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New Escapist Video! “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Review in 3 Minutes”

I’m thrilled to be launching 3-Minute Reviews on Escapist Movies. Over the coming weeks and months, I will be joining a set of contributors in adding these reviews to the channel. For the moment, I’m honoured to contribute a three-minute feature film review to the channel, discussing Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which features the last major live-action performance from Chadwick Boseman.

New Escapist Column! On “Black Panther” and the Irreplaceable Chadwick Boseman…

I published a new piece at The Escapist today. With the announcement earlier in the week that Marvel Studios would not be replacing Chadwick Boseman in Black Panther 2, I took a look at why that was the right call.

The original Black Panther was a once-in-a-generation phenomenon, and Chadwick Boseman was a large part of that. The part T’Challa might eventually be recast in an alternate universe or in a reboot, but Boseman played the definitive version within the MCU. Replacing him would be equivalent to trying to replace Robert Downey Jr. or Chris Evans, both of whom were allowed to retire their characters at the end of Avengers: Endgame. Boseman deserves at least that respect.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Non-Review Review: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Perhaps Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom offers an illustration of how times have changed.

The film exists as part of the same production deal that brought Fences to cinemas just four years ago. Denzel Washington signed a deal with HBO to produce screen adaptations of all ten of August Wilson’s plays, bringing one of America’s core dramatists to as wide an audience as possible with the highest quality production. Even without that specific context, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom feels like a companion piece to Fences; they are both films adapting Wilson, produced by Washington and starring Viola Davis.

A play of note…

However, while Fences was a major theatrical release distributed by Paramount, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has gone direct to Netflix. While the film will have a limited theatrical run where that is possible, it will primarily stream online. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is still a lavish production with a top tier cast working from strong material. However, as with the release of The Boys in the Band on Netflix earlier in this awards season, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom illustrates that even in the four years since Fences, the market for these sorts of productions has migrated to streaming.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is the sort of clean and uncluttered performance-driven adult-skewing film that might have enjoyed a wide release in years past, but now it seems impossible to imagine the film anywhere but on a service like Netflix.

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Non-Review Review: 21 Bridges

21 Bridges is a solid, sturdy old-fashioned thriller.

This is both faint praise and gentle criticism. 21 Bridges offers a familiar set-up and premise, as a dogged detective hunts two suspects through the night. Although the film makes solid use of Chadwick Boseman as its lead, it is not impossible to imagine an alternate version starring Liam Neeson. It would arguably make a perfectly fine counterpart to Run All Night. The plot of the film involves a manhunt for two criminals who murdered several police officers during a botched heist, which gradually escalates into a full-blown conspiracy.

He needs more cop on.

It is all pretty paint-by-numbers. There is not a lot in 21 Bridges that surprises. More than that, there is very little in 21 Bridges that pops, that distinguishes it from other entries in the subgenre. This is both a blessing and curse. There is something comforting in the familiarity of 21 Bridges, in the way that movie never demands or expects more of its audience or itself than it promises to deliver. It largely succeeds at what it sets out to do, with minimal flourish or clutter. It moves through its plot with the same sense of purpose and focus as its protagonist.

21 Bridges knows exactly what it is doing, and mostly succeeds at doing it.

“Tonight, this island is Manhunttan.”

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