Tag Archives: Mahershala Ali

Best of 2018: Peter Farrelly’s GREEN BOOK

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Had 2018’s GREEN BOOK been made in the late 80s or early 90s by Martin Scorsese or Sydney Pollack with Robert De Niro and Denzel Washington in the lead roles, it would have been hailed a seminal classic of that era it would be one of those films that revolved around in conversation when discussing DRIVING MISS DAISY, PHILADELPHIA, or CITY SLICKERS; films that have a dramatic narrative that encompasses topical and social issues, but also have an undercurrent of humor, electrifying chemistry between the leads, and made with a mature and classical aesthetic that does not come across as heavy-handed, agenda driven or overly preachy. Yet, in 2018 the film and its filmmakers find themselves embroiled in controversy as the film leaps to the top of the pack as the awards season intensifies.

 

The picture is a charming and good-hearted road film between Viggo Mortensen as Tony Lip, a rough-edged Italian from an inner-city gulch and Mahershala Ali as Dr. Shirley, an over-educated worldly maestro who embark on a musical tour that takes them well below the Mason Dixon Line in 1962. The film has many laugh out loud moments between the micro worldview of Mortensen and the macro view of Ali. GREEN BOOK has an inverted narrative of most current films about racism and sexuality as the primary focus of the plot is the friendship and connection that builds between the two leads, as race and sexuality are dealt with in a reserved and respectful manner.

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Mortensen is wonderful as he channels the archetypal blue-collar guy with a high school education at best. He gained weight for the role, chain smokes cigarettes, speaks in double negatives, and folds an entire pizza in half and eats it. Ali is just as good with his stoic and physical presence, giving a calculated reserved performance that is the definition of the economy of movement with his absolute disdain that turns into love for Mortensen.

Based upon a true story of happenstance meeting turned into a lifelong friendship, the film does not aim to cure racism nor does it intend that white people can solve the problem with a snap of their fingers, the film is about personal growth and enlightenment. Had this film been made in the late 60s or 70s by Hal Ashby, Sydney Lumet or Mike Nichols starring James Caan and Sydney Poitier GREEN BOOK would be a film that revolves in the same conversations as NETWORK, THE LANDLORD, or THE GRADUATE.

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Robert Rodriguez’s Predators

I like to call it Robert Rodriguez’s Predators despite the fact that he only has a producer’s credit, but his influence is all over it, plus the presence of Danny Trejo. This is one solid flick though, and definitely holds up against the first two films. The premise could even be said is more innovative than before, because as with any sequel or update, the story must evolve and break new ground, a feat they’ve outdone themselves with here. The Predators have taken it upon themselves to kidnap the roughest, toughest individuals of the human race and set them loose on a giant planet designed to be a game preserve, and have their fun. Adrien Brody does tense vulnerability to a T as a special ops badass, joined by an Israeli soldier (Alice Braga), a Russian spetznaz operative (Oleg Taktarov), an ex cartel enforcer (Danny Trejo), a psychotic maximum security inmate (Walton Goggins), an African rebel (Mahershala Ali), a disgraced Yakuza (Louis Ozawa Changchien) and… Topher Grace, whose involvement gradually becomes clearer. They’re forced to band together against a squadron of specialized hunters who pursue them, complete with the vicious wildlife native to this planet. It’s incredibly cinematic, brutally entertaining stuff, and the actors give it their all, including Laurence Fishburne as a crazy dude who’s been alone on this world a few too many years. Standout scenes include the chilling moment these poor folks reach the crest of a hill, spot two giant suns in the alien sky and realize they’re not in Kansas anymore, as well as a knockout showdown between the Yakuza and a giant predator that eerily mirrors Sonny Landham’s Billy making a final stand in the original film. Atmospheric, well casted, acted and shot, a solid action horror funhouse that lives up to the Predator legacy.

-Nate Hill

BREAKING: Mahershala Ali for TRUE DETECTIVE Season 3.

 

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Mahershala Ali at the 32nd Santa Barbara International Film Festival [Photo Credit: Devin Godzicki]
Mahershalla Ali is reportedly in final negotiations to star as the lead in the upcoming third season of TRUE DETECTIVE. The third season, written by Nic Pizzolatto and David Milch will begin filming soon. The cast is being assembled with Ali in the lead. No other details have emerged, but it certainly appears HBO is getting ready to officially announce the third season of their seminal show. Ali last appeared in Barry Jenkins’ MOONLIGHT and most recently won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role as Juan in the film, making him the first Muslin actor to win an Academy Award.

