*MOVIE RECAP: ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (SNYDER CUT)

There is this unique pleasure for movie nerds like myself to watch a director’s cut of a movie — you know, watching a movie as originally intended to be seen.

My measuring stick determining how good a movie or a TV show is — has always been based on how memorable or unmemorable the movie or show ends up being.

Having said that, by my own personal metric, the theatrical cut of Justice League directed by Josh Whedon, or also known as the Whedon cut, was not a memorable movie. It was way over the top, cheesy, and unfocused in terms of storytelling, with plot holes all over the place. Nevertheless, the Whedon cut wasn’t as awful as most fans have expressed; it was actually pretty watchable and, at times, somewhat entertaining, but it was far from what it was expected from this ensemble cast of superheroes. It was very forgettable, to say the least.

I blame the studio for this meh version of the Justice League. First, they jumped the gun and rushed to make their own version of an Avengers type of movie. And, unfortunately, it was way too soon — Because they were still introducing and developing movies featuring the characters that make up the core team of the Justice League members.

Everybody reading this blog probably knows by now that Zack Snyder had to drop out of Justice League in the middle of the shooting of this movie due to a family tragedy. Josh Whedon stepped in, and the rest of the story lives on perpetually in motion picture infamy.

The controversy between the two versions of this movie prompted an online campaign to release the director’s cut, or the Snyder cut as it is now officially known.

There are people out there who are disgusted by the fandom for pushing Warner bros. hard to release the Snyder Cut. Calling these hardcore fans toxic and such. However, I don’t see it this way; Fans should absolutely have a say in how things are being presented and sold to them. We, the fans, spend our money on movies, toys, merchandise, and all kinds of media entertainment products. Mediocrity will not be easily accepted anymore. This is a lesson for movie studios to pay close attention and to learn from all the outrage this Whedon Cut created.

This version is 4 hours long; I watched the whole thing in 2 seatings — and I was very much engaged in it throughout the 4 hours. It is more than a Director’s cut; it is an entirely different movie. It is leaps and bounds better than the theatrical cut. I think this version could’ve worked in theaters as a two-part movie, just like the Avengers two-parts Infinity war and Endgame movies.

Although my comic book knowledge of the DC Extended Universe is far from being encyclopedic, this movie is the best and the closest thing you will ever get to a superhero comic book slash graphic novel on film. Sin City (2005), 300 (2006), and Watchmen (2009) are my favorite graphic novels adapted into films. Coincidentally, Zack Snyder directed both 300 and Watchmen. I have some issues with 300, but for the most part, I thought Watchmen was actually a pretty damn good adaptation (except for changing the ending from the graphic novel).

This Snyder Cut has epic vibes to it — the CGI looks clean and pretty. It is beautifully shot, a gorgeous movie to watch. And, it is darker, grittier than anything Marvel has released. Dark superhero stories are what I like to see.

Here are the main differences from the theatrical version:

Aquaman is way more involved in the story, and his character has Godlike vibes here, similar to the way Thor was presented in the Marvel universe.

The cyborg plotline here is another vast improvement from the Whedon Cut. Unlike the theatrical version, Cyborg here is an integral part of this movie. We got to see how Cyborg is a God amongst men in terms of his powers and how those powers are unique within the modern technological world.

The Flash is more compelling here and funnier. But I still don’t know much about him and his powers. So I’m looking forward to The Flash stand-alone movie.

Superman kicked ass. I loved seeing this version of angry, pissed-off Superman — and the black suit made things even more extraordinary.

Wonder Woman is also better here than in the theatrical cut; she is presented as an old God in terms of her level of strength and power. But there is zero continuity with the events of Wonder Woman 84. I have no clue how they are planning to make WW84 fit into the larger scope of things.

We get a much better version of Batman and Bruce Wayne. This is the version of Batman the fandom wanted to see or close enough to it. The nightmare scene between Batman and the Joker was incredible. — it teased us on what happened with Robin (it seems like Joker killed Robin). This version of Jared Leto’s Joker was impressive.

We finally get to see Darkseid and how powerful, menacing, and evil he really is. The fighting sequence between the old heroes and gods against Darkseid was terrific. Watching Zeus, Artemis, Ares, King Arthur, and even a Green Lantern in battle was fucking awesome.

