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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: Malignant

Malignant is the funniest movie of the year, and that’s not really a criticism.

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1. This movie is so dumb. I strained an eyeball rolling them so hard. I’ve never groaned so much in my life.

2. This movie knows its dumb! I truly feel like every single person involved in the making of this movie, especially director James Wan, is winking at us and expecting us to wink back. From the awful dialogue to the awkward placement of dramatic music to the predictably stupid actions of the characters, anytime something stupid happened, I felt like Wan was looking dead at me giggling.

3. And I mean STUPID actions of the characters. Why would you go to an abandoned mental hospital on a cliff at night by yourself with no weapon? That’s not a spoiler, because that sentence will make no sense to you until you watch her almost drive off the cliff. But stuff like that felt like, “Yes, people behave in stupid ways in horror movies, so let’s make it super stupid.”

4. I’m quite sure the women’s holding cell at any local jail in the Pacific Northwest does not look like that. Those women were all prostitutes from the 1970s.

5. I went with a friend (who didn’t like it as much as I did and gave the movie a 6) and we both agreed that we didn’t accurately predict the killer. In some ways we were right, and in some ways we were wrong, but when the story is pieced together in the last act, it’s very much a groan/eyeroll/how didn’t I see that coming. I was hollering at the inventiveness though! I personally have never seen this kind of killer.

6. Speaking of inventive, the killer fights backwards. The massacre at the precinct is so much fun and I was howling the entire time. I think that’s where they spent all their money because the whole movie looks like a Cinemax production from 1994.

7. The commitment to bangs is admirable.

8. There are some genuinely shocking and frightening scares in Malignant, which I loved, but for the most part I was laughing the entire time at how ridiculous the whole thing was. I’m not sure who this horror movie is for actually. It’s polarizing, but not in the way a horror movie would typically be, where horror fans are of one mind and causal fans are of another. I’ve seen horror fans love this movie and horror fans hate it. I’m a casual viewer and I thought it was so much fun and so stupidly creative but my friend was “meh” on it. So I don’t know whether to recommend it or not because I don’t see any consistent trends for who likes it and who doesn’t.

9. So here are the PROS: the villain is a new take on an old trope, which I love.
The action scenes are excellent. They’re done very well and this fight choreographer really thought about how people move.
It’s fun! It’s a “talk to the screen” kind of horror movie. “Why are you doing that? Don’t go in there! Turn around!!”

10. Here are the CONS:
The dialogue is clunky! (which I found fun, because it made it feel that much more low-budget 90s B Movie)
The acting is clunky! (which I also found fun, because I felt like they were doing it on purpose)
The music is awful and almost always terribly misplaced! (which, again, I found fun! I laughed every time)
The twist ending leaves a VERY LARGE PLOT HOLE from the first act and I need somebody to explain that fight to me.

11. Bonus for Black Millennials and Gen X:

Michole Briana White plays the lead detective! I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything other than commercials since the 90s.

Score: 8/10

 

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Watch: Passing (Trailer)

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Netflix has another great story on their hands and we will definitely be talking about it when it comes out in a couple of weeks.

Rebecca Hall has made her directorial debut with Passing, a novel from a few years ago about two mixed girls who were friends as children and become reacquainted as adults. Tessa Thompson’s character still identifies as Black, while Ruth Negga is passing as white and is married to a racist.

I love it. I’m all in. I’m a little skeptical of a British white woman tackling a novel about Black people in America in 1929, but at the heart, I think Passing will be more of a character study than a treatise on race. And since it needs nuanced acting to pull it off, I’m ready to suspend belief for two hours and go with Ruth Negga being able to pass, because obviously she could not, but she’s a fantastic actress.

When I think of women who would be considered colored in 1929 if people knew her parentage but have the phenotype to pass for white with a little makeup and possibly a peroxide blonde hairdo, Ruth Negga isn’t on the list. Meghan Markle is.

Troian Bellisario would absolutely pass, even without going blonde.

Most people don’t realize Halsey has any Black heritage at all.

Sofia Richie barely has a trace of Lionel in her on first glance.

And Mariah wouldn’t have been nearly as big right out the gate if she hadn’t been assumed to be the white Whitney Houston.

But that’s the thing about movies. If the actor is right, we forget what they look like until the movie is over. The trailer is only two minutes, but if we just  acknowledge now that nobody would assume this was a white woman, we can all go ahead and get over it so we can settle into the performance when the time comes. Passing has Oscar-bait written all over it.

