"Dark Phoenix"

It is only natural that with the two mediocre films that proceed “Dark Phoenix,” this film would be written off. I was intrigued to see the film because of Jessica Chastain’s look and the trailer actually made the film look fantastic. Through the course of the story, Jean Grey learns about the circumstances of her upbringing and the lies of the life she knew after a cataclysmic accident enhances her powers.

Sophie Turner played Jean Grey with innocence, vitality and vigor. Once again we watch a female character who is told to control their emotions in order to inhabit their power. Jessica Chastain is a fantastic antagonist. James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender and Alexandra Shipp return to the series with great appeal as Professor X, Magneto and Storm, respectively. Evan Peters brings the humor as Quicksilver. I wish he was used in the film more. Tye Sheridan as Scott Summers/Cyclops compliments Sophie’s performance with a balance of love and protection. Jennifer Lawrence is good as Raven in a fairly underutilized role to satisfy the story. Nicholas Hoult is incredible as Hank/Beast. Nicholas should be the next Batman. I will shout that from the mountaintops. Ato Essandoh gives vengeance and manipulation as one of the D’Bari members. Kodi Smit-McPhee gives a great supporting performance as Nightcrawler, one of my favorite characters due to Alan Cumming’s performance in “X2.” Hannah Emily Anderson and Scott Shepherd are great as Jean’s parents.

Director & Writer Simon Kinberg gives fire to the story in parts. For his writing, the story is good. It is also discombobulated. The D’bari Empire is not explained well. You can still fear them. There are a couple of plot points that did not make sense and fully commit. There are corny political connections that I guess speak to reality. There is an evolution and a completion to a series that began with “X-Men: First Class.” For Jean Grey, there is a focus on her evolution with her power. The film could have benefited to use the six minutes to make the story fuller for a two hour film. However, this film is accomplishes not dragging out. For his directing, with the special effects, there is breathtaking action. The score (as I looked up who created it makes so much sense) by Hans Zimmer is electric and with his signature enhancing the film’s experience.

I am going to see this film again.

"Always Be My Maybe"

The title of this film alone made me eager to watch. Sasha and Marcus are childhood friends who lose touch after a heart-wrenching moment. When they reconnect as adults, they realize what was a maybe could become something.

I need to watch more of Ali Wong. She is fantastic as Sasha. Randall Park is sharp as Marcus. As an actor, he knows his lane without being typecasted. Daniel Dae Kim, who was a gorgeous presence, is Brandon, Sasha’s conceited and business minded “boyfriend.” Michelle Buteau and Casey Wilson continue the humor as Sasha’s assistant and decorator, respectively. James Saito is warm and encouraging as Harry, Marcus’ father. Susan Park is wonderful and nurturing as Judy, Marcus’ mother. Raymond Ma, Peggy Lu and Karan Soni are a part of a stunning supporting cast in humor and presence. Keanu Reeves walks in the room and air exhales.

Writers Ali Wong, Randall Park & Michael Golamco crafted a strong romantic comedy. The story felt realistic and inclusive. It was also sentimental. The ending was rushed. The film is fun with enough drama. I liked that Sasha was a successful chef. She grew up as a latch key kid. The relationship between her and Judy, particularly through food, was special. Director Nahnatchka Ali gave a wide scope of San Francisco. I could tell the location scouts had a ball capturing the eclecticism of the city. Marcus fronts a band. Their music is cool and funny. Michael Andrews and Greyboy created a good soundtrack. Ali Wong’s glasses are a character of their own. Costume Designer Leesa Evans created essential looks for each character. Sasha moved in and out of glamour and comfort casual effortlessly.

This film is streaming on Netflix.

"Fresh"

This film is 25 years old. There is a scene that hits at a man’s fragile ego, which shows the film’s relevancy today. Fresh (Sean Nelson) is a pre-teenage drug dealer looking to escape with his sister from a dangerous lifestyle. I felt like this film was a combination of “The Sandlot” and “Menace II Society.”

