‘One Night in Miami’ Review: Regina King’s Feature Directorial Debut is a Knockout Loaded with Superb Performances [TIFF 2020]

one night in miami review

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke all check into a motel room. It’s almost hard to imagine such legends sharing the same space, but of course, they did. And on the night of February 25, 1964, after Ali – who was then still known as Cassius Clay – became the Heavyweight Champion of the World after defeating Sonny Liston, the four men gathered together to celebrate. This real event was the impetus for Kemp Powers‘ play, and now Regina King‘s film One Night in Miami, a fictionalized retelling of that night that feels very real.

It can be tricky for an actor to portray a real-life figure, especially one who was very well known. Which means the four leads – and yes, they’re all the lead here – of One Night in Miami had some big shoes to fill. That they all do amazing work across the board is a testament to how wildly talented these actors are. Kingsley Ben-Adir is Malcolm X, playing the Nation of Islam minister as soft-spoken and bookish when he needs to be, but also prone to precise outbursts. This is not the fiery Malcolm X delivering a sermon – it’s the private Malcolm, and Ben-Adir manages to fully make the character his own. Denzel Washington famously played the man in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, but you won’t be thinking of Washington’s performance here – you’ll be completely in tune with Ben-Adir’s anguish as he portrays Malcolm as a man trying to make a point while also becoming more and more certain that his days are numbered.

Eli Goree is Cassius Clay, the man who would become Muhammad Ali, and Goree perhaps has the most difficult task of the bunch. Ali was known for his larger-than-life personality and braggadocio, and to play such a figure who was so publicly broad runs the risk of mimicry or impersonation. Ali was, by nature, over-the-top, but how do play him without seeming over-the-top? Goree manages it. He nails down Ali’s vocal mannerisms and the boxer’s light-on-his-feet physicality. But he also taps into Ali’s insecurities and makes the legend seem all too human.

Leslie Odom Jr., of Hamilton fame, is singer Sam Cooke, and Odom Jr. has plenty of fun with the role, playing Cooke as the member of the group with the most swagger, and most care-free nature. But as the film progresses, even Sam’s nonchalant facade begins to chip, and Odom Jr. perfectly encapsulates the man’s inner workings. It helps that Odom Jr. is a hell of a singer, too.

And Aldis Hodge is football legend Jim Brown, playing Brown on the cusp of quitting his sports career to pursue acting. Of all the performers, Hodge has the most room to maneuver around in his part here – he’s not going for a dead-on portrayal of Brown, but rather his own interpretation of the man. And the actor, who feels like one of those performers on the cusp of becoming a huge star, brings a quiet-yet-imposing dignity to the part.

Before these men meet up in that motel room in Miami, we meet them a little earlier, when they’re not exactly having the best days. Ali is first seen in the ring fighting boxer Henry Cooper, and while the future champ would win that fight, we catch him at a moment where his boastfulness gets the better of him and Cooper is able to land a left hook that sends Ali reeling into the ropes. Sam Cooke is playing the Copacabana, where he ends up bombing during his set, completely ignored by the White audience. Malcolm X is in turmoil as he considers leaving the Nation of Islam due to the indiscretions and infidelities of Elijah Muhammad. And Jim Brown experiences a case of smiling racism in his home town, where a white local who was so warm and accommodating to him then cheerfully refuses to let Brown into his house on account of the color of Brown’s skin.

King, making her feature directorial debut – she’s directed TV before this – handles these early set-up scenes with grace and finesse, drawing us into the individual lives of these men before bringing them all together. These moments also open the movie up a bit, as a large chunk of it will be spent in one location. And after introducing us to our players, One Night in Miami jumps to that fateful day in February. Ali wins the fight – something that no one was expecting, apparently not even Ali. And all Sam and Jim want to do is celebrate. Sam in particular is hoping for some female companionship during the afterparty.

