Happy Easter, everyone! Eat some candy in the shape of a bunny or a chick, eat some jelly beans, paint some eggs, go to church for the first time since Christmas, and blow up a cart in front of the Duomo. In honor of this most oddly-celebrated of holidays, I present to you the 5 best TV Easter episodes of all time:
Runner up: The Turtles and the Hare (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle)
It’s Easter, and Krang and Shredder are trying to use their “Docilizer” ray to turn everyone as docile as rabbits (because they haven’t seen Watership Down). A Bunny-Suited Bebop and Rocksteady even manage to get April O’Neil just as she’s calling the Turtles for help. To counteract the ray, the Turtles need a crystal from a “fairy tale dimension.” When they go there, they encounter Hokum Hare, the rabbit from “The Tortoise and the Hare,”…
Welcome to the town of Raven’s End. It’s the 1980s and Montgomery Dark (Clancy Brown) is the manager of the local mortuary and has been for decades. A woman named Sam (Caitlin Custer) comes to apply for a position at the mortuary and Mr. Dark agrees to give her a tour. When Sam shows some curiosity about a newly deceased child, the mortician decides to tell her stories about some of the more interesting deaths in Raven’s End, starting from the 1950s to the 1970s. The tales range from encounters with eldritch abominations to a husband whose devotion has run out to a rapist getting his comeuppance. Then Sam tells him her own story, one which might be darker than Montgomery was expecting.
I am a big fan of horror anthologies, particularly ones like Tales from the Hood where there is a solid framing device and thematically tied-in stories. This movie does that masterfully. All of the stories not only contain thematic elements, but the framing device actually features some level of commentary on them which is worked in mostly organically. Montgomery Dark is someone who is aching to tell these stories, but Sam is largely just there to mock them as boring and overly formulaic (even though they definitely aren’t).
The stories are all different in subject matter and, mostly, in tone, ranging from slightly comic to deeply tragic. Despite that, or maybe because of it, there is no real drop in quality between any of them. They are all great segments, a rarity for even the best anthology films. I do have ones that I favor more, but the fact that I kept thinking “this is the best segment” on both of my viewings speaks to the idea that they really are about equal. As all of the segments take place in Raven’s End, there are even a few recurring characters, mostly a Dr. Harold Kubler (Mike C. Nelson), which makes the stories feel more genuine.
Clancy Brown is basically the perfect casting for the role of the creepy mortician. While he does, in real life, seem to have a very nice personality, his voice and fierce features have usually made him a great villain. In this, he plays that up to the fullest, making himself seem more cartoonish than when he voiced Lex Luthor… but less than when he voiced Mr. Krabs. I honestly hope they make more of these just to give him another chance to play the character.
Overall, this is one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in forever. When it was recommended to me, it was the reason I got a Shudder subscription.
Godzilla has been the unquestioned Alpha of the Titans (Kaiju) since his defeat of King Ghidorah, but now he’s starting to become wild and aggressive. Meanwhile, Kong has been in a protective covering on Skull Island to keep him away from Godzilla, as Kong would naturally have to challenge him as an Alpha. Kong is monitored by Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) and her deaf adopted daughter Jia (Kaylee Hottle). Meanwhile, Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry), is a Titan conspiracy podcaster who is investigating the APEX corporation and its CEO Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir). Simmons hires geologist Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård) to convince the team monitoring Kong to take him to the Hollow Earth and, in the process, to allow Simmons’ daughter Maya (Eiza Gonzalez) to harvest a power source for APEX. Bernie is joined by Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), who is the daughter of two Titan scientists (one of whom tried to destroy the world in the last movie), and her friend Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison). The three discover that APEX is behind something that poses a bigger threat than either Kong or Godzilla.
It hurts a little bit to try and determine whether or not this was a good movie because in some ways I worry that my enjoyment of the film was due to extremely low expectations. Not that I’m going to put it up for an Oscar or anything, and I’m pretty sure that the writing for the human characters (aside from Brian Tyree Henry who might have just been improvising) was literally pulled from a screenwriting manual, but I have to say this was pretty much the best kaiju fighting I’ve seen in a long time. If I were to describe what I wanted to see in this film, it would have been “I want to see Godzilla judo-throw a drop-kicking King Kong” and, well, that’s the kind of thing that this movie does right. The problem is there’s no way to do 90 minutes of that.
