Synopsis: Miles Morales catapults across the Multiverse, where he encounters a team of Spider-People charged with protecting its very existence. When the heroes clash on how to handle a new threat, Miles must redefine what it means to be a hero.
Where to Watch: In theaters
Date of Release: June 2nd
Length of Time: 140 mins
Starring: Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Jake Johnson, Issa Rae, Daniel Kaluuya, Karan Soni, Jason Schwartzman, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Rachel Dratch, Jorma Taccone, Shea Whigham, and Oscar Isaac
Why Should You Watch?
Just when I thought Sony couldn’t outdo its first Spider-Man animated film featuring Miles Morales, they managed to put together one of the best-animated films I’ve ever seen. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (SMASV) is an exceptional film that manages to combine stunning visuals with a compelling narrative, resulting in an absolute must-see for fans of the Spider-Man franchise or anyone seeking an action-packed, visually impressive adventure.
The gorgeous animation style sets SMASV apart from other Spider-Man films. This installment uses diverse artistic techniques that breathe life into every frame. The 2D and 3D animation blend makes each scene a work of art, with dynamic cityscapes and surreal color palettes that grab your attention from the opening scene to the final moments.
Beyond the visuals, Across the Spider-Verse also features a gripping story that explores the multiverse and introduces new versions of Spider-Man to the audience. The narrative is tightly woven and manages to strike the perfect balance between humor and heart. The character arcs are well-developed and keep you invested in the story, whether you’re a long-time fan of the Spider-Man franchise or a newcomer.
Can we talk about Moore as Miles Morales, though? His performance was superb! He was able to execute great comedic timing onscreen. Moore’s voice presence solidifies him as one of my favorite voice actors because he knows how to project his acting through his voice. I love the relationship Miles has with his parents Rio (voiced by Lauren Vélez) and Jefferson (voiced by Brian Tyree Henry), and their adjusting to changes in Miles as a young man and as a hero. They played the perfect parent duo, especially when disciplining Miles.
Once again, Moore used his acting ability to show his range and to hit the emotional notes needed to make the audience experience Miles’ emotional state. There were definitely moments when my heartstrings were pulled. Between him and Steinfeld as Gwen Stacy/Spider-woman, I was on an emotional rollercoaster.
We get more of a glimpse of Gwen Stacy’s background and home life, and just like any iteration of Spider-man, it is filled with tragedy and emotional obstacles. The bond between Gwen and Miles is strong, and the chemistry between the two voice actors makes this possible. You can’t help but root for these two to connect and find some way to be together.
Some other versions of Spider-man from the first film do appear in this sequel and although they don’t have much screen time, as a fan of the first film, I was happy to see them make it into this movie…especially Peter B. Parker (voiced by Jake Johnson) who served as mentor to Miles in the first film.
My favorite of all the versions of Spider-man is Jessica Drew/Spider-woman (voiced by Issa Rae) and Hobie Brown Spider-punk (voiced by Daniel Kaluuya). They both make kick-ass introductions, are funny, and, of course, are cool as hell. Spider-punk is a Black British who is about fighting the system, especially the totalitarian government that rules over his dimension. His weapon is a guitar, which adds to his coolness factor in the film. Jessica is a Black pregnant version of Spider-man who is witty, wise, and more level-headed than the leaders.
Oscar Isaac as Miguel O’Hara/2099 Spider-man is a compelling character driven by traumatic events. He operates by the book to ensure the different timelines are safe. Interestingly enough, he doesn’t utilize humor like the other versions of Spider-man. Once you learn his origin, you will understand why. His disdain for Miles compels the other Spider-people to attack him, resulting in an intensely thrilling one-against-many battle.
Alongside the incredible animation and story is an electrifying soundtrack that perfectly captures the tone of the film. Since the world of Miles Morales is more urban and centered around hip-hop (Metro Bommin did his thing!)and modern music, I would not expect anything less appropriate. The music helps punctuate the more emotional moments while elevating the action scenes to new heights. Sound and visuals work together in exquisite harmony to create an immersive and thrilling viewing experience.
Now let’s talk about the easter eggs; there are a bunch of them. So many, in fact, that it may require a rewatch to catch them all. The comic book fan in me was filled with excitement with every connection that showed up onscreen. From the MCU to the Sony-verse, it’s all there; and trust me, you don’t want to take a bathroom break lest you miss something awesome.
Overall, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse is a feast for the eyes and ears that will leave you wanting more. I promise you this: you WILL want more after the final act! It’s a testament to the possibilities of storytelling through animation. It should be regarded as one of the best-animated films in recent years and one of the best superhero films, period. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and watch this phenomenal film on the big screen for the full effect.
Synopsis: A young mermaid makes a deal with a sea witch to trade her beautiful voice for human legs so she can discover the world above water and impress a prince.
Starring: Halle Bailey (“Grown-ish”) as Ariel; Jonah Hauer-King (“A Dog’s Way Home”) as Eric; Daveed Diggs (“Hamilton”) as the voice of Sebastian; Awkwafina (“Raya and the Last Dragon”) as the voice of Scuttle; Jacob Tremblay (“Room”) as the voice of Flounder; Noma Dumezweni (“Mary Poppins Returns”) as The Queen; Art Malik (“Homeland”) as Sir Grimsby; with Javier Bardem (“No Country for Old Men,” “Being the Ricardos”) as King Triton; and Melissa McCarthy (“Can You Ever Forgive Me?” “Bridesmaids”) as the infamous Ursula.
Is It Worth Watching?
