Concrete Cowboy

Concrete Cowboy movie review

Guest Reviewer:  Jerry Ludwig, retired Hollywood screenwriter and author of The Black List

         Concrete Cowboy:  Two words that don’t go together.  But an apt title for this new movie streaming on Netflix.  The words collide because it’s about two wildly different worlds.  A classic Western tale of father-son redemption told in the shadow of the mean streets of a contemporary Big City.  Happens to be a real story.

         Cole (Caleb McLaughlin from “Stranger Things”) is a troubled teenager whose mother sees him going down the tubes in crime-wrecked  Detroit.  So she ships him off for the summer to her ex-husband Harp (Idris Elba, “The Wire,” “Luther”) in Philadelphia.  Problem is Cole doesn’t know his father.  His parents divorced when he was an infant.  And this isn’t Ben Franklin’s Liberty Bell Philadelphia – this is a little known backwater where a small group known as the Fletcher Street Riders live, mostly in the past,  but hoping for a future. Constantly threatened, once these rented stables surrounding a meadow were considered the Boonies, but now land developers covet the area for condos.

         Cole feels trapped in a tiny house where his father’s horse is stabled in the living room.  And Harp’s friends all seem just as weird.  A culture that breeds and trains horses for racing and riding and to keep alive a tradition?  Gradually the mystique of the old ways envelops him, evenings spent sitting around the fire barrel, swapping lies and legends. Learning new skills.  But there’s also the counter-pull of his young friend Smursh (Jharel Jerome) who used to be one of the Riders but now is peddling street-corner drugs as a ticket to the big bucks.

         There are many reasons a movie gets made.  I suspect the additional credit of Idris Elba as not only star but also producer propelled Concrete Cowboy into existence.  Also the presence of Lee Daniels (“Empire,” The U.S. vs. Billie Holiday) does much to recommend the movie, which was co-written and directed by Ricky Staub.  Like the recent Nomadland, many of the characters are played by their real-life counterparts.  Together they tell a truthful but not bloody story.  It’s not simple, but it manages to find a somewhat positive ending.  It’s worth watching. 

Availability:  Netflix streaming                                                          

“Empire” –It’s All About Cookie

 

Cookie and Lucious
Cookie and Lucious

“Empire”, part family saga, part “Glee”, and part soap opera, is an entertaining new television series on Fox with something for everyone!

Created by Lee Daniels (of “Precious” and “The Butler” fame), “Empire” gives both Terrence Howard as Lucious Lyons and Taraji P. Henson as Cookie, his ex-wife, the platform to demonstrate their considerable acting and singing skills. The drama focues on hip-hop music mogul, Lucious Lyons, an underworld lowlife criminal whose wife took the seventeen-year prison sentence he should have had as partners in crime. Empire Entertainment, the hugely successful music company Lucious built while Cookie was in prison, is worth a fortune. Now the three sons fight for control, hoping to inherit fortune, fame, and power while their father is expected to die of a terminal illness. An IPO is pending and the sibling rivalry becomes ugly. Moreover, Cookie has suffered and after seventeen years separated from her sons, she now wants to claim what is rightfully hers: her sons and half of Empire. Empire2

The number-one broadcast drama on television, , “Empire” has the rich dialogue expected of the best screenwriters overlaid with the campy, over-the-top performances one usually associates with soap opera. But there is one very big difference. Cookie steals every scene she is in –a force of nature who chews up her lines and the other characters, a ferocious lioness and a comic. One of my favorite lines: Cookie’s view of her son’s false bravado, posturing about life in the ‘hood’– “The streets ain’t made for everyone – that’s why they made sidewalks.”

To say the Lyons family is dysfunctional is an understatement.   There’s the gay son, Jamal, battling with the cold, sadistic homophobic father (Lucious), the defiant son Hakeem, experiencing “dearest Mommy” issues, and the outlier son, Andre, who is excluded from all communications that count. Cookie’s return to the family fold begs the question: What is family, when the mother has been imprisoned for seventeen years?

The empathy for characters, unfortunately, does not always flow smoothly when the music appears. Mostly rap, the songs sometimes jar the narrative, although they can be appealing to the younger viewer. “You’re So Beautiful” is an exception, sung by Jamal, a leitmotif connecting the past rejection by his father with the present confidence as he comes out as gay. Cookie glows as she revels in Jamal, her favorite son, the one who has her soul.

As the undisputed star of Empire, Cookie is the most watchable character in a highly watchable show.  Carbonated joy. Delicious. It’s all about Cookie!