*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.

*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

*MOVIE RECAP: GODZILLA VS KONG

As much as the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” might be valid for appraising works of literature, it’s downright true with this movie. The movie title says it all; it is all about two giant monsters punching and kicking each other into oblivion.

Godzilla vs. Kong is the fourth and latest installment in the cinematic MonsterVerse series. The first movie in this monster series was Godzilla (2014), which was a pretty good movie directed by the exceptional Gareth Edwards.

The second entry into this shared universe was Kong: Skull Island (2017), a highly entertaining, fun, and at times, pretty compelling movie. I had a good time watching this 2017 version of King Kong.

The third movie was Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). This movie had a lot of stuff to unpack. It wasn’t bad at all; I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. The whole concept of the Titans as the original and rightful rulers of the planet was awesome. The plot twist about Monster Zero as an invasive species, an alien creature not meant to be on Earth, was brilliant.

Sadly, Godzilla vs. Kong is not as memorable as the previous three Monsterverse movies. The storyline or plot (if you can call it a plot) centers around Getting Kong to his original homeland, which is supposed to be somewhere deep within the Hollow Earth. We learned that there is supposed to be some type of ancient historic rivalry between Godzilla’s ancestors and Kong’s ancestors.

We have the Apex corporation, a shady biotech company keeping Kong in a containment dome type of structure that resembles Skull Island. This sinister biotech company is using the skeleton remains of Ghidorah from Godzilla: King of the Monsters to engineer a monster of their own to challenge and kill Godzilla.

The human character component is pretty weak here. Despite the impressive casting, the characters are all poorly developed. Except for Jia (Kaylee Hottle), she is the last remaining member of the now-extinct Iwi people from skull island. She is deaf and communicates with Kong through sign language; her relationship with King Kong was the most interesting part of this movie.

The Hollow Earth concept is a fascinating idea. Watching how this myth is given such a prominent role in the storyline was interesting; however, this movie’s overall approach towards the Hollow Earth theory was beyond silly.

The only redemptive feature in this movie was the monster fight scenes; they were my favorite thing from the whole movie. Those scenes alone are worth watching this movie.

Godzilla vs. Kong is the less impressive movie out of all four MonsterVerse films. Nevertheless, this movie is a wild big-screen spectacle. The CGI, Sound effects, and all of the special effects are fantastic; the whole thing is meant to be enjoyed better on the big screen and IMAX. You have to suspend disbelief for however long this movie runs and let it take you along for a ridiculous action-packed ride.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).

*MOVIE RECAP: WONDER WOMAN 84

Wonder Woman 84 (WW84) has an exciting and very engaging start, and then at about the 45-minute mark, it collapses completely.

This sequel is way more cartoonish than the original 2017 movie, which was a fantastic movie, and I felt like it was a bit more grounded in realism than this movie. My only issue with the original film was Diana and Ares’s final battle scene — Everything else about it was terrific.

It has been roughly 60 years since the events of Wonder Woman 1 — we see Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) still heartbroken over the loss of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine); she lives a quiet life, maintaining a low profile, she dines alone. She seems envious of the couples she sees dining out. Diana works at the Smithsonian in Washington DC and lives in what appears to be the infamous Watergate building.

There is tons of cheesiness throughout this movie — some work, and some do not. The main villain here is a wishing stone; An ancient mystical stone that grants wishes but takes something away from you in return. An evil god of deception created this wishing stone — You wish for something, and it cost you something.

Diana uses this wishing stone to resurrect her old boyfriend Steve from the dead. However, Steve returns in the body of another person. This was pretty weird and problematic for many reasons, but I felt like they could have easily brought Steve back just as he was without the whole body snatcher thing.

Steve Trevor not being a more significant part of the plot here like he was in the original Wonder Woman was a bummer. Also, the White house fight scene was bizarre and ridiculous. The plot’s globetrotting parts are flimsy, and I was not too fond of all the Middle East scenes.

