Night School

By Khaleel Herbert

Teddy Walker (Kevin Hart) thinks education is for the birds and the day of his SAT test, he quits and drops out of high school.
Years later, Teddy has the life he’s always dreamed of: he’s the top salesmen at a barbecue grill store, he has a beautiful fiancé (Megalyn Echikunwoke) who loves and respects him and he’s not living at home with his parents. But when the grill store goes up in flames (literally), Teddy struggles to find employment.

His friend and financial adviser (Ben Schwartz)suggests that Teddy get his GED for a marketing position at a bank. Teddy reluctantly returns to his old high school with his former nemesis as the new principal. But with the help of a strict teacher (Tiffany Haddish), she enrolls him into her night school class.

Night School is the lovechild of 1985’s The Breakfast Club with Hart’s Central Intelligence but without the action and The Rock (which isn’t all bad). Hart brings his classic aggravated side out while Haddish brings some of her wild-child side from last year’s Girls Trip and a heavy dose of no-sh** attitude.
The cast includes Romany Malco, known for his work in The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Think Like A Man, and rapper Fat Joe, who plays a convict attending night school via Skype.

Malcolm D. Lee, the director behind Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins, Soul Men, The Best Man and more, knows how to incorporate the funny and seriousness into his films. Night School not only makes you laugh but gives you inspiration. In Soul Men, Sam Jackson’s Louis Hinds thinks he’s a washed-up entertainer. But Bernie Mac’s (rest in peace) Floyd Henderson perseveres to get Louis on board so they can make a comeback in music. When they worked together through their hilarious trials and tribulations, they recognized their true potential and had a comeback performance at the Apollo.

Lee’s characters struggle with pain either in real time or in their pasts. But when they recognize their worth, they overcome the pain often in a hilarious way.
Night School mixes the comedy stylings of Hart and Haddish into a class of funny all its own that you don’t want to miss. But the scenes with vomit, pubic hair and awkward butt-grabbing were unnecessary. The soundtrack is also on par, playing classics from T.I., and OutKast instead of today’s mumble rappers.

The Hate U Give

By Samantha Ofole-Prince

Director George Tillman Jr. Delivers a Heartbreaking Drama.

It’s a tough book to read, and an even tougher film to watch. George Tillman Jr.’s screen adaptation of Angie Thomas’ book “The Hate U Give” is one of the most extraordinary films to be released this year.
The film tells the story of Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), a 16-year-old Black girl who is constantly switching between two worlds: the poor, mostly Black,
neighborhood where she lives and the rich, mostly white, prep school she attends. After witnessing the fatal shooting of her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith) at the hands of a police officer, the uneasy balance between these two worlds is shattered as she’s thrust into a situation that seems insurmountable. 

A powerful and evocative coming of age story that explores Black familial life, race, social justice and identity, Tillman (Soul Food, Barbershop) once again elicits powerful performances from his actors that include Russell Hornsby, Regina Hall, Anthony Mackie and Issa Rae as a community activist who rallies the community to demand justice for Khalil.

It’s a moving drama, which opens in the Black Garden Heights neighborhood with Starr’s father, Maverick (Hornsby), a reformed ex-gang member who once served time in prison giving his children The Talk, a lesson Black parents use to protect their children from the danger police can pose to their safety. Fast-forward and we meet Starr’s best friends Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) and Maya (Megan Lawless) and her white boyfriend Chris (K. J. Apa) at the predominately white private school she attends 40 minutes away from her downtrodden Black neighborhood. It’s a complicated world. Starr narrates at Williamson Prep School and forced to put on a façade, she hates herself for that.

Color is carefully used to visually differentiate between the stark realities of these two worlds; warmer hues for the hood and blues to depict the colder brighter atmosphere of the mostly white world.
On the weekends, Starr gets to hang out with her Black best friend in the hood and listen to
hip hop, but everything changes when Khalil is killed by a white police officer during a traffic stop as he reaches for his hairbrush. The community is enraged and the tragedy forces Starr, who we discover lost another friend earlier to gang violence, to take action. 

Remarkably adept at shooting with a sympathetic and not too heavy hand, Tillman takes the audience through the constant challenges to Black family life – poverty, drugs, crime, and the prospect that an encounter with the police can have deadly consequences. He skillfully connects the fictional world of the movie to the long line of high profile police shootings of young Black people that have sparked several protests in recent years.

“If you had stopped a white guy, wearing a suit in a white neighborhood, would you tell him to put his hands up or would you shoot first?” Starr, in onescene asks her uncle Carlos, a Black police officer who is played by Common. His answer is a reminder of the stereotypically racist view many cops have of young Black males as Carlos is forced to admit some hard truths about himself and his own bias.

Despite its subject matter, the film isn’t all bleak. Tillman presents Starr’s parents as positive Black models. Her father Maverick is a reformed ex-gang member who grew up in Garden Heights and once served time in prison but is now a family man and valued member of the community who owns the community grocery store. Her mother, Lisa (Hall) is a nurse and ofcourse there is Uncle Carlos the Black cop.

