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Native Sun

by Kathia Woods

Richard Wright wrote this novel in 1940. The American Negro was still grappling with Jim Crowe and fighting for freedom. Black Americans were migrating to the inner city for work but found themselves still living in poverty and facing racism.

Native Son the movie (2019) continues this conversation but in a modern-day setting.

Rashid Johnson chose this compelling novel for his directorial debut. He along with Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Parks updated the screenplay for today's setting.

The opening scene introduces us to a Bigger aka Big. He is still struggling with how America treats and views black men. On the flip side, we get to see a Bigger that embraces his individuality. He's a punk kid. It's apparent in his choice of clothing. Long trench coach with detailed paintings, 1950's style leather jacket, skull rings, and green hair. He equally loves Bad Brains and Beethoven. The clothing informs the world he's not interested in conforming. He's a rebel.

Big receives a job offer. The job pays well, but it would mean entering the white world. This white world is the Daulton's.

The Daulton's daughter Mary further complicates things.

She's an idealist and uses Bigger to justify her ideals. She sees him as an entryway to a world her and her friends discuss but witnessed. She like Bigger wants the world to see her as this activist instead of a spoiled rich brat. Boyfriend Jan is the connect. An excellent example of this is it in the scene where Bigger drops her off at socialist movement meeting. Mary uses Big to solidify her place with the group. Here is this negro boy that I'm presenting to you that deals with all the stuff we debate.

As stated Big is not a joiner, he's a rebel. He looks at Mary and their friends as kids that love to talk about the "struggle" but could never endure it. They amuse him.

Ashton Sanders is dynamic as Bigger. He gives us a new version of this complex character. It's in the details in this performance. Its little things like how he puts on and takes off his glasses. The way he walks. It's more of a stroll than an actual walk. It's a silent rage.

Kiki Layne fresh of her movie debut with" Beale Street" plays Bessie. Kiki gives another strong performance. She's tough and soft at the same time. We ache for her when she recognizes what Big did and what stirs inside of him. The man that she loves has evil in him.

Sanaa Lathan as Trudy was underused. I understand that Big is the center point of the movie, but I wanted to know how she as a mother was dealing with her son's choice. Here was an opportunity for us the audience to have context.

The issue with Native Son is, in its quest to adapt to current times it loses focus. Big is not a hero and dare I say a decent person. He's manipulative and calculating. The other issue is the audience has to make assumptions. We don't get to delve into his mother's feelings. She doesn't call or text to ask if he's ok or the dreaded question did he do it? All questions any mother would ask. Big makes calculated choices not because of fear but out of selfishness. I understand that as Black people we don't always feel comfortable painting black men as evil, but we can't ask for artistic freedom and then worry about political correctness. That's an oxymoron. Sometimes we have to commit to honesty rather than being liked. In this case, accept his darkness not defend it; hence we have great performances but not a great film

This Native Son is going to stir conversations. Conversations that are going to make most uncomfortable. Lovers of the book may not like the changes, but they are understandable because the culture has shifted. Black moviegoers want authenticity. The underlying issues still exist. We still have "Biggers" in 2019, and that may be the saddest takeaway of all.

Scale- this movie gets an eight for performances.

Diversity- This movie receives a ten because this movie has a black cast, director and screenwriters.

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The Last Black Man In SanFrancisco

by Kathia Woods

Family, Legacy, a House, friendship and the city by the bay are some of the underlying themes of "The Last Black Man in San Francisco." Based on the true story of Jimmie Fails. It's a resonating story of how a house becomes the centerpiece of survival while highlighting a unique friendship.

The movie opens with Jimmie and Montgomery waiting on the bus. Every free moment they have evolves around "The House."

The House is a home that was allegedly built by Jimmie's Grandfather and was the last home Jimmie had before having to endure homelessness and group homes.

Director Joe Talbot is a fifth-generation San Franciscan. It shows in every frame of this movie — the tight shots of Jimmie and Montgomery Skateboarding through San Francisco are visually pleasing while intersecting comedic characters. It's San Francisco from a local's point of view.

Jimmie Fails makes a stunning debut as himself. Although he's reliving his life, there's a full-fledged character on the screen. We are rooting for Jimmie as he works through every obstacle to regain ownership of his family legacy.

My favorite character in this movie was Montgomery. Montgomery is eccentric. Jonathan Majors turns in a fantastic performance. He attacks this role with every fiber of his being, and it shows. Montgomery is comfortable with who he is unlike Jimmie.

The onscreen chemistry between the two characters is also another reason why this movie works. It's evident in the opening scene when they are waiting for the bus. The observations they share are fluid and natural.

Tichina Arnold portrays Jimmie's aunt, Wanda. Arnold brings her famous wit to this role.