Sean Nelson gives a cunning and mature performance. As Fresh, he handles his business yet allows himself to be vulnerable. Samuel L. Jackson is wise as Sam, Fresh’s father. They are rebuilding a broken relationship. It is fascinating to see Jackson look older and homely in his earlier roles. Giancarlo Esposito is ever fantastic as Esteban, a manipulative drug dealer. N’Bushe Wright is wide-eyed and commanding as Nichole, Fresh’s sister. Jean-Claude La Marre is ruthless as Jake, a lookout. Luis Lantigua brings the humor as Chuckie, Fresh’s best friend.

Writer & Director Boaz Yakin crafted a multi-layered script. New York was not as prevalent but the story could have been set anywhere, which is how it resonates. Chess is a powerful metaphor for how Fresh moves in the dangerous world of drug dealing. It is the way Fresh and Sam build a relationship against the odds of their father-son dynamic. It is also not a little boy’s game. Fresh is constantly in grownup situations. There were plenty of moments for him to be murdered. He also has a crush on a girl, bringing back the reality that he is a child. The language and slang of the film adds another realistic element even if it is cringeworthy to hear from these kids. Music by Stewart Copeland is interesting in the scenes. It has a Renaissance feel.

You can stream this film on Netflix.

"See You Yesterday"

This film embraces all of the elements I enjoy in film. Cool characters, sharp writing, culture and escapism. CJ and Sebastian are friends eager to build a time travel machine. When CJ’s brother is murdered by police, they work to prevent the circumstances prior to his death.

Eden Duncan-Smith is fantastic with true emotion as CJ, a powerful girl with imagination and innovation. Dante Crichlow is mesmerizing as Sebastian, a boy with curiosity. They have stunning chemistry with keeping each other in check and holding each other up. Astro, Marsha Stephanie Blake and Wavyy Jonez lead a strong supporting cast. Michael J. Fox makes a charming cameo.

Co-writers Stefon Bristol and Fredrica Bailey crafted an affirming, blerdy, hilarious and black multi-layered script. I loved the homage to Brooklyn and the generational relationships. Director Stefon Bristol gave power in how the characters function in reality. While CJ and Sebastian are teenagers, they are written wonderfully and compellingly. Costume Designer Charlese Antionette Jones crafted distinct looks for each character. I particularly liked the hip-hop grunge vibe. The ending is satisfying.

You can stream this film on Netflix.

"Tyrel"

The film was a few things but not quite. Horror. Satire. Fictional. An imagination. This film is about a black man named Tyler (referred to as Tyrel in parts) who spends time with a group of white men in the Catskills.

Jason Mitchell brings humor and anger to Tyler. He plays a cook in this film, a job for most of his characters, tied possibly because Jason was an oyster shucker before becoming an actor. Caleb Landry Jones truly played into the brashness of his character, Pete. Christopher Abbott was fantastic as Johnny, Tyler’s friend who coaxes Tyler to being “one of the guys.” Ann Dowd is delightful as Silvia. Reg E. Cathey, in one of his final performances, is strong as Reggie. Michael Zegen, Nicolas Arze, Michael Cera and Roddy Bottum form a strong ensemble, amplifying the flow of the story.

Writer and Director Sebastián Silva crafted a film that highlights the struggles of being black and brown man in a predominantly white man’s space. One of the white men puts on a durag and automatically thinks they can rap. Tyler dry laughs with his discomfort shown. Tyler’s irritation heightens when he is asked to participate in asinine games, yet he wants to be a part of the crew so he gives in with a smile. The camera absorbs the convos and interactions in the home. The way I will sum up this film is white boy wasted and ruthless living from the eyes and actions of a black man. If the film was any longer, I would say it was a dud. However, clocking in at 1 hour and 26 minutes, it is long enough to get the scope of what the film tries to convey.

You can stream this film on Hulu.

"Period. End of Sentence."

“We want women to rise and fly.”

This Academy-Award winning documentary short is 26 minutes. The focus is women in rural India as they make pads and girls and women who learned about their use. There is economic growth, entrepreneurship, sisterhood and education. “Avengers: Endgame” also should have been this long.

