Tag: review by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

MOVIE REVIEW: “Things Never Said” Speaks Volumes About Love and Life

things-never-said

THINGS NEVER SAID  Cast: Shanola Hampton (Kalindra Stephney), Omari Hardwick (Curtis Jackson), Elimu Nelson (Ronnie), Tamala Jones (Daphne), Michael Beach (Will Jackson), Dorian Missick (Steve), Charlayne Woodard (Charlotte), Tom Wright (Daniel) Written & Directed by: Charles Murray  Rated: R  Ohio Street Pictures

Review by Lori Lakin Hutcherson
Review by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

I might as well get out the disclosure right up front: I have known Things Never Said writer/director Charles Murray for well over fifteen years, and at every turn of his career (executive at Magic Johnson’s production company, television writer on Third Watch and Criminal Minds, independent filmmaker) I have rooted for him.  Charles is smart, funny and more than a bit of an unapologetic iconoclast, which could only mean two things for him – career suicide or artistic success.  After seeing Things Never Said, I am thrilled to report he is a creative force only beginning to mine the gifts he has to share with this world.

The story of Things Never Said is deceptively simple: Kalindra (Shanola Hampton), a young woman haunted by a miscarriage and stuck in a bad marriage to former basketball star Ronnie (Elimu Nelson), seeks an outlet through spoken-word poetry.  Kal succumbs to an affair with Curtis (Omari Hardwick), a fellow poet who seems to see into her soul, but has his own heavy baggage Kal may not want to take on.  While that might sound prosaic and maybe even a little pretentious (note: the poetry is extremely well-performed and relatable, so if you weren’t a poetry fan before, you will be after this), what’s special about this movie is the nuanced, complex and unpredictable ways Murray has his characters grapple with their conflicts.

At first, you don’t want Kal to cheat on her husband – she is too intelligent and creative a woman to fall for the game the sexy-but-mysterious Curtis spits at her.  But then again, you also wonder why Kal is staying with the sullen, unsupportive Ronnie, who seems to be going nowhere in his life and holding her back from hers.  As the layers start to unfold, you learn not only has Ronnie gone through the hardship of losing his future, but also that Kal was brought up by her mother Charlotte (Charlayne Woodard) to believe that sticking with one’s husband no matter what is what defines a woman as a good person and wife.  So when Kal finally does give in to her attraction to Curtis, they have so much chemistry and tenderness and understanding between them you want her to get away with the affair… until you realize Curtis may have even less to offer Kal than Ronnie when it’s revealed he’s an ex-con and why he landed in jail in the first place.  

Actress Shanola Hampton carries the organic twists and turns of this movie so beautifully it’s surprising she’s never had a major role in a film before.  She has an equally able partner in Omari Hardwick, who makes you root for Curtis despite the palpable possibility he may be more trouble than he’s worth.  Which, I think, is Murray’s point – no matter how much you connect to another person and no matter how they make you feel about yourself or even challenge you to become your better self – the real romance and discovery lies within knowing and healing oneself.  This is the thing not said about love – it alone does not conquer all.  This is the thing not said about art or creative outlets – they alone do not solve deep issues.  Kalindra is not “saved” by Curtis or her poetry, but rather, they both shed light on her path to saving and healing herself from all of the preconceived notions she’s grown up on, from all the ways she’s limited herself, and from all of the abuse she’s accepted – external and internal.

Things Never Said is an important addition to African-American independent cinema and humanistic storytelling that should not be missed.  Its Los Angeles run has been extended through September 19 and the film opens in Atlanta, Boston, Washington DC, and Gary, Indiana on September 13 – TODAY!  Please get out and support the movie — you can get updates on other showings around the country from thingsneversaid.com or on the Things Never Said Facebook Page.  Also, check out the trailer below:

REVIEW: Why “Fruitvale Station” Is The Must-See Movie of the Year

fruitvale-station-posterFRUITVALE STATION  Cast: Michael B. Jordan (Oscar Grant), Octavia Spencer (Wanda), Melonie Diaz (Sophina), Ariana Neal (Tatiana), Kevin Durand (Officer Caruso), Chad Michael Murray (Officer Ingram), Ahna O’Reilly (Katie) Written & Directed by: Ryan Coogler  Rated: R  The Weinstein Co.

Review by Lori Lakin Hutcherson
Review by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

I intended to write this review two weeks ago, when I saw Fruitvale Station in limited release.  Two things occurred to prevent that – one ordinary: my babysitter cancelled, so bye bye writing time – and one extraordinary:  George Zimmerman was found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin the very next day.

