Author Archives: Malachi Bailey

Lovecraft Country’s Debut Shows Tremendous Potential

Lovecraft Country

“This is a story of a boy and his dream…”

I’ll be honest, when they said that Jordan Peele was associated with Lovecraft Country, I was automatically interested. Since Get Out, I’ve loved this comedian-turned-visionary’s foray into the sci-fi and fantasy genre. A genre, I might add, that has rarely had any Black leads or Black characters of note. I always found it interesting that for a genre filled with so many variations of aliens, elves, etc. it was hard to spot any Black people. But now we don’t have to worry about that as Black speculative fiction, written and visual, is finally getting its due. And the opening shot of the first episode did just that!

I’ll try not to spoil the debut. I promise, but it may be a tad bit impossible.

The opening sequence is a visual feast; a smorgasbord of cinematic gold, throwbacks to the early days of sci-fi, and a homage to Black heroes without capes. I literally had to catch my breath when they panned out so we could see just what was going on. Trust me there was a lot! I was reminded of War of the Worlds and even Avengers: Endgame. And then for us to see him again, half-way between the dreaming and waking world, I found myself looking at a character that was sooo familiar. He was a blerd! Bespectacled and black. Passionate about storytelling. That’s me, y’all. That’s you.

But seeing him in the back of the bus for “coloreds only” rudely brought me back to his reality. A reality that makes up a great deal of this nation’s history. “Good riddance to old Jim Crow” indeed. Sobering still when the bus breaks down and he and another passenger had to walk to the next town. The visual coupled with hearing my elders saying “we have a long road ahead of us” was not lost on me.

But let’s discuss this enchanting cast:

Atticus Freeman played by Jonathan Majors:  Okay, I knew Majors was talented when I first saw him in The Last Black Man in San Francisco. I don’t know if it’s because he is a method actor (I’m just assuming) or what, but he brings this magnetic energy to Atticus. The nerdy “boy next door” who is back home, a soldier, but still very much a dreamer. He said “stories are like people. Loving them doesn’t make them perfect. You just try and cherish ‘em, overlook their flaws.” There is a profoundness to that quote. One might think it could be applied to America… I loved that he was fearless in time when fear was used to control African Americans.

Letitia Dandridge played by Jurnee Smollett-Bell: Like Jonathan, Jurnee always brings this light to whomever she portrays. There is this infectious quality she possesses. Her take on Letitia is spunky, free-spirited, and just what this heavy show needs. Whether it’s her dancing on the stage or looking over her shades at  the gawking white woman, Letitia steals every scene.

George Freeman played by Courtney Vance: I’ve always loved Courtney. He always seems so poised and educated that it is impossible not to be taken in by it. That and the cadence of his voice. I love love love how he loves on his wife Hippolyta! #BlackLoveGoals! Their relationship is full, full of good, wholesome things, and you see just how protective he is of her. He seems protective of as his family as a whole.  It’s also clear that he loves his nephew, but skeletons in the family closet caused for an unexpected, emotional scene. And in that split second before the scene ended, you saw the look on George’s face that made you feel for him. HE BETTER NOT DIE IN THIS SHOW.

Hippolyta Freeman played by Aunjanue L. Ellis: I liked her. Another great actress. You can tell she is a dedicated and loyal wife and a loving mother to her daughter Diana. Wait…Hippolyta AND Diana? Surely that is no coincidence. If so, that would be…wonderful. I definitely want to see more of her. Especially since we see that she is interested in astrology.

Diana Freeman by Jada Harris: I really enjoyed this character and her artistic ability! I love how she was drawing comics and seemed a tad bit tomboyish. I’m sure that set her apart from what was socially acceptable back then even in the black community. But seriously though we can I find the first issue of her comic?

Another thing I found intriguing was the importance of the “Green Book” or “The Negro Motorist Green Book”. For those who do not know it was a travel guide for African Americans to travel safely during the Jim Crow era. It was considered a bible for black travelers. This, of course, is an integral theme during the course of the pilot episode because Atticus is searching for his father in Lovecraft Country. And when you watch Atticus, Uncle George, and Letitia on those winding, lazy roads weaving through America’s heartland, you also see signs proudly announcing unapologetically racism and bigotry. One such sign presented as a billboard said for black people not to let the sun set on them in that particular town.

