MMT Quick Review of FREE STATE OF JONES

Free State of Jones

I screened FREE STATE OF JONES last Thursday night, and really debated with myself if I would share a review or not. It wasn’t that I felt the film, which was released nationwide in theaters on Friday, was bad. However, I do have some reservations about my judgement due to the content and theme of the film, and the timing of its release prior to the Sundance hit THE BIRTH OF A NATION – which will portray the true story of real life African-American slave/preacher/activist/martyr/hero Nat Turner on the big screen.

In “Free State of Jones,” Matthew McConaughey plays Newt Knight, a Mississippi farmer who, after losing his teen nephew in a battle and realizing the poor are fighting a “rich man’s war,” leads white farmers and runaway slaves in a revolt against the confederacy during the Civil War.

Academy award-nominated writer/director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, The Hunger Games, Big) heavily weaves a story that puts on display Knight’s civil rights efforts, his falling in love and taking as common law wife a slave named Rachel (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), and even introduces (somewhat awkwardly about a quarter of the way through the film) an alternate storyline, which finds his great-grandson embroiled in a 1948 court battle and accused of committing miscegenation (marriage of two people from different backgrounds, in this case black and white).

McConaughey, Mbatha-Raw, and several of the rebels – especially Mahershala Ali as escaped slave Moses – give outstanding performances, despite the fact that it felt like the movie was inserting every piece of information Ross located about Knight’s actions after the war – which made it drag like an after-school special that should have been two parts instead of one.

Add that to the fact that I’d already felt like this was just another version of the white hero saves the day story, which seems to have no problem getting greenlit in Hollywood, and it certainly didn’t help my skepticism – or the fact that I admittedly checked my watch at least three times during the 2:19 minute run.

With all that said, the fight scenes were compelling, and I appreciate that, in his storytelling, Ross didn’t omit that it would not have been paradise amongst the rebels – where including slaves was concerned. Again not a bad film, just one I would have preferred to watch in the comfort of my home versus the theater.

But Nate Parker’s “The Birth of a Nation” on the other hand…I’m just saying, there with bells on.

That’s my take, but you know the drill – would certainly appreciate hearing yours in the comments!

Until next thought, Thomasena

 

 

 

 

 

MMT November 2015 Netflix Picks

Happy Saturday MMT Fam! I know it’s the end of the month, but it’s two days left – so you can still consider these November picks! 🙂

My first pick – the Array release Mississippi Damned – is a powerful example of great story-telling – although I will admit it was a bit heavy for me during the first viewing (trigger warning for anyone who’s experienced any sexual or domestic violence).

The 2009 début film – based on the life of writer/director Tina Mabry – follows three sisters and their children through various courses of poverty, heartbreak, betrayal, addiction and abuse. Yet it depicts hope and opportunity via a character named Kari – portrayed beautifully by Tessa Thompson (Creed, Selma, Dear White People).

The performances in this film are amazing, and I dare you to watch it without tearing or becoming angry at least once. I had to watch it twice, because it was so much happening I thought I’d missed something the first time – yes I went through various emotions, it was that deep. But I loved that it ended with a note of hope, and could appreciate the story it took to get there.

My second Netflix selection is an absolute fave – Night Catches Us – starring Anthony Mackie (Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, The Hurt Locker) and Kerry Washington (Scandal, Peeples, Django Unchained). Brilliantly shot in my hometown of Philly, this 2010 début film  – by writer/director Tanya Hamilton – tells the story of  ex-Black Panther Marcus (Mackie)  who returns to Philadelphia for his father’s funeral. Marcus knows it’s not going to be an easy visit as many people still hold him responsible for the death of a Panther leader right before he left town. While trying to convince everyone he’s not, Marcus reignites his relationship with Patricia (Washington) – who happens to be the widow of the slain leader.

Anthony Mackie in this role “gives me life.”  I think I fell in love with a fictional character watching this film! And I know it’s apparent, but yes I do love shouting out my hometown! However, it’s far from bias with this movie, because the cinematography is gorgeous and the storytelling is highly exceptional.

One more thing: the soundtrack was done by homegrown music legends “The Roots” – with Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter multi-tasking by portraying Marcus’ brother Bostic as well.