When it was announced that The Little Mermaid was being brought to life in a live-action film, my worries that it would be a failed attempt started to bubble up. As the cast was announced and I learned that Halley Baily was going to be Ariel, my concerns subsided a little; still, I was not quite sure what Disney had in store. Soon enough, I found myself at a press screening fully immersed in the film. To say I enjoyed it would be an understatement. Let’s get into what I loved about this beautiful film.
Bailey as Ariel was endearingly beautiful; her performance nothing less than magical. She embodied every bit of the character that I loved growing up, even down to her body language. Specifically, there was something about the overhead shots of her facial expression as she dreamed of the world on land that moved me. I felt her need to be a part of the world above.
Of course, she killed the singing parts. Her voice was smooth, elegant, and moving…just as anticipated. I’m pretty sure the soundtrack will get tons of streams because of her. Much credit is due, though, to the music composers as the arrangement was amazing. It’s no surprise that producer Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of Broadway’s “In The Heights” and “Hamilton“) had a hand in that.
Daveed Diggs gave a commendable performance as Sebastion. He was most notably funny when his character interacted and sang with Scuttle, voiced by Awkwafina. The song performances were enjoyable, but for some reason, the original performance by Samuel E. Wright just holds a special place in my heart. I might be a little biased because I watched the movie several times growing up, probably too many times to count. Wright’s performance was so amazing that Disney gave him his own concert.
Awkafina’s Scuttle was hilarious and just as good as the original performance. In my opinion, she made the lovably annoying character that much more charismatic. She was one of the funniest in the film.
Javier Bardem played a convincing King Triton, but I wasn’t surprised since he masters pretty much any role he plays. He brought the right amount of strength and regalness to the role of King Triton, very much resembling that of the original Triton from the animated feature. There was wonderful father-daughter chemistry between him and Halle.
Melissa McCarthy continues to impress me with her more serious performances. She was menacing, manipulative, and nothing less than exceptional as the evil Ursula. I was quite impressed with her musical number. Combined with the special effects and make-up, she was convincingly scary. Her evil laugh was something that stuck out to me and really brought home how evil Ursula truly is.
I did enjoy the other characters (including Eric and Flounder), but the side character I liked most was Sir Grimsly, played by Art Malik. Malik’s performance was warm and loving. He gave off the feeling that Grimsly was heavily invested in Eric’s happiness. I also saw him as a surrogate dad and mentor, which Eric needed.
I must applaud the costume design for this film. The various color schemes and patterns used to represent each mermaid and each person on land were awesome. I particularly liked the costume of Ariel’s Sister, Tamika (played by Sienna King). Her outfit was exceptionally beautiful with an orange and blue pattern. Plus, she had natural big hair, which I loved!
The CGI and special effects were done well. It’s especially difficult when scenes are primarily underwater, but the effects team did a good job. The only gripe I have is that when Ursula grew to her enormous size (as she does in the animated feature), it doesn’t look as aesthetically pleasing. But this scene is one that’d be difficult to pull off for any effects team.
Overall, The Little Mermaid is a captivating and well-crafted film that everyone can enjoy! From the design, music composition, costumes, and acting, this is one of the best live-action films Disney has made. Check out the film with family, friends, and lovers of the childhood classic on Friday, May 26th.
Starring: Zoe Saldana as Gamora, Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord, Bradley Cooper voices Rocket Racoon, Will Poulter as Adam Warlock, Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Dave Bautista as Drax, Karen Gillan as Nebula, Chukwudi Iwuji as The High Evolutionary, and Vin Diesel as Groot.
The Guardians must band together to save the life of one of their own. With the clock ticking, they must journey to various planets and face various powerful foes, all while each character deals with internal obstacles seen in the previous installments.
Is It Worth Watching?
I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have “the feels” while watchingGuardians of the Galaxy Vol.3(GGV3) because, boy, did it have some very emotional moments. Kudos to filmmaker James Gunn for unpacking so much in this film. Although our beloved characters are experiencing a lot personally, the collage of storylines is not overwhelming and, more importantly, won’t leave audiences confused. Let’s go through the good things about this film.
The story focuses on the intelligent and quippy Rocket Raccoon and its origin. We finally gain insight into why Rocket is not only rude at times, but also guarded. Rocket has had some trauma in his life (which has been set up since his introduction). We find out how badly he was manipulated and abused by his creator, The High Evolutionary. Not only will we see Rocket’s past in this film, but we’ll also come to realize just how smart this character is.
For the psychology majors and mental health professionals, I am sure the characters are of interest as the trauma and grief of Rocket and Peter Quill are explored in depth. We see Peter is still struggling to get over the death of Gamora and coping with the rejection of the alternate version of Gamora (the newest member of the Ravagers). Quill spends most of his time trying to convince the alternate version of Gamora that they once were lovers all while the team goes on an adventure to save Rocket.
More character depth is explored with Nebula, as she is no longer the completely guarded and defensive soldier she was once built to be. Although she’s been souped-up with stronger battle gear and more damaging weapons thanks to Rocket, she is now more apt to try understanding the predicament at hand before unleashing her fury.
Drax and Mantis continue to bring their fun banter and chemistry displayed in the highly praised Disney Plus Christmas special. While still hilarious, they also show some growth as characters. These are actually my two favorite characters (outside of Groot) because of their funny dialogue. At times, I did think that Drax was leaning too much into comedy and displaying less of the menacing, stoic persona we see in the comics, but this version works for him in the cinematic MCU.