Edit 5:59pm.

I was so focused on Ruth Negga not being able to pass that I completely forgot Rebecca Hall is the daughter of a mixed-race opera singer. Rebecca herself would’ve been considered colored in 1929 and would’ve been a much better person for the role.

 

 

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Hot Takes: Black Widow

This isn’t Natasha’s story the way most origin stories would be.

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I don’t want to give spoilers in case you don’t want them, so we got three parts here.

The Good / Random (No Spoilers)

1. This is a good ass origin story! They’re so formulaic in superhero movies, but this isn’t that.
Captain Marvel  – accidentally gets superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Spiderman  – accidentally gets superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Captain America – intentionally gets superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Iron Man – spends a bunch of money making superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Black Widow – a child trafficker gets tracked down by two of his former slaves/spies/assassins.

2. Where do spies be getting all this money? Natasha is an orphan. Did she just steal a few billion dollars and stash it somewhere to be spending on identities and jets and whatnot? It’s not like the Avengers draw a paycheck. Falcon could barely keep his little fishing boat in business.

3. Florence Pugh is hilarious and, no shade but shade, a better Black Widow than Scarlett. I’m so excited for her.

4. I want smaller Marvel movies. We have consistently leveled up the danger from saving a city to saving a country to saving a planet to saving the universe to now probably saving all of the dimensions of the universe. Where do you go after that? Let’s make it small. Black Widow is an exercise in taking the stakes down and I hope they keep moving in that direction. Every Marvel movie doesn’t need a huge scene culminating in hundreds of explosions where the universe is saved for another day. Let’s get the Marvel road trip buddy comedy, the Marvel bank heist, the Marvel family drama. Black Widow is a mashup of all three, and it’s done really well.

5. There are only like three men in the whole movie who have more than a minute of screentime and you love to see it.

6. For me, action scenes have a heightened sense of danger when it’s a bunch of regular people chasing each other in cars and kicking ass without flying through the sky or blasting out neon projectiles. In that way, Black Widow feels more like a Bond movie or a Bourne movie than a Marvel movie and I’m very much here for all of that.

The Annoying (Mild Spoilers)

7. Because these are real people who can DIE and those are my favorite kinds of action movies, it really takes me out of the film when these real, non-enhanced humans survive ridiculous things or put themselves in absolutely fatal situations with no regard to their own safety. If you can’t survive a gunshot, you’re not going to squat in the open door of a helicopter while it’s being sprayed with bullets — two bullet holes appeared on Yelena’s left and then three appeared on her right, but she’s right in the doorway getting hit by nothing? How many car crashes can Natasha not only walk away from but also fight an adversary immediately after? My dad has ten broken bones from a car crash he was in a couple of weeks ago, but she walking away from cars that rolled over? I don’t like that.

8. Atomic Blonde has some of the most realistic fight scenes I’ve ever seen in a female action movie and the fight choreographer talked about how they designed those scenes to accurately portray how a woman (or anyone with less muscle mass) would take advantage of their surroundings. Black Widow cannot pummel someone the way Captain America can because she’s not as strong. It doesn’t really matter though. It’s Marvel. We didn’t watch it for accuracy, and the fight scenes are all the same. However, when Natasha fights Yelena, they both utilize everything around them from dishes to curtains and it just made me wonder why they don’t always have Natasha fight that way.

9. Neither of these things would matter as much if the writers hadn’t made Yelena (hilariously) point out that Black Widow is a regular person compared to the other Avengers. If you’re going to highlight the fact that your cast is just humans who get shot, get broken bones, and then get ibuprofen, then you shouldn’t write action scenes for invincible heroes.

The Response to “It’s Too Late” Criticism (Mild Spoilers)

10. We watch movies about actual dead people all the time, so I don’t get what the big deal is. Tammy Faye Baker is so ridiculous she might as well have been written by Marvel and I’m gonna see that movie on opening night.

11. It’s right on time, but the marketing sucks, because it’s too focused on Natasha. Marvel has incorrectly assumed the public cares enough about Natasha to want this movie even though she’s dead, or that we like Scarlett enough to see this movie even though we know the resolution of the character. But Natasha and Yelena have the same origin story — it’s just as much Florence Pugh’s movie as it is Scarlett Johansson’s. This is the new Black Widow’s origin story, not the dead one’s.

Score: 7/10 

 

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