The best Godzilla movies usually try to treat Godzilla as a force of nature or a metaphor. The original Godzilla was used as a metaphor for the Atomic Bomb and the most recent Toho film, Shin Godzilla, treated the character mostly as a threat for the purpose of establishing how Japan is treated by the Western world. When you treat Godzilla as something beyond humanity or as a consequence of humanity’s hubris, then it gives him an appropriate relationship to the characters as something almost inevitable or that can only be dealt with by sacrifice. While some of the Godzilla movies give him more character and emotion, but in those films he’s usually more isolated from the “real” world, so you don’t have to worry as much about how the humans are reacting to the kaiju. The American movies, so far, haven’t really gotten this right, including this movie, because Godzilla is still treated more like a monster or a wild animal than a force of nature (although they start to give him some emotion when dealing with Kong). However, since Kong usually IS treated like an emotional creature, at least the scenes with the giant ape actually come off pretty well.
The biggest problem with the movie is that the human characters, with the exception of Bernie and the absolutely adorable Jia, are mostly forgettable. There are too many of them and they’re often in completely separate plots throughout the film. Moreover, the plots range from “needless” to “insanely stupid.” At one point, in order to be present for the finale, three characters accidentally travel from Pensacola, Florida, to Hong Kong (it makes sense in context… no, it’s still insane). That said, once the film actually gets to having Godzilla and Kong going at it, it’s a hell of a fight and even has a few moments that were genuinely visually impressive. This film really put a lot of extra effort into lighting and framing shots as well as creative creature design and settings, so when it gets the plot and people out of the way, this is very enjoyable.
Overall, while this movie wasn’t what it could have been, it had enough fun visuals and a solid fight sequence to merit the viewing.
Also, it’s great that they had Godzilla win the fight. Like, there’s no question that Godzilla can kick Kong’s ape ass up and down Skull Island. I was worried they’d just avoid having a real winner by having them fight MechaGodzilla together, but they managed to do both.
At long last, we’re at the final finale of this fine series.
Fry, Leela, and Bender (Billy West, Katey Sagal, and John DiMaggio) make a delivery to the moon’s amusement park like they did on their first delivery. Leela nearly dies due to an accident and the near-death is too much for Fry, who decides to propose to Leela. At the same time, the Professor makes a 10 second rewind button, a device that allows someone to rewind the universe back 10 seconds, but takes 10 seconds to recharge, preventing a time paradox. Fry and Bender proceed to use it to steal diamonds for an engagement ring which he hides in a clam. Leela (eventually) gets the ring, but Fry doesn’t want to hear her answer, telling her instead to come to meet him on top of the Vampire State Building at 6:30 if she wants to marry him. 6:30 passes and Fry, despondent that Leela doesn’t want him, jumps off of the building, only to see her and realize that, due to how much he’d used the button, his watch was off by hours. He tries to undo the fall, but he had jumped 11 seconds before, dooming him to fall.
Fortunately, the Professor was in the “time shelter,” a small spot immune to the rewinds, and, along with the rest of the crew, makes his way to the building. Unfortunately, he exits the time shelter and, having not existed during the last reset, has his atoms scattered. The rest of the crew manage to save Fry, but Fry lands on the button and breaks it, freezing the universe for everyone but him and Leela. The two then get married and spend their lives together traveling all over the frozen world. Now old, the pair return to the Vampire State Building to drink the champagne Fry poured. They celebrate their happy life together, only for the Professor to appear, having tunneled through time. He fixes the button and tells them he can undo the whole thing, taking everyone back to when he invented the time button, but Fry and Leela won’t remember it. Fry asks Leela if she wants to “go around again,” to which she replies lovingly “I do.”
Futurama had four finales: “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings,” “Into the Wild Green Yonder,” “Overclockwise,” and this one. Somehow, against all odds, all four of them are above average episodes of the show and, even more remarkably, I believe that this episode is the best of all four. This episode starts off with a throwback to the second episode by showing the gang at Luna Park (at which Bender, predictably, assaults the mascot again). They also immediately mock the fact that, as the show had gone on, the entire “delivery company” aspect had mostly fallen to the wayside, including having Leela, the one who originally was defined by her dedication to a job well done, carelessly chuck a package marked “Fragile.” This is, surprisingly, most of the tribute to the series’ origins in this episode, which is quickly followed up by Leela’s near-death which, believably, convinces Fry to try and propose to her (technically for the second time, since they were married in “Time Keeps on Slippin’.” The difference is that Fry has grown as a character in the interim and, while he’s still immature, he has progressed a lot.