The High Evolutionary is one of the top villains in the MCU because of his power and his no-nonsense attitude toward his work. This character is so powerful that he created worlds and populations of people; he is basically a god with a lust for perfection. He created Adam Warlock who, despite exhibiting some characteristics of a man-child, looks to be one of the most powerful beings in the MCU. Although I was not expecting the overpowered version of Adam Warlock seen in the comics, I was expecting more from this character. Adam is not in many scenes, but when he is on screen, his presence is felt with all his power and desire to please his creator. But I still felt the character didn’t have the same gravitas he does in the comics and needed to be, in my opinion, more insightful and less of an immature henchman. I would like to see if the MCU will bring Adam to his peak level as seen in the comics. It’d be nice to see if he could be effective against the Celestials.
This film had one of the best melee fighting scenes in Marvel history; there were double-team moves that were nothing short of exciting to watch. One of the best badassery moments came from Gamora when she went ape sh*t on some giant aliens.
The CGI work was proficient, and the wacky worlds that the Guardians visit are both colorful and filled with cool visuals. The most unique of them all was the alternate earth that The High Evolutionary made. It consisted of anthropomorphic animals that mimicked behaviors exhibited on planet Earth.
This emotional and fulfilling final film of the franchise, Guardians Vol.3, is a good out for James Gunn and the actors that play the colorful rag-tag bunch. With an open story arch for all of the characters, it will be interesting to see where their journey takes them and if any of the characters will be involved in the upcoming Secret Wars or the next installment of The Avengers. Given the amount of trauma and emotional obstacles that some of the characters had to overcome, the film release date was quite appropriate as we’re now smack in the middle of Mental Health Awareness Month. Although the first Guardians of the Galaxy is the best of the franchise (in my opinion), this film comes in second as the next best installment. With its Rotten Tomatoes score of 92% and 92% audience score, this film is no doubt worth watching. Check out Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in theaters today.
Warning: this film does contain some language not suitable for children.
Release June 7 2023 | Vol35 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of AfroTravel! Each volume is a tabletop collector’s item and Vol35 is no different! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @_sirenn, @anoobisrising, and @avlonilerose by photographer @theonewillfocus with team @__brushqueen, @ikaika_dboneslark, @adornedintaji, and @egyptbuck. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “Chevalier’s Ronke Adekoluejo Explains What Women Helped Inspired Her Role” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight, HËS is Making Music that Inspires; our highlighted Hair Feature, Hair Architect Arlene Martin; “How To Travel When Your Budget Says “Chill” by dCarrie; “Nikki Porcher Believes Black Women Deserve to Tell Their Stories” by Nantale Muwonge; Our Vol 35 contributed photo story, “AfroTravel;” Fitness Highlight, Calais Campbell gives his best on and off the NFL field; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Rolled Oyster Mushroom Tacos; Featured Art Piece by Will Focus; Comic Book Appreciation with REFUGE by Bill Campbell of Rosarium Publishing; “Durand Bernarr is Giving Us Real R&B w/ New Song Leveled” by Clair Daniels; Black Business Highlights; and more!!
Taji Mag is the epitome of ‘Cultural Drip’ – elevating Black brands, narratives, and imagery to new levels of Black Excellence. We embody the traditional and modern royalty of OUR people via our quarterly digital and print publication and live events.
If you’ve been watching this season of NBC’s The Voice, I’m sure you’ve been as happy as we have to witness the artistry that is Cait Martin. Cait’s voice is both powerful and heavenly. Even though I have full faith that Cait will keep advancing round after round, I still hold my breath when she performs.
Cait was a 4-chair turn in The Blinds, beat out her opponent in the Battles, and gracefully slayed during the Knockouts with her rendition of Whitney Houston’s “All The Man That I Need”. Yes, I just said Whitney Houston. That shows you the level of mastery she has.
Will Focus [WF]: I’m just going to start by first saying congratulations, and I want to see how it made you feel just making it to the Playoffs on The Voice.
Cait Martin [CM]: This whole experience, every round you make it past, just kind of blows your mind because the talent is so high and you don’t know what they’re looking for. Ultimately, I feel like it comes down to just preference and who the coach wants to represent them as you get closer and closer to the final. You can sing your butt off, but that might not necessarily be what they’re looking for. So every time you make it further in the show, it’s really just kind of an amazing, blessed feeling.
WF: That’s awesome. Do you have any specific piece of advice that’s helped you excel to this level in the competition? Anything you would give anybody.
CM: This past round has really taught me to trust my gut and my instincts in who I am as a performer. You kind of have to stop saying, okay, well, I wonder what they want or [what] I have to do. You have to just try your best to be your most authentic self and present that because you already know you’re a good singer. You already know you’re going to be a hard worker. It’s just about figuring out how to authentically present yourself the best you can every round, so you have no regrets.
WF: How long do you feel it took for you to realize that component of what you just advised?
CM: I think it took me to get to the Knockout round. I knew I wanted to do something different and something that I could emotionally connect with for my Blind audition. With your battles the next round, you don’t get a say in the song that you choose, so you have to kind of find a way to not only bring yourself to that but also be able to bend and move and shift because you’re singing a duet with somebody else at the same time. So being malleable in that way. By the time I got to the knockouts, I knew I wanted to perform something that was going to just stand out on its own. And I got “All the Man I Need” by Whitney Houston. As I was preparing with that song, I went through so many different times where I was second-guessing myself and I had to really dig into myself and find out, okay, who am I going to be as an artist? I’m not going to be somebody that’s out here trying to sound like Whitney Houston. How can I bring Caitlin Martin to this iconic Whitney Houston song? And that’s really when I started to feel the shift in stepping into my own identity as a performer.
WF: So I actually have another question that’s related to something you just said, like in the blinds. Chance mentioned that your tones, especially your lower register, were reminiscent of Whitney’s. So did he plant that seed for your knockout performance of Whitney’s “All the Man That I Need”?