In the wake of the national outrage and protests and vigils, I thought my review of Fruitvale Station couldn’t help but be  greatly affected.  But as the film goes into wide release on 1,064 screens today, I realize I feel exactly the same about the film as I did two Fridays ago.  Put plainly, Fruitvale Station is the most riveting, artfully-told, written, directed and acted movie of the year, it should win 2013 Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director, and every adult living should immediately make all efforts to see this movie and receive a mind-and-heart-altering reminder that every single person alive, no matter what sex, creed, color or age, has humanity that deserves recognition and respect.

The basics of the story are probably already known to most: Bay Area-based writer/director Ryan Coogler was deeply moved by the tragic shooting of fellow Bay Area native Oscar Grant, a 22 year-old black man who was killed at the Fruitvale BART Station by police on New Year’s Day 2009.  Coogler wanted to show what Grant’s last day of life was like, so people would see not just a victim or a thug, but who and how Oscar really was.  And not just the good or misunderstood parts of Oscar, but also the bad, the funny, the sweet and the ugly – and know he was a vibrant, complex being who in no way deserved the callous and all-too-common fate he received.

The movie opens stunningly with real cellphone footage of Oscar Grant’s murder.  If you’ve never seen it before (which I hadn’t), it is gutting.  I involuntarily burst into tears – I was just so sad and angry and shocked at the injustice – it took a lot to pull myself back into the movie and get to know Oscar in life as viscerally as I did in death.  As much as it smarts, Coogler’s choice to start the film this way is brilliant, because it communicates powerfully the underlying truth of what’s to unfold – you may be watching a movie, but do not ever forget – THIS WAS REAL.

Fruitvale then segues into off-screen dialogue between Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) and his girlfriend Sophina (Melonie Diaz) much earlier that morning.  She is upset with Oscar because of an infidelity he tries in vain to explain away.  As they get their young daughter Tatiana (Ariana Neal) ready for school, we learn Oscar is a sweet, loving and permissive father (he sneaks his daughter the extra snack her mom said she couldn’t have) who sells dope sometimes to make ends meet.

As we continue with Oscar through the challenges and banality of his morning (stretching the gas in his tank before filling up, texting his Mom “Happy Birthday”, dropping his girlfriend off at work, picking up food for his mom’s party, worrying about rent) we learn he’s been in and out of prison several times and is struggling to get it together.  Oscar, mind-blowingly portrayed and embodied by Jordan, comes off as equal parts charismatic, tough, caring and desperate.  In one moment he is helping a customer in the deli where he worked figure out how to cook fish by putting her on the phone with his Grandma Bonnie; the next he is defiantly demanding/begging his ex-boss to rehire him.  When he doesn’t get his job back, Oscar immediately plays it off with a co-worker, lies with a smile, and acts like it’s all good.

The code switching Oscar goes through in this one day – the subtly different-yet-specific ways he behaves and speaks with his daughter, his mom, his sister, girlfriend, his homies, his boss – is, I think, the key revelation of the film, and why this story is connecting with audiences everywhere.  Oscar Grant, the young, black, ex-convict drug dealer is, surprisingly, an everyperson, dealing with the same contradictory bundle of human dynamics, dramas and relationships we all do.

When Oscar makes a pivotal choice to change his life mid-way through the film (after reflecting on time he spent in jail), he drops his tough-guy mask and confesses to Sophina that he lost his day job and has taken himself out of the dope game.  When Sophina starts to go in on him (understandably – it’s clear she’s been through a lot with him), her strength and humanity shine through when a few beats later she forgives and supports him despite the immediate hardship his actions are creating.  Diaz is perfect in this underplayed moment – Sophina, more than anybody, sees the vulnerable Oscar and whether or not she fully believes in his potential, she loves and respects him enough to support him on his stilted journey towards betterment.

A lot more happens in the movie before we get to the fateful moment on the BART platform at Fruitvale on New Year’s Eve 2008/New Year’s Day 2009, but truly, instead of reading a summary of it here, you should just go see it for yourself.  Do let me say though that Octavia Spencer, who plays Oscar’s mother Wanda… well, what she does in the movie is beyond deserving another Oscar (which, of course, she does).  She should open up acting clinics and teach other actors how real people actually behave in extreme circumstances.  If the viewers I was in the theatre with weren’t crying before, the way Spencer reacts to the news of Oscar’s death and her subsequent viewing of his body in the hospital caused an all-out, audible sob fest.

From beginning to end, the whole movie feels authentic, without a shred of manipulation.  Though there is definite filmmaking throughout Fruitvale Station and filmic choices being made, they are seamless and only enhance the raw power and poignancy of the story.  Even at a relatively short running time of 1 hour 30 minutes, I came out of the theater feeling as if I’d lived another life.  And I did.  I lived Oscar Grant’s life and was deeply, sorely sad it was gone.  And the great thing – I wasn’t alone.  The whole audience felt it for 90 minutes – black, white, male, female, young, old – we all felt like we were Oscar Grant.