The Novice Cinephile

Exploring the world of cinema one film at a time.

Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan) vs. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman)

The 18th film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe takes us to the fictional land of Wakanda. Here, we’re introduced to a whole new side of the Marvel universe and go on a thrilling adventure with T’Challa, king of Wakanda, the Black Panther. Chadwick Boseman brings one of my favorite superheroes to life in this instant classic!

So, given that Marvel is the biggest franchise on earth and everyone on the internet has already watched Black Panther, this review will be slightly different. Instead of talking about if the movie is worth watching, we’re going to take a moment to appreciate this film and the legacy it leaves behind.

The character of Black Panther was created by comic book legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. He made his debut in the Avengers and Fantastic Four series and went on to have his own comic book run. He was the first superhero of African descent and appeared years before heroes like The Falcon, Luke Cage, and John Stewart (Green Lantern). The relevance of this character has been a part of his origin since the beginning. T’Challa isn’t just a comic book character. He’s a symbol of the African-American dream. Continue reading

Love & Basketball is about two professional athletes who fall in love at first sight. Will the love of basketball drive them apart or be the force that binds them together?

We follow Monica Wright (Sanaa Lathan) from age 11 all the way to her late 20s. She dreams of being the first woman in the NBA and bonds with her neighbor Quincy McCall (Omar Epps), an NBA player’s son. Their shared love of basketball is the crutch of their relationship. It’s what brings them together, but also what drives them apart. Everything comes easy for Quincy. He dreams of playing the NBA (like his father), and scouts are constantly watching him. He’s a prodigy, so things come naturally for him. Monica is equally as talented as a player, but it’s harder for a woman to stand out in sports. She has to overcome challenges with her family’s disapproval of her being an athlete and the pressure of getting recruited for college.

This starts to drive a wedge between Monica and Quincy because as soon as Monica has a breakthrough, she has to make an impossible decision. Is the love of basketball more important than her love for Quincy? That’s the question Monica faces throughout the film. Continue reading

Boyz n the Hood is a coming of age story and follows Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.) as he grows up in South Central Los Angeles. We meet his friends Ricky Baker (Morris Chestnut) and Darren ‘Doughboy’ Baker (Ice Cube) and learn the harsh truths of living in the hood.

This film hurts. It pulls no punches and is all too real. Writer and director John Singleton crafts a beautiful story showcasing what many black communities suffer from daily. Tre, Ricky, and Doughboy are three young men who have just as much potential as anyone else, but their lives of poverty, drugs, and gangs set them up for failure. Do we overcome these struggles, or do we succumb to them? Some people never get the chance, and it’s deplorable. Continue reading

Do the Right Thing is director Spike Lee’s fourth film, and it packs an emotional punch. Lee tackles everyday racism, police brutality, and white privilege in this amazing story.

The film follows Mookie (played by Spike Lee) as he works for a pizzeria owner named Sal (Danny Aiello) and his two sons, Vito (Richard Edson) and Pino (John Turturro). We see Mookie interact with his girlfriend, his friends, and his family throughout the film.

When watching this movie, I wasn’t sure what its message was going to be. What’s the ending going to be for Mookie? What are his struggles, his goals, and who does he want to be? As time went on, I noticed the real ambiguity of the story that was being told. We’re in the real world, and things don’t always play out like they do in the movies. Mookie doesn’t become a Jedi, and we’re certainly not searching for the ark of the covenant. No, Do the Right Thing is about people. They can be lazy, funny, stubborn, racist, broke, and downright silly at times, but that’s apart of human nature. Continue reading

Sounder is a film based on the William H. Armstrong novel of the same name. We follow the Morgan family as they survive the depression. Nathan (Paul Windfield) gets arrested for stealing food, and it’s up to his eldest son, David Lee (Kevin Hooks), and his wife, Rebecca (Cicely Tyson), to take care of their family.

The film is very grounded and simple in its storytelling. All of the characters feel like real people with real relationships. That might sound simple, but oftentimes in stories, the characters are here to present an idea and often aren’t fully developed in other ways. A perfect example is Leonardo leads, and Donatello does machines. The Ninja Turtles are four parts of one personality. Here, Nathan isn’t made to be a criminal. He’s just trying to take care of his family. You understand his motives, and even if they’re wrong, the film still shows you all sides of the character. It’s why such a simple premise is so moving.

Kevin Hooks is solid as David Lee. The love he has for his father and family is something that shines through. He is essentially our main character and holds his own with someone like Cicely Tyson. The nuance in Tyson’s performance is incredible. You see how caring and strong she is with her family, and once she has to deal with the white men in power, her tone shifts into a more serious, almost cynical tone.

The movie’s lack of a music score makes things often feel too quiet, but I honestly feel that better serves this film. It makes it feel like you’re a fly on the wall observing their lives. It was slightly jarring at first, but I learned to really love that decision as the movie went on.

The film is about love, loss, and hope. That’s something that we all need, especially in trying times. Sounder is a story that takes a basic idea and elevates it to something so much more. The film shows a family’s struggles and how they can survive those struggles with one another’s help.