It also made me think about just how pervasive, far reaching, and, well, traumatizing that was for the black community as a whole. Especially in the Midwest and South. Fear is a weapon. Fear is a net. Fear is a poison. I remember as a child my mom telling us to come home at sunset. I never understood why the urgency. I’m having fun so why should I be home when it starts to get dark?  I think she was just saying because she heard it from her parents. Then I remembered: my grandparents are both from the Deep South. They were young adults during this horrible era. I even recall my grandfather telling me he saw a man lynched when he was a just a kid. Sundown towns are no joke. And they STILL exist!

The cinematography was breathtaking. The juxtaposition between a line of black people on what I assume was a bread line against the mural showing a happy white family traveling on the road was stark and unsettling. I did love when Atticus bought the flower from the struggling mother. Support Black-owned businesses!

But let’s get to the fun stuff, right? Or at least the part where sh*t really got real! The slow car chase in Devon County hit differently especially with Letitia’s almost foreboding “we can outrun blob” comment fresh in your mind. I think that in all my years watching car chases on the big and little screen, this was arguably one of the most intense but definitely the most original ones whether seen on movies or tv shows! You could almost taste the fear and desperation as they tried to leave the sundown town with literally minutes to spare with the racist sheriff behind them. And then that was amplified when the monsters came….and, man, were they terrifying! In truth, I don’t know who terrifying—the corrupt police or the ravenous sharp teethed creatures was more. I can assure you there was a difference.

In closing, I think this show has such tremendous potential.  I’m a sucker for a period piece so seeing a sci fi story set in the racist 1950’s was a visual and occasionally disturbing treat. The unseen monsters are a perfect metaphor for America’s own dark history. Trust me, they are still there in today’s age, emboldened by their orange king, but now they are out in the open. Brazen. Strong and wrong. And that’s fine. We are out in the open too. And we will fight this by any means necessary.

Oh, and one last thing: whatever happens in Denmark Vesey’s Bar stays in Denmark Vesey’s Bar! Cheers!

Movie Review: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Birds of Prey

If you go into Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) thinking it’s fanfic brought to life along with subpar cosplay costumes, cheesy dialogue, and gross misinterpretation of some of DC”s most iconic characters, then yes, the movie was good. If you go into the movie, thinking it should ONLY be called “The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn” or simply “Harley Quinn” instead of “Birds of Prey,” then yes, this was a good movie. If you are able to divorce the fact that you have been a fan of this particular comic series since 1998…if you are able to ignore the fact that there is no freakin’ Barbara Gordon as Oracle (you may remember her as the original pre-“New 52” Batgirl)…then yes, it was a good movie.

But let’s not call it “Birds of Prey”.

Sure, sure. I am aware of how they restructured the fan-favorite comic. I recall vaguely Harley Quinn is a member of the “New 52” version of the Suicide Squad. To be honest, I’m not sure how she ended up associated with Birds of Prey. Maybe when Poison Ivy, her bestie, joined the team? IDK. Even more reason for this movie to have its own title to focus solely on Harley Quinn. Because let’s face it: it was all about her emancipation and a motley crew of DC’s anti-heroines who were just along for the ride. And with all the said, I really enjoyed this movie more than I thought I would!

I don’t know what it was, but Margot Robbie seemed cooler as Harley Quinn than she did in Suicide Squad (which incidentally does not come anywhere close to how entertaining Birds of Prey was). She literally had me laughing out loud within the first few minutes especially when she was like “I’m telling the story the way I effin’ want to!” The more obvious attempts at humor like the Cheez Whiz and her getting super drunk or buying a hyena named Bruce was cute, but that didn’t tickle my funny bone. The more subtle humorous scenes made me bray like a donkey. Liiiike Harley jumping onto the driver’s legs, breaking them, then sitting on his lap and correcting him, telling him she has a Ph.D. (okay so maybe that was not meant to be subtle) or when she held the water with the huge cucumber in the bottle. But honestly, it was the egg sandwich with the possibly expired cheese that did it for me. Real tears. Y’all, she had real tears. And can I just say I literally exclaimed “yasss” EVERY TIME Harley was tearing up those kneecaps with aluminum baseball pats and sledgehammers? She was poetry in motion; violent gory poetry. And the lighter…! We got a chance to see her vulnerable side that finally sold me on Margot Robbie’s take on this hilarious epic character. The “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” scene had me hype. So well done.

