When Love Hurts

As a person who took only a passing interest in the relationship of the Smith family, the whole ‘August’ debacle left little impression on me. I know the story; Jada slept with her son’s friend, August Alsina, a rapper/singer and spoke about the affair on her podcast. The resulting confession left her husband, Will, looking somewhat foolish and emasculated. 

For the few – very few – who do not know who Will Smith is, he is a rapper-cum-actor. Best known for the television show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the Men in Black film series, Smith was already a star when he moved to film and television. 

Smith’s spouse, Jada, is an interesting character. Before her utterances regarding her relations with Alsina, her persona had always been one of being Smith’s wife. An accomplished, successful actor, Jada was not one – before her Facebook show – to cultivate a public presence. This is diametrically opposed to Will’s persona.

Raised by her mother and grandmother, Jada was a woman from the streets. With an aptitude for performance, her grandmother encouraged her in that direction. At performing arts school, Jada met and found a kindred spirit in the late rapper, Tupac Shakur. 

Shakur did not pander to or crave public approval. Whereas Smith’s raps were happy and comforting, with radio-friendly lyrics that even school children could listen to, Shakur’s raps were not. He rapped about life on the streets in a language and lexicon that spoke to that life. After his death in nineteen-ninety-six, Shakur’s star continued to rise, his music influencing upcoming rappers and selling in the millions. 

Tupac and Jada never had a carnal relationship, their relationship was strictly platonic. She admired him; his personality and charisma. He felt the same way about her. 

Though Jada was already in a relationship with Will, she never hid her love for Shakur. At the time of his death, the two had become estranged, Jada pulling away from the street life and people that Shakur continued to embrace. Such was their bond, neither expected that they would never see the other again. 

The untimely death left their relationship journey incomplete. There is no way of knowing whether they would have reconciled, whether the friendship would have evolved into something where they could respect the differing paths their lives were moving in. What is evident is the shadow it has cast over Smiths’ relationship. 

Will has admitted that he finds Jada’s love for Tupac difficult to deal with. He also understands that it is something he has to accept. Unfortunately, battling the memory and influence of a dead man is a thankless task. 

Shakur embodied many of the qualities that Jada admires in a man. He was his own man and knew his mind. He defended what he believed and those he loved and, having come from a similar environment, understood her. Mentally and spiritually the two clicked. 

Will was the goal. He was young, charming, successful and, importantly, accepted in an industry that does not have many young black superstars. Tall at six-two, he also met the hardwired, intrinsic pull of finding the best mate. 

Social media has not been kind to the Smiths. Before it, Will was one of the biggest stars on the planet. Even less favourably received films – Wild, Wild West anyone? – did not derail his ascendancy. 

Unfortunately, social media is a curated reality. It is a curated reality that his children have grown up with, along with having to be the offspring of famous parents and the interest that brings. If Jaden was not related to Will, his unique take on life would have been a minor curiosity, no more noteworthy than any other creative youth. 

The Smith connection, however, created a certain expectation. Daddy Will was one of television’s coolest teenagers. He grew up to become one of film and television’s coolest adults, portraying a world-saving pilot in the hit film, Independence Day and cool everyman in Men in Black.

Will was Obama before Obama. Except he wasn’t. In a society where the fracturing of a black family is portrayed as commonplace, his union with Jada was a beautiful thing. Jada, Willow and Jaden were the beautiful, accompanying, black family, to the upwardly mobile, enigmatic Will. He was a black man heading up his family. 

An actor/entertainer at heart, Will is, by necessity, a people pleaser. As such, the people closest to him are the ones he would try his hardest to please. This pleasing is, perhaps, the reason for his present suffering and predicament. 

The Academy Awards are not what they used to be. In a post-pandemic world, the ceremony is seen as archaic and out of touch. I have a longstanding interest in anything film and even I only took a passing interest in the event. It just does not have the same kudos it carried before. 

Will’s impromptu intervention of Chris Rock’s monologue and subsequent verbal posturing, probably got the Academy Awards the most traction it has had in over a decade. Everybody is talking about the slap/punch/assault; ‘Chris should press charges!’ ‘It was assault!’ ‘The Academy is up in arms!’ Nonsense. 

The only person harmed during the incident was Chris Rock and that was mostly pride. That people flocked to Smith in the aftermath was awkward. One would have though he had damaged his hand on Rock’s granite chin.

Will diminished himself with his impulsive act. Did Jada jump to his defence? Not so much. She was annoyed at the joke from Rock but seemed content to accept the jibe. Will swaggered back to his seat and then proceed to shout obscenities, compounding his tomfoolery. 

Will reacted to his wife’s reaction. That is a bad look in anybody’s book. He felt compelled to commit that act of bravado to please her. He wanted to please her because she is the person he loves most in the world. There is nothing wrong with that but it made him look foolish. 

On what should have been one of the greatest nights of his life, in a three-decade career, he risked career suicide to try and prove to his wife that he is an Alpha. It did the opposite.

She’s The One – review

Brief synopsis: A forty-year-old property developer is successful in all aspects of his life except for one; love. He wants to find his soul mate and, with the aid of friends and family, meet said mate by the date of the wedding of one of his friends.
Unbeknownst to him, his efforts to find love, hampered by a decades-old curse, placed on him by the mother of one of the women whose heart he broke in his younger, womanising days.

Is it any good?: She’s The One – also known as Loves Spell – is a film written, produced and directed by Fredi ‘Kruga’ Nwaka.
Rarer than a unicorn, She’s the One is a British, black rom-com. With a likeable lead in Kane Brown, She’s The One is a passably amusing rom-com that is a little bit too long and leans into the comedy too much.

Spoiler territory: As a teenager, Treyvon (Yann Dominic – younger version) was a confident ladies man. Bragadocious about his skills with the ladies, Treyvon tells his good friend, Jirese (Malikai Nwaka – young version) he is a player.
Proving the point, he immediately hits on an attractive woman the two youngsters see passing. He gets her number, impressing Jirese. Before the two young men move on, Claire (Goda Nalivaikaite – young version) and her nervous friend, Shenisha (Imaan Humphrey – young version) stop them.
Shenisha has spotty, teenage skin that Treyvon immediately recoils from on seeing. Claire speaks for her nervous friend. She asks if Treyvon would consider going out with Shenisha.
Jirese, noting how hard it is for her, keeps quiet. Treyvon lacks his friend’s tact, laughing at the notion of the unconfident, spotty skinned, Shenisha should want to get with him.
Treyvon insults and belittles her, pretending to give her his phone number. Fast forward twenty years and Treyvon (Kane Brown) is bemoaning his luck with the ladies over intervening decades.
He has not been able to sustain a proper relationship since that day. A successful property developer, just shy of forty, Treyvon wants to find a woman to settle down with.
With good friends, Jirese (Nwaka), Jason (Steve King), Brian (Hakan Hassan) and Cruz (Axel Blake), celebrating Jirese’s impending nuptials. Treyvon recounts a couple of ‘interesting’ dates he had been on recently, including one that sang the entire time (Sabrina Weathers) and a ratchet, hoodrat, Charmaine (Verona Rose).
He tells them about a confidence destroying evening out speed dating and an ill-fated blind date with Cindy (Jessica-Jane Stafford), a mother of several kids from different fathers.
As his friends laugh at his faltering love life, he tells about a promising encounter he had whilst out running. He fell over and was helped by a woman(Cindy Humphrey). He did not get her name but asked for her number.
She gives him the number and runs off. Treyvon’s phone stops working and he loses the number. Jason tells him he needs to get a woman before Jirese gets married.
Jirese recommends that he see a relationship therapist friend of his, Miss Clara (Judi Love). Treyvon goes to see her. She is not much help.
As he heads home, he is accosted by a couple of vagrants (Christopher Savage, Michael waterman) asking him for money. He sees the woman he saw running but cannot get to her, the vagrants still hassling him.
He goes to see miss Francis (Claudine Osei), a surveyor. She is attractive, Treyvon decides to try his luck. Falling masonry interrupts his efforts.
Even his mother (Pearl Jarrett) comes to see him, worried about his seeming inability to settle down. She suggests he could meet a nice church girl.
He goes to see a psychic, Madam Ruby (Lola Jagun). She is not much help either, only managing to get in touch with a long-deceased girlfriend of his.
He turns to his friend, Ashley (Bradley Turner), getting him to set up a Tinder profile for him. Jirese is having some work done at the tattooist.
Cruz comes to see him, asking to borrow his car.
Both the tattooist (Jac Hall) and Jirese laugh at the request. Cruz also reiterates the need for them to find Treyvon a woman. The tattooist tells them about a party held by Cimone (Corine Wells).
Jirese, Jaason and Cruz head to the party, Treyvon goes to the gym. In the gym, he sees miss Francis again. He tries to hit on her again but gets short shrift. A younger gym user tells him that he is too old to hit on her.
In the evening, Treyvon gets beaten up by a couple of youths. The woman he saw running, comes to his rescue chasing them away.
His phone got broken in the altercation, so she takes him home to allow him to use her phone. He tells her his name is Trevor. She is Shenisha. She helps to clean him up and Ashley comes and picks him up.
The next day, Treyvon is encouraged by Cruz to look for Shenisha. He finds her and the two hit it off. She tells him she is moving shortly, the home she is living in sold.
The two spend the day together. The relationship begins to blossom. Shenisha tells Claire (Donna Preston) about Treyvon, showing her a picture. Claire is sure she knows his face from somewhere.
Treyvon goes to pick up Shenisha for a date. The date night goes badly. Though their relations remain intact, everything else that could go wrong does. They decide to have a night in. The evening does not improve.
He invites over the next evening, hoping to have a better date. The bad luck continues, the date beset by various mishaps. Later in the evening, Treyvon falls asleep whilst waiting for Shenisha. She sees that his company is buying the building she works.
Not only is she losing her home; she is also losing her job. She leaves him sleeping. Shenisha refuses to take his calls. Back home, she packs up her stuff, preparing to move.
Claire, who had investigated Treyvon’s company at Shenisha’s behest, tells her that Trevor is Treyvon. Trevor is his business name.
The next day, Treyvon, convinced Shenisha is the woman for him, goes to see her. She reminds him of their encounter twenty years before. She also tells him that he is destroying the gym where she works.
Treyvon decides to stop the deal to demolish the gym and the two talk. He knocks over an urn with Shenisha’s mother’s ashes in them. In the urn is a piece of paper.
The paper is the same one Treyvon wrote his fake phone number/insult on. Shenisha’s mother cursed Treyvon, the curse only broken by true love. They break the curse and get together. The end.