The episode artificially heightens the tension throughout by having both of the leads in mortal peril for quite a lot of the runtime, which makes the third act all the more amazing. The constant threat of death contrasts with the long, isolated life that Fry and Leela live together in a frozen world. While it appears that Fry and Leela could eventually die of old age, anything else is unlikely to take them out, since nothing moves. No, I’m not sure how they eat or breathe or other science facts. You should repeat to yourself it’s just a show; you should really just relax.
What really sets this episode apart as a finale is that it really and truly builds slowly up to the great emotional climax and, unlike most episodes of Futurama that go the tearjerker route, it’s based on joy instead of sadness (like losing a certain dog). Fry and Leela spent such a happy life together that, despite it being just the two of them, Leela doesn’t even hesitate to want to spend another life together. Having watched these two from the moment that they first met, this really is the heart of the show. Fry and Leela finally get their happy ending and it’s just wonderful.
Overall, just a great finale. Now, I just have to review “Simpsorama,” the Simpsons/Futurama crossover, and that’ll be it for Futurama Fridays episodes.
They finally did the direct Star Trek: The Next Generation Picard parody with Hermes telling the computer “Computer, Jamaican Joy Juice, hot.” This is a reference to the famous Picard order: “Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.” Hilariously, after the computer apparently materializes the drink, Hermes then smashes the glass container surrounding it in order to drink it. Presumably you have to destroy the replicator after every use in Futurama. Also, weirdly, “Jamaican Joy Juice” is not a thing. The only definition I could find was on Urban Dictionary and, as you would expect, it has to do with bodily fluids.
The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman’s teen hero comes to the small screen.
Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun) is the son of realtor Debbie Grayson (Sandra Oh) and writer Nolan Grayson (J.K. Simmons). Oh, and Nolan is actually Omni-Man, the world’s greatest superhero. Before his 18th birthday, Mark finally gets his superpowers and adopts the superhero moniker of Invincible. Now armed with flight, superstrength, superspeed, and the ability to make bad jokes mid-fight, Mark tries to live up to his father’s example. He works with the Teen Team, a group comprised of the Robot (Zachary Quinto), Atom Eve (Gillian Jacobs), Rex Splode (Jason Mantzoukas), and Dupli-Kate (Malese Jow). Shortly after this, the Guardians of the Globe, the most powerful superteam on the planet, are killed, leading the world to need the Teen Team and Invincible to start picking up the slack, as new threats seem to be constantly on the rise.
I loved the Invincible comic, as it was a story in which the main character dealt with real problems, hero problems, and the intersection between what a superhero is supposed to do and what would actually help people. Mark grows a lot over the series in believable ways that sometimes reflect his loss of idealism and often demonstrate that this loss allows him to evolve his sense of right and wrong without being broken by the weight of trying to take on the world’s problems. Also, the writing was pretty funny. Naturally, when I heard it was getting an animated adaptation, I was very excited, but also concerned. Invincible, while it was well-done and liked by many comic fans, didn’t have a lot of mainstream success. Typically, this means two things can happen in an adaptation: Either they’ll change everything (hoping the new version gets more attention) or they’ll just adapt it as closely as possible (since not enough people know what’s going to happen for it to matter).
Fortunately, this show seems to be eschewing both of those and giving a mostly-faithful adaptation with enough differences that comic fans will not be sure where it’s going. The story is mostly the same as the comics, so far, dealing with Mark trying to come to terms with being a superhero and also being a teenager. His insecurities about living up to his father’s example are a bit more exaggerated in the show, but that will likely change a bit during this season. There’s a mystery angle going on in the series that didn’t really happen in the comics and I’m excited to see if they play it out the same.
The voice cast in this show is as good as it gets, possibly rivaled only by DuckTales (woo-oo). Steven Yeun gives a ton of extra personality to Mark and J.K. Simmons as Superman with a mustache is nothing short of awesome. The supporting cast of the Teen Team has a ton of talent, and their expanded roster includes veteran voice actors Grey Griffin and Khary Payton. Walton Goggins plays the uptight and slightly shady head of the Global Defense Agency, Zazie Beetz plays Mark’s love interest Amber, and there are too many other great cameos and recurring performances to count, including Mahershala Ali, Clancy Brown, and Mark Hamill (Applause).
Overall, give this show a shot if you like solid superhero stories. I can’t wait for it to keep going.