CM: Well, I’ve kind of known that a little bit about myself because Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, these great vocalists, are who I grew up listening to with my parents. So I kind of have picked up little nuances and inflections and things like that in my voice luckily was able to lend itself to as I grew and matured. So I’ve always wanted to have the opportunity to sing a Whitney Houston song and the fact that I got this one, it was like a little bit of foreshadowing, but I didn’t even know it was going to be able to happen when I got given this one. So it was definitely a really cool moment.
WF: Awesome. So 4 chair turn, right? For you, what solidified you choosing Kelly as your coach? Like, was it the jacket or your mom yelling Kelly from backstage? I’m just kidding, lol. But on a serious note, what was it that made you make that decision?
CM: Well, before we even have the opportunity to get out there to L.A., they ask us – because we don’t know who the coaches are going to be until we get out there and we’re rehearsing our songs and we’re doing everything so, we know for sure it’s going to be Blake because he’s always there, except this is his last season (lol). But we didn’t know that we were going to be having Kelly return. We didn’t know that we were getting two brand-new coaches that had never been on the show before. So they asked if you could have any coach, out of all the coaches who’ve ever been on The Voice, who would you want? And I said, oh, my God, Kelly Clarkson because I see myself in her career. She has the ability to take her voice and adapt it to so many different genres, and so many different types of music, and I wanted to be mentored by someone that would be able to help me kind of go down that same path. So having her not only be an option for me but being the first person to turn within a matter of seconds, I’m like, I got to go with my girl Kels.
WF: How important was that quick chair turn when you saw it? How important was that for you?
CM: The confidence in me wanted to be like, yeah, you got this! (lol) But I didn’t want to let that get to my head at all. So I kind of couldn’t even look at her. I had to look past her, and I’m like, just stick with the song. Stay in the moment, stay present, whatever else happens. Because after that, it’s like, no matter if nobody else turns around, you at least have one, right? You’re on the show. You have the opportunity to be able to do more. So just looking past her, but then I felt the chairs turn around and the audience cheers every time a chair turns around, and I’m like, Dang, everybody okay!
WF: All right. Let’s dial it back a little further. What is the feeling as you start to walk out? I want you to just explain that to me as you’re walking out onto that stage for the very first time, knowing what this could potentially mean to you and who you could connect with, what is that feeling as you’re about to walk out? What is the conversation you have maybe with your mom beforehand or with yourself as you’re entering that stage?
CM: Well, when you’re standing there waiting for those doors to open, you have a producer come and talk you through it. Make sure that you’re feeling confident, make sure that you’re feeling focused, and they help to remind you of why you’re doing this. Remember why you’re here, and channel your motivations and your inspiration as you’re about to get out there on stage. I know you’re nervous, but they said, we wouldn’t put you here if we didn’t think that you could do it. So walking out on the stage, you look straight across, and on the other side of the stage, I had my parents, so being able to see them gave me this kind of sigh of relief before I turned forward and saw the chairs and steadied myself to get ready to sing.
WF: That’s awesome. So in terms of impressions, what do you want to leave on those who you impress upon in terms of who you are, and who they see? What’s the lasting impression you’d like to leave on the hearts of America?
CM: That you can go for your dreams with kindness. You don’t have to compromise who you are as a person. You don’t have to compromise your integrity if you’re willing to work hard and be authentic to who you are as a person.
WF: Regarding your Whitney performance, how important is it to be still and in the moment with a performance like that?
CM: That was definitely the scariest of the three performances that I’d done thus far in the competition. That song is a beast because Whitney is a beast. She is channeling not only so many different types of emotions that she’s trying to convey in the song, but vocally. She’s using every register of her voice in that song. She’s using dynamics. She’s using her range. And I’m like, how can I make a version of this song that’s just as impactful and meaningful without singing? Like, I’m trying to copy Whitney because she’s incomparable. Nobody’s going to be able to sound like Whitney but I wanted to take the essence of what she put into that song and find a way to do it justice. It was a big moment but honestly, after I sang, I felt really proud because of the journey that I had to take to get to that moment with that song.
WF: Let Me commend you, I’m a big Whitney fan. So I watched your performance a couple of times when you did that song specifically and I think it’s interesting because Reba, when she realized the song you were about to do, she said, that’s a big thing! Anytime you hear someone is about to perform Whitney, you’re like all right, that’s a huge undertaking, are they going to live up to those expectations? In that moment you appeared to be yourself covering a Whitney song, I didn’t hear Whitney but I heard her capabilities. I heard the tone of your voice, performing with the skill set that she has which is huge.
CM: Wowww… That’s a big compliment.
WF: It was an amazing performance, but I think the most quality part of your performance was your ability to command the stage without having to move around the stage. A lot of the people who had large voices who became icons in our past, they’re able to command the stage with just their presence and their voice alone, there isn’t a lot of theatrics. Their voice actually creates those theatrics. It was an amazing performance, for me you became an instant favorite because of that performance. You hold your own in terms of making sure you stay true to yourself. So I just wanted to give you your flowers on that. That was amazing.
CM: Wow, thank you for that. I haven’t had anyone be able to articulate what they appreciated about the performance in that way and that’s honestly what I was trying to convey. I was most nervous that people would, like you said, say ‘oh she’s gonna sing a Whitney Houston song’ and compare me to somebody just trying to sound like Whitney or try to imitate her. And I really wanted to bring myself to her song and for you to be able to see that – it really means a lot.
WF: You did amazing. From the way you started and then when you pulled that mic away and walked and started performing – amazing you did exactly what it was you set out to do.
CM: Oh man, thank you! I asked for the mic stand actually.
WF: Oh did you?
CM: I was like I’m going to need y’all to give me a stand for this one. Just give me a moment and let me just sing.
