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Judas and the Black Messiah (2021) Review

JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH

Judas and the Black Messiah

Time: 126 Minutes
Cast:
Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton
Lakeith Stanfield as William “Bill” O’Neal
Jesse Plemons as Roy Mitchell
Dominique Fishback as Deborah Johnson
Ashton Sanders as Jimmy Palmer
Martin Sheen as J. Edgar Hoover
Darrell Britt-Gibson as Bobby Rush
Lil Rel Howery as Wayne
Algee Smith as Jake Winters
Director: Shaka King

Offered a plea deal by the FBI, William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield) infiltrates the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party to gather intelligence on Chairman Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).

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I heard about Judas and the Black Messiah for a while, I already liked the actors involved, but it was the trailer that made it stand out for me. It then quickly became one of my most anticipated movies and it especially came up in awards conversations, particularly with the performances. It was pushed back to the next year but was released early enough so that it could make it to the current upcoming awards season. Judas and the Black Messiah definitely lived up to the acclaim and expectations.

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Judas and the Black Messiah is written incredibly well and is captivating from beginning to end. It’s tightly scripted and compelling, with a strong energy and an intense atmosphere throughout. One of the standout aspects that makes the movie work so well is that it doesn’t feel like a typical biopic, probably because it isn’t. In some ways it feels more like a historical drama/thriller about one person infiltrating a group, and that helps it work even better if anything. The film at its core is about Black Panther Party Chairman Fred Hampton, as well as FBI informant William O’Neal who infiltrates the Black Panther Party. Both storylines get roughly the same amount of screentime and are presented with equal weight, representing an important perspective of a significant time period. The movie is tough to watch at times, it’s a hauntingly tragic powerhouse of a drama that is riveting, even if (and especially if) you know how it ends. One of the biggest surprises of the movie is that it doesn’t shy away from painting the police and the FBI as the bad guys, and it also unapologetic with showing Hampton’s leftist views, both of which you wouldn’t think that a big budget awards movie would do. As you can probably tell from the subject matter, the movie is timely, meaningful and impactful to today’s society. It’s a smart and uncompromising tragedy about fear and power that’s likely to keep you on edge and hooked throughout.

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The acting from everyone in this movie is great. Daniel Kaluuya stars as Fred Hampton, and he didn’t just play him, he truly becomes him. His performance is magnetic and commands a lot of attention every time he’s on screen. He’s not portraying Hampton as a martyr or a hero, but a real person who is fighting for his rights. He inhabits the role perfectly, exuding the same emotions one would expect from him. He’s sensational here, every single line delivery has passion, and those big speeches are where he particularly shines. It’s likely because of Kaluuya’s standout performance that some might forget Lakeith Stanfield’s layered performance as informant William O’Neal, which might be his best work to date. We see much of the film through his eyes, showing us what he went through. Surprisingly, the film never truly demonises his character, bringing sympathy to the role of someone who sold out his own people. You can feel the turmoil within him as he questions whether he’s doing the right thing, as well as the paranoia and shame that eats away at him throughout. It does feel like his role is a bit underwritten, but the performance does a lot to make up for that. The supporting cast in Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, and Ashton Sanders also deliver some great work too.

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Shaka King’s direction is great, he has a very sleek and unique style of filmmaking. From the cinematography, to the production design, the costumes and the score, everything was perfectly constructed. It’s particularly shot beautifully, and the way the ‘action’ scenes were filmed were interesting. King’s makes the film feel very grounded and really helped add to the intense atmosphere in the film.

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Judas and the Black Messiah is a bold and fantastic film that deserves all the praise and accolades. It’s directed incredibly well, it’s written masterfully, and the performances are extraordinary, especially from Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield. Watch it as soon as you get the chance to.

Moonlight (2016) Review

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Moonlight

Time: 111 minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence, offensive language, drug use and sex scenes
Cast:
Trevante Rhodes as Adult Chiron/”Black”
Ashton Sanders as Teen Chiron
Alex Hibbert as Child Chiron/”Little”
André Holland as Adult Kevin
Jharrel Jerome as Teen Kevin
Jaden Piner as Child Kevin
Naomie Harris as Paula
Mahershala Ali as Juan
Janelle Monáe as Teresa
Director: Barry Jenkins

A look at three defining chapters in the life of Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes), a young black man growing up in Miami. His epic journey to manhood is guided by the kindness, support and love of the community that helps raise him.

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I remember watching Moonlight in the lead up to the Oscars, I thought it was great, and it had the biggest surprise of all that night when it ended up winning Best Picture, it was quite a big deal. With that said, I didn’t remember a lot of it from my first viewing, and I definitely needed to watch it again. It definitely improved a lot on a repeat viewing, and I can now confidentially call this a fantastic film that deserved all the acclaim that it had received.

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This movie is broken up into 3 parts, showing 3 stages of lead character Chiron’s life. The first part is him as a child, the second is him as a teenager, and the third is him as an adult. All three of these parts were quite different from each other, yet consistently great, there wasn’t one part that felt particularly weaker than the other (although the third part was a little slower). It is so engaging seeing Chiron make all these discoveries about himself and grow as a person. It’s very well written by Barry Jenkins, the dialogue is fantastic, it felt absolutely real. That’s really the biggest takeaway of this movie that I got, it all felt real and genuine. Now I’m not particularly big on coming of age stories, I have enough trouble emotionally connecting with most movies, and coming of age movies particularly don’t really work for me (probably mainly because most of the apparent appeal is being relatable and I just can’t relate to most of their stories). However this easily ranks amongst this subgenre, especially and recent years. I think most people can connect with Chiron and his story, and that is really a testament to the writing.