 

We”ll have more when the story develops.

“If you ride like lightning, you’re gonna crash like thunder.” – A review of The Place Beyond The Pines by Josh Hains

As the opening title, “A film by Derek Cianfrance”, dissipates, a breath is drawn followed by the clinking of an angel knife as Ryan Gosling’s Luke Glanton menacingly opens and closes it, his abs glowing in the dimly lit room, his body battered with tattoos as the sounds of people, rides and games emit from outside his small trailer. He’s told it’s showtime by an outside authority, jamming the knife overhand into a wall before picking up his shirt and red jacket and slipping out the door, putting them both on as he traverses the crowd until he reaches a large tent boasting The Globe Of Death. He walks with the swagger of James Dean as he enters the tent to cheers and cries of excitement from fans alike as he and two fellow riders known only as The Heart Throbs gear up on their motorcycles and glide into the deadly spherical cage. Engines roar and fans scream as Handsome Luke and The Heart Throbs dizzyingly ride their motorcycles loop de loop until the screen fades to Luke signing autographs. And to think, that was all done in one take.

The Place Beyond The Pines is a beautifully brooding, tragic, heartbreakingly powerful, and ambitious genre film about fathers and sons, legacy, and consequences. Luke Glanton (Gosling), a daredevil carnival motorcycle rider finds out former fling Romina (Eva Mendes), a local waitress and fan of Luke’s skills, recently had their son, Jason after their last fling. Much to her surprise, he quits his job in the hopes that he can concoct a relationship with the infant and her too, even though she has a new, responsible man in her life by the name of Kofi (Mahershala Ali, in an understated role).

Luke is irresponsible, impulsive, tattooed all to hell and prone to outbursts of violence. Things only get complicated once he meets Robin Van Der Zee (Ben Mendelsohn), a grubby mechanic who hires him after witnessing his outstanding skills on the motorcycle. He suggests that Luke rob banks, Robin himself having robbed banks years earlier, and Luke, in need of quick cash to support his son, opts to do just that. As time marches on the risks get higher and the cash comes thicker during riveting, manic heists and intense and stunningly realistic getaways; until Robin suddenly balks, leaving Luke to sloppily rob a bank and subsequently get chased across town on his motorcycle. The breathtaking chase leads Luke to a violent confrontation with Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), a young police officer and son of a well respected judge.

After his confrontation with Luke, Avery begins to question his actions during the encounter as fellow officers headed by Pete Deluca (the always intimidating Ray Liotta, in full-on bad cop mode) engage in thuggish, corrupt behaviour which begins to take its toll on Avery and his family life as the father to a newborn son and husband to a fearful wife.

Skip ahead 15 years and Avery is running for public office, as his and Luke’s respective sons Jason (Dane DeHaan) and A.J. (Emory Cohen) begin a tumultuous and troubling friendship. I have to stop there, as any more details about the film will surely spoil what is undoubtedly a surprising film.

Luke’s story takes up the first 45-60 minutes, and is the best of the three stories in this triptych film; a deep, emotional roller-coaster that follows Luke as he struggles to provide for his newborn son. The heists are crisp, increasingly sloppy and volatile, brimming with an underlying intensity and fiery rawness. When he robs, he angrily squeals and shrieks his commands, grabbing the closest person to him as leverage until he has the money. When he rides, it’s as if you’re right there with him; the roar of the engine thundering through the air as he speeds down twisting roads into Robin’s cube truck.

Ryan Gosling as the violent, troubled Luke Glanton is mesmerizing, delivering his best performance since 2010’s Blue Valentine (which marked his first collaboration with this film’s director Derek Cianfrance), and surely one for the Oscar nomination list. He doesn’t say much which draws comparison to his eerie role as The Driver in 2011’s Drive, his eyes and facial expressions exuding Luke’s restrained and ominous personality in the same brooding manner as he did in Drive. He also has a vehicular skill, this time motorcycles and not cars, but that’s about where the comparisons stop. Where Driver felt like a caricature, or a fantastical vigilante ripped from a ludicrous dream, Luke feels, and very much so is, a genuine, authentic and honest portrayal of a man struggling to leave a strong imprint in his son’s life while dealing with his own inner, violent demons. He holds honest intentions, but is far too explosive and violent for the life he quietly yearns for.

Eva Mendes is at her quiet best here as Romina, giving an heartfelt and touching portrayal of a mother trying to do what’s right for her son, which may or may not always be the best of decisions. Ben Mendelsohn (of Animal Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises and Killing Them Softly fame) yet again find a rhythm for playing the greasy, twitchy mechanic and Luke’s only friend Robin. His ability to slip into these scuzzy roles is fantastic, as he once again delivers a magnetic performance.

