08Sep/22

Barbarian: An Unconventional, Jaw-Dropping Horror Film With an Ending That Will Piss You Off!

Georgina Campbell as Tess in 20th Century Studios’ BARBARIAN, exclusively on Hulu. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Barbarian

Starring Georgina Campbell, Justin Long, and Bill Skarsgard

After watching the first trailer, I thought to myself, “How in the hell is this film going to turn out and what’s in the basement?” Given that Bill Skarsgård (who played IT, the clown) stars in the film, Barbarian looked like a horror film worth watching. Boy was I right! This film had a bunch of “What in the f*ck!” moments and some really scary stuff in it. 

Let’s start off with Georgina Campbell: I give her two thumbs up as a horror protagonist. Her reactions to certain situations and actions are 100% believable and exactly what you’d expect. Campbell’s awkward chemistry with Skarsgard (Keith) in the Airbnb was spot on. I think two people would be awkward in this situation. With Skarsgard giving all sorts of creepy vibes, all I could yell at the screen is, “Tess baby, what is you doin’ baby?” but then Tess became warmer towards Keith as they both let down their guard and created a safe-feeling environment…well sort of.

I like that Tess was able to make smart decisions like most people would, such as not opening certain doors and staying out of certain areas. But you know it wouldn’t be a horror movie had she kept that same mindset throughout the whole film. Eventually, she let her curiosity get the best of her. 

When asked about how she became a part of the film, Campbell said, “I’ve always really wanted to do a horror film, but I hadn’t come across anything that was right, that I really, really liked. I just loved it. I thought it was fantastic. Then I spoke to Zach, and he was very passionate and knew exactly what he wanted to do and just seemed like he knew what he was doing, and yeah, I was in.” Campbell was right about her selection because this is not your typical horror film; nor does it follow traditional film beats. Her character, Tess, had to figure out how to survive, have sympathy, and learn who to trust. 

Outside of being creepy and awkward, Skarsgard straddles the line of trustworthiness. It works here because I couldn’t tell what the hell was causing the unusual activities in the house on that first night Tess and Keith stayed there. If you want a scary film, put Skarsgard in it! I think after IT, his performances will always fit this genre…or maybe it’s just something in his eyes. 

If you remember Jeepers Creepers, then you should remember Justin Long’s classic clash with an evil demon. Long plays AJ, an actor involved in a rape allegation who needs more money to keep his lawyers on staff. I’m not holding back any words when I say that Keith is a selfish, opportunistic asshole. Long brings a lot of humor to the film as AJ. There were also some moments when I thought he was worse than the villain. With all the flaws of this character, you can’t help but feel bad for him. You don’t want to see him suffer at the hands of the murderer… until the very end when you’re ready for him to suffer the worst death imaginable. Now that’s what I call a switch-up!

Justin Long as AJ in 20th Century Studios’ BARBARIAN, exclusively on Hulu. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2022 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

The set design was amazing. I give much kudos to the crew. From the Airbnb to the rooms in the basement, every environment helped set the tone for each scene. Especially when the characters ventured into the creepy basement, but I won’t give too much away. You’ll have to see for yourself.  

I can not express how awesome the sound design was. For example, as a character walks down a dark hallway, you can hear their increased heartbeat as they approach an unknown area. It had my heart pumping fast. The multiple times the victims tried to evade the killer felt like a thrill ride in the theater. 

Actress Georgina Campbell shares the same sentiments saying the experience was “just incredible.” She further explained, “The set design was just amazing. It was all set on a sound stage for the interiors. And just walking into the Airbnb, it was incredible because it looks just like an Airbnb would. It’s got that Airbnb feel, where everything’s probably from Ikea. It’s all not quite got a personality, really. But yeah, so I just thought that was amazing. And then once we go downstairs into the basement, it was very easy to get lost in the scenes because everything felt and looked really real.”

Director/Writer Zach Cregger’s flashbacks in the film were unique and provided enough information to know the motivation of the antagonist. It’s interesting how he developed the idea for this film. He explained, “I had read a book called The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. There was a chapter primarily directed towards women, encouraging them to pay attention to these little minor red flags that men can give off in day-to-day situations. They can be very innocuous things that you might not notice. Things like complimenting you when it’s not necessarily appropriate or doing you a favor that you didn’t ask for or touching in a nonsexual way that’s not initiated by you, all these little things that seemingly don’t matter. He was basically saying [that’s] the gift of fear. It’s important to pay attention to these little red flags because you’re equipped with that to identify potential threats.”

Once the villain and its origin are revealed, the film heads into a series of chases, fights, and what the f*cks, but ends in an unexpected way. You’ll want to catch this film! And when you do, please leave a comment below on your thoughts. 

Watch Barbarian on September 6th, 2022 in theaters everywhere.

07Sep/22

Writer Kwame Kwei-Armah on His New Film“Breaking” and Making the World a Better Place

John Boyega as Brian Brown-Easley

Breaking Writer Kwame Kwei-Armah on His New Film and Making the World a Better Place

Starring: John Boyega, Nicole Beharie, and Michael K. Williams
Directed by: Abi Damaris Corbin
Written by: Kwame Kwei-Armah and Abi Damaris Corbin
Release Date: 08/26/2022

What happens when a veteran tries to make an honest living for his family but faces financial issues due to a mistake the government made? In the case of Brian Brown-Easley in the film Breaking, he asked to have his due of $892 returned from the government by holding up a bank. This sad and true story was well crafted by the writing team of Kwame Kwei-Armah and Abi Damaris Corbin in the new film “Breaking“. Taji Mag was able to discuss the writing process with Armah and get his thoughts on the project.

DDF: What was the writing process for this beautiful and emotional film?

Kwame Kwei-Armah (KKA): Well, first of all, thank you for your kind words. It means a lot. I was sent the article about Brian Brown-Easley, titled “They Didn’t Have to Kill Him,” from Abi, the director and co-writer. We knew that if we were going to tell this story together, we had to feel that we did our research as effectively as humanly possible.

