Tag Archives: family

14Apr/22

Omar Epps Discusses His New Film, The Devil You Know, and How He Defines Love

From Love and Basketball to House, Omar Epps has entertained us for years with characters that have been nothing short of memorable. With his new film, The Devil You Know, he serves as actor and executive producer. It’s a crime-thriller drama about a recovering alcoholic trying to piece his life together after being incarcerated. He is faced with a difficult decision to either tip off a detective (Michael Ealy) or keep quiet after discovering his brother, Drew (Will Catlett), was part of a horrific robbery. Omar Epps was able to sit down with Taji Mag to talk about his new project. 

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What made you want to be a part of this film? 

Omar Epps (OE): Charles and I were having lunch eight years ago. He just pitches me what I thought was a great idea. I’m like, ”Yeah, let me read the script!” and he’s like, “I haven’t started writing yet.” I’m pissed off thinking “Why did you get me all riled up with ideas?” But you know, it’s been living with me and him for years. It took us eight years to actually get it made, which is a whole other conversation.

DDF: What else did you love about this film?

OE: I also loved the idea selfishly, as far as just the artists, to try to unpack this fractured human. The character I play in this film, Marcus, always looked like, if you can visualize it, a picture on the wall that’s ripped up, but then it has a bunch of tape on it.

So it’s still on the wall to me… Here’s a guy the audience meets and he’s newly sober, he’s just gotten a new job after a few years. He’s just growing and having enough confidence to maybe open himself up… He’s in a very emotionally precarious position, then you throw a grenade on top of that and let’s see what happens. That’s just really what drew me to it. 

DDF: What makes this film stand out? 

OE: You know, we (as a Black community) don’t get the chance to make films similar to like a Mystic River or The Town. You know, films that just have certain pacing to them. And that’s what really got me excited.

DDF: I noticed in the film that Drew and Marcus both struggled with adversities in life and dealt with periods of hardship. Where do you think that came from? It seemed like the other two brothers in the family were doing fairly well.

OE: I think it’s a true depiction of a real family, right? The more people there are in a family, the better chance that everybody ain’t gonna be able to stay on the straight and narrow. That’s just the nature of things, but we support the ones who may struggle more than others because it’s a struggle either way. It’s like King Richard [who] looked out for his girls who went on to become legends. With all due respect (and God bless them), the Williams sisters also have other sisters who are not sports icons. Do you know what I’m saying? No telling how things would be if they went a different way. To me, it’s a true depiction of life. 

Sometimes you’ve got to love hard and sometimes you’ve got to love soft. It’s a push and pull in that way. It’s really a film for everyone because everyone comes from a family that is similar to the one in this film. Everyone knows what it’s like to sit around a table, the food’s being cooked, and your cousins are playing cards over here. Uncle such and such just cracked open a bottle of you know what and talks about social stuff [for] about a half an hour. We all know that feeling. We wanted to try to capture that feeling so that people could examine themselves in a sense, I guess, and live vicariously through Marcus.

DDF: Speaking of which, did you learn anything about yourself while doing this film that made you look at things differently? Perhaps anything you could turn into a book seeing as you’ve published books before? 

OE: Well, that’s an interesting question. From a creative standpoint, I think if I do the job right, it’s up to the audience to try to learn about themselves in some way, shape, or form, you know?

DDF: Your wife is making her acting debut in this film, how did that happen?

OE: Well, you know, that’s really all Charles. We would talk about funny things about my wife. She’s been under the tutelage of the great Tasha Smith for a few years now… Art is art is art. You know, it’s just the different formats, but she took it seriously. So, we threw around different names and one day he calls and says “You know who would be great to play this role?” And I’m like, “ Who?” He says “Your wife!”  And I was like, “I should have thought of that. Well, I can’t be the one to tell her (lol).”

DDF: If you could describe The Devil You Know using music, what song would you pick?

OE: No one’s asked me that question, so my mind just went blank. That is a great question. Let me go seventies, “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye.

DDF: You are widely known for your role in Love and Basketball. The film was about love. My question to you is how do you define love? 

OE: Love itself? Honestly, I think that it is a verb. We can say it all day. You could have whatever [written] on tank tops, t-shirts, or whatever, but it has to be an action for it to actually be real, you know?  I’m from Brooklyn, New York and I grew up around a lot of different people from a lot of different walks of life. I’ve seen various forms of love. If love is sort of the roots of a tree, you have compassion, empathy, and all of these other things that come along with that type of feeling that forms the trunk and branches of the tree.  

