Saturday, January 16, 2021

A Look At "One Night In Miami" & "Promising Young Woman"

My film years usually take on the same shape. I don't do this professionally. This is just a hobby I do when I have free time. Due to the way release dates, film festivals and such work, it can sometimes take longer than usual for people to see something. A movie can be a Sundance sensation in January but may not get a national release date until December. Sometimes that's just how the calendar works. Since I am not a professional critic, I don't get to see anything early. But honestly, the release dates aren't important. I just want to watch what looks interesting to me and hope I like it. 

It's a great weekend for movies if you play your cards right. One film in particular is free on Amazon Prime, if that's a streaming service you have. Another is available to rent on VOD right now. Each film is worth your time and attention. Both of these movies were hotly talked about as the year came to a close, and I was so happy to finally lay eyes on them. I am talking about "One Night In Miami..." and "Promising Young Woman."

I figured I'd like "One Night In Miami." It's based off a popular stage play, it involves some actors I really dig, and let me say, these young men display profound performances here. "One Night In Miami" also happens to be the directorial debut of Regina King. King is an actress who has starred in things as varied as "Friday," "Daddy Day Care," "Watchmen," "Boys N The Hood," and "Enemy of the State." So she does a little of everything, and she's someone I've admired for years now. I thought for sure it would be good, and I am happy to report that it didn't disappoint. "Promising Young Woman" was more of a mystery to me, and I have to say that its a film that definitely will fool its audience if you've only seen the trailers. It's not at all the movie you think it is, and I feel any time I say that, you are in for a good time.

"One Night In Miami" tells the story of real life friends Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke meeting in Miami to celebrate the surprise title win by Ali over Sonny Liston. These iconic men were friends in real life, and the stage play in which the film is based on was a true story. Over the course of the evening, they will laugh together, make fun of each other, challenge each other, get mad at each other and simply get each other to see life in a different way. What ensues is a movie that is just plain electrifying to listen to. 

What I was most impressed by with "One Night In Miami" is how Regina King was able to avoid making the movie feel like a stage play. I know it sounds easier said than done, but how many of you have seen movies based on stage plays? Simply by design and circumstance, most movies based on plays kind of feel like they still plays, just recorded and starring big name actors. With "One Night in Miami," the set up of scenes, the careful consideration of the direction both contribute to the film feeling cinematic. Even though most of the film still takes place in a hotel room, the way the movie moves feels natural and not awkward as if on some kind of stage. If this is the eye Regina is working with, then I will be very excited to see what movies she has in her future.

"One Night In Miami" is a drama you may call "talky," but what keeps you watching is the absolutely revelatory performances by the main actors. Leslie Odom Jr. plays Sam Cooke, Aldris Hodge plays Jim Brown, Eli Goree plays Muhammad Ali and Kingsley Ben-Adir plays Malcolm X and honestly I don't know who you nominate for the Oscars this year. They all give such astounding performances that its hard to even rank them...Well...hmmm....maybe...I take that back. I think the most talked about performance of the bunch will definitely be Ben Adir's work as Malcolm X. because it feels less like a performance and more like somebody invented a time machine and brought the man here to make the movie. His speech, the way he carries himself, his demeanor, you're gonna mistake him for the real guy over and over again. Between the performances, the costumes, the choices of direction, "One Night In Miami" is going to be a movie you positively get lost in.

I may not feel completely comfortable with who should get nominated for "One Night In Miami," but I absolutely feel comfortable giving a shoutout to Cary Mulligan for her work in "Promising Young Woman," because holy crap this is her as I've never seen her before. While there are movies with her in them that I've enjoyed, I can't say I've ever been a Mulligan fan. I never disliked her, she never ruined a movie by her mere presence. I guess I was just waiting for her to really burst off the screen for me. Well, she absolutely did that with her incredible work in "Promising Young Woman."

You may watch the first teaser trailer on YouTube for "Promising Young Woman" and think "Oh, its another rape-revenge fantasy in the vein of 'I Spit On Your Grave' or something." The first trailer certainly makes the film look like a woman is going out in the night, pretending to get drunk at the club, seeing if a guy will try to take her home and take advantage of her while she's intoxicated. Then she'll reveal she's not really drunk and kill them. That's what the trailer looks like, but that's not "Promising Young Woman." 

Mulligan plays Cassie Thomas, a 30-year-old woman still living with her parents working a dead-end job at a random, nameless coffee shop. Every night she goes out, pretends to be intoxicated, waits for a guy to try and take her home to see if they can get lucky with a drunk girl. She then reveals she isn't drunk. This isn't a slasher film though, she's not offing these guys, she is attempting to talk sense into them, to make sure they don't try and pull anything like this again. Cassie keeps a miniature notebook, which has many marks in them representing the many men she's done this to. She feels obligated to do this because back when Cassie was in med school, she found out her childhood friend Nina (who was also in the same med school as Cassie) was raped while she was drunk. Nina then dropped out of school and eventually committed suicide, while her attacker graduated top of the class. 

Yes, "Promising Young Woman" is a movie that definitely takes advantage of the recent #MeToo movement. There is definitely a percentage of the audience that will scoff at this film and accuse it of being "woke bullshit." But that's precisely the point the movie is trying to make. Without getting into the rest of the plot, there are definitely some creative decisions made that I think will only fuel that groups opinion, and that's a shame. Because overall, the movie does a great job conveying why this is such a hot topic. The problem of rape and consent is very real, and has this film highlights, many people work as enablers that allow this behavior to keep going and that stacks the deck for the attackers against the victims. It's a real problem that if we don't change our cultural thinking entirely, this will sadly never change. 

The whole movie isn't just Cassie trying to talk sense into men the whole time. There are very specific people Cassie is targeting here and like I said, this isn't some kind of slasher movie. Cassie is the type of threat where she is several steps ahead of everyone and the ways she gets some form of revenge is honestly very clever. Sure, the club scenes are darkly funny, and I think its clever that actors like Adam Brody, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and Max Greenfield play some of her victims. Rapists from clubs don't look like Hollywood supervillains, they look like regular people. They look like "nice guys." That's the joke. Yes, "Promising Young Woman" is, much like "The Hunt" a very serious dark comedy. It's got some very strict and stern points to make, but how the film is able to shake a laugh out of you is also shockingly wicked.

I'll be interested to see how audiences really react to this because I think the ending is very polarizing. I don't want to get into spoilers right now. And I'm thinking of maybe writing a more in-depth piece on the movie in a couple weeks. I'm not sure I was the target audience for this movie but I can't help but admit that I'm completely smitten with this film. It affected me more than I ever thought possible. But it doesn't have the conventional happy ending and like I alluded to above, the only flaw I recognized is just how cynical the worldview the movie features. I don't know if everyone will dig this film's ending, but the way justice is served in these cases, perhaps this was the only ending possible.

So you've got two great movies to choose from this weekend. Two great movies. But great for very different reasons. Choose wisely. Or watch both. Fair thee well.

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