Tag Archives: HBO Max

21Nov/21

King Richard Beautifully Captures the Journey of Venus and Serena’s Father

There is always a sense of nervousness that comes over me when I hear of a biopic about historical Black figures coming to theaters. These projects could be beautifully developed like Ray or the opposite could unfold (insert name of one of many horrible biopics here). When it comes to King Richard, I was delighted to see this film was not another lukewarm attempt. I know some skeptics may automatically think the movie stars, Will Smith, as the father of two sports icons (rolls eyes), then cringe at the thought of Wild Wild West. And let’s not forget how we were painfully subjected to the Michael Jackson biopic, Michael Jackson: Man in the Mirror. I’m happy to say this was not the case! I walked away quite satisfied with this film and have some notables you can check out for yourself. 

Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis Academy Buzz

Will Smith has been snubbed a few times at the Academy Awards, but he just may win this prestigious honor with his performance in King Richard. I found myself forgetting that Will Smith was portraying Richard William because of his fantastic performance. From mannerism to language, Smith captured the essence of Williams and even provoked some anger out of me during some of Richard’s questionable decision-making. The Richard character was compelling because he wanted the best for his children, he worked hard for them and loved them, but sometimes his insecurities got the best of him. His wife, Brandi Williams (Aunjanue Ellis), points out one of his biggest hang-ups in the film: he doesn’t want to seem like another dumb Black person to the world. It’s not easy writing a character the audience can cheer for and also be upset with, but the screenwriter and director do a great job tackling this dynamic. I found it especially intriguing to see this character portrayed so organically; a nod to Smith’s acting abilities. 

Smith was not the only actor to garner attention in the film; Aunjanue Ellis should also be acknowledged for her performance and considered for nomination, in my opinion. Her supportive, but firm, portrayal of Brandi Williams elevated her to my Top Five Favorite Black Movie Mom list. From her Sistah Girl role in Undercover Brother to Hippolyta Freeman in Lovecraft Country, Ellis has played strong and intelligent characters over the years, some of whom she seems to have channeled for this role. When Richard makes questionable decisions, she puts him in his place without embarrassing him. She even lets him know she has taken on the responsibility of holding the family down despite having her own ambitions. Another favorite Brandi moment for me was when she confronts her neighbor who called Child Services on them. She reminds the neighbor that they both have daughters (Brandi having five) and how tough it can be, then ends the conversation with “don’t make me come over here again.” All I can say is can we give Aunjanue her flowers now?

I can recall a few powerful moments in this flick. The first for me was when the neighborhood thugs assaulted Richard. They had tried multiple times to harass his oldest daughter while she studied during Richard’s practice sessions with Venus and Serena. Richard decided to get his gun from his security job and kill the group leader, but a drive-by shooting beat him to it. The other was when Richard argued with his wife after pulling Venus from her first pro tournament. This was a powerful scene and showed how supportive Brandi was of the family. 

The Film, The Story 

I often feel biopic movies miss the mark when it comes to making an exciting project, but King Richard held my attention and, from what I could tell, the entire audience’s attention throughout the whole film. It may be because I grew up watching the Williams sisters and remember each of the events portrayed in the movie. I think the acting, plot, soundtrack, and editing helped make this film amazingly nostalgic. This film could’ve easily lost its focus while covering any part of the Williams’ lives, but the filmmaker made a great choice following Venus’ first pro tournament and ending with her defeat which was really a win for the Black community. It was also good to see Richard sitting in the stands with the family to show support for his daughter. During most of the matches, he was out of sight. This is a reminder he would be there for his daughter no matter what the situation. Earlier in the film, Richard told a story of how his father watched him get beat up by three adult white men and then ran away as the beating continued. I can remember the commercials and the amount of support the Williams family received for representing the community. 

King Richard is also a reminder of how society looked at and still does look at Black families. It was assumed that since they came from Compton, they weren’t educated enough to make the decision to (or even willing to) take any steps to leave their rough neighborhood. Richard spoke confidence into his daughters, ensured they received a good education, and made sure they didn’t cave into the stressors of being young tennis players as many of their counterparts did. 

