Dolemite Is My Name – review (Netflix)

Brief Synopsis: Real-life struggling comedian, Rudy Ray Moore, sees an opportunity to improve his lot in life and achieve the success he has always craved when a chance meeting with a homeless vagrant gives him the idea to invent the character and comedy persona Dolemite. Not happy with the regional success the character brings him, Moore uses his fame and sales skills to persuade friends and others to make a film in the middle of the seventies blaxploitation era.

Is It Any Good?: Yes. Dolemite Is My Name sees Eddie Murphy taking on the central role of the never-say-die Rudy Ray Moore. Murphy, who found fame and superstardom in his 20s, is perfect as the middle-aged Moore having one final roll of the dice and hitting the jackpot.

The film has a lot of heart and the costume department deserves an award for some of the best wardrobe items I have ever seen in a film.

Spoiler Territory: Rudy Ray Moore (Eddie Murphy) works in Dolphin’s record shop where he is trying to persuade the store DJ, Roj (Snoop Dogg), to put one of his little-known songs onto the playlist. Roj refuses. Roj, who is greying and older than 40, like Rudy, tells Rudy that they have missed their chance for fame and should just be happy to be working. Ray leaves him to his deejaying.

Toney (Tituss Burgess), comes rushing late for work at the record shop. He takes over from Rudy and Rudy leaves to go home and get dressed for his second job of the day, a warm comedian at the local club, The Californian. At the club, as Rudy does his act on the stage, the crowd pretty much ignore him as he performs, chattering away as they wait for the main act. Rudy introduces the main act, The Ben Taylor (Craig Robinson) Band, to warm applause.

The club owner, Mr Allen (Jernard Burks), warns Rudy about going over his allotted time. Rudy tries to sell himself to Allen, saying he can do a bigger, better act. Allen is not interested. The next day, Toney is listening to a Redd Foxx and chuckling away. Rudy cannot understand what Toney finds funny. Rudy spots Ricco (Ron Cephas Jones), a hobo, coming into the store. He and Toney argue as to who should get him out of the store. Toney wins the argument.

Ricco is a bit of a character, spitting rhyming cusses as he walks around the small store, must to the amusement of the patrons. Rudy gives Ricco some money in an effort to get him to leave. Ricco heads for the exit but stops and regales the store with a final tale. It gives Rudy an idea.

He discusses it with Toney, Ben and Jimmy (Mike Epps), who is another comedian. He tells them that he thinks that if some of the old jokes were polished up, they would make a good act. Toney agrees with him but Jimmy derides the idea. Rudy leaves his friends and goes looking for Ricco. He is directed to an old building, the Dunbar hotel, by another hobo. He tells him a lot of the hobos and winos live thee.

Rudy finds Ricco and offers him money and booze to talk to him. He sits down and talks a few of the old hobos, listening to their stories and jokes. He records the conversations and returns home to write his new set, modifying the jokes and stories. He creates the character of Dolemite. Rudy decides to try his new act at the Californian even though Allen tells him not to. The act goes down a storm.

Emboldened by the success of their new act, Rudy decides that he wants to make a comedy album. He goes to see his aunt (Luenell) and borrows the money to record the record. With the help of his small crew of friends, he gathers a small crowd into his apartment and records the album.

He takes the recording to a record company but is told that the profanity is too much and he cannot sell it. Rudy decides to print the records himself. He prints the records and it becomes a hit. His stage act is sold out where ever he goes. He is approached by the Bihari brothers, who have a record company and want to help him promote the record. He begins to tour black America.

Whilst in a small town, he sees a woman, Lady Reed (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) having an altercation with her husband. After his show, he befriends Lady Reed. She joins him on his shows, singing and performing as well. Rudy’s album hits the Billboards chart and his promoters are eager to record further albums. Rudy’s star continues to rise.

Back in town, he goes and hangs out with his guys and decides to take them to see a successful comedy, The Front Page. None of the guys finds the film funny, but sitting in a predominantly white audience, are surrounded by people who find it hilarious. Rudy is inspired to make a movie. He goes to see the leading black production house in LA. he is told that black films are going in a different direction and that he is not as athletic as their usual leading men.

Toney tells Rudy he should stick to comedy and leave films be. Rudy tells him that his father always told he would not amount to anything and he was determined to do whatever he set his mind to. Rudy decides to finance the film himself. He goes to the local black theatre and recruits the writer, Jerry Jones (Keegan-Michael Key), to write the film with him. Rudy and Ben and Jimmy go to the local kitty bar. They see the B-list actor, D’Urville Martin (Wesley Snipes) in the club. Rudy approaches him but is given short shrift, D’Urville telling him that he is a serious actor. D’Urville he insults the trio saying he has worked with serious directors—a bit part in Rosemary’s Baby—Rudy offers him the director’s gig.

