White Men Can't Jump a superior remake, Blackberry a cautionary tale

White Men Can't Jump a superior remake, Blackberry a cautionary tale

Now Streaming |Chuck Koplinski

White surprises again and again

Smart, funny and sincere, Calmatic's White Men Can't Jump, is one of the biggest surprises of the cinematic year, an unexpectedly entertaining remake that manages not only to improve on the Ron Shelton original but also proves to be timely in the way it approaches issues of race relations and gender roles. And while the script by Kenya Barris and Doug Hall provides a solid foundation, it's the chemistry between the two leads, as well as solid supporting turns, that provides the spark that brings it all to life.

A basketball phenom from early on, high school senior Kamal (Sinqua Walls) had the world on a string until a rash decision scuttled his promising NBA career. Now, 10 years later, he finds himself playing pick-up games and hustling cash on the side. Jeremy's (Jack Harlow) experiences are running on a parallel track. Though excelling at Gonzaga, numerous knee injuries derailed his dreams. He's biding time coaching young players and also scamming others on the court for a couple bucks here and there. That these two team up to enter a high-stakes basketball tournament comes as no surprise.

Though this is his film debut, Harlow is very much at ease in front of the camera. His deft approach to comedy holds him in good stead, a wonderful compliment to Walls' more serious turn. Far more than simply a straight man, he knows how to convey a myriad of emotions by doing very little, a simple look letting us know all that Kamal is wrestling with.

The movie has its fair share of surprises and perhaps its biggest is how smart Barris and Hall's script is and that they resist the temptation to pander to the audience. Issues of race are not ignored but explored through humorous exchanges between Kamal and Jeremy, their rapid-fire patter bringing their obvious differences to the table and then dispensing of them with honest statements of validation and understanding. I was afraid the film would wallow in crudity. However, the trash talk that ensues throughout is clever rather than coarse, while the jokes dispensed by Myles Bullock and Vince Staples, the comedy relief of the film, are clever but no less barbed. And while the escapades on the court are a delight to witness, it's the interactions between Walls and Harlow that stick with you as well as White's message of understanding and perseverance. Streaming on Hulu.

Blackberry: A gripping, cautionary tale of corporate intrigue

Matt Johnson's Blackberry takes us behind the scenes to chart the meteoric rise and astounding fall of the tech company that would produce the device that would come to be known as "the phone everyone had before they got an iPhone." Employing handheld shots throughout, a seemingly fly-on-the-wall aesthetic is created that brings an immediacy to the story as well as an intimacy to the characters that's vital to the success of the film.

Opening in 1996, Mike Lazaridis (Jay Baruchel) and Doug Fregin (Johnson), the founders of Research in Motion (RIM), are confident they have created a device that could prove revolutionary. Describing it as "a fax machine and computer you can hold in your hand," they are in desperate need of seed money for development and production. A disastrous pitch meeting with corporate predator Jim Balsillie (Glenn Howerton) doesn't end as they hope, but proves fateful, nonetheless. Fired soon after, Balsillie approaches the inventors with an offer to market the phone in exchange for part ownership of RIM. Though hesitant to do so, Lazaridis knows they need someone with corporate savvy if they want to get their company off the ground. A deal with the devil is made, their fate sealed.

Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about the movie is how many surprises it contains. Going in completely ignorant of the corporate machinations that led to the Blackberry's demise, every twist and turn the story held was not simply revelatory but fascinating as well. At the core of the film lies the oft-told tale of the conflict between art and commerce – Lazaridis' vision of his invention, as well as his inability to deviate from it, is his fatal flaw. Though aware of the advances being made by his competitors, his hubris prevents him from recognizing them as significant or threatening. And while Balsillie was never to be trusted, his understanding of the ebb and flow of the marketplace was instrumental in the success of the company. As for his methods of acquiring key developers to join RIM, that's another story.

Burachel and Howerton – as far from his Always Sunny in Philadelphia persona as can be imagined – are excellent throughout, their yin and yang characters perfectly realized, their antagonistic chemistry providing the emotional foundation for what could have been an esoteric, cold examination of corporate culture. Instead, they and Johnson have made a gripping cautionary tale that, like other stories like it, will go unheeded by those in need of a lesson in humility and a reminder of the power of common sense. For the rest of us, Blackberry is a compelling entertainment, one that sticks with you long after we witness what proves to be the final nail in the device's coffin – shoddy craftsmanship. In theaters.

About The Author

Chuck Koplinski

Writing for Illinois Times since 1998, Chuck Koplinski is a member of the Critic's Choice Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association and a contributor to Rotten Tomatoes. He appears on WCIA-TV twice a week to review current releases and, no matter what anyone says, thinks Tom Cruise's version of The Mummy...

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