A drummer who starts to go deaf tries to move forward with his life.
Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) is a drummer in a heavy metal duo, Blackgammon, with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). They live in an RV and travel the country playing together, but Ruben suddenly seems to lose his hearing. When he’s diagnosed, it’s revealed that he can only hear 20-30% of the words that are spoken to him. He is told about cochlear implants, but they are prohibitively expensive and not covered by his insurance. Putting even more pressure on the situation, Ruben is a recovering heroin addict. Lou, upon finding out, helps Ruben get into a shelter which is run by a deaf recovering alcoholic named Joe (Paul Raci). Joe informs Lou that only Ruben will be allowed to stay there, and proceeds to start helping Ruben learn how to be deaf, including learning ASL under a teacher named Diane (Lauren Ridloff). However, it’s not so easy to get over the life you once had.
I honestly hesitated a little bit in reviewing this movie. Not that it isn’t a good film, in fact it’s fantastic, but this film features a controversy which I don’t seem to fully understand (mostly because I’m not deaf). This movie brings that conflict to the forefront, and it’s whether or not cochlear implants are an affront to deaf culture. In the film, much like in real life, cochlear implants are viewed by many deaf people as a way of destroying their culture and treating deafness as a handicap. I’m going to try to avoid weighing in on that too much beyond saying that it is an issue that the film addresses.
There are really two central reasons that this film succeeds: Great sound editing and Riz Ahmed. As to the former, this is some of the best sound work that I’ve heard since A Quiet Place (which, notably, did NOT win the Oscar). The film has to convey what Ruben is going through, which is not quite deafness in the way that many movies portray it (where everything is just silent). If you’ve seen the horror movie Hush, for example, the film goes completely silent when scenes are portrayed from the protagonist’s P.O.V. Sound of Metal instead has to portray everything as muted, but not consistently so, because Ruben’s ears are not equally damaged. This would be an amazing film to watch in a theater, but, of course, this year is not the time for that. If you’ve got surround sound, though, this is the time to use it. As to Riz Ahmed, he just nails it. He has to play a person who is going through a massive life change which affects everything and, somehow, he always seems believable. He’s scared, he’s curious, he’s worried that he’s going to be tempted back into drugs, and he’s always feeling like he’s lost something.
The major supporting character of the movie is Paul Raci as Joe. Raci, who apparently was born to deaf parents and thus has about as much understanding for deaf culture as a hearing person can, constantly comes off as trying to touch Ruben’s heart in an attempt to make him feel whole. He’s not trying to tell him to get over it, nor even to accept it, he’s just trying to tell him to exist as he is. It’s amazing that he can do this while also appearing to be the kind of badass that would have punched his way through Vietnam if the Army hadn’t given him a gun. He takes no shit, but he gives a lot of affection and understanding.
Overall, this is a great film and I really recommend it.
Despite that description, though, the movie mostly falls flat.
War hero Jake Barnes (Alain Moussi) is injured fighting something in Myanmar and falls into the sea. He’s rescued and turned over to the US Military, but it is revealed he now has amnesia. Myra (Marie Avgeropoulos), an Army Intelligence officer, tries to interrogate him but mostly ends up failing. He’s rescued by Keung (Tony Jaa), a master martial artist. It turns out that Jake is a member of a group of warriors who all practice the martial art of Jiu Jitsu, which was apparently taught to humans by an alien warrior. Now, every six years, an alien champion named Brax (Ryan Tarran) challenges a number of champions in combat. If the humans win, Earth survives. If not, well, that’s all she wrote. Jake is assisted by teammates Keung, Carmen (JuJu Chan), Harrigan (Frank Grillo), and Wylie (Nicolas Cage). Unfortunately, what Jake mostly forgot is that he was Earth’s best hope, and he needs to remember that before Brax takes him down.
This movie should be amazing. It’s a movie where an alien that usually cloaks itself while hunting (Predator) challenges a number of humans to a martial arts tournament (Mortal Kombat) for the right to invade Earth (also Mortal Kombat) with Nicolas (not Johnny) Cage and Frank Grillo. Nicolas Cage plays a near-insane older martial arts master, something that should be amazing on its own. In fairness, I enjoyed most of the scenes with Cage, because, whether you like him or hate him, he’s a hell of a presence. Unfortunately, he’s criminally underused here, probably because, and I’m speculating a bit, they could only afford to have him on set for a week or so.
