Talking Movies: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Coming 2 America and Handsome Devil

Spling reviews Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Coming 2 America and Handsome Devil as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Listen to podcast.

TRANSCRIPT

Good morning – welcome to Talking Movies, I’m Spling…

This week, we’re talking about a music drama, a comedy and a coming-of-age sports drama.

Starting off with a film now on Netflix…

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM

During a recording session, tensions rise between Ma Rainey, her ambitious horn player and the white management.

Director: George C. Wolfe

Stars: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman and Glynn Turman

– This tense music drama takes place at a music studio in Chicago, where the “mother of blues” and her accompanying band prepare to lay down a few tracks.
– Based on a true story, this beautifully composed drama is reminiscent of Florence Foster Jenkins.
– While less ornate, it hinges on two brilliant co-lead performances, featuring singers who lived during the same age and is based on a true story, making the films strange companions.
– The film title, the name of one of her most famous songs, is edgy and creates a similar tension to what appears on screen in terms of drama.
– Grappling with the tense racial politics of the time, it’s a fascinating power game as the star fights for her worth and uses her talent to wrangle her white studio producers.
– A power play in the recording session, a young horn player with plenty of moxie tries to use his talent and self-confidence to overpower his older colleagues with the prospect of forming his own band.
– Adapted from a stage play, the dialogue is crisp, laden with read-between-the-lines conflict and ties in masterfully with the claustrophobic and perspiration-inducing environment.
– Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is built on two award-worthy performances from stars Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, who are the heart and soul of this powerful drama.
– Wonderfully supported, they deliver memorable performances from Ma’s iconic turn as a blues matriarch to Boseman’s wisecracking and volatile Levee.
– While entertaining, followed through with good pacing and fine production elements, the stage play adaptation is somewhat restrained, giving the film a compartmentalised feel as if nothing really exists beyond the walls.
– Still, immense performances, timely themes and pulsating writing contribute to a taut and soulful music drama.

An excellent 8 on the splingometer!
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Moving on to a movie now on Amazon Prime…

COMING 2 AMERICA

The African monarch Akeem learns he has a long-lost son in the United States.

Director: Craig Brewer (who brought us Dolemite Is My Name)

Stars: Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall and Wesley Snipes

– Eddie Murphy is a talent who has expressed his versatility, but tended towards his forte in comedy.
– While an unnecessary sequel, Coming 2 America catches up with one of his breakthrough performances as an African prince looking for his future bride.
– The fish-out-of-water comedy was well-received in spite of mixed reviews in 1988 and based on Hollywood’s African renaissance in the wake of The Lion King live-action remake and Black Panther, it seemed like good timing for the sequel.
– While they’ve managed to assemble a brilliant comedy cast, with many actors reprising their roles from the original, the screenplay is half-baked.
– The filmmakers have adopted the flamboyant Wakanda wardrobe from Black Panther, echoing the stellar superhero ensemble, reaching for a similar tone to the original, but ultimately falling flat.
– The jokes don’t land, the screenplay lacks inspiration, the actors struggle to find their verve and the stereotypes around Africa persist, creating an out of touch film experience.
– The comedy probably would have benefited more from a Christopher Guest style ad lib when you consider the comedy talent at play.
– Or perhaps framing the film from the begotten son’s perspective would have made more sense in terms of positioning the concept for a rinse and repeat.
– Simply going through the motions, it does seem like a missed opportunity and while the musical element adds some pizzazz, with one or two lightly amusing moments, the sequel is all pomp… lacklustre and underwhelming.

A flimsy 4 on the splingometer!
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And finally a film now on Netflix…

HANDSOME DEVIL

A loner and a star athlete form an unlikely friendship at a rugby-mad school until it’s tested by the authorities.

Writer-Director: John Butler

Stars: Fionn O’Shea, Nicholas Galitzine and Andrew Scott

– You could describe this coming-of-age sports drama as a blend of Sing Street and Spud.
– Set in Ireland in the ’80s, infused with acoustic music and dealing with an outsider and his muse… there are a number of parallels.
– Being a boarder at a rugby school, coping with bullying and trying to find inspiration and self-discovery through a motivational teacher, Handsome Devil also has similarities with Spud.
– While centred on a gay student, it’s refreshing to see this feelgood drama and underdog story operating with a level of mainstream normalcy and accessibility.
– Ordinarily this kind of drama involving prejudice would tend towards becoming niche limiting its scope to exclude, yet opts for a more mainstream and ultimately crowd-pleasing approach.
– Spirited performances set the platform for an amusing and important story about tolerance and teamwork, allowing this tale about schoolboy politics, shenanigans and rivalries to play out.
– While a little clich├ęd at times, its deeply human message about fitting in transcends the formula to make for an enjoyable and entertaining yarn.
– Handsome Devil is set in the ’80s but has a timeless feel, latching onto familiar elements from better films such as Dead Poet’s Society and School Ties.

A solid 7 on the splingometer!
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So just to wrap up…

MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM… two brilliant performances and sharp writing elevate this fine, taut and timely music drama biopic… An excellent 8!

COMING 2 AMERICA… a lacklustre script and low-key performances undermine this colourful yet charmless and unnecessary comedy sequel… A flimsy 4!

HANDSOME DEVIL… while formulaic, this is an entertaining, spirited and refreshing feel-good coming-of-age schoolboy sports drama… A solid 7!

For more movie reviews, previous Talking Movies podcasts and upcoming Bingeing with Spling watch parties visit splingmovies.com.

And remember, Don’t WING it, SPL!NG it!

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