Director Rayka Zehtabchi gave striking close-ups of the girls and women, who were curious about the camera and giddy about the pad tutorials. Gender roles are prevalently shown throughout the documentary short. For the most part, having a period was private, embarrassing and degrading. The dubbing voices for English is obnoxious. However, the documentary short is so engaging and impactful, you barely notice. I am in an awe of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who created the pad making machine. While the machine seems archaic, for the women, pads are revolutionary. He also spoke glowingly of women, our power in society. There was a woman who dreamed of being in the police force. You see women hustle to sell the pads. I am glad the focus was on the girls and women in India. Their voices are rich in the story’s timeline. It gives value to this project.

You can stream this documentary short on Netflix. You can also visit www.padproject.org.

"Avengers: Endgame"

I went into this movie in a mood. What was going to be of this three-hour opus? Watching the film I thought, "this is an obnoxious Inception.” Another moment “action-packed The Leftovers.” Having seen the film twice in the span of opening weekend, I had completely different experiences. The film does not feel that long.

The Avengers align together to defeat Thanos. It is also Chris Evans’ final (but is it really?) performance as Captain America, which he is mighty and wonderful in every facet.

The performances vary from stellar and to barely striking a match. Karen Gillan delivers a standout performance as Nebula. Jeremy Renner balanced being a stunning vigilante and compassionate hero as Hawkeye/Clint Barton. He had a scene with an attitude that harkened back to his role in “The Town.” Don Cheadle, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth and Danai Gurira are fantastic. They all have at least one comedic moment. Captain Marvel, Rocket Raccoon & Ant-Man/Scott Lang are my saving graces of the film. Brie Larson, Bradley Cooper & Paul Rudd, respectively captivate the screen. Everyone who returned did their thing! Although one person could have just been left off. Robert Downey Jr. provides comic relief and an elevated dramatic performance for Iron-Man/Tony Stark. Thanos is just a big bully with an executioner style sword. Emma Fuhrmann, Ava Russo and Yvette Nicole Brown are among the supporting cast who are exceptional in their roles. This ensemble is out of this world by Casting Director Sarah Finn.

The writing was fine. I would have preferred more action scenes than stale drama between the Avengers. That was my gripe with “Captain America: Civil War.” There were scenes that dragged on. I also do not care for Black Widow and this film established that. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo return the audience to a stellar world. The special effects team gave an outstanding look. Thanos’ spaceship slowly inches through fog and it is quite terrifying. Alan Silvestri composed a sweeping and cerebral score. My favorite scenes with his music are when Scott Lang searches for Cassie, his daughter, and when Tony discovers a way to time travel. Costume Designer Judianna Makovsky created essential looks for each character. Okoye wears a black dress that is sophisticated and snatched.

I wish Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie was a surprise return to the film. She is a treasure. Don Cheadle has a scene that harkens back to his character in “Traffic.” There was a serene setting with guitar playing in the score that made me think of “A Star is Born,” and I chuckled. There is also an homage to '“The Big Lebowski.”

The real winner of this film is Audi, who has strategic & impeccable product placement.

Marvel Studios produced an exemplary and ground-breaking timeline of projects adhering to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s vision. It plays to the generations who crave these stories rooted in reality with fantasy.

Overall, the film is nerve-racking yet satisfying. I will likely see it for a third time and eat, drink and be merry.

"Fast Color"

One of the few uses of Twitter is the power of word of mouth. I learned about one of the most extraordinary films I ever witnessed thus far in my life because of my newsfeed. Three generations of black women harness and embrace their supernatural powers amidst internal rifts and leeching scientists eager to study the family’s DNA.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw is one of my favorite actresses. She is powerful as Ruth, a recovering addict who has yet to understand her power. Her vulnerability livens in her eyes. Saniyya Sidney is remarkable as Lila, Ruth’s daughter eager to explore outside the confines of her home. She balances charisma, vigor and curiosity. Lorraine Toussaint is a goddess and as ever-commanding as Bo, the matriarch with wisdom and passion. David Strathairn is mysterious and smooth as Ellis, a protector and connection to the family. Christopher Denham, Sylvie Grontis Hagan and Levi Dylan Martinez are part of a complete ensemble.

