Movies (My Only Hobby)

ArcLight in Hollywood. My favorite (and most frequented) theatre {Photocred: Timeout.com}

Happy 2019 reader. I’ve been watching a lot of movies since moving to LA in 2016. Between 16 hour workdays making music, acting, and consulting, it’s safe to say that movie-watching is my one “hobby” — though my roommate (a fellow actor) calls it “research,” lol. We laugh about that but there’s truth to it — we learn a lot and generate new creative ideas based on what we see in theatres. And ever since studying audio engineering + being on set frequently as an actor, it’s become harder to listen to music or watch a movie as a passive consumer. When I’m streaming hits radio I’m analyzing vocals, arrangement, lyrics, the overall mix… and when I’m watching movies part of my attention is on the camera angles, the actor’s technique, the plot, etc.

But no matter how many hours I’ve put in on set or in the studio, I can still get lost in a great song or a great film… allowing my analytical mind to calm and submit to the soundtrack and the story. It’s been so much fun watching movies. But to take a step back from my new hobby… it’s been especially fun (and interesting) watching myself fall in love with movies. I’ve always enjoyed the theatres but admittedly I spent most of my 20’s feeling like it was an unnecessary time-sucker. I used to say things to myself like, you can go watch other people be great… or you can keep hustling to become great yourself.

I’ve grown to appreciate that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. Not only because I’m in the film business, but also because I know how important it is to consume positive and/or progressive media, especially film and music. I also know how critical films are to keeping a pulse on what’s relevant in culture/society. Which leads me to something I’ve been saying a lot since early 2018… I truly believe we’ve entered a new cultural renaissance. In fact, I think we’ve entered its prime — and its just the very beginning of a long prime.

1920’s Harlem Renaissance. An era where Harlem became a hub for new and booming, Black intellectual thought and creativity. {Photo Cred: History.com}

(Sidenote: I don’t remember dates well, so if you asked me when the Harlem Renaissance began I would’ve guessed 30’s or 40’s. But having to look it up for this post makes me realize that the Harlem Renaissance and our “new renaissance” — in my belief — are happening a century apart. That’s pretty cool).

Here’s why I believe we’ve entered the prime of a new cultural renaissance that is going to explode in the 2020’s decade. The prequel to this prime happened in the 2010’s decade where new recording artists like J Cole and Kendrick Lamar exploded onto the scene, running parallel to new films like Fruitvale Station (2013), The Butler (2013), Selma (2014), and many, many more. These films certainly stand on the shoulders of socially progressive films that paved a path into Hollywood, but they also did what they were supposed to — turn the path into a Freeway. The same Freeway that ushered in the “Get Out’s” and “Black Panther’s” of the world.

If you take a step back to bare witness to what is happening in Hollywood — a creative Mecca that is historically (and still presently — don’t get it twisted) one of the most racist and sexist, white-male-dominated industries in the world — it’s incredible to watch (pun intended). It’s beautiful and exciting. And I’m geeked about being in the very beginning of my long prime while our most important creative industries — film and music — are entering theirs. So I’m going to start writing about it quite frequently here… especially when I come out of the theatre fresh off a new flick. But before I do that I’ll reflect on the last handful that I’ve seen in theatres, even though my memory won’t be as fresh. Perhaps that’ll be a testament to the riveting scenes and breakthrough moments that stick with me months later. These include unforgettable films like A Star is Born, Bohemian Rhapsody, Creed 2, The Hate U Give, and many, many more.

So excited to share the magic. With love,

Ali

P.S. Theatre popcorn is on a shortlist of calories-I-never-regret. Probably in 3rd place behind Dr. Pepper (#2 and the only soda I ever drink – only at the theatre) and Cinnabon (#1 and the only cinnamon rolls I ever eat!)

The Truth About Men: More Fun & Funny Than Expected (Score: 7.5/10)

Assuming you watch the preview before you walk into the film, it’s almost impossible to walk away from this one disappointed. It delivers on its promised storyline — which is admittedly cliché and predictable — while undoubtedly adding some timely sociopolitical satire (perhaps “timeless” is more appropriate, unfortunately — but I’m referring to nods to the #meToo movement and issues centering on women in the workplace, romance, etc.) as well as that comedic flavor only a Taraji P., Tracy Morgan, and Erykah Badu type-trio can bring. The other supporting stars, including Taraji’s love interest Aldis Hodge and her assistant whose name I don’t feel like looking up, do an amazing job too! Taraji’s 3 “best friends” were cool too but moreso filler space for more dominate storylines.

Several pleasant surprises in this film for me. 1) Taraji’s name was Ali! No, not the female “Allie” — the Arab “Ollie,” — she was named after Muhammad Ali by her film father who owned a boxing gym. That made me feel good.

Another pleasant surprise was that the celebrity “cameos” were actually substantial scenes. You’ll have fun seeing Karl Anthony Towns, Shaq, Grant Hill, Marc Cuban, etc. — the scenes they were in were neither short nor insignificant — but to the contrary played a critical role in the narrative arch. To that end, in my Lil Wayne voice, “WHERE IS ERYKAH BADU AT? WHO DAT?”

