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‘Concrete Cowboy’ Review: A Predictable But Strong Father-Son Story [TIFF 2020]

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Outside of overpriced carriage rides through historic areas, you might not expect to see horses galloping through the streets of Philadelphia. But there’s a century-long tradition of Black horsemanship in the City of Brotherly Love, primarily in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood located east of Fairmount Park in North Philadelphia that persists to this day. This relatively unknown, but very real scenario is the backdrop for Concrete CowboyRicky Staub‘s somewhat by-the-numbers, but still sharp drama about an estranged father and son bonding over one summer in the city.

Teenager Cole (Caleb McLaughlin) is out of control, and his mother (Liz Priestley) just can’t handle him anymore. After Cole gets in another fight at school – one that results in him being put in handcuffs – his mother piles his clothes into garbage packs, hustles Cole into the car, and drives the kid from Detroit to Philadelphia, where she promptly dumps him on the doorstep of his estranged father, Harp (Idris Elba).

Father and son have nothing in common, a fact that’s underscored when Cole discovers Harp is something of a cowboy, lording over a series of rough stables on Fletcher Street, where he and other horseriders pass their time – when they’re not riding – shooting the shit, sitting around a fire, swigging some beers, and telling stories. And oh yeah, Harp has a horse living inside his house, too – just off to the side of the living room.

Cole wants nothing to do with Harp and his horses at first and reconnects with a childhood friend, Smush (Jharrel Jerome). Smush is embedded within the drug-dealers of the neighborhood and has big dreams about making enough money to get away. He used to ride, too, but gave it all up. Harp doesn’t want Cole hanging around with Smush, and Cole promises he won’t – a promise he breaks immediately, secretly going on late-night runs with his friend.

In the midst of all of this, Cole begins to grow closer to both his father and his father’s lifestyle. And you can clearly see where this is going. Cole and Harp will learn to love each other despite their differences. Cole will grow to love riding horses and become something of a cowboy himself, all while his secret relationship with Smush puts him in potential danger.

The script, by Dan Walser and Ricky Staub, based on the novel by Greg Neri, will probably not score any points for originality. There are times where Concrete Cowboy is as predictable as can be, and there are one or two moments that ring particularly false, as when a character near the end of the film gives a big pep-talk that sounds like an overwritten speech rather than something the character would actually say.

And yet…Concrete Cowboy succeeds. Sure, you know where a lot of this is going, but there’s powerful filmmaking on display here. Cinematographer Minka Farthing-Kohl often creates situations where scenes are deliberately underlit, swallowed up in murky shadows. And then there are the daytime scenes, tinged yellow by a burning sun, to the point where we can almost feel the heat radiating off the concrete. A scene where Cole attempts to stand atop a horse while the sun is setting – the sky awash in purples and pinks while all we see of Cole and the horse are their silhouettes – is just breathtaking.

Then there are the performances. McLaughlin, so underused on Stranger Things, shows real acting chops here, playing Cole as someone struggling to throw the chip off his shoulder. A moment where he finally breaks down, emotional over his emotional estrangement from his father, is raw and real. Elba is just as good, finally finding a great role to suit his talents that have been thus far somewhat wasted by Hollywood. Harp is distant from Cole, but he’s not mean, and when he finally thaws a bit and shows the boy some warmth, it’s stirring.

Still, the script keeps tripping over itself, and there are several scenes – such as a horse heist – that feel a bit bungled, and almost forced – as if someone, somewhere, complained that there wasn’t enough action in the movie. But every time Concrete Cowboy is in danger of succumbing to these problems, it pulls itself back with some surprises. One of Staub’s best ideas is to cast real Fletcher Street natives, including the superb Jamil “Mil” Prattis as the wheelchair-bound Paris, who takes Cole under his wing and teaches him the fine art of shoveling horse shit.

There’s a serious lack of movies about Black cowboys or Black equestrians in general, and by telling their story in the unlikeliest of settings, Concrete Cowboy feels vibrant and alive, even when it’s suffering from its own plotting problems. And when a moment arises where a bus full of people looks on in awe as Hap, Cole, and the other riders go galloping by in slow motion, it’s hard not to love Concrete Cowboy just a little bit.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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L.A.’s Finest Premiere: Gabrielle Union’s Bad Boys Offshoot Gets New Life on Fox

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Depending on your familiarity with the Bad Boys franchise, combined with your understanding of the phrase “Spectrum Originals,” Monday’s premiere of L.A.’s Finest may not have been your first encounter with the unstoppable crime-fighting team of Gabrielle Union and Jessica Alba.

Fox’s newest cop drama finds Union reprising the role of Sydney Burnett, a sexually fluid badass first introduced in 2003’s Bad Boys II. Whether on the streets or in the sheets, she always gets her man (or woman), though her “all sex, no strings” philosophy suggests serious commitment issues. The woman even has to-go coffee cups ready for her overnight guests to ensure they won’t linger in the morning.

(Speaking of Syd’s life behind closed doors, how can she possibly afford that ludicrous apartment? We’re willing to suspend our disbelief quite a bit for this show, but not when it comes to real estate.)