Nevertheless, there are some cool things I enjoyed. The 1980’s mall scene was fun and cool, although not as cool as the 1980s Stranger Things season 3 mall scenes, but close enough. The feel and vibe of Washington DC in the 1980s were very close to how the city felt and looked in those days. The overabundance and greed of the Reagan 80s were well depicted, but it was missing a bigger 80’s soundtrack to grasp the era better. Steve witnessing what the world has become and all the technological advances are some of the funniest moments in the entire movie.

In any case, apart from the whole resurrection weirdness, there are a bunch of continuity issues connecting this movie with the rest of the DC Extended Universe movies. The events here are not even referenced in any of the other DC Extended Universe movies, nor they seem to impact any of the storylines in Dawn of Justice or Justice League. Those two movies are supposed to be directly connected with Wonder Woman and her storyline.

And, of course, the Linda Carter cameo can not be understated. It was an exceptional moment in this movie.

Max Lord (Pedro Pascal) is a villain with very little villainy and malice in him — he is driven mainly by greed and desperation. Pascal’s performance is a bit over the top but excellent. I can tell that he was all in to make this character work. Max Lord is a failing businessman slash TV personality with tons of huckster charm. It is implied that he has been searching for the wishing stone for a long time.

Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) is another interesting character with a compelling arc. She is a gemologist, newly employed at the Smithsonian. She dreams of being someone else, and then thanks to the wishing stone, she becomes someone else. My main issue with this character is that I felt like we needed more Barbara Minerva and less of Cheetah. Barbara’s transformation into Cheetah should have been hinted at by the end of the movie and then have her return in the next film as the main antagonist.

Anyhow, Kristen Wiig seemed to be having lots of fun playing this Barbara/Cheetah character. The chemistry between Barbara and Max is solid, and the scene where Barbara is jogging and is attacked was very entertaining.

Wonder Woman 84 delivers a message of compassion and empathy, I think. Diana shows us that it takes real strength to love your enemy and that the true meaning of bravery lies in your respect and compassion for life. I liked how the fight sequence between cheetah and wonder woman is primarily a verbal fight scene. Diana feels compassion for Barbara and wants her to come to her senses…. the scene paid off for me.

The same thing for Max — Diana understands Max’s pain; she reasons with him and connects with his humanity. They both share emotionally well-acted scenes, which felt satisfying or even more satisfying than the action scenes.

Wonder Woman 84 is a complicated and bold movie to watch. It brings an unapologetic message of forgiveness, empathy, and kindness to the audience. Still, it doesn’t become preachy in its delivery—it is a superhero movie where both villains get a chance to redeem themselves and just walk away. Multiple viewings are needed to grasp what this movie attempts to execute.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿

WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020).

*MOVIE RECAP: THE LAUNDROMAT

I was excited as hell when I heard the news of a Steven Soderbergh movie for Netflix about the Panama Papers. All told, I’m a big fan of Soderbergh, the filmmaker, not the cultural appropriator Steven Soderberg, owner and marketing face of a Bolivian national spirit brand (Singani 63), but more on this unrelated topic some other time. 

I still think that Soderbergh’s 2008 two-part movie CHE is a masterpiece and, to me, one of the most influential films ever.

The Laundromat sheds light on some of the legal manipulations of the financial system by the super-rich. It has a similar vibe to the 2015 film, The Big Short, but not quite as compelling. 

We have Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) and Ramon Fonseca (Antonio Banderas), the two real-life men directly involved in the Panama Papers leak. These two dudes own a law firm based out of Panama specializing in creating shell companies for wealthy people who want to protect their money from being taxed. They set up these corporations so the actual people behind the money can easily bypass tax regulations. And within said corporations, they can create shell companies; A company owns a company that owns another company, and so on and on—effectively shielding the initial corporation from anyone finding out who is truly behind ownership. These shell corporations are usually set up in foreign countries like the Cayman Islands, Panama, or the British Virgin Islands, for example.

There was some controversy surrounding The Laundromat due to the lawsuits by Mossack and Fonseca when they unsuccessfully tried to stop the movie from being released. Oldman and Banderas serve as the narrators for most of the movie, continually breaking the fourth wall and explaining how to avoid taxes, hiding money, and how creating shell companies for the super-wealthy works.

