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

 

 

 

Doctor Strange

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2017

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Produced by Kevin Feige

Written by Jon Spaihts/Scott Derrickson/C, Robert Cargill

Based on “Doctor Strange” by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

Fourteen movies into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and for me the question is not if/when Marvel Studios will make a bad movie. It’s if they are even capable of doing so. Oh, know that 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” has its detractors and I can hear Van Allen Plexico over there in the fourth row yelling; “What about Iron Man 3, you nitwit?”  But far as I’m concerned, Marvel Studios have consistently knocked it out of the park which each and every one of their movies.

Why do I love the Marvel movies so much as opposed to the dreadfully depressing and dreary DC Extended Universe movies? First of all, they’re quite simply fun. They’ve got characters that enjoy being superheroes and having fantastic adventures. Unlike the superheroes in DC movies that are morose, miserable and appear to be embarrassed and ashamed to be superheroes. It also helps that Marvel has a definite plan for their Cinematic Universe, a structure that allows for the solo movies to develop character and the individual superheroes to work, live and breathe in their own respective corners of the MCU before coming together in an “Avengers” movie.

And the various MCU superheroes do have their own arenas of interest so that their solo movies are reflective of who they are. So the Iron Man movies are technological thrillers. Captain America movies are political/espionage adventures. Thor movies are high fantasy/sword-and super-science epics. And with DOCTOR STRANGE we get to explore an all new dimension of the MCU in more ways than one: magic.

Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a world famous neurosurgeon who has the genius and skill to back up his ego. Until he gets involved in a car accident that leaves him with nerve damage so severe that he can’t even hold a scalpel. Even though he could continue to be a healer by working strictly as a consultant that isn’t good enough for him and he spends his fortune on experimental treatments trying to heal his hands. When that fails, his quest leads him to the mystic land of Kamar-Taj and The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who is the current Sorcerer Supreme. Despite Strange being an arrogant ass, The Ancient One is persuaded by her chief disciple and a master sorcerer in his own right, Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to take on Strange as a student.

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With the teaching of The Ancient One and assisted by Mordo and Wong (Benedict Wong) a Master of The Mystic Arts who is also the guardian of Kamar-Taj’s magical relics and books, Strange shows an astonishing aptitude for magic, quickly becoming adept at astral projection and creating magical portals to travel great distances and even between dimensions. He’s going to need these newfound abilities to combat the rogue master sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen)

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Kaecilius has stolen a forbidden spell from The Book of The Vishanti capable of opening up a portal to the Dark Dimension, domain of the dread Dormammu. Within the Dark Dimension, time does not exist and one can live forever. It’s very simple: Kaecilius brings Dormammu to Earth so he can add it to his domain and Kaecilius gets to live forever. It’s up to Stephen Strange, barely in control of his powers to defeat Kaecilius and Dormammu and save the world.

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Okay, that’s like the barest plot synopsis and on the surface it seems as if it’s not that much different from your typical origin story but such is not the case. Since we’re dealing with magic here there’s an entirely different vibe at work here. I liked how martial arts were integrated into the use of offensive and defensive magical shields and weapons so that there’s truly a distinctive look to the fight scenes.

And even the look of the magical energies depicted in DOCTOR STRANGE is refreshingly different. I was afraid we’d get scene after scene of two sorcerers standing ten feet from each other, throwing bolts of energy while grimacing as if trying to pass a kidney stone. Thank Odin, no. Magic here is used to change and warp reality, to disorient your opponent and use the very landscape to attack him. When I say that the fight scenes in DOCTOR STRANGE are trippy, I shit you not. By now you’ve probably heard that they’re a lot like scenes from “Inception.” True. If you’re watching “Inception” while on acid. There’s a fight scene between Strange, Mordo and Kaecilius in New York that’s like M.C. Escher on industrial strength crack. And there’s one deliriously deranged scene where The Ancient One shows Strange the nature of the multiverse that comes awfully close to reproducing some the bizarre imaginings of classic Doctor Strange artist Steve Ditko on screen.

