Review: ‘The Many Saints of Newark,’ starring Alessandro Nivola, Leslie Odom Jr., Jon Bernthal, Corey Stoll, Michael Gandolfini, Ray Liotta and Vera Farmiga

January 8, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured clockwise, from left to right: Corey Stoll, Joey Diaz, Vera Farmiga, Jon Bernthal, Michael Gandolfini, Gabriella Piazza, Alessandro Nivola and an unidentified actress in “The Many Saints of Newark” (Photo by Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Many Saints of Newark”

Directed by Alan Taylor

Culture Representation: Taking place from 1967 to 1972, in New Jersey and New York, the mobster drama film “The Many Saints of Newark” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class involved in mafia activities.

Culture Clash: Members of the Moltisanti and Soprano families of “The Sopranos” TV series rise through the ranks of the Italian American mafia in New Jersey while having conflicts with each other, as an underage Tony Soprano is groomed to learn the family’s crime business. 

Culture Audience: “The Many Saints of Newark” will appeal primarily to fans of “The Sopranos” and predictable mobster movies with good acting.

Leslie Odom Jr. and Alessandro Nivolo in “The Many Saints of Newark” (Photo by Barry Wetcher/Warner Bros. Pictures)

As a movie prequel to “The Sopranos” series, “The Many Saints of Newark” disappoints by not making Tony Soprano the main character. However, the cast members are so talented, they elevate this typical mobster drama. You don’t have to be familiar with “The Sopranos” to understand “The Many Saints of Newark,” although the movie is more enjoyable to watch for anyone who has a basic level of knowledge about “The Sopranos,” which won 21 Primetime Emmy Awards during its 1999 to 2007 run on HBO. At times, “The Many Saints of Newark” looks more like it’s trying to be a Martin Scorsese mafia film than a “Sopranos” prequel.

Directed by Alan Taylor and written by “The Sopranos” showrunner David Chase and Lawrence Konner, “The Many Saints of Newark” opens with a scene of a graveyard that shows the gravestone of Christopher Moltisanti, Tony Soprano’s troubled protégé, whom Tony killed in Season 6 of the series. Christopher (voiced by Michael Imperioli) is briefly a “voice from the dead” narrator to explain to viewers that this story will go back in time (from 1967 to 1972), to show how Christopher’s father Dickie Moltisanti (played by Alessandro Nivola) became a mafia mentor to Tony.

It’s not the ghost of Christopher who really haunts “The Saints of Newark.” It’s the ghost of James Gandolfini, the actor who made Tony Soprano an iconic character in “The Sopranos.” Gandolfini died in 2013, at the age of 51. Any TV show or movie that’s about “The Sopranos” saga has a huge void to fill without Gandolfini playing the role of the adult Tony Soprano. It’s a void that really can’t be filled, but “The Many Saints of Newark” makes an attempt to create another “larger than life” mafia character for “The Sopranos” saga, but it’s extremely difficult for any “Sopranos” character to overshadow Tony and his legacy.

“The Many Saints of Newark” is about Dickie (Tony’s first mentor) more than anyone else. The movie reveals the family tree in bits and pieces for any viewer who doesn’t know the family background. Dickie’s father is Aldo “Hollywood Dick” Moltisanti (played by Ray Liotta), who has an identical twin brother named Salvatore “Sally” Moltisanti (also played by Liotta), who is in prison for murder. Dickie is a cousin of Carmela De Angelis (played by Lauren DiMario), Tony’s high-school sweetheart who would later become his wife. Even though Dickie is not related to the Sopranos by blood, he becomes so close to Tony, Dickie is eventually referred to as Tony’s “uncle.”

Tony’s parents are Giovanni Francis “Johnny Boy” Soprano (played by Jon Bernthal) and Livia Soprano (played by Vera Farmiga), who have very different personalities. Johnny is gregarious and fun-loving, while Livia is uptight and judgmental. During the five years that this movie takes place, Tony is seen when he’s 11 years old (played by William Ludwig) and when he’s 16 years old (played by Michael Gandofini, the real-life son of James Gandolfini).

Tony, his parents and his two younger sisters live in the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark, New Jersey. Tony’s sisters Janice and Barbara are doted on by their parents, while Tony feels negelcted in comparison. (Mattea Conforti portrays Janice as a child, Alexandra Intrator portrays Janice as teenager, and Lexie Foley portrays Barbara as a child.)

A family party celebrating Janice’s confirmation in the Catholic religion shows how much Tony feels like an ignored outsider in his own family. Dickie is one of the people who’s a regular at the Soprano family gatherings because members of the Soprano family and the Moltiscanti family work for the DiMeo crime family that rules this part of New Jersey. It’s at Janice’s confirmation party that Tony sees his father Johnny and Dickie talking about some mafia business. Tony is intrigued.

Tony is intelligent, but his academic grades don’t reflect that intelligence because Tony doesn’t really like school. It’s the first sign that he’s not comfortable with authority figures or following rules. Livia is overly critical of Tony and thinks he’s not as smart as Tony actually is. At one point, Tony’s teacher Mrs. Jarecki (played by Talia Balsam) tells Livia that Tony is intelligent and has leadership potential. Livia’s reaction is to say that there’s a difference between being smart and being a smart aleck.

Johnny’s older brother Corrado John “Junior” Soprano Jr. (played by Corey Stoll) is more stoic and serious-minded than Johnny. (Dominic Chianese played Junior in “The Sopranos” TV series.) Johnny and Junior eventually have a rivalry over who will rise the highest in the DiMeo crime family. But when this story takes place, Dickie’s father Hollywood Dick has more seniority than Junior and Johnny.

Much of the family drama in “The Saints of Newark” is about the tensions between Dickie and his father. Hollywood Dick abused his first wife (Dickie’s mother), who is now deceased. It’s implied that she was killed by her husband, who got away with the crime. Dickie’s father was abusive to him too when Dickie was a child. Dickie’s childhood is not shown in flashbacks, but it’s described in conversations. As an adult, Dickie has a love/hate relationship with his father.