The rest of the cast was a mixed bag of nuts. And not the good kind.

I’ll start off with this: I am NOT a fan of when they change the ethnicity of a particular character. Especially ones you’ve grown up knowing and loving. With that said, I was not a fan of Jurnee Smollett-Bell being cast as Dinah Lance a.k.a. Black effin’ Canary. But what can you do, right? Also, I was not a fan of the changed origin. But I will give credit where it is due. Jurnee did a good job and the way she kicked some ass was reminiscent of the Black Canary I know and love. I mean, who else can fight like that while wearing stylish tight as hell pants? And she really can sing!

“They call me…Ramona Flowers”. Let me stop, haha. Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Huntress gave me mixed feelings. On one hand, Helena Bertinelli has been a fave of my since my teens so seeing her on the screen was nice. It would have been nicer if she actually, I dunno,  resembled her comic book counterpart? How are you going to go around assassinating people while wearing a Missy Elliot garbage bag poncho and no mask? She was like a lazy cosplayer. I’m sure the comic book version would have used the crossbow on the movie version. I must admit, she does redeem herself. Just a little too late.

Rosie Perez’s Renee Montoya actually surprised me. She was gritty, oddly funny, and true to character. She put me in the mind of Renee’s journey of redemption in 2006’s much-lauded “52” series. I actually sighed with relief when the movie touched on one major part of her character growth. And yes, that tied to the “52” book. I won’t say what it was. I won’t spoil. I’m not a savage. And may I add that Rosie Perez still looks amazing? She was certainly “fighting the power” in this movie. But there was no dancing like in Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing”.

And then there’s Cassandra Cain played by Ella Jay Basco. Cute kid. She was your average Forever 21 shopper specializing in early 90’s fashion. Like I said: cute kid. Only the Cassandra Cain we know used to run around in a featureless snitched Batgirl mask and kick some serious ass. We got none of that in this movie! She was a liability throughout the entire movie. If she was not so integral to the plot (stay with me) I would have dragged her by her arm cast to No Man’s Land myself.

Now for the “Big Bad”: Roman Sionis/Black Mask portrayed by the truly versatile Ewan McGregor. He was actually a delight to watch on screen. He was funnier than Jared Leto’s Joker without even trying. I loved his sense of style and his BDSM-esque art involving the black mask was appropriate. Also, I’m positive Chris Messina’s Victor Zsasz was secretly in love with him. He kept saying “eww” and “kay” which was hilarious. But honestly, McGregor has always had the singular talent of becoming whomever he played in a movie. This experience was no different. Birds of Prey is the better for it.

The film didn’t deserve the measly $33 million it grossed opening weekend. As stated before, I so thoroughly enjoyed the insane hijinks of this wildly unpredictable, satisfying, but fanfic-y take on Birds of Prey. I was prepared to go into this movie hating it, but it had the opposite effect. The non-linear storytelling, overall fun and engaging characters, and the fantastic fight scenes (especially when Harley was fighting solo) was something right up my alley. The camaraderie and sense of sisterhood and women empowerment was unmistakable and I’m totally here for that! I would love to see a sequel or spin-off movies. It’s deserving of that. Also, is there a post-credits scene? Yes and no. Go check it out. And let me know what you thought, puddin’.

Movie Review: Joker

Joker

Send in the clowns…

So honestly I did not know what to expect when I purchased my Joker ticket. I had heard that it was great and earth-shattering. I had also heard it was pretty terrible. So you see why I had to go see it for myself, right?

The first thing that made me nervous was pulling up to the theater and seeing parked police cars. And when you think of why they had to be there, it made the whole experience even more surreal. My safety, as well as other moviegoers, were at risk. Because not everyone going to this movie would be sound of mind. And when you think about the public shootings…well… you can appreciate my growing concern.