So we flew to Atlanta and went to the bank where it happened. We walked from his hotel room to the bank. We walked around the area, we drove around, and we spoke to people who were there on the day of the incident. We spoke to Brian’s ex, but what was most important for us was that we listen to the transcripts of the 9-1-1 operators. So we knew every word that had been said in that room. And there was a draft of this. [It] was 200 pages long…we said the only dialogue we’ll use is the dialogue that was actually said. But it was a bit too long, so we shaped it from there.

DDF: I read in production notes that you both wrote a draft of the film and went through each one line by line. That’s absolutely surgical!

KKA: Abi did the first cut. I did the second cut. Then, from there, we just started cutting things out. We were in there together, shaving and shaving away at the script.

DDF: Were there any moments where you just had to stop and step away to take a break because, emotionally, it was too tough to get through? Especially while doing the research and listening to the transcripts?

Nicole Beharie

KKA: I don’t know if you’ve ever stepped away from your Blackness walking down the street, right? You know there’s no stepping way. If you have the luxury of being a storyteller and you’re telling a story, why? Because you wanna make the world incrementally better. You wanna put a spotlight on something that says “I do this so that people can be seen and people can be heard, and their stories can be heard”. But there’s no stepping away.

DDF: What was your process for developing the supporting characters? There’s no antagonist or protagonist in this film. It’s mostly just people, human beings.

KKA: I love how you frame it because, actually, the system was the antagonist, and that’s always hard to portray. But I think one of the big things [about writing] is that you have to love every character in any narrative you create. And if you don’t love them, you’ve gotta find something in them to love. So, actually, what we found with all of the characters was that everybody was in there, they all had a stake in how to help Brian survive that day, and it doesn’t mean that they weren’t scared. It doesn’t mean that they didn’t know how to do it at some point, but they all tried, and that’s joyous to try and write.

DDF: What song would you use to describe this film?

KKA: What song would you pick? Well, that’s funny. I don’t think there is a song. If there was one, it might be Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” If I had to choose a rap song, it would be Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power.”

DDF: What was Brian’s family’s first reaction to the film?

KKA: I tell you it was one of the most beautiful things when we were with Brian’s wife, John (Boyega), and Abi. I switched on the film and I was really nervous. Then Brian’s wife said she saw her husband. She saw Brian when John started acting on screen, and we were all in tears over it.

DDF: What was one of the happiest moments that you experienced from the set?

KKA: Actually, I didn’t get on set. COVID was around. I was based in London and we couldn’t fly. I couldn’t come back to the states. So Abi was writing this script with me, starting at 10:00 PM LA time and off we would go.

So actually, the happiest moment was when my manager, Max Gohar, and Abi were on set. He had recorded the first slate live. I saw John’s first lines and I was so proud. The movie went forward, and that was the greatest moment for me. It had to be like the greatest award you can ever have as a writer: just to have your craft perfectly said on paper and then on film.

Michael K. Williams

DDF: What do you think people will get out of this film?

KKA: I think the universal thing we’re trying to tap into with this film is that we’re living in times where we’re all breaking a little bit. There are so many walking bombs; maybe our role as citizens is to see people more, hear people more, and help extinguish some of the fires burning inside. And that starts with listening, and that includes systems.

DDF: Is that why you changed the film’s title from 892 to Breaking?

KKA: Yes, kind of. I think part of why I changed the name was because when you sit in the film, you think, “892, I understand it now.” But we were having some problems with people wanting to access the film. Cause they were like “892. What does it even mean? Who cares?” So actually, you write for the maximum audience, not the minimum. So when that came to our attention, we went, “okay, let’s find another name” and Breaking was the name we came up with.

The Review:


Breaking is an emotional and touching film that is slow in pace but carefully detailed. Every moment in the film captures your attention as John Boyega puts on an excellent performance. From mannerisms to dialogue, you can tell Brian was a kind but broken man. At times, I understood the character’s motives and how he tried to control his emotions throughout the whole process. Boyega deserves praise for this compelling performance and hopes it’s worthy of some nominations during award season.

Nicole Beharie also had a compelling portrayal of bank Manager Estel Valerie. Estel, although she feared for her life, wanted to help make things right for Brian and assist him in getting home to his daughter. She could relate as she has a son herself. I like that Estel was brave by ensuring everyone got out before she did. This included her teller Rosa Diaz played by Selenis Leyva, who was very effective during those intense moments.

Breaking was Micheal K. Williams’ last film, and his performance as negotiator Eli Bernard was moving. He put on a quality performance. His relatability to Brian and desire to save his life made me want to keep rooting for him to get Brian out alive. I can believe the disappointment once Brian’s life was ended.

The transitions in the film from past to present were sleek and did not distract from the film’s intention. When Brian flashes back to the past, it frustrated me that he gave his life for a country that refuses to help him stay on his feet.

The film’s tone was solemn and dramatic, but not to the point where I got bored. Just enough to keep me in the moment. The tension was high, which I felt through the acting, sound design, and videography.

The film was well received at the Sundance Film Festival, taking home the “Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast” in the U.S. Dramatic Competition. At that time the film was called “892.”

Breaking is an emotionally compelling film about a man’s fight for what he is owed after sacrificing himself in a war. If you are looking for something beautiful and want something to touch you emotionally, I highly recommend Breaking, playing in a theater near you.

Co-Writer Kwame Kwei-Armah
18Aug/22

She-Hulk: Attorney At Law…Light-Hearted Comedy Exploring Serious Issues

Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer “Jen” Walters/She-Hulk in Marvel Studios’ She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Synopsis: An attorney specializing in superhuman-oriented legal cases. She leads the complicated life of a single 30-something who also happens to be a green 6-foot-7-inch superpowered hulk.

