What Happens When Big Names with Big Personalities Spend ‘One Night in Miami…’? Let’s Find Out!

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One Night in Miami (CREDIT: Amazon Studios)

Starring: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Lance Reddick, Nicolette Robinson, Michael Imperioli, Joaquina Kolukango, Beau Bridges

Director: Regina King

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rating: R for Language (There’s a Lot of Dialogue)

Release Date: December 25, 2020 (Theaters)/January 15, 2021 (Amazon Prime Video)

On one particular day in February 1964, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown spent an evening together in Florida and the makers of One Night in Miami… thought we might like to see how that may have played out. First this idea took the form of a 2013 play written by Kemp Powers. Now he’s adapted it into a screenplay, with Regina King making her feature directorial debut. (Spoiler alert: you can tell that it started out as a play.) Are these African-Americans titans of the 20th century just as interesting together as we knew them to be individually? Although of course, the more relevant question is: do the actors playing them do them justice, and can they find the right chemistry for their little powwow? The answer probably won’t blow your mind, though it might satisfy you.

Reporting for duty on this night are Kingsley Ben-Adir as X, Eli Goree as Ali (actually still going by Cassius Clay at the time), Aldis Hodge as Brown, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Cooke. Odom’s casting makes the most sense to me, because he can sang. He can be musical anyway you want him to, so summoning the majestic voice behind “Chain Gang” is no problem for him. Meanwhile, Ben-Adir commands most of the attention, and he’d better, because Malcolm had plenty to cover that he thought was pretty damn urgent, and he wanted everyone to hear him. Goree and Hodge, alas, fade a bit into the background. That might mean that the promise of the premise isn’t fully fulfilled, but the others pick up on the slack as this ultimately becomes the “Malcolm & Sam Show” more than anything else. Everyone, especially Malcolm, picks on Sam for not carrying his weight in the civil rights fight, while Sam fires back that he’s actually figured out part of The Man’s formula for getting a piece of the pie and he’s in fact been sharing it with his associates. In conclusion, they’re all doing their part!

Whenever people with big personalities are having passionate debates about the issues of the day, you can pretty much guarantee that there will be at least something satisfying. But I did find myself wondering throughout much of One Night in Miami… why I wasn’t finding it as dynamic as I thought I would. It probably boils down to the fact that I would rather watch these famous guys do what they’re famous for, rather than watching them talk. To be fair, Malcolm and Muhammad were partly famous for their wordsmanship, but playing to a big crowd and having an intimate conversation are two very different situations. We do get to see some of Muhammad in the ring, but we don’t get to see any of Jim on the football field or roughing up Martians. At least we get a decent amount of Sam onstage. Letting Leslie Odom Jr. loose with the Sam Cooke songbook is hardly a groundbreaking revelation, but it gets the job done enough when we need it to.

One Night in Miami… is Recommended If You Like: Movies That Walk and Talk Like Plays

Grade: 3 out of 5 Close-Cropped Haircuts

 

‘The Invisible Man’ Has a Scary Number of Tricks in Its Arsenal

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CREDIT: Universal Pictures

Starring: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman

Director: Leigh Whannell

Running Time: 124 Minutes

Rating: R for Deadly Weapons Deployed Unpredictably

Release Date: February 28, 2020

In the immortal words of Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” And when it comes to loosely adapting H.G. Wells’ The Invisible Man, one can give oneself a lot of leeway in terms of how much magic the titular fellow uses to render himself invisible. Writer-director Leigh Whannell (a veteran primarily of the Insidious series) makes it pretty clear which side of the magic-technology pendulum he’s swinging on by letting us know that his invisible man is “a world leader in the field of optics.” But while we are assured that there is a scientific basis for these strange happenings, that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of movie magic. One shocking set piece in which a steak knife suddenly starts floating in the air underscores the power of good old-fashioned well-timed editing. Then there are the moments of actors getting thrashed about by seemingly nothing, and it amazingly does not come off as silly, thanks to whatever combination of camera tricks, CGI manipulation, and precise physicality is employed.

