Tag Archives: KiKi Layne

Tugging Hearts, Slashing Throats

The Old Guard

by Hope Madden

Let’s start with this piece of obviousness: Charlize Theron can do anything. From indie dramas to bawdy comedies to badass action, Theron commits and convinces.

In Netflix’s The Old Guard, she plays the leader of a small but immortal group of soldiers eluding capture while trying to train a new member. It’s Book One in a series, and that can be a dangerous spot for a film because that tends to mean a lot of exposition and not enough conflict.

Not here.

Greg Rucka adapts his own source material and director Gina Prince-Bythewood makes the most of his screenplay and her cast.

She flanks Theron (spectacular, obviously) with actors who are, first and foremost, talented actors. The fact that they make for believable mercenaries is a really excellent bonus.

The ever versatile Matthias Schoenaerts gives the film its aching heart while KiKi Layne proves herself to be as convincing here busting heads as she was at drawing tears in If Beale Street Could Talk. Though it’s unfortunate he couldn’t have stolen a little more screen time, the great Chiwetel Ejiofor is a welcome presence, as always.

So what Prince-Bythewood does is surround Theron with other talented actors whose versatility compliments hers. This brilliant move let the filmmaker take a somewhat by-the-numbers superhero tale and tell it with a restraint that takes advantage of her cast’s flexibility and talent.

In Prince-Bythewood’s hands, The Old Guard explores the same universal themes mined in most superhero films, but she tells the tale as a taut and tactical military experience. The understatement makes the action sequences stand out, the filmmaker requesting your close examination of each bout and each battle, whether hand-to-hand, bullet-to-brain or saber-to-throat.

It pays off, delivering a thrilling action movie that doesn’t disregard your brain. Even better, this is a movie that tugs at your emotions without the need for swelling strings or sentiment to convince you.

That’s what happens when one formidable women pulls together a group of similarly skilled badasses.

Voices of Experience

If Beale Street Could Talk

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Writer/director Barry Jenkins follows up his 2016 Oscar-winning masterpiece of a debut, Moonlight, with the ambitious goal of translating the work of a beautifully complex writer to a cinematic narrative. By respecting the material with a stirring commitment to character, If Beale Street Could Talk meets that goal with grace.

Based on the novel by James Baldwin (and the first English-language adaptation of his fiction), the film follows a struggling couple as a means to illustrate the intersecting forms of oppression facing African Americans.

Tish (KiKi Layne in an impressive feature debut) and “Fonny” (Stephan James, from Selma and Race) are a young couple in Harlem who embraces their unexpected pregnancy while struggling to prove Fonny’s innocence in a rape case.

As the surface tension is driven by the potentially dangerous chances Kiki’s mother (Regina King) takes to clear Fonny’s name, smaller, more quiet moments around the neighborhood cement Baldwin’s incisive take on what it means to be black in America.

Baldwin’s writing – a mix of brutal honesty, brilliant clarity and weary outrage – is understandably daunting as a film adaptation. Themes which breathe with life on the page can come to the screen in an awkward rush and land as heavy handed melodrama.

Jenkins, whose early script got the blessing of Baldwin’s estate even before the triumph of Moonlight, brings an elegance to the story which fits comfortably. A poetic camera, authentic characters and tender, fully realized performances—especially from the glorious King—weave together to sing the praises of Baldwin’s prose in hypnotic, and often heartbreaking fashion.

Amid a story of grim realities and American resilience lie bonds of love and family that the film never loses sight of, even in its most sober moments, which may be the most miraculous aspect of If Beale Street Could Talk.

It is a film without illusions, but one that carries the unbowed spirit of its characters on a deeply felt journey that honors its origins.