But that’s not what happens. Instead, they all end up back at Malcolm’s motel room – which Sam privately proclaims to be a dump. And it becomes apparent very quickly that this is not going to be the rowdy celebration some of the men were hoping for, especially when Malcolm’s idea of “refreshments” are two pints of ice cream and no alcohol to speak of. And this isn’t just a friendly get-together – Malcolm has ulterior motives. For one thing, he’s there to see Ali officially join the Nation of Islam. And for another, he has some important things to say to his friends about the world they currently find themselves in.

As Malcolm sees it, these men, who are giants in their respective fields, should be using their fame to help empower Black people. And while none of the men disagree with this statement, on principle, they don’t always see eye-to-eye with Malcolm – especially Sam, whom Malcolm accuses on more than one occasion of placating to whites. “You will never be loved by the people you’re trying to win over,” he tells the singer, and adding later: “This is too important a time to be wasting a brilliant and creative mind on pandering.”

But Sam doesn’t see it that way. As far as he’s concerned, running his own music label and working with Black artists is all the empowerment he needs. “Everybody talks about how they want a piece of the pie – well I don’t,” he tells Malcolm while recounting a story about how he let the Rolling Stones record a cover of one of his Black artist’s songs – a deal that resulted in huge sums of cash for the artist. “I want the recipe.”

As the night wears on, each of these men will laugh, joke, argue, cry, almost come to blows, and ultimately grow closer. The scaffolding of the stage play that inspired this film isn’t exactly hidden – the film isn’t stagey, per se, but the limited location and the small cast often reminds you that this same story could very well be playing out on stage. But King’s direction – which is exacting, knowing exactly when to pull back and exactly when to get up in her actor’s faces – and the dynamite performances keep One Night in Miami on its feet. As does a show-stopper of a flashback where Sam enlists an angry crowd in helping him perform “Chain Gang” when the power at a venue goes out. The crowd fluidly transforms from annoyed to enraptured as they stomp their feet to a beat that Sam beautifully sings over.

While it’s great to watch all four actors play off each other in the same room, some of the best moments here arise when King allows her cast to split up, such as when Ali and Sam have a heart-to-heart in Sam’s car, or when Malcolm has a small emotional breakdown in front of Jim, pleading with him to understand where he’s coming from, stressing that these famous men should use their fame as weapons against oppression. “We’re not anyone’s weapons,” Jim says, almost angrily. Malcolm tearfully replies: “You need to be, Jimmy, for us to win.” Ben-Adir is particularly superb in these moments when Malcolm seems tired and emotionally spent. As one character succinctly tells him: “Taking the world on your shoulders is bad for your health.”

One Night in Miami never once feels preachy, or overly speechy. The conversations seem natural, as does the chemistry between these performers. We truly get the sense that they all know and care for each other, and even when they’re on the verge of fighting, the respect and love they all share comes burning through. It’s impossible not to become engrossed with what we’re seeing; we want to spend as much time with these guys as we possibly can, and when the film fades to darkness, we’re sorry to see them go.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10

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Not sure what to watch? Here are 32 movies and shows releasing this fall

The fall release calendar is unusually crowded this year. Big-budget blockbusters delayed by the coronavirus crisis will jostle for attention alongside Oscars contenders, marquee television premieres and a handful of political documentaries aiming to help shape public opinion ahead of the presidential election.

Here’s a month-by-month guide to some of the most notable movies and television shows arriving by the middle of December.

THE REST OF SEPTEMBER

“All In: The Fight for Democracy” (Sept. 18 on Amazon Prime Video)

Democratic politician and activist Stacey Abrams plays a central role in this searching documentary about voter suppression and gerrymandering, which she also co-produced. The issues are personal for Abrams, who two years ago narrowly lost her Georgia gubernatorial bid to Brian Kemp in a race she alleges was rife with mismanagement and disenfranchisement.

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“The Nest” (Sept. 18 in theaters)

Sean Durkin, who made his directorial debut in 2011 with the haunting thriller “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” returns to the screen with this disquieting familial drama about a vain businessman (Jude Law) who relocates his wife (Carrie Coon) and children to an English country manor in the 1980s. The trailer suggests “The Shining” by way of E.M. Forster.