Meryl Streep is always excellent, and she is excellent here as well. She plays Ellen Martin, the victim of one of these shell companies. After her husband’s tragic death, she tries to file a claim with her husband’s insurance company and discovers that the insurance company has been sold to another company. Stringing her along and blocking her insurance claim. Therefore, she begins to investigate and discovers a world of shady practices.

Streep’s character was very compelling, and I felt like the movie needed to spend more time with her and her journey.

There are other characters and cameos by well-known actors like Sharon Stone and David Schwimmer. However, their storylines never really get any traction or enough screen time to develop their stories accordingly….. or for us to even care enough for them.

If this movie’s purpose was to illuminate, shed some light, inform and educate about the world of shell companies, then this movie fails to achieve any of that straightforwardly. I felt that it needed to deliver a more meaningful social message. The characters literally look at you while breaking the fourth wall and tell the audience in a sermon-like approach to what exactly needs to be done to fix this legal but broken, immoral, and nefarious financial system. Nevertheless, I did enjoy and recommend this movie. My main issue is that I felt like it needed to be more creative and practical when conveying its urgent message of reforming our financial laws.

In any case, The Laundromat is full of many exciting layers, segments, and sub-plots. It attempts, in the end, to connect all those things with the central plot of this movie. It is definitely worth a watch, but the Big Short somewhat spoiled me when it comes to this type of film.

Three out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿 🍿

THE LAUNDROMAT (2019). Streaming on Netflix.

*MOVIE RECAP: TOLKIEN

If all you want is just a simple, cliff notes version of Tolkien’s life and a brief understanding of his journey towards writing and developing The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, then this movie is your ticket.

Nicholas Hoult is solid here playing John Ronald Reuel Tolkien (J.R.R. Tolkien); Hoult delivers a strong performance, attempting to capture the early life and formative years of Tolkien. However, this movie falls somewhat flat for me. There was plenty of room to be daring with this biopic, but it felt like lazy storytelling.

Nevertheless, the performances by the entire cast are remarkable. Lilly Collins is excellent as Edith Bratt (Tolkien’s wife and muse), Derek Jacobi is a scene-stealer in every scene he is in, which is a good thing; I always enjoy watching him.

The performances by the four friends who together form the brotherhood called T.C.B.S. (Tea Club and Barrovian Society), which eventually will be called “the fellowship,” are outstanding. There is a pretty remarkable scene when a young Tolkien attends the opera with his future wife Edith to see Wagner’s Ring cycle, “one ring to rule them all.

All of those things were pretty cool, but this type of biopic deserves a more careful and deliberate approach, similar to how National Geographic is doing their “Genius” T.V. series, based on extraordinary figures of history. The first season was focused on Einstein and the second season on Picasso. Those two seasons were excellent, and maybe any future attempts to make another Tolkien biopic should be approached similarly.

Maybe, an eight to ten-episode T.V. series rather than a movie would’ve been more appropriate. I think it is virtually impossible to properly showcase and highlight specific aspects of Tolkien’s life and genius in a 112-minute film.

The whole thing felt like an origin story gone a bit lazy. Still, TOLKIEN is very entertaining and definitely worth watching. The performances end up rescuing this convoluted script.

Two out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿

TOLKIEN (2019).

*MOVIE RECAP: NOMADLAND

Nomadland is a beautiful piece of cinema. A haunting film that feels like it is part-fictional film and part-documentary.

Based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Jessica Bruder about a new economic sector of primarily middle-aged and older people who have taken to the road as modern-day nomads — they live their lives out of their vans, campers, and cars. They follow seasonal work, like farms, restaurants, amazon warehouses, and recreational areas.

Living like nomads, going from place to place, as a form of self-sufficient living for these people, they find low-wage work that allows them to live and support themselves. For some, this nomadic lifestyle is their preferred way of living. There is a sense of freedom for them while they get to see the country and make friends along the way. But for most of these nomads, this lifestyle is the only chance for any meaningful life and the only option to support themselves.