In 1967, Hollywood Dick arrives back in Newark from a trip to Italy and has someone with him: a much-younger Italian woman named Giuseppina (played by Michela De Rossi), whom Hollywood Dick impulsively married in Italy. Giuseppina, who is described as a beauty queen, barely knows English and is young enough to be her new husband’s daughter. She’s really a trophy wife who doesn’t hide the fact that she married Hollywood Dick so that she could live in America as the wife of a man who can take care of her financial needs.

Hollywood Dick introduces Giuseppina to Dickie for the first time after she has already become Hollywood Dick’s wife. Dickie and his wife Joanna (played by Gabriella Piazza) eventually become parents to Christopher, their first child. Even though Dickie and Giuseppina are married to other people, it doesn’t take long for Giuseppina and Dickie to start looking at each other lustfully. Their feelings are also accelerated when Dickie finds out that his father is abusing Giuseppina. Dickie feels very protective of her, and he wants to help Giuseppina in her dream to own her own hair salon.

Meanwhile, Dickie is in regular contact with some of the African Americans who are part of the criminal underground in Newark. Harold McBrayer (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) collects bets for the mafia. In an early scene in the movie, Harold is shown beating up Leon Overall (played by Mason Bleu), the leader of an African American gang called the Saints, because Leon is suspected of stealing from Harold.

“The Many Saints of Newark” makes some attempt to be more racially diverse than “The Sopranos” by having a subplot about how Harold’s relationship with Dickie changes over time. The movie also has scenes depicting racial tensions, such as the Newark race riots and what happens when Harold’s relationship with Dickie is tested for another reason. But because the African American people in this movie are supporting characters, issues of racism are not at the forefront of this story.

And where is Tony Soprano during all of Dickie’s family drama? The movie trailers for “The Many Saints of Newark” make it look like the teenage Tony Soprano will be in nearly all of the film. He’s not. The teenage Tony Soprano doesn’t appear until 51 minutes into this two-hour movie.

Tony is a rebellious teen who needs a father figure more than ever when his father Johnny is arrested and sent to prison for assault with a deadly weapon. The arrest takes place in front of Tony and Janice. During Johnny’s incarceration, Dickie becomes even more of an influence on Tony.

Viewers who are looking for more insignt into Tony and Carmela’s teenage relationship won’t really get it in “The Many Saints of Newark.” There’s a scene where Tony and a few friends show off to Carmela by stealing an ice cream truck and giving away free ice cream to people in the neighborhood during this theft. At this point, Tony and Carmela aren’t officially a couple. He’s showing a romantic interest in her, but she’s not really all that impressed with him.

“The Many Saints of Newark” gives more background information about Tony’s rocky relationship with his mother Livia. There’s a minor subplot about Livia being in therapy (it’s implied that she might have bipolar disorder), she’s prescribed Elavil, and Tony wants some of the Elavil too. The only point to this subplot is that it’s a foreshadowing nod to a well-known “Sopranos” story arc about an adult Tony being in psychiatric therapy. Tony’s sessions with his therapist Dr. Melfi (played by Lorraine Bracco) were among the most-praised aspects of the TV series.

In addition to Tony and his sisters, “The Many Saints of Newark” has the younger versions of some other “Sopranos” characters, but they aren’t given much to do in this movie. John Magaro portrays a younger Silvio Dante, who was played by Steven Van Zandt in the TV series. Billy Magnussen depicts Paulie Walnuts, a role played by Tony Serico in the TV series. Samson Moeakiola is in the role of Pussy Bonpensiero, who was played by Vincent Pastore in the TV series.

However much “The Many Saints of Newark” might have been marketed as a Tony Soprano origin story, this movie is really a Dickie Moltisanti story, with Tony as a supporting character. The movie’s tagline is “Who Made Tony Soprano?,” but it still seems like a “bait and switch” marketing ploy. Throughout much of the movie, viewers might be asking instead, “Where is Tony Soprano?”

Fortunately, the performances by all of the movie’s cast members (especially Nivolo, Liotta, Odom and Farmiga) maintain a level of interest, along with the suspenseful aspects of the story. However, people who’ve seen enough American mafia movies will find a lot of familiar tropes in “The Many Saints of Newark.” Taylor doesn’t do anything spectacular with the movie’s direction. Chase and Konner approached the screenplay as if delving into Tony Soprano’s underage youth ultimately wouldn’t work as the central focus of a movie that showcases very adult crimes.

“The Saints of Newark” is not a bad movie, but it’s not a great one either, considering the high bar set by “The Sopranos.” The movie’s technical aspects, including the cinematography and production design, are perfectly adequate, but everything about “The Many Saints of Newark” looks like a made-for-TV movie, not a big event movie that was made for a theatrical release. As long as viewers know in advance that Tony Soprano is not the central character of “The Many Saints of Newark,” they have a better chance of enjoying this watchable but not essential entry in “The Sopranos” saga.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “The Many Saints of Newark” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on October 1, 2021.

Review: ‘Needle in a Timestack,’ starring Leslie Odom Jr., Cynthia Erivo, Orlando Bloom and Freida Pinto

January 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Cynthia Erivo and Leslie Odom Jr. in “Needle in a Timestack” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

“Needle in a Timestack”

Directed by John Ridley

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed U.S. cities, the sci-fi drama “Needle in a Timestack” features a racially diverse cast of characters (black, white and Asian) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: In this time-bending story, two men and two women experience their lives differently when the men and women pair off as couples at different points in their lives. 

Culture Audience: “Needle in a Timstack” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching a convoluted, poorly written and extremely dull movie.

Orlando Bloom and Freida Pinto in “Needle in a Timestack” (Photo courtesy of Lionsgate)

Looking for a needle in a haystack is more fun than watching “Needle in a Timestack.” This excruciatingly dull movie tries to have a “musical chairs” approach to romance, but it’s ultimately a time-wasting bore with nothing to say. Unfortunately, this misguided movie doesn’t do much with its talented cast except give them snooze-inducing dialogue and scenarios that are just too ill-conceived to take.