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Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton and Benedict Wong didn’t have to be as good as they are in their roles. But I certainly appreciate that they are. They walk that fine line with giving performances that have respect, seriousness and gravitas but at the same time you can see they’re having fun as well. Especially Mr. Cumberbatch. While watching him work I was reminded of that Joss Whedon quote: “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.” Cumberbatch and Swinton give Stephen Strange and The Ancient One their dark moments and Mordo really gets his soul chewed up in the third act and even Wong has his trials and tribulations but thank Umar we don’t have to suffer through two hours of depressing characters torturing us with their manufactured angst. The actors know their characters can’t have dark without light and play them accordingly.

That doesn’t mean I loved every part of DOCTOR STRANGE. Rachel McAdams has a slight role that seems little more than a set-up for a bigger role in later movies or even the Netflix Marvel series (go Google “Night Nurse” and you’ll see what I mean) Stephen Strange finds Kamar-Taj way too easily. And while I can go with Strange having an aptitude for magic (after all, he does eventually inherit the title of Sorcerer Supreme) it’s really a stretch that he’s able to hold his own with guys who have been studying the mystic arts far longer than he has.

Still, I’m a forgiving sort when a movie is entertaining me and providing as much fun and enjoyment as DOCTOR STRANGE does. It’s a fine addition to the MCU and I’m greatly looking forward to seeing him return.

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115 minutes

Rated PG-13

 

 

Returned

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2015

Creative Genius Films/GVN Releasing/Novus Conten

Produced and Directed by Lamont Gant

Story by Lamont Gant/Victoria Marie/Marion McCaulsky

I’m going to get to the review of RETURNED in a couple of paragraphs, I promise. But I need to go back a bit before I can go forward. There’s a point I’m attempting to make so hang loose for a few ticks of time, okay?

In 1979, Paramount released “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” It cost them $46 million to make and while the movie more than made its money back the studio was not happy with the eventual return on their investment. They did greenlight a sequel: “The Wrath of Khan” which cost them only $11 million to make and the movie turned out to be such a monstrous hit with fans and critics it also made Paramount enough money to make Scrooge McDuck jealous. 35 years and 11 movies later it is still acknowledged as being the best “Star Trek” movie.

The point I’m trying to make? It’s that science fiction movies shouldn’t depend on their special effects. The special effects are there to support and enhance the story. Story is what happens to people and characters we care about and invest our time in. See, Paramount learned that lesson and in “Wrath of Khan” gave us that. The director, cast and crew of RETURNED don’t need to learn that lesson because they started out with it from Day One, I’m betting. I don’t usually spend so much time in a review going on about a movie’s budget but in the case of RETURNED I think it bears mentioning that on a ridiculously small budget, it is totally and wonderfully astonishing what has been accomplished. If and when you watch RETURNED I think you’ll be impressed by what a dedicated director, cast and crew can do when they’re working on a project they truly believe in. What was the budget for RETURNED you ask? I ain’t gonna tell you. Go look it up like I did as part of my research for this review. I ain’t gonna do all your work for you. You’re on the computer most of the day anyway, aint’cha?

Benjamin Lathan (Blue Kimble) thinks that life has played him a really dirty trick in that he’s a young man with his whole life to look forward to and he somehow ends up battling cancer. He makes an appointment for additional chemotherapy treatment in New York. He boards a plane in Jacksonville and the next thing he knows, he’s waking up in a hospital in Atlanta. FBI Special Agent Jourdan Smith (Theresa Sullivan) informs him that he was picked up floating in the Atlantic Ocean. The airplane he was on and the other 200 passengers on that plane have all disappeared without a trace. But wait. It gets worse. Because Ben got on that plane in 2002. It’s now 12 years later. But on the good side, not only has Ben not aged a day, his cancer has vanished completely.

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That’s a lot for our boy to take in especially when he sees TV reporter Anissa Rogers (Diane Kirby) and recalls she looks just like a woman who attempted to engage him in small talk just before the flight. Ben has no idea how but he knows she’s tied up in the mystery of the missing 12 years, the passengers and the plane. He sets out to find out how. All the while being closely followed by Agent Smith and her cantankerous fellow agent and professional badass Max Fisher (LeThomas Lee) as Agent Smith suspects there is something far stranger than she can imagine at work here. I’d be willing to bet that Agent Smith is an “X-Files” fan.