She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is on my list of must-watch Disney+ series right now. Not only does it capture the essence of the character from the comics, but it also explores life issues that most viewers may find relatable. Self-imagery and identity are big in this series. So much so that it reminds me of how Black women are often seen as spectacles and not respected for their talents or contributions. This is something Jennifer Walters, aka She-Hulk (played by Tatiana Maslany), deals with regularly. She wants to live a normal life and be respected by her peers; instead, most people want to see her She-Hulk form due to their admiration for her look and strength…sound familiar? One of the most recent examples is Serena Williams (who recently announced her retirement as one of the greatest tennis players of all time) who’s been body shamed for her physique. She silenced her haters in a 2018 “Harper’s Bazaar U.K.” interview by saying, “People would say I was born a guy, all because of my arms, or because I’m strong. I was different from Venus (Wiliams): she was thin and tall and beautiful, and I am strong and muscular – and beautiful, but, you know, it was just totally different.” We can go further to the 19th century, where Saartjie (Sarah) Baartman, also known as the Hottentot Venus, was enslaved and put on display throughout Europe for her prominent female features. During that time, she was subjected to tons of harassment and objectification. The men ogled and touched her sexually, while women envied her physique. Just like She-Hulk, she was seen as a monster, subjected to endless harassment, and constantly objectified.

Did Marvel stick with the improved CGI? Yes! After the criticism they received from the released trailer, Marvel made some improvements. There are a few moments where the CGI is not as polished, but it doesn’t detract from what is happening in the series. I guess Kevin Feige, President of Marvel Studios, has heard enough from social media and wants to redeem himself with a good show, which is indeed what he has done. The soundtrack for the series is something to be noticed with hits by rap phenom Megan Thee Stallion, keeping in line with the series’ upbeat tone. No room for dramatic or scary tunes here!

(L-R): Mark Ruffalo as Smart Hulk / Bruce Banner in Marvel Studios’ She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

If one could compare this show to anything, think Ally McBeal with superpowers. A modern legal comedy about a woman in her 30s trying to find a work-life balance while trying to manage her personal life. Tatiana Maslany is a perfect fit for this role because her humor and charm embody She-Hulk/Jennifer Walters from the comics. I love that She-Hulk can break the fourth wall and provide commentary about different parts of the series, just like the “Sensational She Hulk” comic series that ran from 1989-1994. That’s around the time I was exposed to She-Hulk when I purchased “Sensational She-Hulk” #31. The fourth wall break also reminds me of Deadpool, which some may argue is a warm-up to the third Deadpool movie. 

The series’ co-stars are all unique and provide interesting dynamics, from her bestie (and paralegal) Nikki Ramos (played by Ginger Gonzaga) to her self-absorbed former employee Dennis “Buck” Bukowski (played by Drew Matthews). All these characters fit well within the She-Hulk universe, making the series colorful and fun. Honestly, if you’re a fan of the violence and grit of Daredevil or The Punisher, this one may not be for you as it focuses more on the courtroom and daily life of Jennifer Walters. Even though it lacks the action of some other Marvel shows, it makes up for it in superb character development and humor. 

(L-R): Mark Ruffalo as Smart Hulk / Bruce Banner and Tatiana Maslany as Jennifer “Jen” Walters/She-Hulk in Marvel Studios’ SHE-HULK: ATTORNEY AT LAW, exclusively on Disney+. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

There are some fun cameos that are important to each episode’s plot and help to lay the foundation for the following episodes. The cameos include Wong from Dr. Strange, Abomination from the Hulk movies, Megan the Stallion, and Smart Hulk, who serves as a mentor to She-Hulk. It has been rumored that Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, is also scheduled to make an appearance. I only had access to the first four episodes, so I cannot confirm it. Jameela Jamil portrays superhuman media influencer Titania whose jealously of She-Hulk leads to an obsessive pursuit of dominance over the heroine. Titania isn’t featured much in the first few episodes, but I’m sure she will serve as a formable adversary for She-Hulk with her super strength. Multi-hyphenate actress and singer Renée Elise Goldsberry plays Mallory, a confident lawyer who is not intimidated by the She-Hulk. I’m interested to see what more Goldsberry brings to this character.

Something I want to point out in the series is that Jennifer Walters can more easily transform than Bruce Banner. Don’t worry; Walters explains how she can accomplish this, which is understandable. What I would like to see is what She-Hulk’s maximum strength looks like. With Hulk more tamed and far from his World Breaker Hulk persona, it would be fun to see a more powerful and less reserved hulk.

Each episode features a hilarious post-credit scene you don’t want to miss. One in particular just had me stuck with my mouth open. I think after its debut, She-Hulk will be green-lit for a season two and will definitely have an audience full of fans of shows from the late 90s. I know I’ll be tuned in for all future episodes. Check out She-Hulk on Disney+ streaming on August 18, with new episodes releasing every Thursday.

12Aug/22

Taji Vol32: Energy

Release Sept 7 2022 | Vol32 of Taji is packed full of Black Beauty & Culture fulfilling its theme of Energy! Each volume is a tabletop collector’s item and Vol32 is no different! This volume’s cover features the #SlayBells of @theblack_nificent by @kundi_da_creative. Gracing the pages are the Editor’s Pick, #BlackLoveConvo: “What Emergency, the Film, Taught Me about the Value of Upbringing” by Dapper Dr. Feel; our Community Spotlight, The Got Damn Sauce; our highlighted Hair Feature with Debra Hare Bey; “Solo Travel: Finding Community In Solo Travel” by dCarrie; “Good Vibes Only is Bad Vibes” by Jashua Sa’Ra; “Conjuring Worlds — Exploring Afrofuturism in Education” by Janelle Naomi; Our Vol 32 contributed photo story, “Energy;” Fitness Highlight, Allyson Felix – Life After Olympic Track Retirement; Vegan Fun with Earth’s Pot’s Chocolate Chip Cookies; “All People Who Are Strategic Are Collecting Intelligence” by M’Bwebe Ishangi, Founder of Cryptowoke Financial Sustainability Movement; “Last Poet Daveed Nelson Re-evolves As Gg4”; Featured Art Piece by Micah BlackLight; Comic Appreciation featuring “Kishi and the Island of Dreams” by AnimeHipHop; Black Business Highlights; and more!!