Final thoughts: She’s The One is not as enjoyable on second viewing. The film contains too many extraneous scenes and, as mentioned before, prioritises comedy over romance.
Kane Brown is a likeable lead and that helps the film immensely. A less likeable lead would have made the film unwatchable. Brown’s chemistry with Cindy Humphery is excellent. Unfortunately, the two have very little screen time together.
At one fifty minutes long, She’s The One is too damn long. This is even more apparent on second viewing. So many scenes are unnecessary and add nothing to proceedings.
As I alluded to before, there is a lot of comedy. When the comedy works, it is funny. Some of the dating scenes are comedy gold. Also, Brown’s Treyvon forced to suffer housemate Ashley’s (Bradley Turner) noisy bedroom antics with Reesh (Nickita Tia Martin) is very funny.
Other scenes are too reminiscent of old school British farce. Treyvon misinterpreting the sounds coming from Ashley and Reesh and Judi Love’s Clara blowing on his crotch after a mishap come to mind.
She’s The One is not unwatchable but it is not as good as it could have been. Such is the paucity of black, British rom-coms, that I really wanted to enjoy this film.
Unfortunately, She’s The One is only okay and, as such, difficult to recommend.

The Harder They Fall – review (Netflix)

With a screenplay by Jeymes Samuel and Boaz Yakin, with Samuel also on directing duties, The Harder They Fall is a Western made notable by an almost exclusively black cast. 

Using the Western staples of revenge and the overthrowing of a small town, The Harder They Fall is a big-screen film forced, by present circumstances, onto the small screen. 

A host of well-known stars and actors appear in this well-made film. Idris Elba leads the charge as the antagonist, Rufus Buck. He is ably supported by Regina King, as Trudy Smith, and Lakieth Stanfield as Cherokee Bill. 

The protagonist, Nat Love, is played by Johnathan Majors. Zazie Beetz as Stagecoach Mary, Edi Gathegi as Bill Pickett, Danielle Deadwyler as Cuffee and RJ Cyler as Jim Beckworth make up the rest of Love’s crew. Delroy Lindo’s Bass Reeves brings the two factions together. 

The story begins with a god-fearing man (Michael Beach) sitting down to eat with his young wife, Eleanor (Dewanda Wise) and son, Nat (Chase Dillon). 

There is a knock at the door. Two men come into the house, Rufus and Jesus Cortez (Julio Cesar Cedillo). The man recognises Rufus. He is not glad to see him, knowing that it is not a good omen. 

Rufus kills the man and his wife. He carves a cross into young Nat’s forehead. Many years later, a grownup Nat, a well-known outlaw himself, exacts revenge on Cortez. 

All of this happens before the credits roll on Samuels’ beautifully crafted and nostalgic homage to Westerns, the Old West and figures from history. 

From the outset, the writers state that the film is a work of fiction. Even though all the names are real people from the Western era, the story is fictitious.

The beauty of Samuel and Yakin’s story is that the cast being predominantly black is not important. There are elements of the film, that work better, because of it, but it is not the driving force of the film. 

From a technical standpoint, The Harder They Fall is a wonderful piece of work. From the stylised opening title sequence, dusty, yet colourful, palette and shot selection to pacing and fabulous soundtrack, The Harder They Fall is an enjoyable treat. 

All the actors on show bring their A-game, with standout performances from Regina King and Lakieth Stanfield. Idris Elba is the biggest name on the call sheet.

However, it is Majors’ Love that drives the film, his chilled demeanour carrying proceedings easily. Majors’, who recently appeared in Loki, as the time-travelling villain, Kang, star is in the ascendancy. 

Veteran actor, Delroy Lindo, is such a natural fit as the lawman, Bass Reeves, a role made for him to play. There are so many great scenes in the film, from Deon Cole’s Wiley Escoe, as the sheriff of Redwood, bravado monologue before being persuaded to leave town, to Elba’s Rufus final revelation, the film is full of gems. 

The music of the film deserves a special mention. There is hip hop, reggae, soul, traditional Western-style music and accents. 

Besides the nods to the classic spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone, there is a quiet homage to The Magnificent Seven, with the bond amongst Love’s motley crew of protagonists, going beyond greed or need. 

There is a wobble, the story of Love’s revenge momentarily overshadowed. Redwood needs saving from the tyranny of Rufus and his gang. This particular storyline peters out, none of the townsfolk figuring in the story later on. 

At two-hour-and-nineteen minutes, The Harder They Fall is a long film. It does not feel long. The action is well-spaced out, the peak and troughs of the film, keeping one’s interest throughout. 

Jeymes Samuel has fashioned a highly enjoyable film, that is well worth the two hour viewing time.

Passing – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: In 1920’s America, a couple of mixed-race women get reacquainted, having not seen one another since high school. One of the women is married to a white man and passes herself off as white. The other embraces her black side, her family life in Harlem. 

Is it any good?: Passing, a directorial debut from actor Rebecca Hall, is a bit of a disappointment. From a book of the same name, the film promises more than it delivers. With so many subjects to explore, Passing barely skims the surfaces of them, the film a frustrating viewing experience. 

Spoiler(ish) territory: Irene (Tessa Thompson) is shopping in New York. It is the 1920’s. Emancipation has been a thing since the beginning of the century nevertheless, black people remain second-class citizens. 

A pale mixed-race woman, Irene nervously shops amongst the white people. None of them notice that she is not white. It is the height of summer in New York, the heat oppressive. 

Irene visits a hotel bar for a cool drink. The patronage is all-white; she feels out of place. A young couple comes into the bar. The woman is blond and pretty, her partner fawning over her. 

The man leaves her, going to the bathroom. Irene looks at the woman, who catches her looking and stares back at her. The woman approaches, calling her name. 

Irene does not recognise her. The woman begins to laugh. It’s Clare (Ruth Negga), an old high school friend. Irene had not seen her for over a decade. 

Clare is passing herself off as white. Even her husband does not know she is mixed. Clare has a daughter that, thankfully, came out pale of skin. Mistakenly, she thinks Irene is doing the same. 

Irene explains that she is still living in the same neighbourhood. She lives in a black area. Harlem. She does not want to pass for white. Irene, isolated in white society, jumps at the opportunity to reconnect with the black life she grew up knowing. 

Final thoughts: Hall’s love for the source material is evident in the film. That is the problem. The script has little to no exposition, requiring Thompson and Negga to tell the story through their emotions and acting. 

As excellent as both actors are – and they are both very good – the film’s script gives them too little to work with. The ninety-eight-minute film is filled mostly, with Thompson’s not unattractive face, struggling to tell some type of story. 