Fern (Frances McDormand) is a fictional character who is grieving the recent loss of her husband. They lived in a company town, where all businesses and homes are owned by one company. When the company decides to stop operations and eliminate its entire workforce, all of the town residents are left jobless and have no choice but to relocate. There is a sad and tragic reality with these types of company towns built entirely around corporations and factories. When these companies folded or left town, entire cities were disseminated, leaving their population with nothing.

Fern abruptly goes from a comfortable life to hitting the road and joining these communities of nomads. She remains positive throughout her ordeal while maintaining that “she is not homeless, she is houseless.”She joins and befriends an established nomad culture who also goes from town to town looking for work. Real-life nomads featured heavily in this film, like Bob Wells.

Frances McDormand is exceptional here; Her most intense scenes are when she is all alone with no dialogue. She holds and commands the screen like no other.

Nomadland is an unapologetic modern American Western that shines a light and exposes a way of life in the United States. It is a framing device to the economic realities of the working-class people of this country and the failures of the American Dream. My only issue with the film is that it doesn’t really show all the intricacies and the everyday challenges of the nomadic lifestyle. Nevertheless, this film is an outstanding achievement by Director Chloe Zhao — capturing a powerful story of survival, grief, and the fragility of time and our human existence.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

Nomadland (2020). Streaming on HULU.

*MOVIE RECAP: THE SOUND OF METAL

Some movies need time to settle in your mind to fully digest and reflect on what you have seen… maybe even watching them a couple of times is required. For me, Sound of Metal is one of those movies.

Ruben (Riz Ahmed) and Lou (Olivia Cooke) are rock musicians touring the United States — they live and drive from show to show in an RV. It seems like their whole life is in their RV.

Pretty soon into the story, Ruben notices that his hearing is weakening, and all of the sounds around him are beginning to sound muffled. He hides this fact from Lou and continues with concert gigs, hoping things will return to normal at some point.

Ruben consults with a doctor who breaks the bad news that his hearing is deteriorating rapidly — the doctor tells him that his first responsibility is to protect the hearing he has left. Ruben completely disregards this advice and continues playing another concert gig.

During their next concert, his hearing deteriorates to the point where Ruben can no longer keep up with the show and rushes off the stage. He now has no choice but to come clean to Lou and explain the situation regarding his hearing loss.

Ruben’s life and his entire sense of self are completely changed almost overnight. He has to face some complex decisions moving forward. Playing the drums and continuing with the rest of the concert dates are no longer an option. Ruben believes he can still manage and work around his deafness; however, Lou disagrees and urges Ruben to get some professional help.

Here is where Joe (Paul Raci) enters Ruben’s life. Joe is a Vietnam War vet who runs a community home for deaf people. In this community, they do not see deafness as a disability or as something to be fixed. They see deafness as a concept of empowerment.

Joe has very strict rules for joining his community home. Ruben has to move in, learn ASL and begin the process of learning how to live with his new reality. Ruben also has to give up the keys to his RV, his cell phone and be completely away from Lou during his time in the program.

Ruben’s whole life is turned upside down; his music, lifestyle, and relationship have all fallen apart. He is now forced to look deep within himself in the wake of this trauma. He is holding on to the hope of regaining his hearing. The prospect of receiving implants through surgery is his last hope for things to go back to normal. And he is willing to risk it all for the return of his old way of life.

Riz Ahmed is exceptional here, delivering a soulful performance. He conveys so many emotions with his eyes and face — through his eyes, you can see this tortured, wounded soul. Riz Ahmed brilliantly portrays the rage and bewilderment of Ruben losing his livelihood. I heard that Ahmed actually learned to play drums and learned American sign language preparing for this role.

Paul Raci is outstanding here, delivering an authentic and human performance. Joe provides tough love and raw honesty to Ruben in every scene they are in together. A well-deserved Academy Award nomination for best-supporting actor. I am excited to see where the success of this performance takes Paul Raci next.

This movie is a fascinating exploration about a person attempting to put his life back together after losing his reason for living. The film takes you inside the central character’s experience while crafting a world where the details are as accurate as possible. The subtle things done with the sound effects are remarkable. The specific details of the deaf community are well executed.

