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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boo! A Madea Halloween

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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2hrs 4 minutes

PG