Venus and Serena

The two actresses who portrayed the Williams sisters were great. I love how they gelled as sisters on screen. The portrayal of Venus (Saniyya Sidney) in the last act was so exciting as I, too, could feel the nervousness she felt facing the number one tennis player in the world. Demi Singleton as Serena was spot on as the determined and strong-willed younger sister. I would say if this were a series, I would love to witness Serena’s growth into the icon she is, but the film should stay as is, a solo project. Save the biopic of Serena for later as its own story since she is one of the greatest athletes of all time. These two actresses made me think of all the young Black girls who will love this film and be inspired just as the real Williams sisters inspired people all over the world. 

I enjoyed this film and, undoubtedly, so did my fellow audience members in attendance. The film was so engaging that I found myself cheering for Venus during her epic match against the number one seeded even though I already knew the outcome of the match. With excellent acting and hard-hitting themes, I recommend everyone watch King Richard. I know I will be watching it for a second time with my beautiful strong Black nieces, looking for that spark of inspiration in their young eyes. 

You can catch King Richard on HBO Max and in theaters on Nov.19th.

 

10Oct/20

What Jonathan Majors Loves About Lovecraft Country and Why He Wants to Play Superman

Jonathan Majors

It was last year when I was able to watch the highly touted Last Black Man in San Francisco and I loved every single bit of it. Not only because of the title or the visually stunning camera shots, but because of the powerful performance of Jonathan Majors. I didn’t know much about the 31-year-old actor, all I knew was that his performance in the final act of the film showed the promise of a rising star. 

Jonathan Majors’ new series hit, Lovecraft Country on HBO, and the Spike Lee helmed, Da Five Bloods, has made way to take part in many big-budget films. Luckily for Taji Mag, Majors took time out to talk about the new series, his GQ feature, and his desire to portray Superman. 

Dapper Dr. Feel (DDF): How do you keep your faculties together given all you have gone through in Lovecraft Country? 

Jonathan Majors (JM): Love, man! I think that’s the key. He [Atticus aka Tic] is the most selfless character I’ve played. The alternative is if I fail the family fails. If I don’t get this right, Leti goes down, if I don’t get this right Uncle George goes down. We know how this plays out in the series. He loves his family so much he is willing to take the hit and keep on going because failure is not an option. 

DDF: In episode 6, Meet Me in Daegu, we see Atticus’s life during the Korean War and relationship with Ji-ah. Who do you think is more of the monster Ji-ah or Atticus? 

JM: In one of the scenes, Ji-ah tries to persuade Atticus that he is the monster. I would say from Atticus’s point of view, he would be the monster. He was closest to freedom when he was with Ji-ah and then it was snatched away. Exoneration was close but snatched away. That event made him double down on the idea that he was a monster. For some reason or another, he was not worthy of this love between him and Ji-ah because it all went bad.

Jonathan Majors

DDF: What was your reaction after you read episode 6 “Meet Me in Dego”? 

JM: To me, that episode is very different from the other episodes. I love the episode because it gave me insight into who Tic was. From that episode, there is a transition from “Tic” to Atticus. When episode 6 ends, it is the birth of Atticus. He knows too much now. He’s seen physical violence, he’s done physical violence and war crimes. Now he’s experiencing something so mystical, spiritual, monstrous and it’s stuck in his brain. So when I read the script, I was like “Cool, this episode unlocks a great deal of information.” It was so great, I happened to have read episode 6 before we started shooting episodes 2 and beyond. So I could walk around with that feeling of dread and fear. This is necessary because, as you see in the series, Atticus calls back to Korea multiple times. I loved the script! It’s sort of a ballet piece I would say.  

DDF: I read some of the GQ article you were featured in. It mentioned your father was in Desert Storm; your paternal grandfather served in World War II, your maternal grandfather in Korea and Vietnam.  What kind of memorable advice did they give you and have you used it for roles like Atticus in Lovecraft Country? 

JM: It’s interesting how the men in my life work. Advice never really comes. As cliche as it sounds, we lead by example. Take care of your business, look after your brother, make up your bed, say what you need to say and that’s it. Get your work done and do your best. These are simple things that are inherent in survival. More so when it comes from men whose lives been in jeopardy since their genesis. Then there are ancestors, that is who hooked me on set. They were with me and looked after me. Sometimes they would tell me how to walk. The baron of them is what I use and remember to portray Atticus. 

