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Hot Takes: Harley Quinn – Birds of Prey

Stop what you’re doing — buy a ticket to go see this exhilarating rollercoaster of a movie. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best action movie you’ve seen since…maybe ever?

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1) Stop what you’re doing — buy a ticket to go see this exhilarating rollercoaster of a movie. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best action movie you’ve seen since…maybe ever?

2) Two — not one but TWO!! — of my favorite fight scenes of all time are in this movie. How. I did not expect to be blown away by the action, mostly because DC movies make everything so gray and dull, but the cinematography and art direction are so top notch. And the fight choreography! Are there awards for that? The fun house fight scene is the most exciting fight scene I think I’ve seen since The Bride sliced up fiddy’lem suited warriors in a Tokyo restaurant.

3) Giving this another bullet, because the fight scene in the jail is the best pairing of action & song that I’ve seen in a long time (I think it was Halsey?!). And it looked so realistic! IDK if any of y’all saw Atomic Blonde, but the behind the scenes making-of clips on YouTube talked about how women-led fight scenes should be choreographed differently, because as a general rule they have less mass and less strength so they’re not going to bludgeon people to death with their fists the same way. There’s a lot of bludgeoning going on in the jail (and throughout) but it really felt like “this is the way a woman (or women) would take on an army of men if she had a steel baseball bat.”

4) Perfectly cast. Everybody hit their beats. Put Rosie Perez in more stuff. Margot Robbie is a star and I will literally watch her in anything. Jurnee Smollett did have a scene that took me straight back to Eve’s Bayou though because her face really hasn’t changed in 20 years.

5) Laxatives work way faster than that.

6) The team up is honestly so much more fulfilling than when we saw all the women in the same shot at the end of Endgame. Birds of Prey gave me the All Female Action Sequence I’ve been dreaming of. Plus, I personally like when multiple storylines converge in one climax, even if it’s mildly predictable.

7) I don’t love Harley Quinn as a character. When she gets smacked for being annoying, I feel that in my soul. My roommates both love the cartoon (whatever cartoon is the newest, idk, I watched like 1.5 episodes) but I just can’t get into her. Margot Robbie made me invested in her as a person about as well as anybody would be able to. I was actively rooting for her the entire time, even when she broke my heart.

8) This is one of the best movie soundtracks of all time. It’s like Waiting To Exhale but for 25-year-olds who put whiskey in a Nalgene bottle and say monogamy is a last resort for ugly people.

 

 

SPOILERS (but mild ones, you can read on if you don’t mind at all, the plot won’t be given away here)

 

9) There’s no way for one woman to get past that many police officers with guns. Why didn’t anyone just shoot her while she was slinging bean bags at everybody?

10) Any woman who has successfully defended herself against GROUPS OF VERY LARGE MEN REPEATEDLY can definitely do better in a fight against a 50 year old drunk lady cop than a particular scene would lead you to believe.

11) WHAT A PERFECT DEATH SCENE! I actually laughed out loud.

Score: 8.5 / 10

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Hot Takes: Crack (Netflix 2021)

Imagine if we had treated Black people on crack the way we’re treating white people on opioids. 

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1. America owes Black people everything. If you can watch Crack and not be completely disgusted with every politician who made this happen, from Reagan to Clinton, Biden to Rangel, Bush to O’Neill, we don’t have anything to talk about politically. Your fundamental understanding of America’s relationship to Black people is fatally flawed and there’s no middle ground for us to come to.

2. There’s no understanding of mass incarceration, the militarization of local law enforcement, cash bail, asset forfeiture, police brutality, or any other reform of the justice system without an understanding of how crack is the foundation for all of it. Every problem we recognize today that relates to the justice system was either created or hugely exacerbated by the crack epidemic.

3. I went into Crack with a basic understanding of the big building blocks of the epidemic. Cocaine was expensive. Crack (which is just cocaine without the salt, and that makes it able to be smoked) was cheaper and could be sold more easily. Crack was more addictive because the high was immediate. Cocaine made its way to the US from Central America. The system overpoliced crack because it was Black people doing it and left cocaine alone because it was white people doing it. I didn’t know the details. 80s US History isn’t my area, so I was honestly shocked that the United States government let cocaine into the country because they were more concerned with making sure Nicaragua had a government they liked than they were with Black and Latino families ripped apart by crack cocaine. Just when you thought you couldn’t loathe this country more, you find another piece of the puzzle.

