Ghosts of Sundance Past #3: Crown Heights (dir by Matt Ruskin)


The 2017 film, Crown Heights, tells the story of two friends and a miscarriage of justice.

In 1980, a 19 year-old Trinidadian named Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield) is arrested in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn.  Taken down to the police station, Colin is told that he has been arrested for the murder of Marvin Grant, a man who he has never heard of.  When Colin says that he is innocencent, he’s informed that eyewitnesses saw him at the scene of the crime.  Though he continues to protest his innocence, Colin is transferred to a jail where he is to await his trial.

From the start, it’s obvious that Colin didn’t have anything to do with the shooting of Marvin Grant.  What’s messed up is that the people prosecuting him know it as well.  When another prisoner tell the detectives the name of the man who actually committed the murder, his statement is ignored because he refuses to name his source.  When one of the prosecution’s witnesses testifies that he saw someone other than Colin fire the gun, the prosecutor “corrects” his witnesses’s testimony in open court. After the jury returns a guilty of verdict for Colin and another man, the judge says that he can’t be sure whether or not Colin is guilty but that he can only follow the law.  And the law says that, as an adult convicted of a crime, Colin is going to spend the rest of his life in prison.  No one in the legal establishment cares that Colin is obviously not guilty.  He’s a young black man with a minor criminal history and, by convicting him, the police can close one homicide investigation and move on to the next one.

In prison, Colin finds himself isolated, both literally and figuratively.  When he refuses to get involved with any of the prison gangs, the other prisoners shun him and he finds himself being targeted.  When a prison guard pushes Colin until Colin finally snaps and throws a punch, Colin ends up spending two years in solitary confinement.

Meanwhile, on the outside, Colin’s best friend, Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha), attempts to prove that his friend is innocent.  That proves to be even more difficult than Carl initially expects.  No one is interested in reopening a closed case and Carl can’t even afford a good attorney to help him pursue Colin’s appeal.  Still, Carl never gives up.  He even trains to become a process server so that he can have an excuse to hang out at the court house and hopefully meet a lawyer who will be willing to take on Colin’s case.  Amazingly, that’s exactly what happens.

Of course, by this point, Colin Warner has been in prison for 20 years….

Based on a true story, Crown Heights was a hit at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, winning the Audience Award for the U.S. Dramatic Film competition.  Watching the film, you can easily see why it was such a crowd pleaser.  Not only does the film deal with serious issues of race and economic disparity but, when watching the film, it’s impossible not to be moved by the strength of Carl and Colin’s friendship.  Despite all of the difficulties that are placed in front of him, Carl never gives up in his quest to prove Colin’s innocence and get him out of prison.  The film works as both a cry for freedom and a celebration of friendship.

The film’s execution is not quite as strong as its message.  Matt Ruskin’s direction occasionally veer towards made-for-TV (or, at the very least, made-for-HBO) territory and the film’s constant switching back and forth between Colin in prison and Carl searching for witnesses sometimes seems to prevent either storyline for really maintaining a consistent momentum.  20 years is a long time to cover in just 90 minutes and sometimes, it’s hard not to feel as if important parts of the story have been left out or, at the very least, glossed over.  That said, it’s a heartfelt film and it’s blessed with two wonderful lead performances from Lakeith Stanfield and Nnamdi Asomugha.

Crown Heights is not a perfect film but the story and the performances are powerful enough to make you think and to leave you moved.

Rian Johnson unsheathes the Knives Out Trailer


A filmmaker is sometimes only as good as their last film. If you mentioned director Rian Johnson’s name around 2012, it was probably met with wild applause. After all, he gave us the time travelling thriller Looper, with Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Mentioning Johnson now breeds a bit of contempt after his outing on Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The film was hit with reviews ranging from daring to awful, and most of the Star Wars fanbase don’t think of what he’s done there.

With his newest film, Knives Out, Johnson looks like he’s moving forward. The film appears to be a classic whodunit with a fantastic cast. Christopher Plummer, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Collette, Daniel Craig, Don Johnson, Lakeith Stanfield, Michael Shannon, Katherine Langsford, and Jaeden Martell round out the cast list, which is pretty great overall. The story seems to cover the murder of a patriarch, and a family of suspects which reminds me of the classic Infocom game, Deadline.  Hoping for the best with this one.

Enjoy.