Veteran Actor Danny Glover, in my opinion, has the best twenty minutes of screen time as Grandpa that we've seen him deliver in ages. He's Montgomery's cheerleader and never makes his grandson feel odd for his eccentricity.

Another notable mention goes to Mike Epps as Bobby, the homeless OG. Epps continues his streak of playing smaller but strong parts in good movies.

Everything works in the movie. The dialogue written by Jimmie Fails, Rob Richert, and Joe Talbot is robust. The writers tackle many tough topics.

Topics such as gentrification, effects of drug abuse, inner city violence but at heart, and the focus always remain with Jimmie and Montgomery. Their unwavering love and support towards one another are what drives this fantastic movie.

Another positive is that their relationship is genuine. We don't often get to see two black men loving, and fighting for each other.

Kudos to A24 for continuing to support movies that touch the soul.

I highly recommend this movie and pray that it receives the proper marketing and rollout. The performances deserve to touch a bigger audience.

Diversity - it gets a ten for the depiction of the friendship between Montgomery and Jimmie.

Scale- it receives an eight and a half. Dialogue matter and the performances are fantastic.

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Paradise Hills

written by Kathia Woods

Paradise Hills is a fantasy postcard brought to you via costume designer first-time director Alice Waddington.

“Paradise Hills” is an island that specializes in reforming young women. These young women aren’t your average young women but privileged young women. Some of the affliction they suffer from are not agreeing to marry the right man, not living up to one’s mother beauty standards, and the audacity to make original music.

Emma Stone leads this band of misfits as they work their way through various workshops that include exercise, beauty regiments, and intense therapy. Uma portrayed by Emma Roberts is suspicious of everything.

Roberts has amassed a career portraying the indie darling. She has a strong following, and perhaps this inspired by Alice Waddington to cast her. The 24-million-dollar question, in turn, is what convinced Roberts to accept a role in such a mess of a script.

Two things are going in with this movie intent and delivery. The plan was to create a movie about women empowerment; however, that's not what's on the screen

The film is a mess. The message is unclear and the performances underwhelming. Milla Jovovich as the Duchess is lackluster. She does not have the emotional range to play such a role, however, in her defense, the script wasn't very inspiring. Danielle MacDonald is one of the positives of this movie. Fresh of her turn in “Birdbox” she manages to deliver some charm and humor. Eliza Gonzalez is the tortured singer who isn’t allowed to sing her songs. I’m still trying to determine if she is the bad girl or big sister to the bunch. Awkwafina is the most underused actor in this movie. She has no purpose.

The message the director, as well as the cast, kept emphasizing was women empowerment. These women were supposed to represent resistance however none of that was present in the movie. As a woman, I didn’t feel empowered I felt tortured for being subjected to watch this film that lacks direction.

The one positive about this film is the costuming. The white dresses the girls are made to wear are stylish and well-tailored. The location of the film is also beautiful.

In the end, intention did not meet the delivery, and great costumes don’t translate to a good movie.

Diversity- A woman/Latina directed this movie, and the leads were women.

Scale- I give this movie a four for the costumes and scenery.

 

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Fast Horse

written by Kathia Woods

Fast Hose is a movie made about Native American Horse racing. We had the pleasure to sit down with the director Alexandra Lazarowich at Sundance. She herself is Native more specifically Cree.

The film recently won the Special Jury Award for directing at Sundance

Below you will find a description of the award winning film as well as the link for your viewing pleasure

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FAST HORSE is an intimate verité visit to a fascinating and little-known world: the dangerous and high-stakes game of Indian Relay. In Blackfoot country, they call the Indian Relay “North America’s original extreme sport.” Jockeys bareback gallop their horses around a track, jumping off one and on to another in a chaotic melee of horses and handlers at “the exchange”. Accidents happen. Just finishing a race demands masterful skill. And courage.

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horseman Allison RedCrow dreams of bringing a team to the “greatest outdoor show on Earth” – the Calgary Stampede. This is how he and his people can show the world that their unparalleled skill on horseback remains intact.

Lazarowich's cameras follow Allison and his new jockey, Cody BigTobacco, over the course of a year, as they assemble a team of horses, train them for the relay race, and finally make their debut at the Calgary Stampede. Their team, Old Sun, will face the best riders in the Confederacy, many of them veteran competitors from Montana.

FAST HORSE puts the audience on the back of a galloping horse, an exhilarating POV experience that captures the thrill and risk of this white-knuckle sport. But the film also captures in observational style the touching bond Cody and Allison have with their horses. We witness with the committed effort these majestic animals demand from their riders and handlers. We see the horses accept their role, and learn the complex movements of the race. And through this process, we come to understand and respect the skills of horsemanship still intact and passed down.

