Archive for January, 2021

One Night in Miami

Posted in Drama with tags on January 18, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

So let me set the stage. Muhammad Ali (Eli Goree) has just pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sporting history by beating Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander). Civil rights activist Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), singer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr. ), and NFL player Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) were all ringside to witness it. Afterward, these four American icons decided to hang out. The date is February 25, 1964, and their meeting really happened. This movie, however, is a fictionalized version of what they might have talked about. It is an compelling idea for a film. This was a pivotal moment of contemplation in the career of each of these 4 young men. The magnitude of their encounter is underscored by the fact that Malcolm X and Sam Cooke would both be murdered within a year.

One Night in Miami is the directorial debut from Academy Award winning actress Regina King (Jerry Maguire, If Beale Street Could Talk) based on the play written by Kemp Powers. The plot merely revolves around a conversation. The play leans heavily on the repartee between its four principal players. You’d expect them to agree but their differing ideologies are a big part of the conflict. Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali seize focus as the principals. They control and guide the deliberation. They are more aligned in political spirit whereas Jim Brown and Sam Cooke’s views are a little divergent. Yet they all share a mutual respect for one another. The Civil Rights movement was ongoing concern. As they speak we come to know what’s going on in their lives and how they wish to proceed in their separate careers.

One Night in Miami concerns four inspirational icons that spar over weighty matters. The screenplay is shrewd enough to present each of these individual men not as legends but as human beings with vulnerabilities. Of all the depictions, Leslie Odom, Jr stands out as Sam Cooke. He disappears into the role so you feel you are watching the soul crooner himself, not an actorly achievement. Odom’s extensive theater experience (Rent, Leap of Faith, Hamilton) also means he can do his own singing and that is just as impressive as the performance. The best interactions involve him and Malcolm X. My favorite part is when Malcolm X reminisces about attending the singer’s concert and how Cooke won over the crowd when his microphone didn’t work. That little vignette was so captivating I started to wonder what a Sam Cooke memoir would look like. His life would undoubtedly make a fascinating movie. This is not a traditional cradle to the grave biography. This is merely a snapshot in the lives of these men. I do appreciate that approach. It is unique.

Where the picture falls short is in the authentic presentation of a leisurely exchange. The dialogue here doesn’t sound natural. It’s infused with the well-researched viewpoints of a writer. You never forget this is a play. What might these historical figures have talked about? Apparently the preferred subject is politics. It’s focused on a philosophical debate that deals with the plight of African Americans and what the moral obligation of black men in positions of power and cultural influence should be. There is a lot of self-reflection. No resolution per se. Just conversational gymnastics. Most of the so-called action takes place in Malcolm’s room at the Hampton House motel. This isn’t a production rooted in a strong narrative structure. To that extent, the tale doesn’t rise above its stagey origins. That has been a difficult task as of late. The recent Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom also had that issue. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting and timely effort. This is sure to be a future favorite of high school history teachers on the American civil rights movement. As an intellectual exercise, the work is intriguing. As a piece of entertainment, it’s a bit less engaging.


Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Podcast on January 17, 2021 by Mark Hobin

On Sunday, Jan 10, 2021, I chatted with Martin Kelner on talkSPORT radio about THE MIDNIGHT SKY with George Clooney and the upcoming PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN with Carey Mulligan. Click below. My segment begins 15 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 15 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

News of the World

Posted in Action, Adventure, Drama, Western with tags on January 16, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 3 out of 5.

United 93 and Captain Philips are two of the greatest films of the past 15 years. Paul Greengrass directed both. He also helmed 3 of the 5 entries in the Jason Bourne spy series. They include my favorites: Supremacy (2004) and Ultimatum (2007). So it goes without saying that my anticipation for Greengrass’ latest endeavor was high. News of the World is the achievement of a proficient filmmaker. The Western is a throwback to a bygone era when stately movies could expect to reap Oscar nominations in multiple categories, especially cinematography, costumes, production design, and sound. News of the World is unquestionably a beautifully constructed monument in the glorious tradition of Hollywood. Despite all this, I’m rather shocked that Paul Greengrass is responsible for it. This seems more like the fastidiously assembled effort from a talented hack than from the innovative auteur I have come to know.

The most important element in a movie is the story. Of course, all of the aforementioned components contribute. Don’t get me wrong. Those qualities are much appreciated. Particularly in our current age where this kind of grand filmmaking is on the wane. However, it’s the adventure that ultimately must captivate. News of the World is sadly lacking in this department. Paul Greengrass and Luke Davies (Lion, Beautiful Boy) adapted News of the World from the novel by Paulette Jiles. Civil War veteran Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) is an elderly widower traveling through northern Texas. He earns a living as a newsreader — which means he gives live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for “news of the world”. He agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa tribe to her surviving biological relatives. And so this commences a 400-mile journey south through difficult terrain as the two lost spirits form a bond that predictably plays out like the fictional construct of a writer.

News of the World concerns Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd and his charge Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel). They encounter other people but this is essentially a two-hander. The 10-year-old girl has a grim past. Four years prior, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister. The Native Americans spared the youth and raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. Army, the child has once again been torn away from her home. She doesn’t speak English, is ill-tempered, and tries to escape. She appears to be mute which allows the young actress to perform without saying much. I might have thought it unique if I had never seen Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker.

