The Harder They Fall – review

With a screenplay by Jeymes Samuel and Boaz Yakin, with Samuel also on directing duties, The Harder They Fall is a Western made notable by an almost exclusively black cast. 

Using the Western staples of revenge and the overthrowing of a small town, The Harder They Fall is a big-screen film forced, by present circumstances, onto the small screen. 

A host of well-known stars and actors appear in this well-made film. Idris Elba leads the charge as the antagonist, Rufus Buck. He is ably supported by Regina King, as Trudy Smith, and Lakieth Stanfield as Cherokee Bill. 

The protagonist, Nat Love, is played by Johnathan Majors. Zazie Beetz as Stagecoach Mary, Edi Gathegi as Bill Pickett, Danielle Deadwyler as Cuffee and RJ Cyler as Jim Beckworth make up the rest of Love’s crew. Delroy Lindo’s Bass Reeves brings the two factions together. 

The story begins with a god-fearing man (Michael Beach) sitting down to eat with his young wife, Eleanor (Dewanda Wise) and son, Nat (Chase Dillon). 

There is a knock at the door. Two men come into the house, Rufus and Jesus Cortez (Julio Cesar Cedillo). The man recognises Rufus. He is not glad to see him, knowing that it is not a good omen. 

Rufus kills the man and his wife. He carves a cross into young Nat’s forehead. Many years later, a grownup Nat, a well-known outlaw himself, exacts revenge on Cortez. 

All of this happens before the credits roll on Samuels’ beautifully crafted and nostalgic homage to Westerns, the Old West and figures from history. 

From the outset, the writers state that the film is a work of fiction. Even though all the names are real people from the Western era, the story is fictitious.

The beauty of Samuel and Yakin’s story is that the cast being predominantly black is not important. There are elements of the film, that work better, because of it, but it is not the driving force of the film. 

From a technical standpoint, The Harder They Fall is a wonderful piece of work. From the stylised opening title sequence, dusty, yet colourful, palette and shot selection to pacing and fabulous soundtrack, The Harder They Fall is an enjoyable treat. 

All the actors on show bring their A-game, with standout performances from Regina King and Lakieth Stanfield. Idris Elba is the biggest name on the call sheet.

However, it is Majors’ Love that drives the film, his chilled demeanour carrying proceedings easily. Majors’, who recently appeared in Loki, as the time-travelling villain, Kang, star is in the ascendancy. 

Veteran actor, Delroy Lindo, is such a natural fit as the lawman, Bass Reeves, a role made for him to play. There are so many great scenes in the film, from Deon Cole’s Wiley Escoe, as the sheriff of Redwood, bravado monologue before being persuaded to leave town, to Elba’s Rufus final revelation, the film is full of gems. 

The music of the film deserves a special mention. There is hip hop, reggae, soul, traditional Western-style music and accents. 

Besides the nods to the classic spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone, there is a quiet homage to The Magnificent Seven, with the bond amongst Love’s motley crew of protagonists, going beyond greed or need. 

There is a wobble, the story of Love’s revenge momentarily overshadowed. Redwood needs saving from the tyranny of Rufus and his gang. This particular storyline peters out, none of the townsfolk figuring in the story later on. 

At two-hour-and-nineteen minutes, The Harder They Fall is a long film. It does not feel long. The action is well-spaced out, the peak and troughs of the film, keeping one’s interest throughout. 

Jeymes Samuel has fashioned a highly enjoyable film, that is well worth the two hour viewing time.

Small Axe – ‘Lovers Rock’ – review

As part of a series of films, under the banner of Small Axe, British director Steve McQueen has brought a collection of dramas depicting the life of black people in the seventies and eighties in London. By all accounts, the first of the dramas, Mangrove, was well received.

Based on a true story, it tells of the Mangrove Nine and Altheia Jones-LeCointe, who was part of the nine and involved in the British Black Panther movement. I did not see the episode, so cannot say whether it is good or not.

Unfortunately, I did watch the second instalment, Lovers Rock. It is not good. Before I get to the many gripes, I would like to point out the good points. The costume and makeup department and set designs are excellent.

The clothing and set design invoke memories of my youth and the sound boxes, slick clothing and, to some extent, the music, definitely takes me back. That is it for the good. With a story by Steve McQueen and screenplay by McQueen and Courttia Newland, it is hard to see what story they were trying to tell.

I say story but it is difficult to explain what the story was. On IMDB it is described thus: ‘A single evening at a house party in 1980s West London sets the scene, developing intertwined relationships against a background of violence, romance and music.’ That makes it sound like an interesting watch. It is not.

The last scene in the short film sees the main character, Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn), getting into her bed in her clothes, having sneaked out to go to the party, explains the…story? 

The film was mostly a music video, with Janet Kay’s Silly Games getting more airplay in the film than it has probably had in the past decade.

I was not a reggae person. I went to the odd party that was reggae heavy but it was never my thing. I think Steve McQueen grew up in a house without music. He definitely was not around black music and he never went to a black party, not on the evidence of this film.

In a seventy-minute film, McQueen managed to play the entire version of both Carl Douglas’ Kung Fu Fighting — and I would have to say that is a hard ‘no’. That was never a tune in any black party, reggae or otherwise — and an extended version of the aforementioned Silly Games. 

He did not even have enough knowledge of that time to put terrible singers in for the Janet Kay high note.

Music takes up at least a quarter of the runtime. The music is good, especially for those who lived through that time and remember it but the time could have been used better writing a more coherent story or even a proper story.

At the house where the party is happening, the household is Grenadian but for some reason, only known to McQueen, everybody speaks with a Jamaican lilt. Or tries. 

