Get Out

get-out-movie

2017

Blumhouse Productions/QC Entertainment/Universal Pictures

Directed and Written by Jordan Peele

Produced by Jason Blum/Edward H. Hamm, Jr./Sean McKittrick/Jordan Peele

Years and years ago I was having a discussion with a Caucasian friend of mine. Over copious amounts of alcoholic beverages we discussed movies and he suddenly popped up with a question that had been plaguing him for some time and he felt he could ask me instead of some other black people of his acquaintance as he felt I wouldn’t take it the wrong way. He said that when he went to see horror movies, the black people in the audience were laughing at the terrible things happening to the characters in the movie. Why were they laughing? It confused him because they were, after all, horror movies. Who laughs at horror movies?

My answer: “They’re laughing because white folks do things in horror movies that you’d never catch black people doing. We don’t fool around investigating the supernatural or the paranormal. We don’t think it’s fun or cool to party in graveyards. We don’t go down in the dark basement where we know damn well the killer is hiding. We don’t think it would be a groove to go spend the weekend in a haunted house or at some remote camp where a buncha murders were committed. We don’t go back for our buddy/girlfriend/boyfriend/mother/father if they trip and fall while running from the killer. We don’t go back for the dog or the cat. We don’t split up when we know there’s a mad killer on the loose so that he can pick us off one by one. Got the picture?”

Despite my flippant answer there have been a considerable number of outstanding horror movies with black protagonists. I’m thinking of “The Beast Must Die” “Ganja & Hess” “The People Under The Stairs” “Candyman” “Demon Knight” “Attack The Block” and “Night of The Living Dead” come to mind. GET OUT can be added to the list and may eventually be at the top. It’s a dynamic debut film from Jordan Peele who directs with the confidence and expertise of a much more seasoned director. Psychological horror and social satire are skillfully blended with a dash of comedy mixed in just enough to give us a chance to relax a bit before being plunged back into the nightmarish situation faced by Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya)

01-get-out-w710-h473

Chris is invited by his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams) to spend the weekend at her parents house. Chris is somewhat apprehensive because he’s black, she’s white and she has not told her parents she’s dating a black man. But she assures Chris that her parents are super cool and everything will be just fine.

Film Title: Get Out

And her parents Dean and Missy (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener) do indeed turn out to be pretty cool. Oh, sure Dean bends over so far backwards to show that he’s “down” and sympathetic with black people in such a way that it in itself is borderline racist while Missy is just a little too insistent that Chris allow her to hypnotize him to cure his smoking addiction.

Film Title: Get Out

Chris at first is relieved to see a couple of other black faces at the Armitage estate in the form of the maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and the groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) until he has a chance to talk to them. As he tells his best friend Rod (Lil Rey Howery) they do not act like any black people he’s ever known. Rod of of the opinion that Chris should never have gone up there in the first place. And as the weekend goes on, Chris starts to think his boy just may be onto something. He meets Rose’s brother Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) who doesn’t bother to hide his creepy hostility toward Chris. And the Armitages host a party where most of the guests seem to know way more about Chris than he’s comfortable with. And that’s all you need to know. It’s not that GET OUT is a movie full of unexpected twists and turns. In fact, the trailers you’ve seen have told more than they should but there’s plenty left in GET OUT to be surprised with. But that is due more to the gradual building of suspense as the weirdness increases. GET OUT isn’t a movie that depends on violence and gore to make it’s point. It actually gets pretty deep in it’s use of horror movie tropes to examine race and racism while telling an entertaining story at the same time. It doesn’t beat you over the head with social commentary on race relations but there’s enough there to give you something to think about and discuss after you leave the theater.

Daniel Kaluuya holds the center of the movie just fine as our likable protagonist who is an everyday guy thrown into a situation way over his head. His character has some psychological baggage that helpes to round out the character and explains some of the choices he makes later on in the movie. But the MVP award has to be shared by Betty Gabriel and Lil Rey Howery. Betty Gabriel’s Georgina is without a doubt the scariest character in the movie and she made me jump more than once.