WF: I’m thankful that you’re on the show and you’re doing a great job. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. If there are any last words you want to give to someone who is coming up who is a singer, who isn’t so sure about themselves, what can you tell them that might help them pave the way for themselves?
CM: Trust yourself. Do the work that it takes to find yourself as an artist, don’t try to be anyone else. Take the things you love about music, and your favorite artists, figure out why you love those things, figure out how you can make those things your own, and bring something uniquely you to your performance. That’s going to be the thing that sets you aside for success.
Cait Martin has spent years performing and traveling as a theatrical vocalist on tours and cruise ships. In 2019, Cait got a call that her sister Jaimie collapsed at work from a pulmonary embolism. She rushed home to be by her side, but Jaimie died a few days later at the age of 32. Cait lost her lust for life and spent more than a year living at home with her parents and turned inward. Slowly, she came out of her sadness when she realized singing was her gift that brings joy to others. Cait is currently doing voiceover work and musicals and creates original music on the side.
Follow Cait Martin’s journey on Instagram at @caitmartinsings and be sure to vote for her when the Playoffs are live on NBC’s The Voice.
Synopsis: Inspired by the incredible story of composer Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. The illegitimate son of an African slave and a French plantation owner, Bologne (Kelvin Harrison Jr. in a tour de force performance) rises to improbable heights in French society as a celebrated violinist-composer and fencer, complete with an ill-fated love affair and a falling out with Marie Antoinette (Lucy Boynton) and her court.
Many names come to mind when influential and famous composers are mentioned, but there are some artists whom you rarely if ever, hear about. One of these artists is Joseph Bologne and Chevalier de Saint-Georges. He was a musician and composer who swooned French audiences with his work. What makes Bologne even more interesting is that he was of mixed race and from the then-French colony of Guadeloupe. Searchlight Pictures has brought the story of Bolonge to life in the upcoming film Chevalier, written by Stefani Robinson (Atlanta, What We Do in the Shadows) and directed by Stephen Williams (Lost, The Watchmen). A compelling story about a multi-talented artist who took Europe by storm.
Becoming the Director
Williams admitted that the script written by Robinson immediately blew him away. “I felt blessed and had the good luck to be the recipient of the offer to make this film,” Williams said.
With some of Bologne’s work destroyed by the French government and lost over the years, Williams and Robinson had little to work with. “There were gaps in the story that we had. We tried using our imaginations to [bring to life] his subjective point of view or what we imagined his point of view to be. We tried to walk with him through the course of his life. Our interest was not necessarily being bound by fact but more by truth, which is not necessarily the same thing”, Williams explained.
In a previous Toronto Film Festival interview, Williams mentioned that Joseph’s story is relatable to some creatives today in entertainment. Williams said, “Let me just say that when I read the script, part of what was interesting to me was obviously an opportunity to tell an entertaining story, but also to introduce viewers to a character, a historical figure, and a time period that maybe they weren’t familiar with. On another level, it felt really personal to me. Joseph Bologne was from a Caribbean island, Guadeloupe, and made his way to Europe as a young man. I was born in Jamaica and went to England as a young man. My life story, I felt, totally identified with some aspects of Joseph’s life story, which were very personal. I can recognize much of the trajectory of his life in my own. A reflection of my own experiences. Sure, the story happened in the mid-1700s in Paris, but it felt like it could have been happening today, minus the wigs and the costumes”.
Working with Kelvin Harris
Kelvin Harris Junior is being dubbed one of the most talented young Black actors of our time. Williams had nothing but praise about the young talent. “Yeah, I mean, Kelvin is just a fantastic talent. He’s just, you know, he’s a really intuitive actor. He first has to feel that person’s reality… He imagined what it, you know, what it could be. All the violin bowing that you see in the movie, that’s Kelvin. The fencing that you see is Kelvin. There are no tricks, no CGI, and no stunt doubles. It’s all Kelvin. And all of that is a product of the immense dedication and hard work he brought to tackling this role”, Williams explained.
He continued, “We wanted to honor and respect the period in which the story took place but then also open it up tonally so that it felt contemporary at the same time. So it didn’t feel like a stuffy period piece, you know? It didn’t feel like Masterpiece Theater. It felt like something that was vital and energetic and kinetic and felt of now even though it was taking place in pre-revolutionary France. Calibrating that balance was tricky.”
For portraying people of color in France, director Williams said, “France had a number of colonies at that time, right? And again, in ways that reflect much of what happens today. A lot of people of African descent, from the diaspora, from the colonies, made their way to France and made their way to Paris. So much so that the character you see portrayed in the fencing scenes is a real guy whose real concern at the time was that too many people of African descent were making their way into Paris. They’re undocumented. We need to have a census to get a handle on how many of these people there are so that we can ultimately send them back from whence they came”.
Williams explained, “if that doesn’t strike you as being contemporary, then nothing in the movie will. There were a lot more people of African descent in Paris than is normally acknowledged in cultural output at that time. And it was imperative that Joseph’s mother, Nanon (played by Ronke Adekoluejo), a formerly enslaved woman from Guadeloupe, would make that connection with that community in Paris and use that strength to help inform him.”
When asked what he thinks people will get from this film, director Stephen Williams explained, “You know, hopefully the audience is entertained because it’s an entertaining story. Joseph’s life was lived on a grand operatic scale. The music is dope; hopefully, people leave the movie having learned something about somebody they never knew before”.