The Invisible Man demonstrates the far-reaching power of abusive relationships. They do not just tear apart the people within them, they can also break down anyone who comes into contact with their deceit and manipulation. The film begins with Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) escaping the mansion where she lives with her thoroughly controlling husband Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). While crashing at her friend James’ (Aldis Hodge) house, she is initially barely able to walk out to the mailbox until she learns that Adrian has killed himself. But soon enough, a series of inexplicable occurrences convince Cecilia that Adrian actually faked his death and has now become the ultimate stalker.

Everyone in front of and behind the camera takes their cues from paranormal films in which the victim of supernatural phenomena is dismissed as suffering from the hallucinations of mental illness. As Cecilia notes, that is the profound insidiousness of an abusive relationship at work, as the abuser does everything he can to make the victim look like she’s crazy. This approach also works fantastically on a formal level, as Cecilia struggles to convince the people around her that Adrian is right there when they are in the utmost danger. She is not asking them to believe anything beyond the physical realm, but rather, to sniff out a high-level illusion. Not only is Adrian invisible, he’s also apparently soundproof, odor-free, and otherwise imperceptible. I had to wonder more than once: where and when does he eat and excrete? That’s not a criticism, just a further illustration of how much he renders himself untraceable. A supervillain this inventive does not come around too often, and it is quite the catharsis when his deception is exposed.

The Invisible Man is Recommended If You Like: Monster scientists, sleek modern mansions rendered as haunted houses, overwhelming horror scores, comeuppance for abusers

Grade: 4 out of 5 Diazepam Pills

Movie Review: ‘What Men Want’ Mines Humor, But Not Much Else, From Its Gender-Flipped Premise

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CREDIT: Paramount Pictures

Starring: Taraji P. Henson, Aldis Hodge, Tracy Morgan, Josh Brener, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Tamala Jones, Phoebe Robinson, Max Greenfield, Jason Jones, Kellan Lutz, Brian Bosworth, Chris Witaske, Erykah Badu

Director: Adam Shankman

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: R for Aggressive Sex, Alpha Dog Profanity, and Bachelorette Party Drug Imbibing

Release Date: February 8, 2019

The ability to read minds is a rich comic premise. That holds true even when it is done in the service of outdated ideas about gender differences, or in service of a more enlightened view of gender differences, which perhaps demonstrates that any grand statement on this topic is quite possibly a folly. While saying “men are like this, but women are like THIS” can easily be a problematic minefield, as long as you show the distance between what characters say and what they leave unsaid, the formula for laughs is there. What Men Want does not screw that formula up, at least not completely. But does it offer anything more than raucous unintentional confessionals?

I have not seen What Women Want, but from what I know about it, it cannot be so easily pinned as too reliant on stereotypes or a deconstruction of said stereotypes. The same is true of What Men Went. Taraji P. Henson plays Ali Davis, a sports agent who can match her male colleagues in alpha dog aggressiveness, but she is struggling to make partner at her agency, and it is clear that that is because of assumptions of what women can or should do in a professional setting. Frankly, she does not need to read minds to know that, as she is already a decent judge of character anyway. Ultimately, her newfound ability is little more than a parlor trick. What she really needs to be able to get over the humps in her personal and professional lives is to fully listen to what the people who truly care about her are saying, which is not the same thing as hearing their thoughts.

That is a valuable lesson, but also fairly pedestrian considering the unusual circumstances. What Men Want is not fundamentally obvious, but it does feel like a bit of a wasted opportunity, because its premise is not really essential to its conclusion. Luckily, these types of movies are often reliable for memorable side characters, and we have got some delightfully kooky ones here. In particular, Tracy Morgan more or less plays himself as the father of a top NBA prospect, spouting claims like how Abraham Lincoln was “part Eskimo” and Richard Nixon “shot and ate a panda.” And then there is Erykah Badu as a self-made psychic/weed dealer, gloriously mystical and loopy as ever.

What Men Want is Recommended If You Like: Taraji P. Henson Upgrading Average Material, Tracy Morgan Running His Mouth, Erykah Badu at her zaniest

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Head Konks