29 Days of Romance, Review #7: If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

29 Days of Romance, Review #7: If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

 

If Beale Street Could Talk
IMDb

Directed by: Barry Jenkins. Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King. Runtime: 1h 59 min. Released: December 25, 2018.

The prologue to Barry Jenkins’ If Beale Street Could Talk, adapted from a 1974 novel by James Baldwin, set up my expectations for the film well. “Beale Street is a street in New Orleans where my father, where Louis Armstrong and the jazz were born. Every black person born in America is born on Beale Street…” it reads. “Beale Street is our legacy. Beale Street is a loud street. It is left to the reader [viewer] to discern a meaning in the beating of the drums.”

This is a great introduction to the story and set up my expectations that the film is more about the character’s experiences, and the black experience, than anything else. It’s a love story surviving through hate, about Tish Rivers (KiKi Layne) and Alonzo ‘Fonny’ Hunt (Stephan James). Fonny is imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit and Tish is pregnant with his baby, and Tish and her family try to prove his innocence.

Wrongful conviction movies are one of my favourite kind-of films and while that’s going on in Beale Street, the film takes a different kind-of approach to it. Through the film, it accurately portrays that it is an unjust system and there’s no winning against it. More importantly, it depicts the world as being unjust. The legal parts of the film where the characters try and prove Fonny’s innocence are solid but few and far between. That’s because it’s about the love story between Tish and Fonny.

This part of the film is beautiful. The chemistry between them shines through and these are strong performances from KiKi Layne and Stephan James that carry the film adequately. They’re star-making performances, but Stephan James also seems like he could be a strong character actor, too, but he’s held his own as the lead role, like when he starred as Jesse Owens in the 2016 film Race. Here, both of the starring performances are quiet and reserved, and the drama here is never loud, either.

Beale Street, article
Regina King in If Beale Street Could Talk. (IMDb)

Layne’s voice-over narration that adds context to the character’s experience is a highlight throughout the film. The narration is consistently lovely and her voice is so soft that it’s really endearing. The performances all feel quiet throughout, and others in the cast shine, too, especially Regina King as Tish’s mother Sharon Rivers. She won an Oscar for the performance and it’s deserved, in two key scenes, when she fights for Fonny near the end of the film and close to the very beginning when the family gathers Fonny’s family and they tell them that Tish is pregnant. This scene is also the strongest in terms of dialogue and is one of the only times that the drama is explosive and close to shouting. It’s fair to say the film peaks for me in this scene because there’s so much power in the cast’s words in this scene. One more thing about Regina King, she makes the best of her screen time, and I thought Beale Street only got better when King was on-screen.

Director Barry Jenkins brings a great vision to this beautiful, timeless story. The film isn’t always eventful because it’s very talky and just about humans loving each other, and it’s not often flashy. There’s almost always meaning and power in its dialogue. It made the experiences of these characters easily understandable, even though I could tell the significance of some scenes went over my head. I loved the meaning I found in the beating of the film’s drums and I’d love to read the novel. Speaking of drums, the score by Nicholas Britell and its use of jazz is stunning, never interfering with the story or overpowering the performances, only enhancing the experience.

Score: 80/100

 

 

Deadpool (2016)

Deadpool (2016)

 

Better Deadpool poster
Source

Released: February 12, 2016. Directed by: Tim Miller. Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein. Runtime: 1hr, 48 min.

The wait for the man in the red suit is finally over. It’s not Santa Claus – but the merc with a mouth himself, Deadpool. And it’s everything I’ve dreamed a Deadpool movie would be.

It’s fun and consistently entertaining. The strong pacing and the film’s fourth-wall breaking enables smooth transitions in the well-written screenplay. As a bonus, it’s heartfelt.

It’s an R-rated dream, challenging the likes of Kick-Ass and The Punisher as one of the most violent super hero films. Though, Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is more like a super vigilante.

Wade Wilson was Special Forces before he became Deadpool, signing up for treatment that’s said to cure his cancer. It turned him into an ugly, super human, immortal ass-kicking machine, which led him to leave his girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) in heartbreaking nature.

I was hooked from the film’s opening credits – a flipped car frozen in motion, as the camera takes us through a variety of items. The clever film induces big laughs in the most violent situations. The movie and violence work because of its over-the-top nature, and director Tim Miller really makes the humour hit in his directorial debut.

Colossus, Deadpool
Deadpool, Colossus and Negasonic Teenage Warhead in Deadpool. (Source)

The way the non-linear storyline weaves throughout the present and how Wilson became super is an intriguing style for a super hero film, which meets a balls-to-the-wall revenge tale.

Wilson has pledged revenge on Francis (Ed Skrein, The Transporter Refueled), who is responsible for the way Wade looks. Which, as the amusing T.J. Miller’s character Weasel describes, it’s like “Freddy Krueger face-f**ked a topographical map of Utah.”

Francis, whose villain name Ajax is more threatening, is a strong villain. He’s as sadistic as he is unrelenting. His power is a curse – where the super serum that Wade was put through turned Francis into someone who could not feel pain.

His right-hand woman is Angel Dust, a villain with super strength portrayed by former MMA fighter Gina Carano. She’s kick-ass, even though she can’t act her way out of a paper bag. For me, she’s the film’s biggest flaw.

Deadpool
Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool (Source)

Wade enlists two X-Men to take down the baddies. One is Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic), an iron man with super strength; and the other is a trainee called Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). She has explosive powers, and is described as a “moody teenager” in Wade’s amusing vision of opening credits.

Deadpool’s great self-referential humour featuring digs at X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Green Lantern make this a winner. It also feels so fresh and unique.

Even when it falls into a standard hero versus villain battle at the end, the humour and ambition add a fresh spin. The pure beauty of the film is Wade Wilson and how well Ryan Reynolds does as the character.

His comedic timing fits the badass character as well as the red suit fits him. Reynolds’ ability to act so effectively with his voice brings an energetic aspect to the performance, and he seems to be picking his roles better since his entertaining turn in The Voices. It seems like a promise for better things for Reynolds.

He knows he isn’t a hero and he just does his thing and it’s awesome. The hero is harshly judged and his ugliness gives him a vulnerable layer that makes him relatable. The memorable action scenes and soundtrack complement the mood so well, which is the cherry on top on this glorious movie.

4.5 out of 5 stars