*MOVIE RECAP: BEING THE RICARDOS

For one, I’m glad that we have gotten two Aaron Sorkin written and directed movies two years in a row — The Trial of the Chicago 7, in 2020, and now, Being the Ricardos in 2021. It seems like he is getting more comfortable behind the camera and finding his way as a director.

But first, I need to address the elephant in the room. There was tons of nonsensical controversy and outrage with the casting of Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem. Primarily by people who don’t have a clue about the art of acting and filmmaking. And by people who go about the wrong way to ensure and promote fairness and equality in media representation.

Here is the thing, people who had a problem with Bardem, a Spaniard playing a Cuban, are beyond dumb. Any actor of Hispanic heritage is qualified to play any member of our Latino culture, simple as that. After all, Javier Bardem already played a Cuban character back in 2000 in the movie Before Night Falls, a biopic of Cuban writer and poet Reinaldo Arenas. A performance for which Bardem was nominated for a best actor Academy Award — Bardem was outstanding in that movie, and he deserved the Oscar nomination for sure.

Additionally, we have many examples of actors from different Latin American slash Hispanic cultures playing characters from different nationalities like Gael Garcia Bernal, a Mexican actor playing Che Guevara, an Argentinian in two movies, Fidel (2001), and The Motorcycle Diaries (2004). Also, Benicio Del Toro, a Puerto Rican actor, won an Oscar for a best-supporting actor playing a Mexican character in Traffic (2000).

Not to mention all those times when Antonio Banderas, a Spaniard, has played Mexican characters, like in Desperado and Once Upon a Time in Mexico and those two Zorro movies, to name a few. Recently, we had Wagner Moura, a Brazilian actor playing Pablo Escobar, a Colombian character in the hit Netflix series Narcos — which was a critically acclaimed portrayal.

So I ask, where was the outrage then?

In any case, I could sit here and point out tons of actors successfully playing characters from different cultural backgrounds. But, unfortunately, and sadly, all of those people outraged by Bardem playing a Cuban are the same exact people who are setting back the decades of little progress for proper representation that we have made as a culture in recent years.

But what do I know about this? I’m just some random Hispanic immigrant — and a wannabe screenwriter. Right? not really an expert at all.

Anyhow, the story of this movie is centered around a week in the life of Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) and Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem). And it is set during the same week of production for an upcoming live shooting of the I Love Lucy show — with some flashbacks sprinkled throughout the story.

This movie is not your typical biopic per se; It starts with a fake documentary featuring older versions of the original writers for the I Love Lucy Show, Madelyn Pugh (Linda Lavin) and Bob Carroll (Ronny Cox). And the executive producer, Jess Oppenheimer (John Rubinstein). I was thrilled to see Ronny Cox in a big-time Hollywood movie again; he played one of my all-time favorite movie villains, Dick Jones, in Robocop (1986).

The main plot point of the story here is the accusation by the press that Lucille Ball is a member of the communist party. The implications of this accusation could cost Lucy her career and the possible cancellation of their hit TV show. So the tension and the stakes of this shocking accusation become the main obstacle for our heroes to overcome. And we get to see how this real-life TV couple had to tackle this issue head-on. Desi has to deal with the fallout and navigate through all of the network and corporate politics. At the same time, Lucy is trying to keep the show running efficiently and keep it fresh and funny. And on top of that, she is trying to save her marriage.

Nicole Kidman delivers an interesting performance; She managed to capture the heart of two characters, one real and one fictitious. In essence, Kidman’s performance focuses more on Lucille Ball, the person and not as much as Lucy Ricardo, the TV character. Still, when she transforms into Lucy Ricardo, she nails it beautifully.

There were some excellent scenes where we get to see Lucy display her comedic genius. When the writers pitched scenes to Lucy, you could see how her comedic mind worked as she began to imagine the multiple possibilities within the scene—like a chess master, seeing how a scene would play out ahead of time. Also, we got to see how obsessed she was with physical comedy.

Javier Bardem brings lots of charisma and charm into this role. However, I didn’t really see the same Desi Arnaz that I remember from the old interviews on YouTube at the Johnny Carson show and the old NBC David Letterman show. I still think that the version of Desi Arnaz in the 1992 movie Mambo Kings, played by Desi Arnaz jr, remains my all-time favorite version of Desi. Nonetheless, Javier Bardem has some solid scenes here, most notably, Bardem’s impressive version of Cuban Pete.

Also, the location settings, custom designs, and set pieces are all great and felt right with the period. The scenes in the writer’s room were exceptional; it was cool seeing the writers working out their material — the difficulty of making comedy for TV and how they went about creating comedy. The fake documentary thing, set in the future with the older versions of the writers and producer, was a good choice, but I wanted to see a little more of them throughout the movie.

The taboos and the gender dynamics of the era are also on full display here. It was an era when a handful of old conservative white males were making all the important decisions — and having a pregnant woman appear on TV or even to say the word pregnant on TV was considered obscene. The scenes where the white male, corporate suits clash with Lucille are some of the best scenes in the movie. It is important to note that Lucy was the first visible pregnant woman to appear on TV.

The supporting performances by Nina Aranda (Vivian Vance) and JK Simmons (William Frawley) are praiseworthy. The younger version of the writers, Alia Shawkat (Madelyn Pugh) and Jake Lacy (Bob Carrol), are solid. Also, the younger version of producer Jess Oppenheimer played by Tony Hale, was notable. I appreciate the layers of humanity both central characters were given. It brilliantly touches their past, personal relationships, and comedic genius. Especially when seeing that Lucille’s ultimate goal was to have a real home and a family, and her struggle to keep everything together — it all comes through across to the audience clearly and nicely.

Being the Ricardos is a well-written, sophisticated, and complex movie — Typical of an Aaron Sorkin production. As a writer-director, Sorkin is a superb combination that will only improve as he embarks on more directing and writing projects.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

Being the Ricardos (2021). Streaming on Prime.

*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).

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