Sorry to Bother You (2018) starring Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, & Danny Glover

NOTE: This post contains MILD SPOILERS for the film (now playing in select theaters).

If you liked Get Out (where Lakeith Stanfield had a small, yet crucial role), then I highly recommend this movie. If you love to laugh (yet don’t want to shut off your brain), check it out. My friend and I got tickets to an early screening w/ Q&A by director Boots Riley and actor Danny Glover (who was a surprise guest; he was in DC for an education conference). As w/ Blindspotting (currently in theaters), Sorry to Bother You was filmed in the quickly gentrifying city of Oakland, CA. While Blindspotting is a realistic slice of life film, Sorry (written/directed by first timer Riley) is a social satire w/ fantasy/sci-fi elements. That’s NOT something you see everyday! 

Cassius Green (Stanfield) is a broke 20-ish man in need of a job to pay rent on his uncle’s (Terry Crews) garage-turned-apt he shares w/ long-time girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson from Dear White People), a struggling artist who hold up signs (her day job). After some bluffing, he lands a job at a telemarketing firm where employees get paid on commission. An older co-worker, Langston (veteran actor Danny Glover; he grew up w/ Riley’s father), advises him to “use his white voice” in order to land more sales. Though skeptical, Cash gives it a try- it works! He gets Detroit and his best friend- Sal (Jermaine Fowler)- jobs as telemarketers. Along w/ new friend/co-worker, Squeeze (Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead), they plan to organize fellow employees, so everyone can get paid a fair wage w/ health benefits. Cash gets promoted to “power caller” (upstairs)- that’s when his problems really begin. 

It dabbles in commentary on media, society, race and working-class issues-so many poignant messages, some more successfully delivered than others.

I walked into this movie at an advance screening expecting something unique, but nothing could have prepared me for the sheer brilliance of this satirical masterwork. Hilarious from beginning to end while also subversive…

The film brings an interesting and unique take on the world minorities live as they are forced within a socioeconomic ladder. Cassius Green, played by Keith Stanfield, is faced with selling out and abandoning his friends. Through this the audience sees he is drastically changed as his success transforms him to the very thing he resented.

This movie is strange and extremely fast paced. The directing style is unlike any movie I have ever seen, and it moves just fast enough to keep you on your toes while not moving too fast for you to comprehend. There are so many themes within this movie, and all of them are shown within either a comedic context, a darker context, or both. All in all this is a movie about capitalism and how companies are driven to make money rather than care about the well-being of their workers. This is shown through more extreme absurdist examples as the movie goes on… 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Blindspotting (2018) starring Daveed Diggs

Daveed Diggs was one of the actors in the ensemble of Hamilton; he played BOTH the Frenchman Marquis de Lafayette and founding father Thomas Jefferson. He also recently played Jonah Johnson, the younger brother of Rainbow on the ABC family comedy Black-ish. With this funny, smart, and VERY thoughtful indie film, he carves out a new space for himself-  leading man (as well as writer, poet and shrewd social commentator). Diggs (who is biracial and raised Jewish) is tall, muscular, w/ large expressive eyes- assets to ANY male actor. However, unlike the men of typical Summer action films, he’s NOT afraid to show (messy) emotions. 

Blindspotting, co-written by Diggs and his long-time friend, Rafael Casal (a white Hispanic poet), is about working-class best friends in Oakland, CA. Urban life has rarely been shown like this; it has layers and depth that reflect reality. Diggs is Collin, a young-ish black man working as a mover, living in a halfway house, and waiting for his probation period to end. He has ONLY three days to go when the film starts; he is cautiously hopeful, BUT also somewhat anxious/nervous about what lies ahead. Casal is Miles, Collin’s mouthy/hot-headed white best friend/co-worker who is known for getting into trouble. Collin and Miles have always had each other’s backs, or so it seems; we learn more as the story goes on. Miles (who can be charming) lives w/ his long-time girlfriend- Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones)- and their biracial/pre-school age son, Sean. Ashley desperately wants to send Sean to a better school, BUT she needs a BIT more money each month. Miles, w/ Collin in town, sets out to work his hustle (being quite good w/ words). 

Police (and the quickly gentrifying community) do NOT see Miles and Collin in the same way. Though Miles is deeply loyal to his Oakland roots (w/ MANY tattoos as proof), he’s still a white man. In one of the early scenes, Miles finds a gun in a friend’s car and plays w/ it, laughing and joking. Collin (who is more of a thinker/quieter than Miles) can’t believe Miles’ nonchalant attitude. While driving the moving van home late one night, Collin witnesses a shooting. This event alters his life in ways that he never expected, BUT he has to stay out of trouble, and NOT give into anger. Miles doesn’t make things easy, though. Collin’s wise mother and his concerned ex-girlfriend/psychology student Val (Janine Gavankar- hailing from a prominent Indian film family) tell him to distance himself from his friend. Tensions brim w/in the community and between the two men, who come to realize that there are limits to even the tightest bonds.  Watch the trailer below! 

Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal’s 10-Year Journey to Get Sundance Opener ‘Blindspotting’ to Big Screen

Ocean’s 8 (2018) starring Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, & Anne Hathaway

NOTE: This post contains MILD SPOILERS for the film (now playing in theaters).

What seems like a fun, simple heist movie (female reboot of Ocean’s franchise), has layers (when you dig deeper). The dialogue and slow-ish directing style leaves much to be desired, BUT the actors pull off a LOT w/ the strength of their personalities, FAB fashion, confidence, and (off course) charisma. These women (mostly household names) are NOT afraid to poke fun at themselves. At one point, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) says: “A he gets noticed. A she is invisible. We want to be invisible.” Oooh, if that’s NOT a direct jab at major Hollywood film studios, I don’t know what is!

I haven’t seen Bullock (who plays recent parolee/younger sis of Danny) in a while; she’s had some hits (and quite a few misses) in her career. (Fun fact: He mom was an opera singer from Germany; she speaks some German at pivotal points in the film.) Cate Blanchett (Lou) is great, as usual; her platinum bob and menswear-inspired suits look V cool. I much prefer to see Blanchett in this type of strong/independent woman role, as opposed to Blue Jasmine (saw recently on Netflix w/ my mom). Her performance is compelling in that (rather lackluster) film, BUT I just like her kicking ass! There is an enigmatic nature to the relationship between Debbie and Lou.

Anne Hathaway (who steals the show) takes on the self-obsessed Hollywood star archetype. I think even Hathaway’s haters will have to take note of this performance! She is more of an earnest theater geek/English major, a far cry from Daphne Kluger, who swings from confident to insecure in the blink of an eye. Dahne’s designer for the Met Gala is Rose Weil (Helena Bonham-Carter), a broke Irishwoman near the end of her rope (until she meets Debbie and Lou). Bonham-Carter also makes fun of herself; take note the of the quirky touches (incl. hair, gloves, Victorian-inspired outfits). It’s great to see her (on the big screen) after MANY years. 

My friends and I were excited to see Mindy Kaling (now a mom- WOW); I wanted to know a BIT more re: her diamond-expert character, Amita. Awkwafina, a young Chinese-American actress from Queens, gets laughs for her deadpan performance of Constance (a skateboarding street hustler). Catch her later this Summer on Crazy Rich Asians. And who can forget Nine Ball, a young hacker played by Rihanna!? She just has the kind of screen presence that can’t be faked, even covered in baggy ponchos and working over a laptop. Sarah Paulson is the bored suburban mom, Tammy; she should’ve gotten more to do. 

Richard Armitage fans (like myself) will be V happy to see the Brit get more exposure; he plays Claude Becker (art dealer/con man). He recently tweeted that he got the role last-minute. Another Brit I’m also fan of (Damian Lewis- starring in Showtime’s Billions) had to drop out. Claude is Daphne’s date for the Gala; he has little interest in her (as a person), BUT seems to love being in proximity to celebs. (There are MANY celeb cameos in this film- FYI.) There are little moves and expressions to show Daphne that he cares, BUT this is all a performance. Richard does a great job in his (limited) role; he gets really great outfits, too. 

Sidenote: If you want to know more re: the Met Gala, check out the doc that the characters watch- The First Monday in May (Netflix). 

Spoiler-free Reviews: Black Panther & A Quiet Place

Black Panther

I was a BIT late to see this film (went about two weeks ago), BUT (luckily) was NOT spoiled on everything. Whew, what a relief- some twists and relationships weren’t discussed in my movie podcasts!  Fans of This is Us and Get Out will get pleasant surprises. I really enjoyed this comic book movie (rare for me); the chemistry between the actors was great. I’d never seen much of the actor who played Tchalla (Chadwick Boseman) who’s almost 40 (WOW)! Michael B. Jordan is his baddie foil (yet NOT an unsympathetic character). My friend esp. liked Letitia Wright (who is a Brit) who played Shuri, Tchalla’s spunky scientist sister.  How rare is it to see a young black woman as a scientist in a mainstream Hollywood film! There are other great female supporting characters: Tchalla’s former gf, Nakia (Lupita N’yongo), his mother Ramonda (the timeless/regal Angela Bassett), and captain of the royal guard- Okoye (Danai Gurira, also a celebrated playwright). Everyone is in incredible shape; even Martin Freeman looks better (trimmer and w/ a stylish haircut). Check this movie for yourself ASAP!