Purchase your copy now at ‘Shop Taji’!

Taji Mag Vol 32 Energy

Purchase Taji Mag | Vol 32

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.

10Aug/22

“I Am Groot” Is Another Win for Disney Plus

I Am Groot, exclusively on Disney+. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Synopsis: There’s no guarding the galaxy from this mischievous toddler! Get ready as Baby Groot takes center stage in his very own collection of shorts, exploring his glory days growing up—and getting into trouble—among the stars.

I have seen the two Guardians of the Galaxy (GOTG)films at least three times each, but I have watched the clips of Baby Groots dancing on YouTube countless times. He’s adorable, curious, and just all-out entertaining with only saying three words to express himself, “I am Groot.” The Disney Plus series with the same name will be a big win for Disney because it was for me. It has the same concept as the GOTG films, where Groot explores the environment around him and hilariously gets himself into these situations. 

The series consists of five shorts that total 20mins, including the credits. With Vin Diesel reprising the voice of Groot and Bradley Cooper voicing Racoon Rocket.  My favorite short in the series is the one where he dances off with his shapeshifting liquid creature because I like seeing Groot dance. His fierce expressions and impressive moves will have you re-watching it and I won’t be surprised if clips from the series will be trending on social media.

Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) in Marvel Studios’ I AM GROOT exclusively on Disney+. © 2022 MARVEL.

There is no shortage of the CGI budget for the series as everything looks real, from the environment that Groot interacts with down to the textures and detail of Groot’s body. We all know fans will spare no insults or Twitter bashing if the CGI is not quality because we just witnessed the backlash the She-Hulk trailer received, and before that, it was Ugly Sonic.  

If you remember the GOTG II’s opening sequence where Groot is dancing to “Mr. Blue Sky,” which is my favorite part of the film. Where not only is he dancing but chasing a small furry creature as the rest of the Guardians are fighting an eight-legged giant beast, then that is basically what you will get for the series. 

There is not much dialog throughout the series besides Groot saying his infamous phrase. Except for Rocket the Raccoon, who makes an appearance during one of the episodes. But this is a Groot feature that doesn’t rely on the dialogue and mostly focuses on Groot’s reactions and facial expressions. Like the famous cartoon Pink Panther, if some of you old enough to remember? Every episode, Groot will make a mess; the question is, how big of a mess is it? Enough that it drives the other characters crazy, but since he is charming, all is forgiven. 

There are some easter eggs within the series. One is the Alf comic book that Groot uses to make a painting and some of the places where the episodes take place to feature the background of GOTG movies intending to let the audiences know that while the others are fighting or Groot is in his little world staying out of the big frays and more into trouble. 

If you have enjoyed Groot from the GOTG franchise, you will definitely love these series of shorts and can enjoy them with anyone at any age. I am sure Disney + will get a lot of views for “ I Am Groot,” and I will be looking forward to seeing of more shorts after this. Before the release of the GOTG III, tune into Disney + August 10th and watch Groot get into mischief.

05Aug/22

DC League of Super-Pets…Filled with Cute Moments, Lacking Laughs

Dwayne Johnson voices Krypto the Super-Dog, and Kevin Hart voices Ace the Hound.

Synopsis: In DC League of Super-Pets,” Krypto the Super-Dog (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and Superman are inseparable best friends, sharing the same superpowers and fighting crime in Metropolis side-by-side. When Superman and the rest of the Justice League are kidnapped, Krypto must convince a rag-tag shelter pack—Ace the hound (Kevin Hart), PB the potbellied pig, Merton the turtle, and Chip the squirrel—to master their newfound powers and help him rescue the Super Heroes.

When you have Kevin Hart and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as your lead actors, there are a few things you can expect: great chemistry between the two, a big box office turnout, and a bunch of laughs. DC League of Super-Pets continues the chemistry the two stars have shown on-screen in their previous works, Jumanji and CIA. It’s actually the best part of the film, but not enough so to produce the needed laughs to label this film one of their best. I watched this film a second time at an early screening to see how children would react to some of the jokes and funny moments; unfortunately just as I expected, there were only a few laughs from the children in the theater. 

I think the film put much effort into pulling off some cheap laughs, but overall struggled in the humor department. There were some moments that made me smirk and a few times I even chuckled, but mostly because of the turtle with the power of super speed. Merton McSnurtle, played by Natasha Lyonne, had super speed but was literally blind as a bat, pun intended. 

I was impressed with how Johnson and Hart were able to display their acting talents during the more serious moments in the film, especially when Hart’s character explains why his former owners gave him up for adoption. This is not the only time Hart has shown he can deliver a heart left dramatic scene; I remember his performance in Jumanji, where his character, Mouse, had the mind of elderly Milo Walker and reflected on his life. As usual, Johnson was able to bring his charisma to the screen making him the perfect fit for the role of Krypto.

The film features the voices of a star-studded cast including Keanu Reeves as Batman, John Krasinski as Superman, and Jameela Jamil as Wonder Woman. They perform their roles as more kid-friendly versions of the characters, but I would have liked to have seen more of Reeves as Batman because I found the version interesting. 

DC Comics usually have good animated films, so it’s no surprise the story was decent and had good pacing. The film achieved its goal by tying the known DC characters with the pets without overshadowing the featured characters. Mind you, this film is meant for a younger demographic, so I can see children watching it over and over due to the popularity of DC Comics kids animation. Trust me; I have nieces who have all the toys, costumes, and shows/films saved on their iPads. 

