Tag Archives: If Beale Street Could Talk

The Old Guard

17 Jul

The Old Guard’: Superheroes, after a fashion, who don’t quite pull off a mission to franchise

By Tom Meek

A fairly one-note pseudo-superhero flick, “The Old Guard” gets much of its occasional heartbeat from its irrepressible star, Charlize Theron, and some of the cast surrounding her. There’s no Lycra, X-ray eyes or bulging muscles here, just a quartet of immortals who form something of a special ops force that’s been doing missions together across the centuries. Two of the four (Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli) fought against each other during the Crusades, though they’re an item in contemporary times.

When asked, “Are you good guys or bad guys?” Theron’s Andy (Andromache of Scythia, in days of yore) responds, “It depends on the century.” In this century, what’s to know? The team’s looking for new blood, while the mad big pharma head (Harry Melling, who played Dudley Dursley in the “Harry Potter” films) wants to bottle the immortals and sell their essence on the market. Andy tracks down the newbie Nile (KiKi Layne, “If Beale Street Could Talk”) who’s just out of the military, giving her the heads up about her gifts and attempting to recruit her – which essentially comes down to a battle aboard a bouncy cargo plane. The real call to arms comes when Melling’s Merrick kidnaps those Crusade rivals turned lovers, Joe (Kenzari) and Nicky (Marinelli) and Andy turns to Nile and old ally Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts, his face etched with melancholy) to help free the lads.

Caught up in the emotionally inert mix is Chiwetel Ejiofor as CIA handler and X-factor. He was nominated for an Academy Award (“12 Years a Slave”) and Theron won one, but with the exception of them and Schoenaerts everyone in the film feels stiff, like they’re just waiting for the next smackdown to take place. Theron’s so good in all she’s done (“Long Shot,” and “Monster,” for which she won that gold statue) and looks lithe and purposeful sporting a short dark bob that accentuates her angular jaw and twinkling eyes; the fight scenes too are choreographed brilliantly – but if you want a real drink of Theron kicking ass, go with “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) or “Atomic Blonde” (2017). The film’s also a letdown because director Gina Prince-Bythewood showed such promise with a soulful debut “Love and Basketball” (2000) that plumbed the romantic relationship between two ballers over the years. Here it’s a by-the-numbers execution with few surprises. Sure it’s great to watch Theron thrown down or see one of the immortals fall out a 10-story window and, like Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, slowly pull their broken pieces together and painfully regenerate. What hurts here is that this aims to be a cornerstone of a franchise. I think I can wait another century for the next installment.

If Beale Street Could Talk

26 Dec

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’: Young and in love, but shackled by brutally cruel racial injustice

 

Image result for beale street talk movie

The love between two black men at the center of Barry Jenkins’ Academy Award-winning “Moonlight”certainly had the texture and mood of something wrested from the pages of a James Baldwin novel. It wasn’t – it was an original screenplay – but it is fitting to learn that for his follow-up Jenkins has adapted the culture-rattling author’s 1974 work, “If Beale Street Could Talk.” The title, while simple, is telling, reflective of the dangerous complacency of silence and, worse, those eager to score justice without evidence or cause other than the color of skin.

The film begins with a series of lushly jazzy romantic framings of lovers Tish (newcomer KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) – something that hasn’t really been seen on screen with such poetic resonance since Spike Lee’s great run in the late ’80s and early ’90s (“Do the Right Thing,” “Jungle Fever” and “Mo’ Better Blues”). The soulful score, imbued with melancholy by Nicholas Britell, wells up inside you as the pair’s tightly framed countenances convey deep love, but also the brimming prospect of trouble. Jenkins leverages it for his orchestration of Baldwin’s material: hope and idealism undercut by harsh reality and social injustice. 

Trouble in “Beale Street” (the reference to a throwaway in Memphis from 1916 W.C. Handy blues song, though the action takes place in 1970s Harlem) comes from all angles. Tish, 19, and Fonny, a few years older, have known each other since childhood. When they finally consummate their affection, Tish gets pregnant. The sell to Tish’s parents (Regina King and Colman Domingo, both excellent) is a bit of a challenge, but nothing compared with the fracas that ensues when Fonny’s devoutly religious – and over the top – mother (Aunjanue Ellis) swings by with sisters to learn of the news. With fire and brimstone ire, she professes Tish a temptress and not good enough for Fonny. But then again, Fonny’s not there to speak for himself; he’s in jail for a rape he did not commit.

Yes, this is where Baldwin and Jenkins take us. The palpable helplessness of a person of color snared in a rigged justice system, where getting a rap – whether you did it or not – is simply part of the process. Tish and her mother fight back hard. They get an attorney convinced of Fonny’s innocence and later there’s a harrowing sojourn to Puerto Rico to track down and confront the accuser, who has her own set of unhappy circumstances to contend with.

Throughout it all Jenkins tempers the present with delicate, carefully curated flashbacks, be it the lovestruck Fonny and Tish shopping for an apartment, often turned away because of their pigment, or Fonny catching up with old mate Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry, smoldering quietly) just out of jail himself and with volumes of wisdom to share. The film is at once intimate and universal. Fonny is the face of everyman of color, and yet he isn’t. Jennings finds the perfect balance between social critique and personal tale, and palpably so. 

In the end, however, “Beale Street” is not about vindication – if that’s the movie you’re hoping for, you’re going to be disappointed – but about the sad state of racial affairs that as penned by Baldwin remain too true today. At the heartbreaking epicenter loom star-crossed lovers kept apart by forces with cold, aloof agendas. “Beale Street” is “Romeo and Juliet” for the racially divided now.

Jenkins has done it again: “Beale Street” didn’t just make the Day’s top 10 of 2018, but won Best Picture, Best Score and Best Supporting Actress from the Boston Society of Film Critics this month. Expect more to follow.