I’ve been fortunate enough to see both sides of love and see the effects that it has on people. I choose the side of light. I choose the side of love because you just never know what someone’s going through. 

DDF: Are there any moments in life where you learned about love? 

OE: One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned so far on this life journey is from my mother. She was an educator [with] the Board of Education for 30 something years. She basically taught half of New York City. When Juice first came out, I was about 17 years old. I didn’t know enough. People would come up to me on the street and I’m like “They might recognize me from the movie” and they would say “You are Bonnie Epps’ son? She used to teach me in eighth grade”. You know, it didn’t matter if they become a doctor or a bus driver. They would tell me to thank her for the conversations she had with them when they were young. The crazy part is, I would always go back to my mom and tell her these things and she would remember exactly who I was talking about. She would say “Oh, big head Craig? Oh, yeah. He used to give me trouble”. What that taught me was the power of giving and if we’re not giving, we ain’t doing enough. And you don’t give to receive, you give simply for the act of giving. Whether that’s if someone is homeless and you give whatever you got in your pocket or whatever you can spend. You see a homeless person outside a restaurant and you go in. If you can afford it, don’t just give them the scraps. Maybe get them a small little plate of something. Whatever you can do, you know? 

I’m just saying that to say, going back to my definition of love, it was instilled in me at a very early age. A big part of this cycle is all about giving because when you are giving for the sake of giving, the universe gives it back to you in some way, shape, or form. You just don’t know what that may be. And I’m not talking about material, I’m just talking about happenings, you know. So I know that was a long-winded answer, but it all kind of comes back to that.

Epps made a valid comparison when he mentioned movies like The Town and Mystic River because The Devil You Know is in par with the pacing of those movies. The film explores the dynamics of a blue-collar family and the lead character, Marcus, has to make choices that may jeopardize his relationships but also provide him an avenue for forgiveness and peace.  

The Devil You Know will serve as a great conversational piece in regards to what we would do in Marcus’ or Drew’s shoes, how the actions of one person in the family can affect others, and how we should deal with the sins of our past. The film’s finale is filled with surprises and twists that I am personally not ready for but could see how these things could happen in real life. As Omar Epps mentioned in the interview, we all have that family member who suffers and struggles with temptation, but how do we deal with those individuals? 

See how things turn out for Marcus and his family in The Devil You Know

Synopsis: Boundaries and bonds are tested in this gritty crime-thriller drama about family, morality, and redemption. Once incarcerated Marcus Cowans (Omar Epps) is trying to turn over a new leaf with the support of his loving family. Upon discovering that one of his brothers (Will Catlett) may have been involved in a horrific crime, Marcus grapples with the limits of brotherhood and loyalty. He and his family, increasingly weary of the justice system’s failings, end up in the crosshairs of a seasoned but jaded detective (Michael Ealy). Written and directed by Charles Murray, The Devil You Know evokes the question: Am I my brother’s keeper? And at what cost?

Starring: Omar Epps, Will Catlett, Glynn Turman, Curtiss Cook, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Erica Tazel, Vaughn W. Hebron, Michael Beach, Keisha Epps, Ashley A. Williams, with Theo Rossi, and Michael Ealy. 

Written and Directed by: Charles Murray 

Run Time: 116 minutes

Where to watch: AMC Theaters

17Dec/21

Swan Song Review: Mahershala Ali’s Touching Performance Explores an Ethical Dilemma

Mahershala Ali as Cameron (Left) and his clone Jack (Right)

*Spoiler Alert*

When I saw the trailer for Swan Song, an Amazon series called Solos (starring Anthony Mackie) came to mind, specifically an episode entitled Tom. A 2 minute and 35 seconds-long glimpse at Mahershala Ali’s performance coupled with actress Naomie Harris‘ charisma led me to believe this sci-fi film would be nothing short of exceptional. Can I tell you I was not disappointed?! Performances by Ali and Harris kept me fully interested in this slow-paced film. I like Anthony Mackie (Falcon and all), but Mahershala Ali did a helluva job. 

Saying So Much Without Saying Anything 

I was impressed early on with a scene between Ali (Cameron) and Harris (Poppy) when their characters first met on the train. It’s actually my favorite part of the film! As Poppy sits in front of Cameron, while on the phone and snaps off a piece of chocolate on the table between the two, Cameron assumes it’s the chocolate he ordered moments before Poppy came onto the train. He slides the chocolate towards himself, breaks off a piece, and eats it, all the while smirking at Poppy. The two take turns eating the chocolate while Poppy is still on the phone. They’re clearly intrigued by each other. The chemistry here was uncanny, and so much was said without even an exchange of words between the two. After Poppy gets off at her stop, Cameron realizes he was eating her chocolate as he discovers his own chocolate bar was still in his jacket pocket.  