It is difficult to know how faithful to the source material the film is. A book tends to lend itself more to an emotive experience. Passing is very emotive, tackling the prickly subjects of race, identity, class and belonging. 

Though Hall’s film is not long, it is interminably slow. The story meanders, the tensions that Negga’s character must have suffered are not evident at all. 

Thompson’s Irene, in contrast, has her own demons. Sadly, the script and minimal interactions with other characters do not allow them to show. Passing has gained some critical acclaim, which one can only believe is due to the subject matter it tackles. 

From a technical standpoint, the film is not great. It is in focus, yes, but some of the shot selections seem more indulgent than necessary. Shooting the entire film in black and white, whilst artsy, is a bit of a copout, the light coloured skin of both actors leaning towards white for the viewer. 

The jazz club scene works well in the film, the energy leaping off the screen. Similarly, the concluding party scene has a buzz about it that, rather than contrasting with the rest of the film, shows up the slow pacing.

That Hall is an actor herself is evident in the performances from the cast. All of the actors bring strong performances. Ultimately, Passing disappoints because it had so much scope and promise. Not a terrible film but an unsatisfying one that is difficult to recommend.

Fatale – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: a successful married sports agent’s life is thrown into turmoil after he has a one-night stand in Las Vegas. Returning home after his trip to Vegas, he gets assaulted in his home one night. The detective looking into his case turns out to be the same person he had a one-night stand with. 

Is it any good?: Fatale is too many stories rolled into one. It has elements of Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Strangers on a Train, plus a bit of The Fugitive thrown in to add to the confusion. I have watched telenovelas with fewer stories going on than in this film. Fatale is a confusing mess of a film with no story thread making sense. 

That Academy Award winner Hilary Swank and Golden Globe nominee Michael Ealy are in this, tells you more about the paucity of good roles in the present production landscape than anything else. 

Spoiler territory: sports agent Derrick (Michael Ealy) is hosting a small gathering with his wife, Tracie, (Damaris Lewis), a realtor, his business partner, Rafe (Mike Colter) and Rafe’s partner, Micaela (Kali Hawk). Everyone seems very relaxed except for Tracie, who is a little cold towards her husband. And snappy, definitely snappy. 

The next day, Derrick is going away to Las Vegas but he tells Tracie that he can cancel the trip as he wants to work on their relationship. She tells him not to. She does not mind if he goes. The ice is not thawing on her anytime soon. Derrick heads off. 

In Vegas, Derrick is worrying about his relationship and tells Rafe. Rafe, the best shady friend ever, tells him he needs to relax and enjoy Vegas. Rafe takes Derrick’s wedding ring off of him and tells him to go and enjoy himself. 

Derrick wanders over to the bar. Whilst at the bar he ogles a woman dancing. She comes to the bar and is immediately hit on by a guy (Johann Sebastian). She gives him short shrift, quickly rejecting his advances. 

She is more comfortable with Derrick and smiles at him, asking him why he is there. He tells her he is at a bachelor party. It is not his. He is not accustomed to chatting with women. He’s married. The woman continues to flirt with him. 

He asks her if she is with a group. No, she rolls alone. Derrick mentions the fact that he is married but the music is too loud and she does not hear him. He loses his nerve. Telling the truth can be particularly difficult for men when talking to beautiful women. 

She tells him her name is Val (Hilary Swank). Derrick lies – he’s all in now – telling her his name is Darren. He is not overly creative. She repeats his name back to him, whilst simultaneously giving him the crazy eyes. 

The two of them dance for a bit before retiring to her hotel room for some bedroom gymnastics. Derrick wakes up the next day and eases out of the bed. As he is getting dressed, Val wakes up. He is searching for his mobile phone. Val tells him it is in the hotel safe but she cannot remember the combination. 

Her memory could be jogged with an encore performance from him. After obliging, he gets his phone back. He returns home and guiltily watches his wife sleeping. Back at the office, Derrick is visited by his cousin, Tyrin (Tyrin Turner). Tyrin has come to pick up some money because Derrick is wealthy and looks after him with cash handouts. 

Rafe comes into the office. He does not like Tyrin and does not think Derrick should let him come to the office. He does not try to hide his disdain, mocking Tyrin’s height to his face. A little bit rude. Tyrin leaves the partners to a meeting. 

Rafe wants to sell the company to a bigger agency. They can make millions. Derrick does not want to sell, he has no desire to work for somebody else. Rafe, who wants to be rich and work less, keeps pushing the idea of selling. 

Back at home, Derrick cooks a meal for his frosty wife. He wants to rekindle their relationship. Tracie thaws a little at his efforts. He is rewarded with more bedroom antics. Whilst she is on top of him, she hears a noise in the house. Derrick goes to investigate. 

Derrick has armed himself with a golf club and looks around the house. He is attacked by an intruder from behind. The intruder has a gun but seems to want to beat him up rather than just shoot him. The two tussle around the kitchen, Derrick getting punched, kicked and smashed into furniture. Belatedly, the intruder tries to shoot him, having knocked him to the floor. 

Derrick hits him with the golf club and the intruder runs off. Tracie, who had been watching her husband taking a kicking, screams his name. Loudly. Derrick, for his part, advises her to do what she should have done in the first place and call the police. 

The police come and ask about the attack and the cameras around the property. Derrick tells them that the system does not work. What about the alarm? Tracie says she thought they put it on before going to bed. The officer says that a detective will take over their case. Derrick recognises the detective, Valerie Quilan. Val!

Derrick, who is understandably nervous, stutters as Val plays with him, asks him if she has met him before. Tracie helpfully interjects that he is a well-known sports agent. Val acknowledges that that is where she might have seen his face. She keeps up the mental pressure on Derrick, taking Tracie aside to look at the bedroom. 

In the bedroom, Val asks Tracie the frankly ludicrous question, which side of the bed does she sleep on. Tracie thinks the question is odd but answers it anyway. Val sits on the bed and caresses the sheets. She asks if anyone wants to harm her husband as nothing in the house had been stolen. Tracie does not think so. They return to the lounge. Derrick is still nervous, something Val takes joy in pointing out. Val leaves a card with her contact information. 

In the morning, Carter Heywood (Danny Pino) is wheeling his chair-bound daughter, Haley (Oakley Bull), to the car. His wife (Lexa Gluck) is already at the car. As Carter is putting Haley into the car, his wife indicates Val, doing her best Horatio Caine NCIS: Miami impression, is leaning on a car down the road. Carter approaches her. 

He tells her she cannot be there – cannot and should not are two different things. Semantics. She wants access to her daughter. Carter is not particularly empathic, telling her she lost any right to access due to her drunken antics. Val tells him she has not had a drink since the accident. Oh, you mean the accident that paralysed your daughter? All’s forgiven then. 

Carter is not in a forgiving mood and has no intention of being so in the future. He tells Val she will never be a mother to Haley again. Val remembers being passed out on the bed and rising up in a stupor to see her daughter playing with her service revolver moments before it went off. 

Derrick goes to the station to see Val. He wants to know if she is going to expose him and to apologise for misleading her and lying. She tells him he is a very convincing liar, having told her his name was Darren Johnson in Las Vegas. The fact that she made a hard play for him and they exchanged no information after their hook up has no impact on her indignation. He fooled her! 

Derrick returns to work and googles Val. he reads about her messy divorce from Carter. Returning home, Val is there speaking to Tracie. She tells them she just wanted to see the house in the day. Val leaves. Shortly afterwards, Tracie leaves to go and show a house. Derrick returns to the office. 

Rafe thinks that Tyrin might have been the person who arranged the break-in. Derrick tells him about Val. Val gets more information about the break-in. There was no forced entry, whoever broke into the house knew how to get in. Rafe tells Derrick he is heading to the gym and asks him if he wants to come. Derrick declines continuing to look into Val. 

He leaves the office a little later, Val drives up and tells him to get in the car. She has new information about the case. Couldn’t phone him then? okay…Derrick gets into the car and they head to the beach. Why he would follow her to the beach I do not know. 

As they walk along the beach, Val gives him a telescope and tells him to look into a specific house. He sees Rafe and Tracie together. What if he had decided to join Rafe in the gym? Threesome? Anyhoo, Derrick is crushed. Val tells him she had a notion that Tracie might be cheating on him. She leaves him on the beach. Hope he’s got the Uber app. 

Val goes to see Carter again to beg him to let her see Haley. Carter, a well connected political figure, smugly tells her that she has no chance of gaining custody. He is too well connected. Basically, he pokes the bear. 

Derrick is getting drunk at home and calls Val. She invites him over to her loft apartment. He is a brilliant driver, as he speeds over in his high powered sports car whilst the worse for drink. Val tells him that Rafe and Tracie are trying to kill him. He does not believe her. He is a lovesick fool. Val lays out the evidence for him. 