“Needle in a Timestack” is based on Robert Silverberg’s 1966 collection of sci-fi short stories the same name. It’s easy to see how “Needle in a Timestack” screenwriter/director John Ridley thought that the intriguing concept of time-traveling changing the course of people’s romances that should be made into a movie. But this concept just turns into a haphazard mishmash of tedious scenes where the actors look almost as confused as viewers will be if they try to wade through this cinematic muck.

“Needle in a Timestack” is about two men and two women who have intertwined romances, but the main couple that audiences are supposed to be rooting for are spouses Nick Mikkelsen (played by Leslie Odom Jr.) and Janine Mikkelsen (played by Cynthia Erivo), who are the couple who gets the most screen time. Nick works in real-estate development for an architectural firm called Randall Corp. Janine is a photographer. Nick and Janine have been married for five years. (“Needle in a Timestack” takes place in the U.S., but the movie was actually filmed in British Columbia.)

The other two people in this quasi-love quadrangle are business mogul Tommy Hambleton (played by Orlando Bloom) and Alex Leslie (played by Freida Pinto), who are presented as possible threats to Nick and Janine’s love for each other. At various points in the movie, these couplings are shown: Nick and Janine; Tommy and Janine; Nick and Alex; and Tommy and Alex. The movie then plays a lot of tricks over which scene might be a flashback, an altered reality, or possibly a figment of someone’s imagination.

At first, Nick and Janine seem like a blissful married couple in love. When they’re at a house party together, Nick looks adoringly at Janine and says to her, “Sometimes, when you’re not looking, I watch you from across the room. And I ask myself, ‘If I didn’t know you, would I still fall in love with you?'”

The beginning of the movie shows that Janine has made a sad video of herself where tears are rolling down her cheeks. Janine says wistfully as she looks into the camera: “Love is drawn in the form of a circle. No one knows where it begins, and it never really ends. You and I, we are forever and always and all ways.”

Why is Janine so upset? And why is she talking like a cheesy Valentine’s Day card? The movie comes back to this video as a placemark to show viewers that Janine might know something that some of the other characters might not know. That’s because in this movie, memories and versions of reality can be erased by people who have the money to time travel and alter the fates of themselves and loved ones. Messing with fate in this way results in a “time shift,” which can usually be detected when people get nosebleeds.

Nick experiences a series of unsettling time shifts that are so alarming to him that he tells Janine that he suspects someone is trying to “erase” their marriage and possibly their memories of each other. Nick eventually figures out that Janine’s wealthy and jealous ex-husband Tommy is causing these time traveling manipulations because Janine broke up with Tommy, and Tommy is still bitter about it. When Nick confronts Tommy (who’s in charge of a company called Hambleton Solutions) about his suspicions, Tommy smugly replies by saying, “No one can really change the past. Just clean up the present a little.”

Nick is so sure that Tommy is going to erase Nick’s memories, Nick gets help from a company that sells Past Protect, which is described as a cloud service for storage of memories. People upload their photos and files on Past Protect to preserve memories. There’s some very manufactured and predictable drama about the Past Protect part of the story.

The rest of “Needle in a Timestack” sluggishly goes back and forth in different “realities” that show the four different couplings that happen between Nick, Janine, Tommy and Alex. None of these pairings is the least bit interesting or sexy, although the movie tries its hardest to make it look like Nick and Janine are the most “passionate” of the four pairings. The personalities of all these characters are so bland, it’ll be hard for viewers to remember much about the movie’s characters.

Odom and Erivo seem to be doing their best to play a convincing married couple, but their acting just seems a bit too forced in their love scenes. Bloom and Pinto look like they’re just going through the motions and reciting their lines. It doesn’t help that almost all of the dialogue in the film is awkward and stilted. (Trivia note: Odom and Pinto also portrayed a couple in the 2020 post-apocalyptic drama “Only,” which isn’t a very good movie but at least it’s much more interesting than “Needle in a Timestack.”)

“Needle in a Timestack” also has a time-wasting subplot about Nick’s neurotic younger sister Zoe Mikkelsen (played by Jadyn Wong), who’s a self-admitted commitment-phobe when it comes to romance. There are several tiresome scenes in the movie showing Nick and Zoe having phone conversations where Zoe constantly talks about her best friend Sibila (played by Laysla De Oliveira), who’s originally from Portugal.

Zoe invites Nick to go rock climbing with her and Sibila, but Nick declines the offer because he thinks rock climbing is too dangerous. And in a movie where people try to change something in the past that they didn’t want to happen, it’s very easy to guess what happens during this rock climbing trip and what someone wants to do to change it. However, this subplot didn’t need to be in the story and just seems like the filmmakers’ way of stretching the already thin plot even more.

It’s not as if Ridley is new to making movies from adapted screenplays. He won an adapted screenplay Oscar for writing the 2013 drama “12 Years a Slave,” a movie where he was also an executive producer. “Needle in a Timestack” tries to look like a movie that’s a mind-bending puzzle, but it’s really a series of scenes that are patched together like different people’s hazy memories. Much of the story becomes unfocused to the point where viewers might be wondering why this movie was even made. “Needle in a Timestack” can easily put viewers to sleep, so at least the movie is good for the purpose of curing insomnia.

Lionsgate released “Needle in a Timestack” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on October 15, 2021. The movie was released on Blu-ray and DVD on October 19, 2021.

2021 Academy Awards: presenters and performers announced

April 23, 2021

The following is a combination of press releases from ABC:

Oscar® nominee Steven Yeun will join the ensemble cast slated to present at the 93rd Oscars®, show producers Jesse Collins, Stacey Sher and Steven Soderbergh announced today. “The Oscars” will air live on Sunday, April 25, 2021, on ABC.