“PEN15” (Sept. 18 on Hulu)

The mortifications of middle school in the early 2000s once again take center stage in the second season of this comedy series. The show’s co-creators, Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle, play versions of themselves as 13-year-olds (alongside actual child actors) and re-enact all manner of adolescent awkwardness.

“Ratched” (Sept. 18 on Netflix)

Mildred Ratched, the tyrannical nurse who torments Jack Nicholson’s psychiatric patient in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), gets the origin story treatment in this suspense series, based in part on Ken Kesey’s original novel. Sarah Paulson plays the title character alongside a supporting cast that includes Cynthia Nixon and Sharon Stone.

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“Enola Holmes” (Sept. 23 on Netflix)

“Stranger Things” star Millie Bobby Brown plays Sherlock Holmes’ intrepid teenage sister in this adventure film inspired by Nancy Springer’s book series of the same name. The movie was originally slated for a theatrical debut by Warner Bros., but Netflix scooped up the rights as the coronavirus crisis shuttered theaters.

“Agents of Chaos” (Sept. 23 on HBO)

The furiously prolific documentarian Alex Gibney is no stranger to thorny subject matter, having directed films about Enron, the Church of Scientology and WikiLeaks. He trains his lens on an especially knotty topic in this two-part documentary: Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election — and how America remains vulnerable to foreign meddling.

“Kajillionaire” (Sept. 25 in theaters)

The medium-hopping multi-hyphenate artist Miranda July has two feature films under her belt: the distinctive “Me and You and Everyone We Know” (2005) and “The Future” (2011). July’s latest is a decidedly unconventional heist movie starring Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger and Gina Rodriguez.

“Tehran” (Sept. 25 on Apple TV+)

Apple’s streaming service ventures into non-English-language programming with this political thriller, originally created for Israeli public television. The tense eight-episode drama follows an Iran-born Mossad agent as she embarks on a risky computer hacking assignment in her hometown, the Iranian capital of the title.

“Fargo” (Sept. 27 on FX)

The long-awaited fourth installment of this crime anthology series, loosely inspired by the Coen brothers’ 1996 masterpiece, co-stars Chris Rock and Jason Schwartzman as the leaders of rival crime syndicates duking it out in 1950s Kansas City. The indie rock hero Andrew Bird plays a supporting character by the glorious name of Thurman Smutney.

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“The Comey Rule” (Sept. 27 on Showtime)

Jeff Daniels portrays former FBI chief James Comey in this two-part miniseries based on “A Higher Loyalty,” Comey’s bestselling book about his government service and strained relationship with President Donald Trump. Brendan Gleeson, best known to viewers of a certain age as Mad-Eye Moody from the “Harry Potter” film series, plays the 45th president.

“The Boys in the Band” (Sept. 30 on Netflix)

Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer and Andrew Rannells co-star in this ensemble drama adapted from the 1968 play of the same name, a seminal work in LGBTQ-themed theater and a landmark in queer representation. The four actors are reprising their roles from the play’s 2018 revival on Broadway.

“The Glorias” (Sept. 30 on Amazon Prime Video)

Four actresses, including Oscar winners Julianne Moore and Alicia Vikander, take turns playing women’s rights movement leader Gloria Steinem in this formula-tweaking biopic directed and co-written by Julie Taymor. The film covers some of the same historical ground as the FX miniseries “Mrs. America,” which featured Rose Byrne as the legendary feminist activist.

OCTOBER

“Wonder Woman 1984” (Oct. 2 in theaters)

Patty Jenkins’ follow-up to her 2017 box-office smash was one of the most notable summer blockbusters delayed by the COVID-19 crisis. But come October, audiences will finally get a chance to reconnect with Gal Gadot’s immortal Amazon warrior in this sequel set during the height of the Reagan era and the final years of the Cold War.

