Tag Archives: George Tillman Jr.

George of the Rumble

Big George Foreman: The Miraculous Story of the Once and Future Heavyweight Champion of the World

by George Wolf

Sixteen words in that title, leaving little room for nuance or any shred of mystery about the tale being told. And it’s a perfect fit for a film that is content to just summarize a life like a Wikipedia timeline, choosing the safest, most easily digestible path.

After a brief flashback segment, director and co-writer George Tillman Jr. (Soul Food, Men Of Honor, Notorious, The Hate U Give) just ticks off the events of George Foreman’s life in simple, linear fashion.

He grew up poor in Houston, started boxing during his time in the Jobs Corps, won an Olympic Gold in 1968, won the heavyweight belt from Frazier in ’73, lost to Ali’s “rope a dope” strategy in ’74’s Rumble in the Jungle, quit to be full-time preacher in ’78, came back to the ring 10 years later and won the heavyweight championship again in 1994 at the age of 45.

All of that info is always a search engine away, but Tillman Jr. just regurgitates it onscreen, never embracing the chance to dig deeper or deliver any new insight.

And there are two great opportunities here. The first is George’s relationship with longtime mentor “Doc” Broadus, portrayed with heart and sensitivity by Oscar-winner Forest Whitaker. The second is Foreman’s conversion to a Man of God. Either one of these could have given the film a strong foundation to build around, and an easier route to getting audiences closer to the real Big George.

Khris Davis (Judas and the Black Messiah) beefed up considerably to play Foreman, and while he looks the part, fight sequences range from lackluster recreations to the WTF choice of a deep-faked Davis being inserted into real footage from Foreman’s 1991 bout with Evander Holyfield. Comical portrayals of both Muhammad Ali and Howard Cosell only feed a longing for the historical relevance of the 1996 doc When We Were Kings.

George’s rise to gold medals, heavyweight belts and best-selling grills has indeed been extraordinary. It deserves better than the ordinary treatment that comes from Big George Foreman.

No Weapon, No Weakness

The Hate U Give

by George Wolf

The Hate U Give becomes one of the year’s better films not because it elevates an oft-maligned genre (though that fresh air blast certainly doesn’t hurt), but instead for how it wraps troubling, vital societal issues around an absorbing family drama.

Adapted from the best selling Young Adult novel by Angie Thomas, the film slaps you with reality right from the opening, when a commanding father (Russell Hornsby) is giving his young children “the talk” – not about sex, but about how to survive when they are pulled over by the police. You may see this as either familiar or eyebrow-raising, and that is precisely the point.

Like so many YA dramas, THUG is anchored by a special young girl. Here, she’s Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), but Starr’s specialness isn’t a device that panders, it’s one that is intelligently used to illustrate two very different Americas.

She lives in a Georgia “hood” with her family, but attends a private Catholic school in the ‘burbs, and not, as her mother (Regina Hall) says, “because she needs to learn how to pray.”

On the ride home after a weekend party in her neighborhood, Starr becomes the only witness to the fatal police shooting of her childhood friend Khalil (Detroit‘s Algee Smith). She’s reluctant to come forward for a variety of reasons (all logical), and as the pressure builds from different sides, reactions to the killing bring the contrasts between Starr’s two worlds into clear, illuminating focus.

Director George Tillman, Jr. (Notorious) and screenwriter Audrey Wells (who sadly passed away just weeks ago) craft a thoughtful balance as the narrative progresses, cutting deeper via an impressive restraint that holds until the final few minutes hit a more tidy, didactic vein.

But when this film works, which is most of the time, it works wonderfully. Through Starr’s eyes (and yes, narration) we navigate heady terrain: white privilege, systemic oppression, Black Lives Matter, all lives matter, victim blaming, mass incarceration, cultural appropriation and liberal guilt. And Stenberg, leading a strong ensemble which also includes Anthony Mackie, Issa Rae and Common, rises to the material after some cookie-cutter YA fare (The Darkest Minds, Everything, Everything) with her best performance to date, moving Starr believably through grief, confusion, anger, defiance and hard decisions.

It’s character development that respects both the character and the audience. And in trusting that YA audience with some bitter pills, The Hate U Give becomes a required dose for the rest of us.