Movie Review: The Photograph (2020)

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Summary: A series of intertwining love stories set in the past and in the present.
Pros:
Cast and Characters. So we meet two sets of “main characters”, we have Mae and Mike and then Christina and Isaac.
  • Issa Rae is Mae Morton, she works in a museum, her mother recently passed and she is learning about her life, reading a letter that was left for her, and by going through her things. Mae is an independent, intelligent woman and she is learning about her mother, what her life was like and why throughout her life growing up, her mother wasn’t quite the parent she could have been. Issa Rae is great as I usually find her, she’s fun to watch on screen, she’s funny, she is great at reacting with her face and her character is pretty low-key throughout the film. She’s just mellow. Also, the costume designer on this film did a great job with her, she always looked put together, and her hair always looked good. She never seemed “overtly sexy” and that yellow dress she wore towards the middle of the film was everything.
  • Lakeith Stanfield is Michael Block and he is a reporter for a well-known newspaper and he meets Mae because he is doing an article on something that happened in Louisiana. He sees the picture of Christina, finds out about her and meets Mae who is doing an exhibition on her for the museum. Mike is immediately taken with Mae and he goes out of his way to run into her again. I quite liked his persistence, it wasn’t icky or “too much”. Being a reporter, it worked for his character, it made sense. I really like Lakeith Stanfield, he is also a pretty “low key” person it seems so he was also a bit mellow in this role, maybe a bit more “open” compared to Mae but he had his own issues.
  • Chanté Adams as Christina Eames. She was a young woman whose story was told through flashbacks while Mae read her letter. We were able to see bits of her romance and adult life. She was a photographer and often looked at life through her lens, but things didn’t always work out the way she thought. Her relationship with her mom was interesting, which seemed to trickle to how things were with Mae (but we never saw that). I thought she was the most interesting and I would have liked to have seen the movie of her story to be honest. I don’t believe I’ve seen this actress in anything before but I liked her, she had a silent strength to her that radiated when she was on screen. One of my favorite moments of the film is the scene in the car with Isaac when Mae was a little girl, we see two sides of that moment and both times it was amazing. She handled that moment beautifully.
  • Rob Morgan as Isaac Jefferson. We don’t see a ton of him since he’s the older version, but he’s a nice man, clearly still in love with Christina even since their lives went separate ways.
    • Y’lan Noel as Young Isaac Jefferson. Of course I know him from Insecure, and I liked him. Isaac is very much content with staying in Louisiana and he would love to just be with Christina in this life. He doesn’t come off as selfish, he doesn’t do anything that I found to make a horrible person, he just didn’t want to leave his home and there’s nothing wrong with that. I thought he had great chemistry with Chanté Adams and the sequence when Christina went back to Louisiana, he was really great.
Shout out to Lil Rel Howery (Kyle, Mike’s older brother) who was a joy every time he was on screen with Teyonah Parris as his wife. They were also great together as the married “settled down” couple. They were funny, had chemistry and it was nice to see they had a very nice house, loved each other and loved their daughters. Also shout out to Jasmine Cephas Jones and Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Rachel and Andy, Mae and Mike’s friends from work. It was great seeing all of them in this movie and be entertaining characters when on screen.
The Story/Parallels. Soooooo I like the story and how these two were brought together. The idea of this man meeting Mae due to him doing research and by six degrees of separation he meets her is pretty cool. Then the fact that he pursues her in her world first was great. I liked that Mike found out about her mother through an article he was writing. It was nice that they both had great jobs and were successful. I liked watching their romance unfold, it was slow and cute. As for Christina and Isaac, I was also into that romance as well, they were cute and I think they set up their personalities a lot better. I also loved meeting Mike’s brother and his family, which were highlights. I’ll mention this later, but I also see where the movie was trying to go with the parallels between the present and the past. I get the intention and I see it for the most part but there are some things I think they could have handled better when it came down that.
Genuine Romance. I’ll have stuff to say on the chemistry between the two leads but I felt like the story of their romance was pretty genuine. How they met was cute, he was doing an article on Isaac, which led him to Christina which led him to Mae. They pretty much instantly hit it off and our romance goes from there. It didn’t feel rushed, it didn’t feel dragged out. I was along for the ride and I liked the moments they had together where they just connected. It wasn’t just a physical relationship, it was meant to be intimate and I saw that. I even liked at the end which I won’t spoil. I was pretty invested even with the problems I had. I was also invested in the Christina/Isaac romance of the film. Isaac was a chill dude and he didn’t need much “spontaneity” in his life whereas Christina had different ideas. She was a photographer, she got a little taste of freedom and being independent and she didn’t know how to shake that which caused issues but I was probably a little more invested in their romance than I was Mae and Mike. Just a little, probably helped that those two had chemistry lol. It was just nice to see that they had a relationship without being pushed together through trauma or something crazy happening to them. It was just two people, meeting, connecting and falling in love.
The Music. I’m not terribly familiar with Robert Glasper who led the charge with the music in this film but I was really feeling it. The song choices were great and the instrumentals were beautiful. Music always helps to set the tone of a film and I think it did that very well.