The actual film itself has a lot of great martial arts sequences, but it’s tough because you have to suspend the disbelief A) that these people can martial arts their way past machine guns, B) that the alien created Jiu Jitsu, C) that the alien’s technology is designed for a “fair fight,” and D) that the people delivering the lines in this movie sincerely believe A, B, and C. It’s not even that these are bad performers, it’s that it’s really hard to try and describe this movie sincerely. Even if you were undergoing these events, you probably wouldn’t react like any of the characters do, aside from maybe Nicolas Cage, who seems to be completely aware of how ridiculous this set-up is.
The cinematography is okay during some of the fights, but it still seems to be incapable of properly helping the audience recognize that many of these people are really, really good at what they’re doing. JuJu Chan (from Wu Assassins) and Tony Jaa (of Ong-Bak fame) are both massively underused. When you have people who can really do top-level martial arts movies and shows, you should probably not reduce them to second-string characters.
Overall, sadly, this isn’t a great movie. If you really like Nic Cage, maybe watch just his scenes.
A show about a group of supernatural investigators working for a famous detective.
Bea (Thaddea Graham) and Jessie (Darci Shaw) are sisters who make their living on the streets of London along with their fellow poor youths Billy (Jojo Macari) and Spike (McKell David). The four get hired by a doctor named John Watson (Royce Pierreson) to investigate a series of child kidnappings. Along the way, they are joined by Leopold (Harrison Osterfield), who introduces himself as a fellow working-class person despite his wealth and nobility, and aided by the Linen Man (Clarke Peters), an American mystic who contacts Jessie. Together, the group investigates into the strange and paranormal occurrences that surround Baker Street. At the same time, they are asked to help track down a missing person, the elusive detective and drug addict Sherlock Holmes (Henry Lloyd-Hughes).
So, I will start off by saying that I am a major Sherlock Holmes fan, something I’ve probably brought up multiple times on this blog. Literally the only tattoo I have, and the only one I ever plan on getting, is a profile of the detective. Admittedly, this makes me a little biased when I say the following: This is not a Sherlock Holmes show. It’s not just the supernatural elements, because I have seen some solid Sherlock adaptations that involved mysticism. I’ve even seen some decent mostly out-of-character versions of Holmes and Watson (though not the terrible film Holmes and Watson), but this was not that. The characters bear almost no resemblance to their literary counterparts. This is not the story of the irregulars which Holmes regularly employed in the books, either. That’s not to say the show wasn’t bad, but if you’re a major fan of Sherlock Holmes, it’ll take you a bit to adjust. They’re not the central figures in the show, but they have a lot of impact and more screen time than I might have thought at first.
The actual characters that the show focuses on, though, are pretty well-crafted. Bea is the leader and the one who tends to actually put many of the clues together. Leopold tends to have the education and the background knowledge to identify some of the more obscure elements. Jessie is the one who is actually a bit supernatural, but is constantly judged as being weak or fragile by Bea. Billy and Spike kind of vary a bit as the show goes on, from comic relief to muscle to tragic figures. It’s not that they don’t make an impact, but they are much less developed than the other three.
That’s actually the biggest flaw with the show, is that it sometimes feels like it’s focusing too much on the mystery of the week and frequently doesn’t add much to the characters in the process. Despite a number of solid scenes with Billy and Spike, I don’t think we ever really got a good look at their characters. We find out their fears at a few points, mostly because the show has a supernatural horror edge, but even those seem kind of generic. That’s not to say the series isn’t enjoyable. It definitely is. The supernatural elements are entertaining and usually creative, the villains are sufficiently villainous, and all of the performances are solid. Once I got past the lack of real Sherlock elements, I found myself having an okay.
Overall, if you like supernatural period shows, you’ll probably like this.
A British Comedy theater company brings us a hilarious concept that somehow doesn’t get old.
Welcome to Play of the Week, a program in which the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society attempts to put on an original play every week and broadcast it live to the whole of the UK. The troupe is led by director Chris Dean (Henry Shields), and includes the “great” actors Robert Groves (Henry Lewis), Dennis Tyde (Jonathan Sayer), Max Bennett (Dave Hearn), Sandra Wilkinson (Charlie Russell), Vanessa Wilcock-Wynn-Carroway (Bryony Corrigan), Annie Twilloil (Nancy Zamit), Trevor Watson (Chris Leask), Jonathan Harris (Greg Tannahill), and a studio audience who is apparently having a great time. Unfortunately, it seems that the members are never quite able to get all of their ducks in a row. The actors forget lines, the stages are improperly built, and, occasionally, someone gets arrested for petty crimes.