Music is also a very important aspect of the film for the spirit of Tupac hovers over the story through the title and in the soundtrack.
The Hate U Give is an emotional rollercoaster and a guaranteed tearjerker. Tillman, who is well known for his family and
community centered portrayals of African-American life assembles a perfect cast and expertly executes a brilliant screen version of Thomas’ book.


Bad Times at the El Royale

By Samantha Ofole-Prince

A brilliant blend of mystery and murder, Bad Times at the El Royale is an engaging movie that follows seven shifty strangers who converge at a once thriving hotel over the course of one night.
It’s a great setup, as the film begins with a mysterious flashback to 1958, where an anxious guest hastily buries a duffel bag beneath the floorboards of his room. Later that night, someone pays him a visit and shoots him dead. Who is he? Why was he there and what did he bury beneath the boards?

Fast forward to 1969 and those questions are slowly revealed as we are introduced to several hotel guests who include Darlene Sweet (Cynthia Erivo), a soul singer with money worries, Father Daniel Flynn (Jeff Bridges), an old and rather demented priest who appears rather anxious and fidgety and Laramie Seymour Sullivan (Jon Hamm), a pompous traveling salesman with the gift of gab. There’s also Emily Summerspring (Dakota Johnson), a hippie with a bad attitude, Chris Hemsworth, an enigmatic cult leader called Billy Lee and the hotel resort’s 20-year-old sole employee, Miles Miller (Lewis Pullman) who is a bit of an odd character.

Over the course of the evening, the plot thickens as we learn more about the guests and as more characters are slowly trickled in the tension builds. Each guest has a hidden agenda and a reason for passing through the ram shackled hotel, which was once a glorious resort, but has since fallen – like its visitors – into disrepute.

Ominous and mysterious, it’s fun to watch the stellar ensemble play their parts. The charismatic Hamm, who plays the seedy Southern salesman, is entertaining with his rambling monologues. Father Flynn (Bridges) with his ill-fitting collar offers clues that he may not be who he claims to be and the first time we meet Miller (Pullman), it’s clear that he has plenty to hide. Although every one of the Thespismake a strong impression and truly immerse themselves in their individual scenes, the film’s shining star is Erivo (Broadway’s The Color Purple) who gets to showcase not just her acting but her outstanding vocal skills.

With several guests, one strange host along with many more twists, turnsand secrets, no one is entirely innocent in this stylishly violent thriller.

Director and writer Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods) perfectly stacks the deck with crazy and dangerously exciting characters and offers a fresh, unique movie laced with sinister humor.
It’s a complex and chaotic drama with a claustrophobic feel, which certainly hooks you in, as except for flashbacks to the characters’ backstories, all the action takes place at the El Royale hotel.


First Man

By Laurence Washington

 Before we get started, let’s establish the fact that First Man is not a flag-waving patriotic movie. And it’s not a make Making America Great Again film either. It’s about a reluctant hero, who jeopardizes his marriage and his life, so his country can have the first moon landing. Through personal and on-the-job tragedies, astronaut Neil Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) is thrust into the history as being the first man to walk upon the lunar surface.

The film has received numerous complains that there’s not a scene with Armstrong planting the American flag on the lunar surface. Relax, there are plenty of patriotic moments, and the film just doesn’t hit you over the head with them. And for the record, audiences do see the American flag on the moon.

Apollo 13 (‘95) and the Right Stuff (’83) are a couple of favorite Hollywood NASA space movies. And audiences might be expecting more of the same treatment as in the other films. You know a lot of bells and whistles, and maybe a speech or two. However, the filmmakers took another approach. First Man follows Armstrong’sperson life, the Apollo space program and all the space hardware that launched America into the 1960’s space race.

The film stock is grainy by design. No Hollywood glitz, overt special effects and bombastic music. The film is shot from the astronaut’s perspective. Inside the space capsules Mercury, Gemini and finally Apollo, the thin walls squeak, contort, shake, rattle and roll during liftoff. They make the audience wonder why anyone would get inside one of those soup cans, which might fly apart at any moment during lunch, not to mention reentry. But there were those who piloted those crafts and paid with their lives.

The film follows Armstrong’s seven years of sacrifices, deathsand failures. The filmmakers highlight the things the general public probably didn’t know, think, or even cared about at the time. The press and public wanted to see a space pioneer, which Armstrong was, but he was also flawed like the rest of us. The only difference is, when Armstrong went to work, his family and friends knew he might not come back home.

There’s a heart-wrenching scene where Armstrong sits his two boys down and tells them that he might not be coming back from the moon. In fact, NASA halfway expected the mission to fail, but took a gamble to beat the Russians to the lunar surface.

To the film’s credit, it does give screen time to the hundreds of protesters who thought the millions of dollars spent on the space race would be better spent at home on the poor and disenfranchised. That fact is punctuated by musician Gil Scott-Heron’s politically charged and poignant poem, “Whitey’s On The Moon.” But with that being said, First Man is a fresh perspective of an event that most people think they knew about.