14715088_669202493256424_1371934667171107368_oRETURNED has a lot going for it in the extremely talented cast who totally commit to their roles and not for a minute are anything less than convincing. Blue Kimble goes through most of the movie playing a man unsure about everything in this new life he’s been thrown into but projects quite well that Benjamin Lathan has a core strength that will see him through. I liked how Benjamin is a proactive character who isn’t satisfied with letting other figure out what happened to him. He goes out and does something on his own.I’ve seen plenty of movies where actors/actresses play multiple roles and it’s rarely convincing. Not in the case of Diane Kirby. She plays three different characters in the movie and the first time I watched the movie I honestly thought it was two separate actresses playing two of those roles. Diane Kirby uses a different manner of speaking and different body language for each character she plays and it’s truly a remarkable piece of acting.

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But the MVP honors for this movie has to be shared by Theresa Sullivan and LeThomas Lee. If there’s a sequel to RETURNED (and there should be as there’s a lot of questions left unanswered) Agents Smith and Fisher should be the stars. Sullivan and Lee have a wonderful chemistry together than makes their scenes snap, crackle and pop. And visually they make a distinctive pair that adds to their appeal. In addition, Theresa Sullivan has a quality I don’t know if there’s a name for but there should be. I don’t know what it is that she does or gives her co-actors but when they’re in a scene with her, she makes them better. Nowhere is this more apparent than in her scenes with Lee. Especially in the scene where they have to give a report to their supervisor. Just the looks they gave each other had me laughing so hard I had to pause the movie for a minute to get myself together.

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But bitter waters must come with the sweet. In this case, it’s the director. He’s going for an arthouse sensibility that I don’t object to. I always appreciate when a director puts himself out there. I’d rather have a director who takes chances and makes choices that are at least interesting and gives me something to feel and/or think about rather than playing it safe all the time (I’m looking at you, Ron Howard) and Lamont Gant does put himself out there.

But at the same time he doesn’t have to remind us all the time that he’s directing. Especially in a scene where Benjamin is having a drink in a bar and he and the bartender (Sayyed Shabazz) get into a conversation about God, prayer and miracles. It’s a wonderfully simple and yet powerful scene. The bartender tells Benjamin a story and the brother is selling the scene for all he’s worth with just his eyes, his voice and his body. And it was working for me. But then Gant throws in some visual flourishes that I felt were unnecessary and actually pulled me back out of the scene when what I wanted to do was fall further into it. And Gant does that more than once during the movie. Hey, it’s okay to let the camera be still and just let the actors act. You don’t have to let us know all the time that the movie is being directed.

And speaking of the scene in the bar…I dunno if Lamont Gant is ever going to read this review but if you do, here’s a word of advice: put Freddi Green in all your movies. I’m just sayin’

So should you see RETURNED? I don’t think its The Second Coming of Black Science Fiction Film but then again, it’s not trying to be and that’s what I liked most about it. It tells a story as well as it can with strong actors giving solid performances and helmed by a director who obviously has a vision and that’s enough for me. The special effects people do what they can with their limited budget and some of the effects are far better than you would expect.

I’ve seen a lot of movies this year and to be honest with you guys, 2016 has been one of the worst as far as theatrical features go. Most of the best movies I’ve seen have been on Netflix and/or independent features such as RETURNED I’ve discovered through word of mouth. I liked RETURNED a lot and even more than that, respect and admire it for what it is. It gave me my money’s worth in terms of entertainment value and didn’t waste my time and that’s all I ask of any movie.

Here’s a link to the Creative Genius website for further information about the movie. You can also purchase the DVD at Best Buy or Wal-Mart. Enjoy.

 

 

Loosely Exactly Nicole

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2016

MTV

Created by Christian Lander/Christine Zander

Executive Producer: Ave Gilbert

Producer: Christian Lander

Season 1/10 Episodes

I know what you’re thinking (to quote my favorite TV private eye Thomas Magnum) “why is Derrick reviewing a TV show? He reviews movies!” Well, that’s true but since this is my blog I reserve the right to review anything and everything on film that catches my attention and that I think you guys might like. And this is a TV show that hasn’t got a lot of reviews or promotion and I think that a lot of you that read my reviews might like.