I’m assuming, though I could be wrong, that these are supposed to be mostly first-generation Brits, so born in the UK, yet they all speak as if they got off the boat.

Yes, back in the day a lot of black people did put on a Jamaican accent, regardless of where their parents came from. What we did not do was speak like that all of the time. 

It is not a different language that only black people understand. Black or not, even Jamaicans, do not go into their homes and switch to patois.

There is an interrupted sexual assault, something that would have definitely had more of a repercussion than it does in this film, and the would-be rapist is wearing a cream suit. He was trying to assault the girl in the garden. No black man was about to get down on the grass in his sweet garments!

There is a group of black guys jumping up and down, pogo style, in the middle of a party. No, just no. No one was jumping up like that at a party. Nobody looks cool jumping and looking cool was always of the utmost importance. This entire film is a myth.

It is bad enough that there is very little British black output on television, with even classic British black programs such as Desmond’s or The Fosters nowhere to be seen on British screen, even in this age of multiple channels. 

That Lovers Rock should be written, produced and directed by a black person is disappointing.

It is good that British black talent is making television or film and it hurts to critique one of the few black shows to make it to the screen but McQueen’s effort is poor. 

Admittedly, I did not overly enjoy Twelve Years A Slave but I did hope that, as McQueen is British, he would be able to fashion a memorable and relatable film. He does not. Lovers Rock is a disappointing and retrograde effort.

The Black Godfather – review (Netflix)

Life is about numbers. That is the mantra of the man featured in the fascinating Netflix documentary, The Black Godfather. Like the fictional character of the simpleton, Forrest Gump, who came in to contact with major figures of history in the film of the same same, Clarence Avant is a man who name and influence span several decades and takes in many famous faces. Unlike Gump, Avant was no simpleton. 

By his own admission, Avant was no academic. He never went to college but had enough schooling to understand maths and life had shown him what poor was. The oldest sibling of eight, Avant fell into the music business via Joe Glaser. 

Glaser was a music talent manager who started managing Louis Armstrong and went on to have a roster of jazz artist under his umbrella that included, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Dave Brubeck and Sarah Vaughan. Glaser asked him to take on Vaughan. Avant told him he did not know anything about the business. 

Glaser would become a mentor to Avant. Avant became the manager of Rn’B singer Little Willie John and many others followed after that. Avant was a popular person and had a talent for talking to people. 

Not like a salesperson but as a person who had others wellbeing at heart. This gift made him a bit of a conduit between black talent and white businessmen who wanted to recruit the best in any field. 

Avant lived through the Civil Rights movement and was very conscious of it but he was not one for the spotlight. His talent was connecting people and he did it better than anybody. 

He also looked after the artist, not allowing them to get ripped off. Something he was admired for and that Glaser saw in him. He decided to send him to California with pianist Lalo Schifrin to get Schifrin into movies. 

Avant did not know anything about the film business but he did what he does; he got to know everybody, meeting and befriending all the studio heads.

Schifrin went on to become one of the most successful composers in Hollywood. Avant got married and moved to California. There he met Lew Wasserman who was one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. 

Avant’s ability to befriend people was called upon again when the legendary Jim Brown did not want to appear in a documentary that was being made about the Cleveland Browns football team he played for.

Clarence got him into the documentary and the movies. He started a record label and signed artist on their musical talent, surprising many when he signed white artist, especially as it was a black-owned label. He also signed Bill Withers, who at the time underwhelmed many. 

Soul Train was a weekly black music show that ran from 1971 to 2006. Fronted by its creator, Don Cornelius, it challenged Dick Clark’s American Bandstand for the ears of American youth. American Bandstand was on the ABC network and Clarence worked as a consultant for ABC. 

ABC created their own black music show, Soul Unlimited, to go up against Soul Train. Dick Clark asked Clarence to endorse it, even offering to pay him. 

Avant refused. Avant went and saw the people at ABC and persuade them that it would be in their best interest to stop Soul Unlimited. The show was canned. 

These are a few of the stories related in the documentary about the man they call The Black Godfather. There are interviews from people who know and have met him and been helped or influenced by him over a five-decade career and the man himself. 

The Black Godfather has interviews from music, both young and old; Quincy Jones is a longtime friend, Sean Combs holds him in great reverence. Politics; two ex-presidents in Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, Civil Rights: Al Sharpton, film and even sport; Hank Aaron – hall of fame baseball player and icon of the twentieth century, Muhammad Ali. 

Avant is the true definition of a person with a finger in every pie but not in a negative sense. Clarence was always helping people get what he felt they deserved, in a time when black was truly a detriment to advancement. 

Directed by Reginald Hudlin, The Black Godfather is a positive spin documentary on a behind-the-scenes person who was a mover and shaker in American black society in the sixties, seventies, eighties and into the nineties. 

With his daughter, Nicole, having a producer credit on the film, it was never going be a ‘warts and all’ documentary. 

Clarence is portrayed throughout as the man to know if you want an introduction or you need to get a deal done. The man himself, Avant is less forthcoming with his influence on things, preferring instead to acknowledge those who have helped him moved up in life. 

Avant repeats, often, that is all about the numbers; life is all about the numbers. This makes it sound as if he was only interested in money but, though he made a good living, the overall impression is that he wanted to uplift black people, to gain a level playing field. The ‘all about the numbers’ mantra seems to be something he says because he understands that it is easy for anybody to relate to. 

Numbers are measurable and, for the most part, truthful. In the world that Clarence Avant straddles, numbers- the ones you can get and the ones you can offer – make all the difference. Numbers open doors and get attention. Clarence understood that and with his people skills got things done. Life is about numbers.

Fatal Affair – review

Brief synopsis: After a traffic accident to her architect husband and their daughter going away to college, a lawyer decides to leave the city and set up a new practice in a coastal town where her husband can continue to recuperate. Whilst still working for her old city firm, she meets an old college friend in a meeting about a case.