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“The Walking Dead: World Beyond” (Oct. 4 on AMC)

AMC’s massively popular zombies show gets a second spinoff in this two-season, 20-episode miniseries. “World Beyond,” set in Nebraska a decade after a bloody apocalypse, centers on two young women trying to make sense of their disorienting new reality. (The premiere date for the 11th season of the flagship series has yet to be announced.)

“The Right Stuff” (Oct. 9 on Disney+)

Tom Wolfe’s gripping chronicle of the early days of the U.S. space race, previously adapted into an epic 1983 film, gets a family-friendly spin in this drama series. The show, with Leonardo DiCaprio as one of its executive producers, will focus on the astronauts chosen for the pioneering Mercury Seven program.

“The 40-Year-Old Version” (Oct. 9 on Netflix)

The playwright Radha Blank makes her directorial debut and plays the lead role in this Sundance Film Festival favorite about the trials of a struggling Black artist in New York City. The film, which finds Blank grappling with questions about artistic integrity and selling out, marks the introduction of a magnetic new cinematic voice.

“Candyman” (Oct. 16 in theaters)

The mesmerizing teaser trailer for this supernatural slasher film went viral over the summer, stoking anticipation for what has been described as a sequel to the 1992 cult classic of the same name. Yahya Abdul-Mateen II (“Watchmen”) heads up the cast; Nia DaCosta, the director, co-wrote the script alongside Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld.

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“The Trial of the Chicago 7” (Oct. 16 on Netflix)

You can expect plenty of Aaron Sorkin’s signature verbal pyrotechnics in this docudrama, which he wrote and directed. The film, originally set for a theatrical release before moving to streaming, centers on the group of anti-Vietnam War activists charged with conspiracy related to protests at the famously turbulent 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

“David Byrne’s American Utopia” (Oct. 17 on HBO)

The former Talking Heads frontman — backed by an electrifying 11-person ensemble of singers, musicians and dancers — dazzled Broadway audiences with the theatrical concert “American Utopia.” Thanks to director Spike Lee, viewers around the U.S. will now have a chance to see the full performance in this filmed version for HBO.

“Death on the Nile” (Oct. 23 in theaters)

Agatha Christie’s fabled sleuth Hercule Poirot returns to the big screen in the form of actor Kenneth Branagh, who directed this follow-up to his “Murder on the Orient Express” (2017). The cast is stacked with marquee names, including Gal Gadot, Armie Hammer, Rose Leslie (“The Good Fight”), Letitia Wright (“Black Panther”), Russell Brand and Annette Bening.

“Connected” (Oct. 23 in theaters)

In this animated sci-fi comedy, electronic devices — phones, home appliances, domesticated robots — stage an uprising, throwing a proverbial wrench in one family’s plans to bond during a road trip. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the duo behind “The Lego Movie” and the “21 Jump Street” reboot, served as co-producers.

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“Bad Hair” (Oct. 23 on Hulu)

Justin Simien, the creator of the Netflix series “Dear White People” and the independent film that inspired it, braids horror and comedy in this film about a young Black woman who discovers her new hairstyle has a mind of its own. The supporting cast includes Lena Waithe, Laverne Cox and Blair Underwood.

“The Mandalorian” (Oct. 30 on Disney+)

You may be largely unfamiliar with the exploits of the bounty hunter known as the Mandalorian, but surely you’ve heard of Baby Yoda, the doe-eyed, pointy-eared tyke who helped turn this “Star Wars” spinoff series into a cultural phenomenon. The second season promises to replenish the internet with memes — and restock your shopping cart with inevitable tie-in toys.

NOVEMBER

“Black Widow” (Nov. 6 in theaters)

The latest installment in the sprawling Marvel Cinematic Universe, set before the events of “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” finds the title character (Scarlett Johansson) on the lam. Florence Pugh (“Midsommar,” “Little Women”) and David Harbour of “Stranger Things” fame round out the cast.