“Surprise! We’re so excited to welcome Steven to the crew, and he completes our Oscars cast. No, really, this is it,” said Collins, Sher and Soderbergh.

The previously announced lineup includes Riz Ahmed, Angela Bassett, Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, Bryan Cranston, Viola Davis, Laura Dern, Harrison Ford, Bong Joon Ho, Regina King, Marlee Matlin, Rita Moreno, Joaquin Phoenix, Brad Pitt, Reese Witherspoon, Renée Zellweger and Zendaya.

Celeste, H.E.R., Leslie Odom Jr., Laura Pausini, Daniel Pemberton, Molly Sandén and Diane Warren will perform the five nominated original songs in their entirety for “Oscars: Into the Spotlight,” the lead-in to the 93rd Oscars. One performance will be recorded in Húsavík, Iceland, and four at the Dolby Family Terrace of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. Hosted by actors Ariana DeBose (“Hamilton”) and Lil Rel Howery (“Bad Trip”), the 90-minute “Oscars: Into the Spotlight” will highlight the nominees’ journey to Hollywood’s biggest night, give fans around the world the ultimate insiders’ sneak peek to the party and, for the first time, bring Oscar music to the festivities. The show will feature a special appearance by DJ Tara. “Oscars: Into the Spotlight” will air Oscar Sunday, April 25, at 6:30 p.m. EDT/3:30 p.m. PDT.  

The 93rd Oscars will be held on Sunday, April 25, 2021, at Union Station Los Angeles and the Dolby® Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and international locations via satellite.  “Oscars: Into the Spotlight” will air live on ABC at 6:30 p.m. EDT/3:30 p.m. PDT. “The Oscars” will be televised live on ABC at 8 p.m. EDT/5 p.m. PDT and in more than 200 territories worldwide.  “Oscars: After Dark” will immediately follow the Oscars show.

ABOUT THE ACADEMY
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a global community of more than 10,000 of the most accomplished artists, filmmakers and executives working in film. In addition to celebrating and recognizing excellence in filmmaking through the Oscars, the Academy supports a wide range of initiatives to promote the art and science of the movies, including public programming, educational outreach and the upcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Review: ‘One Night in Miami…,’ starring Leslie Odom Jr., Aldis Hodge, Kingsley Ben-Adir and Eli Goree

January 15, 2021

by Carla Hay

Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Aldis Hodge and Leslie Odom Jr. in “One Night in Miami” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

“One Night in Miami…”

Directed by Regina King

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Miami on February 25, 1964, the dramatic film “One Night in Miami…” has a predominantly African American cast (with some white people) portraying celebrities, the middle-class and the working class.

Culture Clash: A social gathering of Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, Malcolm X and Jim Brown leads to ego conflicts and differing opinions on race relations.

Culture Audience: “One Night in Miami…” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a dramatic interpretation of what it would be like for four of the biggest African American heroes of the 1960s to spend time together as friends and sometimes adversaries.

Kingsley Ben-Adir (with camera), Aldis Hodge (in brown tie), Eli Goree (in tuxedo) and Leslie Odom Jr. (raising glass) in “One Night in Miami” (Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios)

It’s always tricky to do an entire story about hypothetical conversations between famous people who are well-respected and admired. If handled incorrectly, this portrayal could be considered very insincere or offensive. Imagine doing an entire story about four African American celebrities who, in their own different ways, weren’t just famous but were also inspirations to millions of people. And then you put all of four of them together (Muhammad Ali, Sam Cooke, Malcolm X and Jim Brown) and have them hang out as if they’re old friends.

It happened in real life one night in Miami in 1964, but this story imagines what these four famous men talked about when they spent time together that night. The actors portraying these four friends are Eli Goree as Ali (then known as Cassius Clay), Leslie Odom Jr. as Cooke, Kingsley Ben-Adir as Malcolm X (whose real name was Malcolm Little) and Aldis Hodge as Brown. “One Night in Miami…,” the feature-film directorial debut of Oscar-winning actress Regina King, mostly succeeds in depicting this compelling story, but it takes a while to get there, since the second half of the movie is much better than the first half.

The movie is based on the play “One Night in Miami…,” which was written by Kemp Powers, who also wrote the movie’s screenplay. In many ways, the movie still looks like a play, since the second (and more intense) half of the film is mostly set in a hotel. However, the cinematic version of this story does a very good job of bringing a broader scope of locations that can’t be done in a stage play.

The audience is briefly taken into the lives of each of the four central characters to get a glimpse of what they’re like in public before their private selves are revealed later in ways that leave an impact on the characters as well as the audience. It’s a movie where the social cancer of racism is never far from the story, and it’s felt, seen and heard in various ways throughout the movie. “One Night in Miami…” skillfully shows the uncomfortable reality that how to deal with racism can divide African Americans and other people who are targets of racism, because the reality is that not everyone agrees with what it means to have “black power” and how to use it.

The beginning of the movie is essentially a montage of scenes showing why each man is famous and how their race impacts their life’s work. The boastful and charismatic boxing champ known as Cassius Clay (who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali after he became a Muslim) is shown in 1963 at a boxing match at London’s Wembley Stadium, where he soundly defeats his opponent Henry “The Hammer” Cooper. However triumphant this victory is for Cassius, it’s still shown in the movie that white people are the ones who control boxing and make the most money from it, while the boxers are just pawns in the game.

R&B singer Sam Cooke is shown on stage at the Copacabana nightclub in New York City, where he’s getting a chilly reception from an all-white audience who don’t seem to want a black person to be entertaining them. Some of the audience members leave in disgust while Sam is on stage. Sam performs the Debbie Reynolds song “Tammy” to try to appeal to the crowd, but deep down, he’s fuming at being booked at a place filled with racists.

