Tag Archives: Sterling K. Brown

Good Beat, You Can Dance To It

The Rhythm Section

by George Wolf

The sexy assassin. The beautiful killing machine.

The Rhythm Section plays a tune that’s lately been as popular as Taylor Swift at the high school talent show. But hey, there’s still a ways to go before it catches up to the macho men, so have at it ladies, the right arrangement can always find some swing in the mustiest of standards.

Blake Lively is Stephanie, a top student at Oxford who falls hard after losing her family to an airplane bomber. How hard? She’s an addict and a prostitute, but her destructive spiral finds a new avenue when an investigative reporter seeks her out.

He’s on the trail of the terrorist responsible for the bombing, and Stephanie’s cooperation sets a chain of events in motion that quickly lead to an ex MI-6 operative (Jude Law) training her to be a killer.

And why would he do that, exactly?

Keep that question at bay and you’ll find a serviceable thriller that hits plenty of familiar beats, but is always kept watchable through Lively’s committed performance.

Screenwriter Mark Burnell adapts his own novel as a globe-trotting exercise in exorcising your demons. And while multiple character motivations can get murky, the relationship between Stephanie and her mysterious mentor is always engaging.

Director Reed Morano (I Think We’re Alone Now, TV projects such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Halt and Catch Fire) can stage a nifty fight scene and breathless car chase, but she too often seems desperately in search of a definitive style that never finds a groove.

While soundtrack choices and soft focus flashbacks feel forced, Morano’s detached treatment of Lively’s physical appearance may be the most original pillar in the film. Though her role is plenty physical and Lively never shrinks from it, even the obligatory “red sparrow” sequence offers an overdue counterpoint to the usual leering camera served up by Morano’s male counterparts.

Expect the usual questions of “who can I trust” and the usual fine performance from Sterling K. Brown (that guy’s busy), who shows up as an ex-CIA agent with valuable contacts.

But most of all, expect Lively to keep The Rhythm Section humming, even when it’s set on repeat.

Time and Tide

Waves

by Hope Madden

“Seize the day,” Tyler’s (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) literature teacher reminds each student as they leave her classroom.

In a constant loop during weight training, Tyler’s wrestling coach barks,
“There are no second chances and there is no fucking second place!”

Even at home, Tyler’s relaxing moment alone with his loving stepmother Catharine (Renee Elise Golsberry) is interrupted by a very stern father (Sterling K. Brown, remarkable as always) reminding him that if he expects to achieve all that has been set out for him – wrestling at state championship level, securing a scholarship – he’d better get back to work.

Trey Edward Schults’s Waves is quick to show us that Tyler has it all: a loving and financially comfortable family, grades, talent, friends, and a gorgeous girlfriend (Alexa Demie). If there is time to enjoy it, there’s certainly no time to live it, to give into it, or to give anything without the clear expectation that it is forwarding something for himself. High expectations, high demands, high rewards, everything focused on Tyler, everyone focused on Tyler, Tyler focused on Tyler.

Waves sometimes feels like a less contrived, more Floridian view of Julius Onah’s Luce, the scab-picking indie in which Harrison proved himself a blistering and commanding lead. Are the demands put upon the brightest and most talented African American high school males too high? Are those supporting these young men deriving too much from their success to actually offer clear-eyed guidance?

Says Dad to an increasingly desperate Tyler, “We are not afforded the luxury of being average.”

While much of the drama leading to this moment could be generalized to most any adolescent male buckling under high expectations, this moment between father and son separates the narrative as one dealing specifically with the black American experience.

In 1968, George Romero famously cast Duane Jones as the lead in his groundbreaking zombie film Night of the Living Dead only, according to the filmmaker, because Jones was the best actor to audition for the part. The film’s enduring success has less to do with Jones’s talent (though that is evident in every frame) and more to do with the political power the film derives from seeing a black hero in this particular effort.

Schultz cast Harrison Jr. as the male lead in Waves because of his work with the remarkable talent in his previous effort, It Comes at Night. The white filmmaker’s script itself is semi-autobiographical, and there’s a superficial tidiness to Schultz’s cultural shift that Romero’s film didn’t suffer.

It’s not enough to topple the film by any means, but the shorthand and stylized moments that remark on the cultural shift from the story of a white adolescent male on a collision course with destiny and the story of a black young man on that same course feel specifically introduced and placed, while much of the rest of the film offers an uneasy authenticity that keeps your attention.

From Schults’s dizzying opening sequence, Tyler’s breathless youth in sunny south Florida is simultaneously exhilarating and reckless, a reality underscored throughout the film by Drew Daniels’s whirligig camera and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s furious score.

What separates Waves from other chronicles of the frenzied fall of an idealized adolescent is his follow-up act, one in which the fallout of Tyler’s destruction implicates everyone who loves him, including his quiet sister Emily (Taylor Russell).

The point of her narrative is the redemptive nature of forgiveness. Here Schults uses the same camera movement and score to note again the hand-in-hand nature of freedom and danger in adolescence. But here, we sense things may not end up as dire.

Like Schults’s first film Krisha, Waves is embroiled in family issues as well as addiction, though this time the issues and the sociological context concern American blackness—questionable territory for a white filmmaker, even one as irrefutably talented as Schults. Perhaps thanks mainly to remarkable performances by Brown, Russell and especially Harrison, Waves rings mainly true.

Checking In?

Hotel Artemis

by Hope Madden

In a world where the U.S. government stops supplying bottled water to Flint, Michigan residents while international asshats Nestle are allowed to increase their pumping of clean water from just 100 miles away…

Well, that may not have been the inspiration for Hotel Artemis—the inspiration was probably that cool hotel in John Wick—but it is the kind of social disaster that will lead to the Mad-Max-like rebellion that backdrops writer/director Drew Pearce’s crime thriller.

Los Angeles, 2028, and the bloodiest riots the city has ever known have broken out over the privatization of water. With the police very, very busy, it’s a perfect time for a bank heist. But timing isn’t everything—skill helps—and soon a trio of wounded nogoodnicks are headed to the one place they can safely receive emergency care: the exclusive, subscription-based, criminal-only hospital, Hotel Artemis.

It may have a staff of only two—the nurse (Jodie Foster) and the orderly (Dave Bautista)—but it is chock full of high tech medical equipment, old-school security and strict rules. It may also be the best place to ride out these riots. Unless the tensions inside the hotel reach the same height as those outside.

It’s an intriguing premise, one rife with tense and bloody opportunity. A collection of bad people is trapped in an enclosed, retro-seedy space hoping to survive the storm.

If the story intrigues, the cast convinces. Jodie Foster nails the wearied, accepting, down-to-business Nurse. Though the dialog throughout is not as savvy as Pearce thinks it is, Foster delivers it beautifully and her physical mannerisms are even more convincing.

Bautista charms as her tender strongarm. Sterling K. Brown does no wrong ever, here again radiating an intensity that mingles sadness, obligation and moral authority.

Luckily for the entire ensemble, Pearce is more invested in character development than action. He creates a moody tension inside the walls, exacerbated by the explosion of rage and violence outside.

All of which hits fever pitch when LA crime boss the Wolf King (Jeff Goldblum as Jeff Goldblum) shows up wanting to break the rules.

Pearce and his top-to-bottom impressive cast deserve credit for sidestepping expectations and instead crafting a contained, absurd-yet-believable drama. Things get away from the filmmaker when he tries to complicate the plot with backstory, and there are two minor side plots that serve as little more than a distraction.

It’s also an awful lot of tension-building with little in the way of a final release. But Pearce and team have done something remarkable in the summer months: delivered a fresh, imaginative, original film.