The second story that follows Avery post-Luke encounter runs for about the same length as the first section, as does the last section. The film seamlessly weaves between the sections, pausing only for a moment with a black screen as if to let us breathe before it catapults us into Avery’s battle for survival in the world of policing. The story presents itself much like a cop film from the ‘70’s, something the likes of William Friedkin or Francis Ford Coppola would have sunk their teeth deep into. Bradley Cooper is fantastic in this act, quickly taking the reins of the film as the torch gets passed along, proving once again that most audiences have underestimated his acting prowess in the past despite the complexity of his most recent roles. Ray Liotta as Pete Deluca, a corrupt veteran officer, is at his menacing best, and Rose Byrne (Jennifer, Avery’s wife), Harris Yulin (as Avery’s judge father Al) and Bruce Greenwood as slippery lawyer Bill Killcullen all deliver with quiet, small roles with actions that echo a lifetime.

I won’t go too deep into the final act, but I will say that Dane DeHaan is one to watch, one-upping his co-star Emory Cohen as Luke’s estranged son Jason, matching pound for pound the intensity delivered by the more seasoned actors in the film. Emory is convincing as the drug-addled interpretation of MTV styled behaviour infused into Avery’s son A.J.

The latter two stories following Avery post-confrontation, and later their respective sons, are thoroughly engaging, edgy and potent, but are intentionally not as electrifying as Luke’s daredevil lifestyle portion of the film. Luke’s story is one electric scene after another, each as haunting and memorable as the last until his story ends, when the film slows down to give us a deep insight into the lives of police officers and their family, and the ramifications of the violence and corrupt actions committed in the first story; each scene for the 140 minute running time never failing to captivate your eyes and mind. Despite how well acted the last two chapters of the film are, one can’t help but feel underwhelmed by them both after the volatile, quick paced first act.

This is a powerhouse, haunting, Shakespeare-esque cinematic experience of a lifetime. Derek Cianfrance, the director behind Blue Valentine and the largely unseen Brother Tied gives us his best film here, an honest tale of fathers and sons, violence and its impacts, actions and their consequences. He gets the absolute most of of his actors, no matter how big or small the role, with relative ease it seems. As stated in several dozen interviews, many of the scenes are genuine, featuring real actions from his actors during rehearsals, or spontaneous behaviours from them as filing was occurring, which helps push the realistic, honest and authentic nature of this film to greater heights. The violence is quick and bloody, but never stylized or gimmicky, instead remaining true to the speed and ferocity of real violence one would see in a Sunday night instalment of World’s Wildest Police Chases, which Derek himself said inspired the realism of this film. Mike Patton’s thrilling score greatly enhances each scene, never becoming overbearing or underused.

While Blue Valentine was a small scaled romantic tragedy, The Place Beyond The Pines is on a much larger playing field as it spans its 15 plus years, giving us a sweeping genre epic that stands an equal among similar father-son consequential films such as The Godfather. Derek Cianfrance once again shows us he’s a masterclass in filmmaking, delivering what will surely be the year’s best dramatic film. This is filmmaking from the pelvis by Cianfrance that grabs you by the throat and never lets go until the final, heartbreaking frames contrasted with Bon Iver’s ‘The Wolves’; this, is one hell of a film, and among the best of its year of release. As this epic tale of fathers, sons, and consequences rides off into the morning sunrise, its grip will loosen just enough to leave you breathless in its powerful wake.

 

Barry Jenkins’ MOONLIGHT

MOONLIGHT is a prime example of the power of cinema.  The film follows a young man through three stages of his life, childhood, as a teenager, and as an adult.  While the story isn’t entirely relatable to all its viewers, the power of the storyline is undeniable.

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Filmmaker Barry Jenkins populates this film with a plethora of unique and charged performances, yielding supporting actor nominations for Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, who are both amazing in their small performances that help shape the bigger picture of the film.

At times, life can be difficult, it can challenge us beyond our depths, as well as have trajectory completely different than we, and others, envisioned.  That’s exactly what MOONLIGHT is about.  Even as removed as the main character’s story can be from each of our individual lives, the constant self-discovery and reinvention of himself, loneliness and isolation is something that we all can relate to.

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Some may say that the abundance of Oscar nominations and accolades this film is receiving is Oscar’s answer to the outrage over the lack of diversity this year and sure that argument can be made, but once you experience the film you will quickly realize that is certainly not the case.