The two reconnect and on a night out almost have a brief affair but she pulls back. The old friend does not want this second chance at having her to get away and becomes dangerously obsessive.

Is it any good?: The lazy title, Fatal Affair, probably answers the ‘is it any good?’ Question sufficiently. The trailer tells the less than original story and there are no plot twists to hold or pique one’s interest. Fatal Affair is lazy nonsense.

Spoiler territory: a couple are canoodling on a sofa, in front of an open fire. After making love, Deborah (KJ Smith) tells Travis (Jason-Shane Scott), she needs a drink of water and gets up and goes to the kitchen. As she pours herself a glass of water, she hears a noise in the darkened apartment.

She calls out to Travis as she makes her way back to the lounge where they were on the sofa. He is no longer there. She goes upstairs, into their bedroom. He is not there. She hears water running and smiles. She heads to the bathroom., disrobing as she sees that he is in the bath.

As she gets closer, she sees that the bathwater is diluted with Travis’ blood and he is dead. Deborah starts screaming. Her screaming is cut short as she is grabbed from behind and dragged out of the bathroom.

Ellie Warren (Nia Long) drives along a coastal road, heading to her new home. A lawyer, she is speaking about her final case that she is working on for the city firm she is leaving. Reaching her new home in Oceancrest, Ellie enters the new home and calls to her husband, Marcus (Stephen Bishop). Marcus, though fully mobile, is recovering from the after-effects of a traumatic traffic accident.

Their daughter Brittany (Aubrey Cleland), has gone to college. The couple have been together since college and had their daughter shortly after leaving college. Their respective careers, Marcus is an architect, took priority in both of their lives. Marcus feels a move from the city, and their daughter away at college, it is a good time for them to reconnect in their relationship.

The next day, Ellie is in the city for a meeting on her final case and meets up with her friend, Courtney (Maya Stojan), who works in the same building for another law firm. She wants Ellie to come out for drinks with her but Ellie tells her cannot because Marcus is cooking dinner. Courtney, not to be deterred, insists that she come out the next evening.

Ellie goes to her meeting and is surprised to see an old college friend, David Hammond (Omar Epps), at the meeting. He has been recruited by the firm for his expertise in hacking and information retrieval. After the meeting, David and Ellie catch up briefly. He asks her if they can get together but she tells him the same thing she told Courtney, she is busy. She gives him her card and tells him that he can call her.

Ellie and Marcus have a sterile dinner. David brings information for the case the next day, impressing the firm with his speed and efficiency. Ellie turns David down again when he invites her for celebratory drinks, telling him she is meeting up with Courtney. She quickly reconsiders and tells him he can come and meet them at the bar.

At the bar, Ellie gets a call from Courtney. She is stuck at work and will not be able to meet her. David sees Ellie just as she is ending the call. They have a few drinks together as they catch up. Ellie tells David that she is married but lies to Marcus when he texts to asks how the drinks with Courtney are going.

Ellie and David go to a night club. Still drinking, they get amorous in the bathroom. Ellie stops David before they go too far and leaves the club. David goes after her. She tells him that their actions were a mistake. She goes home.

The next day, as Ellie looks to put the night behind her, David is seeing his therapist, Dr Leigh Beverly (Fredella Calloway). He tells her that he is doing well and that he is seeing someone, alluding to Ellie. He lies, telling the doctor that she is getting out of a long term relationship. The doctor asks him whether he is over what happened to Deborah. David gets noticeably agitated.

Brittany comes to the new home to visit her parents. Back at work in the city, Ellie meets up with Courtney for coffee. As she leaves Courtney to return home, David stops her at her car. He wants to know why she has not returned his calls. Ellie tells him again that she is married.

At home, David continues to bombard Ellie’s phone with texts messages. She blocks him. Later, as Ellie and Marcus are making love, David watches them from outside. The next day, Marcus visits his wife at her new offices. They are expecting Courtney for dinner later in the day, so Marcus leaves Ellie at work. Later, with Brittany out with her boyfriend Scott (Jacob Gaines), Ellie and Marcus prepare dinner for themselves and Courtney. Courtney turns up with a guest. It is David. He pretends he is meeting Ellie for the first time and she does likewise.

At the dinner, an uneasy Ellie watches David comfortably lying his way through the evening. Ellie and David talk in the kitchen. She tells him that she has no desire to see him again. Ever. The next day, Ellie receives a parcel with a vinyl record in it. The record is one that was being played when they went to the club.

Ellie cannot get hold of Courtney. She meets with David again. She is angry and tells him to stay out of her life. David tells her they can have an affair, convinced there is something between them. As Ellie sets him straight about the state of their relationship, David snaps and calls her Deborah. Ellie wants to know who Deborah is. He does not answer. Ellie reiterates that she does not want to see him again.

Courtney comes to see Ellie in her offices. She is angry. David has told her that Ellie is stalking him and even shown her the text messages he has received from her. Ellie tries to tell her that David is manipulating her but Courtney does not believe her. Ellie begins to investigate David.

She heads to their old school and meets up with their old professor, Nicole (Kym Jackson). She asks her about David. Nicole tells her about Deborah, who was his ex-wife, being killed and how possessive of her he had been. She also tells her that David was obsessed with her.

David sneaks into Ellie’s home and steals some of her underwear. Brittany almost encounters him as she comes back from a night out. David keeps stalking Ellie. He sends her a video from their night a the club. Ellie tries to contact Courtney, who still refuses to take her calls.

