Monday Movies ~ 11th Jan 2021

We had a break from wars this week and decided to go with action movies.

Although I’d read lukewarm reviews of the action movie Ava (2020) it had some good names attached to it, and we were up for some silliness, so decided to give it a go. It seems that all actresses have to now be an action hero at some point in their careers, Charlize Theron, Alicia Vikander, Noomi Rapace, Scarlett Johanson et al doing it for the girls, and now Jessica Chastain enters the genre as Ava. Unfortunately the lukewarm reviews hit the mark, and in spite of big names, Colin Farrell, John Malkovich, the story is hackneyed and the script clichéd.

I won’t do spoilers but the plot is nothing we haven’t seen before, a black ops operative (Chastain) has a dodgy past of drugs and alcoholism after being in the Special Forces, and the head honcho of the black ops she works for (Farrell) organises to have her killed off. The movie is about how they try, and how she foils them. In fairness, Chastain holds you to the movie, that girl can act, and she does well with the kick-assery too. Farrell and Malkovich look like they’re having fun anyway so all is not lost. There’s a family side issue involving Ava’s ex-boyfriend Michael (played by the oddly named Common) who is now dating and impregnating her sister Judy (Jess Weixler). Ava’s mother is played by Geena Davis, herself a kick~ass assassin in the far better ‘Long Kiss Goodnight’. The movie was written by Matthew Newton, who I think might have watched too many Jason Bourn movies, and directed by Tate Taylor who at least managed to make everything look good.

Fraggle Rating: Left a lot to be desired, but it was OK.

Our second movie this week was Phil’s choice from the Netflix catalogue, and he went for A Message from The King (2016) a revenge action thriller starring Chadwick Boseman. Directed by Fabrice du Welz from a screenplay by Stephen Cornwell and Oliver Butcher.

Again no spoilers but the basic plot is that Boseman playing Jacob King, travels to Los Angeles after receiving a cryptic phone message from his sister Bianca, who lives there, asking for help as she’s in trouble. When he gets there he can’t find her, and in trying to do so infiltrates a seedy cabal of underground and elite members.

Boseman is intense here, moody, mean when necessary, and employs a bicycle chain to good effect when dealing with the hoodlums he comes across. Teresa Palmer plays Kelly a care worn single mother who lives in the next cheap-motel room to King, working in a supermarket and turning tricks at the motel to make ends meet, and brings pathos and strength to what could have been a clichéd character but is elevated by Palmer’s ministrations. Luke Evans plays Paul Wentworth a well heeled dentist, with the right amount of smarminess and superiority and Alfred Molina takes the part of Mike Preston, a gay movie producer with a penchant for young boys, but that did seem a bit of a cariacture.

There’s a fair amount of violence and a bit of gore, they’re not going for a John Wicks feel here. The story does become a bit befuddled and required a few pauses for us to discuss what was going on. The relationship that develops between Kelly and King is the only bright spark in an otherwise dark, seedy yet stylish neo-noir movie. And it is beautifully filmed, Monica Lenczewska in charge of the cinematography with Beatrice Sisul editing, as a photographer I thought the colour grading was quite stunning.

Fraggle Rating: Norra Lorra Laffs.

Monday Movies ~ 21/12/2020

There’s been a fair amount of hype, and a lot of good reviews for our Monday movie slot this week, which is the 2020 Netflix movie, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. (For any reader living under a rock, Black Bottom is a song & dance, and not Ma Rainey’s own derrière ~ no nudity here folks).

The movie is based on the 1982 play of the same name, by August Wilson, which in turn is based upon the real blues singer Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey (1882-1939). The play is part of a series of 10 plays by Wilson known as The Pittsburg Cycle chronicling 20th-century African-American experience. The producer of the movie, Denzil Washington had made a deal with HBO to produce all ten plays, and he started with Fences, in which he starred with Viola Davis in 2013, but since then the deal has been re-arranged with Netflix, so here we are with the first of the subsequent 9.

This movie, directed by George C Wolfe also stars Viola Davis in the titular rôle, but co-starring Chadwick Boseman as the trumpeter in the band. As I’m sure most readers will know, Boseman died earlier this year from colon cancer at the ridiculous age of 42, during the post production stage of this movie, and this, his last rôle has been lauded as his best.

The movie is set in a Chicago recording studio in 1927, Ma’s band turn up to rehearsal, Cutler (Colman Domingo) is the leader and trombonist, Toledo (Glynn Turman) the philosophising piano player, Slow Drag (Michael Potts) the double bass player, and Boseman as the talented but tormented Levee Green. During the rehearsal room scenes, tensions rise between the band and Green and we find out about his horrific back story. When Ma arrives (crashing her car driven by her young nephew in the process) we meet a formidable woman, who won’t do things the way her manager Irvin (Jeremy Shamos) and the studio owner Mel Sturdyvant (Johnny Coyne) want her to do, and is also at loggerheads with Levee Green over his wanting to update the songs she sings to a more modern beat. It doesn’t help matters that Levee has the hots for Ma’s girlfriend Dussie Mae – and she for him. It also naffs everyone off when Ma wants her nephew Sylvester (Dusan Brown) to do the introduction to the Black Bottlom song, as he stutters, and ruins several takes before getting it right.

The movie is all about the characters, and mainly of Rainey and Green. Davis is superb as Rainey, she’s feisty and domineering yet the hard life and hard won fame put the steel in her backbone to overcome any vulnerability, and it’s all there to see in Davis’ eyes. Boseman is on fire, quick~smart, edgy, passionate yet with an underlying torment that finally breaks through in the last 1/3 of the movie.

Davis and Boseman give power house performances, ably accompanied by the supporting cast, but you can’t take your eyes of either of them when they’re doing their thing. The movie though isn’t really like watching a movie, it is more like a stage play itself, not really flowing organically but in acts, 1, 2 and 3. The long impassioned speeches that would be right in a play somehow don’t sit so well in a movie, the set pieces apparent and clunky. The third act delivers a tragedy that felt contrived in spite of the acting ability but the end scene (which wasn’t in the play itself) punches home how black artists were exploited by white gatekeepers, the underlying thread which runs throughout the length of this story.

Fraggle Rating: Super acting, could have done better with the adaptation.