The film churned out $23 million over the weekend, $2 million below its $25 million marker. This isn’t surprising to me because, as mentioned, the film wasn’t as funny as I’d expected, but I’m confident it will still have a decent turnout as a DC Comics project starring The Rock and Kevin Hart. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more revenue for the film during its VOD/streaming release. If there is a Super-Pets series in talks, I am sure DC would be able to pull it off based on this film.

Visually, the animation was very sleek and polished. It’s one of the best CGI animated films I have seen this year. When the characters have shadows or reflect light from the environment around them, it shows on screen as it would in real life.  

DC League of Super-Pets is best for children or any fans of DC Comics kids animated films. If you are fans of The Rock and Kevin Hart, you will also enjoy it; just don’t expect a lot of belly laughs. If you want to see Hart in one of his more touching acting moments, it’s definitely a must-watch. DC League of Super-Pets is currently in theaters. 

25Jul/22

NOPE is a Yes, Jordan Peele does it again

Ok that NOPE movie… I love horror films and I am especially excited when Black directors get the funding to fully realize their cinematic vision. A few great examples include Eve’s Bayou by Kasi Lemmons (she also starred in the original Candyman), Tales from the Hood by Rusty Cundieff, Demon Knight by Ernest Dickerson, and Black Box directed by Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour.

Alright, let’s get into NOPE.

Nope film by Jordan Peele

What’s Up With The Monkey In NOPE?

The monkey in NOPE is not a Black man.

I repeat: the monkey in NOPE is not a Black man.

Some people will clumsily connect the killer chimp (Gordy) to enslaved Black people, but it’s not that deep. Gordy serves more as a way to illustrate the difference between the two strategies for dealing with the alien. Jupiter focused on his personal experience with Gordy, while OJ focused on the predator’s point of view. OJ cited various wild animals and their rules. (With a bear, you stand still; with a wolf, you make yourself big, etc.) Jupiter was more like the mayor from Jaws–his arrogance and greed led him to f*** around and find out.

My homeboy Derrick Weston Brown (and critically acclaimed poet/author) saw the film and had spoke interesting observations about nature that were on point. “What is the obsession with white people swimming with sharks and hugging monkeys? People always think they’ve got a lock on nature, but they don’t. It reminds me of that Richard Pryor joke about the jungle. Like OJ said in the movie, you have to understand your relationship to nature and make a deal.”

So Is The Movie About Race?

Now it’s a stretch, but if you wanted to make it about race you could. You could compare the UFO to white supremacy and say that taming structural violence (Jupiter’s approach to the UFO) leads to our destruction while understanding your oppressor and directly attacking its weakness accordingly (OJ’s approach to the UFO) is the only way to survive racism. You could comment on Angel’s FFFFFF coworker who is entertained by the predicament of the characters of color but never uses her privilege to offer support. *Insert reparations analogy*. With the erasure of Black jockeys and horse trainers through history, there could be an assertion that Peele is honoring Jerry Dixon Jr., Issac Murphy, and all the unnamed Black horse riders/racers/trainers.

For real, for real–NOPE is not about any of that. I’m cool with just enjoying this as a straight-up alien/SciFi horror film.

The Black Characters Don’t Die First

Black characters usually die first in mainstream horror films. We never get a chance to get attached to them or think too long about why their “urban” dialogue doesn’t sit right. Brown characters are absent altogether unless it’s a Robert Rodriguez flick. NOPE has a more diverse group of main characters than most in the genre without making the plot about race. In NOPE we get to see what would have happened if we weren’t immediately killed off. I know what yall are going to say: BUT NEWNEW’S DADDY FROM ATL DIED FIRST! First of all, put some respect on Keith David’s name. Second, that’s debatable. Chronologically that chimpanzee Gordy gave everybody the business on set back in the 90s when he went ape shit. OJ & Emerald’s daddy Otis Haywood Sr. (Keith David) died from falling metal debris which suggests the UFO had just eaten a bunch of people, most of whom were likely white based on the characters we see at Jupiter’s Claim and around town. 

Peele offers a subtle homage to all those Black characters who never got a backstory. We get to imagine ourselves in these classic horror film situations. Instead of running extra slow and falling at the wrong time and camping out unprotected in the woods where sexually active teens get murdered every year, Peele’s characters have a lot more sense. Angel stays wrapped in tarp and barbed wire just before the creature takes him. OJ strategizes logically from the perspective of the predator using context clues. Even Lucky the horse had sense enough to stay in the cage at Jupiter’s Claim when the creature was on its way to act a fool at the show.

Like the homie Derrick said, “we’re at the point where we’ve had lots of Black firsts. Now we can just make movies and enjoy them.” That said, he also referenced a thought he had about Daniel Kaluuya’s character being named OJ escaping on a horse like the white Bronco OJ Simpson drove. I had to laugh a little because I still remember our elementary school teacher making us watch the trial. It was third or fourth grade and when he was found not guilty I was overjoyed. I didn’t fully understand the situation, but my teacher was big mad at the time. That same joy erupted when the dust clears at the end and we find out OJ survived. I loved seeing him on top of a Black horse named Lucky in his orange hoodie. What if more horror films ended with a Black protagonist surviving a battle against the antagonist? It would be a stoic slap to convention. That’s the gift that Jordan Peele keeps on giving. I will forever appreciate Peele’s Black characters making it past the opening credits and playing pivotal roles in the story.

Behind The Scenes

Ok, can we talk about the music though?

Most of us were introduced to composer Michael Abels in Get Out–Peele’s first groundbreaking feature film. That song Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga (meaning listen to the ancestors) perfectly foreshadows the dispatches from the Sunken Place meant to warn Chris of the danger he was in. We collectively gave him an approving head nod for his haunting remix of Five On It by the Luniz. His self-described gospel horror was simultaneously familiar and distorted. In NOPE we were blessed with his love for mixing contemporary and traditional sounds. Dionne Warwick’s rendition of Walk On By perfectly accentuated Otis’s developing theory about the UFO.