The whole premise of the Mother Boxes was better presented. There was also more depth to Steppenwolf. Introducing Granny Goodness on film was an outstanding idea. Let’s remember that both Darkseid and Granny Goodness were original Jack Kirby creations.

The Snyder Cut was an excellent movie-watching experience. I was fine the 4 hours; it didn’t feel like it dragged too long. I think the 4 hours were just about right to move the story forward for the sake of storytelling and character development. This type of long format should be the standard from now on — Maybe even breaking them down in parts might be the way to go. It just feels like it is meant to be consumed that way.

Zack Snyder has pulled off something awe-inspiring here. As movie and superhero fans, we are fortunate to have seen a 4 hour never before seen version of all these unique comic book characters. The next online fan campaign should be for Warner to restore the Snyder verse.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021). Streaming on HBO MAX.

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA

The basic premise of The Plot Against America is to reimagine what would’ve happened if Charles Lindbergh and not FDR had won the 1940 US presidential election. It is based on the 2004 novel of the same name by Philip Roth. The story is told through the eyes of the Levins family; A Jewish working-class family living in 1940s Newark, New Jersey.

The background of the story is that Charles Lindbergh (Ben Cole) is campaigning hard all over the country, where anxious crowds are waiting to hear him speak. Lindbergh flies a plane down to his campaign rally appearances while selling an isolationist agenda to the American public, and he is also opposed to joining the war effort against Nazi Germany; Lindbergh even has a campaign slogan consisting of repeating the same phrase over and over again at every single rally: “The choice is simple. It is not between Charles Lindbergh and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is between Charles Lindbergh and war.”

This show draws you in slowly; it takes the first two episodes to get a tangible sense of the characters and where the story is going. The tension grows in every episode; the plot moves slowly, but it works well. The world these characters inhabit feels authentic. And the clear depiction of this working-class neighborhood made up of mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants in 1940s Newark, New Jersey, was well crafted.

You get to know this Jewish family well; you get a good sense of this family and their suburban life. There are slow warnings of potential danger to their community through news reports on the radio and newsreels. The depiction of the slow and steady rise of fascism and the terror that it causes within the Jewish community is remarkable. All those things are put together brilliantly.

We get a closer look at the story through the eyes of young Philip Levin (Azhy Robertson), as he comes to terms with the reality of things. The audience also begins to come to terms with the high stakes at play alongside young Philip. We have to lean in and pay attention to each scene closely.

It is impossible not to avoid the obvious comparison between this show’s premise and the rise of Donald Trump. The idea that a celebrity with no political experience becomes a politician and turns out to be a populist and a right-wing nut job — appealing mostly to the lowest common denominator of voters is eerily similar — once elected, this right-wing hack turns the whole country into a fascist regime and The United States’ decline is set into motion.

It is chilling to see how Lindbergh uses a populist agenda and turns to members of the Jewish community to do his bidding. We have Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf (John Turturro), an influential leader in the Jewish community, who becomes a strong supporter of Lindbergh, normalizing many of Lindbergh’s rhetoric and, in a sense becoming the “token” Jew of the campaign.

I cannot help but see similar and modern parallels within many leaders and influential Hispanic community members who supported and continue to support Trump and his right-wing anti-immigrant agenda.

The performances are excellent. Morgan Spector (Herman Levin) and Zoe Kazan (Bess Levin) are fantastic. Both characters sense the danger of Lindbergh’s rhetoric but cope and approach the imminent threat to their community differently. Winona Ryder (Evelyn Finkel) is outstanding as this naive and over-trusting follower of Rabbi Bengelsdorf. The kid that plays Seldon (Jacob Laval) is a scene-stealer.

Kudos to David Simon for this remarkable and thought-provoking adaptation. I must confess that I have never seen The Wire; I’ll get around to it eventually. However, I’m a massive fan of The Deuce, which is one of the best things I’ve seen on TV in the last 20 years. Both of those shows were David Simon creations.

At its core, The Plot Against America is speculative and alternative history. Notwithstanding, it is also a clear warning of a dystopian horror that might await us in the not-so-distant future if we allow populist, isolationists, and xenophobic demagogues to rise into political positions of power.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA (2020). Streaming now on HBO

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT

Happy to say, I was surprisingly captivated and highly entertained with this TV Series. The Flight Attendant is based on a 2018 novel of the same name by bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian. This adaptation is a frenetic dark comedy — a murder mystery that pushes the pace from beginning to end.