In the Heat of the Night is a mystery drama based on John Ball’s 1965 novel of the same name. We follow a Philadelphia detective named Virgil Tibbs, played by Sidney Poitier. After passing through a small town in Mississippi, Tibbs is taken into custody for a murder simply based on his skin color. After the local police run out of options, they turn to Tibbs to solve the crime and find the real killer.

Poitier and Rod Steiger (Chief Gillespie) are a fantastic duo. Seeing the friction morph into respect between Gillespie and Tibbs is truly captivating and had me glued to the screen. The town of Sparta, MS, is dark and eerie. The residents are often depicted as racist or, at best unwelcoming to strangers. Giving the entire town this cold feeling. Seeing Tibbs confront racism and fight against it is one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever seen on film.

A black man is needed in a racist town; Tibbs could have easily returned home and have been free of this nightmare. Instead, he revealed his true character and decided to show compassion. He helped out people who think he’s their enemy and did so without taking crap from anyone. That’s a powerful statement, and the fact that this was in 1967 makes it even more incredible.

The tension in this film is incredibly high. I’m not too invested in the murder of Mr. Colbert, but in how Tibbs balances the murder mystery and racial backlash simultaneously. That’s the hook of the movie, and it’s handled beautifully. All good stories are brought to life by their characters, and this film is no different.

In the Heat of the Night is a fantastic mystery and packs a powerful message. Director Norman Jewison delivers a film that is a very human story about racial prejudice. With terrific performances from Poitier and Steiger and a great soundtrack by the legend Quincy Jones. It’s a classic that anyone would enjoy.

(Left)Tony Curtis, (Right) Sidney Poitier

The Defiant Ones star Sidney Poitier as Noah Cullen and Tony Curtis as John “Joker” Jackson. Cullen and Joker are two escaped prisoners who are chained together and must learn to depend on one another. The film tackles the subject of racial prejudice and crafts a thrilling and heart-warming tale around these two characters and their adventure.

Poitier and Curtis both deliver fantastic performances. You feel the bond between Cullen and Joker grow over the course of the story, and it’s really touching. Director Stanley Kramer delivered an incredible adventure story, and this is easily one of his best films. Kramer often used films to deliver a message on social issues, and this film is no different. Here, he finds the perfect balance between social commentary and adventure. Both characters feel real and human, and that’s what makes this story work. The idea of having our main characters chained together might seem a bit forced, but Kramer makes it work, and it’s a masterpiece.

There are supporting characters like Theodore Bikel (Sheriff Muller) and
Charles McGraw (Captain Gibbons), and they are all good in their roles. However, this is clearly Poitier and Curtis’ movie. They take up the bulk of the screentime and give it everything they’ve got. Thankfully, the Academy gave them the much-deserved recognition at the Oscars, with both being nominated for Best Actor.

I highly recommend The Defiant Ones. It’s a film that I feel everyone would benefit from watching. It’s the type of movie I love. There’s a sense of adventure and tension, but it also has something to say (It won Best Original Screenplay). The film sticks with you long after you’ve watched it and leaves you with a sense of clarity. Humans aren’t perfect, but there’s a chance that we can change as long as we work together.

The Defiant Ones is currently streaming on Prime Video.

Cabin in the Sky was released in 1943 and stars Ethel Waters (Petunia Jackson), Eddie “Rochester” Anderson (Joe Jackson), Lena Horne (Georgia Brown), Rex Ingram (Lucifer Jr.), and Kenneth Spencer  (The General). The film is a musical comedy that is based on the 1940 Broadway musical of the same name. Fun fact: Waters and Ingram actually reprise their roles from the stage play.

The film follows Joe Jackson, a good-hearted but materialistic man whose repentance is cut short when he is killed for his gambling debts. Joe is given 60 days to change his ways and punch his ticket to heaven. Though, Lucifer Jr. and his minions will do everything they can to prevent that from happening. Petunia’s prayers gave Joe a second chance but will he be able to change his life for the better?

Cabin in the Sky a fun time with fantastic performances from the assembled cast! The music is excellent and features performances by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. The film also features the Academy-Award Nominated song, ‘Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe’ and other standouts.

I enjoyed Waters’ role in particular. She delivers a touching performance, and her singing is outstanding. The film still suffers from a few racial stereotypes, but on the whole, it is pretty respectful to its cast and the audience.

Having an all-black cast was rare in the 1940s, and unfortunately, many theaters refused to play the picture for that very reason. The film was banned in Memphis, TN, and police shut down a showing 30 minutes into the film in Mount Pleasent, TN. However, that didn’t stop the movie from grossing nearly 26 million dollars at the domestic box office [numbers adjusted for inflation].

Cabin in the Sky is a charming film that broke new ground in the entertainment industry. It’s not without its flaws but shows that changes were starting to take place in Hollywood. Decades later, in the year 2020, the film was inducted into the National Film Registry, where it will be preserved forever.

