Hidden Figures

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2016

Fox 2000 Pictures/Chernin Entertainment/TSG Entertainment/20th Century Fox

Directed by Theodore Melfi

Produced by Donna Gigliotto/Peter Chernin/Pharrell Williams/Jenno Topping/Theodore Melfi

Screenplay by Alison Schroeder/Theodore Melfi

Based on “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly

There are two stories of heroism running side-by-side in HIDDEN FIGURES. There’s the one we all know because it’s been so documented, told and re-told in so many ways (most memorably in 1983’s “The Right Stuff”) that it has become part of American legend. It’s the story of the 1960’s space race between America and Russia as NASA struggled to put a man in a spacecraft into orbit with the eventual goal of putting an American man on the moon before Russia.

Then there’s the other story that I myself had never heard of before in any way shape or form and I am just grateful that this story has at last been told. Because it’s just as much a heroic tale as that of those Project Mercury astronauts. In the 1960s, NASA did not as yet have electronic computers so they had to rely on women with extraordinary mathematical skills to calculate the data needed. These women were actually called “computers” and they were African-American.

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In 1962 the American space program is in trouble. Sputnik 1 has been successfully launched and is merrily orbiting the Earth. Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) is the director of the Space Task Group, the team primarily in charge of getting astronauts up into space. Hopefully without the rockets blowing up on the launch pad. Harrison is under a lot of pressure to get America into the space race in a big way and he needs someone who can do analytic geometry, do it quickly and do it right. The acting supervisor of the Colored Computers Group Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) says that there’s only one woman for the job; Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) who as a child was a mathematical prodigy, beginning college at the age of 15.

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Mathematical genius or not, Katherine is still a black woman in the Jim Crow South and as such is still looked at as being just that: a black woman. No more and no less. She can’t even drink coffee from the same pot as her co-workers and has to walk/run half a mile back to the building where she used to work to relieve herself as the building housing the Space Task group has no Colored restroom. Not to mention the harassment she has to deal with from her immediate supervisor Paul Stafford (Jim Parsons) who gives her incomplete data, saying that she does not have the proper security clearances but yet he still expects her to make sense out of it and turn in accurate calculations.

Meanwhile, Dorothy engages in a battle of wills with her supervisor Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) who not only refuses to promote Dorothy but actively looks forward to the day when the technicians from IBM will finish installing an IBM 7090 that will replace Dorothy and her girls. But Dorothy has a trick up her sleeve: she’ll teach herself how to program the 7090. Their friend Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) who is working on the space capsule itself correctly identifies a flaw in the heat shield which impresses her boss, Dr. Zielinski (Oleg Krupa) to the point that he demands she go to school at night to get an engineering degree so that she’ll be fully qualified to work on the project. Problem is that engineering schools are segregated. But every problem has a solution and Mary’s is that she will go to court and petition for her right to go to school.

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The three stories of how these women work together and separately to accomplish their goals, achieve their dreams and oh, yes…help put American astronauts into space is an incredibly fascinating one told with an astounding amount of heart. And as much as I cannot stand anything having to do with math, if you had told me I’d be on the edge of my seat worrying about the fate of mathematicians I’d have thought you had lost your mind. But thanks to exceptionally strong acting and solid directing, HIDDEN FIGURES does turn out to be quite suspenseful at times, even though we all know that the space program was eventually a success. But this isn’t that kind of movie. It’s the revealing of a secret part of what up until now I had always thought was one of the most well documented periods of American history.

The cast is top notch. Kevin Costner recognizes that he’s got a supporting role here and so stays in his place, only taking center stage in one or two pivotal scenes but then quietly stepping back to let the real stars of the movie continue to do their thing. A couple of people I know upon hearing that Taraji P. Henson was one of those stars said to me; “You mean Cookie from ‘Empire?’ Can she act?” Which told me that they didn’t know a thing about her because Taraji P. Henson demonstrated years ago that she can act very well indeed. My wife Patricia pointed out something to me that I didn’t notice but upon reflection of certain scenes I can see exactly what she’s talking about. When you see the movie (and you will see it) notice how skillfully Taraji uses her glasses as a prop to enhance, disguise, amplify and demonstrate her emotional moods. And we all know Octavia Spencer turns in Academy Award performances like she invented them so there’s no reason to even go there. But I will say look for one pivotal scene she’s in which I’m convinced is a homage to a very famous scene in “The Right Stuff.” And as in his TV sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” Jim Parsons plays a brilliant manchild who’s a dick. But this one is way meaner in spirit than Sheldon Cooper. It’s a nice change of pace for him. Kirsten Dunst really surprised me in this one and she makes a fine adversary for Octavia Spencer to spar with.