Our flight attendant slash heroine Cassie (Kaley Cuoco) wakes up next to a dead body and with no memory of what happened the night before. The dead body belongs to Alex (Michiel Huisman), a passenger on Cassie’s Bangkok flight with whom Cassie goes out on a wild night of partying and drinking.

After waking up next to her dead date, Cassie frantically runs out of the hotel to avoid the Thai authorities and rushes to rejoin her flight crew back to New York — Within a few hours of hotel staff discovering Alex’s dead body, the FBI gets involved in this international homicide investigation.

Upon the flight’s arrival in the US, the flight attendant crew is interviewed by FBI agents, at which point Cassie becomes their main suspect.

The frenetic pace of the show picks up immediately after Cassie returns to NYC. She goes on this quest to piece together the mystery surrounding Alex’s murder. She learns about Alex’s shady business dealings and dangerous partners. However, this show’s most notable and unique thing is how Alex keeps showing up in ghost-like visions throughout the plot’s critical moments. He seems to be embedded in Cassie’s conscience, where some of the most engaging and emotional scenes between Cassie and Alex take place.

Cassie is this out of control, functioning alcoholic, but in a fun and entertaining way. Kaley Cuoco is excellent here; Her comedic timing is flawless — her body language, facial gestures, and delivery come naturally. No doubt all those years in hit sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory has paid dividends. Her alcoholism and self-destructive behavior are crucial to the plot, and Cuoco rises to the dramatic occasion. In lesser hands, this character would have been annoying and not as likable.

The entire casting is solid, but the most notable performances come from the three supporting female stars; Cassie’s brutally sarcastic best friend Annie (Zosia Mamet), a power attorney representing underworld types. Zosia Mamet is superb here, and her presence on screen is intense. Megan (Rosie Perez) is fantastic as Cassie’s flight crew supervisor. Megan is involved in a sub-plot of international corporate espionage, selling her husband’s company secrets to agents of the North Korean government. Also, the Mysterious femme fatale assassin Miranda (Michelle Gomez) is outstanding.

The plot and dialogue are all well put together, some things feel a bit preposterous, but it ends up working well. All in all, The Flight Attendant is an incredibly charming, fun show to watch. It is high-quality escapism and it is suspenseful enough to keep you invested in every single episode. I am looking forward to season 2.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Flight Attendant, (2020). Streaming now on HBO MAX

*TV SERIES RECAP: THE QUEEN’S GAMBIT

You don’t have to care, like, or even understand chess to be fascinated by it and to admire those who have mastered it. There are only two chess-related movies that I have thoroughly enjoyed: Pawn Sacrifice (2014) and Searching For Bobby Fischer (1993). They are both based on real-life characters.

There is also an excellent book that I love; The Eight (1988), a beautifully written novel by Katherine Neville, about the quest to track down a chess-set that belonged to King Charlemagne — it remains one of my all-time favorite works of historical fiction.

And it is safe to say that I can now include The Queen’s Gambit as a new personal all-time favorite when it comes to chess-related works of historical fiction.

The Queen’s Gambit is based on the 1983 Walter Tevis novel by the same name. I have never read any of his books, but I’ve been searching for a mass market paperback copy of The Steps of the Sun by Walter Tevis for a while now. Original editions of Tevis’s books have become very popular and expensive as of late — even used and somewhat worn down paperback copies are selling at higher prices than average. But I’m not complaining; I’m glad they are in high demand — Still, I’m planning to hold off until prices come down a bit.

This Netflix 7 episode series is about a Kentucky orphan on a quest to become the world’s greatest chess player. We follow Beth (Anya Taylor-joy) from the moment her mother kills herself by driving straight into oncoming traffic with young Beth in the backseat. She is placed in an all-girls 1950s orphanage where the children are given a daily diet of tranquilizers until Beth develops a pill addiction, which she carries into adulthood.

She meets the school janitor Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), who teaches her chess and becomes an early mentor and father figure. Bill Camp is always great in everything he does, and he is great here also. Beth Eventually gets adopted by a childless couple, and her journey into chess competitions begins soon after.