“I Am Greta” (Nov. 13 on Hulu)

The teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg is at the center of this 97-minute documentary portrait, which follows her rapid ascent from high school political organizer to world famous generational leader. The film, directed by Swedish filmmaker Nathan Grossman, premiered at the Venice Film Festival on Sept. 3.

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“The Crown” (Nov. 15 on Netflix)

The fourth chapter of this acclaimed royalty drama brings back the previous season’s players — Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II, Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip — and promises to add a few new faces, including Emma Corrin as Lady Diana Spencer and Gillian Anderson as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

“No Time to Die” (Nov. 20 in theaters)

Daniel Craig goes out for a spin as James Bond for a fifth and final time in this 25th(!) franchise installment, originally slated for an April release before it was bumped because of the coronavirus crisis. Cary Joji Fukunaga, the gifted visual stylist behind the first season of “True Detective,” served as director; “Fleabag” auteur Phoebe Waller-Bridge co-wrote the screenplay.

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“Animaniacs” (Nov. 20 on Hulu)

If you spent a lot of weekday afternoons indoors in the 1990s, the original run of the witty, winking animated series “Animaniacs” is bathed in nostalgic glow. The folks behind this two-season revival are surely banking on that affection for Yakko, Wakko, Dot — locked away in the Warner Bros. Water Tower no more.

“Soul” (Nov. 20 in theaters)

Pixar aims to brighten your holiday season with this fantastical comedy centered on a jazz-mad music teacher, voiced by Jamie Foxx, whose soul takes on a life of its own. “Soul” appears to channel some of the heartfelt surrealism of “Inside Out” (2015), and that is no coincidence: Pixar veteran Pete Docter directed and co-wrote both movies.

DECEMBER

“Tiger” (Dec. 13 on HBO)

HBO charts the “rise, fall and redemption” of golf star Tiger Woods in this two-part documentary, surveying the unrelenting drive that propelled him to the heights of athletics and the inner demons that threatened to destroy his legacy. The film features never-before-seen footage.

“The Stand” (Dec. 17 on CBS All Access)

Stephen King’s dizzyingly ambitious post-apocalyptic novel, previously adapted into a 1994 miniseries, now gets a prestige TV upgrade in this miniseries starring James Marsden, Amber Heard and Greg Kinnear. The convoluted plot, centered on a deadly pandemic that wipes out almost everyone on the planet, has taken on grim resonance this year.

“Dune” (Dec. 18 in theaters)

In the 1980s, David Lynch tried his hand at adapting Frank Herbert’s epochal, extraordinarily complex science fiction epic to mixed results. Denis Villeneuve, the celebrated director behind “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049,” might have better luck in this new adaptation starring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson and Oscar Isaac.

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Seeking Solutions for Racial Inequities

… to reduce discrimination against Black Americans. A new low … shows that 84% say racism is a problem in … police violence against Black Americans in local communities. Black Americans' skepticism … the idea of recompensing Black Americans for slavery and the … RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News

The Best New and Classic TV Shows and Movies to Stream Right Now

Jesse Plemons as Jake, Jessie Buckley as Young Woman in I'm Thinking of Ending Things, directed by Charlie Kaufman.

Jesse Plemons as Jake, Jessie Buckley as Young Woman in I’m Thinking of Ending Things, directed by Charlie Kaufman. Mary Cybulski/NETFLIX

A knife fight in the nude and a movie that stumped actors even as they filmed it are your must-see streaming options this weekend. Observer Entertainment has curated the guide below to help figure out what to watch this weekend on your off-hours. The major streaming services alike are represented below, from Netflix to Hulu to Amazon, and we’ve offered recommendations for for all of them, including both new releases as well as hidden gems that may be buried between the cracks.

The list below is not comprehensive, but it is curated. Here are some of the finest offerings available to stream online or watch on TV right now.