Mahershala Ali (Cameron) and Naomie Harris (Poppy)

Ali and Harris’ Performances 

Ali does a fantastic job portraying both Cameron and his clone, Jack. His reaction to first seeing the clone was completely expressed through his eyes. His reaction to seeing his clone for the first time was incredbly believable, and his clone’s reaction to its initial awakening seems as accurate as could be. Ali’s eyes alone provide all the emotion needed to perfectly portray what is required in certain scenes. 

Naomie Harris is charismatic, as usual. Her love as a mother is believable and feels genuinely organic. The scenes where she is heartbroken after her twin brother’s death creates a need for Cameron to be ambivalent about deciding to be a clone or not. I couldn’t blame Cameron; watching Poppy shut down and become distant was so concerning. In addition to Poppy being pregnant, Cameron is also concerned about his son not having a father while growing up and how that would affect him. 

Cameron meets Kate (Awkwafina), a woman on her deathbed who decides to undergo the transition of a clone taking over her life. At times, it seems Kate is ok with the decision and even displays a bit of humor as her lifeforce slowly deminishes, but I could tell from her conversations with Cameron (after he met her clone and daughter) that she misses her life. Although the island where the transition ensues seems fitted with the appropriate resources and comfortability, it is still somewhat isolated. No one knows you are there besides Dr. Scott and her two colleagues. 

What would be my concern if I was in Cameron’s shoes? Well, that scenario comes up when Cameron witnesses his clone interact with Poppy via facetime right in front of him. It was so eerie to see the connection and love with his wife replicated without Poppy even noticing a difference.

I like how the writer gives Cameron another variable: if Cameron decides to abort the program and tell his wife he is dying, the clone would be terminated. The clone, Jack, made a compelling case to live, which threw me off. But hey, Ali was playing this role, so why wouldn’t there be depth to the clone?

The film ends with Cameron escaping the island after passing out from a seizure as he went to spend his last hours with his family before the clone takes over. The clone allows Cameron to see (through his eyes) Poppy tell him she’ll love him always, an emotionally challenging but meaningful way to end the film. At this point I had a little eye sweat, then again, it may have been allergies. 

Mahershala Ali and Awkwafina (Kate)

Presentation

One of the first things I learned in filmmaking is to show the audience and not tell; this film does just that. It shows the audience that the movie is set in the future with the use of advanced technology. From the coffee-serving A.I. to the self-driving cars, this film has some pretty cool technology that I wish I had access to. The solid colors used in different scenes creates significant effects and mood. Swan Song uses a non-linear structure to explore Cameron’s history and transmit his memories and thoughts into his clone, which is kind of cool and not too overwhelming. I didn’t find myself getting lost as I have with similar movies in the past. 

Who Looked at My Playlist? 

The soundtrack of the film was on point! It uses songs from artists I am a fan of, Frank Ocean and Moses Sumney. The pieces used were well placed throughout the film and added to the scenes’ moods. For example, when Frank Ocean’s reimagining of Moon River played during Cameron’s flashbacks of his life with his wife. It pulled on my heartstrings, so I took a break and watched a couple of Tony Baker videos. Shoutout to the music supervisor of this film. It felt like they hacked into one of my playlists! 

In another cool scene, Cameron goes through his routine and watches his son sleep while Moses Sumney plays in the background. As he takes out his earbuds, the music lowers from the soundtrack to real-time, making me feel like I was a part of the scene. 

Overall, Swan Song is a great film that challenges the audience to think about what they would do in the lead character’s position. This actually would be a great film to watch with a group of friends or family, because it would serve as a fascinating conversation piece. This film is worth watching and I recommend putting it on your watchlist. 

Swan Song will be released and streamed on Apple plus on December 17th.

10May/20
Abraham Adeyemi

South London Native, Abraham Adeyemi, Wins Best Narrative Short at Tribeca 2020

‘No More Wings does an absolutely wonderful job of taking a scenario that is extremely grounded and using the form to imbue it with an elevated sense of emotion and spirituality.’ – Barry Jenkins (Oscar-winning filmmaker)

Award-winning filmmaker, Abraham Adeyemi, adds another award for his short film “No More Wings.” The South London native won the award for Best Narrative at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. “No More Wings” is a short film about two friends at their favorite chicken restaurant who catch up on old times. The film is an exploration of their friendship, the difference in their life choices, and what the future may hold for each. What the audience discovers by the end of the film is shocking and in some cases relatable. Taji Mag was able to catch up with this promising filmmaker to discuss his prize-winning film. 

