“Beyond the Lights”
While this is a quality, entertaining film, “Beyond the Lights” contains a masterful performance by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. As demonstrated in this year’s “Belle,” she is both beautiful and talented, and it is impossible to take your eyes off of her.
Here, she plays a budding superstar named Noni, a singer who is forced to confront a sexually exploited image. Involved in a regrettable relationship with her co-star, Kid Culprit, she finds herself contemplating suicide while sitting on a balcony outside of her hotel room.
Rescued from certain death by Kaz (Nate Parker), a stand-in security guard stationed in the hall outside of her door, a relationship is formed that builds throughout the film. Every time you feel that the movie is devolving into some hokey love story, it reaches up and captures your hardened heart.
While Parker is quite capable playing Kaz, a college graduate who wants to get politically involved, it is Mbatha-Raw who dances on the edge of stardom. She is both sympathetic and endearing and proves that she is a great singer. At times you feel you are watching a young Beyonce trying to define her talent as something other than simply a sexual object.
The film is also enormously helped by performances from Machine Gun Kelly, Minnie Driver and Danny Glover. Kelly is perfect as Kid Culprit, an overly tattooed rapper who at times resembles Eminem. Glover appears as Kaz’s father, a police officer with a sense of humor who simply wants to see his son succeed.
However, it is Driver as Macy Jean, Noni’s hard-driving mother, who steals the movie. A white English woman with a black daughter, she directs Noni’s life more as a Marine staff sergeant than a mother. While you always understood her intent, she was also an easy woman to hate.
Driver has largely drifted in and out of average films, and she finally delivers on the promise she displayed in 1997 in both “Good Will Hunting” and “Grosse Pointe Blank.”
Like this year’s “Dear White People,” “Beyond the Lights” has flown under the public’s radar screen, playing mostly in theaters that attract a larger black audience. That is regrettable, as both films are significant for separate reasons.
Writer/director Gina Prince-Bythewood has brought us a provocative, meaningful film about a young woman trying to simply choose her own path to recognition and success. This film is tailor made for young women and their mothers, as it describes a hard road for all women no matter what the color of their skin.
“The Homesman,” a film directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones, is a study of the insanity produced by homesteading in the Nebraska Territory prior to the Civil War. I really liked the entire film, although that is probably a partial product of the madness that I have personally witnessed after practicing criminal law for close to 40 years.
The movie follows a small wagon built as a jail as three pioneer women who have gone completely mad are transported back to civilization in Iowa by an independent, caring woman played by Hilary Swank. In the process, they are joined by Jones, a crazed loner, and they dance on the edge of becoming as emotionally unhinged as the three depraved women.
The poor, desperate women are played courageously by Grace Gummer, Miranda Otto and Sonja Richter. All of them have suffered profound trauma trying to live in the middle of nowhere, and the only sound you ever hear coming from them are screams. They all have suffered the loss of nearly everything they loved, causing one to throw a nursing child down a small toilet in her outhouse.
Though there are brief appearances by John Lithgow, Tim Blake Nelson, James Spader, Hailee Steinfeld and Meryl Streep, the film belongs to Jones and Swank. Swank’s character, Mary Bee Cuddy, is a single woman maintaining a meticulous homestead. Her only desire is to become a mother with the aid and comfort of a husband, though every man she meets finds her far too independent and strong-willed to even consider tying a knot.
Jones, whose character is known as George Briggs, joins Cuddy’s journey after she saved his life. Though he has few goals other than to avoid getting near farming, he gradually forms a bond with his female companion and the three poor lunatics they are transporting that I found repeatedly inspiring.
One of the best mini-series ever to appear on TV was “Lonesome Dove” (1989), also starring Jones along with Robert Duvall. Jones’ character here greatly resembles Woodrow Call, the character he played in “Dove.” Lacking both Woodrow’s discipline and integrity, you know there is a good man lurking inside his weathered exterior.
While life today takes many of us to the brink of insanity, whether we admit it, it certainly did for the pioneers who preceded us. This is not an easy film to watch, but it’s impossible to reject its emotional resonance.
“Horrible Bosses 2”
When Frank Sinatra sang “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again too few to mention,” it was clear that he died before “Horrible Bosses 2” hit the silver screen. Slightly saved by a crazed ending, it is gross, vulgar and decidedly unfunny throughout.
Listen, I was a big fan of the first “Horrible Bosses,” but this sequel is as regrettable as the two that followed the first “Hangover” film (2009). The original cast reappears, and the addition of talented actors like Chris Pine and Christoph Waltz left me wondering if both are traveling to Lourdes to seek redemption.
There’s no comfort to be found from watching this trashy film. It has no meaningful upside, so let it die a quick death when released on DVD.•
Robert Hammerle practices criminal law in Indianapolis. When he is not in the courtroom or working diligently in his Pennsylvania Street office, Bob can likely be found at one of his favorite movie theaters watching and preparing to review the latest films. To read more of his reviews, visit www.bigmouthbobs.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.