TILL (2022)

October 21, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Don’t look away. Whether referring to Mamie Till-Mobley telling family members to look at the disfigured boy in the casket, or to the general counsel to all citizens in this day of division, the sentiment is the same … see with your own eyes so that you understand the injustice. Writer-director Chinonye Chukwu (CLEMENCY, 2019) and her co-writers Michael Reilly and Keith Beauchamp allow us to see the tragic story of Emmett Till through the eyes of his mother, and it’s a powerful approach. It’s Mr. Beauchamp who has diligently researched this story for almost 25 years, and was the driving force behind the 2005 documentary, THE UNTOLD STORY OF EMMETT LOUIS TILL.

The film certainly benefits from the powerhouse performance of Danielle Deadwyler (THE HARDER THEY FALL, 2021) as Mamie Till-Mobley. Mamie’s love and concern for her 14-year-old son Emmett (a terrific Jalyn Hall) is only surpassed by her strength and dignity after his death … and all of this is masterfully portrayed by Ms. Deadwyler in her surefire Oscar contending role. We see just enough of young Emmett to realize he’s a well-raised, considerate, and fun-loving boy who sometimes stutters. He’s so excited for his trip from Chicago to Mississippi to meet some of his relatives, while seeing and doing new things. It’s 1955, and Mamie tries to caution Emmett on the differences between their world at home and the southern world he’s about to enter.

There are varying accounts of what Emmett actually did or didn’t do to Money, Mississippi store clerk Carolyn Bryant (played by Haley Bennett, SWALLOW, 2019), but the shock of seeing Emmett’s disfigured face and body is handled brilliantly here, and though the actual violence occurs off screen, the impact remains. Against all of her motherly protective instincts, Mamie seizes the power of the moment to have a photograph taken and demand an open casket so that the world can witness the result of the atrocity. Her ability to think clearly catapulted the case to national attention, and allowed Emmett Till to become a name and example that is still studied today.

The supporting cast includes Frankie Faison (Mamie’s father), Whoopi Goldberg (Mamie’s mother), Sean Patrick Thomas, Tosin Cole (as Medgar Evers), John Douglas Thompson, and Jayme Lawson. The trial of the men accused of beating and killing Emmett plays a part here, but the only real courtroom drama occurs when Mamie takes the stand. It’s in that moment when Ms. Deadwyler truly shines and allows us to feel a mother’s pain and disgust. Afterwards, we get a taste of her activism … something she continued until her death in 2003 at age 81. Filmmaker Chukwu benefits from the performance of Deadwyler and the years of research by Mr. Beauchamp, and she delivers a film that allows us to experience a dark moment in history from a different perspective – the eyes of a mother.

Opens in theaters on October 21, 2022

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LUCK (2022, animation)

August 4, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. “Find a penny, pick it up, and all day long you’ll have good luck.” That’s how the old saying goes, and it plays a prominent part in this first animated feature film from Skydance Animation. Directed by former Disney animation choreographer Peggy Holmes, and co-written by Kiel Murray (CARS, 2006) and writing partners Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, who teamed on the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise (as well as other projects), the film’s approach shifted when Skydance hired John Lasseter as head of animation. You may know Mr. Lasseter as the creative force behind Pixar and such groundbreaking films as TOY STORY (1995), but he’s also the guy that faced multiple accusations of workplace sexual impropriety and left Disney Pixar in late 2017. His Skydance hiring brought a change of director to the project, and was the reason Oscar winner Emma Thompson recused herself, replaced by Oscar winner Jane Fonda, who evidently had no such qualms about working for Lasseter.

Sam Greenfield (voiced by Eva Noblezada) is a klutzy 18-year-old who has ‘aged out’ of the foster home where she has lived. Never experiencing a ‘forever family’, Sam has maintained a positive outlook on life, despite what she sees as a never-ending streak of mishaps, accidents, unfortunate coincidences, and overall bad luck. She’s been very supportive of her younger friend Hazel (Adalyn Spoon), who holds out hope for adoption and is a collector of good luck charms … missing only a lucky penny. While bumbling through her first days as an independent woman, Sam finds a lucky penny, only to have bad luck strike (in the form of an automatic toilet) before she can deliver it to Hazel. And soon, Sam is chatting up a talking black cat (Simon Pegg) before they both enter a portal that whisks them to the Land of Luck.

It might seem odd that a black cat brough Sam her first taste of good luck, but as the story develops, so does their friendship. The Land of Luck is run by a dragon (Jane Fonda), and it’s her Captain (Whoopi Goldberg) that has it out for Bob … and the shenanigans that Sam brings to this new world certainly don’t help. The Land of Luck consists of leprechauns and four-leaf clovers, rabbits (none missing a foot), and pigs (never knew they were considered lucky). Down below the Land of Luck is the land of Bad Luck, and it’s Jeff the Unicorn (a terrific Flula Borg) who is charged with keeping the ‘right’ mixture of good luck and bad that gets sent to the land of humans. Yes, it’s all a bit convoluted, but what the movie gets right are the colorful visuals and the fun characters. Sam, Bob, the Dragon, and Jeff are all memorable in their own way.

It seems pretty clear that John Lasseter’s fingerprints are on the final film, as influences from INSIDE OUT and SOUL are quite evident … although those films are far superior. Where this one falls short is in memorable and pointed storytelling, always a strength of Pixar. We are left a bit befuddled on the takeaway message. Are our lives determined by a mixture of good and bad luck? What about making our own luck and forging our own path? Taking responsibility for our own actions and building our own network of friends and acquaintances seems every bit as important as whether the toast lands jelly-side up or down. Despite all that, it’s a pretty solid first animated feature from a studio likely to continue to improve as more projects are released – assuming they have the best of luck!

In select theaters and on AppleTV+ on August 5, 2022

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