My last pick today is a movie I gave a great review to last year –  and still enjoyed when I watched the second time around – Beyond The Lights. Writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood created a gem with this one, and it “burns me up” to think about how under-appreciated this drama/love story is. Here’s a link to my full review of the film, and I’ve added the original trailer below, but I encourage you to add this one to your Netflix list if you haven’t seen it!

Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle), Nate Parker (Red Tails, The Great Debaters), Minnie Driver (The Red Tent, Ella Enchanted, Good Will Hunting), and Danny Glover (LUV, Mooz-lum, The Color Purple)  star – and that’s all I would need to hear to get me to watch – but if that doesn’t grab you, know that Mbatha-Raw’s performance as a pop-star battling depression and familial struggle is outstanding. And does Nate Parker do any wrong? I haven’t seen it!

Alright family you know the drill, leave a comment and let me know your thoughts if you’ve seen any of these films – or plan on taking my recommendations. I enjoy getting your feedback!

Until next thought, Thomasena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MMT Quick Review: ‘Beyond The Lights’

Beyond The Lights (photo: Relativity Media)

Happy Friday MMT Family!  I hope that some of you are already out tonight at the theaters in support of Gina Prince Bythewood’s latest gem Beyond The Lights.  Starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker and Minnie Driver, Beyond The Lights is a film with abundant layers, so much so that I dare not simply label it a “love story.”

The film depicts the story of a fictional singer Noni (Mbatha-Raw) who’s dealing with the pressures of fame and – through a desperate, life-threatening act – begins a journey towards self-awareness and true self-acceptance. Accompanying her is Kaz (Parker) a police officer with a bright future in politics ahead of him – who also has to accept some truths about his own journey.

Now if you’ve seen any of the trailers, it’s easy to surmise that Noni’s “mom-ager” Macy, a role delivered skillfully by Minnie Driver, plays a huge part in the pressures experienced by the her daughter. However, the layers of this film!  You know I won’t spoil, but I will say that Mrs. Bythewood is a master at drawing you into each character’s experience and coupled with Driver’s performance – the audience does come to relate a bit more to Macy’s choices and actions towards her daughter.

Okay, so many of you are going to hear from your less emotive friends that they don’t want to see a so-called “chick flick” or something similar.  I urge you to share with them this beautiful comment from a woman, named Stephanie, posted on the film’s Facebook page:

“Saw this in Denver on Wednesday, with my teen son. Exceptionally well-crafted, tastefully shot, great story, and excellent soundtrack. Teen boy said “Kind of a chick flick, but not too much…I liked it!” And we talked about it for an hour after! Not a film I would have prioritized attending, based on title/poster/IMDB – but definitely a “don’t miss” – it’s hard to find a PG-13 with substance!”

Another highlight for me?  The legendary Danny Glover, who plays Kaz’s father Captain Nicol.  Y’all know I love Mr. Glover and would watch him recite phone book entries – I’m not even kidding! 🙂  But seriously, with a standout cast, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s dynamic turn as a pop star – doing some of her own singing,  including an a capella version of  Nina Simone’s “Blackbird” – this is not a film to miss in theaters.  And to my fellow “emotives,” don’t fret. This movie will tear you down at some parts, but don’t worry – you’ll rejoice in the end.

Check out the trailer below and come back and leave a thought or two in the comments section when you see the movie. And all of my giveaway winners, you’re not off the hook! Leave some comments too. 🙂

Until next thought family, Thomasena

 

 

GIVEAWAY: advance screening for BEYOND THE LIGHTS November 12 (Phila, PA)

Beyond The Lights (photo: Relativity Media)

What’s new MMT Family?  As promised, I’m putting up the advanced screening link for the upcoming Relativity Media film BEYOND THE LIGHTS starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Nate Parker.  If you liked “Love & Basketball” you’re going to want to see this one, also by writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood.

For your chance at an admit-two pass, click here and follow the “Get My Passes” prompt.  All passes and screening seating are not guaranteed and are on a first come-first served basis.

You can read the below synopsis and watch the trailer, and get additional information at the film’s official Facebook page here.