SEE ALSO: ‘Infinity Train’ Book 3 Proves the Show Can Do Anything With Its Premise

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Netflix

Charlie Kaufman’s I’m Thinking of Ending Things—like all Charlie Kaufman movies (Synecdoche, Adaptation, Anomalisa)—could be understood as a summarized regurgitation of the writer and director’s fears. His actors openly admit that they didn’t know exactly what the film “was about” even as they were filming. But don’t confuse uncertainty with vacuity. Kaufman’s film is rich with meaning, even if it follows the director’s formulas of mashing fantasy and reality against each other. Watch I’m Thinking of Ending Things on Netflix.

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Peacock

“OK. Now I’m going to do his teeth and cut off his fingers,” one character says at one point in Eastern Promises. “You might want to leave room.” But somehow looking away from the brilliantly staged violence and depravity of David Cronenberg’s Russian organized crime epic just isn’t possible. Who could avert their eyes from Viggo Mortensen at the height of his powers having a knife fight in the nude in a bath house? And this entertainment is free! Watch Eastern Promises for free on Peacock.

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Amazon Prime Video

Austin Abrams plays one of the most easily despicable characters on This Is Us, which makes his Chemical Hearts transformation all the more refreshing to watch. This is a familiar story; teens fall in love and leave an impact on each other on the way to growing into the people they will eventually become. Without spoiling much, this film directed by Richard Tanne (Southside With You) leaves you with a sense that they’ll be all right. Watch Chemical Hearts on Amazon Prime Video.

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Disney+ 

The Wolverine doesn’t mess around. The latest X-Men movie from the Fox stable to hit Disney+, James Mangold’s 2013 take on Marvel’s most popular X-Man is a thrilling action flick that flings its weight around the world from Japan to Canada as it follows Hugh Jackman on the warpath. The movie that teed Mangold up to direct one of the greatest superhero movies ever—Logan—and gave the character an emotional depth he hadn’t seen since X2Watch The Wolverine on Disney+.

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Hulu

Woke, very loosely based on the work of cartoonist Keith Knight, stars Lamorne Morris (Winston from New Girl) as a Black artist who is radicalized after being racially profiled by the police. It uses cartoons and animation integrated into its live action to visualize the character’s internal monologue as he navigates his heightened awareness to the pressures of racism and social injustice. If Woke has one flaw it’s that its approach feels a bit ham-handed, perhaps because it’s a product of a time before this summer’s race riots, but the show’s message—that racial injustice is inescapable and freedom begins with looking it in the eye—is one that plenty of people probably need to understand. I look forward to sharpened knives if it gets a second season. Watch Woke on Hulu.

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HBO Max

Both Haley Lu Richardson and Barbie Ferreira are treasures, and Unpregnant, an empowered road movie in pursuit of an abortion, is the perfect vehicle to showcase their talent and timing. It’s also a keen underscore to how America polices women’s bodies and denies them the healthcare they need—a topic also covered (more dramatically) in Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Unpregnant, directed by Rachel Lee Goldenberg, approaches the topic with a bit more levity and more than a hint of Thelma & Louise. Watch Unpregnant on HBO Max.

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Tubi

The Hunger Games tetralogy isn’t exactly even, but none of its films are bad. Its first entry is a bit self-serious and heavy on the shaky-cam, whereas Catching Fire is a whip-smart blockbuster packed with thrills and destructive force. The two-part finale, Mockingjay, kept those thrills up, but also continued the tired trend of stretching out already-long franchise movies to juice box office receipts. Despite their flaws, Jennifer Lawrence’s blockbusters are great films. They’re leaving Tubi soon and if you want to marathon them all before they do, you could do so much worse. Watch The Hunger Games for free on Tubi.

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PlutoTV

We’re John Boyega fans over here and the film to understand his work as an actor before he was cast in Star Wars is definitively Attack the Block. Future Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker joins him as they band together with the members of a London street gang to fight back against an alien invasion. Equal parts funny and action-packed, Joe Cornish’s directorial debut led to work writing Ant-Man and directing the well-received The Kid Who Would Be King. Watch Attack the Block for free on PlutoTV.

Keeping Watch is a regular endorsement of TV and movies worth your time.

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