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Staff & contributors

This adaptation of a tragedy by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson might retain the mostly minimal setting of its source material — two rooms in a Chicago recording studio — but the searing performances at its heart more than warrant the translation to the big screen. A ferocious Viola Davis plays the titular ‘Mother of the Blues’, a fiery artist whose diva-ness is powerfully revealed to be a matching of the same transactional energy with which she’s treated by her white managers. 

On a steamy day in the roaring 1920s, one of Ma’s recording sessions morphs into a tinderbox of debate on art, race, and these exploitative power dynamics that exist at their intersection. As her band awaits her characteristically late arrival, its members tease, and then bicker, and finally erupt at one another. The youngest musician, Levee (Chadwick Boseman), is the most hot-headed — in his older band-mates’ eyes, he’s an arrogant young upstart with delusions of grandeur, but Levee’s ambitions are powered by real pain, as revealed in a blistering monologue. The film is unabashedly stagy in many respects, a quality that can work both ways — but, ultimately, the crackling current that runs through Davis and Boseman’s acting gives the movie all the blazing, goosebump-inducing immediacy of a live performance.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Chadwick Boseman, Colman Domingo, Daniel Johnson, Dusan Brown, Glynn Turman, Jeremy Shamos, Jonny Coyne, Joshua Harto, Michael Potts, Quinn VanAntwerp, Taylour Paige, Viola Davis

Director: George C. Wolfe

Rating: R

, 2016

There is a chance we will be known as the generation that perfected mixing the two mediums of movie and theater. Think Hateful 8, Horace & Pete, Wild Tales, and Fences! A movie not only packed with Broadway talent, it's also based on a Pulitzer-winning play by August Wilson. The play element is both strong and visible, the movie is dialogue packed, and takes place almost exclusively in the characters' house, not to mention most of the events happen within the span of a few days. The movie element comes through beautiful aesthetics and rich scenery, as well as some of Hollywood's best talent: Denzel Washington (who is also the director) and Viola Davis. They had both actually won Tony Awards for their performances reviving the play back in 2010. Denzel is a black garbage collector who was once a promising baseball player and a victim of racial discrimination. His psyche is as rich as it is determined and he is used to taking out his deep-rooted feelings of anger on his loved ones. His wife (Davis), his son, and his friends are the targets of this hurt and anger, but they also have a lot to deal with on their own. A beautiful if maybe slow play-movie. Do not watch it expecting "things to happen", but watch it to be mesmerized by the acting, the writing, and the underlying tensions it addresses. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Christopher Mele, Denzel Washington, Joe Fishel, Jovan Adepo, Lesley Boone, Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby, Saniyya Sidney, Stephen Henderson, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Viola Davis

Director: Denzel Washington

Rating: PG-13

As biopics go, Cassandro skews towards the conventional. It follows a template familiar to anyone who has seen a life-story movie about the underdog climbing up the ranks thanks to their unmatchable heart and talent. But it’s also a template that’s elevated by Bernal’s wonderful performance and Roger Ross Williams’ careful and naturalistic direction. Save for a few melodramatic moments, many parts of Cassandro feel fresh and authentic, not least of which is Saúl's heartwarming relationship with his mother Yocasta (Perla De La Rosa). It’s unapologetic joy is another element that sets it apart: instead of being punished for his flamboyance and cheer, Saúl is rewarded for it. This seems like a rare triumph in LGBTQ+ stories, and on that merit alone Cassandro deserves to be seen. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bad Bunny, El Hijo del Santo, Gael García Bernal, Joaquín Cosío, Julieta Ortiz, Leonardo Alonso, Mark Vasconcellos, Perla de la Rosa, Raúl Castillo, Roberta Colindrez

Director: Roger Ross Williams

Rating: R

The story of Antwone Fisher as told by Denzel Washington (in his directorial debut) may be a bit too straightforward for its own good, but it only proves the strength of his eye and ear for performance. In addition to turning in his own understated yet authoritative performance, Washington gets a powerhouse turn out of Derek Luke, who allows every new revelation about Fisher to strengthen every aspect of his work. What the film gets right about talking about mental health (that other movies get so wrong) is that it knows that providing an explanation for why someone is the way they are shouldn't be a dramatic climax. What Antwone Fisher emphasizes is healing, community, and the dignity of the person working through these issues.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Charles Robinson, De'Angelo Wilson, Denzel Washington, Derek Luke, Earl Billings, Gary A. Jones, James Brolin, Joy Bryant, Kente Scott, Kevin Connolly, Leonard Earl Howze, Malcolm David Kelley, Novella Nelson, Rainoldo Gooding, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Stephen Snedden, Sung Kang, Vernee Watson-Johnson, Viola Davis, Yolonda Ross

Director: Denzel Washington

While at first it seems like this third installment in Antoine Fuqua's series of Denzel Washington star vehicles is setting itself up to be a more serious and thoughtful story of personal absolution, it gradually becomes clear that The Equalizer 3 has no story to tell. Very, very little happens in this movie, and all the time we spend with Washington (still somehow compelling, even when he's on autopilot) drinking tea and chatting with locals doesn't lead to any character relationships worth caring for. Fuqua and screenwriter Richard Wenk seem to want to create a sense of familiarity with this Italian town, through which we should ideally see the things Robert McCall grows to value in his violent life. But even the prettiest landscapes (shot by Robert Richardson) can't make up for how empty and misjudged the writing is.

There are approximately two short action scenes in The Equalizer 3, neither of which has the clockwork precision of the fights in the first film, or the environmental inventiveness of the climax of the second film. And while an action movie can aspire to something beyond its action, the fact that this installment has abandoned it completely is a genuinely perplexing choice.

Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller

Actor: Adolfo Margiotta, Agostino Chiummariello, Andrea Dodero, Andrea Scarduzio, Arcangelo Iannace, Bruno Bilotta, Dakota Fanning, Danilo Capuzi, David Denman, Denzel Washington, Diego Riace, Eugenio Mastrandrea, Gaia Scodellaro, Gianluigi Scilla, Giovanni Scotti, Lucia Zotti, Marco Giuliani, Marta Zoffoli, Mauro Cremonini, Melissa Leo, Niccolò Senni, Remo Girone, Salvatore Ruocco, Sonia Ammar, Valerio Da Silva

Director: Antoine Fuqua

Rating: R