Until next thought family, Thomasena

BEYOND THE LIGHTS

BEYOND THE LIGHTS is the story of Noni Jean, a hot new award-winning artist who is primed for superstardom.  But not all is what it seems, and the pressures cause Noni to nearly fall apart – until she meets Kaz Nicol, a promising young cop and aspiring politician who’s been assigned to her detail.  Drawn to each other, Noni and Kaz fall fast and hard, despite the protests of those around them to put their career ambitions ahead of their romance.  But can Kaz’s love give Noni the courage to find her own voice and break free to become the artist she was meant to be?

Release:                               November 14, 2014

Writer:                                  Gina Prince-Bythewood

Director:                               Gina Prince-Bythewood

Cast:                                      Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker, Minnie Driver, Colson “MGK” Baker and Danny Glover

Rating:                                 PG-13

MMT Quick Review of ‘Belle’

Belle (banner: foxsearchlight.com)

Happy Mother’s Day MMT Family!  I wanted to give my quick opinion about a film that opened here in Philadelphia on Friday night, and one that some MMT winners advance screened last week.  The movie is the highly acclaimed Belle, directed by Amma Asante and starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw (some may know her from the now cancelled NBC drama Undercovers with Boris Kodjoe) in the lead role as Dido Elizabeth Belle.  The film also stars Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Penelope Wilton, Matthew Goode and Emily Watson.

Inspired by a 1779 painting of the real Dido Belle, screenwriter Misan Sagay created a beautifully brave, and at times bittersweet, story with a multi-faceted display of love during one of the world’s darkest periods.  Born to a Royal Navy Admiral and an African slave, Belle is raised in England by her aristocratic great-uncle (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson) side-by-side with her cousin Elizabeth. The high-ranking of her family’s stature and the dichotomy of her treatment within it, her duplicitous treatment by society, and her increasing awareness of the improbability that her race contributes to finding true love within such a society are all themes explored in the film.  In addition, Belle’s great-uncle’s pivotal decision as superior judge in a slave-trade/insurance case, and how his care of his niece may have impacted, is explored.

Now, most of you know I do not do spoilers, but this is one movie where I am finding it hard not to share!  Sagay created some of the most amazing lines and moments in this film and the exceptional talent of the cast, especially Mbatha-Raw, delivers them all to the hilt. You can click here to go to the Fox Searchlight “Belle” website and check some of the clips out yourself!

And Amma Asante’s direction was spot on.  Because it is a period piece, and I didn’t research running time prior to screening, I settled in believing it was going to be a lengthy film.  Yet surprisingly, with just enough character development and introduction, and with precise movement,the film runs at 104 minutes. And it is a visual feast; especially the beautiful period costumes.  “Belle” is a film that the audience can digest with ease and leave the theater filled with the power of love – self, romantic and agape.

Click here to see the synopsis and official trailer of Belle shared formerly in the giveaway post, and check below for the origins featurette video.  And please stop back and leave a comment or two to let me know your thoughts about the film! 😉

Until next thought family, Thomasena

GIVEAWAY: advance screening of ‘Belle’ on Monday, May 5 (Philly, PA area)

Belle (Fox Searchlight)

Hey MMT Family!  I know, I know, I have been missing in action! The Walk MS – Philly event is this Saturday and I’ve been doing a lot of campaigning, fundraising and preparing!  There is still time to donate online (online donations will be accepted through May 30), so please see logo at top right of page if interested.  Now on to the really good stuff!  We’ve partnered with Fox Searchlight for an advance screening of Belle, a film inspired by a 1779 painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle. There has been much hype surrounding this film, and is surely one to see in advance if you can catch it!

The movie is being screened next Monday night at 7:30 p.m. Seating and passes are not guaranteed, and are on a first come-first served basis.  Click here to get to the giveaway page and enter the code MMT if needed.  Read the synopsis and/or check out the trailer below, and remember to stop back and leave or comment or two about the film! 🙂

Good Luck!  Until next thought, Thomasena

Belle synopsis

BELLE is inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral.  Raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and his wife (Emily Watson), Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the color of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing.  Left to wonder if she will ever find love, Belle falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.