A Quiet Place

Whoa, who knew John Krasinski (most known for The Office) would be such a good director! He takes on the lead also in this sci-fi/thriller style movie (which my friend though was genre-defying). Krasinski’s real-life wife, Emily Blunt (a Brit who I always enjoy watching), plays his wife here. They have a family (a teen daughter and two younger sons) and live in a rural, perhaps post-apocalyptic, world. The key to their survival- being as quiet as they can be while going on about their daily lives. Why is this so crucial? You must see the film to find out! It’s NOT going to be everyone’s cup of tea, BUT I found it quite compelling. It has received many positive reviews and the box office results are (unexpectedly) good. One media critic described this movie by saying: “It’s what I would’ve expected if M. Night Shamylan hadn’t gone downhill.” 

 

 

Phantom Thread (2017) starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Vicky Kreips, & Lesley Manville

WARNING: This review contains SPOILERS for the film.

Set in the glamour of 1950s post-war London, renowned dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, debutants, and dames with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and companionship, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover. Once controlled and planned, he finds his carefully tailored life disrupted by love. -Synopsis from Focus Features

Arguably the strongest part of the film, the score possesses Paul Thomas Anderson’s signature strange aura that is found in several of his other films. While most movies nowadays would use music to heighten drama, he rejects the common norm; valuing music to form an atmosphere.

The acting is very strong, as the film’s performances can feel slightly subdued and low-key before creeping up on the viewer to create a sharp but simple impact. The movie’s script is a delight, managing to pull of a genuine hat-trick by feeling both simple and complex at the same time. 

Ms. Krieps goes toe-to-toe with Daniel Day-Lewis in their scenes. Her blushy cheeks and determined eye of observation bely an inner strength that isn’t necessarily obvious at first glance. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Director Paul Thomas (P.T.) Anderson got the initial idea for this film while he was sick in bed one day. His wife, actress Maya Rudolph, was tending to him and gave him a look that made him realize that she had NOT looked at him with such tenderness and love in a long time. P.T. Anderson wrote the script in collaboration with Daniel Day-Lewis (DDL). The actor suggested the name of his character be Reynolds Woodcock as a joke, BUT Anderson found that hilarious and kept it. To prep for his role, DDL (renown as a method actor) watched footage of ’40s and ’50s fashion shows, studied famous designers, consulted with the curator of fashion and textiles (Victoria and Albert Museum), and apprenticed under Marc Happel (head of the costume department at the NYC Ballet). DDL also learned how to sew. He said that this would be his final film. 

When I was a boy, I started to hide things in the lining of the garments. Things only I knew were there. Secrets. -Reynolds explains to Alma on their first date

Fastidious fashion designer, Reynolds Woodcock (DDL) meets waitress Alma (Vicky Kreips- an actress who comes from Luxembourg) when he stops for breakfast at a little restaurant on the way to his country house. He orders a huge breakfast; it’s obvious that they’re interested in each other. After dinner at a fancy restaurant, Reynolds takes Alma to his house where he puts her on a pedestal (literally) and begins to measure her for a dress. She is surprised, yet intrigued. 

I cannot start my day with a confrontation. I simply have no time for confrontations. -Reynolds explains to Alma over breakfast 

The tea is going out. The interruption is staying right here with me. -Reynolds complains to Alma when she comes to his workroom to serve him tea.

In no time, Alma is living in Reynolds’ London house; she has her own room (next door to his). It turns out that Reynolds and his business partner/sister, Cyril (Lesley Manville- a British character actress), are a package deal. It’s NOT an ideal situation for Alma, though she gets used to this unique life. The domestic space is also a business, so there are people around most of the time (servants, seamstresses, etc.) Alma is fitted for fine dresses, serves as a model, and meets famous clients of the House of Woodcock. However, she grows dissatisfied w/ her (undefined) role in Reynolds’ life. He puts his work first and doesn’t apologize for it; she wants him to be nicer (instead of critical and demanding). Alma wants to get married; Reynolds thinks of himself as “a confirmed bachelor.” Eventually, he realizes Alma is different than his past girlfriends; he loves her and needs her around. 

Some have embraced this film warmly; after all, it deals w/ compromise in romantic relationships, the everyday trials of domestic life, and challenges of being involved w/ an artist. This film has problematic elements (esp. for modern/feminist viewers), though it’s well-made and finely acted. As some critics pointed out, Alma (who is in her 30s) doesn’t really have much power in the relationship; Reynolds (older/wealthier/influential) could throw her out on the street at any time. We don’t learn where Alma comes from (she has a vague/European accent), if she has any family, or what her life was like (before she met Reynolds). 

Does Alma take back some of the power in their relationship? Well, she decides to use the poison mushrooms to slow Reynolds down. He becomes sick temporarily, yet also emotionally vulnerable. She admits that she likes this side of him. The second time, Reynolds consents to being poisoned, eating the omelet she serves w/ great relish. Hmmm… NOT exactly the kind of ending you’d expect from the typical period drama/romance!