The Morning After: Jan. 11, 2021

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what movies I’ve seen over the past week. Below, you will find short reviews of those movies along with a star rating. Full length reviews may come at a later date.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

One Night in Miami

Recently, I took Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom to task for not opening the material up more, leaving it feeling a bit stage-bound. Now, we have an example of what we mean when we say that. Regina King’s directorial debut takes Kemp Powers’ potent stage play and turns it into a resounding successing, opening the play up to places beyond the stuffy hotel room in which it’s set. These aren’t perfunctory diversions like in Ma Rainey’s, the characters, both individually and in tandem, venture out beyond the hotel not just in numerous flashback and flashforward sequences, but in shifting venues from Cassius Clay’s ringside event to the hotel to the rooftop and then splitting characters off in various combinations until we not only have a foundation for the world in which these characters now live, their desperation and frustration and hope for the future are amplified by these moments.

The production is about a fictionalized meeting of four Black titans as they discuss their successes, dreams, and goals for the future with each tackling their mediums differently. At this meeting of minds are minister Civil Rights leader Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), heavyweight champion Clay (Eli Goree), singer and music industry giant Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), and NFL titan Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge). As the four figures discuss their past, present, and potential futures, the four often butt heads questioning each other on the best way to bring equal rights to all Black Americans. While Ben-Adir and Goree are classed as leads, Odom Jr.’s character and performance seem better suited to lead classification while Goree’s Clay is often a less prominent figure. Regardless of positioning, all four actors deliver superb performances with Odom Jr. commanding the screen in each moment, especially in his final vocal performance at the film’s end.

King’s familiarity with actors had a terrific impact on the flow of the film, which each man given a chance to shine. This is the reason actors can make wonderful directors, simply because they know how to elicit strong work from their peers while their extensive experience in front of the camera leeches off other directors for inspiration. The film struggles in a few spots to maintain its carefully orchestrated pacing and ultimately searches for its point in the post-establishing scenes. Yet, when the whole is brought together by film’s end, the little decisions feels necessary to bring the audience to this conclusion even if it’s an occasionally bumpy run up to that point.

The Croods: A New Age

When the first film released, DreamWorks took a gamble on a concept that bore a lot of similarities to the already-popular Ice Age films. Setting their feature around a stone age human family rather than now-extinct creatures, that film’s directors Chris Sanders and Kirk DeMicco attempted to set their product apart from that existing series and managed to turn out a surprisingly fun and engaging pre-historic romp with a winning vocal cast and an endearing story.

Lightning striking twice is not common in sequels, especially with DreamWorks, but Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan managed to largely succeed with their script for The Croods: A New Age, bringing the best stone age family since The Flintstones forward in their narrative arcs under the winning direction of Joel Crawford. Emma Stone, Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds, Catherine Keener, Clark Duke, and Cloris Leachman return to roles they made so entertaining in the prior film while adding Peter Dinklage, Leslie Mann, and Kelly Marie Tran to the team.

This outing follows Reynolds’ Guy as he continues his search for the legendary Tomorrow that his parents spoke of before their untimely, tarry deaths. The Croods traverse vast landscapes with increasingly beautiful and frightening prehistoric creatures as they move diligently towards a new home. Guy and Stone’s Eep are hopelessly in love and are carrying on in the most saccharinely sweet way possible, frustrating Cage’s patriarch Grug who fears losing his family unit should the pair find “privacy” elsewhere in the world. Grug thinks he’s succeeded when he locates Nirvana, but the bounteous walled landscape he discovers belongs to Phil and Hope Betterman (Dinklage & Mann) and their daughter Dawn (Tran) who were old friends of Guy’s parents and have a plan to send the Croods out into the world while pairing Guy off with Dawn.

The film starts off with an exciting, colorful adventure and then settles into familiar territory. However, as the Bettermans’ plan begins to unravel, things rev up until the thrilling, laugh-fueled finale with some great humor and familial frustrations along the way. While most such films are easily inferior to their predecessors, A New Age manages to hew closely to the original in terms of wit, creativity, and thematic excitement. While it is only a slight step down thanks to its overly familiar story elements, the end result is a fun adventure for kids and adults of all ages.

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