Cons:
Characterizations! Okay, while I was writing this review, I was going over my notes I put in my phone and what I remembered. I have a good memory with movies and how I felt while watching etc. I saw this movie recently and I am having a hard time putting a set characterization on Mike and Mae. The basics were there buuut whenever I do my “cast and characters” part of this review, I usually can go pretty in detail what that character was like but I couldn’t do that because Mike and Mae didn’t quite have the characterization they should have received. Yes, they connected about music and yes we get moments here and there but other people told us things about them. I’m pretty sure that both Rachel and Andy are the ones who mentioned about their careers being more important to them both than love. I’m sure that Kyle (Mike’s brother) also says that along with his issues of commitment or whatever due to his ex-girlfriend. Most of his conversations with his brother is about his personality instead of just showing us one instead. They’re likable characters and there was a ton of potential but it wasn’t as realized as it should have been. I kept putting off this review because of this issue I realized I had with the film.
Inconsistent Chemistry. I didn’t look at a ton of reviews before I saw this movie, I generally try not to do that but I did see a lot of people say they thought there wasn’t much chemistry between our two leads and… I agree. Don’t get me wrong, I liked them together and I think it was there sometimes but a majority of the time, it felt like they only had a “connection” because the script told them they had to have one. It was awkward and not in the way that Issa Rae is awkward with guys in Insecure or how Lakeith Stanfield has this quirkiness about him that worked with Tessa Thompson in Sorry to Bother You, but in that “this is so awkward its borderline uncomfortable”. I think they are both amazing actors and I think they worked really well together, but I didn’t feel that spark between them whenever they were on screen together. I don’t necessarily want to compare but Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith were fire on the screen in Queen & Slim. It’s unfortunate, you root for them but the spark was missing for me to fully invested other than the script telling me to be and the fact that I love these two actors.
Parallels? So we get this back and forth with present time and Mae’s mother and her romance with Isaac and it seemed like they wanted to present this thing that the women in her family do. They push people away because they’re independent or they don’t want to worry people. We see that with Christina and her mother but we don’t quite see that with Mae. I actually thought they were going to parallel the Christina and Isaac relationship with Mae and Mike and that Mike was going to be Christina because something happens and he wasn’t going to tell Mae even after they got close. I thought that would be interesting because we still get the parallel but not quite in the way we would think… being a family “curse”. But then the movie tried to say that Mae was always that way and I never quite got that throughout the film. Sure, she’s independent, but I never got the sense she pushed people away because she never learned to need someone. That should have been explored more for that entire conversation to land better for me.
Execution. So as I said, I enjoyed the two stories being told in the movie and I completely get when we had a flashback without a time stamp, the problem I found with this is that it just happens. There’s a part in the movie where there’s no lead up to the flashback, it just happens and I was like whoa wait. There’s no color change, there’s no one telling the story, and no one reading a letter. I think there’s one time where a flashback starts and then after the moment it shows Mae reading the letter. I like flashbacks most times, I enjoy time jump moments, as evident by how much I liked it in Little Women, but if you’re going to do it without any typical set up, make sure it flows. It literally felt like two movies just put together in one movie.
Overall, I really liked The Photograph. It’s so refreshing to see a love story between two black people, where they are both well off, independent, have great jobs and have not been pushed together because something crazy happened. Nor did the movie feature some major trauma because black people live lives without “extreme” trauma all the time. I liked the characters, the acting was great. I really dug the genuine romance set up between these two, yes it hit some cliché movie tropes but I was okay with it. The soundtrack was fire and I really just loved the feeling and tone of the movie. I liked the story and what they were going for with the parallels but with that said, there are a lot of story elements I found lacking in the film. I think it could have benefited from one more rewrite. While I get the parallels, they didn’t quite match up with what we were shown, we had to be told things and that doesn’t help with characterizations. It also sucks that while you like them together, Issa and Lakeith didn’t have a ton of chemistry. It was weird in places. But with that said, I thought the movie was a great depiction of positive black love. We need more movies that do this, just make sure the characters are fully realized here people! Great date night movie!
Rating: 3.89 out of 5 stars. 
Have you seen The Photograph? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments below!
What is your favorite black romance film?
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Movie Review: Monsters and Men (2019)

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Summary: The aftermath of a police officer killing of a black man, told through the eyes of the bystander who filmed the act, an African-American police officer and a high-school baseball phenom inspired to take a stand.
This will be a short review.
Pros:
Cast and Characters. We meet a few characters in this film but we follow three leads so I’m mostly going to talk about them.
  • John David Washington as Dennis Williams. He is a police officer who at the start of the film, gets pulled over by one of his own. It sets the precedent for the film and you can expect for it to be like this for the rest of it and it is. When we get to his section, we see that he cares about his community because he plays basketball with some of the teenage boys but he’s also at odds with his personal beliefs and his duty as a cop. I get it and I liked that we get to see that side because it’s hard to consider the cop, especially a black cop’s role and mindset when it comes to police brutality against people of color, especially black men. It’s clear to see that it affects him in ways, but he can’t help but to think with his cop mind… that probably sounds weird, but you know what I mean. I haven’t seen JD Washington in anything yet (yes, I have not seen BlackKKlansman yet) but I know that I like him. He’s very dynamic to watch and his role in this is very subtle and I honestly wish we got to see more of him.