Black Panther Dominates The Black Reel Nominations


The Black Reel Nominations were announced today, with Black Panther picking up a record 17 nominations!  Coming in second was If Beale Street Could Talk, which received 14 nominations while Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman received 11 nominations.

Here’s a full list of the nominees:

Outstanding Motion Picture
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Green Book
If Beale Street Could Talk
Widows

Outstanding Actor
Chadwick Boseman | Black Panther
Stephan James | If Beale Street Could Talk
Michael B. Jordan | Creed II
LaKeith Stanfield | ​Sorry to Bother You
John David Washington | BlacKkKlansman

Outstanding Actress
Viola Davis | Widows
Regina Hall | Support the Girls
Kiki Layne | If Beale Street Could Talk
Zoe Renee | Jinn
Amandla Stenberg | ​The Hate U Give

Outstanding Director
Ryan Coogler | Black Panther
Barry Jenkins | If Beale Street Could Talk
Spike Lee | BlacKkKlansman
Steve McQueen | Widows
Boots Riley | ​Sorry to Bother You

Outstanding Supporting Actor
Mahershala Ali | Green Book
Brian Tyree Henry | If Beale Street Could Talk
Russell Hornsby | The Hate U Give
Michael B. Jordan | Black Panther
Daniel Kaluuya | Widows

Outstanding Supporting Actress
Danai Gurira | Black Panther
Regina King | If Beale Street Could Talk
Simone Missick | Jinn
Lupita Nyong’o | Black Panther
Letitia Wright | Black Panther

Outstanding Screenplay
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
​Sorry to Bother You
Widows

Outstanding Ensemble
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
​Sorry to Bother You
Widows

Outstanding Documentary
Amazing Grace
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Quincy
Whitney

Outstanding Foreign Language/ World Cinema Motion Picture
Green Days by the River (Trinidad & Tobago)
Lionheart (Nigeria)
Rafiki (Kenya)
Vaya (South Africa)
Where Hands Touch (UK)

Outstanding Voice Performance
Mahershala Ali | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Taraji P. Henson | Ralph Breaks the Internet
Brian Tyree Henry | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
Samuel L. Jackson | Incredibles 2
Shamiek Moore | Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Outstanding Score
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Creed II
The Hate U Give
If Beale Street Could Talk

Outstanding Original Song
“All the Stars” (Black Panther) | Kendrick Lamar & SZA
“I’ll Fight” (RBG) | Jennifer Hudson
“Love Lies” (Love, Simon) | Khalid & Normani
“Pray For Me” (Black Panther) | The Weeknd & Kendrick Lamar
“We Won’t Move” (The Hate U Give) | Arlissa

Outstanding Independent Feature
A Boy. A Girl. A Dream.
Jinn
Monsters and Men
Roxanne Roxanne
Yardie

Outstanding Independent Documentary
Basquiat: Rage to Riches
Lorainne Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/ Feeling
Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me

Outstanding Short
Funk Force | Desmond Levi Jackson
Hair Wolf | Mariama Diallo
Jump | Kofi Siriboe, director
The Tale of Four | Gabourey Sidibe, director
WTFIMH: What the F*ck Is Mental Health | Kofi Siriboe, director

Outstanding Emerging Director
Idris Elba | Yardie
Reinald Marcus Green | Monsters and Men
Rashida Jones | Quincy
Nijla Mu’min | Jinn
Boots Riley | ​Sorry to Bother You

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Male
Daveed Diggs | Blindspotting
Winston Duke | Black Panther
Donald Glover | Solo: A Star Wars Story
Brian Tyree Henry | If Beale Street Could Talk
John David Washington | BlacKkKlansman

Outstanding Breakthrough Performance, Female
Cynthia Erivo | Bad Times at the El Royale
Laura Harrier | BlacKkKlansman
Kiki Layne | If Beale Street Could Talk
Zoe Renee | Jinn
Letitia Wright | Black Panther

Outstanding First Screenplay
Blindspotting
Jinn
Monsters and Men
Roxanne Roxanne
Sorry to Bother You

Outstanding Cinematography
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
Widows
A Wrinkle In Time

Outstanding Costume Design
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
If Beale Street Could Talk
Sorry to Bother You
A Wrinkle In Time

Outstanding Production Design
Black Panther
BlacKkKlansman
Green Book
If Beale Street Could Talk
A Wrinkle In Time