4. I had no idea crack was that profitable!!! I knew a lot of people made a lot of money, but I didn’t know there were regular guys out here buying motels and movie theaters with their crack profits. How did they pay for it? With a bag of cash? When you hit millions of dollars a day, don’t you have to launder that cash? How is that much cash changing hands and no federal agency blinks?

5. I highly recommend listening to the episode of You’re Wrong About on crack babies either before or immediately after you watch Crack. Full Disclosure: You’re Wrong About is currently my favorite podcast because the topics are immaculately researched. The one on gangs also ties in well with this documentary, because “gang warfare” really exploded with the rise of crack in the inner cities. In case you couldn’t tell from the title, everything you think you understand about crack babies (or how gangs operate) is completely wrong, and the narrative you’ve been fed is based on racist white people using crack and guns to justify their irrational fears of Black people.

6. Black people have every reason to mistrust the healthcare industry in this country. We talk about the history of gynecology and the Tuskegee Experiment, but I didn’t know doctors and nurses were turning in mothers addicted to crack who were asking for help!! They really went baiting Black women into telling them they were on crack so they could lock them up for getting their babies hooked on crack in the womb (spoiler alert: those babies weren’t even addicted to anything).

7. There’s no smoking gun, and therefore, the US government doesn’t feel they owe us anything. This country refuses to take responsibility for anything, but we should add crack to the list of ills because America created the circumstances that led to crack destroying a generation of Black families. The Reagan administration concentrated wealth into the hands of few while unemployment soared (and Black unemployment was double the national rate). There were no jobs and no money in the inner cities, and then crack showed up. It was a fast way to make money so you could feed your family and keep a roof over your head. More crack showed up because the CIA either assisted or ignored the planes and planes of cocaine being brought up from Nicaragua, planes that had been full of guns and supplies we supplied to the Contras to take back the Nicaraguan government. More crack meant more money which meant more dealers which meant turf wars. Turf wars meant shootouts and deaths of innocent bystanders just going to the grocery store, all of which the police ignored because they were stealing from the dealers and selling crack themselves or taking payoffs from the kingpins…until a cop died and then it was war on our communities for an epidemic the US Government created.

8. Imagine if we had treated Black people on crack the way we’re treating white people on opioids.

9. It’s a short, brisk, 90-minuted documentary, but it could’ve used another 90, or perhaps a series to really dig into the chapters it sets up. The documentary doesn’t do enough to debunk the myths of crack babies who grow up to be superpredators. I want to hear more from the reformed addicts and dealers — how did they escape crack while so many others didn’t? How did that one guy make it out of the hood and become a neuroscientist while his friends were selling crack? The Iran-Contra Affair gets more detail than I expected and I can’t believe I learned that whole story in school without the added detail that we let drug dealers send planes full of cocaine here — I want more about that. I want more detail about how the media helped create this and I want more attention to the politicians who destroyed our community because they were trying to one-up each other to be toughest guy on the block. It’s a heavy documentary, but it’s a good overview of crack and how we’re still feeling the repercussions of America’s costliest war ($1 trillion and counting).

Score: 8/10

 

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Hot Takes: Soul

Soul made me feel better about my life, and that’s a big task for a kids’ movie.

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*** There are no spoilers about the overall plot of the movie, as in, I’m not giving away what happens to the main characters, but there are spoilers about certain aspects of the movie, because I couldn’t do hot takes without questioning some of the decisions that were made along the way.

1) A lot of Black people worked on this movie. I haven’t looked it up, but I just know they did because the hair in this movie is the best animated depiction of our textures I have ever seen!!! And the conversational beats are right. You cannot get that rhythm of a Black barbershop or that cadence of two old Black women chatting unless you are intimately familiar with the culture. Good job!

2) Props to Pixar for making Dortohea Williams a boss saxophone player as opposed to the usual Black Female Singer fronting a band. I hope more little Black girls pick up the saxophone…as opposed to the clarinet. Also, gotta mention the little girl who was a boss on the trombone. I’ve only met one female trombone player in my entire life, and I love that.

3) While we’re on gender…if you open the door for a conversation, you have to handle that conversation correctly. The world-building sets up the point, very clearly, that these souls have no gender, and yet 22 is “she” when they talk about them. It’s not something to hate the movie for, but it’s something to think about, because we are having these conversations with non-binary people about ways to make the public more receptive to they/them pronouns, and this was one of the only perfect instances I’ve ever seen in media, but Pixar dropped the ball. 22 is explicitly stated to be genderless, so why gender them? You could argue that 22 picked a white woman’s voice so she/her “makes sense” but voices have no gender, 22 can do many voices, and we don’t know who 22 will actually be once they’re born. There are far more reasons to use they/them which outweigh the one debatable reason to use she/her.