Starring: Keegan-Michael Key as Toad, Khary Payton as Penguin King, Chris Pratt as Mario, Charlie Day as Luigi, Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach, and Jack Black as Bowser aka King Koopa
Synopsis: Based on the iconic Nintendo video game that debuted in September of 1985, brothers Mario and Luigi journey from New York to the Mushroom Kingdom to stop the ruthless King Koppa and his goons.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a good watch for not just fans of the video games, but also families who simply love wholesome fun. From the film’s start, audiences are treated with easter eggs from the franchise; even the opening theme from the popular Mario Bros Super Show is reimagined in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. It also paid tribute to extended Mario Bros games like Mario Cart, Luigi’s Mansion, and the arcade classic Donkey Kong. I definitely had flashbacks of my younger years of game-playing with side-scrolling two-player modes. The directors and crew understood the assignment for this film, and I’m glad they took their time to put together a quality project. No, The Super Mario Bros. Movie won’t win an Academy Award for Best Screen Play, but it is entertaining.
I enjoyed the world-building and beautiful visuals that brought the scenes to life. The editing team should certainly be commended for the effort made to bring the audience into the various worlds. I was especially pulled into the vibrant and fun Mushroom Kingdom.
The ‘power-ups’ was one aspect of the film that kept me on the edge of my seat because, just like in the game, the characters were not sure what power they’d received. Seeing the ‘power-ups’ on screen also brought me joy because I always wondered what they would look like outside of what the 90s live action film portrayed.
Mario and Luigi
When the announcement of Chris Pratt voicing Mario was met with unfavorable posts, the popular opinion on Twitter and other social media platforms was that the film wouldn’t be well-received. Unlike the fiasco surrounding ‘Ugly Sonic’, Pratt’s voice acting fits the character. The film even pokes fun at the voice of Mario to let the audience know that the writers and directors heard the rumblings on social media.
Charlie Day as Luigi was a great fit as well. Unfortunately, his screen time was not as long as Mario’s. After giving Mario the time needed to explore the new world in and outside of the Mushroom Kingdom, the movie could’ve run the risk of being too long had Luigi’s character been explored further. I’m a fan of Charlie Day, so I guess that’s why I wanted to hear more of his character, but it works here. Perhaps we’ll see a Luigi spinoff/sequel in the future.
I liked how the film portrayed Mario’s and Luigi’s families; they were all funny and gave the audience an idea of the brothers’ upbringing. Their father’s criticism of their aspirations does help push them and give them a little more motivation. It allows the audience to sympathize with the characters who are striving to achieve their goals. I’m sure we can all relate to that somehow.
Now just in case you are worried you wouldn’t hear Mario’s “Yipppeee!”, rest assured you will! The film has excellent sound engineering as the sound effects you grew up listening to from the games are heavily featured in this film.
Toad, Princess, and Donkey Kong
Keegan-Michael Key voiced Toad, the first to befriend Mario once he arrives in the magical world. His voice was altered in the film so it’s barely recognizable, but he had some funny scenes. I was hoping for a little more from the comedic genius, but given the character, it makes sense that he didn’t have too much screen time.
Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach was well cast, but I felt that some of the mysteries about her origin could’ve been explored more. I have a few unanswered questions.
I was not sure how Donkey Kong (voiced by Seth Rogen) would fit into this film, but he served as a frenemy for Mario. He is powerful and arrogant but good hearted…kind of reminds me of Johnny Bravo but as an ally for Mario and Princess Peach. Now that I have seen the film I think Rogen was the best pick for the character. The director even uses Rogen’s signature laugh to add to the character’s personality.
Khary Payton, Y’all!
Some of you know voice-over veteran Khary Payton, known for his work as Teen Titans‘ Cyborg and Young Justice’s Aqualad. His dialogue is minimal in the film, but just enough to satisfy his fans. In this project, he voiced the Penguin King. You can catch some of his dialogue in the current trailers on Youtube, but you’ll have to watch the film to get the full effect. If there is a sequel or spin-off, they should definitely bring his character back. Fingers crossed.
Bowser the Bad Ass
Jack Black as the voice of Boswer aka King Koopa was perfectly cast. He stood out as the menacing antagonist with a soft spot for Princess Peach. Of course, random singing solos by the shelled fire-breathing villain had me cracking up because, duh, it’s Jack Black! This version of Bowser is intentionally cartoony to balance out his sinister deeds, unlike the version played by Dennis Hopper in the 90s. Trust me when I say that I like Dennis Hopper as an actor, but the portrayal was awful and I credit that to the writing.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is SO worth watching, I may go back this weekend for a second viewing to see if I missed anything! It’s a hysterical, satisfying, and nostalgic good time. I am unsure if a sequel is necessary, but I am interested in a spin-off for Donkey Kong. See The Super Mario Bros. Movie in theaters on April 5th, 2023.
Starring: Teyana Taylor as Inez da la Paz, Aaron Kingsley Adetola as Terry (6 years old), Aven Courtney as Terry (13 years old), Josiah Cross as Terry (17 years old), and William Catlett as Lucky
Synopsis: A fiercely unapologetic and loyal Inez kidnaps her son, Terry, from the foster care system. Mother and son set out to reclaim their sense of home, identity, and stability in a rapidly changing New York City.
Worth noting: A Thousand and One is a Sundance Film Festival U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize winner.
A.V. Rockwell created colorful and flawed characters who I found myself rooting for as they lived their truths while trying to achieve an ideal life the best way they knew how in an unforgiving city, NYC. Storytelling like this only makes me desire more stories about well-rounded Black characters who flourish despite being a product of their harsh environments.
Outside of the writing and acting in this film, I appreciated how Rockwell incorporated scenic shots of New York, giving the audience an idea of what the characters were truly up against. The tall buildings, busy neighborhoods, and various personalities inhabit the area highlighted in this film.