With D’Urville onboard, Rudy puts up his recording rights to secure the money for the film. He negotiates a deal with the owner of the Durban hotel building to use it as his film studio, clearing out the drug users and homeless people in return for use of the property. Jerry gets students from a film school to come and work on the film. It is a struggle, but they get the film made.

With the film complete, Rudy tries to hawk to the studios. They all refuse to distribute it. A nearly broke Rudy goes back on the road, still trying to make money to distribute his film. Whilst on Bobby Vale’s (Chris Rock) radio show in Indianapolis, Vale asks him when the film is coming out. Rudy has no date. A frustrated Vale talks to him off-air as he thinks Rudy is being obtuse. Rudy tells him no studio will release the movie.

Vale gives him the number of his cousin, Demond (Barry Shabaka Henley), who runs a movie theatre. Rudy goes to see him. Demond tells him he can get a midnight showing but it will cost him $300. He can keep all the box office. Rudy takes the deal and gets promoting.

As Friday night comes around, a nervous Rudy waits in the theatre, not sure if anyone will turn up. The show is sold out. The film is a roaring success. Rudy gets a call from Dimension pictures. They want to distribute the picture. He goes and makes a deal with them.

As he and his close entourage go to the premiere, they are reading the reviews. The reviews are neither kind or flattering. Deflated by the reviews, Rudy tries to lift everyone’s spirits by telling them that he feels that regardless of the premiere’s outcome they have already achieved a great deal. When they turn up at the premiere they are greeted by a passionate and vocal crowd all waiting to see Rudy.

Rudy lets the rest of the entourage go into the film and he goes out and meets the fans. The end.

Dolemite Is My Name is a highly entertaining, lovingly emotive telling of Rudy Ray Moore’s story and how he came to be, in the mid-70s, the toast of black Americana. Brilliantly portrayed by Eddie Murphy, you root for the determined and likeable Rudy as a middle-aged comedian trying to become something in an age, a generation, so far removed from something that is almost a normality in the present day.

With good and believable performances from all present, as well as a story that manages to be based or reflect a life, in a positive way of a man who battled and refused to let naysayers deny him his dream, Dolemite Is My Name is just under two hours of uplifting entertainment.

Unlike the Shaft films or the films of Sidney Poitier, Rudy Ray Moore was not a person whose star crossed the water, so when Eddie Murphy clips of him in costume began to appear online, I must admit I thought it was another spoof in the vein of Black Dynamite, the brilliant Michael Jai White comedy of some years back.

Thankfully, and pertinently, the film, though amusing in parts, does not aim for comedy. Nor does it aim for pathos, it simply tells the story of Rudy and his burning desire to fulfil his dream. Directed by Craig Brewer and written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, the film’s power is in the performances and the story focus, with not much in the way of secondary stories or distracting backstory.

Though one is left wanting to know more about Rudy Ray Moore and his friends, in terms of the film told here, the lack of background information and history helps the film, making the central drive of the story, Rudy’s dream, an unencumbered focus.

Dolemite Is My Name is definitely worth two hours of your time. Even you are not a fan of blaxploitation cinema, the film is worth seeing for the wardrobe alone which is both striking – Murphy’s costumes especially – and magnificent. A joy.

Dark Phoenix -review (Netflix)

   I want to be objective. Hatred for a person you’ve never met or even seen in interview is probably unwarranted. Can you really dislike a person that you’re not even sure what they look like? Human emotion is a strange thing and, as I ask myself these questions, I am trying to be rational. Let me explain. 

     I am a comic book movie fan. In my youth, I collected comics for many years but, even before that I loved Spider-Man on television and the Christopher Reeves Superman films. When Tim Burton’s Batman came out, I was all in, even as the quality of that initial Batman franchise diminished. 

    Truthfully though, I was always more of a Marvel fanboy, specifically, the X-men. I collected the entire Chris Claremont run. All of it. The same run that gave the world the Phoenix Saga. Even before that, before the New X-men, which the Phoenix Saga was part of, I was an X-man fan.

    So obviously, when the first X-men film came out, I was there. Bryan Singer’s first two films were brilliant. They were not comic canon, with definitely some artistic licence taken, but they were better than expected and, under Fox, had no challenge from the future juggernaut that would be the MCU. 

    I have watched every one of the X-men films under Fox, even the god-awful, The Last Stand. The Last Stand was written by Simon Kinberg, the same man who helms and wrote the final instalment in the X-men series under Fox, Dark Phoenix. Predominantly a producer, Kinberg has been involved with the franchise since the risible The Last Stand. 

    So, with that in mind, and my unreasonable disdain for him, how was Dark Phoenix? Not terrible. With all the rumours that surrounded production and the less than secret news that the X-men was going to be under the umbrella of the MCU and Kevin Feige’s Midas touch post-film, Dark Phoenix had a lot to battle against. 