Ellie decides to follow David. She follows him as he meets up with Marcus to play golf. She gets into his apartment and finds photos of Deborah and Travis making love the night they died. There are also photos of herself and Marcus making love. Courtney takes a call from Ellie. Ellie warns her about David, telling her he is with her only to get to her.

David catches the end of the call and asks Courtney about it. Courtney lies but they end up in an altercation and Courtney is knocked unconscious. Ellie calls the police and tells Marcus what has been going on with David. The detective, Larson (Lyn Alicia Henderson), comes to see them the next day. She believes that David has committed suicide as they have a body burnt beyond recognition and suicide note from David.

A relieved Ellie gets a call from her secretary, Linda (Estelle Swaray). She needs to sign some documents at the office. Ellie heads to the office. She finds Linda dead. She gets a call from David. He is at her home and has her family. Ellie calls detective Larson. Larson sends a patrol car to Ellie’s home.

Ellie rushes home and finds Brittany’s dead boyfriend on the back porch. David is waiting for her in the house. He plays the record he sent to her. Ellie gets into an altercation with David and knocks him out with a vase. She goes and frees her family, who are tied up in a bedroom. The family-run out of the house and see a police car outside.

The policeman in the car is dead. Marcus puts their daughter in the car and tells her to go. Ellie is attacked by David as she tries to use the police radio. Marcus fights with David and is getting soundly beaten. David throws him over the bannister. Ellie stabs David in the gut with a kitchen knife.

Marcus and Ellie run to the beach and up to a cliff edge. David gets the gun off of the dead policeman and pursues them. He catches up to them at the top of the outcrop. As they all fight, David ends up falling to his death off the edge of the clifftop.

Marcus and Ellie decide to sell up and return to the city. The end.

Final thoughts: written and directed by Peter Sullivan, with an additional writing credit for Rasheeda Garner, Fatal Affair is a plodding, underwhelming, thriller by numbers film that would have had a more inviting title if it was called ‘stalker man terrorises college crush twenty years later’.

Most of the cast have been in far better projects than this and probably turned up because, well, there’s a pandemic and work is not that plentiful. Also, the majority of the cast is black. It is perversely heartening to think that the lazy stalker trope can be utilised regardless of the race of the cast and with no urban references.

Still, Fatal Affair is rubbish. The script is plodding and mostly exposition, there are unnecessary characters, with Cleland’s Brittany not only adding nothing at all to proceedings but a complete personality vacuum. There was no good reason for the character.

Fatal Affair is not the worst film on Netflix but it is not good. At ninety minutes long it was still a struggle to get through, a real chore. The acting is fine but with the terrible script and the unoriginal story, one just does not care what is going to happen or, more pertinently, already know what is going to happen. Fatal Affair is not worth ninety minutes of your life, even in the lockdown.

A Remarkable Tale – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: In the remote Spanish village of Upper Fuertejuela, four black dancers find themselves caught up in the politics of an ageing town trying to avoid annexation. They are taken in by one of the villagers who has designs on becoming the new mayor by opposing the current mayor, her ex-husband.

Is it any good?: A film that seems slightly out of its time, having been made in 2019, A Remarkable Tale is a Spanish race farce almost in the style of the old British Carry On films. Utilising many of the stereotypical tropes, fish-out-of-water moments, as well as some mildly racist scenes. Looking past the casual racism, A Remarkable Tale is an amusing comedy farce.

Spoiler territory: in the old Spanish village of Fuertajuela, most of the houses are for sale with the population mostly of old aged residents and dwindling, the residents try to get people to come to their town, with local Teresa (Carmen Michi), driving around the town trying to promote the village’s egg tart, open village day.

No one is interested in visiting Upper Fuertajuela and Teresa returns to tell the residents. Out in the woods, four black people, three men and a woman are trekking across the snow, inappropriately dressed in traditional African tribal gear.

Back in the village, the residents are grumbling about Teresa’s husband, Alvaro (Santi Ugaide), who is also the town’s mayor, not attending. She points out that he is her ex-husband and he is in Lower Fuertajuela, the larger, more major town, on business. The villagers are momentarily excited as they hear a car approaching, thinking someone has come to visit the town.

It turns out to be the mayor of Lower Fuertajuela, Vicente Campello (Paco Tous). He comes to asks the villagers to vote in the upcoming election, as their town does not seem to have a mayor and annexation is inevitable. Teresa says that perhaps she will become the towns next mayor. Campello laughs, with even most of the village sniggering at the thought.

As he goes to leave the villagers, he tells them that there are four blacks on the run and that they need to be careful. The villagers are worried and scatter to their homes for sanctuary, leaving Teresa and her son, Carlos (Miquel Cañaveras) and Jaime (Pepón Nieto), to clear up. The three head home but Teresa tells Jaime to stop outside one house. She blares the van’s horn and wakes up Guiri (Jon Kortajarena). She wants to know why he did not attend the open day. He tells her he does not care about the open day. Juanito decides to hang out with him when Teresa and Jaime leave.

The four black dancers come to a warehouse and want to hide and get some food. They hear a van and hide. Teresa and Jaime arrive to return the stuff from the village open day. As they are getting out of the van one of the dancers knocks over some logs. Teresa goes to check and sees them hiding. She runs into the warehouse. Her and Jaime watch them from the window, unsure what to do.

Teresa, seeing that they are cold, decides to help them. They go out and beckon to them. The four reluctantly get into the van. They take the four home with them. At the house they give them clothing and speak about what to do with them, believing that they do not understand them.

Latisha (Montse Pla) steps forward and pronounces that she can understand them and the only reason they did not speak was that they were scared. One of her party, Azquil (Malcolm T. Sitte), also understands them. The other two, Calulu (Jimmy Castro) and Shukra (Ricardo Nkosi), are not as fluent in Spanish. Calulu tells them that the four are dancers.

