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Black films shine on 2023 Tribeca Film Festival

Diverse views of life on earth are showcased annually at the Tribeca Film Festival. Visions and voices from Black filmmakers are shared in their experiences, observations, and art. The in-theater portion of the fest (June 7-18) is completed. Now the Tribeca At Home part of the festivities unfolds (through July 2). Download the Tribeca At Home app and watch films on Apple TV, Fire TV, or Roku. Or get a stand-alone app on IOS and Android. TFF is in the house.

The Blackening (***1/2)

This is an Afrocentric horror/comedy of the highest standard. Which is a dubious distinction at best. But see it and you’ll love its craziness. It’s funny, funny, funny. The project evolved from a short film by the comedy troupe 3Peat. From that nugget, screenwriters Tracy Oliver and Dewayne Perkins place seven friends in a cabin in the woods on Juneteenth for a reunion. They’re stalked by an archer with a grudge, and forced into playing a deadly board game, ‘The Blackening.’ To save their lives, they must answer Black history, horror film and pop culture questions—or else. They’re also ordered to sacrifice a member of the group who is the Blackest (fingers point to Shanika who says ‘n—a’ the most). Or the Whitest (Clifton voted for Trump. Twice! He’s got to go!).

Ride Along director Tim Story gives the film a rhythm that moves the story and characters along to a surprise ending. The young cast has a chemistry that is so affable it seems like your dizzy friends got caught in a horror movie by mistake. Filthy, racist language and the casualness of Molly and Adderall drug use are just some of this satiric film’s secret weapons. Hilarious. Yet astute. If you’re tuned into Black life, culture wars, horror film tropes and social issues the jokes are even funnier. Bound to be an immersive cult classic. In a theater, expect audiences to scream at the screen as if they were lost in the woods too! In theaters.

The League (***)

We know that in the ‘40s, ‘50s and beyond Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were baseball heroes. What we didn’t know, until director Sam Pollard and executive producer Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson gave us a clue, is that Black baseball players can be traced back to the 1880s and that the 1887 Supreme Court ruling for Plessy vs. Ferguson, which allowed equal but separate accommodations for the White and colored races, was the event that separated Black players from White leagues.

That finding along with a long list of players (Satchel Page), team owners (Gus Greenlee) and baseball staples created by Black players (the screwball, stealing bases) are essential elements in this very comprehensive look into the history of Negro leagues. The photos, clips of games and interviews with surviving players are priceless. This deep dive is very dense and comes with few frills. It will play best on the college or educational circuit or on PBS. The accomplishments on view are a source of pride. As Mrs. Jackie Robinson puts it so eloquently: “We stand on their shoulders.” An exceptional documentation of the men who played the game of baseball their way and became role models in the process. In theaters July 7. On VOD July 14.

The Perfect Find (***)

Isn’t it romantic? A ‘fortyish’ fashion editor, Jenna (Gabrielle Union), heads back into the work force after overcoming a bad break up. She lands a job with a nemesis who’s a mogul, Darcine (Gina Torez), and injudiciously has an affair with the boss’s twenty-something son (Keith Powers). Fans of the Prime Video series Harlem will love this sex in the cityish ode to older women feeling their oats. Credit the rapid-fire, snarky, sexually explicit and roaringly funny female banter to screenwriter Leigh Davenport. Darcine to Jenna: “I run out of boyfriends you can f—k and you go after my son!!!!” Davenport can also take a victory lap for the ultra-modern narrative, engaging characters and frank discussions about female/male relations, e.g., the very pragmatic Jenna explains why an impending blind date has potential: “Once I heard that he had dental and vision benefits, he was an option.”

Union has never been funnier. She makes Jenna come alive. Director Numa Perrier has a strong background in TV (Queen Sugar), which helps her get animated performances from her cast and create a New York atmosphere that seems very urbane. Production design (Sally Levi) and set decoration (Amber Thrane) stand out as much as the costumes (Amit Gajwani) and cinematography (Eric Lin). Wondrous soundtrack includes oldies (Billie Holiday) and newbies (Giveon). Tune into Netflix and get tickled by an adult romantic/comedy that will keep you amused and titillated. On Netflix.

Uncharted (***)

They’re 12 songbirds. Budding neo-soul writers/singers/producers/engineers chosen by Alicia Keys for her ‘She Is The Music’ songwriting camp. The learning center is a haven, especially for the young women who’ve had tough experiences working in a predominately male industry where verbal, emotional and sexual abuse are issues. These talented artists create ultra modern soul songs that are catchy—the kind you’d play over and over. Their confessions and perceptive anecdotes are relevant to the music business and the world at large.

Watching them write words, form melodies and harmonize is magic. Three of the songs stand out and have top-10 potential, including: The wonderfully playful ‘Stank-ass Walk,’ the ethereal ‘Purpose’ and the very modern ‘Like It That Way.’ Director/producer Beth Aala finds the essence of each artist and explores the group’s sisterhood. Each feels like tomorrow’s breakout star who could become a Spotify sensation. The camerawork (cinematographer Ayana Baraka) isn’t fancy but does the job. The editing (M. Watanabe Milmore) cuts the footage down to a tidy 95 minutes. In the end, the music these women create makes this documentary as memorable as a song you can’t get out of your head. Tribeca at Home.

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