Jonathan Majors
Jonathan Majors as Atticus in Lovecraft Country

DDF: In episode 7 we see Atticus go into a time portal. If he were to be transported to the present day, how would he react to what’s going with Breonna Taylor and racial injustice? 

JM: I think Atticus would hit the front line. Atticus knows things, he knows magic. There’d be a whole genre of action taken. 

I think emotionally he would be saddened. Especially because there’s such a jump of over 70 years and he’s worked so hard for protection. So, to see his tribe adjacent with sister [Breonna] Taylor is not protected. It could be an existential crisis with him.

DDF: During your Zoom interview with Jimmy Fallon, I saw you had a guitar in the background. Do you play guitar or any instruments? 

JM: I play a little bit of guitar and am learning how to improve my playing skills. I am also learning to play saxophone and to play the harmonica. So yeah, I get down. 

DDF: What is your favorite thing to listen to? 

JM: It’s a mixture of things. It depends on the day. If I had put on some music now I’d say, Otis Redding, Ella Fitzgerald, Coltrane, and Dizzy Gillepsie. 

DDF: Is there an artist you would like to portray in a biopic? 

JM: Oh yeah, I’d play Coltrane. I’d like to try that out. 

DDF: Would you like to write and direct that project  yourself? 

JM: I’d be involved. I think if I had the time and spirit hit me, I could get it done. I think he is such a fascinating man. 

DDF: If you could portray a superhero or villain in a movie, who would they be? 

JM: To be honest, I have an infatuation with Superman. I love Superman. I think they’ve gotten him wrong in film this whole time. Somehow we have to get Metropolis caught up in Gotham because I would like to play the Riddler. If we could somehow get that going where the Riddler takes his interest off Batman and he focuses on Superman, that would be crazy! 

DDF: You may have to pitch it to DC films! 

JM: You can produce it, we can roll! 

The future is looking bright for Jonathan Majors as he prepares to star in the upcoming star-studded film The Harder They Fall with Idris Alba. There are also talks of him portraying a villain in the MCU, rumored to be the next big villain after Thanos. Until then make sure to tune into HBO and HBO MAX to catch the latest episodes of Lovecraft Country

16Aug/20

Lovecraft Country: Is Racism Scarier Than Ghosts, Monsters, and Witches?

SYNOPSIS: HBO’s new drama series, LOVECRAFT COUNTRY, based on the 2016 novel by Matt Ruff of the same name, debuts this August. The series follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he joins up with his friend Letitia “Leti” (Jurnee Smollett-Bell) and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father (Michael Kenneth Williams). This begins a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the terrifying monsters that could be ripped from a Lovecraft paperback.

If you love 80’s movie nostalgia and horror-themed shows like Tales From the Crypt and Underground, this is the series for you. Showrunner and creator of Underground, Misha Green, brings all of these elements together in the new HBO MAX series Lovecraft Country. Me being a horror buff and a supporter of the various creatives involved (i.e. Jurnee Smollet-Bell, Jonathan Major, Jordan Peele, etc.), I had to check it out and satisfy my pallet for a Black horror series. Added bonus, the series showrunner is a Black woman, something not common in Hollywood. 

Courtney B. Vance, Jonathan Majors, Jurnee Smollet-Bell
Photo courtesy of Warner Media

The Horror of Lovecraft Country

While watching the characters interact with the world around them, I wondered if racism in the 1950s was scarier than the ghosts and monsters? I saw the terrifying look Black characters had when they were being questioned by white police officers and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between those moments and the moments when they encountered a monster.

I asked actress, Jurnee Smollet-Bell, which was scarier, racism in the 1950s or monsters, ghosts, and witches? She replied, “With the Monsters, what you see is what you get. You kind of know what to expect? It’s pure danger. You do whatever you can to escape, otherwise you’re screwed. With systemic racism, which is what this country has been built upon and has yet to dismantle, it’s more horrifying because it’s more nuanced. You have to fight it at every single step of your life. In the pursuit of your happiness, whether it’s purchasing a home and fight against the redlining and housing discrimination in the 1950s, not being able to get a loan from a bank if you wanted to purchase in a certain neighborhood, driving while Black, trying to apply for a job at a local store. It’s actually more oppressive and terrifying to me because you don’t know what to expect, you don’t know when it’s coming.”   