Back in 2015, when the world was so very different, the “Mischief Theater” debuted “The Play That Goes Wrong,” in which a troupe attempts to debut a The Mousetrap-style mystery play that, as you would guess from the title, goes completely off-the-rails. It was apparently a hit, because the people behind it were given this show in which they have to do exactly the same thing, over and over again, without it getting stale. Sure, you may think that doesn’t sound that difficult, but how many ways do you really think a play can “go wrong?” Saying the wrong lines or missing cues can only be surprising so many times. Unbelievably, this show manages to keep coming up with refreshing, original, and genuinely hilarious every episode. Granted, there are only 6 episodes at present, but even that is damned impressive.
Part of the reason the show works is that the cast are phenomenal. It takes a lot of talent to act, believably, like someone with no talent, and most of the cast have to not only do that, but to do that in different ways every time. Additionally, the physical stunts on this show sometimes border on the insane. Characters will fall off of the second story regularly, a thing that looks much more impressive when you see the insane buildup. They also will routinely get knocked around by other cast members (on purpose or on accident), get shoved through walls, and get catapulted across the stage. The fact that they’re recording this in front of a studio audience makes it even more impressive.
Another solid trait is that each episode has some sort of “prompt,” which has nothing to do with the theme of the play. For example, they need to stretch for time so they are adding words to the script. Each of these prompts means that there’s already something that is “off” about the play, which makes it even more intense when the actors not only have other things go wrong, but also still have to keep the prompt going.
Overall, it’s a great show and I really recommend checking it out. One of the funniest shows I’ve watched in a while.
A football player, a civil rights activist, a musician, and a boxer walk into a hotel room.
It’s February 25, 1964 and boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) defeats Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander) for the first time to become the world Heavyweight Champion. Among the observers in the audience are: Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), who is currently at odds with Elijah Muhammad (Jerome A. Wilson), the head of the Nation of Islam; Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), who is currently coming off of one of the greatest NFL seasons of all time; and Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom, Jr.), who has recently been playing to predominantly unsupportive and all-white audiences. The four men agree to meet up after the match in Malcolm X’s hotel room, where personalities clash, friendships and loyalties are tested, opinions and passions are shared, and a lot of history might just have been made… if it were real.
It’s always hard to address films like this where the people involved are real, as are many of the events depicted or referenced, but the actual conversations that are the focus of the story are fiction. This story is really just a study in what happens when you throw four major personalities into the same room. All of these men were legends in their respective fields and their contributions are still well-known. Malcolm X is frequently referenced as a civil rights leader during one of the most tumultuous times in US History (which will probably end one day), Jim Brown still holds 10 NFL records and appeared in a number of great films, Sam Cooke’s songs are still covered frequently, and Cassius Clay, as Muhammad Ali, is probably the most famous boxer of all time. It’s amazing how well the movie points out their extreme talent and success while still pointing out that they faced challenges that no white person would face. There’s a particularly disturbing scene between Jim Brown and a man played by Beau Bridges which is, apparently, directly lifted from Jim Brown’s autobiography.
As with most movies that take place largely in one single location, the film’s strength is in the performances. Each of the four leads has to both represent a known historical figure and also to stand up to the performances of each of the others, which is a hell of a challenge. All four, though, pull it off amazingly. Eli Goree manages to portray Cassius Clay as both the self-promoting egomaniac that he was in public and also as a person with doubts about his conversion and about his life in general. Aldis Hodge plays Brown as a bit of an outsider to the group, with the least radical agenda, but an ambition beyond just being a football player (even though he was one of the best). Also, he nails the voice. Kingsley Ben-Adir captures the persona of Malcolm X as well as almost any actor does, but he adds a wonderful level of vulnerability that many portrayals don’t. Leslie Odom Jr. manages to not only play Sam Cooke, but give several great song performances while doing so. It’s not surprising that he earned a nomination.
The one thing that this movie does portray, even if indirectly, is that while these are all great men, they are also deeply flawed people. They all have their own selfish tendencies, their own flaws, and their own opinions about their roles as representatives of the black community. They all have their own fears and ambitions and I like that they feel like four real people, even if their public personas often dominated their lives. It takes a lot of control to make a movie that walks the line between making them legends and making them men and Regina King managed it in her directorial debut. Amazing.
Overall, it’s a great film and I really recommend it.