She tells him that they will try again. He needs to kill them first. Drunk and a little stupid, Derrick says that he feels he could in that moment. Val, who really enjoyed their coitus in Vegas, takes advantage of his emotional state to get a little more Derrick. He finishes and staggers off. 

Early the next morning, Derrick is woken by the police. He is taken to the police station. Val comes and sees him in the interview room. She asks him if he did it. She knows he did not but she is a crazy bitch. He has no idea what she is talking about. She shows him crime scene photographs. Rafe and Tracie are dead, murdered. 

Val brings up his colourful past, how his cousin Tyrin took the fall for him so as he could take up a basketball scholarship. Val continues to push the narrative of an emotional and angry Derrick going back to the beach house and killing Rafe and Tracie. They found his wedding ring at the scene. 

The press has a field day with Derrick being a suspect in the murder of his wife and business partner. Derrick goes to the office. Only the receptionist (Hajin Cho), is there. Obviously needs the job. He sends her home. The business, unsurprisingly, starts to lose clients. 

Val comes to see Derrick at his wife’s wake. He realises that she killed them. She tells him he is about to be indicted. She leaves him to the wake. Derrick speaks with his mother (Denise Dowse). She tells him that she will always be there for him until the day she dies. It’s not like she could be there for him afterwards. 

She carries on spouting not at all inspirational bollocks and telling him he will always have his name. Doesn’t really matter if your name is tarnished and dog shit does it. Derrick tells Tyrin about Val and how she is behind everything. Tyrin says he can deal with it. Derrick does not want him to get involved. Tyrin is not one for listening. 

Val creeps into Carter’s house and spies on her daughter sleeping. She looks in on Carter and his wife. No security at his home then. Tyrin goes to see his guy, Bumpy (Compton Menace). They both go to see Val. At home, Derrick is having a nightmare, seeing himself being drowned by Val. 

Val gets blindsided by Bumpy, getting smashed in the back of the head. He drags her in front of Tyrin. Tyrin wants to know why she is hassling Derrick. Val starts to hyperventilate and choke, crying and pleading. Tyrin tells Bumpy to take her to the bathroom. Dumb thugs that they are, Val gets hold of a shotgun she has hidden in the ceiling and kills them both. 

Val calls Derrick and tells him to meet her at the beach house. At the beach house, she tells him she killed Tyrin in self-defence – which is kind of true. Derrick scuffles with her and grabs her gun. Val tells him that they can blame Tyrin for the murders. Derrick is pointing the gun at her. Val keeps talking, moving forward. He shoots her twice but…they are blanks! Haha! 

Val pulls out her gun. It does not have blanks in it. The gun he used was the murder weapon – obviously – and now it has his prints on it. She wants him to kill Carter Heywood. If he does that, she will give him back the gun and pin the murders on his dead cousin. 

Derrick returns home. His options are not good. He goes to intercept Carter, pulling the gun on him and trying to tell him that his ex-wife, Val, is trying to frame him. Carter, a complete dickhead and egomaniac, decides to fight the man with the gun. He gets killed for his hubris. 

Derrick goes to Val’s loft. He tells her that he went to warn Carter but ended up killing him. No idea why he would tell her that, it’s not like she is the most compassionate person. He is also sure that she will want to kill him, to tie up any loose ends. Val, sweetheart that she is, tells him he is pathetic – nice – and that he better take the evidenced and leave. 

She then tries to shoot him in the back. In the back! Derrick, anticipating her duplicity, pulls a gun and returns fire. She wounds him but he shoots her twice, putting her down. He checks her, taking the gun out of her hand. He goes to leave the apartment. He looks back and she is gone. 

She attacks him with a kitchen knife, hacking at him like a maniac. He shoots her in the chest. Before she dies, Derrick reveals that he taped her confessing to all of the crimes. He is vindicated. The end. 

Final thoughts: Fatale is a mishmash of films, with no real central story. It was supposed to be about Swank’s Val desperation to get her daughter back but her Training Day approach to police work completely overshadows that. 

Ealy’s Derrick is gullible and easily manipulated by everybody, even if ultimately, doing so proves to be bad luck as all his manipulators end up dead. Val’s desire for a one night stand and then her offence at finding out that he is married was a little silly. Did she expect to see him again? Of course not. 

Lewis’ Tracie had too little involvement in the story for her embittered wife angle to work, especially as she seemed to be the one who was miffed even before he had his one-night stand. Colter’s Mike was pitched just about perfectly and worked for what the film was trying to do but the rest of the story did not match the strength of that character. 

Written by David Loughery and directed by Deon Taylor, the film does look good and is well edited. Loughery’s script is pretty flat, most of the actors sounding as though they are just saying lines. Which they are. 

Swank is pretty entertaining as the crazy Val and Colter is good as the greedy and duplicitous Rafe. Even Ealy does okay with the material he has. The acting is good from all on show, to tell the truth, but the script is so poor that most of the characters are either underwritten or unconvincing. 

With a runtime of one hundred and two minutes, Fatale is not a long film and potters through its runtime pretty comfortably. Worth a watch if you like either of the leads otherwise you could probably give it a miss.

Just In Time – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: A self-improvement embracing book shop manager’s life is thrown into confusion when the daughter of the bookshop’s late owner turns up in the store and informs her that it is closing and all the staff will be let go. 

The woman is set on taking a trip to reevaluate her life but postpones the trip when her cousin asks her to look after her eleven-year-old daughter because she is going through a divorce. 

Is it any good?: A Nollywood film, Just In Time is a pleasant enough, made-for-television level, rom-com that is not too taxing or offensive. Not a great film, the story a bit too messy. The acting is good and engaging for a brain in neutral ninety-minute watch. 

Spoiler territory: Muthoni (Sarah Hassan) sits on her sofa listening to a life coach who is encouraging viewers of his videos to destroy their goals. A little while later, she is heading to work at the bookstore she manages. 

Elsewhere, Ashley (Stycie Waweru) is looking forward to her family holiday. Next door her mother, Nieri (Pierra Makena), is talking to her husband. They are getting divorced and she does not want to join him, with Ashley, for a holiday. He tries to coerce her into meeting up with him, telling her he has already purchased the tickets. 

Njeri tells him that they are not meeting up. Ashley comes into the room as her mother is ending the call. She hears the tail end of the conversation and asks if they are not going on holiday. Her mother tells her the trip is cancelled but lies about the reason, telling Ashley her father is on a work trip. 

Back at the bookstore, Muthoni is helping a customer and stops a young boy from stealing a book, shooing him out of the store. A moment later a woman calls to her, addressing her by her full name. She asks if she is the manager. Muthoni tells her she is. 

The woman introduces herself, Aditi (Eve D’Souza) and points to a man just behind her. He is an interior designer and is there to remodel the store. Aditi tells Muthoni that she is the daughter of the store owner. Muthoni offers her condolences, Aditi’s father having died. Aditi explains that she has returned to Nairobi to help her brothers get the family affairs in order. That includes the bookstore. 

They have decided to close the bookstore. Muthoni is to clear the store with immediate effect. The family are turning it into a spa. She tells Muthoni that she can have a position in the new set up because her father held her in high regard. Muthoni argues against closing the store but is told it is not up for debate. She declines the offer of a role in the spa. 

Muthoni breaks the bad news to her two-man staff. The next day, Muthoni is speaking to her brother, Brian (Kagwe Mungai), on a video call, bemoaning her lack of life progress as she approaches thirty. 

Brian suggests she come to Canada and start a new life. She does not think that is a good idea, she wants to stay in Nairobi. He asks her if she has spoken to their cousin, Njeri. The question irritates Muthoni as he knows they have not spoken in years. Brian ends the call.

The next morning, Muthoni is woken by a call from an event she signed up for, a workshop about empowering women. Muthoni asks if she can get a refund and is told she cannot. she attends the seminar. At there seminar, the talker tells how, when at her lowest point, she decided to take a holiday to Dubai. 

Muthoni returns home and looks to buy a ticket to Dubai. As she is about to book it, she gets a call from Njeri. The conversation is awkward, Muthoni mistakenly thinking Njeri has rung her out of pity, Brian had told her about the bookstore being closed. Njeri is not calling about her job. She needs her help. 

She tells her she is getting a divorce and needs her to look after Ashley for a couple of weeks. Muthoni wrestles with the notion of refusing her request over the next day. She is woken by her neighbour, Anthony (Blessing Lung’ Aho), ringing her doorbell. 