Now personally I would have loved more Black people on hair & makeup. Was Felicia Leatherwood not available? Issa Rae slays in so many natural styles so maybe she can help get on payroll for the next Monkeypaw film. That said, as a #TeamNatural member for three decades, I still loved seeing afros, kinks, and curls. So happy they didn’t have Emerald (Keke Palmer) looking like she was wearing one of those Amazon wigs. You know the ones that look like Ari Lennox in the photo but arrive in real life looking like “Ooh baby no, what is you doing”. 

This the Last Thing Ima Say

I’m going to see the movie again this week. Heads up–if you see it in theaters, that Emmett Till movie is in the previews, but don’t worry–NOPE is not about Black trauma.

I didn’t know where this would fit in the article, but yall. The inconveniently timed nihilism of that weird camera guy made everybody in the audience throw up their hands in frustration. First of all–he showed up to a monster fight in a linen caftan and I will never forgive him for that. Between him and the TMZ reporter, I don’t know who I’m angrier with.

We’ve been bombarded with T’Challa-less Black Panther: Wakanda Forever trailers. Some of y’all are plugged into the January 6th hearing. There’s always something in the news that reminds us how heavy it can be to exist in Blackness at times. Peele gives us a couple of hours to just watch a good movie. Best believe I’m going to see it in theaters again soon.

RIP Harambe.

19Jul/22

Mr. Malcolm’s List Made Me Want to Watch Bridgerton!

Starring: Sope Dirisu (Gangs of London), Freida Pinto (Needle in a Timestack), Zawe Ashton (Velvet Buzzsaw)

SYNOPSIS: In 19th-century England, a wealthy young lady named Julia engages in courtship with Mr. Malcolm, a mysterious wealthy suitor, unaware that he has a list of qualities required of a future wife.

Let me start by saying that I have not watched a single episode of Bridgerton, nor am I a big fan of films based in this or similar time periods. Please don’t report me to Shonda Rhimes’ fans, but this film was so enjoyable that it makes me want to give projects like it a chance. From the writing to the costume design and settings, I felt lost in the 1800s (minus the slavery part). The whole team did a great job setting up this time piece and giving the actors a great medium to work with.

Freida Pinto as Selina Dalton and Zawe Ashton as Julia Thistlewaite
Photo courtesy of Obscured Pictures

For starters, I am a Freida Pinto fan because she tends to pick compelling characters and is an overall good actress. Her portrayal of the heartwarming Selina Dalton made for a good love story with Mr. Malcolm. Her’s seemed to be the most self-assured and most genuine out of all the characters. I found myself rooting for Selina as she was able to match wits with the guarded and, at times, arrogant Mr. Malcolm. 

A wealthy Black man is the most eligible bachelor featured in the trailer; you know I had to give the film a watch. Mainly because not too many mainstream projects feature this type of material. It works here and it creates a world where it’s not the complexion, race, or culture that stands out, but the story. I enjoyed Sope Dirisu as Mr. Malcolm as his performance proved to be exceptional. During the course of the film, Mr. Malcolm’s layers (both good and bad) were slowly revealed. There are times when he’s with Selina and he puts his foot in his mouth, ruining these moments. In my mind, I’m like “hey, bro can you have a little more tact?” and “you’re being an asshole.” Other times, I felt he was just like most Black men, including myself, in that you want to choose a wife who loves and cares about you as a person, not based on your possessions. Mr. Malcom’s mother did embody some Claire Huxtable energy because she knew where her son’s heart was and called him on his bullshit. That was entertaining in itself.

Sope Dirisu as Mr. Malcolm and Freida Pinto as Selina Dalton
Photo courtesy of Obscured Pictures

Okay, so I must admit that the show stealer of this whole film was Zawe Ashton who portrayed Julia Thistlewaite. Her facial expressions when she gets pissed or is focused on Mr. Malcolm’s displeasure was so funny. Her quick comebacks and insults brought humor to the film while also helping to maintain the tone, as she was easily able to throw out a funny snide remarks while keeping a straight face. Good job Ms. Ashton! At first, her perceived rejection seemed childish or akin to something a teenage drama queen would go through, but you soon come to realize how much of an impact the encounter had on her psyche. Given the time period and the movie’s environment, this wasn’t an easy character to like or make redeemable, but Zawe pulls it off. I definitely now want to see more of her work after watching this film. Constance Wu was originally supposed to play the role of Julia, which would have been ok, but I think Zawe makes it clear that this role was made for her. 

Zawe Ashton as Julia Thistlewaite and Sope Dirisu as Mr. Malcolm
Photo courtesy of Obscured Pictures

I found Mr. Malcolm’s List to be one of the better rom-coms I’ve seen in the last few years, mostly because I found each character relatable. This movie encompasses some life lessons that many of us have had to learn or are currently learning. When it comes to love, emotions, relationships, and dating, we are all trying to figure it out and, in most cases, it is a hot mess. Only after we get out of our own way and learn not to be influenced by society (or media) can we discover ourselves and find what works best for us. This is what Mr. Malcolm’s List accomplishes. I would recommend watching it with a group of friends and seeing what deep discussions develop.

You can watch Mr. Malcolm’s List on all major platforms including Apple TV, Prime Video, Google Play, and Vudu.

07Jul/22

Thor: Love and Thunder, The Funniest There Is

Photo courtsey of Disney

In theaters: Thursday, July 7th, 2022

Run time: 119 mins

Rated: PG-13

SYNOPSIS: Thor embarks on a journey unlike anything he’s ever faced — a quest for inner peace. However, his retirement gets interrupted by Gorr the God Butcher, a galactic killer seeking the extinction of the gods.