The police knock on the door. They are looking for the dancers. Teresa tells them she has not seen them. Bad weather causes many of the villagers to start losing television and telephone signals. Jaime is worried about their situation and vocalises this to Teresa, mentioning that Paco (Txema Blasco), has a shotgun to hunt black people. The four dancers are, understandably, nervous.

Carlos, brought back by Guiri, returns home. The two stand stunned by the sight of the four black dancers. Guiri voices his unease at Teresa harbouring four fugitives. Teresa accuses him of being racist. As they argue, there is a knock at the door. It is Encarnita (Kiti Manver), Jaime’s mother. She sees the dancers and wonders why they are there. Teresa tells her that they came from a worse place than the village.

Marga, whose opinion of the village is very low, cannot believe that. Teresa, with the dancers in the village, has an idea to help save the village. It involves the dancers helping to repopulate the village. She asks the dancers if they want to help. They are conflicted.

Teresa decides they need to split up as she cannot accommodate them all in her house. Calulu and Shakra go with Encarnita, Latisha goes with Guiri and Azquil stays with Teresa. The dancers settle in at the various homes. The next day there is a town meeting and Teresa plan to introduce the towns latest additions to everybody.

Teresa sees Alvaro outside the meeting hall. She goes to talk to him. Even though he is still the town’s mayor, Alvaro tells her he is too busy to attend the meeting and drives off. In the meeting, Manolita (Enriqueta Carballeira) tells the gathering that the town needs to have at least eighteen people so as not to be annexed. She also tells them that they have one less resident than the sixteen they thought they had because her husband had died three days before and she had not wanted the town to find out.

The villagers start to panic. There is no way they can avoid annexation now. Teresa tells them she has a plan that will save their village. She introduces two of the dancers; Azquil and Latisha. The villagers eye them warily. Paco picks up his shotgun. Marga (Mariana Cordera) is especially vocal in her distrust of the new residents. Her and Latisha clash, Latisha unable to hold her tongue as Marga hurls insults.

The argument is interrupted by Guiri coming in and telling them that Shukra has stolen the van. Paco stops the van by letting off a shot. As Shukra, Carlos and Calulu emerge from the van, Encarnita pops up and tells them that she wanted to go to the town to find some excitement.

After Jaime is forcefully persuaded not to call the police – Guiri breaks his phone – Teresa has another plan to gain the town’s independence. She plans to have a fiesta where Campello can see that the town is thriving. Guiri and Latisha continue their awkward, attracted-to-one-another relationship. Elsewhere, Jaime is trying to sell custard tarts to Calulu. He does not like them.

Teresa gets Shukra a job at the only cafe in the village. She then takes Azquil and Latisha to collect eggs around the village to make tarts for the fiesta. Azquil charms the still abrasive Marga as they go looking for eggs. Shukra’s job is not going very well and Teresa has to take Azquil to go and calm the situation. She leaves Latisha and Guiri to bring back the eggs. They kiss.

Azquil tells Teresa he has a wife and four children. They get to the cafe and calm the situation. Campello turns up at the village and sees the dancers. He says he is going to report them. Latisha says she recognises him from the club they used to dance in. Teresa tells him that he has been seen in the club. Campello, with his political aspirations, decides not to report them. Before he leaves he tells Teresa that Alvaro is running for deputy mayor with him. Teresa did not know.

The next day, at Teresa’s insistence, everybody turns up at the village hall to practice the barn dance. They demonstrate the dance to the very underwhelmed dancers. The dancers join in and practice the monotonous routine. Shukra sees that Guiri and Latisha are getting close and explodes in rage. He decides to leave. Latisha tells she will stay with him if he stays.

Calulu, who was going with Shukra, asks Jaime if he should stay. Jaime is not ready to embrace his homosexuality so Calulu leaves. It is the day of the fiesta. Campello comes with his wife and people from Lower Fuertajuela. At the fiesta, the dancers, less Calulu, serve the egg tarts. They then put on their show. The old dance causes much mirth amongst those from Lower town. The dancers, Calulu having returned, take over the show. Latisha points an accusatory finger at Campello.

Insulted, Campello tells Teresa he is going to call the police. Jaime tells him that Teresa has applied for citizenship for all of them. Teresa admits that she had forgotten. The police come to take them away. As the police are taking them away, followed by the entire village, Encarnita stops them and says she is getting married to Shukra. Teresa says she is marrying Azquil. Latisha asks if Guiri wants to marry her and he agrees. Jaime takes Calulu, finally embracing his sexuality.

They all get married. The end.

A Remarkable Tale or Lo Nunca Visto – original Spanish title – is an amusing if mildly racist film. Rely on the type of humour not seen on English shores since the days of Rising Damp and Jim Davidson, A Remarkable Tale, as I mentioned earlier, is really a film made in the wrong decade.

With the world being a much smaller and almost too sensitive place for this type of film, it is hard to know who this film was aimed at. Though the film is played for laughs and is, admittedly, amusing due to great performances from the cast, the portrayal of both the black people and the narrow-minded villagers is a little disconcerting.

Carmen Michi, a veteran of comedy films, is as good as one would expect and helps to make the film a little more palatable. She is ably assisted by Montse Pla and Kiti Mánver, the three forming the heart of the film.

Written and directed by Marina Seresesky, the film is competently lensed and directed and, aside from the ill-advised subject matter, a well-written comedy. A Remarkable Tale will probably offend more people than it amuses for many of the reasons I laid out above but if you watch it without any thought for its racial missteps, it is ninety-three minutes of amusing farce.

Mercy Black – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: When Marina (Daniella Pineda) is reluctantly discharged from a psychiatric hospital after fifteens years, she goes to stay with her sister, Alice (Elle LaMont) and her family; partner, Will (Austin Amelio) and young son, Bryce (Miles Emmons).

