ONE CAN NOT HELP BUT FEEL special as they walk into the building. The heavy glass doors with the gold trim are the first clue that one is about to enter a place that cannot be considered ordinary. The vestibule has a sturdy tiled floor; the low ceiling is held up by walls covered in deeply colored damask fabric. The material is framed in portions with an intricately carved plaster, painted in gold to match the trim of the doors. Entering the main lobby is not so dissimilar from walking into a grand hall of a European palace. Marble floors replacing the tile in front, there are huge crystal chandeliers that are longer in height than width. They look like oblong, translucent candy wrapped with intricately patterned, colored wrappers with the ends twisted shut. There are matching grand staircases both front and back with red velvet covered steps and oversized, limestone balustrades. One can only imagine they are used by royalty. Spaced equally between the two staircases are doors that all lead into an amphitheater. Undulating rows of seats perched on a sloping floor descend to a stage where a red colored curtain blocks everyone from seeing anything behind it. Only when the lights dim does the curtain rise to reveal the actors who were waiting behind it. THERE IS A FEELING OF INCLUSION when one goes to see live theater. You could be sitting in the middle of a packed auditorium of strangers but feel as if the actors are bringing you into their story. I am a huge fan of seeing staged shows; there is something about seeing actors in the flesh compared to the big screen. Actors on stage have no chance for a retake; whatever happens they must be prepared to “go on with the show.” Seeing their emotions on display adds authenticity to the performance that I find connects me in a different way from actors in movies. Neither one is better than the other; it is simply a different form of communication. As you know I can get lost into a movie where I feel I am part of the movie; this is part of what I need to give a film a 4-star rating. At a play or musical the actors have more time to form relationships that carry them through the entire production. It connects them on a deeper level than acting in movies where they can do take after take of one scene. When I saw today’s film I felt I was at the theater watching a live performance. WITH A BABY ON THE WAY Tish Rivers’, (played by relative newcomer KiKi Layne), joy was short-lived when the baby’s father Alonzo “Fonny” Hunt, played by Stephan James (Race, Across the Line), was arrested for a crime he did not do. This Golden Globe and film festival winning romantic, crime drama also starred Regina King (Ray, Enemy of the State) as Sharon Rivers, Colman Domingo (Selma, Lincoln) as Joseph Rivers and Michael Beach (Aquaman, Soul Food) as Frank Hunt. Based on James Baldwin’s novel, this film slowly unfolded to reveal a real-life portrayal of two families in Harlem. The acting was outstanding from every actor; I especially enjoyed the chemistry that KiKi and Stephan poured into their roles for each other. With a beautiful soundtrack and thoughtful cinematography, this was another achievement for writer and director Barry Jenkins (Moonlight, Medicine for Melancholy). Scenes seemed to be grouped into a series of acts, where I felt I was watching entire and complete feelings between the characters. I honestly believed everything I was seeing was totally real. There is nothing more I need to say, except this picture was a perfect conduit between film and theater.
If it was in the textbook then it had to be true; this is what I grew up believing. I was convinced newspapers and books only contained the truth. In fact it was not until college before I learned I was wrong. In classes we learned newspaper editors could put their personal slant on a story, giving it a whole different meaning. Book publishers may have wanted to only publish the truth, but there could have been outside circumstances like government agencies that did not want the truth to come out. I remember a history class where the instructor showed the class the difference between 2 history books, one printed in the US and the other from a foreign country. The professor read about a specific wartime battle out of both books. It was startling to me because according to the US book American forces won the battle, but per the other book they lost the fight. How was that possible I wondered as I sat in my seat in total disbelief. As far as I knew history was like a science class, it dealt in exact facts; there was no margin of error or acceptable fabrication. So there I sat re-evaluating my entire belief system in what history meant to me. One of the aspects I soon realized about history that could not change was its ability to teach humans to become better by showing them where they came from. I do not mean logistically but by recording mankind’s transgressions and feats. I could show you no better example than the true story depicted in this sports drama. Germany’s 1936 Olympics was supposed to show the world that Adolf Hitler’s creation of an Arian nation was going to be the best in the world. American athlete Jesse Owens, played by Stephan James (Selma, Home Again), wanted the chance to prove them wrong. With a cast that included Jason Sudeikis (We’re the Millers, Sleeping with Other People) as Larry Snyder, Shanice Banton (Degrassi: The Next Generation, A Day Late and a Dollar Short-TV movie) as Ruth Solomon and Jeremy Irons (Margin Call, Dead Ringers) as Avery Brundage; the story was a remarkable one. Stephan James was wonderful in the role as Jesse; there was no denying this was an incredible story that is just as relevant today. This just makes it harder to say the script did not live up to this American hero. I found most of the script let its drama come from the historical events without going deeper into the characters; the scenes appeared almost cut and dried, nothing extra to offer. However even with everything I have said, I still was entertained watching this biographical picture. Just seeing such a humble man from humble beginnings reach the world stage and remain true to himself was beyond refreshing. I would say it is a feel good story but if I do I feel it does not acknowledge what Jesse continued to experience after the Olympics. Nothing could change the fact that this was an important chapter in our history.
2 3/4 stars