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But it’s Janelle Monae who walks off with the MVP title for this movie. She was clearly born to be an actress and she never steps one foot wrong the entire running time of the movie, easily holding her own with her far more experienced co-stars. She’s a joy to watch anytime she’s onscreen, the rapport between her, Octavia Spencer and Taraji P. Henson genuine and uplifting. I don’t say this very often about a movie but I’m pleased and proud to be able to say this about HIDDEN FIGURES: everything you’ve heard about it is true and if you haven’t seen it yet, please do so at your earliest opportunity.

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Rated PG

127 Minutes

My Favorite Movies of 2016

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Some of you who have good memories may recall I did this last year, ending the year by summing up My Favorite and Least Favorite Movies of the year. The responses were mixed to say the least. Some of you acclaimed me as a sage whose wisdom is unparalleled while others stated that once again I demonstrated that I undoubtedly used excrement for my thinking processes rather than a cerebrum.

Despite this, I have once again elected to share with you My Favorites and Least Favorites. I wish to stress that these movies are NOT ones that I claim are the best of the year as one man’s treasure is another man’s trash. What I am saying that they provided ME with my money’s worth and my time in terms of entertainment value.

Some of you with sharp eyes will notice that some of these movies actually came out in 2015 but since I didn’t see them until 2016 thanks to Netflix and Amazon Prime, I threw them in with the rest of the 2016 movies that actually came out that year.

And one thing that surprised me is how many movies there are that I actually liked as I recall spending a considerable amount of time bitching in some of my reviews how dismal a movie year 2016 was. I guess it was a better year than I originally thought, considering that this list is way longer than my Least Favorite List

Okay, we clear on everything? Good. On with the show:

Bone Tomahawk

Boo! A Madea Halloween

Captain America: Civil War

Doctor Strange

Fences

Ghostbusters

Hell or High Water

Jane Got A Gun

London Has Fallen

Now You See Me 2

Queen of Katwe

Rogue One

Star Trek Beyond

Suicide Squad

The African Doctor

The Birth of A Nation

The Jungle Book

The Legend of Tarzan

The Magnificent Seven

The Nice Guys

War Dogs

Zootopia

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My Least Favorite Movies of 2016

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Some of you who have good memories may recall I did this last year, ending the year by summing up My Favorite and Least Favorite Movies of the year. The responses were mixed to say the least. Some of you acclaimed me as a sage whose wisdom is unparalleled while others stated that once again I demonstrated that I undoubtedly used excrement for my thinking processes rather than a cerebrum.

Despite this, I have once again elected to share with you My Favorites and Least Favorites. I wish to stress that these movies are NOT ones that I claim are the worst of the year as one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Nor do I say that they are necessarily bad movies. What I am saying that they did not provide ME with my money’s worth or my time in terms of entertainment value. Okay, we clear on that? Good. On with the show:

Deadpool
Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Finding Dory
Free State of Jones
Hardcore Henry
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Jason Bourne
Loving
X-Men: Apocalypse

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The Right Stuff

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1983

The Ladd Company/Warner Bros.