Every scene Erykah was in was amazing and hilarious. She killed this role and, to my point above, far exceeded my expectations in terms of how significant a supporting role she would play. They even spoiled us with some outtakes after the film (MAKE SURE YOU STICK AROUND AFTER THE CREDITS)

MKAY?

Shouts to the homegirl V whose ears perked when Erykah’s voice boomed back in on our way out… we almost missed it!

This film is eerily well-aligned with Devon Franklin’s new book, The Truth About Men: What Men and Women Need to Know, which I am reading and STRONGLY recommend to anybody even remotely interested in this topic. Although “What Men Want” certainly wasn’t shooting for depth, it’s not just a surface-level substancel-ess comedy — there’s some really good nuggets in there and its clear (to me at least) the writer has a heart for issues of racial and gender discrimination in the workplace. This Breakfast Club Interview on Devon Franklin’s book was trending like #7 or #8 or something on YouTube a couple days ago… It’s really good and pretty short for a BC Interview:

That’s about it. Missing a lot of important shit, per usual, but that’s why it’s a blessing to be a Fake Film Critic.

‘Til the next flick,

Ali

A Star Is Born: Musa & Mariam This Is A Great Movie (Score: 10/10)

Mandatory Credit: Photo by David Fisher/REX/Shutterstock
75th Venice International Film Festival, Italy – 31 Aug 2018
In Episode 1 of the Fake Film Critics, we cover “A Star Is Born!”

I’m not comparing Gaga & The Coop to Moses & Mary; it’s just a figure of speech. If you’re offended, I’m offended that you’re offended. It’s my spiritually fulfilling way of saying: WWOOOOWWW! WOW PEOPLE.

I, unlike others I’ve heard, am entirely unsurprised that Gaga can act. I actually think it was ridiculous to expect otherwise. I’m pretty sure she went to a music and film academy for college and even if she didn’t, in my mind she did (yes this can be verified in seconds but I’m not interested — you do it), plus she’s as theatrical and ridiculous-a-music-persona (in a good way) as I’ve ever seen… so I had huge expectations for her acting chops. She met them. She didn’t exceed them because I already expected her to be the real-life-star that she is. And, she is. So there’s that. She was absolutely amazing, folks. Stunning. Beautiful. Skilled. Seasoned. Fresh.

To that end, the coolest part about this film for me was this mind-blowing irony: through Lady Gaga’s acting, I felt like I finally got to know Stefani… the woman behind the superstar persona. Didn’t you feel like that too? Maybe you already knew her that way. I can’t claim to be a Little Monster (given name of Gaga groupies), so maybe I’m just late to The Lady.

Bradley Cooper writes, directs, and stars in this film. He actually sings the songs, people. All of them. That’s his voice. Many of these were recorded and performed live. The man can sang. How did they do it? They showed up to real life concerts and stole some stage time! How cool is that? Shallow is my favorite track.

His relationship with his brother is one of the gems of this film. The complicated nature is nothing new, but the cinematic charm is a breath of fresh air. The head-to-head scenes where they’re mumbling to each other through high tension feel so real and relatable, even if you don’t beef with your brethren like that.

Listen, I’m not a film critic so I know there’s a lot I’m not covering but I don’t care. All you need to know is that this film deserves that T-E-N, believe that. Like you believe in Moses and Mary.

Happy watching,

Ali

Bohemian Rhapsody: Rotten Tomatoes is Rotten, This Film is Fire (Score: 10/10)

Rami Malek as Freddy Mercury. Photocred: IDK.
But by the time they come after my lil’ ole blog I’ll definitely be winnin’

I’m feelin’ that feelin’ you feel when the amount of feels you’re feelin’ is going to make it difficult to express your feelings as concisely as you’d like. Can I get an Ameen? No? Cool. Already know imma take the L on this post — like, for long.

Foremost, thank God I’m a fake film critic because I’d hate to have to try and organize the forthcoming into a coherent structure. Brothers and sisters — this movie is fantabulously bonkers. If you read my post about us living in a movie renaissance, this is one of those flicks that confirms it. People, these flicks have made celibacy easy for me. I’ve been flicks over chicks. Which is relevant, actually, because Freddie Mercury, who is played by the effin’ amazing Arab Rami Malek, doesn’t know what he is. But his girlfriend does, because her reply to Ramy’s dramatic confession, “I think I’m bisexual,” made my Hollywood theatre erupt into laughter: “you’re gay, Freddy.”

Funfact: I watched this film again in theatres in Richmond, VA, where I was visiting my self-appointed-Godmama, and nobody laughed during that part. Strange… maybe the south is a bit slow to support our gay brethren or something. I’m being facetious, cupcake. That’s exactly why nobody thought it was funny.

Ok. Lemme try to rapid fire some relevant facts before this falls apart. This movie is based on the band QUEEN. Oh, you don’t know them so why should you care? Sit down and shut up, yes you do. We will, we will, rock you? Yeah. Sayonara sweetie. Another one bites the dust? We are the champions?