With a heart-pumping climax, we experience the final race at the Calgary Stampede from Cody’s own perspective. And just as promised, we learn just how unpredictable and dangerous the Indian Relay can be.

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Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile

written by Kathia Woods

Recently there has been a resurgence in the fascination of serial killer Ted Bundy. Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile joins the group of new movies looking to cast a light on this disturbed individual.

Zac Efron takes a turn at portraying this calculating character. Wicked unlike previous movies attempts to give us insight into Ted the person. It focuses more on his relationship with Liz Kloepfer and how his killing spree influenced her.

Gone are the gory depictions of his killings replaced by the torturous unraveling of Klopefer persona upon realizing that the man she loves is a serial killer.

The killing is a backdrop however the focus is on their relationship. The audience gets a front-row seat to Liz’s mental breakdown.

This may be the issue with this movie while focusing on Liz and Ted relationship you lose sight of the fact that this man violently killed over 30 women. You are entranced by his good looks and charisma. You get to see a loving boyfriend however one can never forget that this man killing spree crossed five states and left many parents still yearning for their missing daughters.

The missing link is the effect that his terror had on the women. The viewer doesn’t get to see the result of his evilness. It’s as if the filmmakers are trying to sell him as a tortured soul that wanted to do right but couldn’t.

Zac Efron turns in his most mature performance. He embodies all of Ted’s characteristics. This is evident in the scene where he steps of the elevator and is indicted in Florida.

The unsung hero of this movie is Lily Collins as Bundy’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Kloepfer. Her performance is mesmerizing. We understand her conflict and self-doubt.

The acting in this movie is good, but the story is incomplete. In the end, if you're going to honor the victims, you must show the effects of such heinous crimes and reveal Bundy as the demon that he was.

Scale- I give this movie a six because it needed to tell a more complete picture.

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Untouchable

written by Kathia Woods

Havey Weinstein was The Hollywood mogul. He was Mr. Hollywood. A throwback to an older studio system.

He knew how to pick out starlets, make money and get his film awards.

In 2019 Rowan Farrow stopped all this by revealing his dirty little secret. Weinstein was an alleged Predator more specifically a sexual assaulter.

Untouchable focuses on some of the victims, his background and former employees. They give insight to this horrific man.

The first thing one notices is that there are more women in this film than men. By this, I don't just mean accusers. Former employees that confronted Weinstein or quit working at Miramax once they got wind of his behavior.

Do we learn anything new in this documentary? No

What we do learn is how folks are willing to excuse anything for money, access, and success.

The most eye-opening revelation of this documentary is that his first noted assault goes back to the seventies. So allegedly he's terrorized women for four decades.

This documentary does reveal the intricate network he created to keep his secret. The means that he undertook are mindboggling. The filmmakers were able to get a member of the security forces to produce contracts and dossiers Weinstein procured on his enemies. One example of such a document was on the actress Rosanna Arquette. She refused Weinstein's advances and hence her acting career stalled. Ms. Arquette still doesn't have an agent due to Weinstein's smear campaign.

While the above revelation helped connect the dots What was missing from this movie was accountability.

The filmmaker Ursula Macfarlane interviewed victims, employees and the brave reporters that wrote the expose. This film needed executives, actors, etc . who were aware of Weinstein's aggression.

Why didn't Ben Affleck appear on camera to explain his association with Weinstein? An association that continued after his then-girlfriend Gwyneth Paltrow informed him of her incident.

This documentary didn't give us anything new. We needed the collaborators that enabled this monster.

The employees that heard the whispers but didn't want to give up their access to private jets while these women had their lives altered.

The other issue with this documentary is that some of the women came across as naive.

Why would a young woman go up to a married man's room? No, just once but twice as was depicted? Many unfortunately will interpret that as consent.

We needed a timeline and the names/faces of those that looked the other way.

Harvey is the monster but all those that benefited from the suffering of others were the enablers, and that's what's missing from this movie. The victims deserve ownership, but no one dared to face the cameras and give it.

Scale- I give this movie a six because it needed more accountability.

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Wu-Tang of Mics and Men

by Kathia Woods

There are some outstanding bio series about Hip-Hop artist/movements, and Showtime is adding to the dialogue with Mics and Men. This series is about the Men of Wutang. The great thing about his series is that the nine members of Wu-Tang are the ones telling the story. We get to hear how they met, and RZA came up with the plan to ensure that the group's interest didn't hinder them as individual artists.

The series directed by Sacha Jenkins premiered Parts 1 and 2 at Sundance. The whole series will broadcast on Showtime in the spring. The series is a co-production between Mass Appeal, Wu-Tang Clan, Show Time and Endeavor content.

We caught up with some of the members of Wu-tang, director Sach Jenkins and some of the producers at Sundance before the premiere.

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