exotic dancers and their fans. On paper, this movie can come across as an extended episode of Real Sex, but it shows a group of people who have a built a sense of community under the of umbrella of erotica.

We are introduced to the various dancers, but most importantly, to the women that facilitate their profession.

Unlike female exotic dancers, the men must perform in informal spaces. There aren't drink specials or a professional DJ, but the women don't care. They come to escape and have fun.

This film introduces us to dancers such as Satan, Twins Tyga and Raw Dog, and Dom Blaze.

The scene stealers in this movie are the women who support the dancers. Yes, there is the obvious physical attraction, but, it is a family affair.

I like that we get to see that this isn't some cheap tawdry affair, but it’s about folks that come from the bottom of the bottom connecting. The men are comfortable in their sexuality; however, we learn through the confessionals that for many of them, it was a way out. An escape from the all too common route of crime and jail.

I also liked that the women are three-dimensional beings. We see that they have lives and relationships. They understand that it’s escapism.

We see that the common denominator is the hardship of growing up in the hood. They all have experienced some form of sadness.

It's easy to view this movie as being about desperation. You look at these women, and they aren't poster child attractive. The men are sexy. There is plenty of room to jump to assumptions; but this is far from the truth.

Tyga and Raw Dog purchased a house for their parents and overcame their mother's addiction challenges. Satan's moniker screams intimidation but, out of character, he is a charming guy who understands that this profession enabled him to avoid becoming a statistic.

All the above are the good takeaways from this film. One may come for the salaciousness but, will stay for the story.

The lesson ultimately is that one should never judge a book by its cover, and we all need a little escapism.

An escape from the all too common route of crime and jail?

Diversity - it's a movie about black male exotic dancers and their fan base. So, its focus is that community and they get to speak for themselves.

Scale-this movie receives a strong 8. It could have gone the obvious route filled with sex but it chooses to give us a personal subjective, and that is always better.

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Review of Boy Erased

by Kathia Woods

Diversity- I give it a"Boy Erased" is the latest offering by director/producer/actor Joel Edgerton. It's a subject matter that is at the heart and center of American Politics. It seems odd that in 2018 a movie about conversion therapy seems so timely, but it is. We currently have a Vice-President who believes that homosexuality is a choice;, a choice that can be corrected by prayer.

Mr. and Mrs. Conley were of that same mind. They were Fundamentalists who centered their whole existence around God and church. Boy Erased is the true story of Garrard Conley coming to terms with being gay.

Lucas Hedges plays the onscreen Jared Conley. He is poignant and touching in this movie, and y. You feel the internal struggle that Jarrared is having. His whole life is centered on the church and everything he knows is focused on God. Several moments make you gasp during the movie. You are heartbroken at how Jared is introduced into his sexuality.

Nicole Kidman as Nancy Eamons is mesmerizing. She conveys beautifully the struggle of prioritizing obedience to God, her husband or protecting her son. You want Nancy to speak up. You need her to advocate for Jared .

It's been a while minute since Russell Crowe has been impressive in a movie, but we care about his character Marshall Eamons. We want this man to choose his son, regardless of what God is telling him. We feel his inner conflict because Crowe dares to show it to us. We need him to muster his courage, not to hide behind the bible.

The supportive cast is equally important in this story.

Xavier Dolan asas Jon who feels that no physical contact and complete immersion is the answer, and finally Troye Sivan as Gary, both understand that there is no clear path to acceptance. All of them deep down know that they are gay, but they are just merely trying to survive.

A surprise appearance by Flea, the bassist from the "Red Hot Chilli Peppers" as Brandon further adds to the eclectic journey of "Boy Erased."

The overall lesson here is that we have to make tough choices. Sometimes those choices conflict with what we deem to be moral choices and our faith in God. Those choices can leave us at odds, even with our spouse. The teaching here is that we have a stronger obligation to stand with our loved ones.

"Boy Erased" does that. A mother stands with her son, giving him the courage to stand in his truth. That's the message one takes away from this. Joel Edgerton said at the Philadelphia Film Festival that in the end, they were all trying to do what they thought was best, and he's right.

It's also what Jared said, "Dad you never asked me if I was OK."

Sometimes our loved ones’ safety must come ahead off our faith.

Diversity: It gives us not one clear-cut version of gay and how one accepts their sexuality. This movie was even willing to provide us with a dark LGBTQ character.

Scale- This movie gets a 7.5 for the acting. We never got to see how a very traumatic event affected Jared. It was just merely brushed off.

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