Film Title: Get Out

Lil Rey Howery provides most of the movie’s comedy, ruthlessly stealing every scene he’s in. Chris calls Rod during the weekend to keep him up to date on the increasing weirdness and later on, Rod takes a more proactive role which leads to probably the funniest scene in the movie, one that he shares with Erika Alexander who plays a police detective.

get-out-jordan-peele-must-watch-03

So should you see GET OUT? Absolutely. It’s a fascinating piece of work that has been compared to the best episodes of the classic “Twilight Zone” and “The Stepford Wives” and deservedly so. It’s that good. By all means, go see and enjoy.

Rated R

103 Minutes

Hidden Figures

hidden-figures-poster

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.

22hiddenfiguresjp-master675

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.

hidden-figures-13

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.

screen_shot_2016-09-23_at_9-19-52_am-0-0

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.

hidden-figures

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.

hidden-figures

Rated PG

127 Minutes

Foxy Brown

foxy_brown_movie_poster

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.

foxybrown1

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.

foxybrown2

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.

43a0ded951eec25ddd3d0178348cfc99

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.

f1

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.

large_foxy_brown_blu-ray_13

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.

foxy_brown_704_2

 Rated R

94 Minutes

The African Doctor

 

bienvenuemarly-gomont

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.

the-african-doctor-1

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.

the-african-doctor-2

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.

the-african-doctor-4

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.

the-african-doctor-3

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.

the-african-doctor

96 Minutes

 

 

 

Returned

11145018_482311471945528_5771583809117786122_o

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.

14681022_669202543256419_1316089387317753331_o

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.

14711515_669202486589758_718806508447432274_o

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.

14713051_669202489923091_134950262315151530_o.jpg

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.

 

 

Boo! A Madea Halloween

phgegn3om6otji_1_l

2016

Tyler Perry Studios/Lionsgate

Produced, Written & Directed by Tyler Perry

There’s some words and phrases you’ll never hear me use because I believe that either they’ve been so overused that they no longer have any true meaning or I just despise what they imply. ‘Guilty Pleasure’ is one of those phrases and it make me want to scream when I hear/read somebody use it. I see absolutely no reason at all to be ashamed of what you like to read, watch or listen to. Unless it’s child pornography. That’s a whole ‘nother subject best left for another time. The point I’m trying to make here is that I don’t believe in ‘Guilty Pleasures.” I like what I like and if you don’t like that I like what I like then that’s your little red wagon to pull.

I say that to say this; there’s some’a you black folks who are right now rolling your eyes upon seeing that I’m reviewing BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN and saying to yourself; “How could he go see that movie?” You have my permission to skip this review.

So why did I go see BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN? Simple. I like comedies and I like to laugh. And whatever else you may think of Tyler Perry’s Madea movies, they are funny as hell. And I’m of the mindset that true racial equality will never achieved unless black filmmakers can make comedies just as brain-dead stupid (and I mean that in a good way) as white filmmakers. And make no mistake, BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN is simple, silly, brain-dead stupid entertainment. It also made my sides sore from laughing so hard and that is all I ask and require from a comedy: that it makes me laugh.

Boo-A-Madea-Halloween-Photo-1.png

Brian Simmons (Tyler Perry) is at his wits end when it comes to dealing with his openly disrespectful and rebellious daughter Tiffany (Diamond White) Despite being underage, she’s made plans to sneak out of the house along with her friends Rain, Leah and Aday (Liza Koshy) to go hang out at the local frat house’s annual Halloween party. Brian has to go out of town for the weekend and in desperation (and because he doesn’t want his ex-wife to know he sucks at being an authority figure) he calls his aunt Madea (Tyler Perry) to come look after her.

AMH_D5_04663.RAF

Madea really doesn’t appreciate being called away from her favorite Halloween past time; mocking the costumes of the neighborhood kids while her cousin and best friend Bam (Cassi Davis) is busy stealing their trick-or-treat candy. But once Brian dangles the promise of pay in front of her, Madea agrees to take the job. Not only does she bring Bam along but for reasons I’m still not clear on but didn’t care about she brings along Brian’s father/her brother Joe Simmons (Tyler Perry) and Hattie (Patrice Lovely) another one of her friends who despite her advanced age demonstrates many times during the movie that she is…ahem…young at heart, let’s say.

