Tag Archives: Viola Davis

Over The Fence

Powerful leading performances move ‘Fences’ from stage to screen

FENCES

Fences
Starring Denzel Washington & Viola Davis
Directed by Denzel Washington
PG-13
In theaters Dec. 25, 2016

Fences can keep things in, keep things out, make it difficult for people to see what’s happening, and mark lines of division, separation or conflict.

Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington directs as well as stars in this big-screen adaptation of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 Broadway play, an epic domestic drama about a black family in Pittsburgh in the mid 1950s.

Washington reprises the lead role of Troy Maxson, a garbage collector and former baseball player haunted by his glory days in the Negro leagues. It’s a role Washington also performed on stage in the play’s 2010 Tony Award-winning Broadway revival, alongside Viola Davis, who also returns to her role as Troy’s long-suffering, loyal wife, Rose.

Much of the movie is set in the scrappy, cramped, grassless backyard of Troy and Rose’s modest brick home, in the shadows of the town’s smoke-belching factories, where Troy spends his weekends working on the construction of a wooden fence. It’s to separate his home from the eyesore of the abandoned house next door.

And it’s obviously a metaphor for much more.

Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) and Troy (Denzel Washington) watch Cory (Jovan Adepo) work on Troy’s backyard fence.

Troy is a fiercely proud patriarch who crows about how much he loves Rose, how hard he works, how he deserves a promotion, and how much he’s done to provide for his family. He boasts about what a great baseball player he was (better than the new black players, even Jackie Robinson), and how he danced with death more than once and lived to tell the tale.

But Troy is a jealous bully to his youngest son, Cory (Jovan Adepo), blocking his promising athletic path to college. He’s stingy and dismissive of his oldest son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), whose easygoing musical ambition doesn’t seem like “real” work. And when his secretive philandering puts his marriage to the test, the world of which he so loudly proclaims himself to be the center begins to crumble.

In a powerful performance, Washington makes Troy both sympathetic and pathetic, a tragic character of almost Shakespearian proportions grappling with fate, family responsibilities, work, racial injustice and carnal desires. You may not like him, or love him, but Washington makes Troy a force of nature you cannot ignore.

And Davis, too, is formidable; she’s already won a Critic’s Choice award, and she’s all but certainly bound for an Oscar nomination. The emotional, confrontational scene where Rose stands up to Troy, and her wounded pride comes spilling out in a fierce spew of anger, hurt, betrayal, tears and snot, goes far deeper than any of the holes Troy’s put in the yard for his fence posts.

Mykelti Williamson plays Gabriel.

Mykelti Williamson plays Gabriel.

Familiar character actor Stephen McKinley Henderson does a great job in a supporting role as Troy’s longtime friend Bono, who serves as the moral compass Troy mostly ignores. Mykelti Williamson, best remembered as Bubba in Forrest Gump, gives a touching performance as Troy’s brother, Gabe, who came back from World War II with a metal plate in his head—and an otherworldly gift.

Sometimes Fences betrays its roots as a Broadway play, with more words than action. But any stilted “staginess” is offset by its commanding performances—especially by Washington. As the star and director, he’s created a majestic movie with both gravity and grace that feels too big, and too significant, to be fenced in by anything.

 

 

 

 

 

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Odd Squad

‘Suicide Squad’ is a crazy, colorful, over-stuffed mess

SUICIDE SQUAD

Suicide Squad
Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Viola Davis & Jared Leto
Directed by David Ayer
PG-13

The superhero summer gets a jolt of anarchy as a group of “metahuman” oddballs and outlaws commandeer the screen.

Based on obscure characters created by DC Comics, the Suicide Squad is a motley crew of death-row supervillains corralled by the government to combat threats too dangerous or deadly for ordinary defenses—like the “next” Superman, who might not be so people-friendly, or the slinky sorceress (Cara Delevingne) now building a doomsday machine to annihilate humanity—in exchange for lightened sentences.

Think The Dirty Dozen meets Guardians of the Galaxy, with a twist of Ghostbusters.

Will Smith

Will Smith

Will Smith is Deadshot, the world’s most lethal assassin. Margot Robbie is Harley Quinn, a psychiatrist turned psycho by her bonkers boyfriend, the Joker (Jared Leto). There’s also Aussie kleptomaniac Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), hulking human reptile Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, buried beneath a ton of rubbery prosthetics) and pyrotechnic homeboy El Diablo (a heavily tattooed Jay Hernandez).

Viola Davis is the iron-fisted black-ops recruiter in charge of the squad. Karen Fukuhara plays Katana, a samurai whose sword contains the souls of everyone its ever slain. Joel Kinnaman is elite soldier Col. Rick Flag, who has a special—though convoluted—tie to the Enchantress, the ancient, newly resurrected witch trying to destroy the world. Even Batman (Ben Affleck) and the Flash (Ezra Miller) drop in for cameos, as if they’ve casually wandered over from another movie.

Margot Robbie

Margot Robbie

Everyone has a backstory and a rockin’ theme song. Harley gets a reworked version of the old Leslie Gore hit “You Don’t Own Me,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s swampy “Fortunate Son” plays for Killer Croc, and as Diablo’s flames flicker in the night sky, we hear War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness.”