Historically, it’s been proven difficult to produce a successful third film in a movie franchise, just look at the reviews for Blade: Trinity; but with Thor: Love and Thunder, Director Taika Waititi has provided MCU fans with the funniest Thor movie to date. This should not be a surprise, the award-winning director breathed new life into the Thor series with Thor: Ragnarok and has received much acclaim for his dark comedy What We Do in the Shadows. The humor and drama are balanced, continuing the tone of the previous films. 

Thor, The Funniest There Is

As I mentioned before, this film is the funniest of the Thor movies, especially when it comes to Thor himself. The exploration of his relationship with Jane and his former favorite weapon, Mjolnir, was the funniest part of the film in my opinion…well, besides the screaming goats. His introduction with the Guardians of the Galaxy had me laughing because of the damage he’d done while attempting to help take out a group of villains. The Guardian’s appearance was brief, but I enjoyed seeing the old gang since it’s been a while! Thor’s not only dealing with his feelings towards Jane and Mjolnir, but his current weapon, Stormbreaker, senses Thor’s intrigue with his ex-weapon, so much so that when Thor tries to call for Mjolnir, Stormbreaker appears like a lover catching him in the act. 

There is a fun little montage explaining what happened with the relationship between the two. The references to rom-com movies was a cute addition. Watching Thor deal with his emotional issues while trying to battle the God Butcher, made for a great addition to the film. Chris Hemsworth’s performance as Thor was organic as usual. I definitely feel this role was made for him. His ability to switch seamlessly from comedy to drama was shown greatly in this film as we witness Thor “go through it”. This film provided more growth for this character, something the audience and I, myself, can relate to as we get older and experience life. 

Korg, voiced by Taika Waititi, was hilarious with his offbeat and unusual comments. His narration throughout was certainly in sync with the film and, well let’s face it, every MCU fan loves the storytelling of Korg and Luis from Ant-Man. I don’t know about you, but I love to hear his off-the-wall stories. I’m hoping Korg and Luis eventually get some screen time together where they exchange some of their stories. 

Taika Waititi at Thor: Love and Thunder premiere. Photo courtesy of Disney

Mighty Thor

Having Jane Foster as the Mighty Thor in this film is a good fit. We get to see what happened to her relationship with Thor and what Jane has been up to this whole time. Her character is struggling to tell Thor some secrets that could affect them forever while also dealing with the effects of weilding Mjolnir. I also enjoyed watching Natalie Portman take on enemies and struggle to be a hero at this point in her life. Portman will win you over with her charm and on-screen chemistry with Hemsworth.

Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie

Hail King Valkyrie!

Valkyrie is actually one of my favorite female MCU characters. Her desire to kick ass, her excitement during battle, and her sometimes brash attitude make for the best person to have your back on the battlefield. In this film, we see her boredom with her role as the leader of the New Asgard. The tourism, food advertisements, media, and inclusivity in world politics, none of it impresses her. But when there’s a new threat in the form of Gorr and Jane Foster (aka Almighty Thor) makes an appearance, she suddenly feels right at home. Tessa, herself, noted the change in the state of her character during the press conference, stating “She’s really missing being on the battlefield and missing her sisters.  And so, it’s been great fun to get to have that again, with Natalie in particular as Mighty Thor.”

Everything from her mannerisms to her face shows excitement, as she has a new force to battle alongside her sister. I enjoyed Tessa’s performance because it holds true to the nature of the female warrior. Although brief, the film does address her bisexuality, which has come up in conversations amongst fans. Can I say that I’d really like to see Valkyrie get her own project because she is that damn fun to watch?! 

Tessa Thompson at Thor premiere

“ When we first met Valkyrie, she was [dealing with alot and doing so] by drinking a lot. And Taika and I talked a lot about upending what a female superhero looks like. You have this moment where she comes out, and you think it’s gonna be sort of that badass thing and then she immediately falls over.

With this one, we also talked about the idea of someone that has a job that they really love, but they’re also kind of disgruntled. She, you know, was a professional soldier for thousands of years and now finds herself kind of stuck in bureaucracy.” -Tessa Thompson

Gorr the God Butcher

When I first heard Gorr would be the villain in the next Thor movie, I thought, “This film is going to get dark real quick” because I had read the comics and seen the damage he’s done to Thor. Christian Bale is a good actor and there are not too many, if any, roles in which I can say he was terrible. The introduction of the film provided a very dark but compelling setup for the character as we witness him slay a god with the necrosword. The strife, suffering, and death of his daughter sent him on a warpath to take out the gods. I have heard some say he is the best villain in the MCU, but I would have to disagree and that is not for lack of performance or writing. Thanos and Killmonger were so convincing, it’d be hard to top those characters (for me, at least). 

Videography 

Major kudos to the videography and post-production team on this project. The scenes where Thor and the crew fought on the necro planet and the transitions from full color to black and white were on point. The necrosword fed off whoever wielded it and you can see Gorr transform throughout the film into this hideously scary version of himself. The special effects added to the fight scenes, especially the third and final ones, were great. 

I can also say aside from the costume and art departments, the soundtrack is another aspect of the film I enjoyed because I’m a Guns’n’Roses fan. Growing up in the 90s, I didn’t think most Black people listened to Guns’n’Roses. Lol. But this brought back memories and was a great fit for the film. Now I’m curious to see if “Sweet Child of Mine” is getting more plays on streaming services.

I hope you enjoy Thor: Love and Thunder as much as I did. The one thing I will say is that as much as I loved the film, I still don’t think it is better than Thor: Ragnarok. Good thing is that both films are great for the franchise and could only help Thor stay on track to get signed on for more films, if that is in the plans…fingers crossed! 

Just an FYI, there are two post-credit scenes that you want to stick around for.

