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!
Thanks for reading!
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Book Review: The Hate U Give

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Summary: Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
Pros:
All the Characters/Even the ones you hate. There are a lot of characters in this book. A LOT. So, I’m not going to do the breakdown like I normally do.
  • Starr Carter is the protagonist of the story, it’s told in her point of view and I think she’s a strong and realistic character. Throughout the story she doesn’t think she’ strong or brave but we have evidence of that throughout the story.
  • Her parents Maverick and Lisa Carter are people who have lived lives that allows them to have wisdom to understand the world around them and to have a view that they hope would help their family and by extension others. Maverick wants to give back to his community and Lisa wants to do that but make her family a priority (not that Mav doesn’t want that too, it just gets lost sometimes).
  • Seven is Starr’s big brother and you’ll learn about her connection to him and her friend Kenya, but I really liked him because he has his own struggles and demons, but he always tries to be there for his sister.
  • Chris is Starr’s boyfriend from her PWI private school and they’re sweet together, he really tries, and I give him props for that especially towards the end of the novel.
  • In her school, there is also Maya and Hailey who are Starr’s best friends and make your own conclusion, but I hated Hailey. I’m surprised Starr held out as long as she did lol. I liked Maya though.
  • Uncle Carlos is a big part of the story where he acted as a second father in ways to Starr. He is a cop so when we first meet him, I was a little skeptical at first but throughout the book he becomes a big ally and he has some awesome moments throughout the story. Great character.
Starr’s perspective. Being that the story is told in Starr’s perspective who was right there when Khalil was murdered, it allows the chance for the story to be told by someone with a firsthand account. She experiences everything and tells it in detail. She is a narrator who lives in the moment and tries to understand what’s happening in the now while also worrying in ways about the future. By giving Starr the perspective and not making it third person, it allows for the chance for the reader to catch a glimpse into the heart and mind of the people who are first hand witnesses and know what it feels to be on the front lines of this situation. Starr is young but her dialogue sounds like a teenager, especially a teenager in her environment. Black people know what it’s like to have to be different people depending on the crowd and how hard and confusing that can be. What it’s like living in a hard and dangerous neighborhood but being able to see the brightness that exists in these places. Seeing the world through Starr’s eyes you feel that emotional confusion, disappointment, love, hope, bravery… all of it. At least I did.
Powerful Story. This story is RELEVANT! I cannot stress this enough. Whether you like the book or not, the story and the message is so important. Starr witnesses something so terrible that it affects her, it affects the people around her and it affected me reading it. We have seen so many deaths of black people, especially unarmed black people within the last few years and it still has an effect today. I think this novel takes something that has been so real and amplifies it and shows that people can have a voice when they feel like they have none. Starr agonizes over what she witnessed and constantly thinks about it to the point where it begins to affect her life at school, at home and she doesn’t know what to do to handle it. As the story goes on, we see her struggle with feeling strong and brave and by the end she has transformed into someone that I think we all want to be when faced with a trial such as this. Powerful journey.
Family Ties. Outside of the story, one of the strongest aspects of this book is the family. All of them. Starr has a great family and they all felt like real people. Her father came off as this big imposing man, but he cared about his wife and kids, he did whatever it took to protect them. Her mother was a protector but also a nurturing woman who knew her kids and who also did whatever it took to make sure her family was safe. Then there’s Seven who is the big brother and he has a lot of demons he must deal with, but he always tried to be there for his siblings, all of them. Sekani is the little brother and he is just like a little brother. We meet Uncle Carlos who is a strong character as well (there are a LOT of adults in this book which is great because for some reason YA books are allergic to caring and present adults lol) and of course Nana and Aunt Pam and then Seven’s other sisters and of course when they accept other people into their family. it’s just a strong bond that is created with all of them.
Real Aspect. I love how real the story is and how relevant it is. I think with a story like this, it could easily become something that feels over dramatic, or feel false but that doesn’t happen here. While I read the book, I truly felt like I was standing right there with Starr, experiencing everything she felt. All her emotions, her thoughts, I was on the sidelines and that is a testament to Angie Thomas and her storytelling abilities.
Thug Life. We learn about this twice in the story. In the beginning, Khalil and Starr have a moment driving where he explains this to her and she takes it in, but I think she really feels it later when she goes over it with her father. I’m not going to tell you what it means if you don’t know already, but it’s so powerfully used in the book that any time it came up, I immediately thought of what it meant for me, or for black people and it’s interwoven so well into the story without even being blatantly referenced that I still kept thinking about it after finishing the novel.
Cons:
Just a bit too long. This is literally my only complaint about the book. I think the story could have been cut down a bit because the stuff with DeVante could have been cut out or at least cut down. *gasps* Blasphemy! lol I get why it was there because it’s another chance… but he could have still been in the story but not an entire side plot. It made the story feel bloated. I had a really hard time thinking why I thought the book might have been too long. I went through a lot of parts of the book in my mind and everything else I could rationalize why it was written the way it was, why it was important but I kept coming back to the DeVante storyline and I kept thinking of ways to make it shorter, or to have moments of it skipped over by still arriving to the same conclusion of the plot and it worked out in my mind. I would also think in the movie, they would either cut it out completely or really file it down for the sake of run time.
Overall, I really really really loved this book. The hype surrounding it very much earned and I see why it’s such a powerful and relevant book for people. It’s important for stories like this to be told because it’s what’s happening in the world today and I think if people dislike this book for telling that kind of story then I’m not sure what to say because it’s real. The book may be a work of fiction but the nature of it is reality. The characters are well written and fully realized, the atmosphere feels real and I feel like I’m there beside Starr while these things are happening. It’s emotional and it is so real. My one complaint is a minor one and it doesn’t affect how I view the story overall. It’s amazing.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. I know I had a con, but I think otherwise this book is pretty much perfection. I’m so glad it exists.
I work in the public library and I know this book is challenged by people when it comes to their young ones reading it and I don’t think it’s merited, sure, it does have profanity in it, but I guarantee you your teens curse or have in the company of their peers. You’re afraid that this book is going to taint how teenagers, or people in general, view law enforcement without them having the chance to experience it for themselves? I’m sure they already have by seeing the many videos available for public use of black people being killed. No one has to like the book, that’s fine but I encourage you to read it with the idea that this is black people’s reality, and this is what black people fear probably more than anything else.
Thanks for reading this review. Please leave your thoughts and comments down below if you’d like to start an intelligent dialogue. I’ll be happy to discuss.
Thank you to everyone who has followed me, I really appreciate the love and support and I hope you continue to do so.
Keep an eye out for future book reviews!