Welcome to the first review in my Black History Month series. Here, we will be reviewing films starring black actors from the 1930s all the way to the 2010s. This is my way of celebrating black excellence and showcasing just how far we’ve come in the last 90 years. In this review, we’ll be taking a look at Imitation of Life (1934)!

Imitation of Life is based on a Fannie Hurst novel of the same name and focuses on two single mothers, Bea Pullman (Claudette Colbert) and Delilah Johnson (Louise Beavers). Both women go into business together to take care of their daughters. Bea’s late husband ran a maple syrup business, and Delilah has an incredible pancake recipe. The two launch a successful restaurant and raise their daughters Jesse Pullman (Rochelle Hudson) and Peola Johnson (Fredi Washington).

As time passes, Peola begins to learn that she and her mother are black. This is the 1930s, so obviously, this is a struggle for Peola. She is light enough to pass as a white girl and hates her mother for making her black [Peola’s father was white]. This is the emotional backbone of the story.

The film is a very progressive story for its time. Two working-class single mothers is not a story you often saw in the 1930s. It’s also the first film to deal with a mulatto child and what that means for a black family. Delilah still has her slave mentality, it’s a part of her character, and Peola can’t accept that side of her mother. It’s truly heartbreaking.

This film struggles to tell the story of Delilah and Peola, likely fearing the audience reception. The subject matter of light-skinned vs. dark-skinned still plagues black Americans to this very day. So, it’s never at the forefront of the film. Instead, we mostly see Bea and Delilah creating their business or a romance between Bea and Stephen Archer (Warren Williams). The film also still makes sure that Bea is shown to have more class than Delilah. Even though they’re business partners and share a home, Delilah still lives in the basement and never dresses quite as fancy as Bea.

Imitation of Life is a film ahead of its time but is still clearly a movie from the 1930s. Louise Beavers’ performance deserved an Oscar nomination but was snubbed for obvious (racist) reasons. The story was adapted again in 1959 and made Delilah and Peola the main plot of the movie. Completely erasing the pancake company. Unfortunately, Peola was not played by a black actress in that picture. Showing that even nearly 30 years later, Hollywood still couldn’t do this story justice.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the next review, which takes us to the 1940s!

The streaming wars rage on, and things are very different from this time last year. As the world continues to battle COVID-19, movie studios have to balance two issues. How to make money and how to keep theaters from dying. This brings us to the biggest studios on the planet, The Walt Disney Company, and Warner Media.

Disney+ and HBO Max have completely different approaches when it comes to releasing movies in 2021. In one corner, Disney is waiting to see what films can release in theaters while occasionally releasing one via Premier Access on Disney+. This means in addition to your Disney+ subscription, you have to pay $29.99 to see the upcoming film.

In the other corner, Warner Bros. decided to drop all of their 2021 films on HBO Max at no additional cost to subscribers. Meaning you can watch films like Godzilla vs. Kong, Space Jam: A New Legacy, and Dune from the comfort of your own home for free.

Now, at first glance, the best for the consumer is obviously HBO Max. After all, even if theaters are open, why would I leave my house and pay $15 when I can stay home and watch it for free? Compare that to Disney+ where I have to pay twice as much as a movie ticket.

The Disney+ approach is better for the Walt Disney Company and exhibitors. Disney isn’t using their films to inflate their subscribers. They’re giving consumers a safe option to watch their films but still encourage fans to go to the cinema. Theaters will likely struggle with the HBO Max situation. Again, even if my local theater is open, why would I pay extra? Disney gives the consumer a choice, and in some cases, makes the theater the better option.

If I’m single and want to watch Raya and The Last Dragon, I’d rather go to the theater and pay $15. If I have a family, I’d rather pay the $30 and stay home. A family of four typically pays $60 for a night at the movies, and that’s not counting concessions. For some, the theater is the logical choice, and that’s why exhibitors aren’t fighting Disney over Premier Access. This makes theaters a worthy option and doesn’t remove them from the equation like HBO Max.

“Clearly, Warner Media intends to sacrifice a considerable portion of the profitability of its movie studio division, and that of its production partners and filmmakers, to subsidize its HBO Max start up. As for AMC, we will do all in our power to ensure that Warner does not do so at our expense. We will aggressively pursue economic terms that preserve our business.”

– Adam Aron (AMC CEO)

The Premier Access model is not too different from ESPN’s pay-per-view model. You’re paying for ESPN but have to pay extra to watch the big fight. This is something that has been around for years.

I’m not here saying that Disney+ Premier Access will save theaters or that HBO Max will doom them, but I think, in the long run, Disney+ will help them more overall. After a year of watching Warner Bros. films’ for free, will people be willing to pay for them in 2022? Speaking from personal experience, ever since I started working from home last year, it’s been challenging going back into the office. Once we’re conditioned to do something for a year, it’s tough to go back.

At the end of the day, we all want movie theaters to survive, and I truly believe Premier Access is the best option in this new normal. It might not be the most consumer-friendly option, but we have to make sacrifices to keep theaters in business. After all, you can always wait for the movies to come out on Blu-Ray.