boo-a-madea-halloween-photo-6

Tiffany manages to sneak out to the party after unsuccessfully trying to scare Madea and her crew with some off the wall story about a Mr. Wilson who supposedly murdered his entire family in the house. (don’t worry, this factors in later on the plot when Madea and the others think that Mr. Wilson has come back from the dead to murder them) This leaves Madea, Bam and Hattie no choice but to go to the frat party themselves to recover the wayward child. Joe ain’t going nowhere. He got himself a phat J to smoke. Now, you might think that the funniest stuff in the movie happens at the frat party and while there are some mild laughs to be had, the real belly busters come later on in the movie when Madea and her cronies believe that there are supernatural entities trying to kill them.

boo-madea-halloween-trailer

In between the comedy we get dialog between the characters that I feel is actually Tyler Perry’s editorializing on modern day parenting vs. old school. Madea and Joe openly scoff and deride Brian’s method of being a friend to his child, asserting that their way of rearing children (throwing them off the roof and beating them so badly they have to go to the hospital) is what made their kids the strong and responsible adults they are today. There’s also a scene near the end that grabs us by the neck and yanks us thoroughly out of the comedy and into the drama but being familiar with Perry’s style of making movies I wasn’t as bothered by it as I would be if this had been written and directed by somebody else. You go into a Tyler Perry movie knowing full well what you’re getting and it’s no sense in going to see BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN and then complaining that it’s not a sensitive, intelligent, spiritually uplifting examination of modern African-American life. That’s like going into McDonald’s, ordering filet mignon then pitching a boogie woogie when they tell you they don’t serve that.

image

By now, Tyler Perry as Madea can make us laugh without breaking a sweat. Unlike most Madea movies where she’s almost a supporting character in her own movies, she’s front and center from start to finish. But this is more of a family friendly Madea than we’ve seen. In the early movies Madea was a far more thuggish character, prone to snap at any minute and resort to abusive language and physical violence to make her point and if that didn’t work she had no issue with pulling out her Glock to bust a cap in yo’ ass. And while I usually am bored to death with actors playing multiple roles in the same movie it worked here for me because Tyler Perry is actually playing three separate, distinct characters with their own individual body language, way of talking and point of view. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying he’s Laurence Olivier but he does a much better job of playing multiple roles in the same scene than most others I’ve seen.

medium_boo-a-madea-halloween-trailer-2

So should you see BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN ? Only if you want to take a break from all the crap that’s going on in the world today, sit back for 103 minutes and laugh. It’s not High Art, it’s not made to win awards at Oscar time and it certainly will never be included in The National Film Registry. But it is a sincere and honest effort to entertain and on that level it succeeds. Go see and enjoy.

103 minutes

Rated PG-13

P.S. When the credits start to roll, don’t leave. That’s all. Just don’t leave.

Queen of Katwe

queen-of-katwe-poster-2

2016

Walt Disney Pictures/ESPN Films/Mirabai Films

Directed by Mira Nair

Produced by John Carls/Lydia Dean Pilcher

Screenplay by William Wheeler

Based on “The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess and One Extraordinary Girl’s Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster” by Tim Crothers

If you’ve been reading my reviews on a regular basis you’ll doubtless have noticed that there are words I use sparingly. That’s because I believe in the power of words and I believe that for them to have the proper impact and for people to sit up and pay attention to them, you have to use them when the situation calls for its use. To use words willy-nilly to describe everything robs them of their power. For instance, the birth of a baby is ‘amazing.’ A ham sandwich is not.

So when I use words like ‘superlative’ ‘uplifting’ and ‘inspirational’ to describe QUEEN OF KATWE you can be sure I don’t use those words lightly. Just go back and look at the reviews I’ve written for movies I’ve seen this year and see if you can find any of those words. I defy you. And that’s because no other movie I’ve seen this year deserves to be described as such. QUEEN OF KATWE is one of the best movies of the year and that people aren’t talking about it more utterly staggers me. Especially since people are screaming at the top of their lungs about the lack of diversity in movies. Here’s a movie with rich, vibrant characters in a setting we rarely see in movies depicted with such depth and detail with a story so improbable that it has to be true and the movie goes virtually unnoticed.

I have to admit I was somewhat confused upon seeing ESPN Films listed in the opening credits as one of the production companies but as the movie went on, I understand why they were involved. QUEEN OF KATWE is a sports story, one that we’ve all seen before. You’ve got your underdog who triumphs against all odds to become a champion. But it’s the protagonist, her environment and her sport of choice that makes this particular sports story unique.