There is an extremely high level of quality to the production of this show. The set designs, costumes are all well put together. The chess competitions and chess matches are smartly portrayed. The tension is palpable in just about every chess match. The speed-chess scenes were remarkable. There is engaging and precise world-building that will make you want to become part of the world that these characters inhabit. However, this show is much more than only chess competitions and the mental stress of chess. It is about addiction, childhood trauma, feminism, and communism. Plus, it tackles mental health issues and the thin line between genius and madness.

The relationship between Beth and her adopted mother, Alma (Marielle Heller), is crucial to the plot. Alma’s self-discovery journey late in life after her husband leaves her is parallel to Beth’s journey. Marielle Heller is outstanding here playing this functioning alcoholic, coping with 1950s housewife life, while at the same time abusing alcohol and cigarettes.

The casting of all the supporting characters is on point here. The young Russian chess prodigy is a scene-stealer played by Louis George Ashbourne Serkis (Andy Serkis’ son). Young Beth (Isla Johnston) is just about identical to older Beth — easily could be the same person. Jolene (Moses Ingram) is solid as a fellow orphan and Beth’s closest friend. The two chess-head brothers who travel from tournament to tournament are hilarious. Even all of the cold war era Russian chess champions that Beth plays against are well cast.

Harry Beltik (Harry Melling) is praiseworthy as Beth’s first tough tournament competitor and eventual friend/lover. Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) is exceptional as this weird and eccentric US chess champion; he competes against Beth and later befriends her. Her platonic relationship with former chess competitor turned photojournalist Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) is another critical component of Beth’s personality and psychology. There is plenty of symbolism in the type of relationships she has with all the men in her life.

Anya Taylor-Joy is unbelievably good here, in a captivating and soulful performance. This is a complex character with deep psychological issues. Beth has an amazing mind, but alcohol and pills fuel her strategic vision for chess. Her psychological dependence on pills and alcohol are an intricate part of her process of finding focus and finding clarity when envisioning chess techniques and strategies. But at the same time, they are also threatening to become her undoing. Beth can be sweet, charming, and messed up all at once, and Anya Taylor-Joy captures all the complexities of this character beautifully.

The Queen’s Gambit gets better and better with every single episode. The writing, acting, and directing are brilliantly brought together. I felt like it could have been two episodes longer. Nevertheless, Netflix has once again delivered another excellent limited series.

Five out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Queen’s Gambit (2020). Streaming on Netflix.

*TV SERIES RECAP: PERRY MASON (Season 1)

This is not the Perry Mason show most people remember. It is essentially an origins story, where Perry Mason (Matthew Rhys) is not a 1950s trial lawyer yet; he is a private investigator working for a defense attorney investigating the kidnapping of a baby that went horribly wrong.

Set in 1932 around the great depression era of Los Angeles — beautifully shot in a gritty noir style, with an obvious high level of quality all around the production; the cinematography, the lights, the sets, the costumes — It is all very well put together. There is this intense and dark atmosphere to the show —plus, all the gruesome scenes and all the police corruption of the LAPD are crucial components of the series.

There is this cool Sam Spade vibe to this early version of Perry Mason. Our protagonist is inhabiting a dangerous and sleazy world while remaining morally ambiguous. He wears a fedora, dresses in black, looks rough, gets into brawls. He is down and out, living in what little remains of his family’s old farm. He buys clothing and personal things from the mortuary out of recently deceased bodies. He fights the good fight but rarely wins; in a way, the system always has the last laugh at his expense.

Matthew Rhys delivers a captivating performance. He portrays Perry Mason as this gloomy, haunted, tormented, full of pain, broken down character. Completely opposite of how I remember the Raymond Burr version of Perry Mason.

The casting is terrific. Especially the Paul Drake character who was Mason’s investigator in the original series and books. He was initially envisioned as a white character; however, In HBO’s reboot, Paul Drake (Chris Chalk) is an African-American LAPD beat cop with a compelling backstory. Detective Holcomb (Eric Lange) was Mason’s nemesis in the book series and showed up on the TV show a few times. It seems like Holcomb is about to become a more prominent character in the upcoming seasons. Shea Whigham shows up as Pete Strickland, Mason’s detective partner — Whigham was outstanding in Boardwalk Empire, and he is outstanding here as well.