Syd is partnered with Nancy McKenna (Alba), a Skittles-popping sharpshooter with a picture-perfect home life, including a husband (Chuck‘s Ryan McPartlin) who was just named interim district attorney. Of course, McKenna is harboring a few secrets of her own, including a shady connection to the man Syd blames for a near-fatal attack she suffered while working for the Drug Enforcement Administration five years ago. (Dark backstory? Check!)

The stakes don’t always feel super high — like when McKenna finds the time to nag Syd about missing book club in the middle of an active armed robbery — but Union and Alba’s chemistry is real. Whether giggling about dick pics or shooting cartel members in the head, they’re buddy cops through and through. Plus, they work with Matt Saracen, and that’s always a good thing.

If you enjoyed Monday’s explosive premiere, we’ve got good news for (some of) you: Two seasons of L.A.’s Finest have already been produced, and every episode is available to watch on-demand for Spectrum cable subscribers. Non-subscribers will just have to stick it out and watch weekly on Fox.

So, let’s talk about it: Did you enjoy your first ride-along with Syd and McKenna, or are you just about ready to tuck and roll? Vote in our polls below, then drop a comment with your full review.


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The truth about the mysterious beings at the end of Altered Carbon season 2

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In an interview with Inverse, Morgan explained his model for the Elders. “Something I learned very early on in my trade, is that with aliens, the closer you get to them, the more difficult it is to make them stick,” the author explained. “What I’ve done is sort of cheated by saying there are aliens but they’re all gone and we don’t know much about them or understand what they’ve left behind, and we’re scrambling around for clues.”

Although the show and the books have slightly different takes, as can be expected, it appears the Elders were always meant to be somewhat unknown and ominous. Viewers are, in fact, still scrambling around for clues, even after season 2, as so much about the Elders remains unclear. Whereas in Morgan’s books all the aliens have been gone for tens of thousands of years, if not longer, the show has one of them still alive and well. Morgan admits that keeping the aliens a mystery makes it easier to not have to fully explain them while still alluding to the fact that they should be somewhat feared. The show appears to take these mysterious beings and shed some light on them — a change Morgan completely understands. “In the show, there’s mention of them being an intensely militaristic species, but in the books, depending on who you are as a person, you project onto them what you want them to be.”

That, of course, doesn’t make the aliens any easier to pin down, but Morgan does make it clear that “we do know they were fighting either amongst themselves or fighting someone else.”

While the Elders aren’t from Mars in the TV series, the books featured an alien ship that belonged to Martians. Morgan imagined the aliens to be “pterodactyl-like,” perhaps a combination of “a pterodactyl and a fruit bat.” Even still, Morgan explains that the books don’t tell much about the “mummified corpses” that are found on the ship. One of the biggest questions the audience has after season 2 is how the Elders’ technology works, but Morgan doesn’t hammer home a definitive answer. The audience, it appears, is supposed to accept the fact that these aliens created technology that’s incomprehensible to humans — humans who are bound to have their own interpretations.

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Tucker Carlson Trashes RBG Over Final Wish for SCOTUS Replacement: ‘Pathetic’ (Video)

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Tucker Carlson once again complained about the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s final wish on Monday, saying it’s “insulting” to having an issue with letting a historically unpopular president choose RBG’s replacement right before a new presidential election.

Tucker started out his Monday Fox News show complaining about any Democrat who had talked about RBG’s wish. Per Clara Spera, her granddaughter — as reported by NPR — Ginsburg said days before she died: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

“Consider for a moment the reasoning here, the argument that they’re making. Nothing is more important than our Constitution — that Constitution is in grave jeopardy. That’s why we must substitute an 87-year-old woman’s final wish for the constitutionally prescribed process for filling a supreme court seat,” Carlson ranted dryly.

“That’s what they’re arguing. Got that? Pretty amusing. Keep in mind we don’t really know actually what Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s final words were. Did she really leave this world fretting about a presidential election? We don’t believe that for a second. If it were true, it would be pathetic.”

Tucker, who regularly pushes the idea that the existence of civilization is at stake in the 2020 presidential election, continued on like that.

“Life is bigger than politics, even this year. We wouldn’t wish final words that small on anyone, so we’re gonna, again, choose to believe that Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn’t really say that,” Tucker went on. “That in real life, she was thinking at the end about her family and where she might be going next. Human concerns not partisan ones.”

Tucker tried to use Scalia as an example of conservatives having the high ground. As you may recall, Justice Scalia died early in 2016 — and the Republicans held that seat open all year until it was filled by Donald Trump. But Tucker avoided mentioning all that when trying to use Scalia’s death as a talking point.

“In practical terms it’s irrelevant what she said. Ruth Bader Ginsburg doesn’t get to pick her replacement from her deathbed. That’s not how it works. We have a Constitution we’re supposed to be defending, remember, and that’s the whole point of the Constitution. If Justice Scalia had said something like that, nobody would have cared. We would have been embarrassed for him. Thankfully, he didn’t say that,” Tucker said.

“On some level Democrats know all this. All this talk about Ginsburg’s dying wish is ridiculous and insulting to all of us and our country. And they’ll stop soon. Democrats have an alternative argument at the ready and it’s one they’ve been honing all year. It goes like this: do what we want or we will hurt you. That’s the real argument they’re making.”

You can watch the quoted portion of Monday’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight” in the video embedded in this article below.

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