The Sound of Metal is essentially a story about identity and loss. One of the most thoughtful, well-made movies of the year. An extraordinary achievement by Director Darius Marder, showing us what cinema can still do when passionate, creative filmmakers are allowed to put forth their vision.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

The Sound of Metal (2020).

*MOVIE RECAP: JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH

Here is another socially and culturally relevant film that shines a spotlight on a recent time in our history that we all should be aware of.

Judas and the Black Messiah is the true story of a disciple’s betrayal; in this case, Judas is William “Bill” O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), and the Messiah is Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).

Fred Hampton was the Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panthers and one of the most notorious figures in the civil rights movement of the late ‘60s. He was a leader in the fight for Human rights and a prolific community organizer, attempting to make life better for Black Americans, minorities, and poor people. Fred Hampton believed that uniting with other race groups was crucial for the movement to succeed. He also started things still instituted today, like the Free Breakfast program. Feeding the poor earned him a Folk hero status in the community. This film, however, only covers a short period of his life, focusing primarily on Fred Hampton’s last days alive.

Bill O’Neal was a petty criminal caught by the police for impersonating an FBI agent. He was coerced into helping the FBI to keep tabs on Fred Hampton’s activities and to infiltrate the Black Panthers as an informer for the government. O’Neal eventually becomes close to Fred Hampton and has to choose between his freedom and betraying his friend.

FBI director J. Edgar Hoover believed that Fred Hampton could unite a coalition of oppressed minorities into working together towards one unified goal. Hoover saw this potential union as an inherent threat to the National Security of the United States; thus, declaring war on the Black Panthers and stopping Hampton at all costs became one of the top priorities for the FBI under Hoover.

The performances alone make this movie a must-watch. Daniel Kaluuya transforms completely into Fred Hampton; he delivers a powerful performance. He captures the complexities and magnitude of this real-life character convincingly. We get to see how charismatic Hampton was in public and how reserved and measured he seemed in private life.

However, the narrative centers mostly around William O’Neill. And how he was equally a victim of the system. We see how he was coerced into becoming a reluctant informant. This character’s inner conflict and the constant struggle between opposing allegiances are at the center of this story. O’Neill is pulled in many different directions, which is the central idea of all undercover stories; A character that goes into a world, and then the character becomes a part of said world. Lakeith Stanfield is excellent here — He establishes a strong physical performance, where the facial gestures anchor most of the core emotions of Bill O’Neill.

The relationship between Fred Hampton and his girlfriend, Deborah Johnson (Dominique Fishback), is exceptionally depicted. Their love story was complex, and it was superbly dramatized. Dominique Fishback has been on my radar ever since I saw her in the outstanding HBO series the Deuce. She is fantastic here.

Kudos to director Shaka King. I dig everything about this film — how it was shot, the dialogue, and the acting. The shootout and the raid scene were pretty intense and well-executed. My only issue is that we don’t get a real sense of how young Fred Hampton was when he was murdered. Fred Hampton was just a kid, barely 21, and Bill O’Neill was 17 when all of this went down in 1969. I feel that the movie needed to emphasize this fact better.

Nevertheless, Judas and the Black Messiah is a bold and thought-provoking film. It is not one of those movies that romanticize the FBI as the good guys vs. the bad guys while completely ignoring their dark history and shady tactics, especially during its early years under Hoover. The fact is that Fred Hampton was murdered by his own government, executed in his own home. There is solid historical value here — We get to see how the FBI used shady and perverse tactics to hold people like O’Neill under their control in their ruthless pursuit of Black Panthers, minority revolutionaries, and anyone who displayed any progressive or radical ideologies. This film unapologetically exposes the dark history of the FBI brilliantly.

There is a direct connection between Judas and the Black Messiah and The Trial of the Chicago 7. Both films have been nominated for Academy Awards, and both movies tackled similar and relevant issues. Both stories parallel each other, and both stories are centered around government oppression, corruption, Police brutality, freedom, human rights, and social-economic issues. Their significance cannot be understated.

Four out of Five Popcorn Bags 🍿🍿🍿🍿

Judas and the Black Messiah (2020).