First of all: how did I find the show? I’m really not a big fan of modern sitcoms because they all have a depressing sameness and they just simply are not funny. My One Rule for comedies whether they be sitcoms or movies is that they make me laugh. I have no use at all for a sitcom that doesn’t make me laugh. Even if the premise isn’t all that funny, if the actors involved are making me laugh, I’ll watch it. Such as “Mom” which stars Allison Janney and Anna Faris who starred in one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen; “Smiley Face.” The chemistry between Allison Janney and Anna Faris is what makes that show and if you’re not watching it then you’re really missing out because the two of them are the best comedy team working in television today.

But I came upon LOOSELY EXACTLY NICOLE thanks to my wife, the lovely and talented Patricia Cabbagestalk Ferguson. Say hi to the folks, Patricia…

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Usually Patricia doesn’t make recommendations as to what I should review. She’s good like that. Oh, she reads my reviews and tells me when she thinks I made a bad call but this is my thing and she leaves me to it. So when she recommends I watch and review something, I sit up and pay attention because she doesn’t make a suggestion lightly. And after watching the first season of LOOSELY EXACTLY NICOLE I understand why she suggested it to me.

And it’s not just because she knows I have a weakness for full figured women (Mrs. Ferguson is quite the curvy girl herself, nudge nudge wink wink) but she knows I like unique, smart and above all, funny women and sitcoms and LOOSELY EXACTLY NICOLE is all that and a bag of chips.

Nicole Byer (Nicole Byer) is a struggling actress in L.A. Her best friends are Devin (Jacob Wysocki) who’s her roommate and Veronica (Jen D’Angelo). And when I saw Nicole and Veronica together for the first time, I understood why Patricia suggested I watch this show. Because Veronica is thin and blond while Nicole is full-figured and black. If this were a sitcom on ABC, NBC or CBS, Veronica would be the lead character and Nicole her sassy black sidekick. Not in this world. Nicole is the lead and Veronica is her sidekick. Soon as I saw that I sat up and paid attention.

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As I watched more of the episodes I appreciated how they dealt with Nicole’s sexuality. Sure, she’s a full-figured woman but she’s portrayed as being sexually desirable to men and she openly and unashamedly enjoys casual, recreational sex. She’s not looking for a relationship or to get married. She just likes sex and likes it with a lot of men. I also liked how her relationships are mainly with hot white guys. Hey, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right? And if black guys can be depicted in movies and TV shows having sexual relationships with hot white girls then why can’t black women be shown doing the same with hot white guys?

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And it’s refreshing to watch a comedy that isn’t afraid to go into areas I haven’t seen sitcoms go into before. There’s an episode where Nicole teaches Veronica how to negotiate with black hairdressers to get the hairstyle you want for the lowest price that left both Patricia and I on the floor helpless with laughter because it’s true. There’s another episode that I know couldn’t have been done on network TV as it dealt with Veronica having to instruct Devin (who is gay) on how to give a proper blowjob as Devin is enjoying giving blowjobs too much. Yeah, I know how that sounds and you’ll just have to see the episode for yourself. I also like how the show doesn’t shy away from the reason that Nicole isn’t more of a success as an actress is that she’s a really lousy actress and pretty much a screw-up at life period.

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But Nicole Byer is so outrageously charming and ridiculously vulgar I couldn’t help but be enchanted with her from the first episode and I was hooked. I really love her confident sexuality and that she’s not afraid to be downright goofy in the pursuit of getting a laugh. If you’re looking for a sitcom that’s a bit off the wall and not like your usual sitcom then I Highly Recommend LOOSELY EXACTLY NICOLE. Here’s a link so you can watch the show online: LOOSELY EXACTLY NICOLE

But be warned: LOOSELY EXACTLY NICOLE is most definitely an adult show as far as language goes. It can be quite vulgar and sexually explicit in some episodes so make sure the little ones are in bed before you watch this, okay?

 

 

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again

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2016

Fox 21 Television Studios

Directed by Kenny Ortega

Produced by John Ryan

Based on “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” by Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien

And “The Rocky Horror Show” by Richard O’Brien

The first thing that people said to me when I said on social media that I liked THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: LET’S DO THE THE TIME WARP AGAIN was: “Well, you must have not seen the original, then.”