10 year old Phiona Mutesi lives in the slum township of Katwe, outside of Kampala, Uganda. Her widowed mother Harriet (Lupita Nyong’o) is struggling to ensure that her children do not fall victim to the street. She’s already lost her eldest daughter, Night (Taryn Kyaze) who has wearied of the unending drudgery of simply trying to make enough money to eat for one more day and taken up with a sleazy hustler with a flashy motorcycle. Phiona and her two brothers are all she has left and she means to see that they have a better life.

queenofkatwe

That better life comes in a most unexpected fashion. Curious as to where her brother sneaks off to, she follows him to a youth ministry and meets Robert Katende (David Oyelowo) who coaches soccer and teaches chess. Phiona is intrigued and wants to learn how to play. Robert senses she’s got something special and he isn’t wrong. It turns out that while the rest of his students are truly remarkable, Phiona is quite simply magic. There’s no other way to put it. She can see moves so far in advance that Robert claims only chess masters with years of experience can do what she can do. Robert subsequently fast-talks Phiona and his other students into chess tournaments against students at fancy private schools. The privileged students who come from family with money and position look down their noses at the slum kids. Until the slum kids, led by Phiona’s devastating talent, beat the pants off of anybody fool enough to sit across a chess board from them.

queen-of-katwe

As Phiona’s reputation continues to grow she competes in more tournaments, even travelling to other countries. And as she is exposed to life outside of Katwe and sees how other people live, it creates yearnings and desires inside of her she never had to deal with before. Although Robert assures her that chess can be the bridge to a new life, Phiona doesn’t see how this can be and it’s going to take her own acceptance of her spiritual strength and awareness of the power of her intelligence in order for her to make changes in the life of her and her family.

film-queen-of-katwe

It’s been far too long since I’ve seen a movie driven so well by the characters and such rich characters they are. Usually I single out a movie’s MVP but I honestly can’t do it with this one. Lupita Nyong’o commands the screen every minute that she’s on it and her Harriet is a woman of intense, towering pride and protectiveness. She’s the type of mother that doesn’t say “I love you” to her children. She shows it by putting food in their stomach, clothes on their back and looking out for their safety. And you may say that’s harsh and cruel but Katwe is a harsh and cruel place for adults and children alike.

null

But here’s one of the things I like most about QUEEN OF KATWE. Yes, Phiona and her family live in a slum of grim desperation and poverty but the movie neither beats us over the head with it nor sugarcoats the environment. As a result, Katwe and its people are almost like another character in the movie. It’s one of the most vibrant, lively settings I’ve seen in a movie recently and I wanted to know more about the people who live there, that’s how much this movie drew me in.

Madina Nalwanga is utterly charming as Phiona and she, along with the other young actors in the movie are a real treat to watch from start to finish. Keeps your eyes out for Ethan Nazario Lubega as Benjamin as he steals every scene he’s in. A lot of the humor in the movies comes from Benjamin who seems at times to have just a touch of excessive anxiety he has to deal with, poor little guy.

If this movie had been made back in the 1960s (I know it couldn’t have been but just bear with me while I make my point, okay?) Robert Katende would have been played by Sidney Poitier but since it was made today, we get the next best thing in David Oyelowo and believe me when I say that I don’t use the comparison lightly. Oyelowo plays Robert as a charming man of understated determination and total devotion to the kids he teaches. He has many obstacles to overcome to get Phiona and his kids to these tournaments and he does it with an honesty and grace that can’t help but win over everybody he talks to. Including Harriet who smells a scam somewhere in here and in a really touching scene, Robert has to win her over.

queen_of_katwe_official_trailer_1

So here’s your homework assignment for the weekend. Set aside time to go see QUEEN OF KATWE. Take the whole family. You might have a little trouble finding it (the theater Patricia and I saw it in only had ONE showing for the entire day.) But trust me, it’s worth it. QUEEN OF KATWE has outstanding performances and a story that we need now more than ever. We’re seeing examples of the worst of humanity fighting like rabid dogs for what they think is their right to lead this country and the people supporting them aren’t much better. So it’s easy to think that humanity is going to hell in a red-hot handbasket. QUEEN OF KATWE will remind you that the world is full of extraordinary people who are good and honest and give you hope that we’re all going to be just fine. I can’t recommend this movie enough.

23queen-master768

2hrs 4 minutes

PG