Teyana Taylor and the Cast
The last time I saw Taylor in a film was Coming 2 America where her role was limited albeit entertaining. Before then, I saw her in Madea’s Big Happy Family where she played the annoying ex-girlfriend of Bow Wow’s character, Byron. During the screening of A Thousand and One, I thought to myself, “wait, is this the same Teyana Taylor?”. I was so impressed with her performance that I couldn’t help but focus solely on her character, Inez, and the barrage of obstacles thrown her way.
Although well-intentioned, Inez’s approach is sometimes questionable and at times illegal. It was interesting to watch Taylor bring this character to life and make her compelling but also believable. When Inez provides life lessons to her son Terry, you can feel her love for him and her desire to give him a better life than she had growing up. It’s certainly not smooth sailing for this troubled mom; at times, you see the character get in the way of her own success. Taylor recently shared with Elle magazine “She (Inez) is so strong, and sometimes she gets in her own way. So you’ll see her almost go there and then hold it in. So I had to dial it back. There were a lot of different techniques that I taught myself to get into this space. It felt like I was on my own pursuit of happiness”.
Taylor’s chemistry on screen with the young actors (Aaron Kingsley Adetola as 6-year-old Terry, Aven Courtney as 13-year-old Terry, and Josiah Cross as 17-year-old Terry) genuinely resembles a mother-and-son relationship. In my opinion, Cross had the best Terry performance because the film’s final act called for a more emotional display, given the big reveal at the end (don’t worry, no spoilers here). It was not only the performance for me, the writing was incredibly impactful.
Actor William Catlett plays Lucky, Inez’s boyfriend. He serves as a father figure to her son and provides guidance on how to manage daily as a young Black man in a world that is bound to stereotype him. Although his methods and delivery are not considered ideal, the messages are clear and understood by young Terry. I loved how the Lucky character tried his best to change his life after incarceration. Catlett, as Lucky, knocked this portrayal out of the park and is honestly one of the most underrated actors I’ve seen in a while. I hope to see his career continue to flourish.
Taylor deserves genuine applause for her role in this film. I think it should serve as proof that she CAN pull off the role of Dionne Warwick in an upcoming project. The verdict on Black Twitter is that she surely can! Even the icon herself has mentioned she would love the artist to portray her. The direction and writing of Rockwell gives film lovers a taste of the future of storytelling that Black people and POC can be proud of. A Thousand and One shows the complicated dynamics of a mother’s love which is 100% worth watching.
Synopsis: Dom (David Jonsson) and Yas (Vivian Oparah) bond over an eventful day in South London after discovering they are both recovering from bad breakups.
Would I recommend it?
Yes! This 2023 Sundance Film Festival selection checks all the boxes for a good rom-com movie, especially with the acting chops showcased by David Jonsson and Vivian Oparah. The tone and pacing of the film felt appropriate, I was at no point thrown off. Although their experience together took place in one day, it did feel like they had this journey over the course of at least a few days.
I have not been to South London, but from the looks of it, it is an excellent place to visit. This is all based on the amount of scenic exposure the director gives the audience. The environment looked spectacular. He did a good job of sucking the viewer into the locale. You almost feel like you’re there yourself.
The film pays tribute to the music of the ’70s, ’80s, and ‘90s with songs from each of these eras. I personally commend this because I love music from those periods. The nostalgia rushed over me when I heard back-to-back hit tracks during a backyard bbq scene.
I loved the chemistry between Jonsson and Oparah in this film. The dialogue between the two (including non-verbal cues) had me rooting for them to end up an item. Each brought the best out of the other, from the shy and broken Dom to the free-spirited yet delicate Yas. I haven’t felt this since Dwayne and Whitley from A Different World. I also enjoyed the lead characters’ interaction with the other personas in the film. For example, to me, the funniest moment was when Yas’ ex’s family appeared. They didn’t have much screen time but quickly had me laughing since they reminded me of my family hangouts. There was a sense of relatability that made this flick feel nostalgic.
Jonsson is already ascending in stardom, but I can for sure see Oparah as another rising star whom I wouldn’t mind watching in more projects. Oparah undoubtedly wins over the audience with her charming and fun personality.
What stands out in this film is how Allen-Miller uses color palettes and visuals to set the scene’s tones. For example, during flashbacks, the director uses darker purples and blues when a character reveals a heartbreaking story. The director cleverly sets up these flashbacks like stage plays where the characters are in the audience along with the movie’s viewers watching these memories play out. It’s one of my favorite things about the film; if I had to compare it to a style, I would say it resembles Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You”. I look forward to seeing more work from Allen-Miller and witnessing her career flourish as she becomes a household name.
Initially, I did not understand why the art gallery at the end featured portraits of naked butts, but as I thought about it further, I realized that the beginning of the film featured pictures of people’s mouths in the art gallery. I wonder if this is supposed to be symbolic of moving from start to finish as the viewer is introduced to the mouth in the film’s opening and then as we exit the film, we are shown bare naked bums. Clever.
This is one of the best rom-com I’ve seen in a while! If you loved Brown Sugar, Love and Basketball, or Love Jones, Rye Lane is a film definitely worth your time. I can just about guarantee it’ll be added to your list of top Black rom-coms. With loveable characters, creative cinematography, and a heart-warming love story, Rye Lane is one of my favorite films of 2023 thus far.
“Grand Crew” season two is here, and it is funnier than season one within just the first few episodes! As anticipated, the first episode continues to explore Noah’s (Echo Kellum) relationship with Simone (Ashleigh Morghan) while the others continue to navigate love and life. Grand Crew is something we all can connect with, responsible(?) adulting while having friends to help us along the way.