Backstage in the dressing room after the show, Sam’s white manager tells him, “Boy, you really did bomb tonight, Sam.” Sam explodes in anger and yells, “Have you ever made a million dollars singing? Well, I have! So, until you do, keep your fucking mouth shut!” One of Sam’s backup musicians witnessing this tantrum then says somewhat jokingly about the manager’s comment: “He ain’t wrong though.” Later in the movie, there are cameos from singer Jackie Wilson (played by Jeremy Pope), “Tonight Show” host Johnny Carson (played by Christopher Gorham) and “Tonight Show” sidekick Ed McMahon (played by Alan Wells) in the depiction of Sam’s life.

Cleveland Browns star Jim Brown is shown visiting a wealthy football benefactor named Mr. Carlton (played by Beau Bridges) at Carlton’s mansion on St. Simon’s Island in Georgia. The two men chat amiably on the mansion’s front porch, while Mr. Carlton’s star-struck daughter Emily (played by Emily Bridges) gushes over Jim, as if she can’t believe her luck that this major NFL star is at her home. Mr. Carlton tells Jim that if he never needs anything, don’t hesitate to ask. As Jim starts to follow Mr. Carlton into the house, Mr. Carlton turns to him with a smile and says to Jim that he can’t come in because black people (he uses the “n” word) aren’t allowed in his house.

Malcolm X’s fiery brand of racial ideology made him controversial in the U.S. civil rights movement because of his belief that all white people are the “enemy.” In the beginning of the movie, he’s shown coming home late and telling his wife Betty (played by Joaquina Kalukango) some news that he’s not happy about at all: Louis Farrakhan, a prominent influencer in the Nation of Islam who was likely to become the group’s leader, did not approve Malcolm’s request to leave the Nation of Islam. Elijah Muhammad (played by Jerome Wilson), who was the Nation of Islam’s leader at the time, was like a mentor to Malcolm, who felt some trepidation of being perceived as a traitor.

It’s shown throughout the movie that this story takes place during a time when Malcolm wanted to start his own civil rights group and was grappling with insecurity and anger over how he was being treated by the Nation of Islam. He was feeling doubts about how much loyalty he owed to the Nation of Islam and also concerned about leaving the group because some of his allies could turn into enemies. The movie shows that Malcolm was worried enough that he traveled with security personnel, not just for protection against white supremacists but also for protection against anyone in the Nation of Islam who might come after him for wanting to leave the group.

The rest of the movie is then primarily set in Miami on February 25, 1964. Cassius, who was just 22 years old and soon to be known as Muhammad Ali, wins the world heavyweight boxing champ title against Sonny Liston (played by Aaron D. Alexander), who’s knocked out and gives up in the fight. Sam, Malcolm and Jim (who are in the audience) meet up with Cassius later, and they all go to the Hampton House Motel in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. It’s a motel that allowed African Americans because Miami was still segregated.

The four friends are all in a jovial mood and ready to party. Malcolm has brought a Rolleiflex 3.5 German twin lens reflex (TLR) camera, and he enjoys taking pictures with it. They horse around, almost like fraternity guys, and take turns using the camera. But the mood eventually turns more serious, as insecurities and differences of opinion rise to the surface.

At first, the disagreements are fairly superficial. Sam is disappointed that they can’t stay at a more upscale establishment, and he complains to the others about it. Jim and Cassius, who are bachelors, want to go looking for women to party with, while the married men in the group (Sam and Malcolm) are more hesitant. And as the night wears on, it becomes apparent that each man is at a crossroads in his life.

Jim has plans to retire from football and wants to become a movie star. He already has a Western film lined up, but Cassius scolds Jim for wanting to quit football. Cassius tells Jim that portraying a “sacrificial Negro” in a Western isn’t the same as being paid by the NFL. Sam is more encouraging of Jim’s showbiz ambitions and tells Jim that Los Angeles is like the Promised Land. Malcolm, who lives in New York City, vehemently disagrees with that belief.

Cassius has become close to Malcolm, who has influenced Cassius to convert to Islam and to be more outspoken about civil rights for African Americans. However, Cassius’ manager Angelo Dundee (played by Michael Imperioli) has been pressuring Cassius to distance himself from Malcolm, who is considered to be too radical for mainstream society. Angelo tells Cassius that white investors and sponsors are very nervous about Cassius’ association with Malcolm. It should come as no surprise what decision Cassius makes, because it started a new chapter in his life as Muhammad Ali.

While Cassius looks up to Malcolm as a pillar of strength, Malcolm isn’t feeling very secure about his life because he suspects that he could be in real danger. Malcolm is paranoid that he’s being followed. He frequently looks out the window, and his suspicions are confirmed when he sees strange men lurking about who could be government spies. Malcolm has a trusted bodyguard with him named Brother Kareem also known as Kareem X (played by Lance Reddick), a stoic employee who is accompanied by a younger assistant bodyguard named Cliff White (played by Kipori Woods), who is in awe of Malcolm.

Sam is a successful music entrepreneur (he owns his own music publishing and record label) in addition to being a famous singer. However, Sam is grappling with what it means to “cross over” to a mainstream (mostly white) audience. Will he be perceived as “selling out” and leaving behind his African American fan base? Or is he just making a good business decision to reach as wide of an audience as possible?

It’s this issue of racial integration that sparks a heated and extended argument between Sam and Malcolm. This arguing leads to the movie’s most memorable scenes and impressive performances from Odom and Ben-Adir, while Hodge and Goree sort of fade into the background. Jim and Cassius mostly just stand by and watch Sam and Malcolm verbally rip each other apart, but Cassius and Jim occasionally interject and try to make the peace when things get too problematic.

Malcolm’s choice words for Sam include: “You bourgeois Negroes are too happy with your scraps to really understand what’s at stake here … You will never be loved by the people you’re trying so hard to win over … You’re a monkey dancing for an organ grinder to them!”

Sam then criticizes Malcolm for kowtowing too much to Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. The R&B crooner also makes a verbal jab at Malcolm by telling him that Malcolm is the only one of the four friends who isn’t as financially successful as the others, thereby implying that Malcolm doesn’t have a real career. It’s a criticism that stings Malcolm because he knows that by leaving the Nation of Islam, he will be leaving behind much of his livelihood for an uncertain future.