Along with another girl, Rebecca (Sophianna Smith – young version), Marina (Jamy Lentz – young version) was convicted of a heinous crime, the assault of a young girl, Lilly (Elke Boucher-Depew – young version). Now grown up, Marina has horrible nightmares about the night of the crime and is haunted by visions.

Is it any good?: it’s not great. Pineda is a little too actor-y for my liking and the horror is more threat than actual but it ramps up nicely and there is genuine tension. The story is pure horror classic hokum, with the antagonist being an entity that everyone in town – it’s always a small town – believes is a myth. There is a nice twist but the story as a whole does not hang together well enough.

Spoiler territory: After fifteen years in a psychiatric hospital, Marina Hess is told by her doctor, Dr Ward (Janeane Garofalo) that she feels she is well enough to leave the facility. Marina is not so sure but Dr Ward reassures her that she is ready for the outside world. Her sister, Alice, comes and picks her up from the hospital.

She takes Marina back to her place where she lives with her son, Bryce. Later, on her own in the bathroom, Marina is haunted by images from her past. She has a nightmare whilst sleeping and wakes up to find Bryce standing next to her bed. Having heard her screaming in the night, he comes and offers her his night light.

The next evening, Alice’s boyfriend, Will, has joined them for dinner. When Alice takes Bryce up to bed, Will asks Marina about her infamous past. Marina does not want to talk about it. Will tells her that her story is notorious, how she and her friend, Rebecca, took another girl, Lilly, and stabbed her seven times because they were told to by Mercy Black. Marina insists she does not want to speak of it.

Will persists, telling her he is a true crime fan and how her crime had spanned a slew of copycat incidents. As Marina lies in her bed she remembers bits of the incident, how she and Rebecca dragged Lilly through there woods. She hears a noise and goes downstairs to check. A dummy, with a scarecrow mask, smashes into the front door window.

The next day at school, a curious Bryce asks the librarian, Mrs Bellows (Lee Eddy) about Mercy Black. Mrs Bellows tells him she does not know about it but they can look on the internet. Back at the house, Marina, having watched a woodworking video, is sanding the stairs. She is surprised by Will. He is still eager to talk to her about the Mercy Black episode.

He tells her that they can make a lot of money if she does talk shows and helps him with a book. Marina is not interested but Will keeps on about the potential of making money. Marina, who had returned to sanding the stairs, accidentally sands his knuckles off. Alice returns to find Will screaming abuse at Marina. She kicks him off of her property.

Later that evening, Alice finds her dog dead in the yard and is convinced Will is behind it. She goes to see him. Bryce asks Marina about Mercy Black. She tells him that Mercy Black was made up by her friend Rebecca, who convinced her that if they made a sacrifice to Mercy, it would save her mother’s life as her mother was terminally sick at the time.

Bryce shows her the many incidents connected to Mercy Black on the internet and asks her how can she not be real. Alice, now at Will’s home, sees he has a wall of information on Marina. He is obsessed with making money off of her story. They argue and Alice leaves. Alone in his home, Will hears noises and thinks some of his friends are messing with him. He gets killed.

Bryce’s young imagination seems to be running wild and he is convinced that he is being spoken to by Mercy Black. Marina remembers the incident and how Rebecca cut off one of an unconscious Lily’s fingers as an offering to Mercy. The next day, Marina is determined to get to the bottom of her mysterious past.

She goes to see Rebecca (Jesse Tilton). Rebecca had also been incarcerated. Time had not been kind to Rebecca and she sits by a window, catatonic from her time in the hospital. Her mother (Rochelle Robinson) is happy to see Marina and takes her to see her traumatised daughter. Rebecca is unresponsive as Marina speaks to her but when Marina begins to look around the bedroom, Rebecca grabs her ankle and screams uncontrollably.

Bryce continues to act strangely. When his friend, Sam (Dylan Gage) comes over to play with him he tricks him into putting a noose around his neck and nearly kills him. Alice calls Dr Ward to ask about Marina. Marina continues to look into her past and finds the underground area that the girls were in all those years before.

She finds enough evidence to convince herself that Mercy Black was a figment of their imaginations. Alice gets a call asking her to come to the police station. Will is dead. She goes to see Bryce and he is convinced that he is in contact with Mercy Black. His bedroom door slams and Alice falls over the bannister.

Marina returns home to see Alice being taken away by an ambulance. Bryce asks if she will sit with him whilst he falls asleep. When Marina wakes up in the night, Bryce has left his bed. Marina gets attacked and knocked to the ground.

Mrs Bellows turns up at the house and says to Bryce she is going to help him. She has a finger missing. It is Lily. She takes Bryce to the underground area. Dr Ward, who had looked into Lily’s past comes to the house and tells Marina that Lily is back in town. They both head to the underground place.

Marina goes down to look for Bryce. She tells Dr Ward to call the police. Lily comes up behind the doctor and slits her throat. Lilly goes down into the underground place and confronts Marina. Marina tells Bryce to run and fights with Lily. Lily stabs her in the stomach and goes after Bryce.

A wounded Marina gets up and is attacked by the spectre of Mercy Black but battles back defeating it. Lilly catches up with Bryce and waits for Marina to catch them. Marina tackles her to the ground and is strangling her but realises that is what Lily wants. She stops strangling her. Bryce stabs Lily through the eye, killing her. The spectre of Mercy Black looms large over him. The end.

Mercy Black is kind of bad, then moderately good, then awful. Written and directed by Owen Egerton, the film does not seem to be sure what it wants to be. The idea of it being mostly a figment of Pineda’s Marina’s imagination worked quite well and served the story even as Eddy’s Lilly is revealed as still being alive. Unfortunately, he did not leave it there. He had to complicate things.