He has a friend coming to stay in his apartment but he is going away for work. He wants to leave the keys to his apartment with her for his friend, Kobena (Mawuli Gavor), to pick up. Muthoni is happy to help and takes the keys. 

Ashley is protesting her mother’s decision to leave her with a stranger. Njeri explains that she is her auntie. Ashley argues semantics but her mother tells her to go and have a shower. Muthoni goes into town to get her resumé printed. She leaves the keys to Anthony’s apartment in the printing store. 

Returning home, Muthoni meets her young cousin. Ashley is less than impressed by a smiling but total stranger, cousin. Muthoni runs through some house rules that she has typed up. Ashley tells her she can just give her the paper. She will read them. She wants to go to her room. Muthoni tells her that there is only one bedroom, they will have to share. 

The doorbell rings. Kobena has come to collect the keys that Anthony left. After making him show her identification, Muthoni leaves him on the doorstep as she goes to search for the keys. She realises that she has misplaced the keys. She allows Anthony to come into her apartment and wait whilst she tries to locate them. 

Searching her car, Muthoni remembers she went to the print store. In the apartment, a tired Kobena falls asleep on the sofa. Muthoni returns shortly to find him sleeping and shushes Ashley as she comes into the living room, indicating the sleeping Kobena. 

Hours later, Kobena is still sleeping. Ashley wants to wake him up but Muthoni feels it is her fault for not having had the keys. She sends Ashley to bed. Muthoni tries to gently wake him. She eventually wakes him by making a loud noise. 

An embarrassed Kobena apologises for having fallen asleep. She gives him the keys and he leaves. Muthoni goes to the bedroom and finds Ashley sprawled across the bed. After trying to move her and getting slapped by the sleeping child fro her troubles, Muthoni decamps to the live room sofa. 

The next morning, Muthoni tells Ashley that she can have the bed as she will take the sofa. Ashley asks about wifi and Muthoni wants to know why she needs wifi. She tells her it is for Netflix and that they use iPads at school. Muthoni rants that technology is what is ruining the world. Ashley points out that her pancakes are burning. 

Muthoni finishes cooking pancakes for breakfast. Ashley tells her she does not like them. Muthoni takes the pancakes to her new temporary neighbour, Kobena. She apologises for the mix-up. Returning to her apartment, she finds Ashley on her iPad watching a movie. She thought she was going to read a book? Ashley tells her she cannot as the wifi is so poor. 

Muthoni suggests they talk. She asks her what her purpose is. Ashley is perplexed. Muthoni asks the question differently; what is her favourite thing in the world? Ashley tells her, watching movies. Later, Ashley complains to her mother that it is boring and the wifi is too slow. 

Muthoni texts her brother for advice. He suggests taking her out and asking where she would like to go. She asks Ashley where she would like to go. Ashley wants to go to an ice cream parlour. The next day, as they get ready to go to the ice cream parlour, Kobena comes to talk to Muthoni and return the plate the pancakes were on. 

Ashley opens the door. Kobena smiles at her and asks for Muthoni, saying he has brought back the plate. Ashley does not smile back. She takes the plate and shuts the door in his face. Muthoni takes Ashley to the ice cream parlour. 

Muthoni gets a call from Kobena. He wants to buy lunch for her as a thank you for the pancakes. Muthoni says she is with her niece. Kobena tells her he will buy lunch for both of them. He comes and finds them in the city. Ashley is not happy to see him. Muthoni and Kobena chat, her asking him about his camera. 

Kobena tells her he is a photographer. Muthoni gets a call and leaves the table. Kobena begins to talk to Ashley but she stops him, telling him they do not have to chat. Muthoni’s call is from Aditi. She wants her to come to her home for a meeting the next day. Muthoni agrees but realises she will need someone to look after Ashley. 

Ashley argues against it but, even though they speak Swahili, Kobena realises that is the issue. He agrees to look after her. Later, in the evening, Ashley asks why Muthoni never visits them. Muthoni tells her it is complicated. Muthoni tells Ashley about her love of books and storytelling. She recounts a bedtime story to her. 

The next day, Muthoni waits for Aditi in her living room. Back at the apartment, Ashley is in the bedroom away from the Kobena. She comes into the living room to admonish him for the loudness of his music. He tries to make peace by offering to buy her pizza. Ashley thinks it is just a bribe so as he can look good to Muthoni. 

She softens a bit when he tells her she can pick where they order from. After lunch, the two play a game. If Kobena wins, Ashley has to do chores. If Ashley wins, he must read her a bedtime story. 

At Aditi’s, Muthoni is eventually seen. Aditi tells her that she is the secret buyer of the bookstore and wants to save it, even though her brothers want it closed. She wants to hear Muthoni’s ideas to keep the business going. 

Back in the apartment, Kobena has lost the game and has to read to Ashley. He does not like reading because he is dyslexic and tells Ashley so. He explains the affliction to her and tells her he has lived with it all his life. Ashley reads to him instead. 

Muthoni returns home to find Ashley sleeping on Kobena. He takes her to bed. Muthoni and Kobena chat about how difficult it was to get Ashley to warm to them. Muthoni tells him about Ashley’s parents’ situation. He invites them out on his photo tour. 

The three go out, Kobena working whilst the two women enjoy the safari. Back home, Muthoni is surprised by a visit from Njeri. They get into a disagreement when Njeri tells her that she is moving to Mombasa but lies to Ashley, telling her that they are going on holiday to Zanzibar. Njeri leaves with Ashley. 

Muthoni meets up with Kobena. She tells him about growing up with Njeri and how she disagreed with her relationship and did not think her future husband was a good man. Kobena tells her that he has to travel. He wants to go on a date with her before he leaves. 

Back home, Muthoni works on a children’s book idea for Aditi. The next day, Kobena waits for Muthoni at their appointed meeting place. Muthoni goes to see her cousin but sees her estranged husband instead. He tells her that they have left. He wants Muthoni to help him get them back. She refuses. Kobena is still waiting. Muthoni stands him up. 

Muthoni goes home and calls her brother. She tells him that she thinks her book idea will work. There is someone at her door. She opens the door and sees Ashley. Njeri is with her. Njeri asks her to join them on a trip. They are going to stay in Nairobi. The three go on a trip. 

Months later, they are preparing to celebrate Ashley’s twelfth birthday. Muthoni and Brian arrive at the house and find Njeri in the dining room. Muthoni asks where Ashley is, Njeri tells her she can find her in her bedroom. As Muthoni heads to the bedroom, Ashley appears from under the dining room table, where she had been hiding 

In the bedroom, Kobena is waiting. He asks her if she stopped thinking about him and tells her he always thinks about her. She also owes him a date. She tells him she was scared. They join the birthday party. The end. 

Final thoughts: Written and directed by Dolapo Adeleke, Just In Time is an okay romcom. Hassan, who also produced the film, is a likeable lead and her chemistry with Gavor’s Kobena is good. Young Waweru is great as the precocious Ashley and works well given the paucity of the role. 

The film is pleasant and the characters engaging but the story does not quite hold together. It is not a bad story but the central premise is somewhat fuzzy. It is difficult to know if the film is a rom-com or coming-of-age story predominantly, with neither given a fully fleshed out story. 

The book store angle is only in the film to lengthen the runtime and does not add anything to the film. The same can be said of the positive thinking aspects, the positive thinking coach only in the film for weak comic effect. 

At ninety-minutes long, Just In Time is the perfect length for a romcom. There is a delightful soundtrack and the film is well shot. Unfortunately, Adeleke’s inability to bring the romcom to the fore is the real weakness of the film. Not terrible but not good either.

Coming 2 America – review (Amazon)

Sequels have always been seen as an easy way to make money in Hollywood. Even before the seventies penchant for adding a number to the end of a title to denote it being a sequel, Hollywood and the wider film industry were producing sequels, rehashing and reusing the same characters of a successful story in another film. 

It is a rare thing, the sequel that is as good or better than the original, especially if the original film is regarded as a good film. The better sequels tend to be made shortly after the original. The Godfather two, one of cinemas most lauded sequels, was released two years after its predecessor. 

Rocky two came three years after its parent film and The Empire Strikes Back, named in the old style of sequels where the title did not just gain a numbered appendage, also came three years after a genre-defining Star Wars

Some sequels have worked with a larger gap between films. Terminator 2: Judgement Day was released seven years after its epic originator. However, the intervening years saw such technological advances in film that the sequel proved to be an impressive spectacle. Unfortunately, subsequent efforts in the series have seen not only diminishing returns but also a definite lessening in quality. 

In terms of genre, dramatic action films tend to be easier to make sequels or series of. The characters are set and the story tends to be good versus evil, a relatively easy premise to work with. The comedy genre is not, generally, a good genre for sequels, especially if the film is a hit or classic. 

