Nope is a surprisingly fitting title. After making an impression with Get Out and continuing the momentum with Us, everyone wanted to see the next Jordan Peele horror movie. They’ve become such a spectacle that Peele decided to write and direct exactly that. The title, poster, and teaser were vague, but I figured it had to be an alien invasion movie. I had every intention of seeing Nope in theaters like Peele intended, but I ultimately had to say “nope” to it. Although it’s hard to argue with the impact of Get Out, Us wasn’t as good as people made it out to be. I grew nervous the more comedic Nope ended up looking. Of course critics praised the movie, but I tend to side with the audience. Like Us, Nope has the right ideas, but it takes way too long to build tension when half the movie is spent staring at clouds.
I feel like Peele wanted to make a classic UFO sci-fi adventure with electrical disturbances and skydancers, but knew people were still expecting horror. Nope is actually just the reaction people get when they see something scary. Subtle social commentary is shown with the black owned Haywood’s Hollywood Horses Ranch. They’re apparently related to the man riding a horse in the 1887 film Animal Locomotion. Daniel Kaluuya is very reserved as horse wrangler OJ Haywood and Keke Palmer is surprisingly unlikable as OJ’s hustling sister Em. They experience “bad miracles” like the death of their father played by Keith David. Horses are used to tell the story of the UFO that preys on the desert. OJ and Em team up with modern tech nerd Angel played by Brandon Perea and a gravel voiced Michael Wincott as old fashioned filmmaker Antlers Hoist to capture proof of the UFO.
An extended subplot includes Steven Yeun as theme park owner Ricky “Jupe” Park who seeks to profit off the alien. Most of his scenes are falsely advertised since they have no connection to the UFO. Jupe is just a child actor who witnessed a traumatic event on the set of a sitcom called Gordy’s Home. Although Gordy the chimp going crazy and mauling half the cast is probably the most terrifying part of the movie. The UFO becomes a lot less menacing when you discover what it really is. SPOILER ALERT! The UFO named Jean Jacket is basically a wild animal with no little green men on the inside. It’s kind of a lame twist and the alien’s final form is just confusing. I’m all for originality, but a social sci-fi western isn’t the spectacle I wanted. Nope gets a “nope” from me.
OJ runs from Jean Jacket
King Richard is the most inspirational biopic they could’ve made about the Williams sisters. It was nominated for Best Picture, Original Screenplay, Film Editing, and Beyoncé herself got a first time nomination for the Original Song “Be Alive.” Venus and Serena Williams are separately considered to be the greatest tennis players of all time. I’m not a sports fan, but even I knew the reputation of Venus and Serena. Although I mostly credit their guest appearance in the Simpsons episode “Tennis the Menace” for bringing them to my attention. I wasn’t surprised that they were making a biopic, but the focus of the biopic was a bit surprising. King Richard is centered around their father Richard Williams and his unorthodox 85 page plan for their success.
People were expecting a black “girl power” movie, but a movie about a dedicated black father is equally commendable. Richard is stubborn, obsessive, and hard on his five daughters. He’s not the most well spoken man, but he does want to give his daughters a better life. They don’t shy away from the harshness of the ghetto or the struggle they faced training in local tennis courts. In spite of his infamous Oscar slap, Will Smith deserved to finally win Best Actor. Just as Aunjanue Ellis deserved a Best Supporting Actress nomination for playing Richard’s strong-willed wife Oracene Price. Since Venus and Serena are still young, Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton are more subdued. Richard coaches them and teaches them to be respectful and humble.
They also learn to embrace being the only black girls in a predominantly white sport. His oldest daughter Tunde has a more tragic story, but it’s only foreshadowed in the movie. Venus is given a bit more attention with Tony Goldwyn as her first official coach Paul Cohen. King Richard is filled with notable tennis players including the sister’s long-term coach Rick Macci played by an excitable mustachioed Jon Bernthal. They move from Compton to Florida where Richard insists they continue to be children and have fun before playing professionally. We see several smaller tennis tournaments until we get to the big game. Though it isn’t a winning game, Venus and the entire Williams family earn the respect they fought for. King Richard serves up the best that tennis has to offer.
