Over my holidays, I watched two very interesting movies.
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, airing on Netflix, is set in the 1920's, and tells the story of a day when Ma Rainey and her band spent the day at a recording studio in Chicago, recording their newest album.
Ma Rainey herself was a famous blues singer and her records from the 1920's are justly treasured. The movie, though, is not really about music, and not really very much about Rainey herself. The primary plot arc of the movie involves one of her band members, a young musician with ambition, hopes, and dreams to become a star entertainer on his own.
The movie is an adaptation of a famous stage play by August Wilson, and the movie makers decided to use a very "stage-like" production, so you really feel like you're sitting in the theater watching the play in person. At times that is distracting but overall the result is tremendous.
One Night in Miami, airing on Amazon, is set in the 1960's, and tells an imagined story of what might have happened later at night after Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston to become the heavyweight world champion in boxing.
After the match, instead of drinking and dancing all night long, Clay convinces his guests, NFL superstar Jim Brown and singer Sam Cooke, to join him as he makes a trip to a nearby hotel room to visit Malcom X. As the movie portrays it, this was the night that Clay agreed to follow Malcom X and join the Nation of Islam church; soon afterward he would change his name to Muhammad Ali.
Although the lead characters of the movie are athletes and entertainers, the movie has very little singing and very little sports. It's really a movie that, for large long parts, is four guys sitting around in a quiet hotel room at night, talking about their lives and about what lies ahead.
But those discussions are as gripping and mesmerizing as you can possibly imagine. Brown and Cooke are both struggling to understand why Clay has made this decision, and the resulting conversations are deep and heartfelt.
We're only just a few weeks into 2021, but one thing I can already say is that you should not be lacking for fine cinema entertainment. Both these movies are very much worth your time.