Directed by and Screenplay by Philip Kaufman

Produced by Irwin Winkler/Robert Chartoff\

Based on “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe

Music by Bill Conti

Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel

One of the reasons why THE RIGHT STUFF stands out in my memory is because I saw it during its original theatrical run in the theater. And when the end credits played, a good 75% of the sold out audience I saw it with gave it a standing ovation. And I was right with them. I’ve heard felgercarb from modern day “movie fans” who are so very worldly and sophisticated and think it’s oh so very silly to applaud a movie. What’s the point? they say. The filmmakers can’t hear your applause. But in the case of THE RIGHT STUFF that isn’t the point. That audience and I stood and applauded because we’d just seen a three-hour epic about heroism done with style, respect, humor and grandeur. And we had to show our appreciation for how the movie made us felt. And the bottom line is that it made us all feel damn good. Was a lot of the movie made up? Sure it was. THE RIGHT STUFF is a great example of that magnificent line from “The Legend of Liberty Valance”: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

I say that to let you know right up front that there’s a lot of legend in THE RIGHT STUFF. Yes, it’s based on historical events involving real people but the filmmakers didn’t let them get in the way of telling a good story. Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) didn’t fly the X-1 on a whim as the movie would lead you to to believe but damn if it doesn’t make for a great scene. Especially when he breaks a couple of ribs chasing his wife Glennis (Barbara Hershey) on horseback in the desert surrounding the future Edwards Air Force Base and falls off his horse and still gets in the X-1 the next day to break the sound barrier.

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And it’s fun to see the friendly rivalry between Yeager and Scott Crossfield as they break each others speed records repeatedly. This is while hungry young pilots such as Gordon “Gordo” Cooper (Dennis Quaid) Virgil “Gus” Grissom (Fred Ward) and Donald “Deke” Slayton (Scott Paulin) are pouring into the base, looking to make their mark and prove they have “The Right Stuff.” Okay, maybe some of this is made up but if you want the facts, go look them up for yourself. We got these things called libraries. You might have heard of them. Make use of them.

But exactly what IS “The Right Stuff”? nobody ever says. It’s one of those grand and glorious Man Things That Cannot Be Given A Name. Chuck Yeager doubtless has it. In fact, he may have it more than anybody else even though he is deemed not worthy to be invited to join the space program. In one of the movie’s best scenes Gus Grissom is being ridiculed by the media and fellow pilots for his insistence that the explosive bolts on the hatch of his capsule exploded on their own during splashdown. The common consensus is that he panicked. But Yeager comes to Grissom’s defense;” You think a monkey knows he’s sittin’ on top of a rocket that might explode? These astronaut boys they know that, see? Well, I’ll tell you something, it takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that’s on TV. Ol’ Gus, he did all right.” Now, maybe Chuck Yeager said that or maybe he didn’t. But it matters in the context of the movie and the story that the movie is telling and that’s enough.

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The bulk of the movie is taken up with the 1960s Space Race, accelerated by the Russians launching Sputnik in 1957. NASA is tasked with putting an American in space and that initiates a near hysterical search for astronauts. Ironically, pilots like Yeager are excluded because he doesn’t “fit the profile” but after extraordinary grueling physical and mental tests, The Mercury Seven astronauts are chosen; Cooper, Grissom and Slayton along with John Glenn (Ed Harris) Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn) Walter “Wally” Schirra (Lance Henriksen) and Charles Frank (Scott Carpenter). But even though they are trained to be pilots, the engineers of the project (and it’s very clear that the majority of these engineers used to work for the Third Reich in WWII) see them as nothing more than passengers. You add to this is extensive publicity machine surrounding these proceedings and you’ve a situation as ripe for comedy as it is for drama.

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And one of the thing that takes people by surprise about THE RIGHT STUFF when they see it for the first time is that is a very funny movie. In fact, at times, it almost plays like a comedy, especially where Dennis Quaid is concerned. Those of you who have seen the movie know what I mean. But just about everybody gets their chance to be funny, even when they’re not being funny. If you know what I mean. Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum get a lot of laughs out their bit as a pair of recruiters looking for candidates for the fledgling NASA program. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of the cast don’t get their funny moments as well.

This movie may have just have the greatest cast of talent on screen since “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” Here we go: Fred Ward. Dennis Quaid. Scott Glenn. Ed Harris. Sam Shepard. Lance Henriksen. Scott Paulin. Barbara Hershey. Veronica Cartwright. Harry Shearer. Jeff Goldblum. Pamela Reed. Charles Frank. Donald Moffat. Scott Wilson. Kathy Baker. Royal Dano. John P. Ryan. William Russ. John Dehner. And Chuck Yeager himself. He shows up as the bartender at Pancho’s, the joint where all the pilots hang out. It’s an utterly extraordinary cast and what’s even more extraordinary is that the script and the director gives them all a chance to shine without detracting from the overall story the movie is telling.