Amelio’s Will was a story strand that went nowhere and was just an extra body to kill off which, in a horror film, is understandable but not only was it a most unsatisfactory demise, it did not push the story forward at all.

Young actor Miles Emmon is very good as Bryce and convincing as the semi-possessed child and had Egerton leaned more into that storyline this could have been a really good horror. Instead, he decided to go with the ‘mad’ Lily bollocks, her wanting to fulfil her destiny of being killed at the hand of Marina in order to satisfy the bloodlust of Mercy Black.

LaMont is great as Alice but she too just runs around doing random things and eventually getting, literally, knocked out of the picture so as to allow for the very poor conclusion. The Lily storyline was working but by deciding to make Mercy Black real, Egerton completely negates the story’s power, whilst simultaneously wrecking all credibility the film had built up.

I will say the film is ably directed and most of the jump scares work well. The tension is good and it even overcomes Pineda’s weak central performance. It is all utterly destroyed by the muddled story. Mercy Black, at eighty-eight minutes long, is not a long film and, for the most part, trundles along nicely. It is a shame that Mercy Black has so much going on because it had all the elements of a passable horror film. Unfortunately, it is a fussy mess. Give it a miss.

Love Of The Panther

The excitement is already building eight whole months before the film is due for release. A who’s who of this generations black stars in their ascendancy make up the cast. Chadwick Boseman, known better on the other side of the pond for his biopic roles, playing James Brown in Get On Up and, to the soccer loving U. K. audience at least, the little known of U. S. legend that was the baseball player Jackie Robinson in Forty-Two. Michael B. Jordan, who I first saw in the great little film Chronicle, but is better known for the wonderful Creed and the infamous, much maligned, Fantastic Four.
The luminous Lupita Nyong’o, magnificent in 12 Years A Slave. Forrest Whitaker, of far too many roles to list here, though most recently seen hamming it up in Rogue One, also feature. Angela Bassett, another veteran of many roles who will always be remembered for her portrayal of Tina Turner in What’s Love Got To Do With It? Daniel Kaluuya of Get Out fame also makes an appearance, as does Phylicia Rashad, who will forever be Claire Huxtable to a generation.
The film is, of course, Marvel’s Black Panther, king of the fictional African land, Wakanda, home to the most precious (fictitious) metal, vibranium. Directed by Ryan Coogler – Fruitvale Station, Creed – Marvel has gone black from top to bottom. Initial looks at the King of Wakanda are promising, with the first teaser trailer – actually a bit long for a teaser but no complaints here – landing on Friday night stateside and pushing comic book internet geeks into instant overdrive.
Created by two white, comic maestros, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, back in the mid-sixties, the writers showed the infamous lack of world geographical knowledge always levelled at Americans and invented Wakanda. Admittedly. It was over half a century ago and the internet was probably not even a thought for a then, short trousers wearing, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who would bring about the worldwide web.
With so little to cheer about on this side of the pond when it comes to blacks in the media – even in the expected fields of my youth, song and dance, the positions now dominated by white artist – Black Panther is a big event for black people. Too often black people have had to, in terms of globally recognised films, look to slavery or hip hop and street gang films. The likes of Tyler Perry, a one-man media mogul stateside, might argue that his success is global, as would Lee Daniels no doubt, but America needs to remember it is not the whole world, even if they do hold the World Series! Though Tyler’s name would be known by most U. K. blacks, I do not think Daniels name carries the same weight.
Not since….ever, has a black film represented what Black Panther does; a black film, with a black director and cast, showing a black world. Barring a Hollywood shafting of Nate Parker proportions (they let Casey Affleck’s…ahem ‘aberration’ slide) or the film is Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four terrible, Black Panther will be a worldwide hit. With the recently released, woman-centric, Wonder Woman tracking great numbers globally and garnering the best reviews of any of the DCEU films so far, it will be interesting to see how Black Panther does in the already successful Marvel universe.
For Ryan Coogler this is a big film. The thirty-one-year-old director has shown himself to be a talented auteur – loved Creed! – and I sincerely hope that he does not suffer the fate of the aforementioned Trank or my favourite writer/director Joss Whedon, both of whom alluded to an uncomfortable amount of studio interference.
There is still a long way to go before its release, but I for one, cannot wait for Black Panther to hit the screens.

Guerilla – just don’t

Just to be clear, this is not a fair review of this programme. It is not fair because I found the programme so awful, that I could only manage to get through one episode of six. I started watching the second episode but had to switch off after twenty minutes. So, to be clear, I did not enjoy it.

    The programme I am speaking of is the much promoted and heralded Sky six-parter, Guerrilla. With the headliners being Idris Elba and Freida Pinto, advertising has, misleadingly, lead with their images. Perhaps Idris comes more to the fore in later episodes, but in the opening episode, it is Frida’s character that drives the story.

    So the story: Guerrilla tells the story of a group of militants who decide to free a political prisoner and wage war on the establishment after one of their friends is murdered by the police during a demonstration.

   We begin with Jas (Pinto) and her partner, Marcus (Babou Ceesay) visiting their activist friend, Dhari (Nathaniel Martello-White) in prison. Later they meet up with another couple, Julian (Nicholas  Pinnock) a peaceable activist, and his Irish girlfriend, Fallon (Denise Gough) and head to the pub. Elsewhere, Pence – played by Rory Kinnear, channelling his best Afrikaans accent for some unknown reason – is a policeman on a mission. He wants Julian dead and instructs officers to target him during an upcoming demonstration. During the demonstration, police plants make sure trouble starts. During the ensuing melee, the police beat Julian to death.