Scary Movie was amusing but was followed by increasingly wretched sequels. Similarly, the Police Academy films stretched a silly idea to the point of punishment for the eyes and mind. Great comedies are even harder to make sequels of. The likes of Airplane, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures and Ghostbusters have all spawned underwhelming sequels.

That is not to say they were bad sequels or not funny, it is just that trying to recreate funny is a difficult skill. Thirty-three years on from its classic originator, Coming to America, stars Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, plus many of the original cast, reprised their roles to make a sequel, Coming 2 America

Like many fans of the original film, I was not thrilled to hear about a sequel to one of the most quotable comedies of my life. Coming to America is, rightly, thought of as a comedy classic and probably Eddie Murphy’s best film.

Playing multiple roles, as does Hall, Murphy was at the height of his powers, having made his name on 48 hrs, Trading Places and two films in the Beverly Hills Cop series. 

Directed by John Landis, who was mostly known for directing Michael’s Jackson’s Thriller, even though he had directed many films before that including Animal House, Blues Brothers, Trading Places, starring Murphy, and An American Werewolf in London, the film that would get him the Thriller gig, Coming to America is gold. 

With a story by Murphy, Coming to America had an almost entirely black cast and was a comedy that contained very little of the comedy staples laid down in the previous decade’s blaxploitation era comedies. There was no hoes, no drugs, no thugs, no shucking and jiving, none of the expected staples of ‘black’ comedy. 

Set in the fictional land of Zamunda – think Wakanda without the technological advancements – Coming to America was a very different black comedy. Whereas before, Eddie had been the funny, wisecracking, black guy in a white world, in Coming to America he was still a funny black guy but he was displaced in a black world. 

Coming to America was a hit both domestically and worldwide, with the humour in the film still bearing up more than three decades on. So, what about the sequel? Unsurprisingly, it is not as good as the original. Many have quickly come out to deride it as being a poor, money-grabbing, unfunny effort. That is not true. 

Coming 2 America, whilst not been as funny as the original, is better than one could have hoped for with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Wesley Snipes’ General Izzi is a great addition and Leslie Jones as Mary Junson, mother of Murphy’s Akeem’s illegitimate son, Lavelle (Jermaine Fowler), plays to her stereotype but it works well within the context of the film. 

The film keeps the laughs coming but still manages to fashion a pleasant story, romcom, in amongst the silliness. Fowler’s role as the would-be heir to Zamunda is a difficult role for any actor to undertake, especially as he was always going to be in Murphy’s shadow. Fowler bears the burden well, with the story split between him and Murphy’s Akeem. 

There are some clever nods to the original film with one particularly funny reprise coming from Vanessa Bell Calloway. The barbershop is back, even though all of the patrons of the shop were old men in the first film! And, for me, the return of Sexual Chocolate is a real boon. 

Like many sequels, Coming 2 America will always suffer when compared to its predecessor, the original being such an unknown quantity at the time but becoming a classic over time. If one can watch the film in isolation, something made easier by the fact that one does not need to have seen the first film to understand this one, it is an amusing comedy in its own right. 

With a one-hundred-and-eight minutes runtime, Coming 2 America is slightly over the rom-com standard ninety minutes but is about ten minutes shorter than its predecessor. The film moves at a good pace with the only dips being when the story strays into rom-com territory, though the dips are slight and do not detract from the comedy too much. 

It was always going to be a herculean task to match the magic of the first film or to even make a film that does not offend or alienate the rose-tinted vision of the original’s many fans. Coming 2 America just about manages it.

Outside The Wire – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: In a war-torn future, a drone pilot is sent into the field after he disobeys an order, resulting in the death of two soldiers. He finds himself under the command of a top-secret sentient robot chasing after a warlord intent on destroying the world. Or so he is led to believe. 

Is it any good?: Nope. Outside The Wire is a convoluted mess and seems somewhat anti-American, though it proves not to be. Politics aside, Outside The Wire is too smart for its own good, layering red herring exposition upon red herring exposition and throwing in a McGuffin for good measure. 

At nearly two hours long, Outside The Wire is a bit of chore to sit through for a story that was better told back in 1983’s WarGames. 

Spoiler territory: it is the year 2035 and the US military are on a peacekeeping mission to prevent Russia from taking Ukraine back under its sovereignty. Sergeant Miller (Enzo Cilenti) is on the ground in Eastern Europe with a forty strong troop of soldiers. 

A terrorist faction, led by the elusive Victor Koval (Pilou Asbæk), is a constant threat. Miller and his men find themselves in a battle with some of the faction. The US has added robot soldiers, called Gumps, to their ranks. 

As the battle rages below, a couple of drone pilots, Harp (Damson Idris) and Bale (Kristina Tonteri-Young) watch the scene unfold from a quiet location in Nevada, controlling their drones from there.

On the ground, one of Miller’s men gets injured. He sends Gomez (Adam Fielding) out to try and rescue him, the rest of the battalion will give covering fire. A truck is approaching the area where Miller’s battalion is. Harp sees the truck and wants to engage believing it to be hostile. 

Miller tells him that two of his men are in the zone, he is not to engage. Harp wants to engage, asking Miller to fall back, reasoning the lives of the majority outweigh the needs of the two probable casualties. He asks Bale to contact their superior, captain Brydon (Henry Garrett) to override Miller’s orders. 

Brydon contacts Miller and is told about the injured soldier that Gomez is trying to rescue. Harp believes the battalion are in imminent danger and locks on to the truck. Miller refuses to give the order for a strike and Brydon agrees telling Harp to stand down. Harp releases his missile, destroying the truck and killing two soldiers. 

Harp faces disciplinary action over his disregard of orders. Having never seen any military action in the field, he is sent to meet captain Leo (Anthony Mackie). Harp finds himself flying to a US base in Eastern Europe to report to Leo. Harp is told by colonel Eckhart (Michael Kelly) where he can find Leo. 

Leo is in a remote part of the encampment, a section where they work on the Gumps. Harp finds Leo in a large library inputting data whilst listening to jazz music. Harp introduces himself to a typing Leo. He ignores Harp as he finishes the task he has at hand. Finishing, Leo looks up and recounts Harp’s life to him. He knows who he is and why he is there. 

Leo gets up and tells Harp to bring some packages from a fridge. He puts the packages in a backpack as he tells Harp what he does there. He delivers vaccines to those who need them ‘outside the wire’; the region of the country the US does not patrol. Harp will be going with him. 

He asks Harp if he has heard of Victor Koval. Harp says he has. Leo enlightens him on the entire picture of Koval, that he has been responsible for thousands of deaths and, more pertinently, he is trying to get hold of the codes for all of Russia’s nuclear warheads. 

He tells him that they are going on the mission immediately and he needs to change out of his military garb. As Leo gets changed Leo sees that he is not human. Leo is an android. A shocked Harp stares at Leo in wonderment. Leo asks him if he thinks he can trust him. Harp says he thinks he can. 

The two go an join a convoy to begin the mission. Before they leave, Leo goes to take care of something else. Harp gets jumped by some soldiers and beat up a little. Miller comes and asks if he recognises his voice. He tells him the two soldiers who died because of him, were only nineteen years old. Leo returns, Miller and the soldiers stand down. 

The convoy head out. Leo warns him that where they are heading is notoriously dangerous and the situation spontaneous. As they drive, Leo asks Harp about his life and his fiancé. He ribs him a bit. They travel through the war-torn regions outside of the military enclosure. The come across a blockade. 

A group of Ukrainians are having food passed out to them by militia from a hijacked food truck. The ragtag militia faces off against the convoy. One of the Gumps shoots one of the Ukrainians. Leo, who had not left his jeep, gets out to calm the situation. He tells Miller to tell his men to lower their weapons and approaches the militia. 

Leo manages to find an accord with the militia and the convoy begins to retreat. Both groups are attacked by a third group. Leo tells Miller that they are going to go ahead on foot. He and Harp grab the vaccines and leave. Away from the firefight, Leo believes Koval is getting closer to his objective. 

As they walk, Leo tells Harp that the reason he looks like he does, the highest possible military-technical representation of US might, is because he expresses neutrality. The enemy will not feel threatened by him. They are heading to a shelter run by the Resistance. As they get to the camp, Leo is beckoned through. 

Inside the camp, a man is watching the two men. Leo delivers the vaccines to a doctor. The man who was watching, trains a gun on them, watching through a scope. He contacts Koval. Koval tells him to kill them both. The man shoots a nurse, causing panic in the hospital. Leo shoots the sniper, wounding him. 

