MOVIE REVIEW: Queen and Slim

Imagine having to live every day with fear and paranoia just for existing in the environment, taking a walk down the street, driving in your car, or playing in a park with your kids. But this isn’t just something faced by people in a third world country or a location ruled by a government running on the fumes of dictatorship; the sad reality is that I’m talking about the United States of America which inhabits a group of people who are gripped in this nightmare: African Americans. We have seen over the last decade countless videos of African Americans gunned down, beaten, handled aggressively, and having their mere presence treated as a crime by not all (but a substantial amount of) police officers. This unjust treatment has sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and a large group of non-African Americans finally coming to understand just how much police brutality has been an ongoing disease in our communities. Melina Matsoukas’s “Queen and Slim” is not the first film to tackle this issue head-on cinematically, but instead of making it a central focus, the film emphasizes the humanity and pride that is in abundance among the black population.

Slim (Daniel Kaluuya) and Queen (played by newcomer Jodie Turner-Smith) are enjoying themselves in a restaurant on a first date made possible by Tinder. You can see the spark being born and the normal awkwardness present on first encounters is slowly replaced by conversations on black-owned businesses and film, like “Love Jones”. The good times are abruptly ended by a traffic stop based on the pretense of a missing turn signal and a minor swerve. The cop comes out aggressive and is not willing to answer the questions that Slim poses as to why he was pulled over; eventually, tensions between Queen and the police officer reach a terrifying climax. Queen is shot, and as Slim wrestles with the police officer, another bullet takes the cop’s life – leaving the newly acquainted couple likely sentenced to death, never to see their once-peaceful existence again. Labeled as fugitives, their story is one of running from the law while seeking elusive asylum and unlikely freedom.

Matsoukas has been a prominent figure in the last few years, working on music videos with artists such as Beyonce, Rihanna, and Jennifer Lopez. She has also directed episodes of award-winning shows such as “Master of None” and “Insecure”. For this film, she brings over the high-energy aesthetic of her music videos and combines it with a seasoned approach to create spellbinding cinema of riveting relevance. Plenty of wide shots display the gorgeous down-home vibe of the American South; cities such as New Orleans and Savannah are treated with the respect they deserve, highlighting their historical architecture, lush trees, winding roads, and summertime flavor. Vignettes of everyday black people fill up this world in a respectful manner, far from harmful and limiting stereotypes. The film flows with the speed of the Nile River. Sequences don’t overstay their welcome nor drag to the next flashing plot diversion. Everything moves smoothly, keeping the viewing experience a pleasant one. Tat Radcliffe’s cinematography supports the direction like a dedicated best friend with the use of beautiful color contrast that is reminiscent of a stylish late 70’s film. The lighting complements the skin of black characters phenomenally and daytime scenes shine bright as though we are in the same environment as these characters.

Daniel Kaluuya is officially a bonafide superstar. Some thought that “Get Out” would be the pinnacle of his acting prowess, but this performance blows it out of the water. He displays the fearful and scared demeanor that comes with making a mistake that ruins your life, as well as sensitive but very manly energy that compels you to walk in his traumatic shoes and feel the pain radiating from his soul. He shines in comedic and dramatic moments alike, with a spark of brilliance. Jodie Turner-Smith is electric in a breakout performance that will have many in the industry talking. She plays Slim as strong and fierce, a woman who doesn’t panic, and who is intelligent, ambitious, and dedicated. These two leads share a firecracker chemistry that feels unique and is a beautiful representation of natural black love. It truly felt like a couple that was willing to risk it all for one another unconditionally.

Lena Waithe is going to have a long and illustrious career if she continues to write at the amazing pace she is exhibiting. Already in the history books for being the first black woman to win an Outstanding Writing Emmy Award in 2017 for her work onMaster of None”, she has gone to be the creator of a television series (“The Chi”) and starred in Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One”. Her screenplay is one of the best of the year in the way it handles the beauty and darkness that surround the lives of black Americans. There are times where she creates moments for these characters to get away from being in constant stressful escape mode and let their hair down, which allows viewers to connect with them. Character development is a strong component of what made me fall in love with this film. The film also features great supporting characters that have a place and purpose to the ongoing narrative and are part of setpieces that show immense humanity. “Queen and Slim” is rife with tension and central parallels that callback to the injustices African Americans face in everyday society. It is told in an engaging manner full of showmanship, not as a Dateline NBC special. It would have been easy for this film to fall into preachy territory, but it’s much smarter and more creative than that; all shades of the best qualities of storytelling are present and alive. It would also be very unfair to try and subject this film to a “cop-killing fantasy’ piece when it does not glorify or celebrate violence of any kind. There is a horror that lies underneath the surface of every scene showing how divided the relationship is between African Americans and members of the police community. There is a disconnect that has not been mended and painfully looks to not be getting any better. Waithe knows that and wants the audience to be confronted with police brutality, systemic racism, and how the divide between police and African Americans will continue to fester without intentional action to make change by both sides coming together.