Freddy was the lead singer of Queen and had 4 octave range. His real name was Farrokh. He was gay. He had 4 octave range. He had a very complicated relationship with his father and his family at-large. He was promiscuous. He never fixed his teeth on purpose, why? He had 4 octave range. He had aids. He died of it. He was an absolutely stunning singer and performer. He wrote some of the greatest songs ever. He was one of the most beloved stars in the universe. Michael Jackson status. Some would argue I just sold him short. Don’t shoot the messenger. I didn’t even know who this man was despite the fact that I grew up singing along to him. I know — you too — that’s probably why you’re still reading.

So why did Rotten Tomatoes try to shit on Bohemian Rhapsody? Hell if I know. If I had to guess, it’s because Rami was Arab and they probably even assumed he was Muslim, which he isn’t, at least not by birth. But he is, despite the rotten haters’ best efforts to stop it, the first person of color to win the Golden Globe Award in 18 years. Yes, for 18 years this award went exclusively to my white loves. Because nobody else can act.

The movie is named after the band’s most successful (and one of the world’s most successful) songs ever: Bohemian Rhapsody. The song is ridiculously long and the label head didn’t believe in it. That story is retold in hilarious (and historically accurate, from my understanding) fashion.

Now for the TMZ section. Rami’s apparently dating his co-star, who played his wife in the film. Or just GF? Can’t remember if they got married. It doesn’t matter because they were deeper than titles and I’m a fake film critic. This apparently isn’t the first co-star Rami dates. My roomie and I make fun of him for this… we call this rookie acting behavior. Meanwhile he has a Golden Globe and we’re dreaming about one — so def. no judgement. To the contrary, that made their screen chemistry out of this world and whose to say their relationship can’t last!? Speaking of lasting, the band, QUEEN, overcome a breakup to last and go out with a bang. They played for what I believe is the longest recorded audience in history shortly before Freddy’s passing. The actors of the other band members do an amazing job and look like QUEEN replicas.

Overall amazing film, folks. Really a must a see for everyone. Enjoy!

Ali

Creed II: A Knockout Story You Can’t Forget (Score: 9/10)

It’s bigger than boxing. That was established in Creed I but just like Michael B Jordan’s jabs, you’ll see it more quickly and feel it more sharply in this sequel. What a flick, folks.

Who reinvents themself better than Rocky? Sylvester Stallone is a savant. He writes, directs, and stars in this film and his humility, evolution, and acting chops are reminiscent of Clint Eastwood. Maybe his acting isn’t of that caliber quite yet — but everything else is. And I’m not for the comparison stuff anyway. Stallone is his own star and he’s a shiny one.

BUT WAIT — HOLD MY HOOKAH HOSE — THE REAL BELT GOES TO:

People: TESSA. Try-not-to-love-me-and-watch-yourself-lose. THOMPSON. Not that I tried. I didn’t try at all. I accepted defeat about as quickly as Michael B Jordan did. This woman is a force. For this film and for the universe. Oh, and she literally steals the show ;-). In one of the coolest and most memorable scenes I’ve seen in a long time. You’ll see.

The fact that she doesn’t grace the cover’s of Creed’s promos is what I call silent blasphemy. I also think it was unwise from a marketing standpoint, because I don’t think this is your “maschismo” film. I think women would/do enjoy it equally. All that said, “Big Nasty,” Creed’s opponent — deserves that cover credit. I love how they humanized and complicated his character and gave him a compelling, less-cliche backstory.

You’re probably frustrated by now. I told you nothing about Creed’s main star. I feel you, but I was up-front that I suck at being a film critic — I’m just a film fan. I mean, what do you want? His act was as awesome as his abs. What, you want to hear me say he makes me question my sexuality? He doesn’t. He just reminds me that attraction isn’t gender-binary to begin with. So fall back and go fall in love with this film yourself.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right-Hook,

Ali

P.S. {#SemiSpoilerAlert}. The dialogue between Rocky & Creed, in the hospital after the baby is born. Absolutely brilliant and beautiful. My fav.

If Beale Street Could Talk: It Wouldn’t Have To! (Score: 9/10)

PHOTOCRED: Annapurna Pictures

What I mean is, so much of the gold in this film happens in the heat of its silence.

This riveting love story is told through the full spectrum of human emotion and experience: the devastating sadness of being split from your beloved; the anger of overt racism and oppression; the blow of betrayal in your bloodline; the happiness of two heartbeats in conversation; the monotony of months with no justice; the utter joy of justice-for-once; the rambunctiousness of childhood friends reunited. So much of this lives in the eyes, the body language, the cries, the laughter, the breath.

You can’t just “act” that type of stuff out. You gotta be that character; truly embody that role. And for that, KiKi Layne and Stephan James put on Oscar-worthy performances.

Worth mention: this movie takes place in New York. It’s based on James Baldwin’s famous play (by the same name), and that too takes place in New York. The idea, as I understand it (I didn’t read that one — though everything Baldwin touches is gold), is that if Beale Street could talk, it would more or less tell a Harlem story. And this story is brought to the screen in a way that I believe would make Baldwin proud.

Until next time,

Ali