Allow me to wish y’all Happy Black History Month once again! ✊🏼✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿
In honor of this esteemed month, I’ve decided to write three reviews on recent films starring black actors/actresses. You may have heard of them: The Little Things, Malcolm and Marie, and Judas and the Black Messiah. So, without further ado, let’s do the damn thing!
The Little Things (HBO Max)
Let’s start the reviews with Denzel Washington’s most recent vehicle. The Little Things takes place in Los Angeles during Fall 1990, and there’s a rash of murders against young women occurring in the city. Former LA detective turned Kern County deputy Joe “Deke” Deacon (Denzel) teams up with young LA Sheriff’s Dept. detective Jim Baker (Rami Malek) to bring the serial killer to justice, and it looks like they’ve found their prime suspect when they encounter creepy repairman Albert Sparma (Jared Leto).
The Little Things has been getting a lot of flack since its release, but I enjoyed the film. Is it Denzel and Rami’s best film ever? Not by a long shot, but nonetheless, I found the movie interesting, and I thought all the actors did a great job with their roles. A lot of folks think that my baby Rami was miscast as Det. Jim Baker, but I disagree. I felt like his quiet and stoic demeanor was a perfect fit. My opinion on that little Egyptian cutie may be a bit biased, but I digress. In all honesty, I think people are giving The Little Things a hard time because they’re focusing on two things: 1) the movie is slow paced and 2) it has no real action scenes. Also, I’ve noticed that folks are constantly comparing this movie to Seven. What it is I always say about movies, y’all? If you go into a movie expecting a carbon copy of one of your favs, you’re going to be disappointed. This movie is nothing like Seven, and I didn’t expect it to be. The only thing The Little Things and Seven have in common is that they both feature an older, more seasoned cop partnered with a younger, somewhat more naive cop to take down a serial killer.
The Little Things is more of a psychological character piece than an action flick. What I liked about the film was its theme of obsession. The lengths the characters’ fixations go in this movie is something that we don’t see a lot of in procedural cop TV shows/movies. In the film, Deke is so consumed with the unsolved murders in his past that it blows up his entire life. His obsession seems to be infectious, as Jim soon becomes just as obsessed with the current case, and it starts to affect his behavior as well as his personal life. Is it possible to care too much? I think it is. Then there’s the ambiguous ending. I felt like the grey colored finale made The Little Things all the more endearing. There’s a few fans out there that feel the same way I do. I didn’t realize there were so many theories and thinkpieces about what really happened in the film until one of them popped up in my YouTube recommends a few days ago. With that being said, check out Think Story’s Ending Explained video for the The Little Things. He pointed out things that I didn’t even catch (including a TON of symbolism), despite watching the movie twice! The Little Things isn’t definitely an atypical murder mystery, but that’s what makes it watchable, in my opinion. I recommend it, but look sharp! The movie will be removed from HBO Max after Feb. 28.
Malcolm & Marie (Netflix)
Malcolm & Marie takes place late at night after Malcolm’s (John David Washington) big movie premiere. Malcolm couldn’t be happier and wants to do nothing but celebrate once he gets home, but his girlfriend Marie (Zendaya) is visibly pissed at him, and once she reveals the reason for being displeased, it culminates into the biggest argument the couple has ever had during the course of their relationship.
If you’re like me, and you’ve never had the pleasure of finding “the one,” you may be more in love with being in love. However, Malcolm & Marie takes the romanticized views of love and relationships and grinds them into dust, showing the side of courtship that they hardly ever talk about in the movies: anger, disappointment, screaming matches, and low blows. This film may be a love story released on the month of Valentine’s Day, and it may be on Netflix, but it’s definitely not a “Netflix and chill” movie. As a matter of fact, if you and your partner wanna have any type of romantic evening, this ain’t the movie to watch. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Malcolm & Marie, because I did. John David Washington and Zendaya both killed in BlacKKKlansman and Euphoria respectively, and they continued to flex their acting chops in this film (and I still trip on how much John David sounds like his dad when he speaks!). I especially loved the cinematography. The black and white picture, along with the backdrop of the gorgeous house Malcolm and Marie are staying in while having this explosive argument, really added to the aesthetic of the movie. I also liked that neither Malcolm nor Marie are 100% right or wrong during this fight. I will say that Malcolm is more in the wrong than Marie (watch the film, and you’ll see what I mean), but there’s still times Marie delivers a low blow to Malcolm, or something’s revealed about her character that proves she’s made a few missteps in the relationship herself. The soundtrack is everything, too. Not only does each song perfectly fit its respective scene, but I even discovered a new track while watching this film.