One of the cliffhangers from last season that all the viewers have been discussing over Twitter was the relationship status of Fay (played by Grasie Mercedes) and Anthony (played by Aaron Jennings). Will they be lovers or remain friends? Queue up Usher’s “Lovers and Friends.” We won’t know until it’s revealed. While we wait for the story to unfold, Taji Mag interviewed Mercedes and Jennings about their characters, the best relationship advice they’ve gotten, and more.
Auria (for Taji Mag): What was your reaction to the show getting greenlit?
Grasie Mercedes: I was ecstatic! To be able to do it again, I mean, as an actor, it’s a miracle to even get on a show in the 1st place. And then to get the show picked up from pilot to 1st season, from 1st season to 2nd season, you’re just grateful for each time that you get to do the job.
Aaron Jennings: Yeah, I’m just so happy we got to run it back. I love all of my castmates and all the crew as well; so to get to go to work and have fun with people that you love on a SHOW that you love feels very important for the world to have right now. I was definitely just ecstatic and felt very blessed.
Auria: Let’s dive a bit into the story of the show. Why do you think it’s so hard for your characters (Fay & Anthony) to be honest about their feelings? (They briefly argue over who will answer 1st to which Gracie says, “this is part of the problem lol”)
GM: I think it’s just real life, ya know? Sometimes it’s hard to be vulnerable, say how you feel, and admit how you feel. And then I think there’s an extra layer of, like, when you have a friend that you have feelings for, if you go for that, what happens if it doesn’t work out. Then you’re risking that friendship. And so, I think they’re both kind of in their heads about what this is, what this could be, and I think for Fay, she’s a little nervous [about] even getting involved, especially after the last episode where Anthony tells her that he and Talia broke up because of her. She doesn’t want that, she doesn’t want that life.
Auria: I’m glad that you mentioned the friendship aspect because that leads me to my next question. In your opinion, can two people return to being friends after dating?
AJ: I mean, I think they can. It just presents its own problems, right? I’ll say in the past I’ve dated one friend in particular and afterward we were still the best of friends. That’s not always the case, it takes two very mature people to be able to navigate that, but it’s possible. It’s definitely not easy, but it’s possible. Grasie, what sat you?
GM: I meeeean, I don’t know, I think it’s possible to stay friendly. I don’t know if it’s possible to stay friends like you were beforehand because I do think things can get complicated. But maybe I can be proven wrong, I don’t know. I think it depends on the people.
Auria: Thank you for that. Season 2 I was even funnier than season 1! What do you think is the key to the show’s success?
GM: We have an incredible writer’s room led by Phil Augusta Jackson (that’s the creator), and there’s just really really funny people who are great story tellers. I think THAT on top of the cast (we have really funny people in our cast), it’s all kind of gelled together to be even better this season.
AJ: I think the more time you have together within a show, you hope that over time the synergy just starts to really form. And I think that’s what’s happened with our show in particular. You just get more stabs at it, more times at bat. And it really helps you start to find your groove. I think we’re in a nice rhythm right now and have hit a nice stride.
Auria: How was shooting season 2 different from the first?
AJ: It went by so quickly. It went by so fast. It was still a lot of fun, a lot of laughs, even more laughs if you could believe it, but it just shot by. I feel like the 1st season…it felt a lot longer, and not that we weren’t having fun, it just felt longer…this season just blew by. I blinked and it was gone. I wish we had more opportunity to work together, so hopefully, we get a season 3 and we’ll [be able to] do that.
Auria: I also hope you get a season 3! We’re going to get just a little bit personal right now. There are a lot of relationship things happening in this series. What is the best dating advice you’ve ever received? I’d love for both of you to answer this, so whoever wants to go first, jump in.
GM: I’m dating right now, and I will say I’ve gotten good advice from Aaron who is in a nice long-term committed relationship. But specifically, to me, he’s like “relax”. He’s always telling me to relax. And I think part of me wants to be like “f*ck you, Aaron” and then part of me is like “no, you’re right”. I think I was in a relationship for so long (I was in a relationship for 14 years and I’ve only been single for the last two years), that dating sometimes feels very anxiety ridden. You don’t know what people are thinking, and “how does this work”, and I think it really is kind of important to sit back, take a breather, and relax, take it day by day, don’t take everything so damn personally. We all have our lives, we all have a lot going on. But it’s definitely tricky dating, especially in this age when everyone’s on their phone 24/7 and people are on apps and social media. So yeah, that’s good advice I got recently.
AJ: You’re welcome, Grasie lol. I think communication is key. It’s important to just really let the other party know where you’re coming from at all times. I think when I was dating, as a man, it’s like you hear from a lot of women that they just wish that guys would be more transparent as opposed to leading them on, so to speak. I always try to be as transparent as I possibly could. With that being said though, I think grace is important, too. I think that’s important in all relationships. That sort of lends to what I was saying to Grasie. It’s like we sometimes jump to conclusions about things and maybe you should just try to give that person a little bit of grace because it may not be what you think it is. So, patience and grace, I think, will get you far.
Auria: Alright, patience and grace, I like that very much. I Want to thank you guys again for your time and, just like you said, I’m looking forward to a season 3.
AJ: From your words to God’s ears, thank you.
With the talent of Phil August Jackson, his team, and the stars of the show, it seems Grand Crew has found its footing as a standout sitcom. My hope is that this show will become one of this generation’s best Black sitcoms. So far it’s on the right track! From the improved dialogue to the flourishing chemistry of the cast, Grand Crew looks to have the potential to be greenlit for a season 3 and beyond. As Anthony said, from our words to God’s ears!
Watch Grand Crew season 2 on NBC Fridays at 8:30 pm. Stream past episodes on Peacock.