Richard Williams coaches his daughters Venus and Serena
Judas and the Black Messiah is the second best Black Panther film I’ve seen with Daniel Kaluuya. I originally wrote it off as another angry race relations movie, but my mom explained its significance. Fred Hampton was a young civil rights activist who was chairman of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panther Party. Since my mom grew up in Chicago during the 60’s, she vaguely remembers key events and my uncles actually met Hampton before he was assassinated. Like most outspoken black leaders, Hampton became a target, but this time it was the FBI who felt he was too radical. Judas and Black Messiah captures how the Black Panthers were armed and ready to fight oppression. What made Hampton different is how he recruited underprivileged whites and Hispanics to a Rainbow Coalition. There was also community outreach, but that’s not what they’ll be remembered for.
The Judas in the title refers to black FBI informant William O’Neal who sold out Hampton in exchange for a plea bargain. Despite being released in early 2021, Judas and the Black Messiah was the only non-2020 movie nominated for Best Picture. The Pandemic also meant a simultaneous release on HBO Max. More unusual was Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield both being nominated for Best Supporting Actor. It barely made sense since either of them could be the lead. Ironically, both actors were also in Get Out. Stanfield brings multiple layers to the conflicted O’Neal, but Kaluuya made Hampton such a powerful speaker that he ended up winning. H.E.R. won Best Original Song for “Fight for You,” but I tend to forget the song.
Judas and the Black Messiah has Ryan Coogler as a producer, confidant direction from the lesser known Shaka King, and a dedicated cast of up and coming actors. Jesse Plemons plays O’Neal’s close FBI handler who isn’t just a racist cop. Martin Sheen is both unrecognizable and unlikable as J. Edgar Hoover. Dominique Fishback and Dominique Thorne both make an impression as Hampton’s educated girlfriend Deborah Johnson and a proud sister respectively. Ashton Sanders, Darrell Britt-Gibson, and Jermaine Fowler make up the rest of Hampton’s closest Black Panthers. Even Lil Rel Howery makes a cameo, but he’s a lot less helpful than he was in Get Out. I didn’t know how Hampton was assassinated, but it’s even more intense than I was expecting. Judas and the Black Messiah is revolutionary in its own right.
Fred Hampton speaks out
BlacKkKlansman is the most provocative Spike Lee Joint in years. It was enough to earn Lee his first Best Director nomination and first Oscar win for Best Adapted Screenplay. BlacKkKlansman was one of three black films nominated for Best Picture in 2018. Black Panther was a celebratory black film, BlacKkKlansman was an intense black film, and Green Book was the safe black film that ultimately won. Lee stormed out of the Academy Awards since it was practically a repeat of Driving Miss Daisy winning and Do the Right Thing not being nominated. I wasn’t surprised since BlacKkKlansman takes an angry approach that not everyone will be comfortable with. Though the ugliness of racism can be scary, BlacKkKlansman isn’t a horror movie despite having Jordan Peele and Jason Blum as producers. At this point I was getting tired of the constant message movies, but BlacKkKlansman is also a satire.
The real life Black Klansman story is exaggerated to show how absurd the Klu Klux Klan is. Detective Ron Stallworth was the first black cop in the Colorado Springs Police Department who infiltrated the KKK through phone calls. After working with his father, Lee gave John David Washington his big break as the stalwart Stallworth. Washington is great over the phone, but it’s really Adam Driver who gives the best performance as Detective Philip “Flip” Zimmerman who impersonates the white Stallworth for in person meetings. Driver is funny, but he also shows Flip reconciling his Jewish faith while posing as a hateful white supremacist. Corey Hawkins and Laura Harrier represent the outspoken black civil rights leader Kwame Ture and Ron’s proud afro sporting Black Student Union girlfriend Patrice. Thanks to his experience in the 70’s and unfortunate likeness, Topher Grace successfully captures KKK Grand Wizard David Duke.
The duality of the white power KKK and black power Black Panthers is shown when the former enjoy The Birth of the Nation while the latter shows Harry Belafonte recounting the lynching of Jesse Washington. Stallworth gets close enough to take a picture, but in the end he deals with racist cops and Duke’s more reckless followers Ivanhoe, Felix, and his annoying wife. The bombing or Stallworth’s reveal may not have happened, but I expected dramatization. What I didn’t expect was the cross burning ending that leads to actual footage of the 2017 Charlottesville rally and fatal protest. I know Lee is a soapbox filmmaker, but this scene feels manipulative. Let’s just say having Alec Baldwin host a propaganda film in the beginning wasn’t an accident. I won’t get into any political discussions, but BlacKkKlansman is better when it doesn’t resort to accusations.