Did I find this movie to be amazing? A masterpiece? No. Joaquin Phoenix did an AMAZING job in portraying arguably the most iconic comic book villain ever. Soooo creepy with those glassy, intense eyes set underneath those dark eyebrows, and he was so painfully skinny. His ribcage was a sight. He clearly lost weight for the role and it showed! Now, there were times when you sympathized with him. Clearly suffering from mental illness, and bullied by an unforgiving world, would certainly mess you up. That is not in question. It is what he does later on that doesn’t quite have you cheering him on. Deep down, you were glad he, I dunno, found himself?

I can’t and won’t pretend to know what if feels like to have one’s mind brimming and seething like a cauldron of negative thoughts. I can’t. And won’t allow myself to sink that low when it would be so easy to reach the bottom as Joker did. He had a mind of eels, a basket of drowned kittens. And all of what I said would have made him laugh. And can we talk about his laugh? Maybe we shouldn’t. I would hate to have nightmares….

He disturbed me. I would flinch and gasp with each outburst, as they increasingly grew more and more violent. The children’s hospital scene made me gasp then laugh then I had to cover my mouth. I wanted to hug him, but then he would have slit my throat… so no. He NEEDED to be institutionalized.

I felt uneasy whenever he had to interact with people but especially the black women in this movie. Example such as his social worker and the effervescent Sophie Dumond played by Zazie Beetz. I didn’t want the love story to blossom. I didn’t want her to even look at him and catch his crazy eye. But every good story needs conflict, right? Especially when you already know the horrible ending… I just wasn’t here for this poor unfortunate black women dealing with the white tears of a clown.

There’s a scene, in particular, that gave me chills. The Joker is standing on the curb and a car drives by with a man wearing a clown mask. They make eye contact. And Joker widens his eyes with the most disturbing smile on his face. I don’t know if I can look at Phoenix in the same way again.

Seeing Robert DeNiro was a treat. I loved him as the late night talk show host role as Murray Franklin. There’s something about the outro song that reminded me of SNL. It’s very jazzy and bluesy. And one of my other personal faves, Frances Conroy as Joker’s mom Penny, was a treat. She has such range as an actress. I’ve seen her as mortician’s widow, the angel of death, and now as the mother of the most insane criminal in the literary world. 

Anyway, I am not going to make this into a thinkpiece. As always, I wanted to share how I felt when seeing this. It was visceral, intense, and a proper origin story to one of my favorite characters. To borrow a phrase from a song:

“Everybody loves a winner so nobody loved me”

I can’t help but feel that is applicable to the sad, twisted, loveless tale of the Joker. He said life was a comedy. But most comedies are tragic. He needed help and no one cared enough to do so. He snapped while still smiling so hard his muscles ached and strained until his eyes watered. Still he smiled. This is not the tale of an underdog. This a tale of a man who laughed last.

Movie Review: It: Chapter Two

It: Chapter Two

They say you can’t run from your past. To ignore it is to repeat it.  They also say that the past is a mistress past shared. But I beg to differ. If the past is a mistress that is a terrifying long-limbed clown with yellow eyes, sharp teeth, and a red balloon then (by all means) leave that past behind you. Or better yet, just kill the damn thing. Clowns are creepy as hell!

If you have not guessed by now, I am referring to the second installment, the final chapter of the It movie. A movie I found to be surprisingly heartfelt and emotional when, of course, Pennywise the Dancing Clown was not drooling and about to tear into some young unsuspecting flesh.

Granted, and you many find this shocking; I DID NOT READ THE BOOK. Yet from what I read online this sequel was a faithful adaption to the novel with some minor changes. The start of the movie was brutal and jarring. If you read the book, you will know exactly what I’m referring to. The scene at the carnival was a gut punch to my soul; a still relevant reminder to what marginalized people deal with today. The irrational “need” to attack those who are different than you, those who do not fit, those who do not conform is still being perpetrated by monsters in 2019.  And the scary thing about it they look just like you and me. Yes, my heart broke, but it would not be the first time during the course of this movie.