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The three actors who played Chiron (Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes) were fantastic. They all captured this character perfectly at the different stages of his life. Something I heard about is that they didn’t base their performances on each other, giving their own interpretation to the material they gave, and I think that added a lot. The supporting cast was also great. Naomie Harris was really good as Chiron’s mother, and the rest of the cast that includes Janelle Monae and Andre Holland also do their parts. The standout though was Mahershala Ali, who is easily one of the best actors working right now. He wasn’t in the movie a whole lot, but he left a real impression in his scenes, especially in the scenes with Alex Hibbert as the younger. Even when he’s not in the movie, you felt his presence throughout the rest of the film.

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Director Barry Jenkins absolutely delivers here, this is his sophomore film, and his work here is excellent. This movie is smaller and independent, and you can feel that through and through, and it was to its benefit. The cinematography by James Laxton was beautiful, not one shot or camera move felt out of place, and the lighting and the use of colour is just stunning to watch. There are so many memorable scenes and images that really stay with you long after seeing the movie. A lot of the time, there weren’t any soundtrack or music, and that helped to invest you even more into the story and the movie. It made it all feel even more real, and much easier to be invested in it all, whether that be with ambient sounds or silence. The score by Nicholas Britell when present though, is excellent and impactful, and really added to the film a lot. The editing also deserves a lot of credit, making many of the moments even more impactful.

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Moonlight is such a fantastic movie and deserved all the praise. The performances, beautifully written story and incredible direction all comes together to a profoundly moving coming of age tale that definitely ranks among the highlights of films from that decade. If you haven’t already, definitely check out Moonlight when you can.

The Equalizer 2 (2018) Review

Time: 121 Minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1] Contains graphic violence, drug use & offensive language
Cast:
Denzel Washington as Robert McCall
Pedro Pascal as Dave York
Ashton Sanders as Miles Whittaker
Bill Pullman as Brian Plummer
Melissa Leo as Susan Plummer
Director: Antoine Fuqua

Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) returns to deliver his special brand of vigilante justice when thugs kill his friend and former colleague.

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I liked the first Equalizer by Antoine Fuqua, it was almost like a throwback to violent vigilante action movies from the 70s and 80s and was entertaining, with Denzel Washington as the titular “Equalizer” playing a large part of that. It’s not going to rank among even the best action movies of recent years but it was still enjoyable for what it was. 4 years late, Fuqua and Washington return for a sequel and while The Equalizer didn’t really need one, I was nonetheless interested in seeing what they would have next in store for us. Getting this out of the way, The Equalizer 2 is not as good as the first movie. It has some plot issues, mostly with the unfocussed plot and the fact that the pacing can be just a little too slow. However it is still decent enough, and Denzel Washington once again is great.

The plot and writing of The Equalizer 2 is a mixed bag. On one hand, The Equalizer 2 does have some more emotional depth than the first, it’s not hugely emotional but it is there. It’s also got a lot more going on, which ended up being more of a problem. Despite the length of the movie, the first Equalizer was a pretty straightforward movie that was quite focussed on its plot. The Equalizer 2 has some subplots, and most of them would only fit in well with the movie if it was a mini series instead. There is a subplot with Denzel and a teenager (played by Ashton Sanders) which really does work, the others don’t work as well unfortunately and deviate and distract from the main plot. Even the main plot has some problems. While it seems straightforward (Denzel’s friend is killed, he goes after whoever is responsible), it takes a long time to go through it. The second half of the movie however, it does pick up and becomes more focussed on the plotline but before that we’re just waiting for things to move along. The Equalizer 2 is a little shorter than the first movie, at 2 hours. Despite this, the second movie feels rather slow. Now it’s probably because it was meant to be a much slower and smaller movie, you don’t even get many characters here. However, I think it was a little too slow for its own good, and most of it is to do with the unfocussed plot.

There aren’t too many actors who stand out here outside of Denzel but they do their part well. Denzel Washington remains effortlessly capable in his role. He can switch from likable guy, to becoming very threatening and dangerous within a second. The first movie was him reaching his breaking point and taking action, this movie has him actively going out and taking action quite often. The villain here is just as strong as the villain in the first movie, he’s not as memorable but he does seem to have more to the character than just “generic Russian villain”. However with his character being a twist reveal (which you can see coming), we don’t really get enough screentime with him as the villain and once again, not as memorable. However the character and the actor did their part. Also, all the villains here in general were not cartoonishly one dimensional and over the top like with the first movie.

Antoine Fuqua’s direction once again was great for the most part. The action scenes are fast and brutal, maybe a little too violent. As mentioned previously, there wasn’t as many fight/action scenes as in the first movie. Something I did notice with the action scenes, particularly with the fight scenes with Denzel is that there were more cuts compared to the previous movie. The only thing I can think of is that Denzel being 4 years older couldn’t really perform all the stunts and so they tried to hide that.

The Equalizer 2 isn’t as good as the first movie but it is still entertaining, with Denzel Washington once again being the main highlight. If you liked the first movie, the second is worth a watch, otherwise this new movie won’t change your mind. While I have a feeling that we won’t get an Equalizer 3 (especially releasing it alongside Mamma Mia 2), I wouldn’t be opposed to it if it happened, hopefully it just takes the best elements of both movies and doesn’t make the same mistakes.