The New ‘Candyman’ Asks, ‘What if Candyman Now … and Forever?’

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Candyman (2021) (CREDIT: Universal Pictures and MGM Pictures)

Starring: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Vanessa Estelle Williams, Rebecca Spence, Brian King, Tony Todd

Director: Nia DaCosta

Running Time: 91 Minutes

Rating: R for The Bloodiest of Hook-Based Violence

Release Date: August 27, 2021 (Theaters)

What’s the DEAL with decades-later horror sequels having the exact same title as the original?! Halloween did it just a few years ago, and now Candyman is getting on the reboot-but-actually-it’s-a-continuation action. I’m not a fan of this trend, and it strikes me as especially dangerous in the case of Candyman. We need some extra words in there so that we don’t accidentally say his name five times in a row! But there’s actually something apt in this case about just recycling the title. Candyman may be overwhelmingly deadly when he appears, but he exists as a whisper and a shadow the rest of the time. So it makes sense that a new generation would be discovering him completely fresh thirty years after his cinematic debut. I would maybe tack on a “The New Generation” subtitle, but the idea behind the repetition is justifiable.

So this may sound a little weird, but just go with me here: the movie that Candyman 2021 most reminds me of is … The Force Awakens. They share a certain kinship in the way that they go about examining their predecessors. These stories have become legends within their universes, and the new characters are fans of the original adventurers who are psyched to meet them. In Candyman Land, Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is a visual artist who’s been struggling to find inspiration but suddenly becomes full-to-bursting with ideas when he hears tell of a man with a hook who slices and dices his victims after they summon him in a mirror. He’s also soon spending much of his free time listening to the recordings left behind by Helen Lyle, the graduate student who was researching the Candyman in the first film. When you go this deep into the story, you become a part of that story, and oh boy, does Anthony become an integral cog in this tale.

By focusing so squarely on the original, Candyman 2021 is occasionally a little too myopic in its approach. For horror freaks like myself, there’s something bizarrely enjoyable about the unhinged world-building that’s typical of so many spooky sequels but less common in these reboot-style sequels. Writer-director Nia DaCosta’s approach is decidedly laser-focused, which is a good thing insofar as she knows exactly what she’s trying to accomplish and she reminds those of us who loved the original why we loved it so much. But it’s a less-than-good thing insofar as it keeps her movie perhaps too much in check. I haven’t seen either of the first two Candyman sequels that were released in the 90s; as far as I know, neither is highly regarded, but wouldn’t it be cool if DaCosta somehow found a way to incorporate elements of them into her outing? I think so. (Although maybe there are some Easter eggs that I missed… It didn’t feel like that was the case, though.)

All the ducks are in order here: the set pieces are thrilling, the music is chilling, the acting strikes the right range of tones. To sum it all up, I appreciate the lens that New-Candyman focuses on Candyman Original Flavor, but I also believe that it would have benefitted from expanding that lens a bit.

Candyman 2021 is Recommended If You Like: The Force Awakens in terms of the self-awareness, People saying “No! No! No!” right before someone summons something evil, Fun with production logos

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Bees

‘Zola’ Has Me Feeling All ‘Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here’

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Zola (CREDIT: A24)

Starring: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo, Nicholas Braun, Ari’el Stachel, Jason Mitchell

Director: Janicza Bravo

Running Time: 90 Minutes

Rating: R for The Full Array of Language, Nudity, and Violence

Release Date: June 30, 2021 (Theaters)

There’s a lot of balls to Zola, both in the sense of chutzpah and exposed private parts. Check your pulse at the door, this one is not for the faint of heart. It has the verve and vibe of a no-holds-barred good time, but it’s all in the name of pandemonium. The ostensible attraction of this story for moviegoers is that while it’s terrifying for the people it happened to, it’s exhilarating to witness from the comfort and safety of your local multiplex or couch. But by the end, the only thought I was left with was, “I’m glad that didn’t happen to me.” And I suspect that’s exactly the sort of trick that director/co-writer Janicza Bravo was attempting to pull off.