But let me slow down. And focus on the bigger cast— the Losers Club. I found myself thoroughly touched by the bond between them all grown up, collectively successful, but united by a shared history drenched in blood, terror, and red balloons. Each and every actor has brought this authenticity to their respective characters. And can I say that the casting was top notch?!

Actually, I found myself smiling when they all met up at (slight spoiler) the Jade of the Orient. The passage of time was stamped out as these grown friends laughed and reminisced about the good times shared in that fateful summer of 1989. Sure, there were not many, but enough to forge a bond borne of commitment, sacrifice, unity, and, well, blood. Literally. They consecrated a pact that fateful summer which led to them reuniting 27 years later once Pennywise emerged from his deep slumber to terrorize Derry, Maine once more.

As stated before, I found each character of the ensemble cast to be enjoyable. None without their flaws to balance their inherent strengths. The adults building on what their younger counterparts began in the first movie that was released in 2017.

It: Chapter Two

Bill Denbrough played by James McAvoy was still very much the leader of this ragtag team of muta… er… misfits in 2019 as eh was in 1989. I love how he was willing to lend an open ear and open heart once the truth emerged behind the reason for their reunion. I was waiting for the stutter and was not disappointed. McAvoy played the hell out of the role and I loved when he got distressed which made him even more determined to do what was right. And, guys, that Funhouse scene with the mirrors will give you a nightmare.

Beverly Marsh played by Jessica Chastain continues to be the enigmatic, flame-haired siren. Broken by her father, but still very much a survivor which you see early on in the movie. I love Jessica. She always brings a vulnerability and softness to her roles. Yes, even kinda in X-Men: Dark Phoenix. But the less said about that movie the better. “Your hair is winter fire, January embers.” This line suddenly reminds me of Jean Grey. Jessica would have been great… Malachi, focus!

Mike Hanlon played by Isaiah Mustafa was easily the heart and soul of the group. At least to me. As expected with him being the librarian, he was also their memory and purpose. Having lost his family early on to a fire, it was no surprise that he bonded so deeply with the other Losers. He was fierce, determined, and relentless in the pursuit of knowledge necessary to calling back his family not borne of his flesh to combat an evil so alien and corrosive. He had that—wait for it— “Old Spice” about him. Lol.

Ben Hanscom played by Jay Ryan, to me, was great casting on so many levels. For starters, I love how the “ugly duckling” (ugh, I hate that term) became this swan with, well, abs. If you are at all familiar with what I am talking about then you already know. If not, check out CW’s “Beauty & the Beast”. You’ll thank me later. But just like his younger counterpart, Ben was the sweetest, most adorable, and sensitive Loser of them all. Content to remain on sidelines even as shown with his introduction into the movie. He remained the same at heart even though he transformed everything else about his life. He is the poster boy for the “Glow Up”. I am envious.

Eddie Kaspbrak played by James Ransone intrigued me. He was another one who was cast perfectly. For his entire life fear restricted him. Sterile environments kept him imprisoned. But you see his character start to evolve throughout the course of the movie which was a beautiful sight. His one-liners were on par with Richie Tozier’s. I am always here for some good banter. But yes, he turned out to be the bravest one. Go figure.

Richie Tozier played by Bill Hader was such a treat! His introduction made me turn my face, but the follow up had me laughing hysterically. And this is something I would do throughout the movie whenever he opened his mouth to say anything. Levity in such a dark situation is needed. “Gallows humor” is what they call it, right? His humor hid a certain truth which was acknowledged in this movie. Fans of the book have already discussed this online. The memes are amazing. Look them up!

Stanley Uris played by Andy Bean was easily the most fragile of the Losers Club then and now.  Oh, and also great casting yet again! I admit I was shocked at a revelation (again, I did not read the book), but he showed that he was the true visionary and perhaps the most in touch with himself. But what do we do to visionaries in fiction? What do we do to them so that others enjoy life more? I will give you a moment.

It/Pennywise the Dancing Clown by Alexander Skarsgård was AMAZING.  Alexander is easily the creepiest of the famous Skarsgård brothers. If you’ve seen Netflix’s Hemlock Grove you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Already super tall at 6’4 and in that tattered attire, Skarsgård truly set himself apart from Tim Curry’s iconic Pennywise. Bone-chilling with the wine-colored eyes promising death, this is not one clown you want to make a balloon animal for you. I foresee a plethora of Pennywises this Halloween. I am prepared for the Ritual of Chud if need be.