    Unfortunately, most of the issues created in Dark Phoenix are due to previous decisions in the series and poor casting choices and a weak script. The film needed the audience to be invested in the characters, but due to poor decisions, the dominance of Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine over the franchise and the underwritten roles of every other character since the second X-men film, you just do not care about any of the protagonists. 

    Tye Sheridan’s Cyclops is woeful. Horribly served in the previous films, Sheridan struggles valiantly to create a history between him and Sophie Turner’s statuesque Jean Grey, a history that previous films barely hinted at. That is just the begin of the problems with this story. 

    Rightly, the film does not follow the comics. Instead, like over at the MCU, it tries to take some elements and blend them into a new and, hopefully, engaging story. What Fox and Kinberg have got wholly wrong is trying to truncate the story and elicit emotion for characters nobody knows. 

   Logan, the best superhero movie ever made (it’s my blog, so my opinion. Fight me), works because we know the character of Logan/Wolverine. Obviously, the consistency of having the same actor portray the character has helped, but Logan would have worked even after the second X-men film because we knew the character. We do not know the X-men. 

    Sophie Turner is beautiful, absolutely stunning. A statuesque, imposing visual presence. She is completely wrong for the film. Her performance is completely committed and would have been brilliant had she been even partially well served in the previous films. She was not. 

    When an actor is portraying a well-known character, unless they have been allowed to make that character their own, in say the way various actors have made James Bond their own, a viewer will always compare the character to the original source material. 

     Jean Grey in the comics is not an imposing presence, not physically. She is intelligent and powerful, even more so when she gains the Phoenix power, but not an Amazonian presence. Turner is Amazonian. She makes Sheridan look like a young boy, and she towers over Jessica Chastain’s power seeking, body stealing alien, Vuk, even though she is wearing heels. Like Famke Jansen before her, Turner is simply too much of a presence as Jean Grey. 

     Alexandra Shipp, like Halle Berry before her, is completely wasted in the film. With no real character interactions, she is basically in the film for her undoubtedly stunning looks, to make up the numbers and as someone to utilise special effects through. If she had not been in the film, she would not have been missed. 

    Evan Peters’ Quicksilver is quickly – haha! – dispatched in the film, his leg broken in the first fight and Jennifer Lawerence’s Mystique, who is a villain in the comics – a villain! – gets killed by Jean early on, giving Michael Fassbender’s Magneto a reason to get involved in proceedings.

    The acting is, as one would expect with the talent on show, top draw, with everyone trying desperately to breathe life into a script that is almost Man of Steel Goyer-esque in its blandness. With the decision to dismiss the character most likely to bring levity – Quicksilver – early in the film, Dark Phoenix pushes miserably through its hour and fifty-four minute runtime, fraught faces and tense music aplenty. 

   There is a strand early in the film, which matches up with the comics, where Jean, shortly after gaining the Phoenix power is extremely thirsty, almost as a nod to her furnace like appetite, created by having to harness so much power. It does not go anywhere. 

   In the comics, the power is such that she consumes a planet. In the film, the Phoenix power consumes Vuk’s planet and she follows the power through space and witnesses Jean absorbing it. Following her back to Earth, Vuk and other survivor’s of her world decide to manipulate Jean to take over the Earth. Yes, that is their plan. 

   Like I said earlier in the article, the biggest negative in the film is you just do not care. Outside of the super beings and aliens, nobody seems in imminent danger. It is like watching a disaster happening on the other side of the world. You care on a humane level, but once you turn the television you forget about it. 

    Fox made the mistake of chasing money and competing, instead of trying to create the best product they could. With the final X-men film in Dark Phoenix, they bow out of the superhero game with a whimper. Such a pity.   



John Wick 3: Parabellum – review

    John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, picks up where the previous film left off. In John Wick Chapter 2 the world of the assassins inhabited by Wick was expanded. Though Wick was a legend in that murky world, he was still required to adhere to a code. He feels honour bound to break that code by a blood oath and is excommunicated by the High Table. 

    We see Wick running through the streets of a rain-soaked New York. He heads to the library where he has some items he needs to retrieve. It is five forty and at six the order for is excommunication comes into effect. With a bounty of fourteen million dollars on his head, Wick is a target for every killer in New York. 

    He is attacked even before the bounty comes into effect by Ernest (Boban Marjanovic), an assassin who reasons that as they are so close to the bounty’s deadline, it does not matter. Wick kills him. Ernest stabs Wick during the altercation and Wick has to seek medical help from the Doctor (Randall Duk Kim).

   The Doctor is reluctant to treat him, as there are only five minutes until his bounty is in effect, Wick persuades him to patch him up. The excommunication comes into effect whilst the doctor is stitching. Wick is forced to finish the stitches himself. 