Sister Alice (Tatiana Maslany) is a charismatic 1930s radio evangelical preacher. There is an air of cultish, Scientology vibe to this character and of her entire congregation. Della Street (Juliet Rylance) is Mason’s legal assistant in the TV show and the book series. She is a highly competitive law clerk but cannot practice independently due to all the gender biases of the 50s. Lupe (Veronica Falcon) steals every scene she is in; her character seemed to be the only one to have a deep connection and understanding of Perry’s trauma and suffering. The performances by the entire all-star ensemble cast is excellent.

The show feels somewhat slow at first and a bit drawn out, but I did not mind it much. Things get going after the first few episodes, and then it gets into a solid rhythm. How the storyline came together at the end was well done; it was refreshing, and it came with some unexpected twists.

It is safe to say that the original Perry Mason show of the 1950s basically established the television courtroom drama. However, HBO’s Perry Mason is not your typical courtroom drama; it is an ambitious reimagining of this iconic TV character. His re-introduction to new audiences is different from anything else currently on TV.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

PERRY MASON (Season 1, 2020). Streaming on HBO

*MOVIE RECAP: MORTAL KOMBAT

It is hard to believe that it has been 28 years since the first time I played Mortal Kombat, the arcade game at an actual Arcade Center — Man, where the hell have the years gone?

I can still clearly remember how my friends and I would religiously meet up after school at my local neighborhood arcade center for a chance to play this groundbreaking video game. The ridiculous violence of the game was incredible; the blood, the gore — the fatalities. There was nothing quite like this game before 1993, and video game-playing kids from my generation were utterly mesmerized, to say the least. I loved playing Mortal kombat at the Arcade, I wasn’t good at it as my friends, but I still loved playing it.

Hollywood has never been good at adapting video games into movies. The first film adaptation of this game, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997), was cheesy as fuck and almost unwatchable. The video game adaptation of the other 90s sensational fighting Arcade game, Street Fighter (1994), was also a god-awful mess of a movie. Another clear example was the adaptation of Super Mario Bros (1993). The 90s were pretty rough for video game adaptations.

Notwithstanding, I came to this 2021 Mortal Kombat reboot completely open-minded. Still, my expectations were pretty low. 

Mortal Kombat 2021 is not all bad; many things worked well for me, and a few things did not. The opening scene slash fight sequence between Sub-Zero and Hanzo is terrific. I assume that this movie is supposed to be an origins story based on the original characters from the Arcade game, while at the same time adding new characters to the franchise like Cole Young (Lewis Tan).

The premise is pretty absurd and unclear. The main plotline here is that Earth’s greatest champions made up of mercenaries, martial artists, and super-powered fighters, have to fight Earthrealm’s supernatural enemies from the Outer world realm. The tournament rules are never clear, and the actual tournament never really takes place — the whole thing seems confusing.

There is this mysterious Dragon marking on the bodies of random people who are chosen to represent Earth against the supernatural warriors of the netherworld. If they have this Dragon mark on their body, they have to be recruited and trained to fight for Earth.

And while in their training sessions, these chosen warriors are supposed to unlock their unique superpowers and abilities. This Dragon marking concept is a new thing; this idea did not come from the video game.

The movie is a lot more enjoyable if you are already familiar with the characters. The casting is pretty solid, Lord Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), Kano (Josh Lawson), Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), Kung Lao (Max Huang), and Shang Tsung (Chin Han) are all excellent.

All the original characters from the game are back except for Johnny Cage. Spoiler alert! A poster with Johnny Cage’s name shows up at the end of the movie. I assume he will be in the Sequel; if there is a sequel — there should be a sequel.

Sub-zero (Joe Taslim) was fantastic, and so was Hanzo Hasashi/ Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada); their fight scenes are awesome. The video game references like Scorpio’s “Get Over Here” phrase is fan service at its best. It is never really explained why Hanzo choose the new name slash new persona of Scorpio. This should be addressed in the next movie.

Also, the killing of crucial characters was weird and felt somewhat convoluted in terms of those characters possibly returning from the dead in future films. The killing of rogue mercenary Kano was unexpected — He lit up the screen in every scene he was in. And although Kano seemed to be used primarily for comic relief, his character was one of the highlights of this movie.