Meanwhile, no actor represents righteousness better than Hanks. The celebrity quintessentially radiates integrity unlike anyone since James Stewart. In the last decade, Hanks has portrayed real-life hero Captain Sully and returned to the iconic role of Sheriff Woody in Toy Story 4. Need further proof? He’s played Mister Rogers and Walt Disney for goodness’ sake. He is a future candidate for sainthood before he even speaks. It’s a cinematic shorthand that works. I fully admit that. His inherently comforting demeanor alleviates the legend from having to display the nuance and craft that would be demanded of a less experienced actor. I don’t fault him for that. Nevertheless, the presentation feels so calculated and conventional.

News of the World is a piece of historical fiction that explores the definition of a family. That’s a nice idea but it unfolds at such a languid tempo. Nothing surprising occurs in this sanctimonious tale. The chronicle gradually limps to its inevitable conclusion with precious little enthusiasm. We keep expecting more conflict between these two disparate souls but Captain Kidd’s polite and mannerly personality doesn’t provide much friction. As the narrative plods along there are various vignettes. The duo meet three ex-Confederate soldiers. This leads to a shootout which got my hopes up for more excitement. Sadly that was the high point. They encounter more nasty fellows that want to rid the county from outsiders. The “good” and “bad” individuals might as well have those words stamped on their forehead. Granted some of the most captivating films ever made have clearly defined characters. It’s just that the saga is so lethargic. I guess I wasn’t expecting a drama to start at a snail’s pace and then frequently apply the brakes.



Posted in Drama with tags on January 7, 2021 by Mark Hobin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I love period pieces set in the 1980s.

That statement may sound like I’m referring to one of those comedic coming of age tales. Minari is a chronicle about the American dream. This is a loving recollection, externally dealing with the immigrant experience but intimately concerning a move the Yi family makes from California to Arkansas. Father Jacob (Steven Yeun) and mother Monica (Yeri Han), have arrived with their two kids. The parents are originally from South Korea. Precocious youngest child David (Alan S. Kim) and solemn older daughter Anne (Noel Kate Chao) were both born in California. Jacob is determined to make a living through farming. He dreams of transforming his five acres into a homestead where his family can grow Korean fruits and vegetables.

Sometimes life has other plans. His wife is not convinced. They argue much to the consternation of their kids. Their angry voices echo within the space of the cramped double-wide trailer they call home. Monica soon enlists the help of her mother, Soon-ja (Young Yuh-jung), who arrives from South Korea. This sweet but non-traditional grandmother introduces yet another component to the household. She doesn’t know how to cook, would rather play cards, and curses frequently. Her arrival will change their lives. The entire cast is great but her personality takes the narrative to another level. She also brings a memento from their native country — some Korean watercress called minari. She plants it alongside a creek nearby.

“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Yi family yearns for the unalienable rights outlined in the Declaration of Independence. This is a story that uplifts the assimilation into one’s adoptive country. There are so many little details that elevate this authentic depiction. To pay the bills, Jacob and Monica work separating baby chicks by gender. Chicken sexing is indeed an important part of mass poultry production. However, the success of the farm is their ultimate goal. The presentation is one of hope.

Minari is the fourth feature from American director Lee Isaac Chung. He too grew up on a small farm in rural Arkansas. Little David can be seen as a representation of Chung himself. Chung does what director Barry Levinson did with Avalon. Take inspiration from his own upbringing. He extracts warm memories of growing up and presents them with honesty and heart for all the world to appreciate. Sometimes the greatest cinematic moments are not spectacular action setpieces but the intimate interactions within a tight-knit clan.

This beautifully realized portrait is simply one of the best films of 2020. Sadly as of this writing, you’ll have to wait to see it: February 12 to be exact. However, it received a one-week virtual release in early December and so I recognized it as a 2020 movie when I compiled my Top 10 list of 2020. It occupies the #3 position. Consider this an invitation to watch the film when it finally becomes available. Minari is an exquisite comment on humanity.


Fast Film Reviews on talkSPORT radio

Posted in Drama with tags on January 6, 2021 by Mark Hobin

My appearance, Dec 27, 2020, on talkSPORT radio was a big one. I chat with Martin Kelner about SOUL, Pixar’s latest animated release, and WONDER WOMAN 1984 with Gal Gadot. Click below. My segment begins 10 minutes into the 2:30-3:00 section (about 20 minutes from the end). Enjoy!

Source: The world’s biggest sports radio station | talkSPORT

My Top 10 Films of 2020

Posted in Drama, Uncategorized on January 1, 2021 by Mark Hobin

To say 2020 was a difficult year would be an understatement. And yet, I still saw a lot of great films that made me happy..

On this, the first day of 2021, I reflect back on 365 days of movie watching and pick the 10 films I loved (PLUS an additional 10 that just missed that list). I keep a ranked list throughout the year, but it can be a bit arbitrary when deciding between two films that each got 4 stars and you have to place one above the other. Needless to say, I enjoyed everything on my “Best of” list very much.

Click the link to reveal…

* MY TOP FILMS OF 2020 *

It has been great seeing all of these movies, but it wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t have an audience with whom to share my passion. To all who read my blog, like my posts and keep the conversation going, I am truly grateful, so a big THANK YOU to all of you!

Wishing you a HAPPY NEW YEAR in a fresh decade that begins with 2021!