Writers Julia Hart and Jordan Horowitz showed the beauty and tribulations of black women. It was not just the world against them. During the course of the film, there are conflicts amidst them. The story has a dystopian edge, however a contemporary story occurs. When I watched the characters use or purchase water, because it has not rained in eight years, I thought about what residents of Flint, MI endure to have access to clean water. The story begins slowly but bursts with emotion by the magnetism of family and a love story. Director Julia Hart captures the electrifying colors with a stellar visual and special effects team. When the power is used, it is as though time stops watching each shot of the moment. Music by Rob Simonsen heightens the tension of the film with a cerebral score.

I was proud to support this film. I carried the feeling most black people have when they see themselves onscreen. To see the film in my neighborhood movie theater in Baldwin Hills was a bonus. I squealed internally because a city in the film is View Park, a neighborhood near where I live.

My heart beats a bright red after seeing “Fast Color.”

"Little"

Jordan Sanders is a powerful, revered and feared technology mogul. Her nasty attitude turns off everyone. By the wish of a young budding and persistently practicing magician, Jordan returns to her dreaded middle school where she was teased relentlessly, became guarded and learned to build success.

Regina Hall is fantastic as Jordan. She delivers hell through humor. Issa Rae is wonderful as April, an ambitious yet timid assistant to Jordan. Marsai Martin is delightful as Jordan in middle school. Issa and Marsai met each other incredibly in their scenes. I enjoyed watching older Jordan work through younger Jordan. Tone Bell, Mikey Day, Justin Hartley, Caleb Emery and Luke James form a strong supporting cast. JD McCrary, Thalia Tran and Tucker Meek light up the screen as Jordan’s friends when she returns to middle school.

Director Tina Gordon gave the scope of each scene. I saw the city of Atlanta as a character instead of a location. Jordan lives in a breathtaking condo overlooking the city. Marsai pitched the story at ten years old. Co-writers Gordon and Tracy Oliver showed the beauty of black women and girls onscreen in flaws and fruition. It felt so good to laugh. The jokes are universally funny. There were not many shenanigans distracting the story. The drama moves well in the course of the film. Costume Designer Danielle Hollowell created stellar and unique outfits for the characters. I need the “Black People Read” jacket April wears. I hope the Homegirl system becomes a reality. Producer Will Packer once again delivers a fun film with a powerful reminder of life with an inclusive perspective.

"Mississippi Grind"

This film has been in my queue for literal years. When I decided a film to watch next and saw who directed this film, I knew it was time to watch it. Gerry, a gambler seeking refuge in getting one good bet finds an ally and distant friendship to Curtis, a hopeless wanderer and fellow gambler.

Ben Mendelsohn is his signature groggy being as Gerry. Ryan Reynolds is charismatic and rewarding in his arc as Curtis. Ben and Ryan have a deep-rooted chemistry. Sienna Miller plays Simone, a fling yet love interest to Curtis, with sincerity and curiosity. Stephanie Honoré plays Denise, an interest to Gerry, with naïveté and power. She looks like Emma Stone and Aubrey Plaza’s first cousin. Alfre Woodard is in one scene and captivates and glows in her voice and presence.

Writers and Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck developed a well-rounded script with use of the scene. The wide shots captured in each city the men traveled. We experience the road trip the men are on. The location scouting was exceptionally done. The film is hilarious in parts with a pinch of shade. There could have been nine minutes shaved off the film. I was intrigued that they just directed and co-wrote the massively scaled “Captain Marvel.” Costume Designer Abby O’Sullivan gives each character a distinct look. A black older gentleman wears the heck out of a mint green button down with a forest green cap. Music by Scott Bomar created a fantastic score driving the course of the film and highlighting influences from some of the cities.

You can stream this film on Netflix.