    Wick is now a live target for every assassin in New York and there are many. He needs to get to The Director (Anjelica Huston), a severe Belarusian woman who runs a ballet school as well as commanding a cabal of eastern European gangsters. Fighting his way across New York, he gets to see the Director. He asks her to grant him passage to Casablanca. 

    After initially refusing, she gets him to Casablanca. In Casablanca, he goes to see Sofia (Halle Berry), who is the boss of the Casablancan branch of the Continental, a worldwide organisation of hotels that are safe havens for assassins.

   She is not especially glad to see him but owes him a blood oath and so reluctantly helps him. He wants to see the Elder (Said Taghmaoui), boss of the High Table. Sofia takes him to see Berrada (Jerome Flynn). Berrada tells Wick how he might get to see the Elder. In exchange for the information, he wants Sofia to give him one of her dogs. She refuses. He shoots the dog. Sofia does not take it well and she and Wick are forced to fight their way out of Berrada’s fortress. 

   Back in New York, the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon) has turned up at the Continental. She informs the manager, Winston (Ian McShane) that he has seven days to leave as, due to his co-operation with Wick, his position has been revoked. Winston understands.

   The Adjudicator goes to see Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne). He is also told he has seven days to resign his position. King is not so conciliatory. Wick is in the desert searching for the Elder, after a day of walking, he collapses, unconscious with dehydration and battle wounds. He is found by the Elder’s people and taken to him. 

   The Elder asks what he wants, Wick tells him that he is prepared to pay a penance to live. The Elder tells him that he can return to the fold if he kills Winston. 

   The Adjudicator goes to see another elite assassin, Zero (Mark Dacascos). He is to help track down Wick, plus some other task. His crew storm the Director’s theatre, killing many of her men, so as the Adjudicator can see her. She is made to pay penance, for assisting Wick, by being stabbed through both hands. The Adjudicator visits Bowery King again and has Zero punish him with seven cuts, leaving him lying injured on the roof. 

   Wick returns to New York and is protected by some of Zero’s men, only to be later attacked by them. He gets to the Continental where assassins are still forbidden from operating. He goes to see Winston. Winston knows he has been sent to kill him but persuades him that he has another option. 

The Adjudicator realises that Winston is not going to give up the Continental. She strips the hotel of protection and calls in more assassins. They go to war with Wick, who is helped by the hotel concierge, Charon (Lance Reddick). 

   The Adjudicator, realising that Winston will not relinquish the hotel, comes to an accord. She asks him what is he going to do about Wick. Winston shoots him and Wick falls off of the roof. 

When the Adjudicator is leaving, she notices that Wick has disappeared. 

    Tick Tock Man (Jason Mantzoukas), right-hand man to Bowery King, finds Wick and brings him to King. King asks if Wick is ready to wage war on the High Table. Wick says he is. The end. 

    The third film in the Wick series sees even more of an expansion on the world that Wick and his ilk inhabit. Directed again by Chad Stahelski, John Wick 3: Parabellum is a stuntman’s wet dream.  Stahelski, a stuntman himself and director on the first two instalments of the series, really brings an eye for action to films. 

   The first John Wick film, with its simple story and clear, non-political premise, was a breath of fresh air to the action genre, with the close combat fight choreography and gunplay. The second film introduced the mythology of the assassins’ world and the politics and code under which it operated, expanding on the first outing. The third film adheres to the code laid down in the second film, with the human elements; the friendships that Wick has built up over the years and the favours he has accrued, being what allow him to avoid certain death. 

   Visually, the film is stunning. The colours are neon bright and pin sharp, especially when set in New York. The film just looks magnificent and stylish, like an extremely violent Bond film. At over two hours, the pacing is relentless, picking up from the final scene of the second film, Wick is fighting for his life with fist, knives and guns for most of the runtime, a breathless ballet of violence.  

    The script by David Kolstad, Shay Hatten, Chris Collins and Marc Abrams, with the story by Kolstad, is a boy’s own work of fiction. It is non-stop action, with the few conversations that take place only serving to move on to the next action set piece. That is not to say there is no story or that the story is secondary, it just that, in the case of the Wick films, the story is there to serve the action and not the other way around. 

    John Wick 3: Parabellum gives nods to Enter The Dragon, Heat, and possibly every Chinese martial arts film ever made. It sets a standard for action films that is not only hard to match but will be very hard to surpass. 

   It is rare that a trilogy produces three great films, you might have two very good films and one great one or, more often than not, one film of the films are great and the other two are sold on the strength of that hit. 

   That is not the case with the Wick films, each not necessarily better than its predecessor but definitely more ambitious. John Wick 3: Parabellum is a brilliant addition to the Wick cannon. If you enjoyed the first two, you will love the third instalment.