Writer-director David Ayer—who also directed the Brad Pitt WWII tank flick Fury and wrote Training Day, for which Denzel Washington won an Oscar—has a lot on his plate. Ultimately, the huge cast, unwieldy story and muddled, sometimes downright cheesy special effects become just too much—for him, and us—and everything crashes, smashes, mashes and finally collapses into a big, boom-y blob.

Jared Leto

Jared Leto

There are some things, however, to like about Suicide Squad. Leto’s cackling Joker is an unhinged kick; you never know what he’s going to do, how far he’ll go or where. It’s good to see Smith in a semi-supporting role where he can lay back in an ensemble but still unload some great quips. Davis is deliciously ambiguous as a high-ranking agent who’ll do whatever it takes to do a dirty job. Robbie seems to be having fun as the wacko Harley, but her hyper-sexy shorty shorts, fishnet stockings, stiletto boots and smeared baby-doll makeup look like they came from a stripper’s closet—or a fanboy’s heated ComicCon dream—instead of a wacko supervillain’s lair.

In the end, the movie is a hot mess—but a loud, star-packed, proudly trashy one. At one point, Harley and the Joker jump into an industrial vat of paint, then make out, rolling around and laughing like the nut jobs they are in the swirls of blue, red, yellow and green. That’s pretty good snapshot of Suicide Squad as a whole: Stuffed full of everything, including itself, it’s mad, mucky and yucky and doesn’t make a lot of sense—but hey, look at all those crazy colors!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Soul Man

Chadwick Boseman channels James Brown in explosively entertaining new biopic

Film Title: Get on Up

Get On Up

Starring Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellas, Viola Davis and  Dan Aykroyd

Directed by Tate Taylor

PG-13

“When I hit that stage, people better be ready,” James Brown (Chadwick Boseman) says early in a scene from director Tate Taylor’s Get On Up, the explosively entertaining new movie about the Godfather of Soul. “Especially the white ones.”

Indeed—James Brown was something the likes of which the world had never seen in the early 1960s, a keg of black dynamite sizzling with unpredictability and danger: sexual energy, gospel fervor, hyperkinetic dance moves, combustive rhythms, and intense, screaming, searing vocals. As he made his way to the top, he rewrote the rules about could, and couldn’t, be done by black artists in a music business owned and controlled by white men.

Film Title: Get on Up

Chadwick Boseman is electrifying as James Brown.

Get On Up is a revelation, not only because it’s so well made, written and acted, but also because it shows—reveals—so much about its subject. Most viewers will know who Brown was, and will certainly know his hits—“I Got You (I Feel Good),” “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”. But the exceptionally sharp storytelling and direction take us inside, outside and all around Brown, across a span of nearly six decades, from his childhood of wrenching Alabama poverty and abuse, through his rocky adolescence and finally into adulthood.

And through it all, we see, hear and feel the rhythm, music and grooves that drove him forward. Taylor (a Southerner who also directed The Help) shows us an internal funk engine constantly churning, turning and burning—young Brown incurring the wrath of his father by tapping a stick on the edge of a table, unable to stop the beat inside him; seeing a dreamy, hallucinogenic vision of his step-and-groove future in the horns and drumbeat of a Dixieland jazz band; having a sweaty, stomping, out-of-body experience on the set of a cheesy, white-bread ’60s Frankie Avalon movie.

Film Title: Get on Up

Dan Aykroyd plays Brown’s manager.

And Taylor skips around, putting the events in Brown’s life on shuffle instead of play mode, juxtaposing events from childhood with moments later that show how, and why, they connect, against a backdrop of politics, civil rights and Vietnam.

The movie also doesn’t shy from Brown’s darker side: He was a complicated, preening, strutting egomaniac who beat his wife, wielded guns, did drugs, served time in jail and berated and fined band members for the slightest infractions.

Portraying Brown as a teenager through his final years (he died in 2006), Chadwick Boseman (who played baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson in 42) is electrifying in a tremendous performance that captures his walk, talk, mannerisms, stage moves and morphing looks over the decades.

The movie also features some stellar supporting performances from Viola Davis (as Brown’s mother), Octavia Spencer (as his aunt, who raised him), True Blood’s Nelsan Ellas (as his longtime right-hand band mate Bobby Byrd), and Dan Aykroyd (as Ben Bart, the talent agent who became his manager).

Film Title: Get on UpBut this movie belongs to Boseman, and to Taylor—and to producers Brian Grazer and Mick Jagger (yes, Rolling Stone Mick Jagger), who persevered for eight years, even when this movie seemed un-makeable, because they believed in it. When you see it, you’ll believe, too. It’s a knockout. It feels good.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Dark as a Dungeon

Twisty, turn-y thriller poses provocative question

Prisoners

Prisoners

DVD $28.98 / Blu-ray $35.99 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

How far is too far to go when the law doesn’t go far enough? That’s the provocative question this gripping crime thriller asks as Hugh Jackman portrays a distraught father who takes matters into his own hands and hunts down the man (Paul Dano) he believes is responsible for abducting his young daughter and her friend. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the police detective drawn ever deeper into an increasingly dark, twisted case, and Mario Bello, Viola Davis, Terrence Howard, and Melissa Leo round out the solid cast.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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