4) While we’re on opening the door…I understand the comedic effect of giving 22 a middle-aged white woman voice, a Karen if you will. They went for the slight wink-nudge-takedown because we’re in the middle of the White Women are Annoying zeitgeist and they decided to ride that wave. However, there was literally one moment of payoff, a set up for one joke, but we spend the rest of the movie with that white woman’s voice coming out of a Black man’s mouth. It didn’t make me hate the movie, but it just irked me a little because none of the plot would have been lost by having that voice be a young boy or an old Black woman or simply not pointing out that 22 has the voice of a 40-year-old white woman. It’s like Get Out, the animated version. I don’t really need a white woman riding around inside of a Black man for a whole movie.

5) Nothing I love about the movie is negated by the last two points I made, but they were casting and story decisions I wish hadn’t been made. Those two decisions don’t progress or affect the plot in any way while unnecessarily pulling you out of the movie to wonder why they went the path of least consideration as opposed to taking the more thoughtful, responsible route.

6) The little unborn souls are cute. Pixar never fails to make young tiny things adorable.

7) I love everything about the plot. I absolutely love the double-sided nature of The Zone, where such a thin line separates passion and obsession. I love what Soul has to say about purpose and life. I love the idea that a lot of our personality traits are baked in from birth, because I have literally been grumpy my entire life. I’m always teetering on the edge of Emotional Calamity, and Soul is that rare movie that made me breathe and feel better about everything. The flashbacks Joe saw of his life when we first meet 22 — the mundane, the rejection, the lack of fulfillment — is how I typically see my life.  The flashbacks Joe saw of his life when he was playing piano — the people he touched, the joys he experienced, the lasting impact he made — is how I never look at my life, but how I’m going to try looking at my life going forward.

8) Cast Phylicia Rashad and Angela Bassett in more animated films. I can recognize their respective voices anywhere and they instantly elevate any project.

Score: 8/10 

 

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Hot Takes: Jingle Jangle

I can’t think of a movie with a thinner plot than this one that I still enjoyed.

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1) This will be a holiday classic in my home for the rest of my life. A Black cast in fantastic costumes with fantastic hair inventing things and reveling in the joy of Christmas? A holiday classic!!

2) Buddy looks like ET and Wall-E had a baby.

3) We have to talk about the hair. For me, Black Panther is the gold standard for Black hairstyles in a movie. So much care and research went into presenting a wide range of natural styles for our textures. Jingle Jangle tackles it in a Victorianesque setting, where all of the actors are wearing their natural textures, but creatively styled into updos that would fit into the time period and it is stunning. Not a pressing comb in sight! We have no choice but to stan.

4) Ricky Martin’s character is fun. And wholly unnecessary. But fun.

5) Forrest Whitaker cannot sing. There was no need to cast Forrest Whitaker. I understand wanting to throw some high profile names into a movie, especially when it’s a Black movie with a large budget, but nobody who tunes into Jingle Jangle said “let me see this Christmas movie because Forrest Whitaker is in it.” I literally turned it on because it was a Black Christmas movie, period.

6) Lisa Davina Phillip who plays Ms. Johnston is hilarious and I fully understand why she was cast even though they had her lip sync to another singing voice. I don’t understand why they didn’t have Forrest lip sync as well.

7) Anika Noni Rose CAN sing and to put one of the preeminent actress/singers in the business in a musical and give her ONE big song that partly duets with Forrest Whitaker? Electric Chair! Forrest can hold a tune, and his lack of ability can be ignored when he’s singing alone, but they put him in a duet with Anika Noni Rose! Whose idea was that?!

8) The opening number is very The Greatest Showman in the best way. I’m bout to learn every word.

9) Holiday feelings aside, I also have to give some props to the plot for highlighting girls in STEM. Black girls in STEM. Let’s get more movies with little Black girls excelling in math and engineering. You love to see it!

10) I can’t think of a movie with a thinner plot than this one that I still enjoyed. You could’ve told this movie in about 7 minutes. But the music is delightful and the choreography was so much fun (y’all, they had a lil white girl hittin that gwara gwara and I was laid OUT!).

Score: 7/10

 

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