I can definitely see the Jordan Peele influence – using racism as a horror element. Showrunner, Misha Green, mentions in her Warner Media interview how much influence Jordan Peele had stating, “When we were working on Lovecraft – he was doing the film Us at the time – we talked a lot about our shared belief regarding horror, which is: You need the metaphor. I’d played with that on ‘Underground’; that it was a heist movie but set in slavery times.” 

Actor Jonathan Majors also noted Jordan Peele’s influence. “This series shows we as Black people contain multitudes. We have all these things inside of us. We know that horror is a part of our life, we know Afrofuturism is just our imagination. It gives us permission to move into any genre we want. I was surprised that Jordan Peele took Black bodies and put them into a horror genre and expanded the scope.”

Jurnee Smollet-Bell
photo courtesy of Warner Media

Tic and Leti

The series lead protagonist, Atticus Aka Tic, is played by actor Jonathan Majors. The character has a love for books and a protector mentality – an extremely compelling character. Starting off as a nerdy kid with glasses who transformed into a courageous young man, I wanted to see more background of his transition into manhood. I discovered Majors had researched his role by reading various authors, some of whom are mentioned in the series. When Atticus is introduced, he’s seen reading a book and even mentions his love for books. I ask Majors if he had to survive in a mansion filled with ghosts and monsters what historical black figure would he choose to be with him? He responded, “Fredrick Douglas and Nat Turner because, in this type of scenario, we have to do a trio. Like Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman. It would be me, Frederick Douglas, because he has the brains and Nat Turner because he’s a fighter! Go homeboy Nat!”  

Leti is a very amiable character. Her confidence, charisma, and charm had my attention every time she was on screen. She embodies the strength of strong female Black lead actresses from that time period. Smollet-Bell explained the inspiration for the character came from her grandmother, whom she never got to meet. “My grandmother’s nickname was Showtime! I grew up hearing the stories about her being a single mother, raising four kids, and being so mistreated by white folks whom she cleaned the house for. Yet they could not rob her of her dignity!” Smollet-Bell also read prominent writers like James Baldwin and Gwendalyn Brooks to research for the role. She mentioned her search to find the fire inside Eartha Kitt to bring life to her character Letitia and it shows. 

Misha and the Music

One of the elements that set the tone of each scene was the amazing soundtrack. I found myself lured in the various songs and speeches that really give the series life. In my head, I thought, “Yeah we needed to have a Black showrunner in charge of this show because this soundtrack is dope and engaging.” Being a music, tv, and film lover, I was definitely satisfied having all those boxes checked off in one project. Especially when artists like Moses Sumney, Leon Bridges, and Black opera singer, Marian Anderson, play throughout the course of the series. 

When asked about the soundtrack selection, Misha Green explained, “Joe Pokaski and I used to talk about how do we pull the slavery portrait off the museum wall and evolve the story beyond, ‘Look at how bad slavery was’? One way was by using more vibrant camera movements; the other was through using modern music. I wanted to build on that in Lovecraft and also integrate ‘found audio’ into the score. For example, in the opening, we use voiceover from [the 1950 film] ‘The Jackie Robinson Story.’ Later we have [Ntozake Shange’s 1975 poem] For Colored Girls and [poet, Gil Scott-Heron’s] Whitey on the Moon. I love the idea of taking our show ‘out of time.’ It’s the past, present, and future. How do we wrap all of that into a unique soundscape? We want the show to be full-sensory, engaging, and have people learn from it without having to learn from it. My favorite learning experiences are immersive; those that make me re-think what I know as opposed to ‘here’s some bad history.’ How can we immerse the viewer even further? I love when I have revelations two weeks after the fact where I’m like, ‘Oh wow, ok.’”

The horror-themed time period piece, Lovecraft Country, it is in a league of its own – providing a world where fear is a theme defined in many ways and in some cases relatable. Is racism scarier than monsters, witches, and ghosts? Check out the series Lovecraft Country August 16th on HBO Max at 9pm and you can decide…

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY is executive produced by Misha Green, who also serves as showrunner, Jordan Peele, and J.J. Abrams.