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): What inspired you to make this project? 

Abraham Adeyemi (AA): I grew up in South London and I was thinking about two of my friends from the area, I just thought to myself what would the experience be like if we met up today? The film was the opportunity to explore a place I call home and to see how people can have the same upbringing but turn out differently.

Abraham Adeyemi was mentored by Oscar-winning Sam Mendes and he shadowed him during the production of 1917.

DDF: The cut scenes to flashbacks were dope, is that meant to be reflective of how most people are when catching up with an old friend? 

AA: That was something I had on my mind. Everything in the moment, including their facial expression, explains what the moment means to them. There is definitely history happening within it. I definitely aim to get a sense of reminiscing. 

 DDF: How does it feel to be the only narrative short from the UK? 

AA:  I thought that it was crazy! Tribeca was the very first film festival we submitted the film to, we missed the deadline for the Sundance and some other film festivals. Just to know we got in blew me away. One day, I so happen to look through the catalog and thought to myself, “Wait a minute, there are no other Brit films. It’s funny because in advance I had been in contact with the British Film institution, they are responsible for being in contact with creatives going to the film festival. It was from there I discovered, “Oh my God, I am the only one on the list [from the UK]”. It really hit home how big an achievement it was to be at Tribeca. 

DDF: I loved how relatable this film is. Many Black people all over the world can relate. What has the response been to the film from people outside of the UK? 

AA: Besides Tribeca, not too many people from outside the UK have seen the film. I can only think of two who are Black who have seen the film. My friend and filmmaker Dream Hampton, who attended the Soho House premiere of the film in London in October, and Barry Jenkins, who was on the Soho House Script Judging panel, both at script stage and finished film.

Jury Comments: “It checked every box in terms of authenticity and heart and it was funny!” “It’s such an elegant piece of filmmaking.” 

DDF: How did you react to your win for Best Narrative Short”? 

AA: I never thought this would happen in my wildest dreams. In fact, I quite deliberately made sure I didn’t think about it. Quite a few of my friends had asked me “What do you get if you win? What happens if you win?” and things like that but I’m quite competitive. So I knew it was for the best too – rather than think about “if” I would win, to focus on just being grateful for the incredible achievement that was simply getting selected for Tribeca. It was, of course, the hope and ambition, I always strive for the top, but I was still very much shocked to have won, especially being my debut. In fact, I still am.

DDF: How did you celebrate your win? 

AA: Well, I found out a few days before it went public so I was sworn to secrecy. So on the day, I found out, I actually just celebrated alone in my room. Like, full-on, celebrated. Loud music, popped a bottle of prosecco… And then – just before it got announced to the world – I set up a surprise zoom call with a group of my closest friends with an elusive message “Zoom in an hour. Don’t ask questions. you won’t want to miss this. Bring a drink.” I don’t know who I thought I was… But it worked! It was really important to me that those people didn’t find out through social media. They’ve been massively important in my journey and I wanted to be able to enjoy this moment with them, before the chaos that would ensue once the world knew I had won. It has been non-stop calls, emails, and zoom meetings! I couldn’t be happier.

DDF: Given the film takes place in a restaurant, what are a few food spots a tourist should hit up in London? 

AA:  I would definitely recommend Morley’s because the chicken is good and it’s where I shot my film. It’s a well-know chicken spot like KFC. I would also recommend the Chicken Shop, the chicken is good but they have the best apple pie. I could go there to grab only an apple pie and go about my day.  The last restaurant I’d recommend would be Chuku’s, a Nigerian Tapas Restaurant (the first of its kind in the world!) where the sibling-duo that own it have their own original take on a number of familiar Nigerian dishes. I might be a little biased – because it’s owned by my friends – but I’ve been going since they started out with pop-ups and it’s been amazing to see them finally open their first permanent site earlier this year. Also, objectively, prior to COVID-19 enforcing a temporary close, every single night their reservations were fully booked! So they must be doing something right.”

Amid this COVID pandemic, Abraham Adeyemi is busy working on commissioned tv projects and an upcoming feature film project. Can he reach Barry Jenkins’s status? We’ll just have to keep a lookout for this award-winning creative. Keep up with him on Instagram at @abeislegend.