Sam also points out that, unlike many black artists, he owns his own work, he invested in buying other artist’s music publishing, and he has the power to hire black people for jobs. “Everybody always talks about how they want a piece of the pie,” Sam declares defiantly. “Well, I don’t. I want the goddamn recipe!”

Jim is more inclined to side with Sam, who believes there’s nothing wrong with racial integration and working with white people. Jim comments on Malcolm’s views that black people need to think like militants: “We’re not anyone’s weapons, Malcolm.” Malcolm replies to Jim, “You need to be, for us to win.”

The issue of colorism is also brought up, as Jim confronts Malcolm about being light-skinned and using his lighter skin tone to his advantage. Jim essentially says that it’s easy for Malcolm to be so militant when his light skin gives him more privileges than darker-skinned black people. Malcolm responds by reiterating that black people’s authenticity should be judged by how black people help other black people, not by skin tone.

Because the characters of Sam and Malcolm have the most emotionally charged dialogue in the movie, Odom and Ben-Adir stand out the most in the film. Odom has the additional talent of doing his own singing in the movie, and his portrayal of Cooke is that of a man with a strong sense of self who’s unapologetic for how he wants to live his life. Ben-Adir’s portrayal of Malcolm X is of a more tortured soul, and the performance comes closer to showing a more human side to the real person. Both performances are outstanding in their own ways, but most people watching this movie, just like in real life, will probably feel more comfortable watching a smooth entertainer like Cooke instead of a restless firebrand like Malcolm X.

The character of Jim Brown is written as a fairly bland and passive person, so Hodge can’t really do much but react to what’s going on around him. However, since Jim is the one who’s the mostly like to be the “peacemaker” in the group, his character is crucial in the moments where the four friends find common ground and have positive interactions with each other. Jim is the “nice guy” of the group, but unfortunately his character also seems two-dimensional. There’s very little indication of what Jim is passionate about, since he wants to leave football behind to become an actor, not for the love of the craft but just so he can become a movie star.

People who know Muhammad Ali as a larger-than-life personality will be surprised to see that he’s not really written as the character who outshines everyone in this movie. Malcolm and Sam definitely upstage everyone else. And that’s because it’s made pretty clear that this boxing champ wasn’t known yet as outspoken activist Muhammad Ali. He was Cassius Clay, a guy in his early 20s who was still finding his identity. Goree’s portrayal of Cassius sometimes veers into a try-hard impersonation that could have devolved into a terrible parody, but he shows enough restraint not to turn the character into an embarrassing caricature.

King’s direction of the movie is solid and gives viewers a clear sense of each location’s atmosphere in each scene. The production design and costume design are well-done, while the cinematography makes the scenes feel observational yet intimate. Although adapting this stage play into a movie results in some extra thrills for the singing and boxing scenes, the movie’s most powerful moments are inside a simple hotel room with just the four main characters. Everything else just seems like frosting on the cake. “One Night in Miami…” is by no means a completely insightful portrait of the four men at the center of the story, but the movie serves as an effective snapshot of what their interpersonal dynamics might have been like in their leisure time together.

Amazon Studios released “One Night in Miami…” in Miami on December 25, 2020, and expanded the release to more U.S. cinemas on January 8, 2021. Amazon Prime Video premiered the movie on January 15, 2021.

New Year’s Eve specials ringing in 2020 will feature Post Malone, Gwen Stefani, LL Cool J and more

December 27, 2019

by Carla Hay

Watching a New Year’s Eve special on TV is a tradition for millions of people around the world. Here’s what is planned for the four biggest New Year’s TV specials in the United States:

Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2020 

Ryan Seacrest (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC)

Celebrating its 48th year, “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” (which is produced by Dick Clark Productions and airs in the U.S. on ABC) is still the most high-profile televised New Year’s Eve event. Post Malone, who performed on the show last year, is headlining the show this year from New York City’s Times Square. Ryan Seacrest will once again host the show, which begins airing from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET, followed by 11:30 p.m. to 2:13 a.m. ET. Former “Pretty Little Liars” star Lucy Hale, who previously hosted the show’s Central Time Zone segments from New Orleans, replaces Jenny McCarthy to provide on-site reporting in Times Square. McCarthy quit the show because she said she wants to celebrate New Year’s Eve with her family. Other performers in Times Square this year include BTS, Sam Hunt and Alanis Morrissette.

Additionally, country artist Jessie James Decker will reveal the first Powerball millionaire of the year during this year’s live broadcast. She will provide live updates from the First Powerball Millionaire of the Year party throughout ABC’s live telecast and the big reveal announcing the winner will air just after midnight on January 1, 2020.

Ciara will once again host the Los Angeles segments of the show that will feature performances that were mostly previously recorded. Artists in the show’s Los Angeles segments will include Paula Abdul, Kelsea Ballerini, Blanco Brown, Dan + Shay, Green Day, Dua Lipa, Ava Max, Megan Thee Stallion, Anthony Ramos, Salt-N-Pepa and SHAED.

Meanwhile, Billy Porter will host the show’s third annual Central Time Zone celebration from New Orleans, where Sheryl Crow and Usher will perform. The show has added a segment from Miami, where Jonas Brothers will perform.

“Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2020” is produced by Dick Clark Productions with Ryan Seacrest, Barry Adelman and Mark Bracco serving as executive producers. Larry Klein is producer.