The same thing goes for the characters of Mileena and Liu Kang, they are fan favorites, and they felt wasted here. There was way too much time spent on the new character Cole Young. He was an uninspiring and underdeveloped character — Cole was by far the most uninteresting character here.

We still don’t know what set of rules we are dealing with, or if there are any, and how those rules can determine the return from the dead of the characters already killed off. Hanzo came back from the dead, so I have to assume other warriors will follow.

This movie packs lots of things and storylines — those things feel forced and awkward at times. This reboot was supposed to be the launching point for a new franchise and series of movies. However, the nostalgic connection to these characters worked best for me; if it weren’t for the fond memories surrounding this game, I probably would not have enjoyed this reboot as much as I did.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿

Mortal Kombat (2021.

*MOVIE RECAP: THE UNITED STATES VS BILLIE HOLIDAY

At first glance, this movie had the makings of a powerful story — sadly, it did not live up to my expectations. 

The United States vs. Billie Holiday takes its name straight out of the US government’s prosecution case of Billie Holiday, and it is based on the 2012 non-fiction book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last days of the War on Drugs by Johann Hari.

Decades have passed since Billie Holiday’s death. Yet, it seems like we still do not have a complete grasp and understanding of how important and influential she was in our culture, not just musically but also on civil rights activism. She died when she was only 44 years old. Suffering indignity after indignity and humiliated by her own government, handcuffed to a hospital bed as she was dying. 

At the center of the story, there is the song Strange Fruit. The song became controversial in the late 30s and 40s for being a protest song to the lynching of Black Americans, and it is considered to be the launching point in the awakening of the civil rights movement. The song drew the attention of the US government, most notably, the attention of a government agent and known racist Harry J. Anslinger (Garrett Hedlund), who was the first US official to declare war on drugs; targeting minorities and artists. Demonizing blacks and Jazz musicians as drug users and bad influences on the so-called authentic American culture.

Anslinger was the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and launched what has become known as the original version of the US war on drugs in the early part of the 20th century. One of Anslinger’s initial targets was Billie Holiday. He was obsessed with taking Billie Holiday down, primarily for her activism and defiance — but also as a symbolic gesture to any other potential civil rights activists out there. 

They used every tool at their disposal to destroy her life and career. They tried to censor her in multiple ways, even went as far as to block and deny her a cabaret license, which was crucial for performers; they needed a cabaret permit to perform at live music venues in those days. 

In this movie, we see how Aisnlinger assigns an undercover agent to infiltrate Billie Holiday’s inner circle to report and keep tabs on her. This undercover agent, Jimmy Fletcher (Trevante Rhodes), becomes emotionally and romantically involved with Holiday.

The weird thing is that apart from Johann Hari’s book, there isn’t much verifiable evidence about this love affair between Billie Holiday and Jimmy Fletcher — and there seems to be an evident exaggeration of this story by this movie’s director Lee Daniels.

Andra Day is outstanding here; she Portrays Billie Holiday convincingly. Still, the highlight of this movie for me was the soundtrack along with Andra Day’s performance of Billie Holiday’s music. She actually sings all the songs herself and captures the essence of Billie Holiday’s signature sound.

The United States vs. Billie Holiday is a movie that comes across as messy, cluttered, and all over the place. There is way too much focus on the romance between Fletcher and Holiday. Their love affair gets in the way of the story a bit. I wanted to see more about Holiday and her band members and the relationship dynamics between them. There was a powerful story here to be told. Unfortunately, this movie missed a huge opportunity to convey the core story of Billie Holiday’s life and struggles. And on top of all that, it also wasted away Andra Day’s top-notch performance.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

The United States vs. Billie Holiday (2020).

*MOVIE RECAP: ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI

It took a while for me to process this film properly, especially amid all the fantastic and well-made socially conscious films that came out between late 2020 and early 2021. Movies like The Trial of the Chicago 7, Judas and the Black Messiah, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the USA vs. Billie Holiday, Nomadland, and Da 5 Bloods — all of those films had a powerful and enduring social message to deliver.

One Night in Miami is based on a 2013 stage play of the same name by Kemp Powers, who also wrote the screenplay for this film version. Regina King shines as director here, making her directorial debut — And at first glance, I got the sense that this wasn’t her first film as a director — An impressive achievement by Regina King.