This is definitely a story of something happening to someone, as opposed to that someone taking charge. Aziah “Zola” King (Taylour Paige) would probably like to think of herself as a person who’s in control of her own life, at least as much as anyone can be while getting by in a capitalist society. But when ripped outside your comfort zone, you might suddenly find yourself at the mercy of powerful forces.

Based on a viral tweet thread by the real Zola and a Rolling Stone article inspired by that thread, the movie tracks the quick rise and fall of her friendship with the alluring Stefani (Riley Keough). One day, Zola is Stefani’s waitress; the next, they’re best buds driving hundreds of miles to make it rain at some Florida strip clubs. But what Zola hadn’t bargained for is the annoying presence of Stefani’s hangdog boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun). And what she REALLY hadn’t bargained for was Stefani’s pimp X (Colman Domingo) advertising her adult services without her consent.

Zola presents Stefani as a perpetrator of instant betrayal and someone she never should have trusted with in the first place. One of the most telling moments happens when the movie suddenly switches perspectives, with Stefani offering a much shorter, cleaner, and more unbelievable version of the entire journey. That section might seem to be the closing argument of Stefani as a dangerous siren, but it’s also further evidence to me about how much she is being manipulated by X or anyone else in a position to destroy her whole life. There’s no way out for Stefani, and no indication that she’s even considered the possibility of how to escape. For Zola and the rest of us, it’s a relief that this was just a temporary scrape with the underworld.

Zola is Recommended If You Like: Watching a great time turn into an awful time

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Backpage Ads

This Is a Movie Review: Barry Jenkins is as Sensitive and Empathetic as Ever with James Baldwin Adaptation ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’

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CREDIT: Tatum Mangus/Annapurna Pictures

This review was originally published on News Cult in December 2018.

Starring: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Teyonah Parris, Colman Domingo, Bryan Tyree Henry, Ed Skrein, Emily Rios, Finn Wittrock

Director: Barry Jenkins

Running Time: 117 Minutes

Rating: R for Longtime Friends Becoming Lovers and Their Families Yelling Awful Things at Each Other

Release Date: December 14, 2018 (Limited)

One of the strength of Barry Jenkins’ films is that they work much like how the human brain works. They process their stories from a clear beginning to end, but along the way they take detours, often expressionistic and dreamlike, because in their associative natures they have tendencies to temporarily disassociate. The narrative focus in If Beale Street Could Talk is on the effort to free Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt (Stephan James) from jail after he has been (obviously and egregiously) falsely been accused of rape. We stay close with his family and pregnant girlfriend Tish (KiKi Layne) as the weeks tick by and they do whatever they possibly can for a young black man in 1970s America. Interspersed with this steady passage of time are flashes of Fonny and KiKi’s memories, hopes, and nightmares. The images in these moments are often idyllic and tranquil, but there is an undercurrent of imprisonment demonstrating that the worst of reality cannot be fully escaped as it infects our psyches.

If On Beale Street Could Talk is based on James Baldwin’s novel of the same name, and Jenkins’ smooth hand ensures that Baldwin’s conception of Harlem is brought to tactile, contemporary life. Layne’s sweet, mischievous, and unapologetic narration; Nicholas Britell’s smooth score; and James Laxton’s crisp cinematography make for a sensuous feast that altogether works to achieve a remarkable feat of empathy generation. All films that are worth their weight put us in their characters’ headspaces and let us discover what they were all about, but Beale Street is a special case. Every moment is especially intimate and familial, and it is thus an honor to be invited in. Like most stories about false accusations and systemic discrimination, this one is frustrating to anyone who cares about justice, but amidst all that there is to be angry at, Jenkins somehow manages to achieve an odd sort of peace by the end. Everything is far from perfect, but the love between Tish and Fonny is real and worth celebrating.

If Beale Street Could Talk is Recommended If You Like: Moonlight, The Harlem Renaissance, Love & Basketball

Grade: 3.75 out of 5 People Who Love Each Other