Not only did I see the original but I saw the original back in the 1970s when it was a Midnight Movie cultural event. I saw the 1975 “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” twice at the Waverly Theater. The first time I went with a bunch of friends and the second time I went with a girl I was dating (a really hot blonde girl, by the way) at the time. And no, I didn’t go in costume but I really enjoyed the experience of watching the movie with people who were really into the movie and were having a great time jumping up on stage and performing along with the movie. I talked to some of those people after both showings I attended and a lot of them told me they attended every single week, along with their friends, family and acquaintances. It was not just a cultural event or a movie for them. It was a lifestyle. And it’s a lifestyle that simply doesn’t have the shock value that it did back it the 1970s. Back in the 1970s Tim Curry is full drag was shocking, risqué and daring. Now? It’s something we see everyday on “The Maury Povich Show”

Years later after I had settled down, married and matured (HAH!) I rented “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to watch on VHS. And while watching it I discovered something that most fans of the movie will no doubt crucify me for. But hey, I gotta say it: it’s not a good movie.

Let me explain. The movie itself was simply a film version of the stage play “The Rocky Horror Show” and so the movie version didn’t aspire to be anything more than that. The movie version was a theatrical flop and didn’t become a hit until audiences started showing up in costumes and making fun of it. As a movie it’s a mess. There is no story and it’s driven along simply because there’s a force of nature called Tim Curry as the star. You say “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” to people and I guarantee they’ll say; “that’s the movie Tim Curry is in drag in, right?”

So why did I watch Fox’s production ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN? Well, I’ll be honest…I thought this was going to be a live production like they did with ‘Grease.’ But a half hour in I didn’t care and I was having a great time watching it.

I was hooked with Ivy Levan as Trixie The Usherette escorting patrons to their seats as she was singing ‘Science Fiction Double Feature.’ The audience she escorts to their seats is the surrogates for the people who back in the day jumped up onstage to perform with the movie playing on screen and it’s a wonderfully imaginative way to start the movie off. And during the running time of the movie they’ll talk back to the screen and perform actions that audiences watching the move back in the day, such as throwing toast and toilet paper at the screen. I’ve read reviews that thought it was corny but I dunno…I like it and thought it was cute.

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The plot is fairly simple: Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Laverne Cox) An alien transvestite scientist decides to hold a convention of her/his fellow aliens from the planet Transsexual to unveil his/her greatest creation, Rocky (Staz Nair) The Perfect Man. This coincides with the unexpected arrival of Janet Weiss (Victoria Justice) and Brad McCartan (Brad Majors) a newly engaged couple who will have their perceptions of sexuality challenged by their stay in Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s castle on this dark and stormy night.

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But the plot doesn’t matter. The story doesn’t matter. Really. What matters are the songs and the performances and the goofy callbacks to the original. So here we go:

Laverne Cox: Is good enough of an actor that she can do the same thing Karl Urban and Zachary Quinto do in the modern “Star Trek” movies with the character of McCoy and Spock. She channels the spirit of Tim Curry without doing an outright imitation of him. And she is having so much fun it’s impossible not to have fun watching her.

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Christina Milan: I’ve been a fan of her ever since you guys dissed her in the “Get Shorty” sequel ‘Get Cool” so don’t expect me to be on your side now. I loved her in this, ‘Nuff said.

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Ben Vereen fills the “Who The Hell Let Him Into This Movie?” Slot.

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I really liked how whenever Tim Curry (The Narrator/Crimonologist) appeared, the faux movie audience gave him a standing ovation.

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“Meatloaf? AGAIN?”

Laverne Cox knocks it out of the park with “I’m Going Home.” And “Wise Up, Janet Weiss”

Annaleigh Ashford actually does her best to give Columbia more characterization than the original and I think she succeeds. Adam Lambert comes in long enough to sing one of the movie’s better songs; “Whatever Happened To Saturday Night?” but I’m with those who say that Jack Black would have been better.

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Like most things in life it comes down to personal taste. I’ve read reviews where the reviewers complain that this version is too polished and too theatrical. But I like it because of that reason. I love how during the run time the movie subtly and gradually turns into a stage production, honoring its roots as a play. And it also gives nods to the 1975 movie as well.

I dunno…I just can’t find it in me to work up such hatred for remakes that most other people do. Especially when it’s a remake that so obviously honors and respects the original. Or maybe I’m just getting to the stage in life when I care more about if my entertainment choices actually entertain me more than anything else. On that basis, THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW: LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN has done its job because it certainly did entertain me for two hours. Highly Recommended.

88 Minutes

TV-14