Book Review: Ghost Boys (2018)

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Summary: Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.
Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.
This is a quick review.
Pros:
Characters. We meet a lot of characters in this story, with Jerome’s family and Carlos, even the bullies and the leader of the Ghost Boys, but I’m going to only focus on Jerome because he is who the story follows.
  • Jerome is the main character. We see the story through his eyes and the good thing is, is that while he’s a ghost (which isn’t a good thing), he gets to be everywhere. He’s a smart kid, kind, but he has a system, when he goes to school he’s really bullied by these kids and he’s used to it, but he has ways to avoid it. It’s sad really but understandable. When Carlos is introduced, no one reacts to be his friend, so Jerome does, and even when he doesn’t want to have Carlos around to make the bullying worse for him, he does. Later, when he meets Sarah and she can see him, he finds a bit of comfort in her even though they argued a lot at first since her dad was the officer that killed him. As the reader, you’ll feel bad for him because he was 12 and he had a life ahead of him, a life full of love and he has to watch his family suffer. His character feels like a real kid.
Story Importance. There is a lot going on in this book. Not a lot of action or anything, but a lot to think about. Characters deal with death, racism, bullying life after death, cultural traditions and it’s just so current that I think anyone can read this and completely identify with some aspect of Jerome’s life.
Emotional. I legit teared up twice and I think I kind of cried. Not sure. But it’s a very emotional story. In the first part, you learn about his death, there’s no easing into it, but when you get to meet Jerome before his death, meet his family and his relationship with them, it’s sad. Plus, Carlos feels this heavy guilt about Jerome’s death and when he talks with the grandmother at the end, it was a really moving moment. Also, Jerome can see into Emmett’s past, so his story is told again and that’s always sad and it makes me emotional regardless. Even if there aren’t any tears, I think readers would be moved.
Historical Connections. Being that the story is about the death of black boys at the hands of police, or violence, the inclusion of Emmett Till really helps put things into perspective. When Jerome first sees Emmett, we have no idea who he is, but he was my first thought (I didn’t really read the synopsis, so I didn’t realize Emmett Till was going to be in the story). There are also mentions of Tamir Rice and I think Jerome also sees Trayvon Martin’s ghost walking listening to music or something. In ways, it’s eerie because we know about these deaths but because Jerome was a victim of police brutality and racism, his story is connected to so many who came before him. I thought that was unique and it also gave Jerome things to consider and think about instead of just watching his family grieve for him.
Cons:
Heavy Handed. This was the only thing I could really think of when it came to what I might think would be a “negative”. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, but I can imagine some people feeling too “pushed down” by the story. It’s an important story, but I think with what Jerome goes through, what Sarah deals with and what he learns from Emmett, that it could feel preachy.
Overall, while it took me a while to finish the book, I think it’s a great story for young readers to read and even understand what’s going on in the world today. I think the story is handled well and that the author doesn’t shy away from talking about grief, but also including how different cultures honor the dead. I think Jerome, being a young boy, gives the perspective of someone different as compared to teenagers or parents like in the other books of this nature. The story is importance, and I think the story is handled well. It’s emotional and holds historical importance. I can understand why someone might find it heavy-handed in the topic, and while I agree to a small extent, I think the author finds a balance.
Rating: 4 out 5 stars.
Check out Ghost Boys if you haven’t. It’s a powerful story told through the lens of a young kid. Give your young readers something to relate to but also understand the tragedy in the world today.
Next Book: I don’t know lol, I have a ton of things to read on my nightstand.