The story is set in February of 1964, the same night that Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston for the world heavyweight championship. Cassius Clay had not yet changed his name to Muhammad Ali, and the movie takes place when he was about to join the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X invites Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Cassius Clay to join him in his hotel room to celebrate the victory of the new world champ. It is a fictional account of a one-night gathering of all these 1960’s pop-culture icons.

Throughout the evening, the gathering turns into a discussion of politics, life decisions, identity, and empowerment—their unique role in pop culture and the line between celebrity and social responsibility.

We get to see how all of the things that took place throughout these men’s lives have led them to this particular night. And how their lives changed in the immediate aftermath of this evening together.

The performances are excellent; all of these historical personalities feel human and real. Kinglsey Ben-Adir (Malcolm X), Eli Goree (Cassius Clay), Aldis Hodge (Jim Brown), and Leslie Odom Jr. (Sam Cooke); all provide an equal voice to each character, giving their singular take and perspective on things. All of these performances are intensely captivating.

One of my highlights from this movie was the powerful flashback scene between Jim Brown and Mr. Carlton (Beau Bridges). The location is set on Mr. Carlton’s Plantation style house — We get to see Jim Brown visiting his hometown and Mr. Carlton’s home. It seems like both of their families go way back. During their conversion at the front porch, Mr. Carlton tells Jim Brown that he’ll do anything for him except allow him to set foot inside his house because of his race. This scene was taken straight out of Jim Brown’s autobiography.

Another highlight for me was the scene where Malcolm X challenges Sam Cooke for his lack of acknowledgment of social issues in his music. Malcolm brings up Bod Dylan as an example — a white musician making socially conscious music. Malcolm and Cooke have some intense scenes together; however, Sam Cooke’s performance of the song “A Change is Gonna Come” on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show, as Malcolm X watches him perform the song, was profoundly moving.

I wanted to see more of the relationship between Cassius Clay and Angelo Dundee (Michael Imperioli). I think the film could have benefited from adding more of their relationship dynamic.

One Night In Miami is a fascinating, well-made film. It doesn’t feel confined like most stage adaptations feel like. It is an essential and relevant movie; It deals head-on with issues of racial divisions in the US and how those issues intersect between culture, politics, sports, and entertainment. It is unfortunate how relevant the issues and ideas raised in this film are today.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

One Night in Miami (2020).

*MOVIE RECAP: COMING 2 AMERICA

Ok, sad to say this but Coming 2 America sucks ass — It is a terrible sequel, and it failed to live up to the greatness of the original Coming to America movie (1988).

First of all, Coming to America is a classic comedy; if it’s on TV when I’m browsing through channels, I always stop and watch it, regardless of how deep in the story the movie might be on. The original was rated R, and this sequel is PG-13, a major red flag right off the get-go.

Our old friend Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) from the fictional African kingdom of Zamunda is now king, and Lisa (Shari Headley) is the Queen; they have three young daughters. The central plot conflict here is that their marriage has not given them a male heir, which tradition dictates that only a male heir can lay claim to the throne of Zamunda.

Warlord General Izzy (Wesley Snipes) from a neighboring nation wants to marry his son with one of Akeem’s daughters to unite both kingdoms, bring peace, and avoid war. Obviously, King Akeem, Queen Lisa, and their daughters are opposed to this idea.

Akeem discovers that he has a son living in New York from a wild one-night stand during Akeem’s first visit to New York City. So now, presented with this new fact, Akeem decides to return to Queens in search of his long-lost son and convince him to take his rightful place as the future ruler of Zamunda.

Returning to NY, Akeem tracks down his illegitimate son Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler) and convinces him to move to Zamunda. But first, Lavelle will need to go through a training and learning process before establishing him as the future heir to the throne.

From this point on, whatever little promise this movie initially showed goes completely over a cliff.

Akeem becomes just another character here. The premise of this sequel entirely undoes Akeem’s journey of self-discovery from the original movie. Prince Akeem discovered something about himself through his 1988 journey while living and working in New York City, which he seemed to utterly forget 33 years later. His trip to America was also fun and hilarious, with the whole fish out of water angle. He was so unaware of the real world, hell-bent on finding his future wife in Queens. King Akeem spends almost no time in Queens or in NYC, which contradicts this sequel’s title. Maybe they should’ve just called this movie “Zamunda” or “Coming to Zamunda” instead of Coming 2 America.