  • Anthony Ramos as Manny Ortega. I love him. Once I found he was in this, I knew I had to watch it and bump it up on my list. He’s from Hamilton in case you don’t know lol and he’s on Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It and he was in A Star Is Born lol. But Manny is a young man who at the start of his part, is filling out an application for a job. He has a girlfriend… wife? (played by his real life wife Jasmine Cephas-Jones, who was also in Hamilton) and a daughter and he makes choices with the hopes of doing better for his family, but he does still hang out with his friends and do certain things that could get him into trouble, like buying “illegal” cigarettes and playing dice. He ends up filming the murder of Darius Larsen by the cops and he’s now faced with the choice of sharing what he witnessed once the stories circulate that Darius attacked the cop. I found it interesting that he had this choice, especially once he has a one-sided conversation with a pair of cops. This story line is probably the most interesting in the film. I liked seeing Anthony at the forefront in a dramatic role. I think he does very well, it honestly doesn’t even feel like he’s playing a role but more of an extension of himself which I think is impressive most of the time.
  • Kelvin Harrison Jr. as Zyrick. We see him first in Manny’s part, he gets referred to as “Jeter” due to his baseball playing. We see him again with Dennis while they play basketball, but then he gets his own part and this part must have been inspired by the short film “Stop” on the DVD. He’s a teenager who is working to get into college or whatever due to his baseball skills. He’s very good and he and his dad have a plan. He finds himself stopped by a pair of cops and randomly searched one evening and now his days have been messed up and now he’s wondering what he can do to help in the movement and protest. This part is very realistic because I’m sure a lot of young people started to wonder just what they can do to help take a stand against this issue, especially in the last two years with the rise police brutality seemed to take. I get that. This is the first film I’ve seen with him and I think he’s pretty good. His character is also subtle and in ways emotional, so he gets a lot of silent moments.
Powerful Story. I get what they were trying to do in this film. It starts out with Dennis Williams (Washington) driving along, listening to music and then he gets pulled over and pretty much his day is ruined. If you’ve been pulled over by a cop after you were doing your thing, jamming to music or whatever, I’m sure you can relate. But this moment sets the tone for the rest of the film. We then get to Manny (Ramos) and he’s doing his thing and then he witnesses the murder by cops of a friend. We also get a glimpse of Zyric (Harrison Jr.) through him and then we get a bit more of Dennis’s story and then we get Zyric’s story. I get how this was done and ideally, it would have been a strong choice, but I’ll get into this a bit more later. So, we see how each of these men deal with the whole issue of police brutality and how some officers take advantage of their power and how it affects each of their lives. That’s interesting stuff.
Interesting Storytelling. This goes hand in hand with the part before this. I get the idea of what they were doing with exploring three different sides of the same issue that happened with the death of Darius Larson. You get the side of the black policeman, the side of the young man who filmed it and then a young man who was a bit removed from the situation but affected by it afterwards. I totally get the reason and for the most part, it’s a smart choice.
Cons:
Storytelling Choices. Okay, so I had to mention this here as well because while I get how the broke up the storytelling and exploring each person’s storyline, it feels more like a series of short films more than it feels like a coherent film. This is also evident once you watch the short film “STOP” on the DVD. It’s broken up into three parts and they have their connections, but they also feel disjointed which is the big problem I found. Plus, it leaves a very unsatisfying ending. Perhaps this would have fared better if it was a mini-series because it feels very episodic.
The Ending. WHAT IS UP WITH THIS ENDING! Literally, my friend and I looked at each other like WTF?? I get it! I mean, I really do, it’s not that I don’t get what the movie wanted to do but that doesn’t mean I have to like every choice it makes. I know what the implications of the ending means but it’s so abrupt that I was not expecting it to end, it seemed like there was so much more to be done. I did not like that at all.
Needed 20 More Minutes. This movie needed about 20 extra minutes and it’s only 95 minutes long! I mean what! That’s a mini-series! lol This could be fit into a good 7-episode mini-series on HBO or Netflix or something. I feel like it could have used the extra story to just give us a bit more with each character we’ve followed because once we move on from their part, we hardly ever see them again. Besides, I really think they should have done chapter titles or something to let us know we’re switching gears to a new perspective, similar to what Moonlight did which is a fantastic film.
Overall, Monsters and Men is a good movie with a very powerful story it wants to tackle, and I think it does do a good job in tackling different sides of similar and connected stories. The acting is very good from our three leads and the supporting characters as well. I get what they’re trying to do with how they story, and it works overall but I do think their choice of storytelling also prevents each story from getting the resolution it should get. Not to mention, the most interesting of the three just seems to be forgotten and I’m like “umm, well what happened with that character?” and it just moves on and it’s like… at least throw a line in there or something. I also did not like how abrupt the ending was. But considering how this movie is based on reality it’s worth the watch because it has a lot of strength and power behind it.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5 stars. 
Have you seen Monsters and Men? What did you think about it?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
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