Ron Stallworth in the bar with Patrice
Undercover Brother 2 is all kinds of awful. This is a blaxploitation parody of an early 2000’s comedy set in the late 2010’s. It still feels PG-13, but they only make it R by dropping at least 2 F bombs. Undercover Brother is a forgotten gem, but no one was begging for a sequel 17 years later. Which is why Undercover Brother 2 was released direct-to-video with no returning cast members. After Black Dynamite, Michael Jai White seemed like a good replacement for Undercover Brother. Except the sequel is complete false advertisement with White in a coma almost the entire movie.
Instead Undercover Brother’s brother is his far less interesting replacement. The B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. is equally uninteresting with generic substitutes for the original characters. There’s the female Chief Honey, the smart Harvard Brother, conspiracy spreading Sarcastic Brother, white Military Brother, and less easy Unattainable Sistah. Like an unfunny Austin Powers, Undercover Brother and his brother are frozen in 2003 and thawed out 16 years in the future. Social satire worked in the original movie, but there was far too much stupidity in the year 2019.
Whether they’re making fun of it or not, Undercover Brother 2 makes the mistake of incorporating the former and current Presidency, millennials, hipsters, gender politics, modern slang, and a “woke” drug into the plot. Barry Bostwick is revealed to be “The Man” who lost his organization to his gay son Manson who wants the world to be overly sensitive and easily offended. The ending is made anticlimactic in order to make a statement about the police. Undercover Brother 2 is the furthest thing from solid .
Undercover Brother and his brother
Preceded by: Undercover Brother
Undercover Brother is a funky fresh Austin Powers for the blaxploitation era. Though it follows the structure of a James Bond film, Undercover Brother is an all soul parody of the groovy 70’s. It was on my radar for a long time after my mom suggested it, but the extra blaxploitation exposure helps. Undercover Brother is seriously underrated with a fly soundtrack of black hits, giant afros, and clever racial satire. Turns out an all-white organization ran by “The Man” plans to use Operation Whitewash to decrease the prominence of black culture. Undercover Brother is the actual name of the afro-sporting secret agent with his own theme song, sweet ride, high rise platforms, literal parachute pants, and weaponized picks.
Eddie Griffin isn’t the most well known comedian, but he was born for this role. Undercover Brother joins the all-black organization B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D. hidden under a barbershop and led by Chi McBride as the hotheaded Chief. Gary Anthony Williams is the aptly named Smart Brother and Dave Chappelle steals most scenes as the overly paranoid Conspiracy Brother. Aunjanue Ellis is the more competent, but sexy Sistah Girl who later adopts the afro look. SNL alumni Chris Kattan is one of the few white cast members playing the flamboyant Mr. Feather who secretly enjoys black culture. Along with Neil Patrick Harris as the only white intern Lance who acts like a minority.
Denise Richards stands out the most as the equally sexy White She-Devil who would be any man’s weakness. The funniest scenes would be Undercover Brother becoming more white in her presence and being forced to eat mayonaise. It’s PG-13, but there is a steamy shower fight between the two ladies. Billy Dee Williams is the first victim who plays a potential black President forced to sell fried chicken. Even James Brown shows up just to sing. The stereotypes are perfectly over-the-top and the martial arts action gets more ridiculous as the movie goes on. Undercover Brother is solid ✊🏿.
Undercover Brother and Sistah Girl bring White She-Devil into the B.R.O.T.H.E.R.H.O.O.D.
Followed by: Undercover Brother 2
The Last King of Scotland is a fictionalized account of ruthless Ugandan President Idi Amin. The brutal dictator’s 8 year reign was very real, but the 1998 book and 2006 movie adaptation are from the perspective of fictional Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan. James McAvoy is arguably the lead, but Forest Whitaker deserves top-billing. The Last King of Scotland is a performance driven movie that earned Whitaker a rare clean sweep of every major Best Actor award. He won the Oscar for playing a world leader the same year Helen Mirren won for playing Queen Elizabeth. Set in the 70’s, Garrigan is like the audience experiencing Uganda for the first time.