I wanted to see a lot more of Semmi (Arsenio Hall), and we don’t really get much of him this time around. Wesley Snipes is hilarious; there is a level of Pageantry to his performance — I can tell he was having a blast with this role. Plus, the chemistry between Murphy and Snipes is excellent, probably my favorite thing from this movie.

Jermaine Fowler needed more time to develop his Lavelle character, similar to how Akeem was developed in the original film. Also, Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan are annoying as fuck, especially with what they are given to work within their characters.

This next generation of Zamunda rulers was also poorly developed. And the jokes delivered by the new cast members don’t hit at all and fall flat…. I think I laughed once and chuckled a few times throughout the whole thing.

Nevertheless, the throwbacks to the original film are pretty cool. Watching John Amos, James Earl Jones, and Louie Anderson return was pure nostalgic awesomeness. I wished Eriq La Salle (Darryl) and Allison Dean (Patrice) had returned in some capacity.

It was great seeing the Barbershop guys back, you know, the old characters played by Arsenio Hall and Eddie Murphy. Although, it is hard to believe that those guys could still look the same as they did in ’88 or even be alive 33 years later. But hey, sometimes you have to suspend disbelief and go along for the sake of mindless entertainment.

Now, here is the potentially redeeming storyline if this coming to America franchise continues—so hear me out.

Colin Jost shows up early in this movie, playing Mr. Duke, a direct relative of the Duke Brothers from Eddie Murphy’s first film, Trading Places (1983). The Duke Brothers (Don Ameche & Ralph Bellamy) had an important cameo in Coming to America, which brilliantly ended up linking the Trading Places slash Coming to America universes together. And, if they continue to build upon this connection, therein lies the makings of a potential reboot of those two movie universes. Get Dan Akroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Eddie Murphy on board, and here we go.

Despite taking 33 years to make this sequel, Coming 2 America is a sequel that we did not really need or wanted but expected to be better. It simply does not have the long-lasting comedic effect that the original 1988 movie had. Look, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a shameless exercise of fan service. Hell, I even welcome those types of movies from time to time. However, this movie just did not quite work for me. It is definitely a more family-friendly movie. But still, it comes off as lazy, unfunny, and not as edgy as the original.

One out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿

Coming 2 America (2020).

*MOVIE RECAP: DOLEMITE

This is one of those movies that always seem to end up getting buried in algorithm purgatory. If you missed it when it was initially released, you have to search for it on Netflix’s endless catalog of original content. If it were a non-streaming release, it would probably be in constant rotation on cable TV.

Dolemite was a character created by standup performer Rudy Ray Moore back in the mid-70s. He performed as this Dolemite character during his standup routines, becoming a popular underground comedy act, and he eventually made comedy records as this character. All of those Dolemite LPs became bestselling comedy albums, reaching the bestselling charts.

Dolemite has been cited as a source of influence for many hip-hop artists that came out of the 80’s and 90s rap scene (Snoop Dog has credited Dolemite as his most significant influence).

During the blaxploitation era, Rudy Ray Moore made and acted in a bunch of blaxploitation films. However, his Dolemite character became his most iconic role.

Eddie Murphy is superb here playing Moore. He brilliantly captures the essence of this middle-aged performer who is still figuring things out as an artist and will not stop chasing his dream of being a star at this late stage of his life.

Wesley Snipes is excellent playing D’urville Smith, the director of the first Dolemite movie, who was never really sold on the concept of Dolemite but seized the opportunity of directing this movie as a springboard into other jobs. D’urville Smith was an actor best known for playing Diego, the elevator man on Rosemary’s Baby — I’m glad to see Wesley Snipes back on top form here.

Dolemite was Directed by Craig Brewer (Hustle & Flow), who also directed Murphy and Snipes in the sequel to Coming to America. Seasoned screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski wrote this movie; They are a screenwriting team that has made a name for themselves, writing biopics like Ed Wood, Man on the Moon, and The People vs. Larry Flint.

Dolemite is My Name is a very inspiring movie; Rudy Ray Moore teaches us that it is never too late to pursue your dreams. You get the sense watching this film that everybody involved in the making of this movie treated this story with much respect, appreciation, and reverence. It should be on everyone’s watchlist.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

DOLEMITE (2019). Streaming on Netflix