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And the musical score by Bill Conti is absolutely magnificent. It won the Academy Award that year for Best Original Score and rightfully so. A large part of the reason why THE RIGHT STUFF is still so highly regarded is because of that heroically soaring score. The special effects are also worthy of note because they’re practical effects, done with models. I don’t have anything against CGI and fully understand that a lot of my favorite movies of recent years couldn’t be done without them. But practical effects have a weight and realism that can’t be duplicated. When Chuck Yeager is in that X-1 and says that it’s still going up like a bat outta hell, we believe him.

Chances are that most of you reading this have already seen THE RIGHT STUFF and agree with me. But for those you who haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favor and check it out at your earliest opportunity. THE RIGHT STUFF is one of the finest American movies ever made, period. And it’s a whole lot of fun to watch as well. Enjoy.

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192 Minutes

Rated PG

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foxy Brown

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1974

American International Pictures

Written and Directed by Jack Hill

Produced by Buzz Feitshans

Costumes for Pam Grier Created and Designed by Ruthie West

Music Composed, Conducted, Arranged and Produced by Willie Hutch

FOXY BROWN wasn’t the first Pam Grier movie I saw. That would be “The Arena” released that same year. It actually was a couple of years later that I saw FOXY BROWN. Every couple of years you could count on one of the grindhouses on Manhattan’s 42end St. hosting a Pam Grier Double or Triple Feature and that’s when I saw it. Right from the first time I saw it it became for me THE Pam Grier movie. At least until I saw “Jackie Brown” in 1997

But when people ask me which one of Pam Grier’s classic movies from the Blaxploitation Era they should watch first, I always say FOXY BROWN. It was made after “Coffy” which it shares a lot of similarities to and in fact, FOXY BROWN was intended at first to be the sequel to “Coffy” which was a tremendous hit for American International Pictures. But for me, there are scenes in FOXY BROWN which forever stamped Pam Grier as the first female action star and she pulled it off with not only her breathtaking beauty and unbelievably gorgeous body but true acting talent. This is why I think Pam Grier has had such lasting power in the film industry whereas other women, black and white working in the movies at the same period didn’t last. Right from the start Pam Grier had an earthiness, a believability to her performances, no matter the situation her characters were in.

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This is the movie that has the classic scene where Foxy Brown pulls a small automatic pistol right outta an afro wig big enough to make Angela Davis jealous and shoots two bad guys dead.  There’s something about the way Pam does it that makes you buy the scene with no doubt at all. And then there’s the scene where she gets into a brawl in a lesbian bar. It starts with a woman squaring off on Pam, claiming that she’s a karate expert with a black belt. Without batting an eye, Pam snatches up a bar stool and wallops the piss outta her. Pam stands over her downed opponent, throwing the stool over her shoulder, proclaiming; “I got my black belt in bar stool.” Again, the way she delivers the line and her body language more than sells the scene. You easily believe that Pam Grier knocks out lesbians with bar stools all the time.

Foxy Brown has got two men in her life that are both involved in drugs at opposite ends of the spectrum. Her brother Linc (Antonio Fargas) has gotten into deep trouble with a drug syndicate run by Steve Elias (Peter Brown) and Miss Kathryn (Kathryn Loder). Using a modeling agency as cover they run drugs and use prostitutes to keep local judges, police officials and other public servants off their backs with sexual favors. Michael Anderson (Terry Carter) is a DEA agent who has spent two years in deep cover trying to get the goods on Elias and Kathryn to no avail. Anderson is forced to have plastic surgery to change his appearance and with a new identity and face, he and Foxy make plans to go away and start a new life.

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But Linc figures out who Michael really is and in order to get himself off the hook, rats out Michael who is then killed by the syndicate. Linc is then himself killed by Elias and that sets Foxy off on her roaring rampage of revenge. Foxy infiltrates the drug syndicate by posing as a prostitute. But her true identity is soon found out and that’s when things really get cranked up in more ways than one.