Tragic, beautiful, compelling, and exhilarating, “Queen and Slim” is one of the finest films of 2019, and a masterclass of a cinematic narrative told entirely from the African American perspective.

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Caless Davis is a Seattle-based film critic and contributor to the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He loves any discussion of film and meeting new people to engage in film discussions on any subject. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Episode 103: Ready Player One

It’s time to enter the OASIS! This week we were so excited to drop our new episode that we bumped up the release date because we’ve been anxiously awaiting this film ever since it was announced.We’re talking Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Ernest Cline’s sci-fi novel, Ready Player One. We have a joyful conversation and also discuss some of the criticisms we’ve heard. Enjoy, gunters! 

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:57

(Aaron – The Hunger Games Quadrilogy & “Making Of” Documentaries)
(Patrick – Krypton)

Ready Player One Review – 0:17:22

The Connecting Point – 1:28:58


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MOVIE REVIEW: Ready Player One

READY PLAYER ONE (2018)

GOING IN

When you’ve read a book five times, purchased copies of it to give away, and sung its praises from the rooftops for almost 7 years, there are two major feelings you get when a movie adaptation is announced. First, you get incredibly excited (especially when it’s going to be directed by Steven freaking Spielberg), and second, you get incredibly nervous. Author Ernest Cline’s involvement in writing the script offers hope that any changes will be consistent in tone with the original work, but any time a piece of art/entertainment is so close to your heart it results in a battle to keep expectations in check.

2 Hours and 20 Minutes Later.

COMING OUT
Remember back to the time you saw an epic blockbuster film for the first time. Maybe it was Star Wars. Maybe it was Jurassic Park. Maybe it was The Avengers. Whatever the film was, it left you in awe of what movies could be. It transported you to some new world that you wanted to inhabit. It was an experience unlike any you’d had. Most likely, you would have gladly sat right in that same seat and started watching it again the moment it ended.

For the generations of people who grew up as gamers, movie, music, and TV lovers, and general pop culture addicts… Ready Player One is next in line. This is that film for you.

It was probably foolish to distrust Steven Spielberg in the first place, but we all make mistakes. Instead of disappointment, he delivered something wholly unique and special. The screenplay by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline is incredible. At the risk of using hyperbole, this might be the second best adaptation of a book that I’ve ever seen, and it’s not because the story is portrayed exactly as it is on the page. In fact, it’s the opposite. The film still follows Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan)/Parzival as he searches for James Halliday’s Easter egg inside of the OASIS. Parzival’s best friend Aech (Lena Waithe) and rival/love interest Art3mis (Olivia Cooke) are also looking for the egg, and the three try desperately to stay ahead of the evil Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) and IOI Corporation, who wants control of the OASIS and seeks to monetize it through advertisements and subscription plans. So, the general flow of the book’s narrative remains the same, yet getting from point A to point B happens in much different ways. The brilliance of it all is that the story has been modernized. It is updated with current gen gaming and pop culture references galore, while retaining many of the 80’s story beats and nostalgia that made it so beloved in the first place. There are even references to older films such It’s A Wonderful Life and Citizen Kane. The updated way in which this script remembers classics is truly something special and it results in two different versions of the same story – which fans of all ages can now love.

Visually, Ready Player One is a staggering achievement. Transitioning from the CGI world to the one on film is nearly flawless, and the visual effects of the OASIS itself and what takes place inside of it is mind blowingly good. This is a film that truly does demand an IMAX viewing (or five). It is wonderful to look at but it is also accompanied by an incredible score from Alan Silvestri. Utilizing many classic films scores (plenty of which are his own), he creates themes that are at once both familiar and fresh. The nostalgic rush that comes from seeing a DeLorean on screen and a subtle alteration of the Back to the Future theme playing in the background creates such a feeling of joy. This experience is even better when shared with friends, who you’ll no doubt be poking constantly as you draw each other’s attention to some awesome reference made in the film.

And this communal nature of enjoying nostalgia together is also something that the script takes very seriously. In some ways, this film’s message is better than the book. Despite it taking place almost entirely in a virtual world, Ready Player One ultimately urges us to remember reality and take a break every now and again. It also puts a premium focus on teamwork, friendship, and avoiding regret.

VERDICT

Ready Player One is a special film. Spielberg and Cline have crafted a new version of a beloved story that stands on its own, and is equally (if not more) impressive than its source material. It is the kind of blockbuster that doesn’t come along very often and that fans will embrace with adoration – endlessly watching, quoting, and discussing. If you aren’t a gamer or don’t love pop culture references, then you’re not the droid this film is looking for and you should probably just move along. Otherwise, you’re in for a treat. Enjoy your visit to the OASIS. I hope to see you there.

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Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.