Garrigan impulsively practices medicine abroad with British physicians like Gillian Anderson as a married doctor that he comes on to. McAvoy plays a flawed protagonist who makes questionable decisions, but he’s necessary when the alternative is the villain. Idi Amin quickly takes notice of Nicholas and appoints him to be his personal physician. Whitaker’s performance is far more complex than I was expecting. Amin is surprisingly friendly to the young Scot and easy going with a sense of humor. There’s even an unexpected farting scene. Aside from his military coup, signs of him being evil are slowly revealed in the background with missing people and random attacks.
The more paranoid Amin gets the more terrifying he becomes. Real life events like expelling Asians from Uganda and Operation Entebbe are explored. The most disturbing moment happens after Garrigan has an affair with one of Amin’s wives played by Kerry Washington. A torture scene involving hooks is also pretty difficult to watch. David Oyelowo plays a Ugandan doctor who tries to help Garrigan, but Simon McBurney plays a British Foreign Office representative who refuses to give safe passage for his complicit actions. The Last King of Scotland is a modern day Macbeth that uses tragedy to expose a monster.
Idi Amin gives a speech
Ali isn’t the greatest boxing movie of all time, but it does showcase the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. Muhammad Ali is known to many as “The Greatest,” “The People’s Champion,” the man in the ring who knew how to swing. An official biopic was inevitable after several media appearances in movies, documentaries, TV shows, video games, songs, and comic books. Ali began early development in 1992 with multiple directors considered, but only one star attached. After bombing twice, Will Smith earned his first Best Actor nomination by getting into boxing shape and capturing Ali’s penchant for rhythmic trash talking. Michael Mann was selected after his Oscar nomination for The Insider, but it was Jon Voight who got the only other nomination for his uncanny performance as sports journalist Howard Cosell and the teasing friendship he had with Ali.
Ali was relatively well received, but it also bombed thanks to The Fellowship of the Ring. You can’t win against an opponent that big, but the movie could’ve done a better job of capturing the sheer magnitude of Muhammad Ali. Ali covers only 10 years of his life as he changes his name from Cassius Clay Jr. to Cassius X and finally Muhammad Ali. I knew Ali was Muslim and it doesn’t surprise me how much Malcolm X affected his life. Mario Van Peebles performs the latter part of X’s life, while Albert Hall ironically plays Elijah Muhammad. The connection is Barry Shabaka Henley as Elijah’s son and Ali’s manager Herbert Muhammad. Jamie Foxx plays Ali’s Jewish assistant trainer Drew Bundini Brown who overcomes a drug addiction, Ron Silver plays his trainer Angelo Dundee, Jeffrey Wright plays his photographer Howard Bingham, and Joe Morton plays his lawyer Chauncey Eskridge when Ali draft dodges the Vietnam War. Though he was a boxer first, Ali couldn’t help being a black civil rights activist. LeVar Burton briefly portrays Martin Luther King, but more of him can be seen in the Director’s Cut.
Giancarlo Esposito now plays Ali’s father Cassius Clay Sr. who is the most disappointed about his name change. Ali’s Islamic faith is explored, but his biggest weakness was women. He had four wives, but only three are shown in the film. Will’s real life wife Jada Pinkett Smith plays his first wife Sonji Roi who leaves him for his beliefs. Marvin Gaye’s daughter Nona Gaye plays his second wife Belinda Boyd who leaves him because of infidelity. And Michael Michele is his third wife Veronica Porché who he divorces off-screen. The drama is fine, but it’s really the fighting that everyone came to see. Though Mykelti Williamson plays the eccentric promoter Don King, all of Ali’s opponents are played by actual boxers. A realistic approach is given to three famous fights. We see Ali gain the World Heavyweight Championship title from Sonny Liston, lose his title against Joe Frazier in the Fight of the Century, and regain it with the rope-a-dope technique against George Foreman in The Rumble in the Jungle. Music and performances are what really allow Ali to “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
Muhammad Ali in the ring
Malcolm X is a biographical epic I had to see by any means necessary. Born Malcolm Little, Malcolm X is one of the most controversial civil rights leaders in American history. Like most kids, I’ve learned everything about Martin Luther King in school. Although I was aware of the ideological differences between Malcolm X and MLK, they didn’t really teach his story in school. Malcolm X was a lot harsher with what can be considered an anti-white message of black separation, nationsilm, and the use of violence. A biopic based on his autobiography was in development for decades with multiple screenwriters trying to get the story right. Although Norman Jewison had plenty of experience with racially charged films, African Americans demanded a black director. Which is how Malcolm X became a Spike Lee Joint. The equally controversial director ensured a 3 hour & 20 minute runtime so that the entire story could be told properly. Several high profile black figures payed to have the film completed. Christopher Plummer, Peter Boyle, William Kunstler, Al Sharpton, Bobby Seale, and Nelson Mandela all made cameos in support.
