REVIEW: “ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI” (2021) Amazon Studios

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A stylish and promising debut from Regina King at the helm “ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI” is a fascinating watch with King working in close collaboration with Kemp Powers to adapt his own play to the screen with a story that pits four iconic figures and their beliefs against one another. The film is set mostly at the Hampton House, a motel in Miami’s Brownsville neighborhood and was one of only a few places for Black entertainers and celebrities to stay while performing at the swanky clubs and hotels of the then segregated Miami Beach.

After Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) wins the World Heavyweight Championship from Sonny Liston in Miami, he meets up with Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), all legends in their own right, to discuss their individual roles that they can play in the civil rights movement amid the upheaval of the 60s. Clay has promised Malcolm X that he will embrace Islam and change his name to Muhammad Ali the next morning. Ali/Clay’s boxing career had reached new heights, but he was barred from Miami Beach due to Jim Crow laws at the time, but he also unaware that Malcolm has just broken ranks with Elijah Muhammad, the national leader of the Nation of Islam at the time.

Introducing each of the characters in their everyday vocations as Cook is a hugely successful singer although he seems to be struggling with being accepted across the board i.e., by white audiences, Brown is a famous NFL player, but he’s also just had a taste of movie stardom and likes it, the soon to be Muhammad Ali is the World Heavyweight boxing champ and Malcolm X is a minister and one of the biggest leaders of the Civil Rights movement at the time. The struggles they faced in being black men sets the film up for a rather powerful main act where they discuss how they can use their positions of varied success to be heard during the civil rights movement.

This film has a dash of ironic, humorous moments which serve it well, because a good chunk of the film is a bit intense and lags at times with the rhythm getting bogged down for a few scenes, but there are some lively moments, especially revolving around musical performances. The acting by the four leads though is what kicks this film up at least ten notches as they give it their all, even though their were a few times their personas felt a bit pushed and character-ish. It’s so very difficult when an actor portrays a real person though all of them found a fine balance within their performances. Leslie Odom Jr showed off his singing chops, Ben-Adir gave us a talkative beautiful Malcolm X, Goree gave us all the ‘float like a butterfly – sting like a bee’ he had, but my personal choice was Aldis Hodge’s portrayal of Jim Brown, especially as Mr. Brown is still the only member here still alive. Hodge captured him as I someone who supported his friend, yet was also moving in the direction of ‘going Hollywood’ at time when not many men of colour had that opportunity. I think my only beef is the female co-stars Joaquina Kalukango as Betty X and Nicolette Robinson as Cooke’s wife Barbara, got the short shrift here with a scarce amount of lines, but then it is a story about the four men so on the other hand, it makes sense. Add in the wonderful Lance Reddick, Michael Imperioli, Beau Bridges in supporting roles and you’ve got yourself kicking up more notches up to round out this film. The production design, costumes, and soundtrack were beautiful and having said that, there are parts of the dialogue which are genuinely stirring.

‘One Night in Miami’ is an absorbing & entertaining film about the power of these men who while having some conflicting ideals, are really all striving for the same common goal.

Grade: B+

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Review screening: Courtesy oGinsberg/Libby PR

“ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI” IS OUT IN SELECT THEATERS WHERE AVAILABLE AND COMING TO PRIME VIDEO ON FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 2021

REVIEW: “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” (2017) 20th Century Fox

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CHOO CHOO!! ALL ABOARD..ALL ABOARD THE ORIENT EXPRESS! Murder! Mayham! Suspense!

Yes..If you’ve read Dame Agatha Christie’s 1934 novel “MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS” or have seen the 1974 version you know the storyline. If not, or like me, couldn’t remember all of it – what’s left to deal with then, is how well this one is done and of course the big ‘whodunnit’ reveal at the end.

The story of master detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) who is hoping for a break after numerous years of solving cases, jumps onboard The Orient Express thanks to friend Bouc (Tom Bateman) who was able to secure him this spot. While onboard, Poirot ends up having to solve a murder committed while traveling with 12 other passengers on The Orient Ecpress – a train that made traveling in style from West-East axis and back again, very popular.

Director and lead actor Branagh takes on the popular story, with a nod to nostalgia in three ways. First, the flair of the train travel at that time, which was associated with adventure, pleasure and discovery, must be brought back to life. Second, the charm of the detective-witty inquiry that the character is closely linked to that era. And thirdly, a remake must also pay homage to the original film and the book itself, because Agatha Christie stories are still hugely popular and it’s 1974 version brought much critical and acting acclaim. Thus, Branagh with his well-known cast, recognizes this and with a good but alas not perfect effort, tries to retain that feel. Its highlights include dazzling production design, period costumes and of course I would be remiss to not mention the highly distracting signature moustache! The opening portion of the train journey is spent as you would expect – introducing us the characters on the train. But it’s the last 30 minutes of the film where the detective really gets into why each character is there and what part they play in the film which make that the most interesting part of the film.

Branagh as Poirot, does a fine job mixing in the brilliant detective with the comedic, witty sarcasm the character is known for. It’s always a kick to see Dame Judi Dench, here as Russian Princess Dragomiroff, and the wonderful Olivia Coleman (one of my personal favourites) as her besieged maid, Hildegarde Schmidt. But they have literally nothing to do and are almost shamefully underused. Leslie Odom, Jr. as Dr. Arbuthnot is the racial switch in the casting – as Sean Connery had the role in the 1974 film – shows welcome daring for a remake that plays things stodgily by the book.
Michelle Pfeiffer shines in perhaps the meatiest – certainly the cheekiest – role as Caroline Hubbard, but those such as Daisy Ridley as Miss Mary Debenham shows that even her secret relationship with another passenger can’t give Ridley’s character enough boost to make it stand out as much as Pfeiffer does with her role – though both of these characters have a bigger chunk of the many supporting roles. Derek Jacobi as Edward Masterman & Willem Dafoe as ‘Austrian scientist’ Gerhard Hardman, both have secrets but can’t help but appear simply there for the ride. There’s a decent dramatic turn from Josh Gad as Hector MacQueen, though it might be because you only know his work as a comedian so his drama performance get a tick of notice. Also underused are Lucy Boynton and Sergei Polunin as Count & Countess Andrenyi who have a brilliant scene with Branagh but never really do anything else. Johnny Depp plays that typical smarmy-charmy type crook here which completely works for his character Edward Ratchett. Penelope Cruz on the other hand, has it worse as the religious introvert Pilar Estravados. It hard as I always find her work to be sub-par in English movies as she excels so well in the Spanish ones, I end up feeling a bit of a let down by them and here she is barely a blip on the Orient Express. So for all the resplendence of this cast, it’s hard not to feel that Branagh isn’t really pushing any of them to work.

Conclusion: Branagh’s staging of this famous crime thriller tries to do justice to the charm and the time-frame of the original with visual charms, a well-known cast and a little humor. However, this succeeds less convincingly than hoped.

Grade: C+
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