Malcolm & Marie is a good movie, but it’s pretty exhausting also. The runtime is close to two hours, and Malcolm and Marie spend the majority of that time arguing. Sometimes there’s some comedic relief and/or moments of levity, but Marie will remember something Malcolm did to upset her, which causes Malcolm to make a dumbass comment, and then we’re off to the races again! The film can leave you emotionally drained, so brace yourself if you decide to watch it. If anything, it’s worth watching just to see John David and Zendaya’s performances. They really did the damn thing. By the way, it’s not lost upon me that I’m reviewing movies featuring both Denzel Washington and his son. 😀
Judas and the Black Messiah (HBO Max)
Last, but certainly not least, we have Judas and the Black Messiah. This film tells the story of Bill O’Neal (LaKeith Stanfield), a young man that’s forced to become an FBI informant against The Black Panther Party, namely the Illinois BPP chairman, Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya).
I couldn’t wait to watch Judas and the Black Messiah when I first saw the trailer, and although I enjoyed the movie, I wasn’t as blown away by it as I thought I’d be. The performances from LaKeith Stanfield (who’ll always be Darius from Atlanta in my eyes) and Dominique Fishback, who played Fred’s girlfriend and future mother of his child, were very well played. LaKeith portrayed Bill as both an antihero and a villain throughout the film, and I liked that. After all, we as human beings are three-dimensional, and we each have a dark side as well as a good side. The real shining star in the movie however, is Daniel Kaluuya as Fred Hampton. Daniel did a phenomenal job bringing Chairman Fred to life. He better get some accolades for this. LaKeith should also be recognized, considering that the poor man had to seek therapy after doing the role. I’m aware of the current internet drama between him and Charlamagne tha God (they’ve had beef for the last few years, but the video of him waving a possibly fake gun at Charlamagne’s picture alarms me), and I hope he comes out of all this okay.
Before writing this review, I read Vulture’s critique of Judas and the Black Messiah, and while it didn’t taint my opinion of the movie, it did point out some things about the film that were naggin’ me, but I couldn’t pin point them at first (hence, the reason the movie didn’t blow me away like I hoped it would). For one thing, the real Fred Hampton and Bill O’Neal were respectively 21 and 20 when the former was assassinated (Bill was actually a 17 year old kid when the FBI recruited him). Again, Daniel and LaKeith killed their roles, and there’s scenes where LaKeith uses subtle cues to show his immaturity (there’s a scene where Bill’s FBI contact mentions that when he was investigating the murders of the Freedom Fighters in 1964, he saw where one of the men’s privates were severed and shoved down his throat, a comment that caused Bill to release a childish chuckle), but maybe if the film used actors closer to the characters’ actual ages, it would’ve brought home the fact that these were extremely young people dealing with extremely serious situations, albeit on opposite sides of the coin.
Another thing that bothered me is that we don’t really see a relationship between Bill and Chairman Fred. They converse briefly every now and again, and Bill drives Fred around, but that’s it. To be honest, we don’t really see Bill have a real relationship with any of the Black Panthers. With the exception of the final scene, Bill doesn’t do anything with the Black Panthers in his spare time. He only meets up with them when conducting official business. The only person we see him get close to is his no good FBI contact. If Chairman Fred and Bill had a more of a rapport, it would’ve hit even harder when Bill committed his ultimate betrayal. Nonetheless, I liked this movie and I highly recommend it, especially for the few days left in our month. Definitely check it out, if not for the performances, then watch the movie to learn a little bit more about The Black Panther Party. There’s so much misinformation about them. Also tune into WatchMojo’s Top 10 Things Judas and the Black Messiah Got Factually Right and Wrong. Very informative.
—Written by Nadiya
So what did you think about the triple movie review? Did you agree or disagree with my assessments? What movies do you like to watch for Black History Month? Let me know in the comments section!