You’ll hear some complain about FOXY BROWN as they don’t like the gratuitous nudity Pam Grier displays throughout the movie and that she’s raped at one point in the movie. They argue that those scenes as well as her posing as a prostitute contribute to the objectification of black women. Is it objectification? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Me, I take FOXY BROWN for what it is: an action adventure revenge yarn where it’s a black woman as the protagonist instead of a white man. And a very satisfying one at that. And it’s one of the true classics of the Blaxploitation Era. There’s a dozen movies that I think should be seen if you call yourself a student or fan of Blaxploitation and FOXY BROWN is definitely one of them.

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What I’ve always loved about her as with most of Pam Grier’s movies, she doesn’t wait for men to rescue her. She rescues herself, such as in the scene where she’s being held captive at a farm which is the drug manufacturing plant for the syndicate. She’s raped, drugged with heroin and still manages to turn the tables on her captors and blow up the farm. She does enlist the help of an all male neighborhood watchdog organization obviously inspired by The Black Panthers but that’s because they’ve got the guns and ammo needed to help her shut down the syndicate. And the scene where she asks the brothers for their help doesn’t rely on her sexiness or vamping the men into helping her. They quite wisely and intelligently ask her what her motivations are and she tells them. They talk as equals.

But in their supporting roles, the men are very good. You can’t ask for better than Antonio Fargas and Terry Carter. They build solid characters in a short amount of time and so we feel for Foxy when they’re killed. I also like how there’s different types of black men in this movie. We don’t just see pimps and pushers. Sid Haig also shows up near the end of the movie and it’s always a blast to see Sid Haig and Pam Grier together in a movie as they’re good friends in real life and it shows on screen. Their chemistry crackles that good.

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While Peter Brown is just your standard generic honky bad guy, I really like Kathryn Loder. She’s got this really strange expression in her eyes and her body language is such that you instantly get that Miss Kathryn may be a criminal genius but she’s got some bad wiring upstairs. Her performance is almost as much fun as Pam’s to watch. They make for well matched opponents.

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If you haven’t seen FOXY BROWN yet then you just oughta. Get yourself FOXY BROWN, “Coffy” (as for all intents and purposes they’re virtually the same character) “Jackie Brown” and make it a Pam Grier Night. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

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 Rated R

94 Minutes

Valley Of The Dolls

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1967

20th Century Fox

Directed by Mark Robson

Produced by David Weisbart

Screenplay by Helen Deutsch/Dorothy Kingsley/Harlan Ellison (uncredited)

Based on the novel “Valley of The Dolls” by Jacqueline Susann

Music by John Williams

Songs by Andre Previn & Dory Previn

People always give me The Look when during a discussion about movies I mention that VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is one of my favorites. You know The Look. It’s the one somebody gives you when they don’t know if they should pity you or laugh at you. Usually they’ll follow up The Look with something like; “But…isn’t that a bad movie?” Well, of course it’s a bad movie. In fact, it’s trash. But it’s a hell of a good bad movie. Some of you reading this review are now nodding your head in agreement. There is entertainment value to be derived from a movie that is total trash when it’s done with enthusiasm, talent and everybody involved throws themselves into the material with total abandon. Because they know the material is trash. That doesn’t mean they can’t have fun making the movie and as a result, we have fun watching it.

And I recommend VALLEY OF THE DOLLS not only as great trash entertainment but as a cultural artifact. When it was made back in the 1960s, the Soap Opera dominated daytime television and make no mistake; VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is nothing more than a two hour Soap Opera. Our three female leads go through success, failure, romance, infidelity, drug addiction, alcoholism, insanity, abortion, medical and emotional issues and true to The Rule of Three, one dies, one goes insane and one is left alive to tell the tale.

Based on the novel by Jacqueline Susann which probably is the greatest pop culture novel ever written it tells the story of three women who pursue fame and fortune in the entertainment field:

Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke) is a pint-size earthquake of seemingly limitless talent. Put her on a stage and have an audience in front of her and there’s nothing she can’t do. She quickly makes an enemy of fading Broadway star Helen Lawson (Susan Hayward) who quickly assesses that Neely’s talent can soon make her obsolete.