He tortures the sniper, wanting to get information but he refuses to speak. Leo, much to Harp’s horror, leaves the man to be beaten to death by people in the camp. Harp wants to call back to base for back up but Leo tells him it will take too long. Harp thinks Leo is going rogue and threatens to report him.

A reluctant Harp is forced to follow Leo. Harp asks Leo what he is. He is a combat soldier he tells him but can act for himself when required to. Harp thinks that emotion makes people fallible. They reach their destination, a place where Leo is to get intel on Koval’s whereabouts. 

It is an encampment where orphaned children are looked after. The encampment is run by Sofiya (Emily Beecham). Leo wants Koval’s location. She tells them that Koval is close to acquiring the codes he needs for the missiles. The person with the knowledge for the code exchange is an arms dealer, Oshlak (Velibor Topic). Sofiya tells them they will need weapons. 

She can supply them as she is also an arms dealer. Leo tells Sofiya that Harp is a drone-pilot. Harp, who is outside watching the children play, is told by Sofiya that many of the kids he is watching were orphaned by drone bombs. 

They go to meet Oshlak. Oshlak’s men try to stop them. Leo beats up and kills them. He gets information about Koval from Oshlak. Sofiya kills Oshlak. Leo and Harp head to the location. On the drive, Leo has Harp cut out his shutdown switch, telling him that the Russians can track him. 

They arrive at a bank where Koval’s men have taken all the employees’ hostage. The codes are in the bank’s vault. Leo directs Harp to contact Eckhart and get the hostages out of the bank. He goes after Koval. Harp contacts Eckhart and tells him that they are at the bank. Eckhart sends Gumps. Some of Koval’s men come out of the bank with hostages in tow. 

Gumps purchased by Koval join the battle. Eckhart tells Harp that they going to take out Koval. They are sending a drone. Leo pursues one of Koval’s men who has the codes. He kills him and gets the codes back. The drone bombs the building. 

Leo and Harp survive. Harp realises that Leo has a different plan when he says they are not taking the codes back. Leo knocks him unconscious and leaves him. Harp wakes up and is grabbed by some militia. Leo goes to see Koval. 

The militia that grabbed Harp work for Sofiya. She tells him that Koval is alive. He was never in the bank. Leo asks Koval why he tried to kill him. Harp tell Sofiya that she is foolish to trust Leo. Leo wants Koval to give him the location of the Soviet nukes. Sofiya knows Leo’s plan and believes in it. He is going to launch a nuclear strike on the US. 

Leo kills Koval and all of his men. Sofiya releases Harp. Harp is picked up by Eckhart. He tells him that Leo is not destroyed and plans to launch a nuclear strike on the US. With his chip mistakenly disabled by Harp, Harp calls Bale to track Leo’s car by drone. He goes after him. 

Harp gets to the nuclear plant. Leo is already there, multiple bodies of Koval’s men evidence of that. Harp finds him preparing to launch the missiles. Leo chokes him unconscious. He returns to preparing for the launch. Bale has a lock on the silo. Eckhart radios Harp, rousing him. He tells him that the drone is locked on the plant. 

Harp damages Leo with a rocket launcher. He asks why he wants to launch an attack on the US. Leo says it is the only way to stop a war. Eckhart wants to know if Leo is in the silo. They are going to strike the silo.

Harp leaves the silo as Bale shoots. Harp escapes the explosion and returns to base. He is granted leave to return home. The end. 

Final thoughts: on second viewing, Outside The Wire is worse than I remembered. It is such a mess of a film and elicits scant emotion making it difficult to care about what is going on. The acting is fine from all on show but, as I said, with so little emotional involvement in proceedings it is difficult to appreciate. 

The story by Rob Yescombe, who also wrote the screenplay with input from Rowan Athale, is unnecessarily complex. The villain in Asbæk’s Koval is not introduced until fifteen minutes before the end of the film and is then promptly killed. Sure, his name is bandied about and loads of atrocities are attributed to him, but in the context of the film, it does help one to know who he is. 

The action scenes are surprisingly lacklustre, probably because Mackie’s Leo is an unstoppable android and everyone he attacks, fights or kills is only in the film to increase the body count. The directing by Michael Håfstrõm is competent but pedestrian, the story lacking any sort of urgency. 

Watching the film for a second time was a punishment and not at all enjoyable on any level. Scoring a reasonable five-point-four on IMDB, with a nearly two-hour runtime, I can only put that down as generous. Outside The Wire was outside of my comfort zone but not in a good way. Give it a miss.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: successful blues singer, Ma Rainey (Viola Davis), heads north to Chicago to meet up with her band to make a recording of some of her songs. One of her band, Levee (Chadwick Boseman) causes a rift with his ambition and passion.

Is it any good?: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a little too stagey and more of a collection of monologues than a coherent story or film. From a play written by August Wilson, the screenplay by Ruben Santiago-Hudson does nothing to disguise the stage play roots. 

With good performances from. Everybody on show and standout performances from Davis and Boseman in his final film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a watchable film but not a must watch film. 

Spoiler territory: in a tent, down south in America, 1927, black people come from all around to see blues singer Ma Rainey perform. The tent is packed out and Ma Rainey is performing to great acclaim in front of an appreciative crowd. 

With emancipation having happened in the north, black people had begun to migrate in numbers in search of work and a new life. Ma Rainey’s reputation and fame continued to grow down south, her and the band playing in bigger venues. 

At one of the shows, her trumpeter, Levee, steps into the spotlight, add-libbing a solo. A little while later, the band arrive in Chicago. They are there for a recordIng session at Sturdyvant’s (Jonny Coyne) Hot Rhythm studio. 

Ma’s manager, Irving (Jeremy Shamos), is at the studio preparing for their arrival. Sturdyvant is not especially happy about the upcoming arrival of Ma. He finds her difficult. 

Three of the band arrive. Cutler (Coleman Domingo), Toledo (Glynn Turman) and Slow Drag (Michael Potts) and are greeted by Irving. He wants to know where Ma is. She has not arrived yet.

Levee is not there either. On the streets of Illinois, Levee is admiring a pair of shoes. The band settle into the studio and get ready to rehearse.

Levee arrives. He bought the shoes and makes a show of putting them on. It is hot in Chicago. Levee goes to open a door but finds it locked. He does not remember it being locked the last time he was there and remarks on how everything has changed. 

Toledo tells him things always change. Levee, a young abrasive trumpet player, starts to tell the rest of the band that he is going to have his own band. 

Cutler, who is the de facto leader of the band, tells him that they are an accompaniment band. They play Ma’s music, how she wants it. Levee tells them he has a new, more upbeat arrangement for one of her songs. Cutler says they cannot do his arrangement. Irving comes into the room.

He is looking for Ma. Cutler tells him she has not arrived yet. He asks about the arrangement. Irving tells him they are going with Levee’s arrangement. 

In town, Ma is seeing a different kind of black people to the ones she is used to down south. She walks around a tea house with her nephew, Sylvester (Dusan Brown) and niece, Dussie Mae (Taylour Paige). The black people watch Ma and her charges as though they were curiosities. Ma returns to her car. 

Back in the studio space, the band are ribbing Toledo about his old shoes. Levee starts dancing. Toledo cautions them against only looking for fun as black people suffer the world over. They start talking religion. Levee insists that he has no time for God. 

Outside the studio, Ma as arrived but Sylvester has had an accident with another car. Irving comes out of the studio to find Ma arguing with a policeman. Irving nervously intervenes and smooths things over. Inside the studio, an irritable Ma has Irving scurrying around for a fan. 

Dussie, an attractive girl, uses her looks to curry favour with her aunt and asks for new shoes. Ma tells her she will get her some new things. She tells Sylvester he will get some things to. 

He is also going to do a bit on the recording. Music is playing; Levee’s version of Ma’s Black Bottom. Ma asks Irving about it. He tells her that people want to hear a more upbeat sound. Ma is not changing her arrangement. She will sing the song how she originally wrote it. 

She tells Irving to take Sylvester to meet the band and tell them that he is doing the intro to the recording. She decides to go and introduce him herself. She also tells Cutler that they are doing the song to her arrangement with Sylvester doing the intro. Levee tries to protest but Ma is having none of it. 

Ma leaves and a frustrated Levee voices his frustrations. Cutler tells Sylvester the opening he needs to say and asks him to repeat it back to him. Sylvester begins to speak and the band realises he has a stutter. Levee laughs, asking how Cutler plans to sort out the intro. Sturdyvant comes down to the studio. 

Levee approaches him with some of his songs. Sturdyvant takes the songs and leaves. The rest of the band laugh at Levee’s subservient attitude towards Sturdyvant. 