Fox’s New Year’s Eve With Steve Harvey: Live From Times Square

Steve Harvey (Photo courtesy of Fox)

After televising its New Year’s Eve show (hosted by Pitbull) in Miami from 2014 to 2016, Fox changed locations and hosts in 2017, with the show now taking place at New York City’s Times Square with comedian/talk-show host Steve Harvey and former E! News personality Maria Menounous. This year, three-time Super Bowl Champion and Fox Sports NFL analyst Rob Gronkowski joins Harvey and Menounous to co-host the show, which airs on Fox from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET and 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. ET live; CT/MT/PT tape-delayed. Performers will include headliner LL Cool J with DJ Z-Trip, The Chainsmokers, The Lumineers, Florida Georgia Line, the Backstreet Boys, Lauren Alaina, Tyga and The Killers. Select musical performances will be broadcast in collaboration with iHeartRadio. Additionally, the special will include celebrity cameo appearances by Gordon Ramsay, Will Arnett and Jenna Dewan, plus an exclusive WWE match featuring Roman Reigns. “Fox’s New Year’s Eve With Steve Harvey: Live From Times Square” is produced by Endeavor Content’s Film 45 and Done + Dusted. Guy Carrington, Katy Mullan, Michael Antinoro and David Chamberlin serve as executive producers.

NBC’s New Year’s Eve

(Photo courtesy of NBCUniversal)

Stars from NBC’s “The Voice” are all over “NBC’s New Year’s Eve” special, which begins airing at 10 p.m. ET from New York City’s Times Square. Not only is “The Voice” host Carson Daly hosting the New Year’s Eve show (with Julianne Hough and correspondent Stephen “tWitch” Boss), but “The Voice” coaches Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton are also performing on the special. Other performers include Hough, X Ambassadors, Brett Eldredge, Ne-Yo, Leslie Odom Jr. and The Struts.  Keith Urban will once again perform at Jack Daniel’s Music City Midnight: New Year’s Eve in Nashville, taking place near the Tennessee State Capitol at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. “NBC Nightly News” and “Dateline NBC” anchor Lester Holt will also appear on stage before the iconic ball drop. “NBC’s New Year’s Eve” will be televised from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET, followed by the New Year’s countdown segment 11:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. ET. “NBC’s New Year’s Eve” is executive produced by Daly and John Irwin through NBCUniversal Television Studio and Irwin Entertainment. It is co-executive produced by Casey Spira and directed by Alan Carter.

Before “NBC’s New Year’s Eve,” the network will air the special “A Toast to 2019!” from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET. Hosted by Hoda Kotb and Jenna Bush Hager, the special will highlight the year’s biggest pop culture moments and trends. Celebrities interviewed for the show include Lauren Ash, Kristen Bell, Andrea Canning, Chris D’Elia, Dylan Dreyer, Ryan Eggold, Ben Feldman, Akbar Gbajabiamila, Willie Geist, Brad Goreski, Tony Hale, NBC’s Holt, Matt Iseman, Sheinelle Jones, Carson Kressley, Loni Love, Howie Mandel, Josh Mankiewicz, Craig Melvin, Natalie Morales, Brent Morin, Keith Morrison, Dennis Murphy, Patton Oswalt, Al Roker, Maya Rudolph, Martin Short, Ashley Tisdale, Johnny Weir and many more.

New Year’s Eve Live With Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen

Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen (Photo courtesy of CNN)

For the third year in a row, longtime friends Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen will co-host CNN’s New Year’s Eve celebration, which begins at 8 p.m. ET. CNN’s 12th annual New Year’s Eve Show, which is telecast live from New York City’s Times Square. Performers on New Year’s Eve Live With Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen will include Christina Aguilera, Lenny Kravitz, Shania Twain, Patti LaBelle, Keith Urban, 50 Cent, The Chainsmokers, and comedian/actress Dulcé Sloan. The show will also feature CNN’s Stephanie Elam, Randi Kaye, Richard Quest, Bill Weir and Gary Tuchman with daughter Lindsay at locations across America, including the Brady Bunch House and Key West. Then at 12:30am ET, CNN’s Brooke Baldwin and Don Lemon will do a New Year’s countdown from the Central Time Zone, live from Nashville for the Music City Midnight Celebration. In previous years, CNN’s Central Time Zone countdown took place in New Orleans.

In 2017, Cohen replaced Kathy Griffin, who was notoriously fired from the show in May of that year for publicly posting a photo of herself holding up a fake bloody head of President Donald Trump. Griffin and Cooper had co-hosted CNN’s New Year’s Eve Show since 2007, but the Cooper/Cohen duo brought in the show’s highest ratings so far. Cooper and Cohen have an established rapport, since they have done numerous speaking engagements together. The CNN live stream will be available on CNN.com and across mobile devices via CNN’s apps for iOS and Android. It can also be viewed on CNNgo. Leading up to “New Year’s Eve Live with Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen” will be the CNN one-hour special “All the Best, All the Worst 2019,” beginning at 7 p.m. ET and hosted by Tom Foreman, covering the highlights and lowlights of the past year.

2019 Tribeca Film Festival movie review: ‘Only’

April 27, 2019

by Carla Hay

Only
Freida Pinto and Leslie Odom Jr. in “Only” (Photo by Sean Stiegemeier)

“Only”

Directed by Takashi Doscher

World premiere at Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on April 27, 2019.

Does the world need another bleak post-apocalyptic movie? Not if it’s as disappointing as this one. The above-average performances of Leslie Odom Jr. (“Hamilton”) and Freida Pinto (“Slumdog Millionaire”) are the main reasons to see “Only,” a depressing drama with unrelenting emotional claustrophobia that can’t quite mask some of the film’s most glaring and annoying plot holes. Odom and Pinto play Will and Eva, two lovers who have quarantined themselves in an apartment in an unnamed U.S. city during a mysterious plague. From the opening scene, there’s a sense that Eva is somehow in danger: She frantically hides in a secret crawlspace in the apartment when men wearing hazmat suits suddenly enter the home to search it and interrogate Will, who lies to them by telling them that he lives alone.

In the film’s numerous flashbacks that might confuse some viewers, it’s revealed that the plague started when ash began to fall all over the world like a steady snowstorm, and females who are exposed to the ash develop a strange illness that makes them bleed near their ears, go into convulsions, then die within a matter of hours. Eva has managed to avoid this contagious disease by being in the apartment when the ash started to fall.