Book Review: Tyler Johnson Was Here (2018)

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Summary: When Marvin Johnson’s twin, Tyler, goes to a party, Marvin decides to tag along to keep an eye on his brother. But what starts as harmless fun turns into a shooting, followed by a police raid.
The next day, Tyler has gone missing, and it’s up to Marvin to find him. But when Tyler is found dead, a video leaked online tells an even more chilling story: Tyler has been shot and killed by a police officer. Terrified as his mother unravels and mourning a brother who is now a hashtag, Marvin must learn what justice and freedom really mean.
Pros:
Colorful Characters. We meet a lot of characters in this story. They all stand out on their own I think, with their own usefulness, nicknames and what they mean in Marvin’s, and by extension, Tyler’s life.
  • Marvin Johnson. He is our narrator and he’s just a regular teenager in Alabama. He’s considered an “oatmeal creme pie” because he’s black but “acts white”, whatever that means lol, along with his two best friends. He’s smart, but unlike his brother, he’s the less popular one and maybe more awkward. Marvin wants to go to MIT, he knows that life is challenging due to the color of his skin and he tries to make sure he’s never in the position where his life is threatened, sometimes it just happens. When they have an encounter with an officer in the beginning, he watches his twin become increasingly distant and he worries. He often thinks he should do or say more than what he does, so when Tyler dies, he feels a tremendous guilt that he should have done something to help Tyler. As the book continues, we learn more about his anger, his extreme pain as he feels like his life has been taken away from him because his brother was taken away from him. Marvin is likable, and you really feel for him, but you also root for him to find peace. The fact that the book is told in his point of view, really allows for an up-close and personal look.
  • Tyler Johnson. Yes, he does die, but in the beginning of the book, we get to meet him and love him, and feel conflicted the same way Marvin does. Tyler and Marvin are close, but after an encounter with an officer in the beginning, Tyler becomes distant and we learn that he gets involved with a group of kids who he really shouldn’t. He says that it’s because he wants to help their mother out more around the house, but I think, that he was doing it because he wanted to feel safe or feel that he could protect himself if the time came down to it with another encounter. We don’t really know for sure, but I feel like, from what we’re told about him, that I really do like this kid and I wished he could have lived to live out his life.
  • Mama Johnson. You really feel for their mother. I believe they live in Alabama so she’s constantly worried that something will happen to her two black sons. When Tyler first “goes missing” she believes Marvin’s lie that he was at a friend’s house, and she’s hopeful, especially with the nonsense that happened at the party that everyone heard about. She breaks when Tyler’s body is discovered, and you really hope that she doesn’t remain broken throughout because Marvin needs her as much as she needs him. It’s sad watching her through Marvin’s eyes and how he feels like he can’t do anything for her, but she remains a strong presence for him, especially at the end.
  • Ivy & G-Mo. I put them together, but they are Marvin’s best friends and they complete the “Oatmeal Creme Pie Group”. They are ride or die friends, no matter how much Marvin might push them away in the story, they understand which I liked. They didn’t turn on him in his time of need which showed the strength of their friendship. Anytime Marvin called them and needed them, they answered and came. It was really sweet. Plus, whenever all three of them together, know there might be some corniness going on.
  • Faith. She starts out at this mysterious girl Marvin sees at the party. I at first thought, she was just going to serve a purpose and never show up again, but she becomes a large part of Marvin’s life. She starts out affiliated with Johntae (the gang member Tyler started hanging around) and Marvin goes to her for help, she at first refuses, but his persistency causes her to get more involved. She becomes another lifeline for Marvin and she’s really sweet to him. I wouldn’t have minded if she wasn’t in the story, but I saw the purpose she served, she was someone who entered his life because of the tragedy and remained.