I’m glad I finally watched it, because Malcolm X is a lot more nuanced than I originally thought. Although he worked with Lee previously, hiring Denzel Washington was Jewison’s brilliant idea. Training Day is great, but Washington should’ve won Best Actor for his multilayered role as the bispectled activist. We see Malcolm Little grow up in a poor house targeted by the KKK, separated from his family, and attending white schools in flashbacks. As Detroit Red in Harlem, Malcolm wears flashy suits, flattens his hair with chemicals, drinks, does drugs, and sleeps with a white woman. Spike Lee himself plays his friend Shorty who does the same. Delroy Lindo plays the menacing gangster West Indian Archie who got Malcolm sent to jail for burglary. I found that I can agree with Malcolm X on black empowerment and cultural identity, but his conversion to Islam is a different matter. Malcolm becomes a Muslim in prison where Albert Hall plays passionate speaker Baines who also teaches him to use the name X in honor of his unknown African ancestry.
Malcolm X was further swayed by Al Freeman Jr. as the so-called honorable Elijah Muhammad who convinced him to minister for the Nation of Islam. Angela Bassett further proves herself as Malcolm’s nurse wife Betty Shabazz. Washington truly becomes X with his powerful speeches about Plymouth Rock and segregation. MLK is only shown through television archives, but you can still see the tension between the two. I don’t agree with the religion, but Malcolm’s pilgrimage to Mecca is when the movie truly feels epic. Malcolm X builds an army of followers that he ultimately lost when he became disillusioned with his leader’s separatist beliefs. Giancarlo Esposito plays Thomas Hagan, one of several fellow black men who assassinated him. The death scene is intense since it happens in front of his family and followers. The ending tribute to Malcolm X feels like a soap box moment, but at least “By any means necessary” is the closing statement. Malcolm X won’t change everyone’s mind, but it speaks the truth on many issues.
Malcolm X speaks out
Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son is double the drag, double the stupidity. After 11 years (and 5 years since the last Big Momma’s House), you’d think the same old comedy routine would get old. The 5% Rotten Tomatoes score is exactly the same as the sequel. I was 15 when Like Father, Like Son came out and I knew they were getting desperate at this point. Martin Lawrence took a pay cut just to reprise his role as Malcolm Turner/Big Momma, but none of the original cast is that commited. Nia Long is written out with an excuse that Sherry is at a retreat.
Jascha Washington refused to return, so he was replaced by Brandon T. Jackson who doesn’t even feel like Trent. Sherry and Malcolm’s baby is never mentioned. Instead Trent is an aspiring rapper at odds with his stepdad who wants him to go to college. The tone is a lot more inconsistent with a murder that Trent witnesses and no build up to the both of them disguising themselves as women. Malcolm steals Hattie Mae Pierce’s identity for the third and hopefully final time. The Big Momma act is seriously worn out at this point. We see Big Momma posing for a nude art class, playing Twister, and helping a school for girls.
The clueless headmistress hires him for a house mother position where they investigate a missing flash drive. Big Momma is one thing, but Charmaine is a far more annoying persona. Portia Doubleday and Michelle Ang are a few of the many attractive girls at the school, but Trent falls for and lies to Jessica Lucas as the artistic Haley. Like Father, Like Son rips-off Some Like it Hot worse than White Chicks. Big Momma meanwhile is constantly pursued by an uncredited Faizon Love. The villain is even more forgettable than the last movie. Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son drops the house and the quality of an already tired trilogy.
Big Momma and her niece Charmaine
Preceded by: Big Momma’s House 2