    An aside – as I write this I am trying to watch the second episode again. It is awful. Utter garbage.

    The fact that this is written by a black person is even more galling. John Ridley, off the back of the critically acclaimed 12 Years A Slave – once again I must admit I was not a fan of that either, though I did not hate it – is an American – and how it shows! – has already received some backlash for casting an Asian Indian, Pinto, in the lead role of a black activist drama, weakly offering that his own real life partner is of Asian descent and a strong woman! If we all decide to write dramas based on the people we like and admire, whilst using historical themes as our context, we can no doubt look forward to a version of Jews being liberated en masse by a black man because some well place writer totally knows a guy who would do that!

   If that was the only issue with this drama, it would be a minor one. An important one, but in the context of the sheer awfulness of the show, a minor one.  The sets are good and the clothing, though it would be a piss poor wardrobe department that could not recreate the seventies look with so much material and pictorial material available. The music? What the hell are they listening to?!I never such music in an English black household.

    Though actors are always struggling for work and black actors even more so, I can only believe that on seeing this, that there are many black actors who feel they dodged a bullet.

    I thought perhaps it was my age, as I was only a small child when this was set in the early seventies, but it is too terrible to be that. Ridley, for some reason known only to himself, decides that in the U.K.- in the early seventies – that Indian Asians, African blacks, West Indian blacks, Irish and Afro-Americans all hung out together, fighting against a near apartheid-like police force and their own liberal minded brethren!

   He introduces gun play – they can’t get any money together but they can get a gun?! – in the first episode. This is set in England! Nineteen seventies England! Gun was not easy to come by and if a black person had shot a white person of uniform – Marcus shoots an ambulance man – in the seventies, they would have called out the army!

   Now suffering episode three – oh god! – they are trying to mix with Marxist!

   This show is so mind-numbingly dreadful that I am struggling to find enough adjectives to describe it. It is meandering, cliched, indulgent, unbelievable, dreary, uninspired, mistaken and pointless. I really do not recommend this show, not even for curiosity value!

Quiet Suppression – We’ll Take That

Back in the mid eighties I and many of my friends, in our mid to late teens, listened to the same music. This was around the time I started going to clubs and meeting people who would become life long friends. One of the commonalities among us was music.

Being black and having attended a predominantly black school, musical leanings were divided between two types; you were either a reggae person – most of the black people, children, I grew up around hailed from Jamaica, pretty much the birthplace of reggae – or you were a soul person. I was a soul person. Michael Jackson, on the brink of superstardom with Off The Wall, Luther Vandross in his fat phase, Stevie Wonder before the lazy, comedic impressions. I had a perm, I danced like I was about to fit and I loved music.

Music was – and still is – a great leveller for a black person growing up. We may not of had much in social status, or many role models, there were no faces to relate to on a regular basis on television – Sir Trevor was a lone, regular, face – and in my part of the world, urban south London, there was no mass expectation of going to ‘uni’ or getting a job that became a progressive career.

This was pre-internet, MTV was in its infancy, phone boxes still existed and vinyl was still the dominant musical format. Music mattered to us. It gave us identity; reggae was and will always be associated with Jamaica, but soul music was black. it embraced all of us, regardless of island origin, we could come together under the umbrella soul of music.

As ever, a lot of black cultural references come from our Stateside cousins. Film, music, fashion, even role models, have ever had blacks enviously looking across the pond. Of course we do not envy their everyday fear of being shot or living in some shitty hovel. We never had to – or our parents – face segregation or sitting at the back of a bus. No, we had any of that to contend with. We were lucky in that regard. Though there is something.

I was listening to Kiss 100 this morning, a commercial radio station that is not dissimilar from any other countrywide, 18-25 demographic driven station. In 1990 I was, as were many of my clubbing friends, at the Kiss fm launch party. The reason we were at the launch party was because we had been supporters of the station and knew many of the deejays that would populate its roster. Kiss was one of the pirate radio station that had helped to promote black music, the music we clubbed to and embraced. We felt like, in some part, it was our station. Fast forward fifteen years and any notion of it being a ‘black’ music station has all but disappeared. It is largely indistinguishable from any other popular music station, pumping largely white produced dance music. So what happened and what does this have to do with anything? The answer to that question is twofold and a little controversial.

Anything that is seen as black and popular, whites have tried to take it away and make it their own. In the States, with such a vocal section of blacks and with their natural inclination as a people, Americans, to highlight an issue, such a thing is not easy to do. Also, such is the number of blacks in America, they can influence at a level that matters; financially. In the UK that is not the case. Anything that is thought as being ‘black’ is not generally viewed as sellable or desirable. Unless it is repackaged as white. This is not a new thing, in fifties and sixties America the excitement initially generated by Elvis Presley was the notion of a white man who could sing ‘black’. Here in the UK the likes of UB40 and Culture Club in the eighties made a fortune singing reggae and ‘black’ music respectively. Jamiroquai also made his fortune adopting a black sound, yet black artist in this country have always struggled to make an impact. As recently as last year, Sam Smith, a soul singing depressive, white kid, garnered award upon award in black music categories, his beautiful ‘soul’ sound embraced by the masses.

Growing up, an insult that would sting any would be clubber was ‘you dance like a white person’. They really could not dance. Not to soul and funk and boogie anyway. Waltzes? Absolutely, but not stuff with a beat.  But as the decades went on and increasing amounts of whites got into soul music, mixed with blacks, clubbed with blacks, they got the beat. Now every talent show features a funky, all white, dance troupe.

There is no field, profession or area where black people are embraced, as leading, within the UK. After over five hundred years of immigration, integration and population, how is that possible? A quiet suppression. The powers that be say: Thank you, I’ll take that!