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Anne Wells (Barbara Parkins) is a naive New Englander who comes to New York to gain experience of the world before settling down to married life. She gets a secretarial job with a theatrical agency and is soon having a romance with Lyon Burke (Paul Burke) one of the owners/partners of the agency.

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Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) is an Amazonian blonde of extraordinary beauty and a killer body. While she aspires to be an actress she is well aware she has limited talent and that she is only valued for her amazing physical beauty.

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Neely, Anne and Jennifer become good friends as they navigate the ups and downs of their chosen profession. As they all move up the ladder to success, the stress of their lives compound and they all cope with them in various ways: sex, alcohol and ‘dolls’. Uppers. Downers. Pills that is. Dolls to get you up in the morning. Dolls to keep you going through the day. Dolls to put you to sleep at night. And then you get up again the next day and the whole thing just keeps going and going and going.

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At its core, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is a Be Careful Of What You Wish For fairy tale for grown-ups. The three women think they know what the want out of life and go after it but once they have it they’re profoundly unhappy and dream of a simpler life where they can find true love and happiness. But for two of them they’re on a downward elevator to despair, madness and death with no Up button to press.

But enough of the doom and gloom. VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is indeed a lot of fun to watch simply as a cultural artifact of a style of movie and movie making that isn’t done anymore. Patty Duke and Sharon Tate share the MVP honors for this one. You watch Sharon Tate in this one and I defy you not to have a twinge of sadness for what might have been. I’ve always maintained that had she lived, Sharon Tate could very well have been like Jessica Lange who nobody took seriously as an actress when she first started out. There’s a real poignancy and pathos to Tate’s performance here and out of all the three lead characters, hers was the one I really felt for.

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Patty Duke is obviously having a ball playing Neely O’Hara who starts out as a truly sweet, talented kid full of hopes and dreams and transforms into an egotistical monster. Barbara Parkins (who also starred in the primetime Soap Opera “Peyton Place”) is a gorgeous woman but for my taste is bland and flat. She’s not very emotional in her dramatic scenes and it’s difficult for me to believe she can inspire any man to fall in love with her.

Not that the men in this movie come off as shining examples of manhood either. Most of them are in this movie simply as background. They only have one purpose far as I could tell; to keep the story moving along. But that’s okay because this movie is about the women; their dreams, their ambitions, their careers. The movie firmly keeps the focus on them where it’s supposed to be.

So should you see VALLEY OF THE DOLLS? Yes. It’s Great Good Trash that should be watched and enjoyed in that spirit. It’s the great-grandmother of “Showgirls” and in fact, the two of them would make a great Saturday night double feature with friends, pizza and drinks. Enjoy.

PG-13

123 Minutes

The African Doctor

 

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2016

TFI Films Production/Mars Films

Directed by Julien Rambaldi

Produced by Pauline Duhault/Olivier Delbosc/Marc Meissonier

Screenplay by Julien Rambaldi/Kamini/Benoit Graffin

I think that it’s more than safe to say that 2016 has been one hell of a year. It’s a year that I have no doubt will go down in history. Most of you reading this will one day be in your anti-gravity rocking chair and via your holographic transmission module implant will tell your great-great grandchildren how you survived 2016.

It’s been a year of disappointments. Great disappointments. Even with movies. 2016 has been one of the most dismal and boring movie years that I can recall in recent memory. For every movie I saw in the theater I liked I saw two that bored me. This is worse than me hating it. See, even if I hate a movie it at least aroused and sparked some kind of emotion in me. I’d rather see a movie I hate than one that bores me because then I truly feel I’ve wasted my time. Because the movie made me feel nothing. And that to me is a sin.

Thank Crom for Netflix. Because most of the best movies I’ve seen and enjoyed in 2016 have been on Netflix. Some of you reading this I’ve spoken to privately via Skype and IM (you know who you are) and you’ve bellyached to me that there’s nothing to watch on Netflix. That it’s boring. And the only reason you have it is so that you can endlessly rewatch “Firefly” or “Breaking Bad.” If that’s the case, why not just go buy the complete series on DVD/Blu-Ray and save the bandwidth for those willing to take a chance on movies such as THE AFRICAN DOCTOR. It’s currently streaming on Netflix and that a movie with this much heart, warmth and charm isn’t more well known truly is criminal.

