MOVIE REVIEW: The Photograph

Rating: PG-13 / Runtime: 1 hour and 46 minutes

Romance films are at their best when they come across as a believable depiction of two people sharing a strong connection. The two lead characters need to have a level of chemistry and intimacy that is hot to the touch but also deep in tenderness, striking at the core of a viewer’s soft spot. It is very easy for an experience in this genre to recycle the same “love at first sight” or “happily ever after” tropes that can be found center stage in a Fabio paperback novel; not that there is anything problematic with that intended message, but it doesn’t carry any of the intoxicating and soulful energy that love can strike in one’s physical and mental makeup. “The Photograph” combines all of the ingredients that make for an enchanting and earnest portrayal of African American romance, harkening back to well-known past features such as “Love Jones” and “Brown Sugar”. Director Stella Meghie carries the genre forward from surface level trappings and produces a flavor-filled tale of affection that is enchanting to the heart.

Micheal (Lakeith Stanfield) and Mae (Issa Rae) operate as two vibrant professionals who are enjoying success in their respective careers while living in the concrete jungle known as New York City. Michael is working on a story profiling a female photographer that has left behind a bunch of questions and mystery which leads to a chance acquaintance with her daughter (Mae). That quickly turns into a hot and steamy courtship. Over time, the link between the past and the present becomes clearer as Mae starts to uncover secrets about the mother she thought she knew while coming to grips with the vulnerability and affection she feels with Michael. Stanfield displays new sensibilities as a romantic lead, building on his quirkiness and the “it factor” that has turned a lot of eyes his way as an entertainer. The very talented Issa Rae exudes radiant beauty and the right level of comedic timing that keeps your attention on her at all times. What helps generate a fascination with this couple and their journey is the feeling that both of the characters feel like natural beings living a young and ambitious lifestyle. It is always a breath of fresh air for black characters to be depicted in a style that scoffs away harmful and simple-minded depictions. Lil Rey Howery is such a hoot as the brother of Michael filled with an unstoppable arsenal of one-liners that will make your side hurt, and Lee Morgan, always a consummate professional, continues to make his case as one of the more underappreciated actors currently working.

Meghie not only shares her vision of modern-day relationships as a filmmaker but also through a mostly organic zest in the screenwriting arena. The conversations shared between characters provide an anchor for the audience to connect with the diverse personalities populating the screen. The balancing act of the two narratives that eventually divulge into one handles well in cross-cutting between past and present, but I did want to see more significance in the journey of Mae’s mother. There were some missed opportunities to show why the mother had a hard time with parenthood and her harboring of unresolved issues internally that kept her from being able to open herself to the full power of untamed love. The focus and likeability of the film mostly come from Stanfield and Issa lighting up the screen, and the film bogs down a little when the two of them are not around.

The fabulous soundtrack plays the best of R&B from the past few decades and felt curated specifically to the major vibes the story wanted to emit and Robert Glapser creates a wonderful companion musical composition that recognizes jazz as the singular choice music for depicting blossoming romance. It is full of clean piano notes, trumpets that speak feeling without the use of words, and beautiful saxophone additions. This a must-own soundtrack that carries a lot of memorable moments that will ring heavy on the head for the foreseeable future. The cinematography is filled with the gorgeous use of wide shots that gives characters bigger than life presence and top-notch lighting that renders locations with passion and sleekness,

Take your significant other, a friend, family member, or anyone who is a fan of arresting romance to this realistically portrayed and charming feature. Not only do you see a side of love that pays great attention to the vulnerability of companionship but also the idea of not being afraid to have someone in your life only for fear of losing them. The strength of the film is in its great performances, production design efficiency, excellent curated soundtrack, and attention to the ins and outs of longing attachment. Even for someone who may not be a usual fan of films dealing with love, this breaks the genre’s stale mold and brings something familiar to the table in a new way.


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.

MOVIE REVIEW: Just Mercy

The American criminal justice system was envisioned to be built on the ideas of fairness, justice, and due process for its citizens, a system that has a responsibility to give those citizens a fair trial, a court-appointed lawyer, and that operates under the adage “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”. Throughout history, this has been the opposite for those who have the distinction of being African American and of lower than privileged socioeconomic means. The United States has a bad track record of people wrongfully shackled under the thumb of the correctional system based on flimsy evidence and a lack of procedural aptitude; the same shortcomings have lead to innocent individuals losing their lives at the hands of a retributive government practice known as the death penalty. “Just Mercy” tells the story of one man’s fight to escape the clutches of a broken system with the help of a heroic lawyer willing to do the impossible.

Not enough praise can be showered on the plethora of terrific acting performances that can be found throughout this film. Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx play off each other with deep conviction and dedication to their respective roles; Jordan is electric as the headstrong lawyer who is putting everything on the line to help inmates get off death row, while Foxx turns in one of his more compelling performances as a victim of injustice and racism. Character actor extraordinaire Tim Blake Nelson impresses me highly in the few moments he had to share, physically and mentally turning himself into a traumatized empty shell who is a victim of coercion. If there is one actor who carves their own mark away from the rest, it is Rob Morgan. Morgan is phenomenal, the equivalent of a sixth man in the NBA  who comes off the bench and drops 40 points to the surprise of everyone. His personal moments as a man on the brink of execution touch the soul with great heartbreak and tragedy, giving us the most emotionally charged moments that will bring any viewer to an uncontrollable amount of tears. Brie Larson, in my opinion, stands as one of the few actresses in Hollywood who is must-see but sadly does not fit the distinction in this forgettable role. She is not in control of a story that doesn’t give her much activity when it comes to more powerful moments and she lacks presence compared to the other actors, while her attempt at a Southern dialectic o is missing the juice needed to feel convincing.

Destin Daniel Cretton (“Short Term 12″) displays an inherent trait of allowing the characters on screen to show off a strong sense of humanity and imperfection. The whole film is a testament to thematic drama in its purest form. Cretton gathers plenty of kudos for his use of emotionally telling close-ups and Steadicam shots that put you in the center of the environment, rife with equal parts hope and fear. It would have been very easy for this to be another assembly line cliche-filled melodrama complete with a lineup of white saviors but this is filled with genuine attention and care to the topic at hand. The ugliness of African Americans being wrapped up as victims of a system characterized by racism and oppression will not be lost on anyone, and the fact that we still are plagued by these problems is a hard pill to swallow. If “Just Mercy” teaches us anything, the lesson is that we each have an obligation to fight and stand for the ones who cannot, the ones who are voiceless and invisible based on their bank account or their ethnic roots.

A powerful and profoundly deep drama, “Just Mercy” is a film that deserves to be seen by anyone who shares the same passion in doing right by the people who deserve it the most.  This biopic is a true story that should be treated in the glow of the American Hero narrative. It is an indictment on a criminal justice system that needs to be torn down and rebuilt with a sense of fairness for all.


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.