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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: If Beale Street Could Talk

“Aquaman” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Hollywood rarely makes romances anymore. If they do, they’re of the romantic comedy variety. Or, if they are dramatic romances, they’re usually based on something by Nicholas Sparks.

“If Beale Street Could Talk” is not based on a work by Nicholas Sparks. Far from it. It’s based on a 1974 novel by revered African-American author James Baldwin. This movie adaptation has kept the year. The location is Harlem, and the story is about young lovers Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James).

Part of the movie is told in flashback. This is where we see Tish and Fonny connect and how deeply they love each other. They walk, talk, dine, date, and do all of the things that young couples in love do. The pair has dreams of a future together, and in one light-hearted scene talk to a Jewish developer (Dave Franco) about renting an apartment from him.

These flashbacks work to serve the story well, since they are in sharp contrast to the present day reality for Tish and Fonny. Tish, who is pregnant with Fonny’s child, struggles to prove his innocence after he is falsely accused of rape by a Puerto Rican woman (Emily Rios). The impossibility for him to have done what he is accused of is made clear. However, when a crooked cop with a grudge (Ed Skrein) and an ineffectual lawyer (Finn Wittrock) are thrown into the mix, things don’t look too good for Fonny.

The plight of the black man in 1970s America is at the center of “If Beale Street Could Talk,” but the movie has the courtesy of presenting it matter of factly rather than trying to force it down our throats in a ham fisted Spike Lee sort of way. One of the movie’s best scenes exemplifies this plight through the character of Daniel (Brian Tyree Henry), a friend of Fonny’s who was just released from prison on a bogus charge. The monologue in which Daniel tells his story is devastating and powerfully acted. The scene also hints that due to the horror Daniel faced during two years in prison, he’s well on his way to being an alcoholic.

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Fonny finds himself in a similar situation that the movie never fully explores. Tish visits Fonny in prison and has to talk with him via phone through a glass partition. Each time she visits, the toll that prison life takes becomes more and more apparent. The next thing we know we flash forward five or so years later, their child is in the picture, and all of the worries that we’ve had over the past hour and fifty minutes are all gone. I’ve never read Baldwin’s novel, but I am genuinely curious to know how it ends, since the end of the movie seems rushed and unearned to me. It feels like screenwriter/director Barry Jenkins tacked it on and that the original ending is much darker and more in line with the direction that events were progressing.

Ending issues and a bit of sluggishness before the flash forward aside, “If Beale Street Could Talk” is a well-written drama with real characters at its core. The scenes are wonderfully nuanced and engaging, and the cast does a great job of bringing their character dynamics and emotions to the forefront. Rent it.

Also New This Week

Aquaman

Whether you will enjoy “Aquaman” can best be determined by the answer to this question: Are you a 14-year-old boy? Or if not, do you have the mindset of one? If the answer is yes, then this movie is for you. You will love “Aquaman.” Anyone else is going to be either under- or overwhelmed.

Those who are underwhelmed will most likely shrug their shoulders at the been there/done that story in which ousted underwater prince Arthur (Jason Momoa), AKA Aquaman, goes on an episodic journey to claim his throne from the greedy King Orm (Patrick Wilson), who wants to take over all of the various underwater kingdoms. Yes—there’s more than one.

They may also be disappointed at the underuse of villain Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II). He’s set up pretty well in the beginning, but then there is so much else going on that he disappears for long stretches. He only reappears here and there throughout the movie to give us an action scene so our hero Arthur and his companion Mera (Amber Heard) don’t get too complacent in their search for a trident that proves Arthur is the rightful king.

Those who are overwhelmed will be overcome by the plot. It’s crammed full of various story threads. Everything from how Arthur’s parents, the human Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) and the underwater queen Atlanna (Nicole Kidman) came together, to Arthur’s training under the trusty Vulko (Willem Dafoe), to lore surrounding the trident, to the politics of the underwater kingdoms, to Manta and his quest for revenge—it’s enough to make your head spin. This movie does more globe trotting than the average James Bond picture. There are helpful subtitles that let us know where we are, which is good, but this movie goes all over at a breakneck pace.

Then there’s the CGI. To some it may be eye candy, but to others, it will be sensory overload. This is especially true with the digitally rendered sea creatures during a climactic battle scene. There is a lot going on, and you can burn out your eyeballs trying to take it all in.

But let us not forget about those 14-year-old boys. This was made for them and they’ll soak up every minute of “Aquaman.” That’s not to say that others won’t at least enjoy it somewhat. To this movie’s credit, it is well paced and Jason Momoa is well cast as a smoldering version of the orange and green costume wearing hero. Rent it.

More New Releases: “Stan and Ollie,” in which famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy attempt to reignite their film careers as they embark on what becomes their swan song - a grueling theater tour of post-war Britain, starring John C. Reilly, Steve Coogan, Shirley Henderson, and Danny Huston.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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