06Jul/22

Kadeem Hardison Talks About Starring in AMC Plus Sci-Fi Series Moonhaven… Truly, a Different World

Kadeem Hardison as Arlo – Moonhaven _ Season 1 , Episode 6 – Photo Credit: Szymon Lazewski/AMC

Every time I see Kadeem Hardison’s name all I can hear in my head is “Dwayne! Dwayne!” in the voice of Whitley Gilbert played by Jasmine Guy on the hit show A Different World, but these days you can find Kadeem Hardison in the new AMC Plus series Moonhaven… a show where he is literally on a different world, the moon to be exact. The actor talked about his new show with Taji Mag and gave us an introduction to his love for comics books. 

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): How did you become a part of this project and what was your inspiration for this role? 

Kadeem Hardison (KD): Life as an actor is pretty much the routine of you audition and then you wait. So I auditioned then I waited, but I got the part. The good part was I got sent a script, I read it, and I got very excited at the prospect that this was gonna actually be a show… like, this was already financed and happening. It wasn’t like someone was sending me a script and hoping they could raise some money. This was the beginning of a series. I was thrilled at the idea of being a part of the show because of what it suggests (in regards to the world and human existence) and how it tackles the issues [humanity has faced over the years]. I found interest in the culture that is created on the moon, this society, and the different ways people are living there. These are the same humans on Earth, they are just living a different way of life. They have figured out a way, over a hundred years, to have worked out all the kinks that have plagued society on Earth. I just thought it had a lot of good stuff to say.

What inspired my character, Arlo? For me, the character comes from the writing. Usually, I read the, script, I get an idea about how the character should walk, talk, stand, etc. There wasn’t anything specifically in other roles where I’ve gone ahead and said “okay, this guy’s gonna be a little bit like this” (an amalgamation of a bunch of different characters that I’ve either seen in the past and loved or thought “this is something I’ve always wanted to do”). This was pretty much the future and on another planet! So there wasn’t anything I could draw from the present. It wasn’t going to be like Denzel in John Q. The one thing I know about this Arlo is that he is true, a hundred percent committed to this cause, and not fake in any way. He may have problems or issues, but his focus is “we have to build this bridge to save mother Earth”.  

DDF: Are there any methods or technology from the series that you would like to see present today? 

KD: Hell yeah, I would love it if you could just take a little piece of wood and point it at something and click it, then anything you want to know shows up. That’s the first one, the fact that any surface really can be a tablet.  Anything you’re looking at, you can just tap it and it turns into a tablet. 

I loved that the detectives are more concerned with the living than the dead and the mystery of how they became dead. Now we’re more concerned with you and how you are feeling and how you’re dealing with this tragedy because your balance is my balance. If you are outta whack, then you might go out and do something crazy. That’s more work for me to try and clean up. So making sure you are okay and that you are balanced keeps the rest of us in balance. 

 DDF: So what would your utopian world look like?

KD: It would probably look a lot like Moonhaven. I really thought the things implemented in the script, in our society on Moonhaven, were pretty damn good. No, one’s hungry, no one’s stealing, very little crime and jealousy. You have those feelings, but you learn to work them out through practices and methods put in place. Music is everywhere, the alphabet is musical. There’s a dance in it. I didn’t see any animals. There’s only one dog on the moon. After realizing this, I was like “Huh? Does that mean there are no animals on the moon?”. I don’t remember the moon inhabitants dealing with animals besides the one dog and a big bird. Then I thought to myself “is that dog real?”. Yeah, I’d have some animals for sure.

DDF: Were you able to keep your composure and be in sync with Dominic during your dance routine in the series? 

KD: Yeah, absolutely. We learned that dance and it’s pretty simple. We couldn’t wait to perform it and the showrunner kept saying “We’’ll probably let you do half of it.” They let us do maybe two movements and it was like “Oh man, really?”. 

Kadeem Hardison as Arlo and Dominic Monaghan as Paul Sarno – Moonhaven _ Season 1, Episode 4 – Photo Credit: Szymon Lazewski/AMC

DDF: Speaking of dance moves, what is your go-to move if you are asked to dance at some place like a bbq? 

KH: I like the gigolo from back in the day. That’s pretty much my go-to because it doesn’t involve a lot of movement and I am not going to sweat a lot since I don’t have to move my feet. 

DDF:  So let’s say you could bring four people from any time period to your utopian moon, what four people would it be? 

KD: I’d probably bring my idols. I’d bring Bruce Lee so he could teach us Jeet Kune Do. I’d bring Muhammad Ali so he’d give us confidence beyond ourselves. I’d probably bring Malcolm X because he starts some shit… he’d definitely find some shit to start. I’d bring Prince because he is a musical genius and he would figure out new instruments. He would invent instruments and find ways for us to enjoy sound. 

DDF: I see you like comic books, who are your four favorite comic book characters? 

KH: I’d have to say Spiderman, Batman, Black Panther, and Wolverine.

DDF: What other sci-fi character would you like to be? 

KD: Any of the Dune characters. I don’t care who it is.

DDF: The Mooners focus on healing in Moonhaven. What way(s) do you use to heal? 

KH: Usually peace and quiet. If that doesn’t work, then usually loud music and video games. Comics are also my go-to and have been since I was eight years old. It is a form of escapism. You can dive into a comic and next thing you know, you’re doing voices. Then you’re trying to read each character differently and create something new. 

DDF: I was a huge “A Different World” fan growing up. When I saw your character killed by television in “Def by Temptation”, it kind of scarred me. 

KH: Killed by television, right? Which became an actual fear (of mine). I was like, “I gotta get off this show because I will never be able to do any movies or other projects. I don’t wanna be killed by television”! So yeah, that’s funny.


Moonhaven starring Kadeem Hardison, Emma McDonald, Joe Manganiello, and Dominic Monaghan starts streaming on Thursday, July 7 Exclusively on AMC+.

Full interview with Kadeem Hardison