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: Black Christmas

The best experience anyone can have going to see a new film in the theater is being surprised by what new ideas it brings. Audiences are dazzled when venturing into the unknown and having their imaginations sparked. Contrary to that, some films follow the trends and cliches that have been established before. One genre that has fallen victim to this syndrome is horror films, specifically more so the reboot variety that aims to introduce an old story to new generations. “Black Christmas” is a case of a reboot trying to bite off more than it can chew in trying to balance the brand of horror its predecessors emulated while roping along social message parallels. It all adds up to a horrible cinematic experience and an easy candidate for a “Worst Of The Year” label.

Issues are abundant in every area, but especially so in a story that is comical and barebones which involves a supernatural/fantasy cult of men who hunt for women on a college campus during winter break. Audiences are treated to a narrative that will have you believe that a statue bust of a dead college founder can possess the souls of young men and turn them into murderous villains intent on keeping women from being a threat to the male population. The classic “toxic masculinity is the real enemy” message hits you in the face like a gust of wind almost throughout the proceedings. As a man, I am a staunch defender of female empowerment, but films like this make that message very obvious, with nothing new to say about this current societal issue nor any pleasant subtleness. “Black Christmas” comes off like a poorly written piece of fan fiction using Wikipedia articles as a source. Saying this film is predictable would be a serious understatement. There are no surprises in store; it can easily be foreseen who the villains are, who will be killed, and all of the twists that carry a facade of being clever. There is no thrill factor, which is a big no-no for an aspiring horror film and the pitiful attempts at comedy all fall flat on the floor. A better place for this cinematic eyesore would be an MTV Original Special or Netflix film with no one having to waste a dime on promotion.

The characters are not unique and suffer from a lack of development which keeps the viewer from caring who makes it to the end and who does not. Even the lead character is shorted by the writing as only being a victim of a sexual assault, with no other distinguishing trait. The villains look and speak like prototypical smug alpha males who lack a menacing presence and are reduced to angry misogynistic trolls spitting logic akin to the “He-Man Women Haters Club” skit from “The Little Rascals”. Imogen Poots was such a winner in the cult classic “Green Room” that it’s painful to see her subjected to this wannabe “deep” horror drama that shortchanges its own feminist message with rudimentary structuring.

“Black Christmas” is one of the worst films of the year and is a joyless bore of generic horror conventions. If you want to see a horror-thriller that has something to say about the female experience in the greater perception of society, check out the original predecessor and gems like “The Babadook”, “It Follows”, “Rosemary’s Baby”, and “Carrie”.


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.