Levee takes offence and tells them he acts how he needs to around white people to get what he needs. He tells them that he learned how to do so from his father who he had seen smile in the faces of the men who sexually assaulted his mother and then return at a later date to try and exact revenge on them. 

Cutler tells Irving that Sylvester cannot do the part. As the band rehearse, Ma sees Levee eyeing Dussie. She tells Cutler to warn him. They get ready to record and Ma wants Sylvester to do his part first.

Irving tells her he cannot do it. Ma insists on him getting a microphone and doing the part. Sturdyvant tries to complain about the cost and she reminds him that she makes more money for him than all his other acts put together. 

There is another hiccup. Irving did not get any Coke. Ma stops the session and sends Slow Drag and Sylvester out to get some. Ma speaks to Cutler, unhappy about having to fight to get Sylvester on the record as she obviously knows the boy has a stutter. Dussie goes to find Levee and flirts with him. 

Ma explains to Cutler that she understands that the only reason Sturdyvant or any white people put up with her, is because of her voice and she makes them money. 

That includes her manager Irving. Levee continues to charm Dussie, telling her he is going to form his own band. The two get frisky. Ma and Cutler speak about the blues and the meaning of the music to black people. 

Slow Drag and Sylvester return with the Cokes. Levee and Dussie’s union is interrupted as he needs to return to the recording. Sylvester, unsurprisingly, struggles to get the intro out. 

He nails it after multiple takes and the band strike up, Ma singing the song perfectly in one take. Unfortunately, Sylvester’s microphone’s wire is frayed and they did not get the recording. 

A frustrated Ma leaves the studio. She is going home. Irving begs her to stay. He will sort everything out in fifteen minutes. Ma stays. The band takes a break. Cutler tells Levee he needs to leave Dussie alone. Levee lies, saying he only ever asked her her name. Toledo tells him that he understands how he could become foolish over a woman. 

Cutler tells Levee that his roving eye is going to get him fired. Levee argues with the rest of the band about their acceptance of their lot in life and how he plans to be respected by white people. Cutler tells the group about a black reverend who had been forced to dance at gunpoint and ridiculed for his belief in God. 

Levee challenges Cutler, asking where was God when that man needed help. He tells Cutler that God hates black people. Cutler punches him and the two scuffle. 

The other band members separate them. Levee pulls a knife and goes for Cutler. Cutler manages to avoid getting stabbed. An angry Levee asks God where he was when his mother was calling out for his help.

They return to the recording room. They record the track perfectly. Ma asks Levee why he felt the need to embellish. He tells her he likes to add his own flavour. It quickly escalates to an argument and Ma fires him. 

An angry Levee leaves the recording room, returning to the rehearsal room. Upstairs, Irving tells Ma that Sturdyvant does not want to pay Sylvester. She tells him to get the boy’s pay. Sturdyvant quickly comes around to Ma’s way of thinking and pays Sylvester. 

He needs Ma to sign the music release forms. Ma leaves, Irving chasing after her asking her to sign the forms. She tells him to send them to her home. She warns Irving that she will record elsewhere in future if there are any more hiccups. 

The band get ready to leave and Sturdyvant pays them. Levee speaks to Sturdyvant, asking if he can get a recording session. Sturdyvant tells him he will buy the songs but does not want to record them. They do not sound right. Levee’s argument to convince him otherwise falls on deaf ears. 

A despondent Levee returns to the rehearsal room. Toledo accidentally steps on his new shoes. He apologises. Levee is riled up and wants a more fulsome explanation for the transgression. Toledo dismisses him, packing up his things and turning to leave. Levee stabs him in the back, killing him. 

Ma is being driven home, unaware of what has happened back at the studio. Levee cradles the dead Toledo. An all-white band record a version of Black Bottom. The End. 

Final thoughts: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is most notable for being Chadwick Boseman’s final film. Directed by George C Wolfe, it does flow nicely and looks great. 

Regrettably, as a Boseman’s last film, it is not a masterwork. Boseman is excellent in it and, if anything, it is almost sadder to see that his obvious talent was extinguished so prematurely. 

Viola Davis matches Boseman with a captivating performance as the bigger than life Ma Rainey. Such is the power of her performance it will have you looking into the real-life Rainey. 

As I alluded to earlier, the film is too obviously based on a stage play, the screenplay putting the monologue style of stage work to the fore. 

The story is centred around the recording studio but seems a little truncated, the whole story not told. Though the original August Wilson play was written in 1984, it is set in the twenties and, as such, reflects the black sensibilities of that time. 

The outlook is quite bleak and needy, with even the successful Rainey knowing that her acceptance is only because of her voice. 

The appropriation of black music by whites is not new and still happens to this day and is the underlying theme of the film. There is also a veiled dig at the blind faith shown in a Christian god that has never favoured black people. 

At ninety-four minutes long, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is not a long film and whizzes through its runtime fairly quickly but suffers a little from having too much story to tell in its runtime. As I wrote earlier, the film is not bad but it is not great either. 

Is it worth watching? For the performances of not just Boseman and Davis, but the whole cast, yes. As an enjoyable ninety-minute-plus film it is not a must-see.

Small Axe ‘Lovers Rock’ – review

As part of a series of films, under the banner of Small Axe, British director Steve McQueen has brought a collection of dramas depicting the life of black people in the seventies and eighties in London. By all accounts, the first of the dramas, Mangrove, was well received.

Based on a true story, it tells of the Mangrove Nine and Altheia Jones-LeCointe, who was part of the nine and involved in the British Black Panther movement. I did not see the episode, so cannot say whether it is good or not.

Unfortunately, I did watch the second instalment, Lovers Rock. It is not good. Before I get to the many gripes, I would like to point out the good points. The costume and makeup department and set designs are excellent.

The clothing and set design invoke memories of my youth and the sound boxes, slick clothing and, to some extent, the music, definitely takes me back. That is it for the good. With a story by Steve McQueen and screenplay by McQueen and Courttia Newland, it is hard to see what story they were trying to tell.

I say story but it is difficult to explain what the story was. On IMDB it is described thus: ‘A single evening at a house party in 1980s West London sets the scene, developing intertwined relationships against a background of violence, romance and music.’ That makes it sound like an interesting watch. It is not.

The last scene in the short film sees the main character, Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn), getting into her bed in her clothes, having sneaked out to go to the party, explains the…story? 

The film was mostly a music video, with Janet Kay’s Silly Games getting more airplay in the film than it has probably had in the past decade.

I was not a reggae person. I went to the odd party that was reggae heavy but it was never my thing. I think Steve McQueen grew up in a house without music. He definitely was not around black music and he never went to a black party, not on the evidence of this film.

In a seventy-minute film, McQueen managed to play the entire version of both Carl Douglas’ Kung Fu Fighting — and I would have to say that is a hard ‘no’. That was never a tune in any black party, reggae or otherwise — and an extended version of the aforementioned Silly Games. 

He did not even have enough knowledge of that time to put terrible singers in for the Janet Kay high note.

Music takes up at least a quarter of the runtime. The music is good, especially for those who lived through that time and remember it but the time could have been used better writing a more coherent story or even a proper story.

At the house where the party is happening, the household is Grenadian but for some reason, only known to McQueen, everybody speaks with a Jamaican lilt. Or tries. 

I’m assuming, though I could be wrong, that these are supposed to be mostly first-generation Brits, so born in the UK, yet they all speak as if they got off the boat.

Yes, back in the day a lot of black people did put on a Jamaican accent, regardless of where their parents came from. What we did not do was speak like that all of the time. 

It is not a different language that only black people understand. Black or not, even Jamaicans, do not go into their homes and switch to patois.

There is an interrupted sexual assault, something that would have definitely had more of a repercussion than it does in this film, and the would-be rapist is wearing a cream suit. He was trying to assault the girl in the garden. No black man was about to get down on the grass in his sweet garments!

There is a group of black guys jumping up and down, pogo style, in the middle of a party. No, just no. No one was jumping up like that at a party. Nobody looks cool jumping and looking cool was always of the utmost importance. This entire film is a myth.

It is bad enough that there is very little British black output on television, with even classic British black programs such as Desmond’s or The Fosters nowhere to be seen on British screen, even in this age of multiple channels. 

That Lovers Rock should be written, produced and directed by a black person is disappointing.

It is good that British black talent is making television or film and it hurts to critique one of the few black shows to make it to the screen but McQueen’s effort is poor. 

Admittedly, I did not overly enjoy Twelve Years A Slave but I did hope that, as McQueen is British, he would be able to fashion a memorable and relatable film. He does not. Lovers Rock is a disappointing and retrograde effort.