Seyolo Zantoko (Marc Zinga) is a Kinshasa native who studies medicine in 1975 France and gets his degree there. Although he is offered an extremely cushy job as personal physician to the president via his cousin, Seyolo fears that he will fall victim to the same political corruption that has infected most of the government. Seeking to secure a French education for his children, Seyolo accepts a position as physician to the rural provincial town of Marly-Gomont.  His son Kamini (Bayron Lebli) and his daughter Sivi (Medina Diarra) are somewhat skeptical about moving away from their friends and Sivi really doesn’t want to leave her soccer team. But Seyolo’s wife Anne (Aissa Maiga) is ecstatic about moving to France and Paris. You see, when Seyolo told her that they were moving to “a town north of Paris” all she heard was “Paris.”

At this point of this humble review, both husbands and wives reading this are nodding, I’m sure. We have all been there. Miscommunication is at the heart of both comedy and conflict in marriage and we see plenty of that as as the Zantoko family struggle to adapt to their new environment. None of the inhabitants of Marly-Gomont have ever seen an actual, real life, breathing black person and Seyolo is the only one in the family who has ever lived abroad. The Zantoko children are the only black kids in the school and are verbally abused by their classmates. Anne is shunned by the other wives and those in the village who are ill would rather make the trip to the other town over to be treated by the white doctor there.

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But Seyolo is determined to win the villagers of Marly-Gomont over and become a true member of the community. Seyolo’s change is so subtle in this movie it sneaks up on you and it’s a testament to the acting talent of Marc Zinga that when we realize the change, it’s just as much a surprise for us as it is for his family. Seyolo starts off as seeing his appointment to this hick town as simply a way for his children to get free quality education and for him to gain French citizenship. But he truly becomes caught up in the lives of the villagers and honestly has a desire to become their doctor and look after their health.

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Anne is a little harder to win over, though. Aissa Maiga walks away with the MVP trophy for this movie. First off, when you watch this movie I defy you to be able to look at anybody else except her when Aissa Maiga shares the screen with them. She is Stunning. There is simply no other way to describe it. It also helps that she is equally adept at drama as she is at comedy. She gets a lot of the laughs in this movie as well as a lot of the dramatic scenes and it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed watching an actress I was not familiar with on screen as much as I enjoyed watching her. She deserves to have a bigger career. She’s that good.

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And in fact, the depiction of a marriage between a black man and black woman is one of the best in a movie that I’ve seen in a while in a movie and it’s one of the reasons I highly recommend THE AFRICAN DOCTOR. Seyolo and Anne both want the best for their children and for each other. That’s the driving force they both can agree on. But how to get there…well, that’s another story. Seyolo and Anne both make mistakes and miscommunicate. But they have an underlying layer of friendship and respect that supports their love that is truly sweet to see in the quiet moments when they sit down and talk about the situation they’re in and how they’re going to resolve it.

But lest you think this movie is a downer…not so, my friends. THE AFRICAN DOCTOR is very much a comedy as well as a drama and when it’s funny, it pays off. You see, Seyolo and Anne’s families find out where Marley-Gomont is and decide to visit and…well…you can guess the rest. The scene where the Africans attend Christmas Mass and sing “Silent Night” African style is a showstopper in that it’s both totally hilarious (keep an eye on the organ player) and also spiritually uplifting. And the eventual resolution of the Zantokos staying in the village of Marley-Gomont hinging on a soccer game…well, if it doesn’t leave you with a smile on your face then I got nothing for you.

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In fact, the whole of THE AFRICAN DOCTOR is wonderful in that it’s a movie that can make you believe in the best of humanity. And I know a lot of you reading this review don’t believe in that (again, you know who you are) You like your entertainment to be dark, depressing and reinforcing your belief that the world is hateful, people are no good and all our political institutions are trying to kill us. There is no God and there is no way to get out of life except to die.

Take two viewings of THE AFRICAN DOCTOR and call me in the morning.

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96 Minutes