‘Soul’ is Pretty Dang Soulful

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Soul (CREDIT: Pixar/YouTube Screenshot)

Starring: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Angela Bassett, Questlove

Directors: Pete Docter and Kemp Powers

Running Time: 106 Minutes

Rating: PG

Release Date: December 25, 2020 (Disney+)

Graham Norton as a hippie sign waver? I wasn’t expecting that. I like it!

I’m going to go ahead and whip out the “Does this movie make me want to do what it’s about?” type of review. So here goes: does Soul make me want to have a soul? Very much so! I may already have one, but if I don’t … I’d like one! Also relevant: when I’m listening and/or singing along to soul music, that’s pretty dang invigorating as well. (Soul features more jazz than soul, but soul and jazz are often in conversation with each other.)

It’s ultimately a religio-philosophical matter whether or not an inner essence exists, and what it should be called, and how it should be defined. Which is all to say, we probably can’t fully ever know all there is to know about the soul. This film is part of that inquiry, and if its inquiring essence resonates with anybody, then it might just be worth incorporating its ideas into our personal philosophies. Soul posits that our purpose isn’t what we’re passionate about, but how we’re passionate. That’s pretty damn life-affirming from my vantage point.

Grade: 4 out of 5 Jerrys (and 1 out of 5 Terrys)

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