Before I bring this to a close, I want to tell you about a scene that has been shown in the trailers. A scene meant to scare us, but instead, it had me literally lol’ing in the theater. THE OLD WOMAN. Omigawd. The blank stare, her peeking from around the corner, and her lil naked shimmy while having a seizure, gave me life! I see her dance being all the rage at cookouts.

Anyway…

I recommend that you go see It: Chapter Two. You will jump at parts of the movie. You will even laugh. But you will definitely see the genuine hard work breathed into this film by the cast and crew. It sheds light on past childhood trauma and how it can echo throughout our adult lives. But like that old woman said “nothing ever stays dead ”.

Movie Review: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

There is nothing quite like the scalp-tingling, goosebumps-raising chills you get when you are scared. The sudden head rush as blood pounds in your temples. The involuntary gasp. The salty tang of sweat beads on your quivering upper lip. We have all felt it, experienced it. Some of us even, well, love it. Especially if we are horror junkies equipped with such fertile imagination.

I would assume that like me you are bookworms who cling tight to nostalgia. Books were my life and when I wasn’t reading comic books I had my hands on novels. One of my favorites was the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark trilogy. The hauntingly resonating stories along with those ghastly illustrations found a dark crevice in my heart. I’d read the stories every year around Halloween, honoring the tradition of my childhood, until it faded away. Until it was announced that Guillermo Del Toro would be directing the live-action Scary Stories To Tell In the Dark! Be still my beating heart, right?

Wrong.

Imagine rushing to see the movie. Imagine having tickets for opening night, but plans falling through, then you FINALLY get them for Saturday night. You ignore the hot stifling theater and the woman next to you who is talking non-stop and coughing. Now imagine watching the movie and not being scared, but woefully unimpressed? That was my experience.

Now imagine watching the movie and not being scared, but woefully unimpressed? That was my experience.

Stella Nicholls played by Zoe Margaret Colletti, our four-eyed heroine failed to gain my support. Our mutual nerd energies did not blend. She came across as whiny and, well, dumb. I see why she did the things she did (to move along the plot), but I kept saying to myself “girl, why?” then it turned into “girl, bye”, LOL. So, we had a shaky lead and even shakier cast.

Chuck Steinberg played by Austin Zajur was clearly the comic relief. That would have been more effective if he was funnier. The first half of the film I was rolling my eyes at his one-liners, but he grew on me. Like a fungus. He did have some moments where he actually shined. And when he had to deal with the big pale woman… that was chilling. Del Toro always excels with his monsters.

Auggie Hilderbrandt played by Gabriel Rush was the sensible, logical one.  Which means he’s the most stubborn one when it comes to the evil they unleash. Too little, too late. He was kinda adorable.

Ramon Rodriguez played by Michael Garza was easily the most intriguing of this lil Scooby gang.  Mysterious, handsome, and might had a switchblade. IDK. He had more layers than the others. Also, he was the only POC in the group. So naturally, I was here for that.

Ruth Steinberg played by Natalie Ganzhorn had more heart than I realized. She just wasn’t a vapid, beauty-obsessed prom queen. And this was shown before the “red spot” obliterated her face!

Tommy Millner played by Austin Abrams was such a complete and utter tool! He played the hell out of the role. Douchey, bigoted, and ugly all conveniently rolled into a letter jacket. When I first saw him, I wanted him to die.  Thank the heavens for Harold the Scarecrow. He heard my pleas.

The special effects and the truly grotesque monsters (Gawd, they were bone-chilling) were strong enough to offset such a predictable, run-of-the-mill cast. Granted, I was not expecting Oscar-winning performances or a dialogue that kept you rapt with attention, but I did expect more. Maybe I put too much stock in the buzz surrounding the movie. Maybe I hyped it up in mind so that the inner child who would be satisfied. But there were some chills, but no thrills. So tell me a story, Sarah Bellows. A GOOD one this time.