The Story. The idea of a teenaged black boy being killed by a police officer is unfortunately nothing new, especially now. This book is very relevant considering its nature and I think that’s what makes it so powerful and emotional. It’s told from Marvin’s point of view, and we get to see him experience atrocities such as having guns pointed at him, dealing with his wrongfully incarcerated father, his brother who he feels pulling away from, not to mention his brother missing for a large chunk of the book, and worrying about where his life will head next. I think all of this is something that most people, especially young black people will experience and relate to. The principal in the school was absolutely ridiculous and I think people experience that in real life. I just think the story, at its core will hit very close to home.
Powerful Message. The book talks a lot about grief, loss, police brutality, blackness, among other things. I don’t think it rushes past anything, I think the grief is handled as realistically as possible. Marvin is in pain from losing his brother, but he feels a strong guilt as well that he should have done something. Justice, hatred and racism is a large part of the story as well, and Marvin gets to experience it first-hand. Just be prepared to go through a lot during this book, but it’s not preachy. It doesn’t feel heavy handed.
Realistic/Emotional. I teared up in quite a few places while reading. I don’t mean to sound like a broken record in the nature of the book, but I think it’s imperative to know that this isn’t an easy book to read. I mean, what it’s talking about should be something that’s acknowledged and talked about in society period, and Marvin often shares his feelings, I mean it’s in his point of view, but he doesn’t shy away from his anger, confusion or frustration. Reading about him watching his mother fall apart, or reading Marvin trying to make sense of his feelings, or his reaction when he finally sees the video of Tyler’s final moments. It’s pretty heartbreaking.
The Ending. So, I’m going to kind of mention this later, but the actual ending of the book was beautiful. I know what it’s like to have to spread ashes of a family member, it’s kind of weird experience, so I can relate to Marvin in that way. However, while there are still a few things that need to be tidied up, we get a sense of “moving on” for everyone, even Tyler.
The Cover. I mean just look at it. It’s beautiful. I love the flowers and the softness of the black boy. I just like that it’s not aggressive or sensual or any of the typical covers with black teens on the cover. I like that a lot of these young adult covers with black characters are going this route. It shows that our young people can be soft too.
Cons:
Starts off Slow. Because you pretty much know that Tyler dies at some point thanks to the description, you’re waiting for that moment while reading the book. It’s like you’re tense for most of the story, which is a good thing in ways, but it’s also a bad thing, because it takes a while to really gain some traction. I didn’t really get sucked into the story until a bit later, the first few chapters were for setting up, but it did really slowly.
Drawn Out. There are a lot of moments in the book, mostly towards the end, where it felt like it should have concluded many times. There was a part where it was damn near a perfect ending and I don’t think I would have been upset with that being the ending. The actual ending is great, don’t get me wrong, but I got the sense that Jay Coles tried to wrap everything up as best he could, but he could have done it many times.
Overall, I liked Tyler Johnson Was Here, the cover is beautiful, and I wanted to read it from the moment I saw it. I love the cover with the flowers and the soft, handsome black boy on the cover. I like all of the main characters, we definitely get some hated characters like the principal, and Johntae, and of course the police officer, but mostly all of the characters are likable. Especially Marvin and his friends. Marvin is our narrator and he tells the story with an emotional connection that keeps you invested once the story really picks up. It’s a realistic and emotional story that hits close to home with the tragedy of a black boy being murdered by a police officer, not to mention the many encounters of police brutality. I think the dialogue is pretty witty and sounds like black southern teenagers haha, I never felt like they were just characters in a book because some teens talk like that in real life. My only negatives are that the book takes a while to pick up, it starts off with a bang but then it slows down for a while. It kind of does that throughout as it feels like it’s being drawn out, there were many moments where the book should have ended, but it kept going. Don’t get me wrong, the ending was great but there were a lot of moments where it could have ended well. WITH THAT SAID, this is a great read and a great experience. Check it Out.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
What I’m Reading Next:
Scott Pilgrim– Bryan Lee O’Malley (but I’m not going to review these)

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The Last Black Unicorn– Tiffany Haddish (might review this, dunno)

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