But in a major plot disconnect, a flashback scene shows her to be completely exposed in a hospital’s emergency ward, where Will and Eva have taken Eva’s roommate Carolyn (played by Tia Hendricks), who was caught outside when the ash started to fall. While at the hospital, which is filled with patients and their loved ones covered in the mysterious ash, Will figures out that only females are getting sick from the ash. In a “too good to be true” coincidence, he sees an “Authorized Personnel Only” door, which happens to contain two hazmat suits that he and Eva can wear when they flee the hospital to go back home and quarantine themselves. Never mind that Will and Eva have already been exposed to the deadly ash when they went outside to travel to the hospital while the ash is in the air, and they were in a hospital filled with people and things covered with the ash.

It’s not a spoiler to reveal this ludicrous part of the storyline because the entire movie relies on the premise that Eva has avoided exposure to the ash for at least 400 days, which contradicts the fact that she was exposed early on during the plague at the hospital. The entire hospital scene and the Carolyn character are completely unnecessary, since Will and Eva could have found out the cause of the plague and who was at risk by staying home and watching the news. It’s one of the movie’s several plot holes that will leave viewers shaking their heads in dismay at how “Only” writer/director Takashi Doscher sabotaged his own script.

Later in the movie, it’s revealed that because the plague has almost wiped out the world’s population of women and girls, and many of the surviving women who can get pregnant end up having miscarriages, the U.S. government has put up a $2 million bounty for anyone who can find a woman who can give birth to a child. However, since the government is doing scientific experiments on surviving women who are found, there’s little incentive for any of the remaining women like Eva to give themselves up.

The movie’s flashback scenes show that Will and Eva had a happy relationship before the plague. But after the plague, their relationship has become strained because Will has become so paranoid about Eva being discovered and getting infected, that he’s kept her a virtual prisoner in their home, and she has developed a simmering resentment over it. It’s a plot concept that could have been mined for some deep and emotional insight into male/female relationships and power struggles in society (something that “The Handmaid’s Tale” does so well), but “Only” jumps back and forth too much in the story’s timeline, which takes away from what could have been a more cohesive movie.

After Will and Eva have decided to quarantine themselves, the movie goes to great lengths to show us how Will dictates much of what Eva can and can’t do because he’s so afraid of Eva being discovered and getting infected. For example, he gets upset when she uses a cell phone or computer because he doesn’t want her technology activities to be traced. But then another part of the story reveals that Will allows Eva to communicate with the outside world in an Internet chat room with other female survivors, who also send email to the couple. Even though Eva is using an alias, we’re supposed to believe that paranoid Will doesn’t know that this type of Internet activity can still be traced. It’s a contradiction that’s almost laughable if this weren’t such a downbeat movie.

By the time viewers see that Eva (who’s disguised as a man) and Will have made a trip outside to get food, the story veers into a random fugitive thriller with Will and Eva trying to hide from a father and son (played by Jayson Warner Smith and Chandler Riggs), who are would-be bounty hunters. The problem is that the movie tries hard to convince viewers how Eva has been hidden for over a year, but Eva and Will make some decisions both in and outside their home that make it hard to believe that their secret hadn’t been discovered sooner. Their home is meticulously protected in a way that shows their long-term quarantine gave them plenty of time to think about ways to safeguard their home, yet Eva’s “disguise” as a man is so poorly thought-out that it’s a glaring contradiction. (It’s revealed in the last 15 minutes of the film why Eva is outside wearing unprotected clothes when she and Will leave their home to get food.)

Pinto and Odom have a few scenes where they adeptly show the emotional toll that the quarantine has taken on their relationship, but not even the best actors in the world can save this problematic and ultimately unsatisfying script.

UPDATE: Vertical Entertainment will release “Only” in select U.S. cinemas and on VOD on March 6, 2020.

2018 Tony Awards: first group of presenters announced

May 30, 2018

Tony Awards logo

The following is a press release from the Tony Awards:

Some of the biggest stars from stage and screen will appear at the 72nd  Annual Tony Awards, which will be hosted by Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban will be broadcasted live from Radio City Music Hall in New York City on CBS on Sunday, June 10, 8:00 – 11:00 p.m. (ET/PT time delay). The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.

Broadway’s biggest night will feature appearances by Uzo Aduba, Matt Bomer, Claire Danes, Armie Hammer, Tatiana Maslany, Leslie Odom, Jr., Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto and Andrew Rannells.

The American Theatre Wing’s 72nd Annual Tony Awards, hosted by Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban, will air live from Radio City Music Hall on the CBS Television Network on Sunday, June 10, 2018 (8:00-11:00 PM, ET/delayed PT). The Tony Awards, which honors theatre professionals for distinguished achievement on Broadway, has been broadcast on CBS since 1978. The Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.

For more information on the Tony Awards, visit TonyAwards.com and Facebook.com/TheTonyAwards and follow @TheTonyAwards on Instagram and Twitter.

About the Tony Awards

The American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards are presented by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing. At The Broadway League, Thomas Schumacher is Chairman and Charlotte St. Martin is President. At the American Theatre Wing, David Henry Hwang is Chair and Heather A. Hitchens is President & CEO. Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss of White Cherry Entertainment are the Executive Producers of the 2018 Tony Awards. Mr. Weiss will also serve as Director of the 2018 Tony Awards.

Sponsors for the 2018 Tony Awards include: IBM – develops, designs, and hosts the official Tony Awards digital experience anchored by TonyAwards.com; Carnegie Mellon University – the first-ever, exclusive higher education partner; Grant Thornton LLP – official accounting services partner; City National – official bank of the Tony Awards and presenting sponsor of the Creative Arts Awards; Nordstrom – official sponsor of the Red Carpet; Sofitel New York – the official hotel of the Tony Awards; Rainbow Room – official partner of the Tony Nominee Luncheon; United Airlines – the official airline of the Tony Awards for the last 18 years, Entertainment Benefits Group – exclusive VIP package sponsor of the Tony Awards and People/Entertainment Weekly – official magazine partners of the Tony Awards.

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